Hah! It's Georg!

Hans returned with Georg not five minutes after I had spoken of the matter, though what Georg was carrying with him when he came down the steps gave me the strangest idea imaginable. He was carrying that 'twelve-bore' Remington, and my immediate response was to put a shell in it – and have him try firing it.

For some reason, I knew that weapon would fire with Georg using it.

“Now, they know about your buggy, as they saw it,” said Hans, as he took over from Esther. “You slept down here last night, so you saw part of this place.”

“Yes, and I need to bathe again in your tub so I do not get pus-running wounds,” said Georg. “Now this thing here is out of an old tale for its looks. What is it?”

“That is a species of fowling piece,” said Sarah. “It can fire several times without reloading, though it uses these tinned things...”

“Tinned..?” asked Georg. “How can it shoot a tin fit for a three-inch gun when it has a bore but somewhat larger than that of a number four musket?”

“I suspect you can fire that thing,” I said. “Just think of it as being a shoulder-fired three-inch gun, just like those guns you used to shoot at swine, and it will go off.”

“We have these others with but two barrels, but he can fire that one quickly,” said Sarah – meaning me and my ability to seemingly 'full-auto' that weapon. “We most likely will bring more of those things back from across the sea.”

“Want to try it?” I asked. “Put a shell in it, work the slide – that handle there, all the way back and then all the way forward, put the safety on, then go up the stairs, go in the bathroom...”

Sarah was leading Georg up the stairs, all the while whispering about being quiet. I suspected we had more 'feathered meals' parked on the tree in the back, and as the two of them slowly went upstairs, I could hear Sarah whispering about how good his buggy was, as well as the true nature of his team. Georg's silence seemed an appalling thing, at least until faintly, I heard a quoll-chorus.

“There are more of those birds,” muttered Anna darkly. “At least Esther has some idea what these words on these labels mean.”

“As in you need to spend more time learning that language?” I asked. “You could always let me try.”

“You're busy mixing that lead...”

As if to supply an interruption, a thundering roar – like that of a cannon – seemed to send all sense up the chimney, followed by a yell of absolute delight – and a bear-like yell coming from a man with either a very sore shoulder or something too surprising to determine exactly.

Not a minute later, Sarah ran down excitedly, and yelled, “that gun works for Georg, and he got three quolls with one shot!”

“Then we need to provide him with a copy of that gun, as he will need one,” I said. “You may wish to try a short-barreled version on the next quolls that show, as...”

Here, Georg came, and he was rubbing his shoulder and muttering about 'old tales' mixed with 'roer-kicking weapons'.

“It does kick,” said Sarah. “We have several double-barreled weapons, and some loads with stiff shot. You may wish to take one of those on the trip to the house in case a witch tries for you.”

“Uh, dear,” I asked. “Let him try firing one of those troublesome pistols and see if it fires for him.”

Sarah did that precise matter – and less than a minute later, the roar of a pistol was followed by a yelp of pain nearly as loud as the weapon's roar. Georg then came down the stairs ahead of Anna, one of those 'clockwork marvels' in his hand, and he laid the still-cocked weapon on the nearest table before going to Anna. The way he was holding his hand suggested he thought he had broken bones.

“Move your fingers, please,” said Anna quietly.

Georg managed that fine, but was now speaking of numbness spreading wide and fast throughout his hand.

“Nothing for that but that Geneva that causes spewing, Georg,” said Anna. “They'll have gloves made for those when they return.” Pause, then, “it did fire for you, didn't it?”

“It d-did,” said Georg. “What gives with these guns?”

“They are very different from the commonplace ones,” I said. “I'm familiar with them to a certain degree, as I used to have ones that are a bit like them where I came from.” Pause, then, “I am taking that shotgun you fired over there, as they have bad drawings for those and most of the intercepts used to make them are, uh, hidden – but having a complete working example like this one will fill in the gaps nicely, and then they can make the parts they and we cannot find ready-made.” Another pause, then, “there are a fair number of such pieces, they just need some, uh, cleanup and then assembly once the crucial portions are made.”

“And in some cases, those parts will need to be made anew,” said the soft voice. “That 'gun' has a lot of parts that they have no records for, even if you do make it possible for them to grab all of the intercepts on those and then disseminate them to various locations.”

“So the leadership people cannot 'grab' them and hide them again,” I said.

“Not with what you will do to their systems,” said the soft voice. “The only computers you'll not 'crack' in very short order are those that are in that one location that is only connected by a special network – one that involves physical tape-spool transfers from one system to another.”

“Complete lockout, just like with some security-conscious government organizations I've heard of,” I thought. “That kind of thing was probably done where I last worked.”

“Partially, yes,” said the soft voice. “They put far more trust in their filtering hardware and software than is warranted, given just what they are doing.” Pause, then, “you did a better job with your 'second-hand cobbled-together junk' than they did with their 'latest and greatest' set up by high-priced consultants – and mostly due to the software you ran at home, not because those people were trashed on high-test.”

“Those people who transfer the tapes?” I asked. I could just imagine the size of these tape-spools – great big things, heavy enough to wish a crane.

Are trashed on those drugs,” said the soft voice. “Not all functionaries wear blue, as you learned when you took that house.” Pause, then, “you saw the two types most associated with 'violence'. The others – they tend to be as much or more drugged as those blue-suited silver-collared thugs – are used much as slaves are in a Blomfels'-run manufactory, save no whips are needed to keep them laboring frantically, and they tend to last quite a bit longer.”

“And now, Georg not only wishes Komaet, but also a bath,” I murmured. “Perhaps try some of that soap we looted from the Abbey?”

Sarah waited no longer: she shot up the stairs and came down slower a moment later. “Esther, that buzzard is simmering on the stove, though Georg's water is heating also, and Anna wants to try that soap we looted from that place at the Abbey.” Pause, then, “I'll wish to measure your hands before we go, and cut that leather roughly to size.”

“Better just to take a paper measurement of her hand, then we just take some of that stuff in rolled-up form along with the tools and all, and we pack it into a bag along with the other supplies we need – thread, knives, scissors, rivets, and anything else that occurs to us.” Pause, then, “perhaps a small tin tag stamped with an 'L'? As in 'Leather'?”

“You'd best do that tonight, then,” said Sarah. “Now I need to talk to Georg some more while Anna is looking his cuts and other injuries over, then those of us not running bullets need to do other things that are needful, like blackening those brass lanterns with the wires in the top.”

Within half an hour, however, I was not merely dehydrated enough to want a time away from compounding lead, but Georg was downstairs and smelling as if he'd just bathed – though this odor was faint and 'medicinal'. He took over the stirring of the lead-pot under the fume hood, with Sarah advising him as to what to do. When I returned some minutes later after a visit to first the privy and then a part-drained yet still cold beer-jug, I was astonished to find him doing a more-than-passable job of lead-compounding.

“Now I can work once more on that grease,” I muttered. I had a small pot of 'buggy-lubricant' in mind also, as it would be wished for several buggies, not just Paul's with its new sleeves. “I need to mix up a big batch of it, so we might have some smoke in here.”

“Yes, that is so if it were me doing it,” said Hans. “You could probably make a potful and stay out of trouble easy.”

While I did finish making up a potful of that black-as-night grease, in this instance of bullet lubricant I added a good squirt of red-paste and some of that part-distilled 'torment grease' to the pot. I added but little of each, with the torment-grease-laden distillate just-come from the Abbey still putting bubbles into a large beaker of water. I could see a yellow-tinted liquid gathering below the water's surface, and the water level slowly rising, so much so that I hoped the separating funnel would be handy.

We would be getting a strange form of boiled distillate from this stuff, and the resulting 'torment grease' would indeed work well for tools, once it had had a suitable addition of beeswax so as to make it into something closer to paste-wax fit for polishing automobiles. It made me look once more at Hans' scale, and realize I had but little time for working on it before we left for our trip.

I pointed my finger at the thing, this the index finger of my right hand, and with my eyes closed, I prayed silently that the thing be 'repaired in its entirety, and then made right'. When I opened my eyes, however, the smoke going up the fume hood, as well as the ring of soot surrounding what was obviously a brand-new scale, was so astonishing that I left what I was doing and went over to the scale itself.

“It may have three beams – there are three, but only two are visible – and want some adjustment, but this bottom box below the weighing pan is weird – and I do mean weird.”

“Yes, and how is it that way?” asked Hans – who then looked over my shoulder. I was surprised he did not shout like a madman, even if he asked in a voice reeking of awe, “what happened to that scale?”

“I'm not sure,” I said, as I moved my hand near the thing and the blue-printing readouts on the matte gray screen came up automatically. I pulled my hand away; they remained on for perhaps three or four seconds, then the display indicated the following question after blanking them:

Are you done using this scale?”

“What gives with this thing?” asked Hans. “It is acting like it has a mind of its own.”

“I think I need to think 'yes',” I said. “Yes, I am done. Thank you – I guess.”

The scale's display abruptly blanked, and it once more was featureless. It had me muttering about 'mind-reading showers that watch your every move' and 'generators straight out of one of my old tales'. I moved my hand once more toward the scale, and the thing turned itself on once my hand came close to it, this with an abruptness so sudden I was stunned. It was as if it were waiting for someone to come close and 'speak' to it, like a strange sentinel from a science fiction novel.

