“Good afternoon, young man.” Brianna Hoffmeier smiled slightly sarcastically as she entered the new office of her new master engineer Able Manski. “How’s it feel to be a free man?”
”Like nothing I have ever felt before young lady.” Able said with a smile as Brianna offered him a can of diet soda. “What is this? No Vodka?”
”Correct Mr. Manski.” She smiled as she opened her own can. “It is my duty as the chief executive officer of this company to keep our aging assets in good repair.No?”
”Assets!” Able smiled. “How about only the first three letters? That’s much closer!”
Able was born from Russian emigrants and spoke the language well but his sense of humor and his accent belayed his upbringing.
“All right, Able!” Brianna cut him off. “That’s quite enough, I came here to see you after you made it off that god awful planet and away from those Clan freaks.”
”So true Brianna, so very true.” Able said as he stood up. “Come, I must show you something.”
The two crossed the busy open floor of the Factory’s Supply and Recycling center. The techs were stripping battle damaged equipment of every piece of usable goods still within them. Two techs were working in tandem to strip an Electronic Counter Measures system of its internal guts as the array had been destroyed by rocket fire. Tweezers, acetone, and rubber gloves were employed to remove the valuable chips and components. She shook her head as they pilfered the machine like a pair of rats hunting for cheese. As they passed the salvage courtyard and made it to the outside of the building, Able was on his little battered radio talking to someone somewhere in the complex.
“Cell phone, Able?” Brianna said as she held up her 2000 C-bill Slimline Koshagi cell phone. “Stop using the can and cord method and get with the 3060’s Able.”
Able just nodded a ‘no’ as he shut off the hand held radio. “Never, those things use the same radio frequency as a child’s walkie-talkie and can be tapped way too easily. This thing? It’s all micro processors and hard technology. Try tapping my line and all you will get is one ten thousandth of a second of my communication and it will be semi-compressed and coded on top of that. No way to eavesdrop on Able Manski.” He grinned.
“Who would want to?” Brianna said laughing at him.
”Oh is that so?” Able smiled back. “You haven’t been to the old bunkered warehouses in the last two weeks, have you?”
”No. And why should I, Able. You and your techs turned it into your own poor man’s casino. Playing cards with the boys till 3 a.m., drinking, smoking, you know the usual stuff a man in his fifties does.” She winked slyly.
”Well then,” a slightly ruffled Able said with a smile as they passed two large concrete toadstools situated outside the bunker-like storage areas, being with the clans for five years a little of their prejudice towards old age kind of rubbed off on him. “you should see what games we have been playing in here.”
With that he opened the small surprisingly high-tech door on the 200 year old bunker and grandly motioned for her to enter. Brianna stepped into a portion of her company that up until two weeks ago did not exist. There were dozens of machine tool and die setups and magnetic shape makers in the room along with the torn apart hulks of at least six dozen autocannons. The colossal gathering of equipment was only overshadowed by the number of Factory guys running around here and there picking parts off of different cannon and hauling them over to reinforced work benches. She recognized one tech running a tool suit as being from the same division as Able. He was moving the barrel of an Ultra Class rotary autocannon from the floor onto a rotating drum in a parts bin.
”What the hell is going on in here?” She screamed, halting all work in the warehouse, only the machines were slow in winding down from full RPMs. Everyone was staring at her as she fumed and clenched her fists. “Able Manski there are over ten million C-bills worth of cut and clip equipment in here and’hey! What the hell are those Clan targeting boards doing in here? Those are worth their weight in gold Able, Able what the hell are you doing in here?”
”Now, now Brianna, calm down.” Able said with a smile. “All of this is my doing and I am sure once you see what is going on here you will agree it is good, or I will give you Cecil as your new bondsman.”
”Stop that Able!” She hissed at him. “What are all of these autocannon doing in here all cut up and splayed out like this?”
”A little research project I am working on.” He said shooing off two techs that were approaching with clipboards.
”Those are Clan targeting computer link boards and that is‘what the hell is Triple Strength Myomer doing in here?” She said examining another workbench. “Did your head crack open from being around all those Clan freaks Able?”
”So far this small project is costing only about twenty five million of the C-bills.” He added calmly. “It’s a bargain.”
”For what?” Brianna said in her catty way. “I don’t see anything here we can sell, it’s all been junked from what I can tell.”
”Your father paid money to teach you the trade no?” He said boldly. “Look closer young angry Brianna, and shut off your mouth for one minute."
