It is the year 2048. Karen, orphaned at 14, leaves the only home she has ever known to make her way into a devastated world that may hold no place for her... By Risa Bear, with illustrations and cover design by Katrin Orav.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

35


"I do not very much see the point of keeping him alive, my lord. He has been a danger to you for years. He recruited half the able-bodied young men in the area for his little bid for parity. Had it  worked, they would have come here to conquer you. That is a given. And now you are short of forces."
       She lifted the porcelain cup to her pursed lips and paused, inhaling the aroma of coffee. It had been vacuum packed before the Undoing – at least twenty years ago; but it would have to do. Everything, nowadays, would have to do. The morning sun glinted from her auburn tresses and pearl earrings as she shook her head.
         If, he thought, and not for the first time, she could have had that pronounced nose and that bit of overbite worked on in days gone by, she'd have been the beauty of the age. But then, her tastes being what they are, that smile would always have been chilling. I like it; not many would – or do. "My dear, that's why I enjoy havin' ya around. You're direct; and your calculation of the human equation is precise."
       He looked past her at his own reflection. Not that I'm a prize – not in that way. Stoop-shouldered, slightly paunched, hair thinned almost to the vanishing point, the unremarkable-looking man in suspenders that peered back at him from the refectory window wore bifocals that were not even his own prescription – where would one find an optometrist now? Perhaps there would be one in Port Land, if he could ever extend his sphere of influence that far. Everything, except his own will to power, remained forever slightly out of focus, and lent to his eyelids that slightly swollen and red-rimmed look that belongs to those with insomnia. Yet he had always slept the sleep of the righteous. Not in that way; but power is its own aphrodisiac.
       Shifting his vision, he looked briefly though the window at the activity in the courtyard. Two of his more trusted men, former Kluxers, were conducting routine maintenance on an old Army truck. On its flatbed, covered by a canopy of old blue tarps, stood a diesel generator, idling gently round the clock. It sipped at a fuel line from one of hundreds of barrels of fuel –the source of much of his regional hegemony – and converted the oil, with dreadful inefficiency but great practicality, into electricity for the old base headquarters.
       Beyond the truck, under armed guard, sat his great pride and joy – a functional LAV-35, which the Army must have requisitioned from the Marines in that last brief war.
       "We tested the chain gun a few days ago," he remarked.
       "Really? I did not hear it." She lifted her plucked eyebrows at him across her cup.
       "You were in the cell block, Doctor, training your A & P students. It's well sound-proofed there, as ya know. The Army, back in the day, was sensitive about the carrying distance of screams. I, ah, tested that m'self," he added wryly, almost reaching to touch, through his white cambric shirt, the scars he still bore.
       "So. Did all shells function?" She set down the cup and attacked, with a silver fork, a plateful of scrambled ostrich egg.
       "Ignition of all three primers and explosion of all three rounds – on target, I might add. Destroyed a little outcrop on the Butte. You woulda wondered at the fire it made – scorched half an acre. Some of the boys had roast rattlesnake for breakfast yesterday." He lifted a forkful of fried chevon, and chewed slowly. "Still a bit of smoke drifting around."
       "Then my old scheme of rounding up all dessicants in the remains of the city and packing them into the munitions bunker has borne fruit." She smiled that crooked smile.
       "Yes, and you are to be thanked, honored, admired, adored, and elevated to a place of worship by all the Volunteers."
       "You are flattering, my lord, but I know well I am but to be tolerated by them. Yours is a very male enclave. But as to your prisoner. He should not live."
       "I understand ya; but he's been to two places of interest."
       "And they are?"
       "A source of small arms in working condition, with good ammunition. This is real clear from the weapon he hid in the brush when he moved on our outpost. This fits in with what he did tell Mullins. I'd like to have that source. It would help us in our balance of power with the Eastern Tribes. That treaty has held, but as you know, it's shaky. There are far more of them than there are of us, and we haven't quite the leverage to simply assimilate them as yet."
       "The other?"
         "He's clearly been near the DARPA facility that we found on th' Army's maps. There are people in possession."
       "Ooh."
       "Exactly. What that was for, I have no idea, but the little documentation I've uncovered suggests there'd have been an independent power source. We haven't the manpower or the expertise – yet – to rebuild any full-size dynamos. If it can be acquired and put in service, I want it."
       "Did he see the actual site?"
       "I have no idea as yet. These two things he has chosen not to report; it could be vital information."