“Hans, could I have one of those bullets for my first rifle?” I asked.

He promptly handed me one, and the scale spat out the message:

Over-range. Suggest moving line three slider one

increment and line two slider two increments.

Line one is internal and does not require manual adjustment.”

I wondered which of the three lines was 'line one' when I moved my hand toward the largest of the three rods, and began to gently nudge the 'slider'. The aspect of 'incredible precision' as well as a sense of 'this thing has to have linear bearings' was only exceeded when the scale printed:

One increment reached on line one.

Move line slider two increments.”

“Weird,” I muttered under my breath, as I moved what became obvious as line two's 'slider'. Again, there was that sense of 'total precision', but when the scale told me to stop moving the slider, it then printed:

Determining weight now. Wait one.”

'Wait one' was perhaps two eyeblinks and a quick yawn, for then the scale printed to the screen:

Weight is 37.043 grams.

“That is one weird scale,” as I took the bullet off and slid the weights all the way home. The scale then automatically shut off. “What gives with this thing?”

“You asked for Hans to get a good scale, and now he has one,” said the soft voice. “That device there is a scale used by first and second year chemistry students overseas, and its' accuracy exceeds that of the majority of close-balances on the continent.” Pause, then, “it also is very hard to damage, and that by intent; and finally, it teaches those students using them to be especially careful in using machinery of all types, as it tells you exactly what you are doing wrong when you are doing it.”

“No manual for it, though,” I said.

“Touch the screen,” said the soft voice. “Touching any corner will bring up the manual for it.”

I did so, and the result was stunning: the device had a built-in manual, and by touching the various corners of the screen, one could page through this huge sheet, complete with pictures. It was obviously intended for fairly-well educated yet mechanically-illiterate users, or so I thought until I found a row of pages that defined all of the terms in 'simple' language. I let Hans page through this portion, and he was muttering about Gustaaf word-books and how worthless they were compared to this strange-looking thing that had 'dropped out of an old tale and into his life'.

“How does that thing know when to turn on or off?” I asked.

“It 'reads your mind',” said the soft voice. “It's like a much-smarter version of how that shower was before you reprogrammed it – and that shower is currently getting quite the workout.”

“If those people who put in the showers managed to hook those up, then why weren't they able to get that t-privy done?”

“Different group of people entirely, as is the usual for where they came from,” said the soft voice, “and the showers were rationed in that place, so the water from them was simply sprayed out of the back of the building in the form of 'irrigation water' for the 'garden' that was used as 'camouflage' for that 'barracks' and 'electronic spy-nest'.” Pause, then, “they could not do that with the contents of that toilet, as there isn't an easily accessible sewer system like where they come from, with standardized fittings and everything else right there.”

“Is this the 'Duh' factor at work again?” I asked.

“More than just 'Duh', in the case of those people,” said the soft voice. “'Duh' in regards to them would be quite a complement, as is usual for a lot of functionaries tasked with such work.” Pause, then, “if one wishes to encounter a truly trashed functionary, find one who isn't wearing blue or black.”

“As in those people barely know which end of the tool is the one to be used?” I asked.

The sense I had was that these people were well beyond that level of stupefaction; these people were so 'trashed' they were unable to start a car, much less drive one – and that presumed a normal, commonplace car, not one like mine. That thing was just barely street-legal, and the usual starting drill was something closer to what one might do in a high-performance aircraft, and it needed care and caution when driving in areas where the speed limits were rigidly enforced.

Where I had lived seemed to not have much of an issue regarding how fast one drove, save in certain well-defined areas, areas which I tended to avoid as if they were contaminated with biological warfare agents. Otherwise, as long as one used a fair level of discretion, one could operate such a car with few issues beyond maintaining it in an operational condition and not drawing undue attention from the few people in the area.

It helped a lot that where I lived was not formally incorporated into a city and the county was impoverished enough that law enforcement was spread thin indeed; and the nearest real 'town' was some eight miles distance if one flew like a missile – and if one wanted good supplies, the distance was closer to twice that, while that distance to where I worked...

That was far enough away through open country two-lane blacktop that 'seventy miles an hour or a bit more' was a realistic speed in most areas, with the areas near home and near where I worked such that one could either warm up or cool down a hard-running vehicle appropriately.

It made me glad I could run a car that could do those speeds without feeling like it was going to roll end-over-end like a scarab beetle and pirouette at the same time. One car I had driven years ago felt like that when pushed much past seventy, and I had the distinct – and common – feeling that I was about to wad it up into a flaming ball of sheet-metal if I did not drive it in a slow and careful fashion.

I came back to where I was with such abruptness that I knew I had all-but passed out due to sheer fatigue, and hearing Sarah speaking about Georg's buggy and when to expect it had me looking in the direction of her voice. I then saw her cleaning the candle-lanterns with aquavit prior to 'dunking' then in a steaming blue-green solution.

“Is that for blackening brass?” I asked.

“Yes, and Anna got it good enough that I merely had to try a few things so as to get the color the way that would work best for dark-work,” said Sarah. “One wishes to first dismantle them entirely, clean them with aquavit while wearing cloth gloves, then dunk the individual pieces in dilute nitrogen-acid for a quick count of five and then in the blackening solution for a slow count of a hundred, or two turns of a thimble-glass. The glass is better, so I borrowed Hans'.”

“And those lanterns?” asked Georg.

“I will show you how they work once I have blackened all of them,” said Sarah. “You can take one with you, but I caution you – you will wish to keep the wire out of the collet and the shutters entirely closed save at greatest need until you actually get to the house proper, as the witches, what of them there are, will be looking for lights of any kind.”

“Bullets?” I asked, as I continued stirring my 'mess'. It needed a low flame, frequent stirring, and occasional additions of more tallow, as something was boiling out of the bullet grease, something that did not belong in it. Then, I was also compounding some 'real' buggy-grease, this of a pint or so of motor-oil, a substantial addition of fourth kingdom grease, and a bit of red-paste; and this was heating slowly over a turned-downed heating lamp in a medium-sized beaker. I figured I might get enough to fill two of Hans' larger test tubes – which was enough to keep several buggies running 'good' for a few days.

“If that is that thicker oil for buggies, I think you wish a whole pot of it,” said Sarah. “There will be a great need for it, as Georg's wheels will wish it also.”

“What is this?” asked Georg. “I will have sleeved wheels on my buggy?”

“Yes, and a better buggy I have never seen,” said Sarah. “It is about two feet longer than the usual, perhaps eight inches wider, and is built to take loads that would break a freight wagon – and that thing rolls a lot easier than you might think, so you will do well with four horses.” Pause, then, “they've been stuffing those things with grain, also.”

“Uh, I hope you can handle four bronze-shod animals that need care and delicate handling,” I said.

“What?” gasped George.” “I had no idea...”

“No, you were not sold,” said Sarah. “I think the person breeding those had no idea of what they actually were, but those horses need a delicate hand, so much so that I may need to show you how to guide them.”

“Very gentle, much as if you were using one of my precision indicating tools,” I said. “You hold the reins with your thumb and forefinger, much as if you were feeling the line for the bite of an iron-head trout, and then you pull very gently, much as if you were taking up the slack in the lanyard of a gun with really hot primers, ones that were especially sensitive. That's how careful you need to be. Then, there is the grain...”

“You will need to put all the grain to those they can eat, Georg,” said Anna. “I've been stinting grain to ours, but now I know why he was putting so much down for them.”

“And, you will need to redo your stables,” said Sarah. “That will be no trouble, though, as you will learn tomorrow.”

“N-no,” I said. “He'll learn when he gets there, as Hendrik is keeping late hours, and...”

“He'll need to sleep over,” said the soft voice. “Hendrik might not be keeping hours that are that late, but he is working three or more additional hours a day compared to his usual right now, but give him time.”

“Time?” asked Sarah.

“He'll be back to the hours he kept when he was in the fourth kingdom as a student inside of two weeks,” said the soft voice, “and he will not be the only one working such long hours. Kees will be laboring as he has never done before, and Gabriel will long for the time Hans was laying stripes upon his back, as he will think that time was less troubling that what Hendrik is going to be dumping on him.”

“As far as work, or..?”

“That especially,” said the soft voice. “Then, he will have to dodge a lot of gun-toting Generals, and unlike the previous people, these individuals will assay mayhem the very instant they see him, as they were told he was someone that they owned and controlled, much as if he were their own especial witch-puppet – and what will happen to him within the next two weeks will change him utterly.”

“That change won't last,” I murmured. I could just see one of those black-dressed stinkers addressing him as 'bhoy', which was the term for a witch-puppet. It came from a time prior to the drowning; and save for the changes that would happen to him within the next two weeks, it would actually work in his case. I was then told what more to expect regarding Gabriel.

“No, that change won't be permanent then, but the effects of that change will remain to a marked degree until things 'settle down' at the house,” said the soft voice. “I would watch him then, as while there will still be some Generals handy, something will happen to force him to choose one way or the other at that point – and then, it will be permanent, and he will either become 'fully committed to the cause', or he will sup with Brimstone post-haste.”

I then knew another matter: if Gabriel did not sup with Brimstone then, inside of a few months he would become marked; and more, he would become substantially so – perhaps even 'monster' level markings.

