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stoppages?'
'No, quite the opposite, in fact. It was a gun designed in a great rush at the beginning of the Second
World War. The rate of fire is slow, it is not very accurate and the clip has a tendency to jam.'
'Not very attractive indeed,' Troy said. He picked the gun up himself now and ran his finger along the
crude welds that held the receiver to the metal tube that formed the stock. 'Were many of them
manufactured?'
'Over four million in all.'
'That's an awful lot of guns. But why? If the weapon was as unsatisfactory as you say, why on earth did
they make so many?'
'Young man, you must understand the situation that existed at the time. The Germans were winning the
war hands down. France and the Low Countries had been lost and the British were facing this deadly foe
almost single-handedly. And they were fighting with few if any modern weapons. Despite all of the clear
lessons about the future of modern warfare that the Spanish Civil War had spelled out, the British began
the war without a submachinegun of any kind. It was a time of panic, the Germans were expected to
invade at any moment. So any weapon was better than no weapon. This particular gun, the Sten-gun,
was conceived in an atmosphere of extreme haste and emergency. Although it had all of the shortcomings
I mentioned, it was nevertheless very simple to produce. Subcontractors literally made parts in converted
barns and sheds. And it was cheap. Each one costing in the neighbourhood of around two pounds and
ten shillings if my memory serves me correctly. That is less than six dollars. An unbelievable sum in this
day of multi-million dollar weapons. So Sten-guns were churned out by the millions. This ugly little gun
proved to be one of the most outstanding weapons in the Allied armoury. And that was only the Mark
One, mind you. The Mark Two had an even more interesting history.'
Dryer laid the gun to one side, then unwrapped the other weapon that he had brought out of the
storeroom. If it were possible, this one was even uglier than the previous one. There were file marks on
the receiver, rough welds on the bolt housing. Dryer patted it affectionately.
'Over two million of these were made in less than two years. Probably the most basic automatic
weapon ever conceived, certainly the most basic submachinegun. The barrel is a simple steel tube held in
place by a screwed-on jacket, the stock nothing but a piece of bent tubing. See, the firing mechanism
could not be simpler, little more than a bolt and a spring. You pull the trigger and it blasts away. Sprays
bullets like water from a hose. A deadly yet simple weapon.'
'Simple is the word. It couldn't be cruder if it were made by hand.'
Dryer smiled and patted the gun. 'But it was, Mr Harmon. Resistance fighters in many countries did make
copies by hand. This one was manufactured in Copenhagen by the Danish resistance, right under the
Germans' noses.'
The pieces of McCulloch's plan were beginning to click into place. Troy remembered very little about the
weapons that the Civil War had been fought with but he was certain that no gun like this had existed at
the time. The colonel might be insane but that did not mean that he was stupid. He knew weapons, he
knew tactics and he knew war. He had fought in Nam where a primitive army, fighting with weapons
not even as good as this one, had licked the most technologically advanced country in the world.
McCulloch must have learned his lesson well.
'Is there anything else I can tell you?' The words cut through Troy's dark thoughts, and he shook his
head.
'No, no thank you, Mr Dryer. You've been of immense help. We'll let you know if there are any
developments in this case. But just between the two of us, I think you had better write the gun and the
blueprints off as shrinkage. You'll not get them back.'
'Oh, dear, that is bad news. The blueprints can of course be replaced, but the weapon itself was unique.'
'Sorry. Good day, Mr Dryer, and thank you again for the help.'
The drive out to the laboratory was a quick one, and Troy had only a single moment's worry as he drove
up to the outer gate and the guard waved him down. Had Major Van Diver remembered his security
pass and had it cancelled?
'Message for you, Lieutenant. From Doctor Delcourt. She says for you to come to her office when you
get in.'
'Thanks, Charley, I'll go there now.'
He drove the opposite way around the buildings to avoid the security office. If they had forgotten about
his pass he wasn't going to remind them about it by letting them see him now. He used the back stairs that
emerged close to the director's office.
The secretary sent him right in. Bob Kleiman was there, sprawled back in a chair and sipping from a mug
of coffee; he waved hello with his free hand. Roxanne looked up from the papers spread across her desk
and smiled.
'Troy, come in,' she said. 'You got my message then. Your office said that you weren't in, but they would
let you know.'
'I was on my way here in any case: the guard at the gate told me you wanted to see me.'
'Yes. To let you know that we have pinned down exactly the temporal displacement your Colonel
McCulloch used.' She picked a sheet of paper off her desk. 'He returned to this date, to the Fourth of
July, eighteen fifty-eight. It appears that our friend the colonel must be quite a patriot.'
'I doubt that very much. He must have other reasons altogether. Probably wanted to be sure that he
could arrive there without being seen. On the glorious Fourth everyone might be watching the parades
and that kind of thing.'
'I'm sure that you are right. I never thought about it that way.'
'I have,' Troy said, grimly. 'For some time now I have been trying to get inside the colonel's head, to
reason like him react like him. I think that I have succeeded to some degree. But it's not very nice in
there. The colonel is a sickie. I won't go into every step of the logic involved, but I am pretty certain now
that I know what plan he had in mind. It may sound a little far-fetched, so try not to laugh when I tell
you.'
'Nothing is laughable about that man,' Kleiman said. 'Allan Harper was my friend. That poisoning, that
was an awful way to die.'
They listened, patiently, with disbelief at first then with growing understanding. 'You make a strong
case,' Roxanne said, 'and what you say could be true. It is an insane idea but McCulloch is no longer
sane, is he?'
'Nutty as a fruit cake,' Kleiman said. 'And let me tell you, I hope that Troy is right and that this is what he
has done. Because it means that he has gone forever and, from our point of view, he is long since dead.
He may have lived for a time in the past, but at least he never brought this particular insane plan to
fruition.'
'How do you know?' Troy asked.
'Because history hasn't changed, has it? The South lost the war and that is that.'
'They lost the war here but perhaps they didn't in a parallel branch of time,' Roxanne said.
Troy lifted his eyebrows. 'I don't follow you.'
'One of the many theories of the nature of time. It rejects the most accepted theory which holds that time
is like a river, sweeping from the past, through the focal point of the present, and on into the future.
Unchangeable. We can watch it, but we can't affect it. A modern version of the ancient argument of
predestination. But this comes into instant conflict with the argument for free will. If the future cannot be [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]