All Castes Alike


“My mother begged that I always remember my caste,” said the boy. “Though we are only Sudra.”

“Devansh, there are no castes here. In the cane vineyard, all are made equal by the work they can do, the acres they can harvest. Queen Victoria must have her sugar.”

“How came you here, Sidra?”

“I came on a ship, the same as you. The first ship, the Leonidas.”

“What was my ship? I cannot remember.”

“Your ship was the Clyde.”

“What are these names?”

“Your ship was named for a river, mine for a king of Sparta. We had the blue death aboard, and almost a score died during the voyage despite all the surgeon-superintendent could do.”

“But how were they buried? Were there members of their castes to properly mourn them?”

“They were slipped over the side, shrouded in their bedding. That was when I knew all castes were alike.”


What Pegman Saw

The British Colonial authorities were deeply tied with the sugar cane industry in Fiji, but were unsuccessful in harnessing the fiercely independent indigenous islanders as a labor force. Governor Sir Arthur Hamilton-Gordon implemented an indentured labour scheme which had existed in the British Empire since 1837. Recruitment began all over India, especially in impoverished rural areas. Indenture would last four years, at which point the laborer could travel home at their own expense. Alternatively, they could elect to extend their indenture another four years, after which time the Crown would pay their passage or allow them to stay as free citizens of Fiji.

Most elected to stay.

The 61,000 original  indentures originated from different regions, villages, backgrounds, and castes that later mingled or intermarried with the native population.

Fair Play



Vargas knew she would not stop crying, so he hit her a few more times  and closed the bedroom door, leaving her to her tears.

He went out to get wood for the stove.

The snow howled outside. The stove warmed the cabin to a swelter. Vargas stripped to his undersuit as he drank himself insensible, got so drunk he felt neither the tiny legs of the fiddleback crawling up his leg nor its fangs in his scrotum.

In the morning as the fever took him and his legs turned black he begged her to help him.

She only smiled.


Friday Fictioneers

B-17 Research


In the extensive rewrite of The Ruining Heaven I am taking the opportunity to catch all variety of technical errors that riddled my first few drafts. As often as possible, I rely on research materials such as direct interviews with veterans (now almost impossible, because the the novel is seventy-five years ago) or interviews. Best of all is when you can find something like this manual for the Bendix chin turret. As a bombardier, Hawser is right in front of the plane and usually feels extremely vulnerable. This was especially true in the F series of the B-17, which only had a single .50 caliber machine gun with which to fight off attacking fighters.

In this short scene, I try to distill the information of this manual in a way that doesn’t feel like exposition (at least, it’s not supposed to).

I climbed up through the forward hatch. The bombardier and navigator positions were improved. Instead of the navigator’s two guns jutting out at angles, they now pointed more or less ahead. They were mounted high, just above my shoulders. The bombsight was the same, but the gun position was better, with an azimuth site for the twin fifty-caliber machine guns slung in a Bendix turret below. There was a swivel seat with a fold-away controller for the turret with twin grips like a bicycle. The right grip had a trigger and a high-speed button that would make the turret move faster. The whole thing pivoted around like the teacup ride at a carnival. The optical sight stayed centered in front of me, range increments marked in luminescent lines. I hit the power switch. Nothing happened. I supposed the engines needed to be running for the turret to work.

It’s not exactly to spec, but it’s close enough and it works for the story. This comes fairly late in the novel, so the reader is already familiar with the immense peril the protagonist faces with every mission.


Now for the good stuff. i love the illustration and the typeface. The Army place a premium on graphic design back in 1943. (images scanned by Lone Sentry)

Bendix Chin Turret



Two Caliber .50 M-2 machine guns.
Ammunition Capacity 450 rounds per gun.Speed of Turret
Slow speed (tracking) ¼° per second to 12° per second.
High speed (slewing, with high speed button depressed) ¼° per second to 33° per second.