       A fly touched down on the Formica tabletop and began creeping hopefully toward the unfinished egg. The Doctor watched it for a few seconds, then suddenly clapped her hands together, directly behind and above the crawling fly, which leaped to its death between her palms. She shook the tiny corpse off onto the tiled floor and reached for a sanitary wipe. "I begin to see how it is," she said. "Your man hopes to find some form of leverage in what he has withheld, or hopes yet to escape and make good the knowledge in some way, independent of you – or worse, and this is what I have believed all along, and why I have urged his termination – he has come here to depose you and assume lordship himself."
       "With all that I am in agreement, dear Doctor, and it's why he has been so closely held."
       "With all due respect, my lord, your Volunteers should be able to canvass the northern reaches just as he did, and, if not find the weapons, at least invest the power plant, saving your invaluable fuel oil for transportation and enforcement work."
       "And it may easily come to just that, honey. Are you going ta finish those eggs?"
       She offered him the plate. He reached for her fork with one hand and a bottle of syrup with the other. "The problem is that as Wolf got near that power plant, he lost exactly thirty good men, a shotgun, and a pistol in about four days. It's not like him. Something's up with that place. I don't want my army to go in there blind if I can help it."
       The Doctor winced at her lord's table manners; she pulled a paper napkin from the booth's dispenser, unfolded it and dropped it in his lap. "Well, then, we will place every resource at your disposal, my lord."
       Absent-mindedly, he thanked her for the napkin. "As to resources, why, you always have, my dear; wouldn't have it any other way. And, oh, my, I do thank you for your supervision of the prisoner; the intravenous feeding has been a help. Now, has he had his preliminary dose yet?"
       "Yes, my lord; we used the phencyclidine we found in the veterinary building at the animal park. I was surprised to see it there; it is very stressful for the animals. You might know it as angel dust. One-tenth CC of that concentration will have given him a most extraordinary night, after these weeks of sensory deprivation, and he should be ready for the SP-117, at your convenience."
       He cracked his broadest smile, the one that had made him a success in the showroom to the very end, when even the rich had begun at last to doubt the eventual utility of automobiles.
       "My dear, you are the marvel of the age."
       "But of course, my lord."

:::

So much darkness. Days? Weeks? Have I always been here?
         So much darkness.
       There had been dreams. Dreams, and dreams of dreams. As when a wasp has laid its egg within the egg of another wasp's egg, within the egg of a butterfly, on a leaf that is being consumed by aphids driven by ants, his dreams had fed upon one another until he felt there was little left of him but dreamshit, if there were such a thing.
       Trees, smoke, vapors, mud, screams, maniac laughter. Scarlet armies of red beasts marching round and round on elevated roadways past tongues of violet flame – and had he not slaked his thirst on the hot blood of a deer, and run, run through the forest, 
pursued by angry, yelping corpses, all of whom answered to the name of Cougar? And then one of them raised the Glock and shot him in the shoulder.
       He blinked his eyes. No blindfold. But nothing was to be seen, not even a crack under a door, and there was no draft.
       A last dream passed brilliantly before his mind. He felt his face lengthen, his eyes shift round to the sides of his head, and his arms and fingers stretch and fledge to left and right. He leapt into the air, leaving behind one black tail feather. Spiraling higher and higher on the updraft, he could see the North-Running River far below, with its islands, its sweepers and deadheads and pilings, its sandbars and gravel bars and willow shores, its suckerfish, carp, and dead or dying salmon, and its foraging raccoons, bears, and ospreys. In the shallows, green with algae, lay a skull, a human skull, rocked by the backwash of a slime-befouled countercurrent, and from the shattered left eye-socket crawled some tiny insect, which suddenly curled in upon itself and fell, an unremarkable fleck, to drift down-dream along the steaming verge.
       "Wolf."
       "Magee??"
       "How do you feel?"
       "Like shit."
       A chuckle. What direction is he? It sounds like he's everywhere at once. But I suppose that's the idea.
       "Well, son, you should. Think about it; you woo away the best men, setting me back a year at least, then, by your own testimony, get them all killed and abandon them; then, of all places, you come straight back to me. Reprehensible, suspicious and foolish behavior?"
       "Yes sir, it must look that way."
       "Well, it kind of does."
       A pause, then the familiar, smooth voice resumed.
       "Mullins still thinks highly of you; even though you've got him in trouble as well as yourself. You have charisma, Wolf; all you lack is reliability."
