The Tvar

3 Apr

Boris Satov knew that he had to be his most convincing and make the best argument he could in order to win a contract with the Russian Imperial Army.

His nerves were on edge as he road an electric streetcar across the center of St. Petersburg. How was he going to succeed in selling such a seemingly impossible project to General Misha Kurski, in charge of the purchase of experimental weapons for the infantry in this year of 1910? No one else engaged in physics at the University would have the daring to present anything so fantastic to the Russian military, the little man who taught advanced courses told himself.

But if the Tsar’s fighting forces are to become superior to those of his enemies to the West, then his dream of an artificial entity able to carry out modern combat on the battlefields of the future had to be considered and pursued.

It is my patriotic duty to Mother Russia to bravely make a leap toward realization of a constructed tvar with a capacity to fight and win a war against any foe.

Boris, prepared for the torrid summer weather of the Russian capital, wore a light silk suit of gleaming white. He sat waiting in the general’s ornate office with his flat straw hat resting on his lap.

Late for the scheduled appointment, the gargantuan high officer rushed in and threw himself into the expensive chair behind the enormous desk.

General Kurski was a towering giant with thinning white hair and a wide, bushy moustache. There was a far arctic flavor to his cloudy blue eyes.

“Professor Satov,” he began, “you must excuse me for keeping you waiting, but I happened to be engaged in a very important conference with the manufacturers of new, long-range rifles. But I am deeply interested in the message that you sent to me this past winter. I took the time to talk with certain field commanders in whom I have a lot of trust, and they were also curious about what you claim that our advanced knowledge of the material world is capable of producing for Russia’s military forces.

“You must understand that those of my generation are not at all versed in the areas of modern physics that you refer to in what you wrote. I have many questions in my mind concerning at what point an electrical substitute for human soldiers can be constructed. A lot will depend upon the speed and ease with which the component parts can be practically assembled, and then testing will be necessary.

“That is why I invited you here today, to learn some of the details of what you have in mind. Since there is no one anywhere in our country with your expertise, are you willing to take the awesome responsibility of supervising the production of the initial test model of what we will have to refer to as the tvar?”

Boris’s dark brown eyes seemed to pop. “Do you mean that I would be in charge of making the first one? There will certainly be difficult problems to solve, but it would be a supreme honor to contribute my services to such a great advancement for our armies. Yes, with a heart full of devotion I would accept that duty, sir.”

Kurski gave a nod of his large, weighty head. “You will be head of this special program, then.”

Boris rode a tramway to the end of the line at the edge of St. Petersburg, then walked a short distance to a village barn he rented for research work. Here he found his assistant, the clockmaker named Pavel Tomski. This tall skeleton-like man with a gaunt face was busy at a carpenter’s bench working on tiny gears with fine pliers. He looked up, a magnifying lens in one eyes, with surprise.

“You met with the General? How did it go? Will he give us funds to finish and test the completed tvar?”

Boris shrugged his shoulders. “It is hard to say where we stand. He has to discuss our program with his superiors and could not give me a definite answer yet. Kurski said we shall have to wait for a while.”

The chasovshchik turned his hazel eyes back to the mechanism he had been adjusting before. “I have never tackled a task as difficult as the miniaturizing all the pribor and etseplenie that are needed to make the tvar fully mobile and able to use its hands. No one has ever attempted to use the chasovoi of clocks for a military purpose the way that we are.”

Boris looked down at the pile of tiny components lying on a cloth covering the top of the work table. “It is a great, time-consuming burden to have to construct all the myriad parts that will allow our tvar to function as a soldier in modern war,” he declared. “But there is no other way for us to advance toward that goal, is there?”

Pavel picked up a long sheet of paper covered with handwriting.

“I made a list last night of all the different pribori that I have had to cast from lead, steel, or bronze. It’s length turned out to be a big surprise, even to me.”

The clockmaker read out the listed varieties of springs: mainsprings, spiral, compression, torsion, wagon, strap, helical, hammer, suspension and click types of springs. He then proceeded to ratcheting movements, balance wheel escarpments, fuse mechanisms, platform escarpments, deadbeat escarpments, hairspring collets, recoil escarpments, safety rollers, roller tables, Hermle floating balances, Grand Sommersie movements, strike movement pivots, escape wheels, main wheels, regulators, fork horns, count-wheel trains, ratio wheels, gathering pallets, and balance tubes.

His round face now red with exhaustion, the clockmaker looked at his employer and addressed him directly face-to-face. “I have had to produce every miniature pin and bushing on my own. Every koleso, vereteno, strelka, os, and tsep. All the tiny banking pins, hammer pins, lantern pinions, levers, collets, and curls are the products of these hands.” He raised his two large palms for Boris to look at.

“Do not despair about your long, heavy efforts, Pavel,” said the physicist. “Russia will never forget what you have accomplished for her. The tvar will be our secret weapon in the battles of future wars against our enemies.”

The clockmaker soon returned to his demanding labors. Boris inspected the half-formed first tvar, then left for St. Petersburg.

