Bern, Swiss Confederacy, Early Spring, 1634

"Will this spot work?"

"Looks high enough." A few steps toward the edge of the cliff let Peter gaze down toward the ever—but slowly—growing lake below. The lake, cut out of the fast-flowing River Aare, had been intended to slow the river down as it passed the city and allow for new dockyards to be built, as well as to give the city access to the river rock needed for its explosive growth. Bern was trying its best to be the center of technology and science in the Swiss Confederacy.

Technology, dribbling in from the city called Grantville, was making its way to Bern and Lucerne. The other cities of the confederacy, excepting Basel, were waiting to see which way the winds blew.

Karl and Karl were surprised when Peter, a journeyman clock-worker and newly-named master machinist, had offered them a deal to develop an aerial launcher overlooking the new shipyard. He never really told them what it was for, but he needed their help and was paying for their expertise.

"Come spring the pamphlets will go out. By summer we are to expect many competitors to arrive. You've seen the latest posters, have you not? Should more arrive, we'll stretch out the competition. The visitors will spend all summer perfecting their machines and I will be enriched by the monies they spend. It's my shops they will rent to perfect their designs to make the parts they need!

"Imagine every mountain top having its own catapult and a messenger craft to fly out mail, or warnings, and even to take the rich for rides in the sky! We'll be rich," Peter exclaimed. "Rich indeed! We pay the winning designer a small prize, just a percentage of the entrance fees. And then we'll own the rights to develop the craft, too!"

"And all we have to do is build this launcher?" The shorter Karl, Karl Hoffman, crooked an eyebrow and peered over the edge. He was a carpenter by trade, but had recently been trained in machining aimed towards making better roads and tracks for the new mountain rails.

Due to their rich patron, Peter Gerber, he and Karl the Tall had work for the next year at least. And it was a council-approved job that would also count towards their new guild's training requirements.

All they had to do was design a proper horizontal catapult to give any craft placed on the tracks enough impetus to clear the thick trees below and—hopefully—reach the new lake . . . or perhaps even beyond. Any craft, be they packages using something called "parachutes" or man-powered gliders or even aircraft powered by pedals and gears or engines. Karl had seen his first engine last winter. It just powered a small toy boat, but ran on nearly pure alcohol, naphtha and lamp oil. But he could imagine larger versions of such engines.

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- The Grantville Gazette Staff