“Is it a night yet?”
Anna 'vanished', while I resumed my seat after putting out the brass rivet wires and that one file I used for 'finishing off' the rivets, as well as the washers and punches I would need for the handle's rivet-wires. My 'riveting' hammer, I laid out, all of this in order, then as I went back to the table to resume drawing, I saw an obvious-looking bag.
“That string,” I muttered. “Rachel needs both a sample, and then a drawing, and finally, a description of just what we found there.”
“I can describe that stuff,” said Sarah. “Bring a few spools, and I can speak of it to some degree.”
However, I recalled what I had heard as I brought out several spools, including one that I had no idea nor even dream of, as no one had spoken of it. This spool was sizable, as it contained what looked like a thick species of braided twine. I then looked at the spool's label and screeched like a mashed rat.
Sarah left her pot-stirring and came at a run, then looked at what I was pointing at on the label. My finger – indeed, my whole hand – shook as if it were about to endure a localized convulsion.
“What does that mean?” she asked, pointing at what the label said. “I've seen such words before on tapestries, but the Gustaaf speaks of them being words used prior to the war, and that only.”
“Th-three millimeter l-line,” I said. “About eight lines, give or take one, if I gage this stuff's diameter by looking at it.” A pause, then, “that was not what made me screech, dear.”
“What did, then?” said Sarah.
“Th-this stuff has a five h-hun-hundred kilogram working strength, and it breaks at several times that figure,” I screeched. Again, I sounded like a mashed rat – a mashed rat in the grip of a severe convulsion. I then pulled out another spool, this also a species of twine, only it looked closer to what was called 'fishing string', then a spool of that dark 'twine' we had seen before used as 'heavy-duty thread' by those plotting 'escape from a species of too-real hell'. That was the first material that was not braided, and Sarah tried to read its label.
“This is what they did much of their sewing with,” said Sarah. “Now that figure” – here, she pointed – “is a large one, as it says three followed by three naughts, and finding numbers of that nature is not at all common, even those in books and classes at the west school.”
“Even their mathematics classes?” I asked. I'd handled larger numbers in the third grade.
Sarah sadly nodded, then said, “even that named geometry does not deal with larger numbers, and much of what they teach is that type of figuring needed for mapping out regions.” A pause, then, “I think they go much further in instrument-making apprenticeships, but how just far they go is something few know and fewer-yet speak of.”
“The Heinrich works,” I said. “Do they bother...”
“I am not sure, as those who apprentice instrument-makers tend to be as close-mouthed as witches about such matters,” said Sarah, “almost as if mathematics beyond what is taught at the west school is something so dangerous that it is like chanting bad rune-curses and stroking fetishes made long ago by strong witches.”
“Given that many instrument-makers learn more about what you just said rather than 'real math', that's only too true,” said the soft voice. “The ones who do teach 'real math' are all marked, and they only teach their full knowledge to other marked people, as those who are otherwise tend to either turn witch while being instructed, or quit the entire business early and then turn witch.”
“Math makes people turn witch here?” I gasped.
“Recall what Tam said about how people who turn witch need to learn nearly everything in life all over again, and then how those in the Rooster Totem speak of those who turn witch?” asked the soft voice pointedly. “One of the chief regions of deliberately-fostered ignorance is mathematics, as firstly, that capacity is greatly needed to progress beyond what the fourth kingdom currently manages for most of its home-produced products, and secondly...”
Here, a pause, one of pregnant-mother-rat proportions. I was thinking of a large mother rat, one most bulgy and irritable beyond belief – as this one was like 'Big Mama' for color, and in another league for attitude, such that it made 'Big Mama' at her very worst – like when she bit my eyelid – seem tame and pleasant.
“One of the chief faculties that is lost when a person thinks like a witch enough to make such a life look even slightly attractive is the capacity to deal with math beyond what you were taught during what would be thought of here as one's third term in the lower schools.”
“What?” I squeaked.
“Witches can add, subtract, multiply, and divide, provided the numbers involved are not too large,” said the soft voice, “and the 'smarter' ones – when they're sober – have trouble doing 'long division', like you showed Anna that one time.” A pause, then, “by the way, were you to teach her math now, she'd pick it up much more readily, and be a far more attentive student in the bargain – and that for all subjects.”
“She would not be your only student,” said Sarah archly. “I would do so also, and I've read those books downstairs that speak of the subject as I have had time.” A pause, then, “back to stirring for a few turns of the spoon, then I must flip the glass and draw things as I can, and then we must open several of those boxes that once had rockets in them.” Another pause, then, “perhaps cut some of that stuff on those spools there to show Rachel, as that may well be quicker than drawing it.”
I brought out my knife, and began to cut a foot-long piece of the thickest material. Not only did I have to work at cutting it, but the material proved so obdurate that only a minute's careful work with the knife sufficed to sever a piece of the 'rope', and in the process, I wondered if I had dulled the edge of the knife. I then thought, “I didn't pray for that one, did I?”
I did just then, my hand holding the knife as I did so – and the sense of 'submersion' happened so fast that I had no idea of just where I was but a 'second' later beyond 'I am not sitting in a chair any more – and this is not Roos, either'.”
It was an acutely dangerous place, this house that I now was 'roosting' in; I could tell that. More, it smelled most strongly of mingled wax; also of a most-peculiar species of labor, this patient, slow, 'stupid' and very well hidden; and as I 'floated' along a long, dusty, and most of all dark corridor while yet standing – I was not walking; I could tell that much – I could tell that whoever lived here was so expert at hiding their true nature that when I 'fled' back to land once more upon my chair with a knife buried in smoke-billowing snow to my left and the spools sitting in front of me on the table, I gasped, “where did I just go?”
“You were here all the time, and you turned loose of that knife just before it became covered with snow,” said Sarah – who then sniffed. “I recognize that smell, though, so I can tell you traveled in some fashion.”
“Smell?” I asked.
“Yes, that smell,” said Sarah. “If that smell is not that of where my cousin lives, then I am a quoll just out of its nest, and I need to learn when it is night so I can sleep, yawn.” A pause, then, “I am beginning to wonder as to why I am up so late, in fact, beyond...”
“You used to do this all the time at school, didn't you,” I said, “but up here, no one stays up this late unless they're certain kinds of people – I mean 'people like us, who often need to work late hours' – or they're fairly serious witches.”
As if to punctuate matters, I heard two gunshots followed by a chorus of screams. These screams died out over a course of several seconds as those screaming – at least three individuals had been screaming – were each methodically 'silenced' in their turn.
“Tam shot another pack of witches,” said Sarah. “Now what else did he do?”
“Probably 'cut them off' with his knife,” I said. “Maybe he wants one of those special ear-cleaning awls like I did up for, uh, testing.”
“You what?” asked Sarah. “You... I'd like to see this awl, if I might, as it needs drawing so as to show Rachel.” A pause, then, “I've drawn enough other things that they need rubbing.”
I reached into my possible bag, and from its 'hidden' added-on pocket I had spent a short time riveting on once the thing was done weeks ago, I drew forth the awl in question. I wondered why Sarah had asked about it, until I recalled just how much had happened thus far in the last few days. I had trouble recalling much of what had happened myself, in fact – it had all become a whirlwind filled with dust and a smoke-smudged blur, with explosions and gunfire and curses and a big nasty worm and a dragoon that made anything I'd ever read about look like 'no trouble at all' to deal with. That included anything of an animal nature found in Africa – Cape Buffalo included – and large dangerous bears; none of those animals were that smart or that tough, and none of them had 'armor plate' for a hide – and 'armored battle cars' generally didn't need to be rotting in a compost pile before they quit.