There was an utter lack of detail regarding this last statement I had heard beyond 'it is going to happen', and 'it will not happen until some time after we return from the trip'.

“Something big,” I said. “Something so big that no one has done it since before the curse.”

“I would keep that matter in mind, as it is a clue,” said the soft voice. “Now, you have lubricants of one kind or another that need compounding, then a large batch of tallow to deodorize – and it isn't just Esther's grease you can use in that malodorous process, by the way, nor Anna's stocks of tallow she's been accumulating.”

“What else?” I asked, as Esther sprang for the stairs.

“Hans has been buying tallow candle stubs when and where he can find them,” said the soft voice, “and he has been cleaning that stuff up when and where he can, so he has nearly an entire bucket of tallow to process into 'odorless tallow' – and he has shown enough samples to people that he'll have ready buyers for the resulting material 'when it comes good', as the current idiom has it.”

“Hence heating with hot water and straining the resulting mess through a clean tight-woven cloth,” I said. “Add two or pipette-full doses of Roesmaan's sulfur-acid to it, boil it for a bit and skim the nasty gray stuff that comes up, then put it in that pressure-pot we have down here.”

“Best to mingle it with what is in this jug,” said Esther, as she brought down a jug. “This I've cleaned passably, but it is not tallow, and I suspect it needs further cleaning.”

“Hence this time we use some spare lantern-wires in the pot,” I said, “and a bit more weight on the pot's valve, and three turns of a glass rather than two so as to convert that stuff to a 'higher' level.”

I had no better way to speak of what would happen when that fat mixture became 'changed'. I doubt Hans knew of the idea of polymerization, as I had some understanding of the concept and what happened in that reaction was a bit beyond me.

“What is this?” asked Hans from some ten feet away. He was still running revolver bullets, putting the cooled examples in rows of ten so as to keep track of his numbers. He knew he wanted 'more than three hundreds', and Georg was keeping his lead-pot brimming full, so he did not have to let his mould cool by fetching lead.

More importantly, Georg was using two smaller 'older than time' copper measuring cups, these lacking all save traces of tin and otherwise dark with corrosion; and he was 'pigging' metal in those candle-smoked containers when he wasn't keeping Hans' pot more or less 'full'. Sarah had found them, I suspected – and Georg was pigging an ingot roughly every three minutes. He seemed the very model of industry, so much so that I wondered if his recent injuries had caused him to approach that state known as 'marked'.

Our labors continued, this in a very crowded laboratory: I needed to share the fume hood with Georg when I did the smellier portions of tallow-refining, and the gray smoke and 'mess' I skimmed off of first Hans' tallow and then Esther's 'grease' made for a strange idea.

I'd want to add a small amount of boiled distillate to the mingled materials, and no less than five lantern-coils to the pressure pot – with more coils a very good idea, as well as any lengths of such wire I had that I had not yet coiled up into such coils. More, I'd want to run the pressure in the 'reactor' up higher than I had first thought, with every washer I had for the 'valve' on the thing and nutted down tight.

“Will the pot hold that pressure?” I thought, as I recalled the usual number of clamps and thought to double their number, all the while making certain these small but stout bronze clamps had 'good' bite.

The sense I had was 'it will if you are handy', but 'if someone else tries that, they'll likely have a 'boiler explosion that will scald them badly'. It made me realize a true 'reactor' for that reaction was needed, rather than the current makeshift – and more, the shape of that reactor, as well as its fittings, needed thorough optimization.

“Make most of a pot of that stuff at a time if I did that,” I thought. “Mix the two species of fats thoroughly while they're good and hot, then I'll be able to run two pots of deodorized tallow, and put the 'cooked' stuff in a soap-mold to cut up into bars when it cools enough.” I then asked for one of those molds, and Anna left at a run for the stairs.

Within perhaps 'two turns of a glass', I had the first potful of that stuff ready for pouring, and once I had poured it, I needed to bathe. I used that 'field-soap' with three buckets of water in addition to the one on the stove that was near-boiling, then when I began scrubbing with it, I could feel my skin seeming to open and spit shot and balls with such unbelievable frequency it was frightening. I could also feel a large number of recently-acquired wounds spontaneously opening and being 'cleaned out', and when I stepped up from the now-grayish water, I gasped, “what did I do?”

“Recall what you were told about that soap?” asked the soft voice, as even the pinpoints where shot had left my body earlier quickly vanished from sight. “That stuff is a potent bactericide, and it first opened those mostly-healed wounds and then removed the bacteria in them – as well as the shot, balls, and the large number of brittle metal fragments that came from shot ricocheting off of bedsteads and the collars of functionaries.”

“Those things are metal?” I asked. I had thought them metalized 'high-grade fiber-reinforced plastic', actually. That would make for a strong yet light protective shield for the medical electronics.

“A metal outer layer, that being a type of warm-formed titanium-aluminum alloy,” said the soft voice. “It's about twice as strong as what went into your connecting rods for your engines, it runs about 'fifty' on the 'Rockwell' scale, and it's fairly tough, save against gunshot impacts.” Pause, then, “it tends to break up then if the impact is sufficiently hard.” Pause, then, “what is press-formed behind it and cured under substantial heat and pressure keeps it from doing so, hence that thin lightweight 'housing' is near-bulletproof unless you use a hot-loaded round with armor-piercing capability.”

“Or you simply aim for the head of said thug,” I thought quietly, as I dried myself. I knew we wanted more of these towels, as many of them as we could find, and I knew their precise use: we would pad delicate objects with them while loading our 'sea-bags' for the trip, which we would spend part of tomorrow afternoon doing during the hours-long process of packing.

We would have a lot of those bags, enough to fill several buggies at a 'comfortable' level, and we would need to arrange them 'mostly' while loading the boat and then 'fix' them while in the upper reaches of the river while 'drifting' downstream with the sail dropped.

I had in mind two rows of such bags stacked two high like building stones, with a covered region between them perhaps tall enough to slip one or two people for sleeping, and the whole roped down carefully under a waxed linen 'cover-cloth' to provide a modest degree of shelter for sleepers.

“I hope they have some older-looking cloth that's, uh, 'gray with greenish blotches', like dye done badly on top of some, uh, 'bad brown blotchy stuff',” I thought.

“That was in the cloth section of your plans, and they did all of that boat's cloth as indicated,” said the soft voice. “Lukas made more than a few comments, saying that color scheme worked especially well on the sea during both day and night, and that cloth would do well on such boats, especially given they pressed beeswax into all of it with 'coppers' at some length in the laundry.”

“Boats?” I asked.

“Hendrik is plotting on having a modest fleet of such craft so as to supplement the donkey trains, their exact number depending on how difficult yours proves to use,” said the soft voice. “He figures that if such boats manage real distances at twice the speed of a commonplace ship with a cargo like you'll be packing, then they will be yet more secure from witch-trouble and provide the first kingdom with critical resources beyond what donkey-trains can manage.”

“Uh, not unless the pirates are cleared out first if he wants to go up the west coast,” I thought. “Otherwise they need to go up the back side, and...”

That is one area that type of boat excels compared to most commonplace craft, as they will maintain a decent speed in winds so slight that a commonplace ship would need an engine to maintain even 'ten seconds by the red-cork' – and in those winds, those boats will permit counting to three.”

“They're fairly easy to sail as long as you don't go rapidly,” I said, “and if you must row, that kind of boat is easy to row at a moderate to decent speed unless it's packing a very heavy load.”

“Precisely what Hendrik was told in that document,” said the soft voice, “and the back side has few pirates, even if it has no ports of consequence south of the first kingdom's border and until recently, little traffic. Pause, then, “it now gets its share of boat-traffic, and the fish those boats catch on the 'slow' return trip make that voyage a much-more-lucrative matter than expected.”

“Uh, the crew gets sick of eating fish while sailing there and back?” I asked.

“Not these,” said the soft voice. “They typically come back with a number of barrels filled with dried and salted 'ocean-herring', which while a bit oilier than the freshwater type, tastes otherwise very similar – and salt-dried 'herring' goes for a premium price in the fourth kingdom's central area, as does any other salted and dried fish that's done properly.” Pause, then, “the crew appreciates fresh-fish dinners, and also the luxury of fishing in relatively untouched fishing grounds while traveling at a pace slow enough that they can spend much of their time fishing and not doing 'boat-work'.”

I then recalled a matter spoken of about, that being a 'red-cork'. Sarah had spoken of such a thing earlier today.

“Do that in the upper reaches of the river so as to note the flow of the current,” said the soft voice. “Once you're out of the river, don't bother using it, as you will have your hands full noting critical details and dealing with other matters.”

“Shooting and blowing up pirates,” I muttered. “Now, is it dark yet, or... No, not for another few hours.” I then put on the rest of my clothing, and was met on the way down by Sarah heading up.

“Use that field-soap, dear,” I said. “It may feel strange to use it, and bubble but little, but if you have shot, it will remove it.”

“Then we wish to keep plenty on hand,” said Anna – who was right behind Sarah going up the stairs. Moving past the two of them while going down was not easy. “Will you be able to get more of that soap across the sea?”

“I think that is one reason we were told to take so much, that and we would get filthy fighting those blue-clothed thugs with the silver collars,” said Sarah. “They most likely will be able to duplicate both it and that medical soap, as I cut a very small piece off of my bar of medical soap and put it in a vial with a tin-writ label and a waxed cork, one that I wiped with beeswax after putting the cork in to seal it tightly.”