General Kurski was surprised at being suddenly summoned to meet with the new Minister of War at the latter’s executive office. The holder of that powerful, central post was himself an army officer of the highest rank, General Vladimir Sukhomlinov, an individual whom Misha Kurski both feared and despised.

The man in charge of the Russian military is an incompetent dunderhead, admitted Misha in his most private thoughts. He is a politically slippery courtier and bootlicker, a careerist from humble origins of the so-called “praetorian faction” of officers who were ambitious to take over the army from the “patrician faction” of aristocratic, wellborn traditionalists to which General Kurski himself belonged.

Sukhomlinov had been Chief of General Staff of the Imperial Army in 1908 and 1909, where he had proven himself the best, most expensively uniformed officer anywhere in the world. His personal charm had won him the favor of Tsar Nicholas II, who had elevated this favorite to the high position of Minister. In that post, the parvenu had dominated the corps of general officers in an autocratic manner, seeing the introduction of new methods and weapons as tools for amassing more power for himself.

Misha entered the Minister’s grandiose office, saluted and greeted the stocky figure in magnificent uniform with gold braid and embroidery, then sat down when invited to do so.

“I have read over the report concerning this plan for an electrical tvar that will imitate an ordinary soldier of the infantry,” began the man in charge of the Russian military. “It is a professor from the St. Petersburg University who conceived this wild, exotic scheme, was it not?”

“Yes, sir. It was a physicist named Dr. Boris Satov who began, on his own, the construction of such an unprecedented creation. I have looked over and studied his plans and blueprints. Although he labels the machine as an electrical variety, it would be more accurate to call it a new kind of clockwork. There are small electrical batteries placed at locations within the metal body of the entity, its main mechanisms are small, nearly microscopic versions of a clock system of springs, levers, and wheels. Electrical arms, fingers, and legs are regulated and guided by the complicated chasovoi system at the center.”

“How can anything so far-fetched and fantastic operate? Has the professor tested his brainchild?” asked Sukhomlinov.

“Not yet, sir. I am waiting to receive reports on that when he completes the construction and the initial tests of it. I am uncertain how successful this tvar will prove to be in actual physical practice.”

The Minister frowned, pursing his fat lips. “It all sounds like idle nonsense to me. I am busy at the present time with our new mobilization plans in case there is ever an attack from Germany or Austro-Hungary. Our General Staff has enough responsibilities without spending its time thinking about electrical and clockwork infantrymen.

“If this man, Satov, wishes to spend his time and resources on fanciful toys, he must pay for it himself. The Ministry and the Russian Army will not put a single ruble or kopeck into his fantasy. That is what I called you in to tell you, General Kurski.”

The day arrived in the early fall when the tvar was ready for its first testing, a walk along with Pavel and Boris around the suburban village where it had been constructed.

The three figures, two of them human and the third made of metals, made its way up and down rural unpaved roads at twilight, when no one seemed to be about on any side. No vehicles were around and no one appeared to be observing what was going on.

The tvar picked up speed whenever its two companions did so, slowed down when they did, and stopped along with them at crossroads.

Its movements were under the control of Pavel, who had devised a small control box with which he sent short wave radio signals to two receivers lodged within the eyes sockets of the tvar. The latter had no judgment or thoughts of its own, but was under external control from the outside.

Both Boris and Pavel were able to imagine what this metallic soldier might be capable of doing on the battlefields of future wars. Could it be directed to attack at a run and fire a rifle? both the professor and the clockmaker asked themselves.

Yes, it was clear to them both that the tvar could be developed into an efficient, practical fighting mechanism. The promise was there in what they were having their invention accomplish in the darkening Russian dusk.

General Kurski was astounded by the letter he soon received from Boris Satov. Would he be free the following Saturday to observe the mobile walking of the constructed tvar on the periphery of St. Petersburg?

The military official answered with a letter saying he was ready to be present to see for himself what was claimed.

Misha Kurski arrived in his staff automobile driven by an orderly.

After exchanging greetings with Boris and being introduced to Pavel by the physicist, the three entered the barn where the tvar had been assembled. The General was dumbstruck when he saw the seven-foot tall form of stainless steel, standing inert. Its signal-receiving eyes had a ghostly haunted look about them. The metal face had a frightening aspect to it.

Boris nodded to the clockmaker who held the control box in his hands.

Pavel manipulated the levers and buttons so that the tvar began to move in small circles about the barn.

It walked faster and faster, in ever wider circles.

Misha Kurski watched in awe, as if entranced by what he was observing.

Pavel brought the tvar to a standing stop a small distance away from the three men. Boris turned to the General.

“What do you think of the demonstration? This is nothing but the bare beginning. Pavel and I plan to make our tvar do many more things of a physical nature. You will see more agility and capacity in it as time goes on and we build a series of improvements into the etseplenia of our future soldier.

“There are scores of new tricks we can build into the internal gear work of our precious tvar. It will grow more intelligent and able as we conceive and insert more abilities for it.”

