Best-selling fantasy author Tom Holt takes a wry look at life... Melons!
‘Huh?’ I said.
‘I’ll read it again,’ she replied. ‘Listen carefully. Sometimes, if you’re not paying attention, it can almost sound like it makes sense.’
‘Get on with it,’ I said.
‘All right.’ She cleared her throat and opened the book. ‘The shot went through Freeman’s head like a soft watermelon*. End quote,’ she added triumphantly. ‘So there.’
‘Hang on a minute,’ I said. ‘I think what he was trying to say was, ‘the shot went through Freeman’s head as if Freeman’s head was a soft watermelon.’ And that’s – ‘
‘That’s not what it says,’ she replied sternly. ‘Here, see for yourself.’ She thrust the book under my nose. The words, duly highlighted in Staedler screaming fluorescent neon, were as she had recited. ‘Furthermore,’ she went on, ‘bear in mind that we’re talking about a major Hollywood production here. Multi-zillion dollar budget, the finest minds in the business all pounding themselves into jelly in the pursuit of transcendent excellence.’ She blew smoke in my face, then went on. ‘When these guys hire writers to do novelisations, they hire the best. It follows that if they say a shot went through a head like a soft watermelon, that’s what they meant. Which just leaves us with the problem of working out how you shoot a watermelon through a bloke’s head.’ She leaned closer. ‘What do they know that we don’t?’
I considered the problem. ‘It’s not impossible,’ I said. ‘If you can shoot a soft lead bullet through a steel plate, you can shoot a watermelon through a head. Even a head as thick as Freeman’s, whoever in blazes Freeman was.’
‘Rest his soul,’ she said respectfully.
I reached for a beermat and a pen, and sat for a minute or so working out the figures, during which time she ate my dry roasted peanuts and the outside of my Scotch egg. ‘I think I’ve got it,’ I said at last. ‘Have a look at this.’
She looked. ‘It’s a beermat,’ she said.
‘Correct. A beermat on which I’ve sketched a very rough schematic diagram of a workable watermelon cannon. The basic concept – ‘
‘What’s that supposed to be?’
‘Spilt beer. The basic concept isn’t that difficult. Provided you can get your basic watermelon, which I’m estimating weighs something in the region of half a pound, so call that 3,500 grains avoirdupois, average mean diameter nine inches – ‘
‘Give or take a bit,’ she said.
‘As the crow flies,’ I agreed. ‘If we can accelerate the melon to say four thousand feet per second muzzle velocity, penetration oughtn’t to be a problem. The tricky bit is not compressing the melon into slush before it leaves the end of the barrel. But I’ve thought of that.’
‘Why am I not surprised?’
‘All you need,’ I said, ‘is some form of protective jacket or sabot that’ll cushion the actual melon until it leaves the end of the barrel, but which will then fall away, allowing the melon itself to fly on unhindered. Make it out of one of these modern hard plastics, with a collapsible inner column to soak up the initial thrust; and you slit it up the sides, so that as soon as it hits the air they open up like the petals of a flower, whereupon air resistance -‘
‘It’d have to be a bloody big cannon,’ she said.
‘Not necessarily,’ I pointed out, ostentatiously moving my beer to the other side of the table. ‘You see, I reckon that to accelerate 3,500 grains to 4,000 feet per second down a nine inch diameter tube, you’d only need an internal pressure of say two and a half tons per square inch, which actually isn’t too bad. If you made the actual tube out of high-tensile aluminium alloy, or better still titanium, you’d be able to keep the weight down and still only need a tube wall thickness of say seventy-five thousandths of an inch. Two strong men could carry it easily.’
‘And a third,’ she pointed out, ‘to carry the spare melons.’
‘And a fourth,’ I pointed out, ‘to load the thing. I’m assuming it’s loaded from the muzzle, because any sort of hinged breech is going to increase the weight quite dramatically, not to mention production costs …’
‘These guys are good for the money,’ she assured me. ‘I feel sure they’d want nothing but the best.’
‘All right,’ I said, ‘so we add a basic falling-block artillery breech. Make that five men, unless you mount the whole thing on wheels, like those little shopping trolleys.’
She closed the book. ‘Thank you,’ she said. ‘You’ve restored my faith in modern speculative fiction. For a moment there I was beginning to think the worst.’
‘Shame on you,’ I remonstrated. ‘When these guys throw rotten fruit, clearly they don’t muck about.’
‘Yeah,’ she added, reaching across the table and helping herself to my beer. ‘And neither do you.’
* From the novelisation of Stargate, page 203
© Tom Holt. Taken from The Best of Prism UK (The BFS Newsletter), published for the World Fantasy Convention 1997, ed. David J Howe; reprinting material from Prism UK – Editor: Debbie Bennett, Commissioning Editor: David J. Howe.