Andrax was a genius. We would never have made it without him.”
“You said ‘in your studies since.’ Do you mean that Jandrax – Andrax – designed the muzzleloader before you became a gunsmith?”
“Oh, yes, he taught me the trade. I used the computer but he made the subject come real in my mind. Quite a man.”
“What happened to him?”
The older man froze. Jean had seen the elders do that so often and always in response to the same question. What was there in this person that was so special? Some special honor or some special horror?
Chloe was pregnant. Jean wondered if it was Anton’s child or his own, or if it belonged to a third party. Probably not even Chloe knew for sure.
By the melt, Jean had learned his trade. The off-world rifles were wonders of simplicity, as were the Jandrax muzzleloaders. The latter had only a barrel and a stock, a flash hole which was stuffed with a paper primer, a hammer and a trigger and the two bolts on which they revolved, and one spring. Only two moving parts. The offworld rifles were complex only by comparison.
During the winter Jean had built fifteen muzzleloaders in addition to his personal weapon. The latter was a standing joke; “Dubois’ Panic Pistol” the hunters called it. Jean didn‘t blame them, really. The true joke was that he had built himself a rifle at all since he was forever barred from hunting. He turned five of his weapons over to the council to be used on the hunt. That would buy him and his family meat for the winter, and well it should. Five rifles were worth more than five men, but the council drove a hard bargain. It was made up of hunters, naturally. The other weapons he gave to Herbert in exchange for his education. Levi-Stuer protested that the payment was too high, but Jean would have no man say that he was unable to carry his weight in the community.
If he seemed bitter, he was.
Paulette Dumezil had married. She was the last of Jean’s agemates. The oldest unmarried girl in the community was now four years his junior and she was being courted by all the fine young men who would soon go out on their first hunt. They would blast their way to glory and manhood with the rifles he had built.
Bitter? He damned well was.
Within the courtyard of his father’s house, Jean practiced walking without his cane, but he never went outside without it. It was not that he could not, but as long as he carried that horn, people would remember the man who was injured as well as what he had become.
This he also practiced. He had fashioned a metal hook and attached it a handsbreadth below the handle of his cane. With the cane in his left hand and his rifle in his right, he limped across the courtyard, then suddenly swung around on his good leg, going to a crouch, planting the cane like a tripod, and swinging the rifle up in one motion. The rifle barrels came to rest on the hook so that either barrel could be fired, his eye was at the sight, and his finger on the trigger. Not graceful, certainly, but quick enough. From the beginning of the maneuver until the hammer fell on an empty flashhole only four heartbeats elapsed. more tomorrow