I still was in no hurry to encounter what used to pass for a horrible bear here. A five-ton bear with the capacity to imitate a flamethrower and a metabolism that demanded it eat nearly its own weight of meat each day did not sound amusing to encounter, and the same could be said for a three-thousand ton 'mobile fortress' with four 'man-wide' spiked tracks and a multiplicity of witch-populated gun turrets. Still, I had an answer for Sarah.
“Jael,” I said. “Sisera. Jael used a tent peg to, uh, 'peg him out' in that portion of the book titled 'De werken Pruefeer', and Lukas' talk of cleaning ears down in the fifth kingdom house proper made for me making this thing – and then Sepp spoke of it being the size of a tent peg when I showed it to him.” This last portion was mumbled.
“They know about that phrase across the sea,” said the soft voice. “It was a commonplace wartime euphemism that spoke of either being killed or killing the enemy, and it's still spoken today in the dark places.”
“'Take him out'?” I asked.
“That phrase wasn't nearly as commonplace, even if a lot of soldiers on that side spoke of doing so to the witches,” said the soft voice. “The phrase 'pegging out' was a lot more common.” A pause, then, “a 'shiv' like that one there would have been 'most-coveted' then, and it would be highly prized today overseas.”
“And here, also,” said Sarah. “You showed that thing to Sepp, didn't you? My memory is not its usual, if you speak of the last few days.”
“I did,” I said, as I slipped my 'death-awl' back in its well-hid sheath. “It was a real chore to drive these rivets” – I pointed to their outer portions, complete with the brass washers as I spoke of them – “as the bag was put together then, and I needed this awl ready to hand in case its rapid use proved required.” A pause, then, “it almost makes sense to make another one of these bags using the ideas that have accumulated since I made this one originally – one with a lot more inside pockets and dividers, including at least one fitted pocket for pistols as well as some to hold knives and awls.”
“I'd use properly-tanned and treated leather to make its replacement, also,” said the soft voice. “You should be able to get some good leather tomorrow, as you're not the only person who knows about ignorant tanners and how they're too-often inclined toward the ways and thinking of witches – and they can treat it overseas.”
“Yes, and I know who that is with the good leather, too,” said Hans, as he brought up a pair of tin plates, these with all of the pieces of a knife on each one. They were in a most-definite order, which I found gratifying to see. “There are three more of these things in that oven now, as Anna figured out how to stack them easy in there.”
“Three more?” I asked.
“I have to shave some more pieces of wood yet, but I...” Here, Hans counted on his fingers after setting the plates down on the table nearer my workbench, then said, “five more pieces, I think. Anna has all of the blades blacked up, so she is cleaning up that mess, and then...” Hans looked over at the stove, stirred it, added a bit more wax after shaving it up with his knife, then smelled the slow-cooking 'pot'.
“This stuff is for tools, is it not?” he asked. “If it is, I think I might want some, as if it gets hot and damp up here this summer, tools will be bad for rusting.”
“It may be good for tools, but getting enough wax for...” Sarah looked at me, then shook her head. “They have lots of wax overseas, so they should manage plenty of proper rust-preventer.”
“Yes, and I hope to get that spokeshave done proper too, with all of its blades done the same so that there is a full set of those things,” said Hans – who obviously meant 'like you have'. “I might not be much of a carpenter, but it seems if you have good tools and a bit of patience, then you can do a lot more than I thought someone like me could do.”
“Such as, uh, glue-removal for when the chairs go wobbly, then cleaning the old finish off of the rest of such chairs?” I asked. “Perhaps getting some of the lead out of this table?”
“That I might and might not have time to do, as we only have the one table,” said Hans. “We have several stools, and the same for chairs now, so if one of them is missing a week, it will cause but little trouble, but the table wants doing quick enough that we are not eating at the Public House for weeks, and it would take me weeks at the least, what with all the other things I need to do right now.”
I stood open-mouthed in shock at what Hans had just said, as he was right: the degree of woodworking he had spoken of initially was practical for amateurs, given decent to 'good' tools; while critical work, or work that needed doing quickly, wanted people who did such work for a living – people who had the time, the talent, the dedicated-to-woodworking-space, the experience, and the tools needed to bring such work to a successful conclusion in a 'reasonable' amount of time.
“'Reasonable' probably varies a lot, save for things that get used all the time,” I thought. “That stuff cannot wait.”
“It usually waits longer than is good just the same,” said the soft voice, “and Hans understated the case regarding good tools.”
“Most carpenters are not like those in town, much less those at the house proper,” said Sarah. “Hans, can you look at this? I'm not sure I have it right.”
I needed no further interjection: I went to work on the knives, and within perhaps a minute, I was 'driving' rivets, first into the hilt of each knife. The noise of the hammer peening the annealed brass wire, while very quiet as hammering went, was rapid enough that Sarah squeaked, “ooh, that n-noise. It makes me see lightning to hear it.”
“Sorry, dear,” I said, as I began to put the scales on the first knife. The rivet-holes lined up perfectly, the pins went in with washers on top and bottom, the 'bottom' punch on the lower side lay in the normally-plugged hole of the jeweler's anvil, and the other punch for the top, then eight sharp raps with a riveting hammer – these rapid-fire, so rapid that they merged into a short 'burp' – and the business for that rivet was done.
“He drives those things like one of those guns that spray bird-whistles out of their bottoms and breathe white fire from their fronts,” said Hans quietly. “Now this part here is taller...”
I was onto the next rivet for the handle, this also having its washers; and again, eight sharp raps and the rivet was set. The third, fourth, and fifth handle-rivets went nearly as quickly; and that knife was done.
The second knife went even faster than the first, and when I presented Hans with two 'ready to dip' knives on top of the stacked tin plates, he goggled for an instant – then resumed advising Sarah on what she was drawing for a minute or so before rushing downstairs with the knives and the plates they had come upstairs upon.
“He'll be back up before long,” said Sarah. “I told him he needed to watch that thermometer and move those wood-pieces around frequently, as that type of an oven needs special arranging to heat what is inside it evenly.”
“As in most bake-ovens have 'hot' and 'cool' places?” I asked.
“Yes, unless they've been worked on specially,” said Sarah as she brought over her ledger. I began 'rubbing' the pages she'd done thus far, those being those 'common' grenades, among other things she had worked on. I'd made surprising progress on drawing the knives as well prior to working on the knives Hans had brought up, and had the sharpening stones we'd found next in line for 'tracing'. “Many of the larger fourth kingdom ovens either have a number of separate fireboxes, or they have this arrangement of metal bars which is rotated by a small damp-motor...”
“Are those the ones that have, uh, carts in them?” I said. “A door at one end, another at the other end, a long firebrick 'tunnel', and perhaps three or four fireboxes, each one of which is stoked slowly with well-burnt coal and all of those fireboxes tended carefully by a 'fireman'?”
“I think there might be three bakeries that I know of that do that much bread,” said Sarah, “and one of them is not two miles north of the west school.” A pause, then, “most places have ovens like the house proper does, and they either spend years getting their ovens right, or they are most careful which parts they use and how they put their loaves in those things, and the same for their fires and all.”
“No, uh, 'build the fire in the oven itself, burn it so it is hot to the touch on the outside, and then rake out the ashes and stuff' before putting bread or whatever needs baking inside it?” I asked. I had heard of that being done, at least in some places. It was historical where I came from; I knew that much.
“That is common in the third kingdom's back-country,” said Sarah, “where a number of families group themselves together to make their bread, and their ovens are large enough to crawl into.” A pause, then, “once they had to drive a hen-grabber out of an oven and rake it carefully before it could be used.”
“Hen-grabber?” I asked. I was rubbing the knife-drawing I had just done, and the thing changed so drastically over the course of perhaps a second that I nearly fainted: isometric format, with multiple views; shading, this in multiple colors; proper perspective; clear neat lettering – and the whole inked in several different colors, all of which dried with a flash of bluish-white to give a finished drawing.