Turret Complete (no guns or ammunition) 438 lbs.
Ammunition 33 lbs. per 100 rounds.
Guns 65 lbs. each.

Gear Drive
Speed Reducer ratio 25-1.
Azimuth gear ratio 50-1.
Elevation gear ratio 42-1.
Azimuth gear train reduction 1250-1.
Elevation gear train reduction 1050-1.

Electrical Requirements
24 Volt D.C.
Peak starting current motor amplidynes 1280 amps.
Maximum current draw running full load 92 amps.
Maximum current draw running no load 40 amps.


The Bendix Chin Turret Model “D” is an electrically driven power turret, mounting two caliber, .50 M-2 Machine Guns, equipped with recoil absorbing mechanism, firing solenoids, and manual gun chargers.

The turret is designed to be mounted in the Bombardier’s Compartment and to be operated by the Bombardier to protect the forward approaches to the ship. The guns rotate 172° in azimuth (86° to the left and to the right of forward) and swing from 26° above horizontal to 46° below horizontal. Switch limits are adjustable. The turret is mounted at floor level in the Bombardier’s Compartment. The guns extend below the fuselage at the nose of the ship. The lower assembly, with the exception of the gun barrels which protrude through covered slots, is enclosed in an aluminum, movable housing to minimize wind resistance. Plexiglass windshields seal the space at the floor of the ship around the turret.


Ammunition containers are fixed to the movable housing and are equipped with guide chutes which permit ammunition to flow to the guns while they are rotating in elevation and in azimuth. The empty case and belt links are ejected by chutes through the bottom of the housing.

The Bombardier is the Chin Turret Gunner, and operates the Chin turret from the Bombardier’s position by lifting a latch and swinging the turret controller from its stowed position against the right side of the fuselage to the combat position which is at a convenient height in front of the gunner. The main power switch is located on the controller column at the front of the controller. The sight is suspended at eye level from the top of the fuselage above the operators position.


The direction and speed of the guns are controlled by handle bar type control handles. Each handle contains a safety brake switch for stopping the turret should the gunner relax his grip; a spring trigger switch for firing the guns, and a high speed switch for fast tracking speeds. Movements of the control handle in azimuth and in elevation move potentiometers which vary the control fields of azimuth and elevation Amplidyne generators. The variable out put of the Amplidyne generators control the direction and speed of the azimuth and elevation turret driving motors. The speed of the turret can be varied from ¼° per second to 12° per second in low speed and from ¼° to 33° per second in high speed. The Amplidyne system of control automatically furnishes a constant speed for any setting of the control handles regardless of the change of torque.

The open sight is synchronized with the movements of the gun in azimuth and in elevation and is driven by tachometer shafts from the azimuth and elevation gear trains. The gunner’s field of view thus always includes the direction in which the guns are pointing and moves with the guns. The sight is equipped with a rheostat to control the intensity of the light of the circle which is projected on the sight glass.

The center of the field of view is marked by the center dot and is the point on which the guns are trained. The dot and circle are used in the same manner as a ring sight and bead on a flexible machine gun installation. The intensity of the light can be varied to satisfy the operating conditions of bright sunlight or night flying.

To operate the turret the Bombardier lifts the control column latch and swings the controller and column from the stowed position to the combat position, moves the power switch to the power position, charge the guns, and adjusts the intensity of the sight reticle to the light conditions. The movements of the guns in azimuth and in elevation are controlled by the handle bar type control handles. The turret can be operated only when the safety switch on the outside of either control handle is depressed. Rotation of turret in azimuth follows rotation of the control handles clockwise or counterclockwise about the vertical axis. The swing of the guns in elevation follows swing of the control handles up or down. The speed of the guns is proportional to the degree of movement of the control handles from the neutral position in low speed. The guns are moved in high speed by depressing the high speed button on the top of either control handle. High speed of the guns is proportional to the degree of movement of the control handles from the neutral position. Looking through the sight, the gunner trains the guns on the target by moving the control handles. The guns are fired by pressing the trigger switch on the front of either control handle.

