Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Chapter 6- The Experimental Chinese Rocket Troop

As was related earlier, the Slobbovian Prince’s new chief of Artillery was a former Chinese artillery officer, Wan Hong Lo. Wan had been a brilliant up-and-coming favorite in the Imperial court who had developed both a penchant and a degree of expertise in the science of rocketry. As is well known, both gunpowder and rockets had been in use in the Empire for centuries, but only in passing as military devices.
Wan’s studies had led him to develop a rudimentary prototype detonating rocket for artillery use. (In his elder years, he would bitterly claim that a certain English officer had plagiarized his design, but he never successfully proved his assertion in the patent courts). His research had reached a point where Wan had organized a mounted rocket team, complete with one-horse cart and launching frame. His "rocket troop" was in familiarization training when His Imperial Highness, having been informed of this development, insisted on an immediate demonstration.
This would presumably have secured Wan’s place in Chinese military history but for an unfortunate turn of events. It seems that during the demonstration, held in the open court of the Forbidden City, an errant rocket swerved into a window of the Imperial apartments, detonating amongst a room full of the Emperor’s prized Shi-Tsu’s. In the ensuing pandemonium Captain Wan managed to slip out of the immediate area unnoticed. Even as Emperor's bodyguards were searching his personal apartments, Wan was riding hell for leather from Beijing’s western gate with only the uniform on his back, his ready cash, and his notebooks in his saddlebags.
The story of Wan’s flight to the West to avoid capture and execution is one for another time. Suffice it to say that a certain Asian had taken up residence in remote Slobbovia (where his appearance amongst the local populace would stand at least cursory scrutiny) when he was approached by one of Cherkinoff’s agents. Sensing his rare opportunity, Wan applied for and obtained an appointment with the Vizier, where he outlined his concept of an "Experimental Rocket Troop" (omitting the less complementary details, of course). Sheik Yerboudi, astutely realizing there was an untold aspect of the story, insisted that Wan explain why he was no longer on the Emperor’s general staff.
Wan realized that his only chance to avoid being run out of the country was to make a clean bust of it, and so he told the whole story without omission. He quickly ended his narrative by adding that he had corrected the flaw in the rocket’s design, and was ready to prove it. The Vizier knew talent (and honesty) when he saw it, and so appointed Wan to the rank of Major, and to the position of Chief of Artillery. He also agreed to sponsor Wan’s further experiments provided they were performed well out of range of any buildings, especially the Prince’s estate.

No comments: