On board the Zaamurets

[The Zaamurets is an armored train]

Brian and Harry were enjoying themselves. Though the interior of the Zaamurets was quite noisy and cramped, and Brian kept bumping into projections and parts of the machinery, as he had done on the submarine, the general feeling within the rail cruiser was one of high excitement.

Despite Harry’s initial impressions of the mechanics who had been servicing the Zaamurets in Moscow, he soon realised through a mixture of pantomime and Brian’s Russian that they were skilled workers, who had been frightened to ask for the materials, or even the tools that they needed to do their work properly. The gulf between officers and the other ranks in the Imperial Army seemed great enough to place a serious strain on the capabilities of the army as a fighting unit. The mechanics were astonished to see the British officer literally roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty alongside them, but once they had accepted the shocking idea, they seemed happy to work with him, and the Zaamurets purred happily along the test track at its set speed. Brian was working alongside Harry, acting as interpreter, but warned him that when the targets appeared, his post would be at one of the machine-guns, as had previously been arranged by Petrov.

The lookouts in the top cupolas were scanning the target range for the appearance of the targets, and when they spotted the red flag break out from the signal mast and the white wooden squares flip up, they shouted down to the engineers to stop the train. There was a loud metallic squeal as the brakes were applied, and the sound of the engine revolutions grew less as the motors were throttled back.

Brian had leapt to his assigned machine-gun, and was squinting along the sights, as soon as the Zaamurets started sliding to a halt. Even before the train had reached a full stop, he was firing in short accurate bursts, and by the time the train had actually stopped, the wooden target was so damaged by the bullets that even as they watched, a light gust of wind snapped it off its supports, where it lay on the ground.

Immediately after this, the other machine-guns started their mechanical clatter, bucking and kicking in their mounts.

“No, no!” shouted Brian, knocking the gunners’ hands away from the triggers. “Short bursts. Like this. A light touch,” and demonstrated once again what he had achieved with the first gun. The other gunners tried to follow his lead, with less success than Brian had achieved, but hitting the target more often than they had been doing earlier.

The two 57 mm Nordenfelt cannon in the turrets fired in quick succession, deafening the crew, and throwing the machine-gunners off their aim as the recoil caused the car to rock. The gunners reloaded and fired again. One of the cannon targets went down, and there was a cheer from one of the turrets, but before they could fire again, the red flag was lowered, indicating that the targets were no longer available. The engineers released the brakes and let in the clutches, and the Zaamurets continued its journey to the end of the line.