“It was shot,” said Sarah, “and they put wood to it right away, as those things are thought to be the pets of witches in the third kingdom's back-country.” Pause, then, “and the two people with guns set to cleaning those things while they were still warm, and they were at that business until the bread was cooked and ready for eating.”
“Slow?” I asked.
“Those people?” asked Sarah. “I think not!”
“Then why s-so long?” I asked.
“First, they have to make trips of some days to have their guns worked on, as the only place where that happens in the third kingdom is in one place at that port,” said Sarah. “Then, they have nowhere near enough money to have that done there, even if they save their coins for a ten-year, and finally, that entire 'town' had just the two guns.”
“And no tools?” I asked. I was now drawing one of the sharpening stones we'd found, noting as I did their coming in sets and what they needed to be treated with regularly to prevent loading up.
“As good as yours, no,” said Sarah. “They mostly have what they have for tools from escaped Veldters, and they keep what they have well-greased and hidden save when they must use them, same as with their guns, and they clean those things with distillate regularly.”
“Not smelly distillate, but something else, correct?” I was thinking of boiled distillate, actually.
“It may smell, but it does not smell much,” said Sarah. “I think they set out common heavy distillate for a week at a time with daily stirring, do so multiple times with a time of jugging between each such time, and then filter the remaining liquid through cloth and charcoal into vials like medicine vials.” A pause, then, “the tinkers passing through their towns actually buy what they do that way, which is how they get many of those things they need which need purchasing.”
“They actually manage 'real' well-dried distillate,” I said. “They probably use old fire-blackened pots... Duh!”
“Yes, so what is your trouble?” asked Hans. He'd suddenly showed with two more knives that needed riveting. “Is this about how to get distillate so it does not smell much without distilling it?”
“T-they do that in the third kingdom, they would not tell me where or how they did so, and now I know,” said Sarah. “It does not get that hot up here, save during the hottest part of High Summer, but if one puts a pot that is darkened by much cooking out where the stuff is in the sun all day, and keeps it upwind of any fires, then...”
“So that is what they do,” said Hans. “I always wondered how that place had distillate with barely any smell, and why they used it so seldom, and now I have the rest of my answer.” A pause, then, “they may not have much to sell there, but they do make distillate that barely has any smell to it, and that stuff is something that many want, so they sell that.”
“Not true boiled distillate, but most of its inflammable tendencies are reduced enough to make the stuff passable for cleaning and rust-prevention.” I paused, then, “so they boil out their guns after pulling them to bits using proper tools, that for both locks and barrels, wipe them down carefully with clean rags, then wipe the parts off with that stuff mixed with a little fourth kingdom grease they get from a passing tinker – and then they can keep what guns they have from rusting in that place.” Another pause, then, “those things are probably older than time.”
“Yes, that is so,” said Hans. “Most third kingdom guns are, and they take care of those things better than most places north, and a lot of places to the south, too.”
“In the back country?” I asked.
“If you see a gun in that place, you can be certain it is an old one, and more certain yet that whoever has it is either rich for that place, or...”
“There are entire towns that pool their money to purchase and maintain those things, Hans,” said Sarah. “That is the only way they can have them, and outside of a few things, the only common way those people get enough money to buy muskets, powder, and lead is by buying commonplace distillate and letting it air out for a while like they do using old copper pots.”
“Oh, not just any old copper pots,” I said, as I rubbed my drawing I had just completed. I was learning the 'tricks' to this method: sketch it out minimally, then rub some, then add any 'missing' details, and rub well. That process gave the best possible result with minimal time. “They use 'baking pans', but half an inch of distillate in each one, stirring daily for at least a minute with an old brass spoon with holes punched in it, and then the pans are up on the roof of a brick shed well clear of any flames.” A pause, then, “they might take a month to 'cook' a jug that way, but short of what we and some people in the fourth kingdom do, that's about the best 'well-dried' distillate to be had.” A pause, then, “and I hope to get a real distillate-still going soon after we get back from that trip, as we will need it.”
As I took the knives over to drive their rivets, Hans came with me, and as I did my quick tapping with the hammer, he spoke of how Anna was constantly checking his work, even when he used the gages to check what he did.
“How often do you check those wood pieces?” I asked.
“About every few strokes of that spokeshave,” said Hans. “It makes a lot of dust, it is set so fine, so I can get them real close, or so I think until she checks them.” A pause, then, “she has never been so picky, no, not ever.”
“Life and death,” I said. “It wasn't just losing a toe, Hans – she had to use one of these things today, and she had to...”
“Having that knife saved her life,” said the soft voice. “Had Hans had the same thing happen, he'd be a lot pickier than he is also.” A pause, then, “by the way, it isn't just the life of those using them she's speaking of. It's her life also, as in 'she's being held responsible for the outcome', and hence she's utterly serious about the matter.”
“As if He was speaking about her life hanging in the balance,” I murmured. “Now do you have an idea as to why I work as hard as I do?”
“Y-yes,” said Hans. “I might not know much, but after seeing her be that way, I know it is not just you.”
“Or Tam,” said Sarah. “Or Esther. Or my cousin – or, sometimes, me.” A pause, then, “I'm not sure about Andreas, as he seems to hide that portion better than almost anyone I've ever seen.”
“That is what you must do when there are lots of Generals around,” said Hans. “If you cannot hide yourself good, then you must hide what you are like good, or...”
“Or you kill every stinking one of those witches when and where you encounter them, and then raze their haunts to the ground with the survivors aflame inside them,” I spat. “No mercy, no relent, and no tears – and after doing that stinking dragoon, there's no more retreating, either.”
“I know,” said Sarah. “That lizard did something to me, too, but I think it wasn't close to what it did to you.” A pause, then, “Hans, now check this. I did what you told me to – I think.”
I gave Hans back the two finished knives a few moments later, and as I returned to the table to resume drawing, I noted that my knife was no longer present.
“I put that thing over on the counter in a pot where it can melt its snow without warping the table's wood,” said Sarah, “and that stuff is not normal snow, but something out of an old tale, as it is smoking like it's on fire, and no common snow I've seen does that.”
“Tongs?” I asked. I hoped Sarah had picked up the 'snow-encrusted' knife with something other than her hands, as she'd incur 'hot-cold' burns the instant she touched it.
“Yes, some wood ones,” said Sarah. “It left this strange scorch-mark on the wood, and I hope that spot will come out when this thing gets redone.” A sniff, then, “he's cooking that stuff. I can smell it.”
“Dipping those just-done knives, also,” said the soft voice. “He's cut that 'dip' with boiled distillate, as he's already 'sealed' the wood and he thinks he only needs dipping and then wiping to give the wood a 'good' finish.”
“Anna told him to do that, didn't she?” I asked.
“She did, and she's making certain he's properly careful in what he does,” said the soft voice. “Just you wait though – she's going to change even more by tomorrow evening.”
“And her foot will be nearly completely healed, also,” I said. “Now will this have an effect upon what happens later?”
“It will,” said the soft voice. “She'll survive it 'fine',” said the soft voice. “Had she not lost her toe today, though – her survival would be altogether unlikely, and that in spite of all that had been done beforehand and all that you might be able to do to get her to that help quickly.”
“Cooking the knives, or both cooking the knives and heating the 'dip' some?” I asked.
“I think...” Sarah paused, then turned to see Anna coming up the stairs. She had a small tinned copper plate, this with a number of new-molded candles on it.
“I have that mold figured out now,” she said, “or rather, molds, as I'm using two of them. The one without a candle in it is setting in a bucket of water and ice, so the candles set up faster, and when the wick is in solid, I can undo the mold and pour another candle in the other mold once I dry it well.”