“I am greatly impressed,” mumbled Misha. “There will be a need for me to obtain protection and support from the Ministry of War for the support of this promising initiative of yours.

“I will try to see and make a report to General Sukhomilov as soon as I can.”

Misha Kurski spoke to the Minister of War in a state of clear enthusiasm for what he had witnessed.

“These two inventors have created a marvel that, if fully evolved, could revolutionize our concept of what war is. I admit that at first I had a lot of skepticism about the claims that were presented to me by Dr. Satov. But with my own eyes, I saw the mechanical thing walking and moving about. It is possible to control it from a short distance through the use to electromagnetic signals issuing out of a little box held in the hands.

“I never believed, sir, that I would ever see such a phenomenon in my lifetime. The tvar is an astounding mechanism that, in time, can completely change the nature of warfare. It will no longer be a process of man versus man. A new creature can be sent onto the battlefield of tomorrow.”

General Sukhomlinov gave him a quizzical look. “These two seem to have thoroughly convinced and converted you. But I need to know much more. Can you arrange for me to observe what you have reported to me about the strange metal object?”

Misha broke out in a triumphant smile. “I will get the pair to arrange a demonstration of what I am talking about, sir.”

“I shall make the preparations for you to see for yourself how much our tvar can do that parallels the requirements made upon human infantry troops,” promised Boris to General Kurski by telephone when the latter made his request to observe the battlefield actions of a clockwork based mechanism.

Pavel became the one in charge of preparing the metal tvar for an exhibition of the capacities already set into his gears and springs.

General Misha Kurski rode to the barn where the tvar had been assembled in his official staff automobile. Boris met him at the barn entrance and ushered him into the interior, introducing the officer to Pavel, then showing the inert form of the tvar, standing by himself in an alcove set aside for the inactive state of the metal soldier.

The General looked dumbfounded when he first saw the stainless steel face and body. He gaped in astonishment at how strange the object looked to him. “I have never come across anything so eerie,” said the
suddenly disturbed and discomforted Misha Kurski. He turned to Boris and asked him what was now most important to him.

“Could you give me an active demonstration of what it can carry out in terms of an actual combat role?” he asked Boris.

“Yes, of course we can,” said the physicist.

General Kurski arrived in his large staff automobile and was met at the walkway to the barn by Boris. It was the middle of the day and the October sun was shining clearly and brilliantly.

“I am so glad that you could come here to see for yourself the excellent progress that our tvar has been making. Every week sees new routines and patterns of activities added to what has already been mastered. We are seeing more and more aspects of a combat soldier in what we have constructed.

“My colleague, the clockmaker, is inside and prepared to put the tvar through some astounding physical exercises.

“I believe that you will be astounded by what you see here today, sir.”

The two men entered the barn through a side door. Pavel, holding the control box in one hand, stepped forward to them. Boris introduced him to General Kurski, then explained what was going to happen next.

“Pavel will send signals to the tvar to charge forward with a rifle in his hands, point the bayonet at a straw dummy that we have set up across the barn at the opposite end, and assault the figure there with a lethal thrust.

“You will observe with your own eyes how deadly a fighter our creature can be on the fields of war.”

General Kurski cast his eyes across the empty space at the tvar, standing motionless in a recessed corner. Then he turned to the far side, where a straw manikin stood in an upright posture. It wore a ragged uniform of a private in the Russian infantry. A simple forage cap covered its head.

“That will be the target of attack?” said Misha Kurski.

“Yes,” replied Boris. “Everything is ready and we can begin momentarily.” He turned to Pavel and gave a nod of his head.

“I think that I can see what happens better and clearer over on the other side, close by the target figure,” said the General, suddenly walking over in the direction he had just indicated.

Boris and Pavel waited until he stopped moving.

“We can begin now,” said Boris in almost a whisper.

The clockmaker stepped over closer to where the tvar stood and started to push and move the buttons and switches on his control box.

All at once, the metal entity took a jump forward, breaking into the stance of a runner, moving forward with accelerating speed.

The force and momentum of the tvar grew and cascaded, faster and faster.

But what it did with the bayonet on the end of the rifle it was holding with both hands was not the scheduled scenario it had been prepared for by its two makers, Boris and Pavel.

There did not occur the planned stabbing of the straw soldier in a Russian uniform. Instead, the rushing tvar swung to one side and made for the other form on that side of the barn.

Instead of attacking the private’s uniform, it went for that of the Russian general officer, striking his chest with the sharp metal it held at the end of its rifle.

Pavel was unable to halt the tvar till it was too late to save Misha Kurski from a terrible demise. The killing mechanism lost its balance and fell to the ground, motionless and as dead as its accidental victim.

Boris and Pavel stared at each other. How could they ever explain this event to anyone in authority? Heavy blame and guilt would surely fall upon both of them.

They would be very fortunate to escape criminal prosecution for the unfortunate death in the barn.

Both of them knew at once that they would never again have anything to do with something as unpredictable as the tvar they had constructed together.

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