The gunner can follow a target freely, firing as required without the guns striking the fuselage or firing into any part of the ship. The limits of the gun movements in azimuth and elevation are automatically controlled by switches.

The turret can be stopped by releasing the control handle safety switches on the side of the control handles. The power supply to the turret is cut off by moving the main power switch to the “OFF” position. The turret can rotate in azimuth and the guns swung in elevation by use of a hand crank in the event of electric power failure.



Step 1. Release controller and arm.

The controller and arm are held in a stowed position when not in use. Release knob at the lower right side of gunner.



Step 2. Move power switch to power position.


Step 3. Depress control handle safety switches.


The turret will run when either safety switch is depressed.

For high speed, depress button on top of either control handle.

To fire guns, depress trigger switch on either control handle.


Step 4. Controller.

To raise or lower the guns in elevation rotate control handles about the horizontal axis. To rotate the turret in azimuth, move controller about vertical axis. Turret moves in same relative direction as controller is turned, the speed being proportional to the degree of movement of the control handles from the neutral position.


Step 5. Charging the Guns.

Pull hand charging lever to up position and release, allowing charging handle to return freely.

Guns can be charged independently of each other.


Step 6. Sight reticle intensity.

Rotate sight rheostat to control the intensity of light of the two concentric circles in the sight.



Gun Heater Switch.

This switch located on left side of terminal box—use only when necessary.



Loading ammunition.

The shells are loaded into the ammunition container so that they point towards the center column. Thread the end of the ammunition belt that extends from the top layer of the ammunition container through the guide rails. The shells now point the same direction as the guns. Insert the belt with the double link first into the ammunition feed way of the gun until the cartridge holding pawl is actuated.


The following accessories are added to the caliber .50 machine gun when used on the Bendix Chin Turret.

7. NUT
8. NUT
9. NUT
11. BOLT
16. BOLT
19. NUT


Harmonization of sight and guns.

The turret is provided with adjustments for the machine guns and sight which will permit the guns and sight to be set up for parallel or converging fire. For parallel fire the flight path of the bullets from the two guns and the sight line are all parallel. The guns are mounted so that the flight path of the bullets are in a horizontal plane 56.6″ below the sight line. With the guns straight forward the flight path of the bullets are 7½” to either side of a vertical plane passed through the sight line.



Adjustment of elevation limit micro-switches.


(1) Remove the entire movable housing by removing the bolts, that hold the housing to the arms, and four button head screws holding housing to foot casting.

(2) Remove right hand side cover plate from relay box.


(3) Crank guns to down limit 136° zenith (check with protractor level). Foot of elevation limit rack should just actuate down limit switch at this point. Loosen adjusting screw and slide limit switch stop until micro switch just closes. (Check with ohmmeter.)

(4) Crank guns to up limit 64° zenith (check with protractor level) foot of elevation limit rack should just actuate up limit switch at this point. Loosen adjusting screw and slide limit switch stop until foot of elevation limit rack just actuates up limit micro switch.

Adjustment of azimuth limit switches.


(1) Remove movable housing.


(1) Using hand crank rotate guns clockwise to 86° azimuth, turn adjusting screw on azimuth limit switch lever to actuate micro-switch as arm just raises lever.

(2) Rotate guns counter-clockwise to 274° azimuth and perform same adjustment for counter-clockwise limit switch.

Compounding instructions Model “D”.


(1) Loosen locking nuts of the compounding rheostats located on the sides of the amplidyne. If the turret slows down under load turn the rheostat in the direction of the arrow, until it runs at a constant speed under load. If the turret speeds up under load turn the adjusting rheostat in the opposite direction from that of the arrow, until it will run at a constant speed under load.

(2) Depress high speed button and set high speed compounding adjustment at a low RPM (no load) so that no change in RPM occurs when the turret is loaded, that is applying a 40 lb. load to the front of the gun arm.