Brianna scanned over the piles of cut up guns and started over and looked over the room again. Slowly a look of realization came over her face. It was slow at first because of her anger but by the third lap around the room she stopped and looked right at him.
”Able, what are you putting together in here?” She asked stunned.
”These will be the first of a new breed of autocannon. This is something no other company has ever done Brianna. I worked with the Clan way of life for almost five years my dear. You want to know how their equipment out performs ours by so many ways?”
Brianna just nodded in agreement.
“My dear, the solution has been here right in front of the Inner Sphere the entire time. Before you there is a selection of rare and not so rare autocannon from around the Inner Sphere. Thirty different manufacturing centers producing seventy one different autocannons in a cornucopia of makes, models, and calibers all fed into the machine that is this bunker.”
”Bravo, deranged engineer, but what for? Are you assembling a museum?” She cut.
”Oh if only someone had done so ten years ago, then the Inner Sphere would not be in such a mess as it is right now. They left the worlds of the Sphere to rid themselves of the taint of the House Lords. The military of the Exodus was huge with hundreds of different cannon and weapon systems to deal with. So when they finally got it together after the second exodus and made the first Omni-mech they… "
”Oh my god!” Brianna exclaimed. “They standardized everything!”
”Bingo! They took the best features of every weapon they had at their disposal and melded them into one.”
”That can’t be all of it Able.” She paused. “You can’t just slap a few good parts together and expect them to be compatible with each other. You’re missing something.”
“No Brianna, you missed the wall over there.” Able said pointing at a jumble of parts and little aluminum signs chained to them. The wall was covered with a single autocannon in its disassembled state, each section labeled.
”Short, standard, and extended barrels can be rifled or smooth bore. The barrel can be large or small caliber. The barrel can be mated to a standard, Ultra, rotary, hyper velocity, or shot loading breech. The feed system can be standard, continuous, or case less. All of these different systems can be combined to a limited degree my dear.” Able finished in a rush of finger pointing and motioning.
“Not possible Able.” Brianna replied. “I was a tech once too, and this sort of thing was never covered in emergency repair and modifying systems classes.”
”This is not an emergency my dear.” He said patiently. “We have taken great care and extensive time to do this work here.”
”Two weeks Able how can that be extensive time?” She asked.
”You are asking about how the different systems can be combined?” He said deflecting the question. “See here.”
The chart showed the systems that were not compatible and the different features that were.
”Ok.” She began. “According to this you can build a class 2 autocannon with the Ultra breech and continuous feed systems with a short barrel and smooth bore. Forgive me but why? We already have Ultra 2 autocannons from the Military corps and the salvage from the Clans. Why not copy one of those weapons?”
”We can copy and build the Military models easily, but we are looking to improve the design yes? And yes we can copy the Clan autocannons but we lack the ability to mass produce them, something more difficult to do than many outside our industry might think.” Able stated simply.
“If you take the currently produced systems and integrate them you get a heavier and more bulky autocannon.”
”How is that an improvement?” Brianna asked. “Why would anybody buy a cannon that weighs more than what the FWL can slam out of their factories and do so for twice the cost?”
”They won’t buy these because these are only the prototypes my dear.” Able smiled. “These are the template that the production series components will be designed off of.”
Brianna nodded as she was thinking. The Factory itself had developed two new light autocannons by altering barrel length and the caliber of the rounds being fired. The range of the new guns suffered by an entire class factor but they were lighter and less bulky than the originals.
”Accuracy, that’s it Able the new guns won’t be able to hit anything.” She smiled. “All of this screwing with components will end up sacrificing the range and accuracy of the gun.”
”Not true.” He stated. “For instance we have a class 2 autocannon to deal with. Start with a shorter barrel, less weight and space, less range. Add to it an eight track rifled barrel for better gyroscopic motion and gas compression to get better range but more heat. Team that with medium caliber rounds for better range and a lesser number of rounds moving through the gun each firing. Finish the cannon off by using the advanced composites of the Factory’s own Ballistics series of autocannon and ‘ta da’ less heat and less weight again for an autocannon that weighs nearly two full metric tons less, takes up the same amount of room as the original, and no change in heat. We even get better range out of the prototype than the standard autocannon 2 does!”
”Bravo but how the hell are we going to produce these things for the customers Able?” She said waving at the wall of parts. “If we give every customer who comes in here with a preference, his own custom autocannon design then we’ll have a nightmare to deal with, thousands of different combinations!”
”Actually just under three thousand different sets as we are adding additional features soon, recoil and barrel stabilization.”