“Uh, they may well have the formula to it,” I said.

“Having a piece of the solid material will give them a significant shortcut, one that will save days off of their ability to make the stuff in quantity,” said the soft voice, “and between what they do to copy that soap and a great number of other things, you will see more things that will make your hair stand on end than you could believe possible – presuming, of course, that you still have hair when you see these things happen.” The impression I had was 'this hair-standing' would happen very quickly once I got into 'their' world, and more or less remain the case until we were indeed homeward bound from a liberated country on one of their boats.

“I still have hair then?” I asked. I then recalled a certain matter. “Help?”

“Yes, that was what I meant,” said the soft voice. “They'll need to remove your hair with special equipment to properly help you and read your mind – and not just the hair from your head. They'll need to remove all of your hair, and doing that will be needed to 'help' in the many other ways they need to.” Pause, then, “be glad major surgery over there isn't nearly as bad as it is where you came from – and no, it will not drive you crazy enough that you want to scream, and it especially will not hurt.”

“What?” I gasped.

“Precisely what I said,” said the soft voice. “It is not done like you recall, and yes, they do dose people with appropriate drugs prior to even getting them ready for 'surgery' and examinations, just like you learned was wise to do in your case during the last few years prior to coming here.”

“Oh, that,” I murmured. “They fixed my rear properly, then did this really strange examination, then this other surgery, and all of the times they gave me something like the b-bull formula, only this stuff was in pill form, and they gave me some to take the night before and the morning I came in, and that was for the first two things. That other instance of surgery scared me enough that they gave me sufficient for several days, and I needed it then.”

“They go a bit further than that, especially for frightened people,” said the soft voice. “In your case, they're likely to go a lot further – further enough that it will indeed surprise you.”

“Sounds about right for someone like you,” muttered Esther, as Anna came down into the room. She smelled distinctly of 'cooking food' – as in she had briefly checked the state of that buzzard's slow boiling while getting rid of the bird's high alcohol content prior to roasting a good portion of it in Anna's roasting pans. We would have our first meal of the evening within perhaps two hours. “Anna, if you ever have to put that pain tincture to people, you'd best dose them with the widow's tincture first, or...”

“Yes, I know now to do that,” said Anna. “That one chemist wishes these things that I've seen pictures of and in dreams, and she knows how to...” Anna had stopped, then with a shaking hand she held up a glass vial. This vial – about three inches long, an inch in diameter, closed with a strange o-ringed 'cork', one that looked as if plastic-impregnated apart from the gray-green o-rings, and the vial itself flat-bottomed – was filled with small tablets, and the whole faintly hazed with blue in Anna's hands. Shaking like a leaf, she took it over to me, and the 'Latin-looking writing' on the label suddenly seemed to change, such that I saw a most-familiar word, one that suddenly jarred my memory.

This stuff was, essentially, diazepam, the 'anti-panic drug' of memory.

“Th... That stuff makes the bull formula seem as nothing,” I squeaked, at the recollection of that drug's effects upon my person where I came from. “Hot water, water that's been distilled, put it in this strange tube that's really small, then put one or two of those tablets in it, suck it up in one of those Spraetzen, and then you can dose someone with it.” Pause, then as I slapped my upper arm as it suddenly burned as if a red-hot welding rod was rapidly burning its way into my flesh, “want to use a small point on those nasty things, as otherwise they feel like large sewing needles heated hot enough to weld two of them together on an anvil.”

“So I was told,” said Anna. Her tone of voice was so unusual I knew I had never heard her speak that way before. She then continued. “The Veldters cannot make them smaller than a certain size, and they need sharpening with this special machine between each use, but they do use the smallest ones they have for those things, and they have Spraetzen that can be cooked like you're doing with that tallow mix there in one of those pots.” Anna then smelled the 'second' batch, and asked, “you mingled her grease with that bad stuff Hans collected?”

“Yes, dear,” I said. “I also put every spare lantern-coil I have in that pressure-pot, as I think we'll get something even better than the usual material by my doing so.”

“I hope you do, as you will need a lot of it for the trip, and then Esther needs a sack of it, and they need two sacks of it at that one leather place in the house proper...” Anna was getting into deep water. I could tell that was the case.

“That one man is currently finding another room next to the one that's currently in use, as he's been talking to Hendrik about making that place nearly ten times its current size and taking on at least three people from the Valley who know leather passably,” I said. “He knows we will need a lot of leather goods in the near future, and that's just for the size of the workroom where such goods are made.” Pause, then, “he's thinking about setting up tanning facilities in some of the other nearby rooms, as well as running a chimney up to the roof, as the house does get its share of hides much of the year courtesy of the huntsmen shooting deer and elk.”

“And soon, your classes will add to their not-inconsiderable number,” said the soft voice. “While your current rifles cannot reliably drop elk save if you turn their heads into pot-strainers with all-purpose bullets, a round of that kind in the head of a deer will drop the animal on the spot more-often than not – and as the farmer's fields come into full 'growth', those animals will become something of a pest in the area surrounding the house proper.”

“Hence good shooting practice for dealing with witches and plated-up northern thugs,” I murmured. “Now, is anyone making up various and sundry tinctures? I need to take at least two large vials of a strong version of the widow's tincture with me tomorrow, as they need it in Ploetzee – so I think one of Hans' flasks is in order, some boiled water in it, a whole vial of the bull formula, some aquavit, and then a small dropping tube-full of that tincture for pain, if not two of such tubes, and the whole cooked for a short time with periodic stirring so as to properly mix.”

Anna looked at me, and only Sarah's sudden return seemed to galvanize her into action. The two of them then repaired to where they had been, while Esther watched me 'navigate' an overloaded pressure cooker with a trebled weight upon its vent and a turned-up heating lamp. I was feeling the state of the reaction in the thing, and it was something that absolutely sucked heat.

Calling this reaction 'endothermic' was speaking well of it, and I was running the lamp 'full-out'.

It was also changing the fat mixture into something so strange that I would have no words for it when I saw the stuff. This would be a whitish liquid, one of the consistency and color of fresh milk while liquid, then a pure white when hardened – and it would do that quickly in the soap-mold, as well as shrink about five percent. It would need cutting with a knife while it was cooling, and then – we would have a lot of this strange material.

“What is this, some kind of weird plastic I'm making?” I asked.

“True 'odorless tallow', only that's closer to a 'rub-on' leather treatment when it's rubbed in good and hard with either the fingers or some special blackwood sticks Hans recently found during his 'exploring' of his laboratory,” said the soft voice. “Your adding a measure of boiled distillate really helps its end properties, as those soldiers out in the field long ago would have killed to get that stuff for their gear.”

“It needs heat to get into the leather?” I asked.

“That supplied by friction suffices, either that or extensive rubbing over a period of time,” said the soft voice. “A heated roller supplying pressure like what Willem has in his shop merely puts in more of that material, and does so much quicker than by mere rubbing.” Pause, then, “that stuff will be most-coveted, both in the house and overseas, as it makes leather more or less entirely waterproof and protects it extremely well.” I had the impression that only 'treated' leather would be much of an improvement, and while that needed special equipment, we had what was needed to make this stuff here and now.

“Esther, you can run candles, can't you?” asked Sarah. “Once these lanterns are blackened properly... Anna, that piece there looks done. Remove it and put it in the boiling pot, and keep all those pieces together so I can put that lantern back together when its pieces are blackened entirely.” Pause, then, “once these things are done, then you two can run candles. I'd get the wax needed, Esther, as well as the wax-pot and the water-pot needed for doing them. You can wait upon the ice-bucket until the wax melts and is stirred together.”

“No tallow, right?” asked Esther. “You said wax. What kind, beeswax? It takes more than one type to make good wax for candles, and student's lanterns want a certain mixture to give their best light.”

“That and these others I have, and they go in these smaller lanterns I and Anna are blackening,” said Sarah. “I have the amounts writ down in my ledger, and we have two special bronze candle molds, so if I can get a bucket with salted ice-water you can run them rapidly.”

“That will be trouble, Sarah, and not just with you making up a lot more of that ink like you're doing,” said Anna. “I know you'll need some for over there, and there needs to be at least one vial for us here.”

“Three vials for you and three more for us, and then much of another globe for Hendrik,” said Sarah, “which is why I need to run four batches and then mingle them in this big flask here.” Pause, then, “Hendrik is going to give Kees 'writer's-fist' for all the inking he will need to do while we are gone, and that over and above what Hendrik and Maria will be writing their-own-selves – and both of them will get writer's-fist also.” Another pause, then, “I know about writer's fist, as I have endured it many times.”

“If I can find all the fetishes in his office and dispose of them without getting tossed too badly, that is,” said Anna morosely. “Is this a pain-drug, Sarah? It sort of feels like one, though what kind it is – that is a very good question.”

“It is a pain drug, and it's for bad injuries,” said Sarah. “You use a Spraetze to put that one in, that and some distilled water and then suck the solution through this strange filter thing here, if these notes I'm reading are right.”

“Filter?” I asked.

“It looks like a compressed wad of cotton,” said the soft voice. “It not only is not cotton, but it is a very effectual 'sterilizer' and 'filter' that removes all significant types of particulate matter and pathogens – and there is a large vial of those filters in that box of medicines.”