       Play it close to the grain. "Well, sir, I might have other lacks."
       "Mmh-h-h?"
       "I'm strong on tactics, weak on strategy?"
       "Heh heh, heh, heh, same thing in different words. Wolf, I told you that years ago."
       "Yes, sir, you did, sir."
       "I've told you many things, Wolf."
       "Yes, sir."
       "I put a lot of effort into you."
       "You did, sir."
       "A son – you were a son to me. I saw potential. I still see potential. But I'm damned if I know how we're going to get there
       "Sir?"
       "Well, back to our program, here. How do you feel?"
       What's he doing?
       "Wolf, a little introspection, please. What do you feel? Other than, say, anger, fear, all that."
       Oh. "Uh-h-h, shackles. Sore wrists and ankles. Cold butt."
       "Anything else?"
       "Headache ... sore shoulder?"
       "Bingo, my lad. Why would your shoulder be sore?"
       "I've been hit? Shot?"
       "This darkness is putting your senses a little out of true, Wolf. Shot comes close. You've had an injection. Any idea what?"
       "Sir? I mean, would it be anything like what th' Army used on us?"
       "Very good, Wolf. Yes, we were their prisoners, and they did give us injections – when they only talked with us. 'Sodium pent,' I think, was their name for what they had, and it did loosen our tongues a little. My boy, I have no idea why they didn't simply expunge us afterward. It's what I would have done. I think things got a little busy for them right about then."
       "So, I've got sodium pent in me? Th' truth drug?" A pause. "Sir?"
       "Thank you for remembering, Wolf. No, we don't have any, and besides, I'm not sure it's the best stuff anyway. But, yah, a truth drug. What was it called, Doctor?
       A voice, indistinct, seemed to reply.
       "SP ... one? one-seventeen. Thank you, Doctor. In answer to your question, my boy, something Russian."
       "Russian?"
       "Soviet, really. Almost a century old, the formula. But the supply was kept up until – well, the expiration date on the bottle is '31. Let's hope it's been stable."
       "I don't remember any shot."
       "You wouldn't; we administered it while you were napping."" 


       "Oh..."
       The other voice – was it a woman's? – murmured again.
       "Ah, Wolf, I'm reminded to mention that we can't read any of the rest of the label very well. It's in Cyrillic, of course. But the 117 and the expiration date are clearly marked, and we have unimpeachable provenance. We're excited about our find, and we thought, as you are our most interesting case at present, we'd give ya the honor of being the first to try it out. Perhaps even make y'self useful, y'see."
       "Why ...   why tell me all this?"
       A sound of papers shuffling.
       "Mmh? Oh, well, Wolf, not to allow you a sense of over-importance, and, I'm told, results are often improved if we're candid with those whom we expect to be candid with us. The placebo effect when combined with the real thing should help us get   – over the hump, shall we say. Thank you, my dear."
       This last sounded as if it were said to someone else. The room – if it was a room – absolutely no light anywhere – suddenly filled, from all directions, with the sound of someone drinking from a glass. Wolf became aware of his own thirst, which intensified every moment.
       After what seemed an eternity in Wolf's increasing disorientation – was he lying down or standing against a wall? Was this even The Hole or another location entirely? – Magee's voice came from everywhere again.
       "So, we have here Mullins' visit with you, wi' your vague account of your movements from last summer till now. And we have some independent information to collate wi' yours. I'd like to begin with where you get your firearms and stable ammunition."
       "What about 'em?"
       Immediately a jagged, searing jolt passed through Wolf. With effort, he suppressed a yelp. A taste of salt ran over his tongue from a bitten lip.
       "Please. Surely, you would not expect us to waste our valuable time dancing round these questions in semantic circles. Yes, Wolf, your shackles are wired, and yes, we do have current. See, I have answered your unasked questions – you might choose to treat me as fairly. But I'll be clear. Where did you collect these firearms, which we know did not come from our inventory?"
       "Ah-h-h-h, eff you."
       "Heh. See, I didn't reach right for the button, now did I? For you, I bend over backwards. Pain is boring for torturers, and so they become careless and the extracted information is often useless. Why, if this were a novel, most readers would abandon the story at this point; even they would become bored. So, let's get on with our story, shall we? We've both been to this point before, my son – at the Army's hands right here – we learned from the best – and later, as interrogators, we practiced this art ourselves. I was good at resisting; but I admit I'm a little old for that now. But at putting the question, I was, and still am, the acknowledged master."