”The Triple Strength Myomer, right?” She added.
“Precisely, Mrs. Hoffmeier.” Able said. “The thin barrel experiments always end in failure due to heat warping and general instability. They become unusable or explode when a round catches in them. We wrap the barrel in a Myomer weave that tightens as it absorbs more heat. The additional pull asserted against the gun frame keeps it from bending out of shape and the super high-density guide rod is kept away from most of the heat. Thus keeping the weapon aligned properly and very well cooled is a simple matter.”
”You are either a genius or a complete and utter crazy man.” Brianna said. “So why isn’t anybody else doing this already?”
”I don’t know.” Able smiled. “No imagination I guess? Maybe they don’t make a habit of cross application in the research labs. You know, the boys in laser research don’t talk too much to the guys in the armor lab, but the laser boys could really use the new iridium alloy metal used in reflective armor for the lining of their new extended range barrels. At the same time the armor boys would want to know about the newest laser’s energy output so they could plan effective defense against it and so on.”
”So not all the features can be combined properly?” She asked him.
”No, not all of them. It comes down to barrel, breach, and feed. We are using Inner Sphere grade targeting computers from the Military Corps on the production models and the Clan systems on the prototypes.”
”How soon?” Brianna asked preparing herself for the coming deluge of options they would have to offer customers.
”Hard to tell, my dear.” Able said as he rubbed his chin. “We could compromise and produce a line of less option intensive cannon. Just call them the ‘light’ series cannon without special firing options and the same range as the standard models. It would make integration in the field easy. They would use the same ammunitions and the range would keep the pilots happy.”
”I thought we were going for improvements here Able.” She stated to him.
”Okay, either better range and the same weight or same range and lighter weight.” Able said fanning his fingers while he hooked his thumbs together.
”I hope the market sees this as an improvement Able.” She mused out loud.
”Now then, would you like to see the future?” He asked her motioning to a stall off to the side of the warehouse. “We also call it Allen’s folly.”
”Now what,” she said with a sigh, “laser guided cannon balls?”
”No, that’s over in the electronics department.” Able smiled. “They are trying to mate ICBM homing technology to a fin stabilized Artillery shell. It is supposed to use a lower parabola to reach its target faster but the pressure of the gun smashes the electronics or shatters the guide fins. In a few years we might be able to use a Tag system to target an enemy for the biggest kiss of its life.”
”Lovely.” She rolled her eyes. “Able, why the sudden burst of creativity? I thought engineers were supposed to work inside the lines and make due with what the scientists give them.”
”We are. We act as both scientist and engineer mixed with industrial spy. We are mixing the technology of two different cultures and nearly thirty different lines of thinking together. Not easy.” Able opened the door and motioned for Brianna to step inside.
Lying on the floor of the stall was the remains of a class 10 autocannon. The breach had burst open and the barrel had separated from the rest of the gun. It literally blew apart. She stared at the mess of broken braces and twisted guide arms and sighed.
”What was it?” She asked in this day of surprises.
”This was the project of my second in command, Allen Winski.” Able said as he turned on another light. “It was the greatest dismal failure in the history of autocannon technology to date.”
”I’m tired Able, what happened with it?” She said as the realization that her little salvage and custom build company was about to explode into areas she had never thought of before came on her like a wave of ball bearings.
”It is a class 10 built entirely from ‘Mech Grade Endo-Skeletal materials.” Able nodded soberly. “It weighed eight tons.”
”You’re kidding!” Brianna said in a flash. "That's almost half ours! That’s not possible, is it?”
”He did it.” Able sat down next to her. “It only lasted through fifty rounds of firing before it shattered and blew the 25 ton test mount apart with it.”
”I’ve never heard of using that sort of material, it’s a load bearing design not a hardness or density metal.” She said thinking back to her engineer school days. “The shells must have stripped the inside of the gun apart.”
”They did, then one lodged in place and the six rounds behind it impacted with the jammed round and they all exploded down into the feed blowing the gun apart.” Able slapped the padding on his coveralls. “Someday Brianna, this cannon will be workable and we will build it. But not today.”
”You’re right Able. I’ll appropriate the necessary funds and you go to town on your light and extended range autocannons. I’ll contact the Military Corps once we have a working model and get you guys the design rights on these.” Brianna said as she got up and walked out of the room.
“You worry about the tech. Leave the paperwork to me and the selling of it to Glenn. We’ll cover those ends of it.”
With that she walked out and headed back to her own office. Brianna had a dozen calls to make and extra security to station on the base. She would need it now…
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