“Box?” I asked.

“Hans received an 'emergency kit' when he bought that 'nice-looking' box years ago for a five-guilder piece,” said the soft voice. “Those drugs, in that form, are what you take when you must travel as light as possible and face a serious chance of being badly hurt.” Pause, then, “give those things to Annistæ, and inside of a few weeks she'll turn them into real medicine – stuff that only that which you receive from across the sea will be a significant improvement over.”

“As in that stuff in that box is better than that where I came from?” I thought, as I counted the remaining grains of sand in the sand-glass. It was making me wish for a small 'clock', so much so that without thinking, I removed from my trousers pocket a small brass 'cube', this perhaps two inches across in all dimensions, with softly rounded corners and edges, so the 'sandblasted finish' cube could be handled without injury. A latch of the same material held its two parts closed while a sturdy hinge was on the other side, and when I moved the latch so as to open the 'cube', I saw faintly some 'engraved' Hebrew letters that first rearranged themselves into the word 'TIME', then faintly, through the ethereal glow that now surrounded the device with a faint bluish haze, I saw no less than five 'X' marks under where the latch had once held the 'lid' on.

“Now open that,” said the soft voice, “and yes, Annistæ's level of chemistry expertize will give drugs far superior to what you recall – and you will see the first examples of them by the time you return from that trip.” Pause, then, “she will wish computers and better tools, and she will be in contact with those who do chemistry overseas, as she knows well of her relative state of 'ignorance'.

What Annistæ didn't know about was 'Purple Haze', and how she needed to know about it and where one encountered that weird purple fog amid darkness so total it seemed too scary to be a nightmare.

I opened the brass cube with trepidation, and here, I saw something so unusual I nearly gasped aloud.

The three outermost dials, these color-coded and with raised dots for determining time when one could not see due to total darkness or other conditions that made normal viewing unwise, were moving against a stationary 'pointer', with the two innermost ones – for a total of five dials – currently being stationary.

These two dials were also color-coded, with more raised dots as well as line-markings, and the color-scheme of the whole assembly was 'eye-catching' to say the least. More, these color-coded dials seemed both mobile and shimmering, with colors that faintly resembled those of a rainbow as they floated across the individual dials. The contrast between them, however, was a marked one, one so great that even with a timepiece that acted as if it were having a hypoglycemia attack one could still read it by sight – or, if needed, by touch alone using the strategically-raised dots like a species of Braille.

Pressing a small gold-colored button – the pointer, this marked with an impressed arrow ending in what might have been a 'hammer' of some sort, this found near the right margin – caused the two inner dials to start moving, the outer one much faster than the inner. A silent counting-off spoke of that dial's units being roughly comparable to seconds. Pressing that gold-colored pointer briefly caused them to stop; another brief press, the count resumed; a longer press of that button caused the two inner dials to instantly reset to the 'zero' point, while the three outer dials continued moving without an instant's interruption: again, the outer dial moved in time to what were probably seconds. I then noticed I had a visitor.

“What is that thing?” asked Sarah. She was fascinated by the thing to say the least.

“A very peculiar species of 'pocket watch' – I think,” I said. “It gives hours, minutes, seconds...”

Much more than just that,” said the soft voice. “Look at the inside of that lid for the full story.”

I did, and there was another of those strange grayish screens, this with four demarcated 'touch points', one at each corner. Touching these corners gave the 'instructions', these in blue-green-yellow-and red detail, complete with many grainy-looking color pictures; and as I looked, I had the impression that calling this thing a 'pocket watch' was calling my main home computer 'a noisy scrap-pile'.

I had never thought that of it until recently, and now, I had no words for what amounted to a very-well-camouflaged device that could tell time and do a fair assortment of very strange calculations – as well as indicate directions like a compass if one pressed the corners of the screen in the right order.

As if this strange thing had read my mind, the matte brass finish of the casing now became a streaky gray-green-yellow-brown that covered the brass portions inside and out – the dials included – and as I moved it closer to the tabletop, it tried its best to match the blotchy nature of the chemical-stained wood planks. It actually came fairly close to doing so, though it took perhaps two or three seconds to manage the 'trick'. The dials continued moving as if nothing else was happening – only they too had become 'wood'.

“That's s-straight out of an old tale,” murmured Sarah. “I think I know what it might be.”

“What, dear?” I asked. Having a species of calculator, especially one with sine, cosine, and tangent functions, would prove most handy for navigating a 'ship' – and by extension, understanding the use of a 'real' sextant, should I see one in use. I suspected I'd at least see a 'real' one regardless.

“Those are like navigating timers, or they were used as such by people during the war,” said Sarah, “and I think it is like that shower or that strange scale that showed earlier.”

“Yes, and I can use that new scale a lot easier than the other one,” said Hans. “It tells me how to weigh things right, too, which is good, as I did not learn that decent under my grandfather, and now I have this to teach me how, so I can learn what I need to know to be a chemist.”

“Goes down to milligrams,” I said. “Is that like what we will get?”

“No, as those you will get and take home on the trip are intended for medical students, and are quite a bit more capable,” said the soft voice. “What Hans received is for people who take chemistry as a two or three session elective, rather than what becomes a large portion of their studies – and while medical students start with scales like that one, they go to better equipment as quickly as it is possible for them to do so – as they need to do careful analysis, not merely learn 'chemicals are dangerous, smelly, demand proper care and caution, and are sometimes poisonous enough to need a proper protective suite.

“Still better to get one of those for other uses,” said Sarah. “I imagine Esther would wish one.”

“She could use a medical scale readily after a brief session of using that one,” said the soft voice. “Hans will graduate to a medical scale before a month is over, and then that one there will serve as a spare.” Pause, then, “it will still get its share of use in this house, and I would expect more of them showing before a month is out.”

“Uh, weigh gun parts?” I asked. “Sextant patterns, so as to figure out how much of that 'brass' I will need once I formulate the first of a number of batches? Recording just how much of what I use in making it and a number of other things up?”

“Those activities, portions for various blackening mixes, and a number of other things,” said the soft voice. “Now, set that unit there to thirty minutes using the buttons at the corner of that small screen, start it with the 'start button', and then 'kill the fire' under that pressure pot when it counts down.” Pause. “You can help with other matters while that pot cools enough to first take off the valve and then unclamp it safely, then you'll need to run the other batch of that material while the first batch cools in that soap-mold and section the blocks about twenty minutes before that second run finishes.”

I now had another thirty minutes to wait, as 'setting' the timer portion of the device was simpler than anything of its sort I had ever used; the small screen had touch-sensitive aspects to permit easy use. More, I left the 'box' open, and it was fascinating to see the various dials silently slowly rotate past the pointer.

“Utterly intuitive to read,” I thought. “Simple, hard to kill, silent as a dead water-lizard, more or less weatherproof...”

“Try 'entirely waterproof to one hundred meters',” said the soft voice. “Yes, you could use that thing as a diving watch – and you will be doing your share of that in the months to come, much as those using those things once did on occasion.”

“Oh,” I thought, at the thought of diving again. I had done so as a young man several times, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable activity. “Spying on Ultima Thule?”

The sense I had was 'while there would be plenty of 'espionage activities', there would be a lot more 'sabotage' being done on such trips' – as in 'putting a spanner to the gear-works', to put it mildly.

A spanner here was not a species of wrench. It was closer to a species of special pry-bar used for scraping rust, corrosion, and sometimes, if held correctly and made right, something that worked well for scraping patterns 'smooth' prior to rubbing them well with drying oil.

One wished a 'dead-smooth' pattern so as to get the cleanest possible release from casting sand, even that from Joosten's, and I had a full 'collection' of such 'spanners' as a result, all of them sharp enough to shave with; some of them looked a lot like strange old-fashioned surgical tools.

“Much more than that,” said the soft voice. “Remember to warm those knife-sheathes in the oven for fifteen minutes prior to rubbing the sticks of that 'leather protectant' on them, and then use a wooden dowel – one of those blackwood dowels that Hans recently found a sack of – with two rounded ends and a rag for padding to rub that stuff into the leather while those sheathes are still warm from the oven.”

The sense of intensive industry over us all was such now that every few minutes, someone went up the stairs and came down smelling of beer and bread, while more than once, Esther remained upstairs for some minutes before recalling both Anna and Sarah from their current activities. I could plainly hear talk about 'buzzards' and Anna's 'roasting pans' as well as 'buzzard-soup', and since we would be feeding a multitude of hard-working individuals, it seemed wise to retain almost all of the bird, according to Esther's judgment. Faintly, I heard Anna speak.

“Once Hans is done throwing pistol bullets and he washes himself good, he needs to take that cut-up fool-hen down to the Public House and get beer and bread for us, as if we are going to work late and feed this many people, as we will be having more and larger meals than our usual.”

“More than that, Anna,” said Esther – whose voice implied Anna had underestimated the true needs of a hard-working household working a thirty-six hour day and perhaps sleeping four or five hours of that extended day. “I might well see if I can keep that soup warmed overnight on this stove, then take this pot here padded in rags to the house proper for meals there. I suspect those who set in class in the morning will enjoy it.”