       The drinking sound again. Damn that sound!
       "Wolf, my son – I do feel toward you as a father – resistance is always in pursuit of a goal, just as for interrogation. Your goal, as I have observed it over time, has been unwaveringly limited: self-preservation. You wish to keep options open – to have a future. And that's all. Sometimes I find you frighteningly small-minded. With me, there is a bit more. I wish to bring some order out of the chaos we have around us today. To re-establish sound government, agriculture, manufacturing, and trade. And, umm, health care. To create, as it were, a reign of peace at last, in place of the endless wars between our little tribes. I'll give you, gratis, another little glimpse of truth. We've been talking with the tribes east of the mountains. There may now be sufficient manpower to tame the regions around us and bring light to this dark age. To begin, as it were, history again. "To clear away darkness from the land, and from the blood of men" as the Klux Lord himself used to tell us. But the horsemen are like you, Wolf – self-interested, self-limiting and extremely dangerous. The Volunteers need sufficient arms to counterbalance the numbers of the East. Interesting?"
       "Maybe."
       "Well, that was honest. So. Where did you collect your firearms?"
       "At a  gun store."
       "Disingenuous. Gun stores were the first to go, even before the grocery stores."
       "They'd sealed and disguised it, hoping to return is my guess."
       "Ah! At last, some conversation. Where, Wolf?"
       Wolf felt red rage rising from some last shred of self. He struggled to remain silent, but a desire to be helpful, against his own perceived interests, filled the darkness around him – or was it within him? Was this the drug? If he did not quickly express something to the contrary, he would blurt everything!
       "Mine, dammit! I found it, s'mine!"
       "Mmh, honesty again. Very good. But, Wolf! That was a moral judgment. Childish, too, especially in context. What, in all our world today, belongs to anyone without present possession? But my hand over th' power switch here is gettin' heavy. Where?"
       The answer was now on the tip of Wolf's tongue, like a drop of hot lead burning to be spit out. He choked it down and almost whispered.
       "...mine..."
       "Okay, well. We tried. Such a waste. I am disappointed in this Russkie stuff. But especially I am disappointed in you. We'll just have to save the world without ya; you'll be missed, Wolf, you really will. Doctor, it's yours to play with now. But don't let it live any longer than necessary."
       "Thank you, my lord," said the female voice.
       "Just curiosity, what did ya have in mind to do with it?"
       "Vivisection. I do have my anatomy students right next door. Their instruments are at hand and they've been practicing on a lovely piglet, which will appear on tonight's menu."
       "Sounds great – could do with pork chops for a change."
       Noises, which were trivial in themselves, came at Wolf from all directions. Two people – more? – were getting up from chairs, papers were being shuffled. Footsteps.
       Surprisingly, what occurred to Wolf now was the image of the red-haired Communist his men had tortured –and probably raped. Even she, if she'd made it through the battle alive, still had options. He, Wolf, would have none at all.
       "Uhh, okay."
       Magee's voice seemed to come from a great distance. "Did it say something?"
       "I said, okay. Couldya maybe come back and talk wi'me some more? ... please?"

:::

Karen looked in – hesitantly – at Avery's open door as she went by. He looked surprisingly approachable. "Do you ever sleep, sir?"
       Avery's table was placed so that he faced the door. One seldom saw his back – a habit he shared with, among others, Karen. He looked up from the inventories he'd been perusing – written in old spiral-bound notebooks, the pages of which were already yellowing with age.
       "Come in. Sometimes one doesn't. I have trouble with these – " he gestured with his chin toward his foreshortened legs – "and that keeps me awake me to keep up with these – " he indicated the lists – "which are another kind of troubles, and so there you are."
       Footsteps approached softly down the dimly lit corridor. Karen looked back, and saw that it was Wilson, dressed for night stealth and wearing the Ruger Old Army in a holster. He nodded to her, obviously heading for the same door, so she accepted Avery's invitation, more to avoid blocking the doorway than for any other reason.
       Wilson knocked, and, without really awaiting an answer, stepped in.
       "Shift over?" asked Avery.
       "Mm-hmm, the kid's on. Skipping down the mountain with her new toy."
       Avery looked over to Karen. "Would you like to sit down?"
       "Thank you."
       Wilson, not needing an invitation, did the same.
       "New toy?" asked Karen.
       "Twenty-two rifle. One of the single shots, with some 'a your new 'shorts'. Does still have her bow, though."