(3) Release high speed button and set the normal speed compounding adjustment at a low RPM (no load) so that there is no change in RPM when the turret is loaded, that is applying a 40 lb. load to the end of the gun arm.

(4) Tighten both locking nuts on the compounding adjustment.

(5) The above procedure must be followed for both azimuth and elevation.


To check the grease level of the azimuth gear assembly, unscrew the Allen head cap screw located in the center of the inspection panel on the side of the azimuth gear housing at the bottom of the center column. The grease must be at this level, if below it is necesary to add grease. The plug on the top of the azimuth gear housings is removed to fill with grease to proper level.

To check the grease in the speed reducer, back out the Allen head screw in the center of the side inspection plate. If the grease is not up to this height, remove top inspection plate and add grease.

The elevation gear housing grease level is checked by removing the plug on the side of the gear housing. Grease is added through the plug hole on top of the gear housing.

Maintenance checks.

1. Be sure turret is supplied with 20 volts or more for proper operation.

2. Check all firing limits and dynamic brakes by swinging turret in azimuth and elevation against all stops.

Note the guns do not strike fuselage or fire into any part of the ship.

3. Inspect sight for illuminated reticle. If reticle fails to light, switch to other filament. Switch for this is located on side of sight.

4. Ammunition containers should be filled and ammunition threaded into guns properly.

5. Charge the guns to be sure that charger is functioning.

6. Depress the interphone switch to test the ship’s interphone system.

7. Be sure that the guns and sight are harmonized correctly.


The Rest Will Follow


Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 8.30.41 AM

Susan walked into the tent. “You wanted to see me, General?”

“Ah, Miss Travers. Yes.”  Koenig looked up from his camp desk. “I never thanked you for repairing the staff car yesterday. That was good work.”

“Just doing my duty, sir. It looked worse than it was.”

“Lucky for us that Luftwaffe chap had terrible aim.” His mouth tightened. “But I’m afraid we’re in a pickle.” He tapped a dispatch on his desk. “We just got word over the wireless that Rommel is on the move. Headed straight for us, in fact. Three panzer divisions. I’m afraid we’ll need to evacuate.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, sir.”

“Yes. What I need from you, Miss Travers, is to drive my car again. We’ll lead the evacuation through the Nazi minefields. They won’t be expecting that.”

She smiled. “Brilliant, sir. The boys see a woman driving, they’ll have to follow.”

What Pegman Saw

This story is based on an experience of Susan Travers, the daughter of a Royal Navy admiral who became a driver of French Foreign legion general Marie-Pierre Koenig,  the only woman the Legion ever admitted into its ranks.



Christo’s Gift


For years, Ray badgered Christo and Jeanne-Claude to barter a piece with him. He sent  dozens of works of mail art, a large collage. There was never a response.

One day on his porch he found a brown paper parcel bound with white twine. The US Postal Service mailing label was lettered in neat block print. It was from the  Christos.

Excited, he tore the package open. The box was empty save a letter and a polaroid of the paper-wrapped parcel.

Dear Ray,
This package was the piece we are giving you, and now you have destroyed it.


Friday Fictioneers

This is a story told by New York artist Ray Johnson (1927-1995). He was a seminal Pop Art figure in the 1950s, an early conceptualist, and a pioneer of mail art.



The television is always on these days
far too loud

in empty rooms I can hear it
from outside the house

and after dark see the dance
blue light throwing shadows

on the usually blank plaster

look closely
it’s Dan Rather again

older than ever

his Texas mouth made for
corn on the cob

but he is only the messenger
if can you trust him



“I don’t understand. Where will you go?”

“Somewhere. Anywhere. Sasha, this place is killing me. It is killing our daughter. You hear her cough in the night? Do you think this is a normal thing? Do you think people in Kursk or Vladivostok have such children that sound as though they should be in a tuberculosis ward?”

