The Spark – Snippet 13

“More fools them,” I said. I took a deep breath and rolled onto my back. No jolt of pain grabbed me. When I rubbed my ribs where Easton had jabbed I could feel a bit of discomfort, but nothing more than I’d have gotten if I’d walked into the corner of a bench in my workshop.

“I tried it myself, of course,” Guntram said. “It doesn’t seem to have any effect on old age.”

I looked at him hard because of what I heard in his voice, but his face was in shadow from the windows. I wondered how old he really was.

“Shall I get up now, sir?” I said. “I mean, is it all right if I look around at your things now?”

“I have no more information than you do, Pal,” Guntram said, “but I can’t see that it would harm you.”

He cleared his throat and added, “Speaking personally, I’m pleased to have someone to show my collection to. My gleanings, rather. I’m glad to be alone most of the time, but I occasionally find myself regretting that I’m alone all the time.”

I rose and looked at what appeared to be a stuffed lizard some three feet long, which hung nearby by wires from the ceiling. It seemed out of place among the shelves of Ancient technology.

I probed it with my mind and found nothing. Not corn husks, not cotton batting, not dried peas: nothing. I looked at Guntram.

“It’s a machine, as you suppose,” he said. “It snaps at flies. I suppose I should have warned you not to wave your finger in its face.”

“People who do that deserve to lose their fingers,” I said. “But I don’t see the mechanism. Or anything.”

“The mechanism is in Not-Here,” Guntram said. “I don’t know how or why the Ancients created a perfect linkage between Here and Not-Here. I don’t even know if the Ancients were from Here or were not. It seems rather a pointless toy, though an amazing one.”

I looked at Guntram. “There’s other Makers in Dun Add,” I said. “The clerk at the enlistment counter said there were. Why are you alone?”

“There are at least twenty Makers working in Dun Add,” Guntram said, nodding. “They’re under Louis, who is by far the best Maker I’ve ever met. The best I can imagine ever being born. I trained him, so I should know.”

“But if there’s so many,” I said, “then–did you fight with Louis?”

“Nothing so dire,” said Guntram. He picked up a small cylinder from a shelf, then put it back.

“A communicator,” he said idly. “If I could find another one, I believe we could accomplish amazing things. Speak all the way across the universe, even.”

I didn’t speak. Whatever had cut Guntram off from the general society of Dun Add was none of my business. I was sorry I’d asked.

He looked at me. “Jon believes in unifying Mankind in order and justice,” he said. “Louis believes in that goal as strongly as Jon does, perhaps more so. They met when they were quite young and rose together to where they are now. They believe.”

“Yes sir,” I said. I was standing straighter without being aware of it. “I  believe that too. That’s why I came to Dun Add.”

“Yes, I recall you saying that,” Guntram said. He looked to the side. There was a sort of smile on his face, but it seemed sad.

“Guntram?” I said. “Don’t you believe that?”

He met my eyes. “What I believe, Pal,” he said, “is that things were and things are and things will be. That’s all that I feel sure of.”

I nodded to show that I’d heard him. There wasn’t anything I was willing to say.

“Pal?” Guntram said. “Do you ever wonder who built the Road?”

Built the Road?” I said. That was like asking me who built dirt. “Sir, I don’t–I didn’t, think anyone built it. God built it. Didn’t he?”

Who could build the Road? Who…?

“Have you ever examined the structure of the Road as you would–”

Guntram picked up a device from the table beside him. It was a block the size of a walnut in its husk. Tubes came out in three directions.

“–this color projector, for example?”

“I tried,” I said. Of course I had. When I first realized I was a Maker, before I even knew the word Maker, I’d looked at the structure of everything around me. The Waste had a grain, so to speak, a direction; but the Road had nothing at all. The Road just was. “I wasn’t able to.”

“And yet the Road exists,” Guntram said. “It joins all the portions of the universe, Here and I believe Not-Here.”

Sure the Road is Not-Here,” I said. “Beune used to be Not-Here a long time ago. There’s a layer deep down in mines where I can feel rock that had been Not-Here once. And I think that in the Waste, there are places that used to be Here but aren’t any more.”

“I’ve never travelled to the Marches,” Guntram said. “Perhaps I should, but there’s so much here to occupy me.”

His fingers drifted idly across the shelves before him. “People bring me artifacts,” he said. “Bring them to Jon or Louis and they pass them on to me if they don’t see any use or aren’t interested in the use. They keep the weapons, of course. But there may be things out there which wouldn’t interest anyone but me.”

I sniffed in self-disgust. “I was a fool to think that my weapons would be of any use in Dun Add,” I said. “I see why everybody thought I was crazy.”

“Umm…,” Guntram said. “No, not crazy, but certainly ignorant. You’d never fought anyone before?”

“Not really,” I said.

“And you didn’t have a practice machine which would have allowed you to practice without a human partner,” Guntram went on. “They’re fairly common. There’s over a hundred in Dun Add, and there are others elsewhere. But not on Beune, I gather.”

“No,” I said. “I’ve heard of them, but I don’t know where the nearest to Beune would be.”

“If you’d had any practice,” Guntram said, “you’d have realized that with your shield at full power, it was unable to protect you at an opponent who was able to move. In a line of men at arms, you might have been all right. If you wanted to join the regular army…?”

He raised an eyebrow.

“I don’t,” I said firmly. “I want to go home.”

“As you wish, of course,” said Guntram, nodding. “In single combat, though, your only chance would be to land a blow. That would mean with your shield off or at very low level. Even in a sparring match, that would mean taking a bad drubbing before you were able to strike.”

I snorted. “I got the drubbing anyway, didn’t I?” I said. “And didn’t land a blow.”

“Yes, that’s true,” Guntram said. He walked over to my shield and touched it with his fingertips. “This is a wonderful piece of work, though. And even more wonderful as a work of imagination.”

“It’s crap for fighting, though, which is what I needed it for,” I said. I was shocked at how angry I sounded. For as far back as I could remember–for as long as I’d been aware of more of the world than the sides of my cradle–I’d dreamed of being a Champion. Of being a Hero of Mankind.

“Sorry,” I muttered. “I’m a bigger fool than anybody I met realized. Even bigger.”

“Can I offer you something to eat, Pal?” Guntram said, obviously embarrassed. He took his hands away from my shield.

“No sir,” I said. “But if you could give me a place to sleep for the night, I’ll get out of your life the first thing in the morning. A patch of floor is good enough.”

“I can do better than that,” Guntram said, leading me to the opposite end of the room. “Though you’ll have to help me clear away the things lying on top of the bedding.”

We cleared a proper bed. Guntram’s couch had healed my aches and pains, but it had left me feeling as tired as if I’d spent all day climbing a mountain. I was asleep almost the instant my head hit the rolled pack I was using as a pillow.