Jean looked up from the lathe where he was turning a firing pin for one of the double rifles. Levi-Stuer was whistling a tune the young man had never heard before and, as Jean was a collector of tunes, he listened for a moment, memorizing. But it was only a fragment which Levi–Stuer kept repeating.
“Herbert,” he called, “what tune is that?”
“Um? Was I whistling?”
“Yes, but I don’t know the tune.”
The gunsmith looked puzzled. “I don’t know what I was whistling; I wasn’t paying any attention.”
Jean chuckled and whistled the fragment back to him. Herbert laughed. “I haven’t heard that in years. My wife would disown me if she knew I knew it.”
“That good, eh?”
“You bet! Listen.” He sang it in a broken baritone, all about a femme of unlikely appetites and proportions. They laughed together until tears came.
Levi–Stuer leaned weakly against the bench and wiped his face. “If you tell anyone where you learned that one, I’ll not forgive you.”
Herbert had mellowed in the months since Jean first came to him. His life had been unutterably lonely before and Jean had wondered why he chose to make rifles rather than wield them, much as his community needed the weapons. Now he knew, though Levi–Stuer would never admit it. It was written in his red eyes and the way he leaned forward to inspect his work with an eye almost to the metal. Herbert Levi–Stuer, master gunsmith – before Jean’s coming, the only gunsmith – was more than half blind. Jean didn’t mention it, not wanting to shame the older man.
Jean limped over to the desk where they took their lunch, cradling his bastard child. It was a weapon such as that world had never seen, a normal muzzleloader with a long, tapering 10mm barrel and a normal hammer mechanism and trigger, but with a very short second barrel mounted where the fore-stock should have been. This second barrel was calibered to 17mm and fired from a separate hammer and trigger set forward of and below the first. No one else was the least interested in it because it weighed several kilos more than the already heavy muzzleloaders; but then, no one else had had such a pointed reminder that single-shot weapons are not satisfactory for dangerous game.
Jean accepted a mug of chota and set to sanding the stock. He worked on his personal project only when no other task was pressing. Herbert watched for a moment, then chuckled, “Andrax would have liked that weapon. It would have appealed to his way of thinking.”
Jean was curious. “Andrax? You mean Jandrax?”
“Jan Andrax was his name. It was only after he left that people bastardized his name.”
Jean laid his pet aside. “People say that he designed the muzzleloader.”
“That he did, and a fine job, too. In all my studies since I have never seen a simpler design that would be workable with our limited technology. Take that thing of yours. No offense, but the effort you put into it could have produced two normal muzzleloaders.”
“I know. I would like to design a true double rifle like the offworld guns, but every time I try to get one off paper it turns out too heavy.”
“Exactly! Andrax was a genius. We would never have made it without him.” more tomorrow