“The wick?” I asked.
“I gently touch it,” said Anna. “With this wax, it can be solid-looking on the surface, and yet still melted under it. It needs to be solid most of the way through before one unlocks one of those molds, or else the candle is too soft to hold its shape.” A pause, then, “and those lanterns are touchy that way, more so than almost any such lantern I've seen – either the lanterns themselves, or drawings I've seen here and there.”
“Student's lanterns are not that, uh, precise?” I asked.
“No,” said Anna. “Those have tabs that one can bend, though it is unwise to do that more than needed, but those you did have small cast-bronze rings that need a most-precise shape and size to their candles...” I stood up, then thought better of the matter and wished the knife to be in my hand. To my complete astonishment, the thing came up out of its pot, still encrusted with 'snow', then as it flew slowly through the air, the snow 'boiled' off and smoking chunks fell the entire distance until slowly, the knife's handle touched my hand. It was now 'warm' to the touch, and I grasped it as I sat down.
The whole kitchen seemed to have become a world unlike anything I had seen or heard, and while Anna seemed less surprised than myself, that did not stop her from looking at what I was doing: cutting the pieces of thread for samples, only now, I had a knife that not merely had an utterly renewed edge, but an edge that was 'out of an old tale' for functioning. The term 'monomolecular edge' came to me, and I brushed it aside, for it was purely a matter of fiction, and what I was using was entirely real in its nature.
Even that thick cord, that which had taken work to cut through prior to the knife being made 'different' in its entire nature, now parted as if it were made of warm cheese spread. I then heard Anna speak upon what had happened.
“You'll wish to do that with those knives once you are done, and the same with the rest of the surgical knives we have, as I can tell it makes much of a difference in their working,” said Anna. “You'll need to take at least one of those knives with you, you know.”
“We will?” I asked.
“I think you should take that one which is marked specially in the language of the old-book,” said Anna. “That thing tingles every time I should touch it, and I wonder if it is warning me off.”
“Have you touched it recently?” asked Sarah. “It might feel better now.”
Anna shook her head, then ran for the stairs in a hurry that astonished me. I suspected she was inclined to test what Sarah had spoken of, and the screech downstairs that resulted had me wondering about rats showing in the basement.
“Do rats get down there?” I asked, as frantic steps charged back up the stairs.
“If they are bad enough in here, they might,” said Sarah. “Usually, they tend to be most numerous in the kitchen, as the food is there, and rats desire food often, especially should they carrying young.”
“Gnaw constantly,” I muttered as I sketched out another item. “Tooth-grinding...”
“That would be a mother rat,” said Sarah solemnly. “I have heard them do that often.”
“You have?” I asked. I was sketching still. This drawing was that of a 'metal pear'.
“They are most-common at the west school,” said Sarah – who then turned to see Anna once more coming up the stairs at a near-run. She 'shot' into the realm of the table, and spoke, her voice a near-breathless whisper.
“It tingles much less now,” she said, “and no, it is not warning me off.”
“Then what is it doing?” asked Sarah. “Is it telling you that it is especially good, or something similar?”
“More than that, Sarah,” said Anna. “This thing does not like those small things that cause infections, and if I look at it right, I can sometimes see small flashes now and then.” Anna looked at it carefully, then said, “and then, I could barely see the rainbow that the edge makes before. Now I can see it easily, and that no matter when or where I should be, or how good the light is.”
“That would mean it is special,” said Sarah solemnly. “Now, if you should handle one of the others like it, I think it might just mark itself for you, what with your toe being gone.”
“Try it,” I said. “It cannot hurt.” I then thought, “perhaps she needs to pray over her tools regularly.”
“I think so!” said Anna audibly, her voice just below a high-pitched yell. Her voice had acquired an added dimension most-recently, and not just in volume. Her voice was easily good for half an octave more, if one spoke of 'top end'. “I'll do just that from now on.”
“Not just when you use them,” I said. “I mean regularly, as in 'as often as you can recall the need to do so'.”
“I know,” said Anna. “You're the second person to tell me, so now I know it's the truth.”
“Could one be marked for her, then?” I thought.
The air seemed to gather a charge of electricity, so much so that my hair seemed to rise up from my head, and as the floor shook beneath my feet – or was it shaking? I could not tell, even if the air seemed to be 'loading up' as if lightning were about to strike; Anna carefully sheathed the 'knife', laid it upon the table, then shot back down into the basement. Her rapid movement seemed to cause fumes to come up, these potent and 'strong', yet for some reason, they were not sickening.
“Hans, best turn down that lamp,” said Anna's voice clearly. “I need to look at this stuff here.”
Faint speech, then a sudden scream, this so dire and horrifying that I came to my feet, then Hans yell: “come quick, the two of you. Anna has fallen to the floor!”
The two of us left our seats, and I made the stairs just ahead of Sarah. My bounding progress had me reach the bottom landing in what seemed the blink of an eye, and as I leaped around corners and seemed to flow to where Hans was standing, I paused...
Turned as if dreaming and waking at the same time...
And saw Anna, laying prostrate, one of the knives in her hand, unconscious, with the knife glowing an eerie electric blue, much as if it were made entirely of lightning.
Glowing? No, closer to hazed with snaking blue lightning-bolt lines of 'energy', and much the same for what else lay within the 'toolbox' where she had previously kept much of her supplies – blueish mist, mist crawling with power, tendrils of lightning seeming to shoot out of it, a power that dared anyone not worthy to reach inside the box and be turned into a cinder instantly. I knew that much: this kind of capacity was not given lightly, and one had to live up to the standard demanded so as to hold those things so empowered and not die unmissed and unmourned upon the instant of judgment.
“Nadab and Abihu,” I thought, as I then knew another matter, this of astonishing certainty: she'd wish something – no, several such containers – similar to what was currently being finished at the house proper, as this wooden box, though well-made and cared for, was now only fit for seldom-used tools – tools of a kind she might use once in a while.
“More often than you might think, at least in the future,” said the soft voice. “Expect her to acquire her own tools, and that box to need rollers and a metal stand for it in the not-too-distant future.” A pause, then, “otherwise, you are right – it's no longer genuinely suitable for medical use.”
“How is that?” asked Hans, as I checked Anna's pulse. It was normal, as was her breathing. I suspected that what had happened was spiritual in origin, and Anna simply 'could not handle it'.
I'd had something similar happen to me many years ago, and while I had not become unconscious, I could not get up from the floor, I had become so weak – until nearly half an hour had elapsed. I had seen many people do much as Anna had done, however, and I wondered if it were wise to touch her or ask her to wake up 'before it was time'.
“Perhaps remove the knife, so she isn't hurt when she comes to her senses,” I thought, as I gently reached for it.
The knife seemed to flow out of her hand and into mine, and when I looked at it, I saw blazing Hebrew letters writ upon it – in what seemed frozen electric-blue lightning – near where the blade proper joined the 'handle'. The whole of the knife was still hazed with faint-crackling 'lightning', even in my hands: hands that had healed, and hands that had killed.
Like her hands.
The letters were not those writ upon my sword or on that one marked knife like the one I was now holding, and when the letters subtly shifted both shape and other matters into a form I that could read at this time, I knew who was being referred to.
“It has her name on it,” I murmured, the name meaning 'Anna' in Hebrew, or 'S'Channahh' as it might well be pronounced here. It had a most-endearing sound, one at once 'lovely' and 'musical', even as I once again heard it spoken softly within my mind. Hearing it made for a request upon my part. “Now let this name, and its like writ upon those other tools marked similarly, become permanent and bound to her, such that these tools work as they should for her and help her do that work entrusted to her.”