“In Kursk or Vladivostok they would not have such a good job as Norilsk Nickel has given me. Given us. This apartment. The dacha in summers. Are you forgetting that?”

“Are you forgetting the stinking fogs? The dead forest? My grandmother told me these steppes were covered with pines when she was a girl. Living trees, Sasha, not  twisted stumps. You know what I think when I see them? That they show what will happen to me if I stay here.”

“This is my home, Vanka. I am proud to live here. Norilsk is not for the weak.”

What Pegman Saw

Tallnakh is now part of Norilsk, the northernmost city in the world. The population of 175000 mostly work for the Norilsk Nickel mines, which began  operations as part of the gulag system of forced labor prior to World War Two. Prisoners reportedly worked in the nickel mines as late as 1979

The town is closed to outsiders, but you can watch a short film (from which these two photographs were captured) here.

Lame Tesla


When Mr. Jurgens gave him an F on his project, Pete got really upset.

“Edison couldn’t understand that Tesla saw his inventions in visions,” Pete yelled. “They came to him in dreams and he built them!”

“Yes but Tesla’s inventions were functional. This isn’t.”

This took place in front of the whole class, which is how Pete got the nickname.

You see his work all over town. A mechanical spinning chicken that  lays candy eggs. The monkey perpetually pedaling a bicycle back and forth across a tightrope.

None of these machines  have a function either, but people love love them.


Friday Fictioneers



She opens a drawer and finds dozens of photos taken with her long-ago Instamatic.

Her children, trapped forever by the flesh-bleaching flash, their expressions frozen and stunned,  reddened eyes demonic and glowing like coals.

By the time electronic pictures came along she was no longer on speaking terms with any of them.

Years ago  her son David  sent her an expensive Olympus digital camera.

“But I don’t have a computer,” she wrote in her thank-you card. He never replied.

She learns later  how one can take the little cards into a drugstore to have them developed, exactly like film.

Armed with this knowledge, she snaps photos by the score, all of her dog, Wanda, an overweight shelter Labrador who is inordinately fond of snow.

The first snowfall she takes three hundred pictures, but does not make prints.

The little camera cards remind her of her grandmother’s Kodak albums,  dozens of 5×7 black and white prints pasted into books of black paper, then shelved and never looked at.

Her digital photographs will never be accidentally discovered in a drawer. They’ll stay safely locked away in their cards, inert and invisible.

She knows they exist, but she doesn’t have to see them.


Sunday Photo Fiction

87° 43″N


May 11, 1926

Norge’s keel resembles a warehouse as we ascend, piled with sleds and skis, tents and snowshoes. We lack only the dogs to make ourselves an Eskimo village.

Byrd’s cursed Fokker gallingly flew alongside us for a quarter-hour this morning, as though to say to Amundsen “no matter what you do today, you shall not be first.” I expected this to set off more wrangling between the leaders, but they abstained.

I am ever fascinated watching the Norge‘s shadow gliding over the frozen tundra.

A chilling fog has closed in, glazing the airship with ice. Nobile has taken us above the cloud. Bitter cold.

Ellsworth and Amundsen were silent as we passed over 87° 43″N where just last year they were forced to abandon their attempt, nearly dying in the process.

A doom-like pall pervades the cabin. I pray we overcome it.

One of the port motors has stalled.


What Pegman Saw


I have been reading about the hyper-competitive egomaniacal polar exploration that took place in the first part of the twentieth century. Many well-heeled adventurers sought to claim discovery of the North Pole, but this was hard to accomplish and easy to dispute. Peary laid claim to it first, but this was hotly argued for a decade. When air travel became more reliable, Byrd flew a tri-motor Fokker airplane over what he claimed was the definitive pole. The next day, famed South Pole explorer Roald Amundsen set out in an Italian dirigible to drop Norwegian and American flags on the spot. It turned out that this was the easy part  of the journey. The subsequent decision to fly to Nome almost cost the party their lives.