       "What would be much better than rifles," offered Avery, "at this stage of the game, is radios. Our scouts' vulnerability at these distances is, frankly, nerve-wracking."
       "There just aren't enough of us to make or salvage everything we want. You know the drill, more than anybody – to grow the food, y'gotta be a farmer. To have the food, y'gotta be a miller, or a carter, or a warehouser. To keep th' food, y'gotta be a guard. Mary's down to a skeleton crew now as it is."
       "And out of a hundred and twenty people – plus around fifty next door, with their own problems – every guard one less farmer, and vice versa. How did we talk ourselves into having a summer festival?" Avery rolled his eyes, something Karen had not seen before. She'd found Avery inexpressive and rather forbidding – like a bird of prey, brooding over the heights with his binoculars.
       "Morale is low, you know," she put in.
       "It should be. We've already had two heat waves, and a lot of crops are going to be very thin. We're resorting to hunting and making pemmican, and trapping and drying fish – salt would be nice to have. The cattle program doesn't seem to be going anywhere – calves either not making it, or that effing wolf pack finding them – and everybody acts like running wiring for irrigation is going to save the day. But what's to irrigate when the oats and barley are already burnt? And who has the time to set up the pumps?"
       "Sir, if I may, the orchard could use a pump. Apples and pears have set fruit well this year, and those can be dried to help get through the winter – if they get enough water now to make weight."
       Avery looked at Karen as if he'd never really seen her before. "Is there anything you don't know how to do?"
       Wilson chuckled. "Lots, I'm sure. But she trained a bit in the orchards last fall, so ..."
       Karen nodded. "Allyn ... he ... thought highly of tree crops, and spent time making sure we could carry on. But, of course, if the weather gets much more extreme, those can fail us, too."
       "Damn," said Avery. Setting his hands on the table to either side of the stack of notebooks, he looked into Karen's face, then Wilson's. "I don't mind admitting, things are kind of not adding up." He waved one hand over the notebooks. "Not enough oats, barley, or wheat here in the granary, and little prospect of enough coming in. Something's the matter with our animal husbandry, there's trouble with the potatoes, insufficient labor to divert into keeping us in some kind of clothes, not to mention getting in properly cured firewood, raw material for making gunpowder in short supply. Even these things –" he flicked the light bulb in his desk lamp – "the ones that work, are in shorter supply than anyone expected, and half of Ridge is back to alky lamps. Which I suspect you," he half smiled at Wilson, "of draining down for your own purposes."
       "Hey!" But Wilson smiled in return. Karen could see they were close friends. How much had she missed of life at Ridge, hunched over her work counter in the Armory?
       "Shoe fits?" Avery went on. "But, seriously, there's little enough alcohol we can make, as there's no sugar other than in fruit juices and beets, and hardly any honey. Same story in category after category. We're not middle class here any more, which is what people really want to be. We're barely hanging on. None of us wants to admit it, but all of us, where we're going in two generations, it's a stone age culture living in a couple of longhouses. Something like Roundhouse now, only more so."
       Wilson glanced at Karen. "You look shocked, kid. Well, maybe half shocked. But somebody was going to say it sooner or later."
       Karen unconsciously pawed at her frowzy hair  – why did she itch so? – and stared at the wall a moment. "Well, you're right. It does hurt to hear it. But you can see the blackberries taking over, and the wolves and 'yotes moving in on the sheep, and half the houses empty. If we were hit again like last October, we would, umm, lose, wouldn't we?"
       "We might. Might not. Your little bullets could count for a lot. We're going to start training on them soon."
       "At only sixty percent reliability?"
       "Hey, it was forty a month ago. See? We think that's a great advance over the bows for keeping bandits at arm's length. You might go 'click' or you   might go 'bang.' Either way they have to use cover or faith to get close, because any one of your shots might be real."
       Avery cut in. "Speaking of training, Karen, I know you're a veteran, but have you been working on adjusting your skills?"
       She looked, involuntarily, down at her left shoulder. "Well, I turned in the pistol – can't rack the slide now. And I gave away my bow – and gave Aleesha's to Billee. I've been doing exercises with the sword – but I'm not really happy with it."
       "No," Wilson said. "You wouldn't be. You have no two-handed stroke, and a lot of the power in one-hand swordplay still relies on the weight of an arm on the other side, with a shield, perhaps. Similar problems with staff, javelin, bush-hook, axe and spear. Got your little knife with you?"
       Karen drew it, reversed it with a little flip, and handed it to him handle first.