“They will if you cook it,” said Sarah. “Now this is a new one – buzzard, potatoes, carrots, and the broth from that pot?” Sarah sounded more than a little perplexed. I was also, though I quickly had an answer to what Esther was planning.

She was going to stuff the oven with food, as she had found a third baking pan, one Anna had no previous knowledge of, it was so well hid, and Esther was showing Anna how to 'wedge three pans into a space normally that thought two pans a bit much'.

“Buzzard is dry meat, Sarah,” said Esther, “and roasting it uncovered would dry it out otherwise. If it roasts in this broth, it will stay tender and moist, which is what you want for sick people, especially those who have trouble with things like Vlai.”

“They do have trouble, and much of it,” said Anna flatly – meaning Sarah and I. “Do you have trouble with Vlai?”

“Up till a year after the twins came, no,” said Esther. “I started having trouble then, but now eating more of it than one of the children can handle puts me in the privy for at least three full turns of the glass.”

“She spewed until it came up green today after working on that thing with that knife she's using,” said Sarah. “She will wish to see their medical people the day after they come, and I need to take tracings of her knife, as I think you want one of those rather than what you currently have, Anna.” Sarah meant 'early that morning' as to Esther seeing the people in question – as soon as they opened their doors, in fact, and not a minute later. I was amazed at her precise language, and also, how she seemed to be picking up my speech so quickly now.

“Day after?” I thought. Again, that 'total precision' that was, I realized now, 'built into' this language when it was spoken properly.

Tone of voice or body language did not matter then, as the words of this language conveyed everything needed toward effective communication of thought and emotion, more so than the Greek of the second portion of the book. It was especially good if one needed to communicate matters by textual means or voice, as then, one knew what the speaker or writer meant in precise and total detail.

“Sarah is thinking it will take them a day once they get to the Abbey to 'get set up',” said the soft voice. “Since some medical people will be among the first arriving on-site, it will take them longer than that – but that means that by the time those people start arriving in useful numbers – the second or third boatload – they won't need a day to 'get unpacked and find their beds', as those will already be present.”

“And so, until we have such materials, then we need to make what we do have work,” I said, as Anna suddenly 'materialized' back in the area she was before. How I had heard her 'arrive' was a mystery, as she had learned to become very quiet and move in a most-stealthy manner overnight, almost as if she was Deborah's twin.

“Anna, you can take some of those tablets, grind them up fine in one of those small glass or ceramic mortars, and then mix them into a tincture,” I said quietly. I was surprised she did not 'shriek' at my knowing she had returned. “About five or six of those tablets, some warm water from the boiling-tank, and a spoonful or so of aquavit. They'll dissolve easily, and in a pinch, I think you can take those orally.”

“Which was done on more than a few occasions,” said the soft voice. “Adding them to an existing version of the tincture Sarah's mixing up will only help that material greatly, as the effects will not be 'additive', but synergistic.”

“As in 'this is what we dose Gabriel with'?” I asked.

“Try a drop or two of the resulting tincture shortly,” said the soft voice. “You're about due for a dose anyway.”

I soon had my chance to 'taste' a portion of one of those tablets, and the indescribably bitter taste was soon washed away by first a smaller-than-usual dose of Sarah's tincture and then beer – to be rapidly replaced by a sensation at once very strange and altogether familiar. Here, I had a very clear head, one so clear that I knew precisely what I needed to do and the order I needed to do it, and with calm deliberation, I found my brass clipboard, put a new quarter-sheet of paper, and wrote – legibly, for a change, though my handwriting was still 'execrable' – just what we needed to do, and in what order. I showed this first to Esther – she had also slipped back down, though I had heard her quiet steps audibly – who was stunned and shocked enough to ask “can I have the rest of that pill, Anna? It really is helping him a great deal.”

“If it is doing that, then I need to grind up more of them and make a special tincture for that,” said Sarah – who had come down the stairs at a run reeking faintly of an overused privy. “Can I add it to what I am mixing now?”

“Yes, about four of them powdered fine,” I said. “It helps even more then, which is why I think Annistæ wants the bull formula – she can make that drug with it, and more, make an even better version than this one using it as a starting point.”

“Wait until you get some of the stuff overseas,” said the soft voice. “That stuff is better still, and that in both its oral and injectable forms.”

“Whatever it is, it's really straightening me out,” I said, this softly. I then noticed how bright and loud everything had gotten. “Trouble, though – you want darker goggles if you take that stuff, as it turns your sensitivity to light up so much...” Pause, then, “Georg, they've got everything ready to harness up the horses and your buggy. They're waiting on the elevator to finish taking down some late-arrived supplies that just arrived from an up-river boat, as then, once they've harnessed those animals on the river-bank dike there and gotten their escort up, and the drivers' horses tied to its rear that they'll ride on the way back to Ploetzee, that group of five is going to use this network of narrow forest roads they know of to travel on so as to 'break out' into open country just after it gets 'mostly-dark' as close as possible to where we are.”

I did not speak of the coffle; the last of the 'skulkers' were now being found, these people hiding especially carefully and needing one of perhaps half a dozen individuals to 'ferret them out'. That usually meant thumping with some of the hundreds of green clubs liberated from the functionaries.

That coffle was easily going to be two hundred yards long, and nearly a third of Ploetzee's current population would be a part of it. Those not part of that coffle, they were of one mind: they were committed to the cause, and this roundup of those otherwise merely cemented matters in their minds, just like being wounded in the foot made that one now-marked man committed and willing to crush the head of any two-legged serpent he found – and die in the process, if that was what it took to 'crush that snake'.

That was the level of thought and attitude needed to remain in Ploetzee, based on that now-being-copied pronouncement that had showed by most-mysterious means.

“They are?” asked Georg with genuine interest. “When will they arrive?”

“About an hour and a half after sunset,” I said calmly, “and those horses are not going to be at all tired.” Pause, then, “my word, I need to take this stuff with some regularity.” Another pause, then in a lower voice, “I hope I am not doing sorcery here – as in taking drugs to see into the spirit world.”

“You are doing the precise opposite of sorcery,” said the soft voice. “You need to be 'self controlled and alert', and you have enough to do right this minute to drive any five people you can think of screaming en-mass into a rest-house. Hence, you are now much less worried, and therefore you are much closer to that desired state of being 'self controlled and alert' – which you need to be in at all times right now.” Pause, then, “wipe that list briefly with your hand, and it will expand into your agenda for tonight – and I would put everyone able to lift a hand that is present upon it, at least until it's a bit after sundown, which is when Georg needs to hie himself to the Public House so as to get his traveling supplies and then receive his buggy.”

“Good,” said Georg, whose tone surprised me as much or more as what happened when I wiped the list as instructed and it grew to fill the entire page. Turning it over showed it to be both plastic-impregnated, much as if it were laminated, and printed closely in block-letters on both sides – the print covering both sides of the small piece of paper, each activity ordered in level of importance, and each action numbered. “I hope you can tell me when and where those people will come with that buggy, as...”

“First we will need to feel its hubs when you bring it here for dosing its bearings and you receiving some weapons,” I said, reading from the just-sprouted list, “then we'll need to adjust the oil-holders, and if possible, pull each wheel, lap it briefly with this stuff I have that's like red-paste so as to remove the high-spots, clean each such wheel well, and then 'dose' each wheel with red-paste and some of this 'buggy oil' I have cooking over that heating lamp, and then top your reservoirs with that stuff – and that thing has 'double-sized' reservoirs, so it will run all day without much in the way of attention given modest loading.” Pause, then, “that will last you for the trip to the house and the way back, hopefully.” I then turned to Willem. “He'll want a smallish bag of horse-grain, or...” I now looked at Hans. “Our grain-grinder, Hans. One part corn, one part oats, and a bit more than one portion barley. Five pounds of each grain, save the barley, which wishes six pounds; and now, you can now weigh them out exactly, which is how it needs to be done.” Pause. “Grind each of those grains separately, one after another, then mix them thoroughly in a large tinned pot and put enough sugar-tree sap to the material to make it a bit sticky, then spread it out on pans and bake it in a slow oven for an hour and then scrape that stuff off the pans and bag it.”

“Good that I wrote that down,” said Esther. “What will that do?” Pause, then, “that buzzard should be done within an hour or two, so then we can use that oven for baking that mash.”

“Make it keep about three times longer than it would otherwise – well over a month, if you put it in something like a cold-room – about a third lighter than regular 'mash', the horses will think it a treat indeed, and it will give them a lot of strength when they eat it,” I said. “Oh, it reduces the volume slightly, also, so that makes it easier to pack on longer trips when you must go far and fast each day you're under way.”

A faint chiming noise warned me of the timer's near-end, and when it did end, it chirped three times, the noise just like that of a hungry mine-bird. I then pressed the small button, and 'killed the fire' under the lamp, and then sloshed the lamp to determine whether I needed to fill it or not.

“Thing's almost empty,” I muttered. “I wonder if we have some of that fuel we found at the Abbey, and more, if we wish to try it here.” Pause, then, “do we?”

“I would be sparing of it,” said Sarah. “I think we shall wish all of it we can carry for the trip.”

“One of those older jugs we found?” I asked. “I really want to try some in this heating lamp here, as I had to turn it up all the way for that reaction, and this thing is almost empty from cooking that batch.”

