Empire Of Steam: Chapter 07

Chapter Seven: The Preparations Continue

 

Over the next few weeks the factories were fully converted to making weapons of war. Despite Hardy’s complaints the staff in the former automobile factory were trained in producing land ironclads, and the first land ironclad was completed at that factory.

Sir Edward did not need to inspect the war machine. He knew that Hardy would ensure that anything which his factory produced would be to the highest of standards. The land ironclad would be every bit as good as those constructed at his other factory.

Monk knew exactly what it would look like. He had designed Britain’s first ever land ironclad, of course – others, on the continent, had been designed by such luminaries as Verne (for France) and Rudolf Diesel (for Germany). But Monk considered his design to be superior to any other design.

It was he who had incorporated a turret which could swivel like the head of an owl, so that the cannon mounted in the turret could fire wherever was necessary. The German one, in particular, had a much more restricted firing arc, so that the German land ironclads really had to be pointed towards the target.

It was he who had invented the caterpillar tracks which carried the land ironclads into battle, and which allowed them to drive over obstacles. it had taken him a long time to perfect the design, and he had had many accidents where the tracks had failed. But, eventually, he had got them right.

The German land ironclads still used wheels. The French land ironclads – the new design – had caterpillar tracks, too, very similar to the ones which he had designed. Monk suspected some sort of espionage had been responsible.

The auto-loading cannon had been his design. The layered armour had been his design. The only part which he had not designed was the human crew necessary to operate such machines.

Yes, Monk knew exactly what his land ironclads were like. And they – and the rest of the things he needed – could not be produced quickly enough, as far as he was concerned.

He knew that, in London, his factories would be turning out one lethal machine after another. His factories would be belching smoke and steam into the sky, as his machines turned out parts for his hand ironclads; as bullet after bullet came off the production line. Things would clank. Steam would hiss. Forges would glow with the orange colour of success. and each hour would bring him closer and closer to his revenge.

 

Sir Edward Monk owned warehouses along the Thames. They were used for storing equipment before it was transported out of Britain, to the colonies and possessions of the British Empire. And Monk still had to honour his contracts, at least for the time being, so that those in power would not suspect that anything was wrong.

He had acquired another one along the Thames, bought at too high a price from one of his business competitors. But Monk no longer cared about money. He had more money than he would ever be able to spend.

Other warehouses were being built on the outskirts of London: one to the north, one to the south, one to the east, and the foundations had just gone down on one to the west. Sir Edward Monk was a big believer in not putting all of his eggs in a single basket. It was possible that, once his campaign began, that the British police or the army might seize one of his warehouses once they realised what was going on, and prevent his war machines from coming into play. But with warehouses all over London they would not be able to do that. Even if one warehouse fell before the land ironclads could trundle out of there, and into battle, there would still be the other three. He would not fail. He could not allow himself to fail. People had to pay for the death of his wife.

The preparations continued, while Monk sat at home, like some deadly spider at the centre of his web. He controlled everything. He made sure, every day, that he had reports of how things were going. And they were going well.

 

Around a week after the start of the preparations Sir Edward Monk was sat in his drawing room, examining the figures for the factory run by Masters, when he thought that he heard somebody banging at the front door. It took him a few seconds to realise that, in fact, it was thunder which he had heard.

He decided that he wanted to see the storm. He threw the report down onto an occasional table, and stomped upstairs into the box room.

He had come to like the box room in recent days. None of the servants ever bothered to come into the room. He knew that if he went in there he could think without being disturbed by anyone. In fact the only disturbance had been his son George. But he did not think that George would return any time soon. His son was probably enjoying the high life in the West End, spending his very generous allowance on expensive restaurants and the disgracefulness called the music hall.

The box room also looked out at the grounds at the back of the mansion, far more extensive than those at the front. The mansion and its environs were on raised grounds, usually allowing Monk to gaze far into the distance.

 

By the time that Sir Edward Monk got up to the box room it had begun to rain. The rain came down, lashing against the glass of the windows, forced inwards by the wind behind the drops. The perfect spheres of water dove headlong into the windowpanes, died, and then slid down the glass, forming little, temporary trails.

The sky was a leaden grey, casting a gloaming on the land. It was an artificial twilight. But the sky was even darker in the distance. And those black clouds were coming towards the manse.

The storm seemed apposite to Monk. There was a storm coming, one of his own creation. But his storm would be much bigger than this one. It would strike London as no storm had ever struck before.

“Who will man my war machines?” Sir Edward Monk wondered, as he gazed out of his window at the storm outside. As he stared out through the window lightning flashed, momentarily lighting up the grounds of his mansion. He saw the large rambling lawn at the back of the house; and the cherry tree which Eliza had planted son after he had purchased this great manse. His heart hardened as he thought about the tree; and how Eliza had been betrayed by the medical profession. All of his remaining doubts vanished at that moment. He was now set on his course of action, come what may.

Two seconds after he saw the lightning he heard the rumble of thunder. It was almost deafening. The heart of the storm was almost at his mansion. It could be no more than a couple of thousand feet away. It was still coming towards the mansion.

“Who will man my war machines?” Monk wondered, for a second time. Oh, there had been experiments with automatons, some of which he had been involved in. Ones linked to a difference engine had been able to follow simple commands. But they still had to be linked to those Babbage engines. It would, perhaps, be decades before automatons would be purely autonomous, and able to act as independently as human beings. There was still the problem of powering them for any length of time, as well. No, his soldiers could not be automatons.

That was a shame, as automatons would have made perfect soldiers, as far as he was concerned. They would not have been squeamish. They would have obeyed his orders, no matter what they were. They would have killed without mercy. But such machines were not ready. Not yet.

He would have to use human beings. That was his thought, as the rain crashed against the glass of the window, running down the pane of the glass. But who could he trust? He felt that, out of all of the managers of his various factories, the most trustworthy and loyal was Hardy. If he could get Hardy to follow him then perhaps others would follow.

But Hardy was, above all, an honest individual. Monk knew that Hardy, for all his loyalty, would never do anything which even bent the law; and what Monk was intending to do went far beyond breaking it.

No, Monk decided, he could not afford to trust his employees. They were too honest, at least for the most part. Oh, there might be petty pilfering here and there. But that was different to murder. And that was the way that they would view his justified vengeance: as being nothing more than murder. He knew that they would never understand.

Lightning flashed, so bright that it was almost blinding. It left an afterimage of itself imposed on the vision of Sir Edward Monk. It would take some time for the ragged afterimage to fully fade away.

He heard the thunder at the same time, almost, as the bolt of lightning had struck. As his vision cleared he saw that the lightning had struck in the garden at the back of his mansion. That old oak tree, hundreds of years old if it was a day, had been struck by the lightning and split asunder. It was dead, its white heart exposed to the lashing rain.

At least the lightning had spared the cherry tree. That still stood.

 

The storm moved onwards, past the mansion, so that the thunder came from behind Monk, as he continued to stare out of the window of the box room. But the rain continued to pelt down as fiercely as it had before. Anybody who stepped outside into the storm would have been soaked to the skin in moments; and an umbrella would not have helped much, either. The wind would have turned any gamp inside out, reversing it.

Reversing… Sir Edward thought. Yes, he would need the reverse of honest men. If you cannot trust honest men then you have to turn to criminals.

Satisfied, Monk left the box room, and walked down to sit by the fire in his drawing room. Another tessera was about to be put into place in the great mosaic of his revenge.

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