       Wilson looked it over. "Ever killed anybody with this?"
       "Yes."
       Wilson's eyebrows might have moved a little bit, but not much. "Mmh. Hefty for its size, sharp, and clean. Not really suitable for throwing, is it?"
       "Well, it's a skinner. And I'd be uncomfortable letting it get away from me like that."
       "Sure. Avery here is a natural with throwing knives – but, again, a lot of his power comes from having both arms –which in his case are pretty powerful."
       "That's because my hands do all my walking." Avery smiled again, patting the black tires of his chair wheels.
       "But, let's see ..." Wilson went on. "You've got the one knife on the right, suitable for close-in work, and the short sword I think you carry on the left. Drawing is a little tough for you on both sides. You reach across for the sword?"
       "No, I've been carrying it between my shoulder blades."
       "Oh, okay. And you draw behind your head. Yes, that's better. Did you draw arrows there too?"
       "No, I was really used to carrying them in a quiver on my waist, behind the knife sheath, and drawing them like this." She demonstrated, with her hand behind her right hip.
       "Bow was in the left hand. Right." Wilson winced, in spite of himself. This girl had lost much of who she'd been. "Well, when you drew the knife just now you had to kind of twist yourself back a little bit, and I noticed you thumbed your sheath a little to unseat the blade. All this slows you down just a hair, not that most people would notice." He looked down at Avery's table, set down the knife, and picked up a long pencil and a ruler. He tucked the pencil in Karen's empty sheath, and waved the ruler around as if it were a long knife or short sword. "Let's say I'm a bandit and I've gotten past all your projectile defenses and am closing with you, like this." He stepped toward Karen in slow motion, mock-menacingly.
       Karen, trying to match the unaccustomed speed, stepped inside Wilson's reach, drawing the pencil, and, turning the "handle" in her palm habitually, so that the "blade" faced outward, drew it across his throat as she continued past him on his right, dodging the descending ruler.
       "Very nice," noted Avery. "once."
       "By which he means that trick works on anyone who's never seen you do that before, but if there were two assailants, you'd need another tactic to take on the second one," offered Wilson. "In fact it would have worked on me just now. I assume the reason you rolled the pencil just before you got me, was so the 'blade' would face outward as your hand came up, blade downward from your fist."
       "Umm ... yes." Karen wondered where all this was tending.
       "Okay, could I make some recommendations?"
       "Yes, sir."
       "I'm hoping we can get you to ditch the sword – Bobbo would love to have it – and pick out a longer knife for carry than your skinner, with a fitted sheath and a sheath lanyard. If the sheath's tied to your leg, you won't have to hitch like you did just now, to draw it. And both edges should be sharp, and a tapered point – not a stiletto, but, still, a fighting knife with some of the qualities of your sword – still able to make that little move you just did, and without rotating it – just straight out of the sheath and across my throat here. But with options for parrying and thrusting as well."
       He swapped her the knife for the pencil, and she re-sheathed the knife. "Yes, sir."
       "Come by my 'place' tomorrow afternoon, we'll fit you out and also do a little practice. Don't expect too much from the practice, though; your center of gravity is going to be moving around for a few months." He grinned. "We're looking down the road here a bit. No serious hand-to-hand for awhile either; throws, kicks, all that. But soon enough; after you've had the kid. Now, I expect you'll want to carry your knife on the right, use the same moves as much as you can, at least at first ..."
       "Yes, sir."
       " ... and where did you keep the little pistol?"
       "In an inside pocket sewn into the jerkin. Before I was here, in a pocket in my hoodie."
       "'Hoodie'? Never mind. No holster, then?"
       "There was a little zipper bag."
       "Right. Well, what I want you to consider – there are a number of twenty-twos in stock here, gathered years ago. Enough to arm a good twenty Creekers. I've got an ancient revolver, six inch barrel, chambered for nine rounds – it's in good shape and has a leather holster for a right-hander. Want you to try it on and try it out, cross-draw." He saw her hesitation. "Dry-fire only, of course. Don't want to scare th' baby – unless we have to. 'K? Tomorrow?"
       "Yes, sir. Umm, I go, now?"
       "Sure," said Avery. "Thanks for dropping by."
       "Y'welcome." Karen disappeared into the dim hall.
       Wilson smiled at Avery. "Not very garrulous, is she?"
       "Well, sometimes neither am I, Wilson. She and I are a lot alike in many ways, I expect."