“Thank you,” said Anna as she suddenly awoke, her voice seeming to come from a realm entirely different than this one or any other of my acquaintance – including those realms not on the 'physical' plane I had 'seen' or had actually gone to. “I will speak with those who work leather at the house proper tomorrow, as I will need more than just the one bag they are making for me.”
“Several, each of them with labels on them, to remind you of what they have inside, perhaps?” I asked. I was wondering how hard it would be to 'color-code' them in some fashion beyond 'cast' labels done in that strange gray-metal alloy. I could fit those later, once the stuff became available and I was able to make the molds needed for casting it.
“Yes, and they will need to have my n-name on them,” said Anna. “That is the usual, is it not, for overseas?”
“I've not been there, so I cannot...” I paused, then, “I think so, actually, though those people share their tools a lot as they don't have enough to go around when a lot of people get hurt.”
“Hence they are marked as to those who are responsible for their upkeep,” said the soft voice. “They have some very strange ideas about 'ownership' over there, so much so that you may find them a bit peculiar.”
“The ones in leadership, probably,” I muttered. “They probably think like a pack of prewar witches – everything they see is theirs, and theirs only.”
“No, not them,” said the soft voice. “Think more like 'I don't own anything. I use what I have been entrusted with while I have it, as it's too precious and too scarce to call it mine, and when I'm done with it, it must go to someone else who will use it well and faithfully'.” A pause, then, “it's been that way for a long time, at least to a certain degree – but the last ten years have made that type of thinking a near-total fixture in those people's minds.”
“How?” asked Anna. “Is it because of those over them?”
“Much more than merely blue-dressed thugs beating on them when and where possible,” said the soft voice. “Anyone over there who doesn't think like that to an extreme degree tends to not live very long under those conditions.” A pause, then, “ask Dennis how he felt when he was threatened with having his food 'cut off'.”
“Horrible,” I murmured. The recollection was so strong I had to put down my pencil, and absent-mindedly put my hand upon the surface of the paper. “He – no, both of them – constantly complained that I ate far too much, and while my mother merely cursed at me, my stepfather was inclined to set out for me what he thought to be a fit amount – which would have caused me to starve to death had he actually done that for any real amount of time, given the work demanded of me then.” A pause as I recalled the demands made upon me and my 'failure' to meet them, then, “I still felt as if everything I ate while I lived under his thumb was stolen from his personal stock of, uh, plunder, and my mother wasn't much better after she left him – both for attitude and for 'plunder'.”
“Those would be witches from an old tale,” said Sarah, “and not common witches, but especially evil ones.”
“N-no, Sarah,” said Anna as she came shakily to a sitting position and began to actually look at what was in the box. The whole thing was still faintly hazed with bluish mist; an occasional 'lightning bolt' erupted from within, but it wasn't 'crawling' with power like before. I knew that to be the seeming, however; those things entrusted to me hid that portion of their nature well. Anna had more to say.
“That's like these awful things that some call C-calenders – the ones done before the flood, not those done recently, where they not merely told of the days and their number, but they caused the days to be as per the witches' inclination, so that either one became a true-witch, one fully as evil and powerful as those issuing such matters, or one died for their pleasure – and those people sound enough like preflood true-witches for me to wish them both dead and where they belong.”
“They will end up there unless the two of them change their ways, and that swiftly,” said the soft voice. “Neither has but little time left to make such changes, even where they live now, each well apart from the other – and you know what must change first before one changes one's ways if that change is to endure.”
“One's heart must change,” I said, “and that change is not a self-wrought one, but done by another, as when a person's heart is dead and cold as a stone, it cannot change of itself. Someone else must change it and make it live again, and then that someone else must guide it into the right path so that it can change one's ways.”
“That is what happens,” said Sarah. “It happened to me, and I suspect it happens to most...” Sarah looked at me, then, “it doesn't happen there like it does here, does it?”
“Not usually, as far as I know,” I murmured, “and I doubt much it routinely happens as it did with me, even if I have read of it happening that way in some cases.”
“Is that why you spoke of that man being drafted?” asked Sarah. “Is that what happened to you?”
I nodded, this shakily, then looked once more at the knife. I had held it all this time, and for some reason, I set it down on the top of the chest.
It instantly grew a thick coating of frost, and the temperature in that area dropped so rapidly that all four of us scrambled away from that part of the basement. Here, I saw what Hans was actually doing to the knives in 'assembly-line' fashion, as well as what Anna was doing to the candles, and I paused for a moment upon looking at the molds. One had a candle slowly hardening in it, and the other was mostly hid in a wooden bucket. I could feel the water's chill, even from several feet away.
“These things need fins on them, lots of short stubby ones, so they cool faster,” I said softly. I then turned to go, as I had drawings and other matters to attend to, but when Sarah screeched, I turned once more, so that I was looking again at the candle molds.
“Wh-what did you do?” she said, her voice trembling with fear. “What happened to these things that they have t-these parts to them?”
“I think they will allow more candles to be made in the same amount of time,” said Anna, “and that being so if they are drowned in ice-water or not.” A pause, then, “I think you might wish to make future candle-molds in that fashion, as those buying them will want candle-molds that permit them to make twice as many candles for each turn of the day's glasses.” Another pause, then, “I think the carpenters here will want to talk to Hans about the buttons they make, as if they do them the way he is doing these knives, they'll last longer and they'll get twice their usual.” Pause, then, “I'd pay twice the usual for them, as I know they'd both look better and outlast the clothes they were sewn on.”
“Is Hans watching that thermometer?” I asked, as I once more turned to go.
“If he isn't, I am,” said Anna. “I've had him write the numbers it runs on a sheet of tin with an old awl, as I told him it was a good idea to tie it to the gage-ring with some of that string you brought back so it does not get lost.”
“Tin?” I asked.
“It holds up better than most paper if one wishes something to endure,” said Anna. “Now I think I have a candle to pour, and another to remove from its mold, and then you two need to do some more drawings.” A pause, then Anna all but ran through the maze of tables and went to where the firebricks were arranged on the fume hood, and removed a pair of plates.
“More knives to rivet, I'll bet,” I murmured, though as I went up the stairs, I could smell drying oil in use. More, the user of said oil was really working it into the wood, if I went by the noise of rubbing I somehow heard. They were working hard at rubbing the stuff into the heat-opened pores of the wood. That much was obvious.
“How long will those take?” I asked.
“You'll be able to sharpen the first of them shortly,” said the soft voice, “and Anna's rubbing them like that will make them very smooth in your hands.” The unspoken matter: they'd work better that way and be easier to clean.
“Just a little file-work on the hilt to smooth over those rivets,” I said.
“I would only worry about that if it should prove needed,” said Sarah. “I've seen you drive rivets, and they look smoother than anything.”
Anna came up not two minutes later with both a pair of 'finished-looking' knives, but also, two more that needed riveting. I had the knives needing riveting ready to 'go back' in minutes, and while she was taking them down, I used one of the finer 'carbon' stones, wiped it carefully with an oily rag, and then carefully 'stropped' the edges on the two 'finished' knives. The eerie shriek of the stone against the steel was enough to make my teeth wish to hide behind the stove, but when I looked at the edges after but a handful of strokes and saw the rainbows glinting clear and bright off of the edges – as bright as I had ever seen them, in fact – I gasped, “sharp enough to shave with?”
“I think so,” said Sarah. “Those are fit for surgery, and no mistake.”
I ran one across my upper arm, and the hair flew as it came off to see a place upon my skin perfectly denuded of hair. Shaving-sharp wasn't close to how these were – and I knew then that any future 'surgical knives' needed to be made of this or better batches of tool-steel. My best was none-too-good for such tools as these – and praying for them all was a requirement.