“That is the usual for these things if they run a full wick,” said Hans, who was still running bullets with alacrity, while Georg was keeping Hans' lead-pot full – when he was not 'pigging' metal. He had at least eight or nine such ingots now, and between cutting off pieces of that one ingot, adding tin and that hardening metal as per the recipe – he was using the scale now, which I could tell helped more than a little as to the consistency of the metal – and Willem and Paul alternating on the four-cavity Heinrich mould dropping 'stiff' shot – every man in the basement was 'as busy as a bee-runner with a bucket of honey and a swarm of bees hot for him', which was a new idiom in my hearing.

Sarah was the one speaking it, and since she had run from bees repeatedly with such a bucket, she knew well just what it meant, even if her language was 'the contracted version', a type of language that in reality either needed someone like myself to convey real meaning, or...

Duckspeak,” I thought, quoting from that one book that I now seemed to recall as if I had not read it, but actually had lived it, this in such detail that I understood it in totality. “Quack like a duck, and the spoken word has no meaning whatsoever. Everything of importance is a matter of implication and interpretation, and the only way people know anything in such a realm is if they've got a sack of bones that weighs five pounds, and they are so stinking inhabited they have the cheap imitation of strong markings and that knowing that tends to go with it.”

“Got it in one,” said the soft voice, “and Cardosso-and-beyond-level witches have been rare indeed since that war long ago.” Pause, then, “some few of those spies, especially those that have been promoted into locations where their capacity to cause trouble is limited, have Cardosso-level abilities, and a few go beyond that level.”

“Oh, my,” said Sarah. “They have witches like those before the war overseas.”

“Yes, a few,” said the soft voice – who implied that their current number was less than the fingers on one hand. “You'll not run into them for quite some time, as they tend to stay in certain locations only, and they don't go far from those places, especially given that they own those places – and hence, they wish to remain upon their property and not mingle with lesser beings.”

“I'm glad, then,” said Anna. “Will I be one of those dealing with them?”

The answer was surprising: “You may or may not, but Sarah and Dennis most definitely will be, as will Rachel – and by that time, Rachel will be much as her long-ago namesake was, both as to leadership capacity and markings – and that is where Sarah's capacities finally come to the fore.”

“What?” squeaked Sarah.

“I think you get hurt taking that place, as will I, Rachel, and some one or two others that we don't yet know but will soon meet,” I said. “Oh, your cousin. She becomes a monster there, same as y-you.”

“What?” shrieked Sarah.

“Time for a dose, dear,” said Anna calmly. “Here. One full tube, half of this powdered tablet, then wash the whole down with this beer I put some honey in. It does help the taste. Then, up with you for a bath, wash good, and get into some bread with a lot of cherry jam on it. You need it to keep your teeth tight, and I'll put up a bag of cherries pounded in a bronze mortar so you-all can keep your teeth tight while over in that place.”

“Assuming we do not find some blood-fruit in the third kingdom or overseas,” I said. “Oh, Georg, they've packed a basket with several of those things wrapped carefully in rags. You're to take those to the kitchen and direct they be prepared for this one young lady that looks a lot like Sarah. Her name is Deborah, and we rescued her and that other woman... Oh, my. She needs them too!”

“I did not see her with loose teeth,” said Anna, “though you are right about Sarah's cousin. She looked about ready to drop a few, her teeth were so loose.” Pause, then, “blood-fruit? Who told you about those?”

“I did,” said Sarah. “My, this stuff is strange. I hope I do not see another of those big green jumping things again, as calling them awful is to speak well indeed of them.”

“What are those?” asked Anna – who was obviously very busy. She was going through all of Hans' collection of medicines, and using one-line tin tags, was laboriously printing labels for all of his bags.

More than one bag got emptied into a bucket, this one old, worn, and more than a little smelly. I suspected it was Hans' 'trash-can', and when Anna went past me holding her nose, I knew I was probably right.

The fact that she was moving with such purpose amazed me. Anna, to put it bluntly, was changing rapidly into someone that was more and more like Sarah by the hour. Again, she looked to reiterate her question, only I heard Sarah scribbling rapidly on a piece of paper, much as if she were drawing something – and as this frantic scribbling continued, I could hear Anna's consternation – and possibly, fear – grow by the second.

After all, being in the company of 'Froggy' when he was hungry wasn't conducive to a long life, and riding on a toad on a jungle 'track' somewhere on the places where such creatures were ridden could at times result in 'riding in the toad' when Froggy saw no other meals of a handy nature – and his long prehensile tongue allowed him to lasso anything within range.

That included his riders, and 'Glürmph' wasn't a rare sound at all in a place where 'if you want to go off-road, go riding on a toad' – especially as there were no roads worthy of the name, and 'Froggy' was the only way to get anywhere at a speed faster than a walk. Bumpy, yes – scary, definitely – but if you could avoid being eaten, and could handle the 'wild ride of Mr. Toad' – then he'd go over almost any obstacle imaginable short of a thirty-foot-tall stone wall, and he could handle that if suitably urged.

“And that thing should tell me when my half-hour is up,” I murmured, as I went up the stairs. I had business with first the privy, then a soak in the tub with a cup and jug of beer handy. I was starting to itch now, and that 'field soap' promised to remove a lot more junk that had either accumulated today or in the recent past.

The last few days were much less of a blurred mess now, with such a clear head, and I saw many opportunities for acquiring things I did not need in my body – including every time I dealt with a fetish of consequence, almost.

“Need to grease-up those knives with that 'grease' I'm doing in that glassware,” I thought, as I made matters ready for bathing, “and need to make up a detailed list for packing what we can tonight and what we need to tomorrow.” Here, as I filled first the 'hot water bucket' and then the three that went in the tub and made sure I had what I needed for bathing next to the tub, I began to have ideas: and once at the table under the titanium lantern, I began writing.

While my writing went rapidly, I found that being precise and neat were still more or less mutually exclusive; and them, wiping this sheet did not improve the legibility of my scrawls.

It did add matters that I had not realized initially: wiping put numbers by each entry; it separated them slightly; it removed the stains – but it still left my handwriting in a barely-legible state.

“That is an improvement, as I can actually read my writing,” I thought. “Why is it still so hard to understand for others, though?”

“Wait until what happens tomorrow when you're packing,” said the soft voice. “It's really important.”

“Builds unit cohesion, gets Gabriel involved once he's been dosed adequately for his remaining pains, and then teaches the others to think together and then work as a group,” I thought.

“That, and to ask you questions when they encounter something that confuses them,” said the soft voice. “There will be a lot of such things happening during the trip and overseas, so they need the practice, and while your handwriting might as well be 'Cretan Linear B' as far as all of them are concerned, Sarah can parcel it out to a modest degree.”

“They'll have to work as a team, and...”

“And follow your instructions closely, at least at first,” said the soft voice. “That will be critical regarding your objectives overseas, and more, it will get Gabriel 'in the mood' for real work.” Pause, then, “it will also get him used to being dosed regularly, so slipping him a 'Micky Finn' will be an easy matter once he starts hurting from loading that boat and rearranging its bags to provide a shelter for sleepers.”

The way 'Micky Finn' was pronounced in this language was so strange that either the originator had been well-beyond trashed, or it had been originally a bad intercept and the computers used to collate the various portions coming from the forty or so receivers then 'up' did a bad job.

“That, and how much of the common language is actually pronounced across the sea,” said the soft voice. “You've heard of people speaking with that kind of an accent, but until you meet those people, you'd have trouble believing all those jokes you've heard about such individuals where you come from.” Pause, then, “once you hear them speak, those jokes you once heard about people like 'Yon Yonssen' and how 'he lived in Wisconsin while working at a lumber-mill' will make utter complete sense.”

“Accents,” I thought, as I began working on a second sheet. Again, while my thinking was clear enough, my hand seemed to have its own ideas, and the sense of 'hot water' now present upon the stove was enough to make for wiping that page also.

It too became as the other, only I noticed this once I was done with the tub and stirring my dirty clothing in that still-clean-looking bathwater and chopping up a bar of laundry soap. The number of holes in what I had changed into after taking that house was bad enough; but the stuff I had fought those functionaries with had no less than eight foot-long blood-edged gashes, a number of 'banged up' blood-tinged places , several blood-edged rips, and a multitude of small blood-edged holes, most of these large enough to insert a pencil and more than a dozen large enough to put my smallest finger into.

“I must have caught a lot of lead,” I said, as I noted more shot and metal fragments littering the fast-emptying tub. “Not quite a quart so far, 'cause I'm not 'Bobs Bahadur', but I wonder now.”

“Not all of that stuff is that which you picked up in the last few days,” said the soft voice. “That medical soap is drawing out a lot of 'garbage' that you've been carrying for a while, some of it dating to your first instance of causing trouble in the Swartsburg.” Pause, then, “it tends to dissolve deeply embedded stone chips, so when you go to the privy again, don't be surprised if you 'go' a lot more than usual, and it feels like you're passing kidney stones to a modest degree.”

“That thing was awful,” I murmured. “I could feel it when it broke loose and went down the ureter, hurting the whole distance as it tumbled, but until broke loose, it was horrible.”

“That soap will break those things loose also,” said the soft voice. “Now you know why it was so coveted by soldiers in the field.”

