The Spark – Snippet 18

“You sit right down,” I said, pointing to the closest thing I had to a chair: the round of tree bole I was using as a stool. “I’ll be back with a load from the barn as quick as it takes me to walk twenty feet!”


We wound up sitting cross-legged on the floor with the table and stool pushed back against the north wall. We were working on the third load of pieces that I’d stored in the barn because I didn’t know what else to do with them. To me they were just so much ballast, but to the Ancients they’d been–I couldn’t even guess with most of them. But they’d been wonders, that I knew.

I was using the linen tote that I hauled split wood to the fireplace in colder weather. I’d picked up more artifacts than I’d realized over the years, and some of them I hadn’t looked at in, well, years.

“Do you gather these pieces personally?” Guntram said as he set down what might as well have been an acorn for any use I could figure out for it. “Or do most of them come from specialist searchers? Almost all of what we see in Dun Add is brought by people who make their living searching for artifacts instead of farming.”

I laughed. “This is Beune, Guntram,” I said. “Nobody’s a one-trick pony here. There’s people who’re blacksmiths and weavers–and there’s me, who’s a Maker. But we’re that and farmers. Come harvest, you’ll find everybody pitching in, and if somebody decides to raise a new barn it’ll be him and all his neighbors.”

I gestured to the spread of items Guntram had been sorting. “Three quarters of this I found myself. A few pieces travelers brought in, things they’d noticed as they were walking along and they were close enough that they brought it here. I trade them a meal for what they found, and maybe once or twice I’d go beyond that if something looked like it might count for something. I gave a fellow a brand new tunic once, for….”

I fished around and found the piece I’d been working on when Guntram woke me out of my trance.

“For this. Which seeing that piece in your room at Dun Add, I thought might be a color projector too.”

“Did you?” said Guntram, turning the piece around in his hands. It was a round rod about the thickness of my index finger. “Did you indeed!”

He set the piece back on the pewter tray I’d taken it from. “You identified this from a glance at the piece in my collection?” he said.

I stiffened at his look. Well, I stiffened the best I could sitting crossways on the floor in a litter of things that I’d brought from the barn; I couldn’t even straighten my legs.

“Sir,” I said. “I thought I saw similarities, yes. It gave me a direction to go with my repair. Though I haven’t gotten very far.”

“You have a good eye,” Guntram said, “but this is a far more complicated piece. The projector in my collection puts a hue on a wall. I can set it not to color other objects on the basic surface, but nothing more difficult than that.”

He touched the piece again but continued looking at me. “This creates images,” he said. “It would take me months to determine even the sort of images, but I suspect it has many options. Many, many options.”

“That’s wonderful!” I said. After I found I couldn’t make head nor tail of the piece, I’d felt a bit of a fool to have given the peddler a new tunic. It seemed I’d made a good bargain after all. “Sir–Guntram? Will you accept it as a gift from me? I’d like to watch you work on it to learn, but I sure would never be able to do it justice without help.”

Guntram cocked his head at me. “We’ll discuss that later,” he said. “For now, though….”

As I brought odds and ends out of the barn, Guntram had been separating them into two groups. There was sort of a third group: an arc which I suspected was a continuum. Sometimes he’d commented on what he was doing, more often he didn’t.

Now Guntram chose a hollow tube about four inches long–broken on only one end, but I still hadn’t been able to figure it out despite the relatively good condition–and with his other hand pulled a short spindle from the items in the tote which we hadn’t gone through yet. “Have you considered these pieces together?” Guntram said.

“I picked up the little one ten years ago,” I said. “I haven’t thought about it since.’

I grimaced, embarrassed at the situation. “I need to go over everything,” I said, aloud but really speaking to myself. “I keep learning things, but I need to go back over all the stuff I got earlier when maybe I didn’t understand what I do now.”

“We’re looking at them now,” Guntram said mildly.

I placed the spindle close alongside the tube and in a trance entered both at the same time. I had a hazy view of the tube’s structure extending, though probably not very far. I was sure that it didn’t connect with the spindle.

I’d been planning to work on the tube, though I didn’t know what the device’s purpose might be. I hoped that if I completed the gross structure–silicon with a dusting of metals that I mostly had available–I’d get a notion of the purpose so that I could approach that afterwards.

The spindle seemed complete: there was no suggestion of missing knobs or bits at the crystalline level, but neither was there any hint of life, of function, in the piece. I saw no connection between the two pieces, though Guntram obviously did.

The pieces blurred. I’d never seen that happen. It brought me out of my trance as suddenly as if somebody’d poured the water bucket over me. Gasping, I jerked upright.

“Oh!” I said. Guntram was holding the spindle within the hollow tube.

“Pal, I apologize,” Guntram said. His hands didn’t move from the two pieces. “I shouldn’t have done that without warning you first. I’m truly sorry.”

“Sir, it’s my fault,” I said, though I guess it really wasn’t. It was how I felt, though. “I’ve never had the workpiece move while I was in it, that’s all. There’s never anybody around when I’m working, you see.”

I raised my hand. “Now, keep holding them like that,” I said. “I’ll go back in.”

Guntram nodded and I did that, just dipping in lightly. I hadn’t been sure that’d be easy after the surprise, but it was.

The connection was obvious when I saw the spindle nested within the tube. The pieces were throbbing with power now, but the interior of the tube was a featureless blur. I couldn’t see the structure which had kept the spindle in place when the object was complete. Was it a fluid? Even a gas, I suppose, if the pressure was high enough.

I came out and grinned ruefully at Guntram. “It’s pretty obvious,” I said. “Now that you’ve shown me. But what’s the missing element?”

“Any of the noble metals would do,” Guntram said. “Gold is probably the simplest. Can your neighbor’s wife replace a button for me?”

“Phoebe?” I said, pulling out the coin I’d kept for luck. Having gold–or anyway, a mix of gold and silver–was about the best luck I could imagine right now. “Sure. Are you missing one?”

Guntram clipped off the top button of his tunic, then used the same small knife to peel away the leather covering. The gold core gleamed in the late afternoon light.

“I brought a variety of trace elements with me,” he said, handing me the bare metal core. “Things that I wasn’t sure you’d have access to on Beune. Gold was an obvious one, of course.”

“Ah, we could use my coin?” I said, but Guntram shook his head. I was just as glad, frankly; though like Gervaise getting the table, I’d have given up the coin if I needed to. “I don’t know what pattern to use, though.”

“I’ve seen these before,” said Guntram. “Do you think you can you complete the exterior structure if I build the interior matrix?”

“Yes,” I said. “Yes, sure. I’ve got everything I need for that. It’ll take me several hours, though. Do you want to start now?”

The two artifacts made a weapon. I was eager to get at it, but I also knew I was already peckish and that wouldn’t help my concentration when I worked on the piece. I wondered what I had to eat in the house.

“What I would like to do now,” Guntram said, “is to have a real dinner. I took the liberty of asking your neighbors if they would feed us both tonight about this time. I said I would compensate them, though they seemed more excited just to have a visitor from Dun Add.”