I set the knife down, then resumed working on the drawings. I paused, put my hands over the two finished knives, and instantly both knives grew a thick covering of frost. I took the icy-and-growing-colder plate up and put it where Sarah had put my knife. The two blades were 'smoking' madly as the 'solid nitrogen' covering them slowly sublimed into gas.
“Solid nitrogen?” I thought. “H-how?”
“That's a true 'cryogenic' treatment those blades are receiving,” said the soft voice. “Now rub those drawings you have done, and the same with Sarah's, and you two can start finding the hidden surprises in those rocket-boxes.”
I did so forthwith, and when Sarah came over, I began rubbing hers. She'd been less distracted or a faster artist, as she'd drawn not merely the vest for front, back, and profile – this was obviously right; she did this for a living, and hence knew clothing especially well – but also a number of other matters. I then knew our drawings had merely begun, as almost everything in the rocket-boxes would need drawing.
“Too bulky to take, too strange to show most people, and then...”
“Wait before you say much more, as some of what is in there will prove useful for the trip,” said the soft voice. “Otherwise, you're right – most of it will need drawing, and then hiding the boxes in the corner next to your workbench.”
More steps came up the stairs, this with Anna having two plates, one in each hand. I had obvious knives to work on, and when I'd finished them, I noted Anna looking at the other knives, each of them frost-covered still.
“I know what that does,” said Anna. “I'll bet they needed no rubbing to get the dirt out of them, as you melting the metal that way lets all of their dirt come out.”
“No, not all of it,” I said. I was thinking of 'vacuum arc remelting' and similar processes used to produce truly 'good' steel and other materials where I came from when I said this.
“While you are right,” said the soft voice, “that would be a far greater issue if someone else had done them.” Pause, then, “when you prayed for them as you did, that drove out the remaining impurities and did some other things to them in addition to that cryogenic treatment.”
“What would these remaining impurities be?” asked Sarah.
“As them to analyze some of your blades, dear,” said the soft voice. “Your sword would be a good example, and so would those knives.” Pause, then, “using that alloy for swords will save you” – here, I was being spoken to – “considerable time and give a better product.”
“Best make Georg's corn knife out of it, then,” I said, as I pictured a peculiar-shaped blade. “I have no idea how he's going to take to that type of a corn knife, though.”
What I had in mind for Georg's 'corn knife' was a species of blade I had read about and seen pictures of, but had never handled one or seen an authentic one up close. I'd read about how they worked, though, and giving Georg true 'sword' performance in a 'small' package sounded like a good idea.
“I'd best not name one of those things,” I muttered. “It'd probably either be a curse, or thought of as a curse – and I wonder just how people will take Georg having one?”
“If this is a common corn-knife, then he'll just be thought a bit strange until the rumors get out,” said Sarah. “I take it you wish him to have something other than the usual?”
“I do,” I said, as I swiftly drew the sweeping curves of this particular blade. Long ago in the past of my home-world, this blade was called by some the kopis, and by others of similar antiquity, the falcatta, but in my day, those most-famous instances of this knife or sword had a most-special name, and in trying to speak it in this language, it came out as if it were spelled with runes: kukhri.
“And I am not putting that weird notch in this one, as that's a bad stress-concentrator and the thing will break there and leave him weaponless,” I thought, as I wiped my hand over the drawing. The result was startling, to say the least as the drawing more or less became a full-color picture of what I had envisioned in my mind, and I gasped, “I hope witches don't use these things.”
“They wish they could, but they cannot get any,” said the soft voice. “The black book mentions that style of sword, but when you eliminated that little notch and all the other things you did so as to make it truly a weapon, you removed all of its fetish-value – and made it a better weapon in the process.”
“M-monsters?” I asked, as I put some 'lettering' on the drawing and rubbed it gently. The lettering became far neater and also grew in length and in its detail, with arrows pointing to the various details indicated.
“They had trouble making those, but those who had proved examples found them to be altogether suitable for such situations where they were the only ones left standing upon the field of battle.” A pause, then, “and those weapons put meaning to the words used by witches that are translated into fear and terror.”
“Silent,” I murmured, as I put my ledger down and walked to where I had put the first of the rocket boxes. The feel of the thing in my hands now was something of a matter for marveling. I then thought to ask about the wood-treatment and the knives themselves.
“Wait until that 'frost' is gone and look at them,” said the soft voice. “You'll be very surprised at how they look.”
“Very s-surprised?” I asked.
“Not merely very smooth, but very hard and scratch-resistant,” said the soft voice. “Anna's rubbing those as she does with drying oil after twice-dipping the wood does not merely harden it considerably, but it also brings out the grain of blackwood.”
“I suspect those knives will be coveted greatly, and that not merely because you made them,” said Sarah. “I suspect that you'll need to make your own oven for cooking wood pieces, and what Hans is doing now you'll need to improve upon as you can.”
“Uh, why?” I asked. “Do I just need to wait and see?”
“I'd do that when you can,” said Anna, as she brought up another two plates of knives. “These are the last ones to need riveting of that set of eight, but I suspect we can cook wood pieces easy enough, unless they are of uncommon size.”
“Uncommon s-size?” I asked, as I set the rocket-box on the table. I wasn't overly worried about dirt, not that the boxes had any; I suspected the table would need transport to the house proper, and then 'rebuilt entire', as it would be much faster to do that than merely 'clean and patch' the thing. Besides, it was currently cramped for four people, and an extra foot of length and six inches of width wouldn't hurt.
“Like the table here,” said Anna, as I took both plates to my workbench and began assembling the knives; and once done with them, I knew it was time. I set the plates at the south end of the table, felt around the rocket-box, and then popped its latches.
“Oh, my,” I gasped, at seeing a profusion of tightly-packed radio parts. “Not a bit of wasted space in this thing.”
I began to remove various parts, all of them slightly 'dirty', and as I handed an obvious three-section variable capacitor to Sarah – it had an unusual shape, such that I could easily see the thing going in a radio the size of the one we had – she asked, “what is this thing?”
“A variable capacitor, dear,” I said. “Just do what you can to draw it and these other things... Oh, my! What are these things?”
I had found a sizable package of what looked like unusually hefty metal-film resistors, each one over an inch long in the body and an easy half inch in diameter, with the whole 'encapsulated' in epoxy and bright silvery-tinned ribbon leads over two inches long out of each end.
“That's what they are, even if the color code isn't precisely what you recall,” said the soft voice. “The ones like them to be had overseas are not merely much better, but are actually labeled as to their precise measured value.”
“Labeled?” I asked.
“Much like high-precision resistors where you came from,” said the soft voice. “More, unlike those, these are not merely not 'spiral-wound', but they took some truly unusual steps to prevent them from acting like 'inductors' – like those leads being as they are.”
“Unusual steps?” I asked. “Uh, why?”
“There are certain pieces of equipment in common use overseas that uses vacuum tubes, for obvious reasons,” said the soft voice. “While they do have high-frequency-capable semiconductors – ones that genuinely work well at those frequencies – that particular material isn't liked much at all by its users.”
“Uh, why?” I asked.
“Think,” said the soft voice. “You tried some once. They were composed of a peculiar 'alloy'.”
“G-gallium arsenide?” I asked. This was unspoken.
“Similar as to trickiness, and a whole new world of danger,” said the soft voice. “Common semiconductors here are bad enough.” A pause, then, “that stuff is worse, and not a little worse.”
“I might know what it is, then,” said Sarah. “It was said that some machines used by witches could not merely think, but also that they were especially treacherous, more so than the worst type of Death Adder recorded in the Annals of the fourth kingdom.”
“Treacherous?” I asked. This time it was audible.
“Be glad they've learned how to protect that stuff in those pieces of equipment that use it, as it makes blasting gelatin seem a feeble joke for power should it be treated 'wrongly'.” said the soft voice. “They say Magraat is juggling with death-balls when they must work with equipment using it – and they avoid using such equipment when and where they possibly can.”
“Those were awful,” said Sarah. “Begin-quote: 'they were as snow for color, and of a size needing two hands to both hold and toss, and when one removed the rod that kept the thing in check, one prayed with all one's might that the spirit of the thing would stay its anger long enough to use it'. Finish-quote.”
“Were those things cursed?” I asked, as I began to remove more radio parts. I was thinking that most of these would need bagging, as whoever had packed this box did so with the goal of both maximum packing density and protecting the contents from damp and destruction.
“No, save by poor manufacturing processes and a near-complete lack of development time,” said the soft voice. “Recall how they tried different designs of grenades, and always went back to the steadily-improving 'pear'?” A pause, then, “those devices were some of those 'alternate' designs, and after a large number of soldiers were scattered by them, the talk went, 'it is best to leave those things be and carry more of the usual ones if one is to encounter large masses of witches'.”
“What did they call them?” asked Sarah.
“Why, they called them grenades,” said the soft voice, “even if their pronunciation was more than a little 'strange'.”
“Strange?” I asked.
“The term 'grenade' came from an intercept,” said the soft voice, “but as usual, front-line soldiers came up with their own names for them, and the most commonplace one was pronounced 'Gree-nade' – with the first syllable emphasized, as is the usual for the language you're currently speaking.”
It was all I could do to not laugh out loud, as the idea of calling such a lethal device that silly of a name made for a crazy sense of humor – as in 'one has to be crazy to stay here' and 'the crazy ones never die. The sane ones die in droves'. That last thought made for a strange association, one involving a most-capable soldier who throve in battle and was a natural-born leader of men. I could not make up my mind as to his name, especially as I could think of at least two people who fit that description – one of them real, and the other, fictional – or so he was described. I did recall one thing: both of the chief people fitting that description had names beginning with the letter 'E' – and both names, or forms of them, weren't at all rare here.
“So I think we'd best toss plenty of gree-nades at those blue-suited thugs, then,” I murmured, as I pulled out a rag-wrapped vacuum tube. This one made for strange memories, as it was just like a somewhat shrunken acorn tube, save where it improved upon those devices like it of my recollection.
This device had a dark gray ceramic ring supporting the pins, each of the seven pins being an easy eighth of an inch in thickness and just over a quarter inch in length. The dark tarnish that wiped off with a brief rubbing spoke of silver plating of the stubby pins, and the 'getter' was on the bottom, well away from the device's active portions so as to not 'poison' them. The silvery bright nature of this bottom portion, as well as the curled aspect of the evacuation stem that remained, was a remarkable matter for a device so old, and when I looked inside to see not merely the three grid structures, but also the blackened finned plate and an obvious ribbon filament, much as if the thing sucked amperes of filament current, I asked, “how much filament current does this thing draw?”
“Less than those tubes you used in that one small radio,” said the soft voice, “and unlike those tubes, this type of filament actually glows a dull red color when it's working.” A pause, then, “the usual was to adjust until one could just see the filament glowing in a darkened room, then further adjustments were a matter of fine-tuning the filament rheostat as the batteries became discharged or atmospheric changes mandated increased emission and gain.”
“Just like what I did,” I murmured. “Four stages?”
“That radio is a much hotter device than anything you used of its type,” said the soft voice. “Only a few radios where you came from rivaled it for sensitivity, and only a few types ever made here beat it for sheer performance when properly adjusted.”
“A separate cart for the batteries,” I muttered. “Thing probably weighed a lot.”
“Precisely the point with this radio,” said the soft voice. “It may be significantly more difficult to use, but it is small enough to carry readily, and it is sparing of power, and yet it performs very well, especially for certain types of signals – signals that were most-commonplace among Vrijlaand combat teams.”
“C-code?” I asked. “On-off keying of the transmitter? Small transmitters?”
“Got it in one for all of those things,” said the soft voice. “Only those big heavy hot-running receivers worked better than a well-constructed 'screecher', and them, not by much, not if that 'screecher' was as well-debugged as the one you have.”
“Screecher?” asked Sarah. “Why does it s-screech?”
“The regeneration control,” I said. “Push it too far and it will, uh, screech like a shot marmot.” I paused, then said, “that one of mine would screech bad if I turned up the screen voltage pot too much.”
“Those were with those tubes,” said the soft voice. “This one has a double-tuned RF amplifier, a hot regenerative detector with two stages of added tuning, and two stages of choke-loaded audio amplification, with an output transformer to give best matching to a stolen field-telephone earpiece – which was a lot more sensitive than what you used for that small radio.” A pause, then, “there's enough in that box to not merely construct two more receivers like the one you have, but also its latest schematic – and a pair of 'output tubes' stolen from that one expert witch's 'hoard' when he died.”
“Output tubes?” I asked. “What do they l-look...”
I had just unwrapped a larger acorn tube, this nearly half an inch larger in all of its dimensions, and its heavily-finned graphite plate suggested it was intended to deal with a non-trivial amount of plate current. I wondered just what its normal purpose was, as it looked fit for a small transmitter.
“Those were usually used for audio, but as more than one person learned in the green areas, that design had substantial gain at much higher frequencies, so much so that they worked well for clandestine transmitters.”
“And his use?”
“An audio amplifier, one that needed a pair of such tubes for its output stage,” said the soft voice. “He had a 'sixteen-stack' speaker array, and that amplifier could 'rattle the walls' when he was of a mind to turn it up.”
“R-rattle the walls?” I gasped. “How much can this thing handle?”
For some odd reason, the tube suddenly morphed into another device, this also a tube, but its shape and size were utterly different. While the form this new tube had was quite vague, I could clearly read the numbers, and seeing '6146' on the filmy form made for an involuntary gasp.
“I had some of those things,” I gasped. “Fifty watts output per tube, and no trouble at all!”
“Less than that with those, unless you wished them to have a very short life,” said the soft voice. “Still, a pair in push-pull made for a most-potent transmitter output stage, and their quick-warm-up and modest filament requirements made for a most-efficient transmitter if one needed to stay in touch while on the move.” A pause, then, “that witch had some fairly efficient speakers to go with his amplifier, so he could run his tubes conservatively and still deafen people quite readily.”
“They were likely to be hard to get,” said Sarah. “I think I can draw those things, even if I have no idea as to what they are.”
I had to answer a lot of questions just the same as I pulled out the parts out of the boxes and commented upon them, and while none of these devices showed 'undue age' or 'coming unglued', I suspected that current-issue equivalents across the sea would be better suited to our needs regarding radio construction. More, while 'screechers' were simple to build, they could be very tricky to operate, and I suspected to no small degree I could build a non-screeching radio of a size suitable for ready packing that wasn't a 'big grunter' for power or heft.
“You left out one matter of chief importance,” said the soft voice. “Most people in the five kingdoms will not tolerate a radio that reminds them of swine when it is maladjusted.”
“Now that is the truth,” said Sarah. “I might, as I've made enough swine-like noises while practicing music, and I suspect Anna has also, but not many people play those things.”
“Those t-things?” I asked.
“A violin,” said Sarah. “Anna has hers here, and Hans has something worse yet, even if he can play well compared to most who do not travel with orchestras.”
“W-well?” I asked.
“He does not have much time for practice,” said Sarah, “but I have heard him play, and he can keep up with Anna when she's playing.” A pause, then, “that's about what's needed if you're going to play in an orchestra, or if you should need to tramp and play for your bread.”
“Seems I'm the only person who doesn't play something in here,” I muttered. “I made one of those things once, and a good player told me it was a good one, but all I could get out of it was noise, no matter what I tried.”
“What was it?” asked Sarah, as I continued emptying the box. I suspected everything in here needed drawings, and that doubly so if we were going to get parts so as to make our radios. I could tell that much: we would need to make radios, make them in numbers, and more, unlike many of those devices called radios where I came from, we'd need to make truly good ones, ones fully as capable as anything I'd ever used.
“For general use, no,” said the soft voice, “even if you are altogether correct about making good radios for general use – and by good, I mean 'as good as what you used when you had time to indulge in Amateur Radio'.” A pause, then, “you'll need to make some military radios also, and those will need to be the very best you can possibly do, even if they take up an entire rack for each set and need a dedicated generator and multiple power supplies to run them properly, and lengthy operator training so as to get the best possible performance out of a complex and finicky device.” Another pause, then, “and your ability to play instruments is in its infancy here.”
“What does that mean?” asked Sarah. “Does he need teaching?”
I wanted to ask, “can I play something?”
“You can, and you will, even if you will confound nearly all of the people who hear you,” said the soft voice, “and more, just what you will prove able to play.” A pause, then, “just wait. You'll be genuinely astonished – if not scared out of your mind.”
“Why, will he blow horns?” asked Sarah. I could tell she was joking – a little. She wasn't entirely joking, though.
“Were they available and the need present for him to do so, yes, he could – and do so well,” said the soft voice. “You'll be even more surprised than him when he starts playing.”
“Ah, now I wonder,” said Hans as he came up to my side with two more 'dipped' knives. “The others of these are cooking in that oven, so they should be done soon.” A pause, then, “now, are you going to blow horns, or do otherwise?”
“We were told he could do that, but I'm not sure where to find some,” said Sarah, “and now is not the time for digging up what you have, or what Anna has either – even if they both are fit for orchestras.”
“There is a clavier hid somewhere in the house-proper,” said Hans, “and I am glad that man Gabriel does not know of it, as he would do no work at all otherwise.”
“Clavier?” I asked.
“He may be close to worthless for many things,” said Sarah, “but he is not worthless when it comes to playing one of those, especially should it be a great clavier in good tune.”
“You have heard him play?” asked Hans. I had just waved my hand over the knives after setting them next to the others, and the chill to my back as I turned spoke of them getting 'the cryogenic treatment'. I then had an intimation: cryogenic treatment helped greatly where I came from. Here, it helped a good deal more, unless I was all wet.
“Yes, twice,” said Sarah, “and neither instrument was a good one.” A pause, then, “no matter. He had no business going to anywhere other than the west school, as that's the only one of those places that teaches any music at all.”
“The other schools think it a waste of time, correct?” I asked, as I continued removing things from the rocket-box. One small bag clinked oddly, and when I untied it, a number of green, yellow, gold, blue, and red 'rings' came out. Their clinking aspect, as well as their 'hardness', made me wonder as to what they were, at least until a scrap of paper, this waxed and writ in a script fully as bad as my handwriting, caused me to look closer at it. After a second of concentration, the scrawled mess rearranged itself into the words: 'dust-cores, for inductors'. It remained legible long enough for me to understand, and then the image faded from the surface of the paper to become the former inky mess.
“Now those things there look like fry-breads,” said Hans. “Best keep them clear of Karl, as he may try eating those things.”
“That s-small?” I asked.
“Those things vary some as to size,” said Hans. He picked one up, this item over an inch in diameter. Most of these things were that size, when not larger yet, with some nearly an inch and a half across and thick enough to pass for a skimpy tooth-busting doughnut. “A lot of them are this size, and...” Hans was sniffing a red one, and said, “no, this one is old and stale, as it should smell a bit like Kuchen and give some when you pinch it – and this one smells like a dust-wad and is hard as a rock, so it will ruin your teeth if you try biting it.”
Sarah looked at me and shook her head, then muttered, “even I know when something isn't a fry-bread, Hans – and those are not fry-breads.” A pause, then, “I do not know what they are, but I will keep them clear of Karl, as he's likely to listen to his tongue before anything else should he see one.”
“Yes, and I was listening good to mine, too,” said Hans. “Anna has had to keep me clear of those people selling those things in that market town, as I am not much better than Karl is about hot fresh fry-breads, especially if they have nice colored glaze on them like those do.”
“Color-coded,” I muttered. “I know what those things are, 'cause I've used them before lots of times, and that one little radio used them. Now is there a formula for calculating their inductance, and a chart that shows their best 'range' of use, the region where they achieve maximum 'Q'? I had those for the ones I recall, even if I don't remember much in the way of just what the formulas were – and these would probably be different anyway.”
“Yes, but not in that box,” said the soft voice. “You'll have no trouble getting both the documentation and large samples of such 'fry-breads' overseas – and Hans has understated the case regarding how he feels about such pastries.”
“These things are not pastries, Hans,” I muttered. “You eat one of these things and you'll be in the privy worse than if you got into some strong drink loaded with rust.”
My statement 'spooked' Hans so badly that he set the toroid down as if it were drippy mining dynamite gone brown and purple, and he then hot-footed his way down the stairs. I could tell Anna was most inclined to give him a piece of her mind – and her voice, though she was speaking to him about not wasting time, was so utterly unlike the Anna of recollection that I marveled.
“She does not mince her words,” said Sarah solemnly as she resumed drawing, “and more, she sounds more like you might were we in a dangerous situation, one where every tick of an expensive clock needed to count toward something that was needed.”
“Do I, uh, yell then?” The quiet, save beyond the sounds of labor, that now came from downstairs was even more impressive.
“I've only heard you yell a handful of times, and each time, I associate it with something horrible,” said Sarah. “You yelled at that dragoon while you were stopping its final charge, you yelled at Gabriel when he was plotting to deny the Abbey to our use and keep it for the witches, and I think you might have yelled in that deep-hole.” Pause, then, “otherwise, you're about the quietest person I've ever heard, so if you raise your voice, even a little, people had best listen, and listen well.”
“Or?” I asked.
“Someone is going to die,” said Sarah. “I can tell that much. Someone either will die, or they will wish they had gone to hell to escape you – and no, no one on this planet has seen more than the smell of your 'wrath'.”
I could plainly hear quotes about that last word, and I asked, “Rachel?”
“I plan on asking her, as I suspect she knows much of such matters,” said Sarah. “Of matters across the sea, perhaps, if she has been shown or is shown them, but I doubt she needs to be shown much to tell us about that which she has lived – and talk has it she lived in the second kingdom house proper for two ten years and more, and most of that as no ordinary common.”
“Closer to a deep-slave wearing a trusty-cap, and she never thought once about turning witch, you mean,” I said, as I finally emptied the box. I then sat down and began drawing, this with a sense of building 'fury' or whatever one might feel at seeing what, in many aspects, were 'interesting antiques' of limited practical use.
What I was drawing, on the other hand, was something so strange – and so 'potent-seeming' – that my hair seemed to once more be elongating and raising up into the wind as if driven by potent static, and my hands – I was drawing with both hands now, the ledger upon the table and the pages flipping rapidly – was such that a hush descended. Finally, spent, I was finished, and as I staggered over toward my cup where it lay among plates of slowly subliming 'nitrogen', I noted first the cup's chill, then the chill of no less than three jugs of beer. I had a question as I picked up one of these sweating cold things and my cup – or rather, two questions.
The first: “what did I just do?”
And, the second: “could this beer become what Sarah actually had those times she was sick in the second kingdom, and could we have those things that came with it?”
I set the beer down, even as a hazy aroma seemed to gather itself in the slightly chilly stuffiness of the room, and everything faded unto blackness.