When I came out, however, I saw that Sarah was 'getting into some bread and jam', and I joined her in her repast, this under the light of the turned-down titanium lantern. As she ate, however, her eyes grew steadily larger. When I thought to ask her what was causing this, she said, “first, my eyes are becoming a lot more sensitive to light, and then there are these two list-pages, and while the lines are even enough and inked clearly, I cannot make out the words to save my life!”

“An example, please?” I asked, between mouthfuls of bread slathered thickly with jam and washed down with gulps of beer.

“D-drude M-m-moont?” asked Sarah. “What is 'drude moont'?”

“Probably a badly-written form of 'dried meat',” I said. “I rubbed those pages, but my handwriting didn't get better.”

“No, that is not true,” said Sarah. “It's inked, and I've yet to see you use ink, and there's no smudges at all, and then this paper-stuff is shiny, so water won't touch it, and...” Sarah looked at me, then asked, “is this so we-all learn to work as a team?”

“I think so,” I said. “More, I think those cards and things like them are going to be standard training matters, as in first you need to figure out what they actually mean, then actually go get what's on those lists, and that will mean going to various places on every floor of the house, almost.”

“I s-see,” said Sarah. “That is almost like...” The realization hit her like an avalanche. “This is just like at the west school!”

“I thought so,” I murmured. “You went there for the full six years and did things that scare old hares like Lukas the color of bad tin plates, but Karl and Sepp did not go to any of the higher schools, and Gabriel's worse off regarding real 'matters' than Karl is – and that list, or so I was told, would force the four of you to work together as a team, as well as learn to ask me questions when you were confused – which is something you know of to a certain degree, and so does Sepp, but Karl does that but seldom, and Gabriel...”

“That will take the starch out of his underwear,” said Sarah emphatically. “He will learn to run in burn-clothing, or I will know the reason for him not doing so.”

“Oh, and issue everyone in the group with machine-pistols, and him with a doubled-barreled shotgun and a belt of shells as well as a machine-pistol, and then everyone is to practice their shooting under your tutelage,” I said. “That happens right after the teaching session, and I'm glad it will not be just me doing that teaching, as that group is going to act like they've all got fetishes in their clothing.” Pause, then, “ought to have them toss whatever they're wearing and bathe first, so we can go through their clothing and remove anything that's suspicious.”

“Annistæ already has that planned, ever since she found two more fetishes in Hendrik's office and disposed of them,” said the soft voice. “Deborah is looking for more, and is likely to locate at least two more of those things within the hour.

“And get tossed good in the bargain,” I muttered. “Now, what else will happen – a big flamer?”

While there was no answer regarding fetishes, Sarah gave me one regarding the list of things to fetch:

“I think this part means fishing string, though I am not certain,” said Sarah. “It might be speaking of tinned copper plates, or perhaps a large spoon, or maybe spare knives.” “Pause, then, “we need all of those things anyway.

Sarah then passed it to me, and I murmured, “we'll need to pack those things tonight, or first thing tomorrow before we leave,” I said. “Those there would be medical kits, though what-all we want to take beyond tinctures, bandages, perhaps some of these thin leather straps for tying off severe bleeding...”

“No, don't take those,” said the soft voice. “Anna has set aside three vials of that one material that saved Annistæ's life when her femoral artery was damaged, and you'll wish that instead, that and two entire bars of medical soap broken into the small 'sections' and then bagged, as it works for some surprisingly large cuts.”

“Not like that other stuff does, though,” I said. “Three vials? Should we not have more?”

Sarah looked at me with a startled expression, then a deranged-sounding scream – the screamer was not Esther, even if this person sounded fully as frightening – came from below, then running steps came crashing up the stairs at a dead run. Anna showed suddenly, her feet flailing as she cleared the floor of the stairwell by nearly two feet and the top by scant inches to land near the table, this breathless – and before I could stop her, she'd washed her hands in the bucket using an obvious bar of that 'nice' soap and was cramming down a slice of bread, with a spoonful of cherry jam every third bite, this as if absolutely famished.

“You went too long between eating, Anna,” said Sarah. “Now, do not tell me. Something showed down there.”

“It did,” said Anna between bites, “though what I can do with that many of those round-bottomed vials is very much of a mystery.” Pause, this to spoon in another gulp of cherry jam, then drink an entire cup of beer dry in what seemed seconds. “At least I could read this stuff, even with the strange word followed by two groups of letters and numbers mingled.”

“What is it?” I asked.

“Some strange material that can save a person's life if they are hurt badly,” said Anna. “It says 'Life-Saver' on the label for each of these vials, and the instructions are simple enough that even that one person who collects privy rags at the house could use it.”

“Or someone who's dealing with swarms of oncoming blue-suited functionaries wearing silver collars that act like they're really drunk and have been that way for better than a year,” I muttered. “What are these vials, and what do they say?”

“Uncork the vial and dump the stuff in or near the wound,” said Anna, “and the folded shiny paper thing that came with it was enough to make me scream the instant I saw it.”

“Why?” asked Sarah.

“I've seen what Iron Pigs do to people with their tushes,” said Anna, “only these pictures showed something that was a lot worse.” Pause, then, “this person looked like my uncle was said to look after he was killed, only this stuff was dumped on that injury, and these pictures then showed what happened to him.”

“What?” asked Sarah.

“He did not die!” screeched Anna. “It put his insides back inside him, it hooked them up well enough that he'd live long enough to get to where they could do the work right, it closed up the wound entirely, and then he was able to walk not three minutes later, once they pumped a lot of this whitish fluid into his arms!”

What?” I gasped.

“It put three of his fingers back on his body, and then it fixed this big gash in his neck,” said Anna. “His head was hanging by a piece of skin, and that only, but the people working had to put it back on, or hold it close, and then this stuff grabbed his head and put it back on so he could speak and move again once they put that stuff in his arm!

“Oh my God!” I murmured. “They cannot do that where I come from. They'd just scoop someone like that up and dump their body into a hole, as they would be deader than a corpse-box.”

“You have to be quick to do that when they're hurt that bad, or so this paper thing said,” said Anna. “If we were to speak of injuries caused by swine, then one has a bit longer, or so I was told while I was reading it, as Iron Pigs usually don't tear people up that bad.”

That bad?” I asked.

“They almost always died within half a turn of a glass, if we found them still alive and the pigs had not eaten them,” said Anna. “This stuff would save their lives, and all someone like me would need to do is pour it onto or near the injuries, and it would crawl into the wound, j-just like it was alive, and then f-fix it.”

“No, they'd still need some time in a theater,” I said.

“Yes, but then you could get them into one and there they could do the job right,” said Anna. “They showed what was done with that one man, only that was really strange, especially the last few pictures they showed of him once they'd fixed everything right.”

“W-why?” I asked.

“He was wearing that stuff that looked like burn-clothing, just like in that dream I had, only this stuff was not burn-clothing,” said Anna. “Whatever it was, though, he did a lot better wearing it, and if something like a metal pear went off in his lap, it did little beyond put some soot on him and cut his clothing some.” Pause, then, “they actually did that with that man, though that was one of the last pictures.”

“They put a metal pear to that man?” screeched Sarah. “Anna, those things turn people to pie filling, and one would scatter this house and kill everyone in it!”

“It tossed him a good ten paces when it exploded, and made a hole big enough to bury someone,” said Anna – who then said something that stunned me utterly. “If I have to do much more with fetishes, though, I am going to get myself in that clothing, as being tossed like that didn't hurt him at all, and I was sore enough that I wanted Komaet after that thing tossed me onto Hendrik's desk and I fell onto the floor near his bookcase.”

“Any marriage that stands up to fetishes is...” Pause, then I asked, “Hans?”

“He's not yet been tossed,” said Anna crossly, “but give him time. He will get tossed but good, and he'll get marked in the bargain, though when that happens is yet a mystery.” Pause, then, “what is not a mystery is that he will get marked, and that as much or more than I will.”

“Uh, how?” I asked. “Or do you know?”

“I am not sure how it will happen, nor when, but I am sure he will get tossed some, and I am sure he will get marked,” said Anna. “About half of the people going to that Abbey place while it is in its darkened state will get some kind of markings while they are there, and everyone who goes inside to break that smelly Curse is going to have one kind of mark or another – and all of them will be inside that place during the whole of the time that it is dark and purple.”

“They'll all fly, too,” I said. “Maybe not as pilots – some will, though – but everyone who goes on the big ships above the sky is going to have to endure a session of Purple Haze.”

Anna began shuddering, and muttered, “am I happy, or in misery?”

That line had me shuddering, but it was nothing compared to what happened to Sarah: she fainted the instant she heard Anna say those words, and I wasn't able to catch her in time – nor was Anna. Sarah, however, came to herself quickly, by the time I had picked her up, in fact, and when she awoke, she screamed as if on fire.

“What, dear?” I asked.

“That line was straight out of my dream!” she shrieked. “It was dark, and purple, and the west school has nothing on that place for trouble, and it rings with gunfire every minute of each and every day, and the people and things in that place do not know if it is day or night, and if you stay there long at all, you will get yourself marked. Mark my words on it!”

Sarah calmed down quickly once she'd 'gotten into more beer' – three cups, one right after another – and as Anna uncorked another jug of beer, she said, “at this rate, I'm going to have to take lessons from Esther on how to make beer, as already I've gone through three jugs from the Public House since we got home!”

“Are you keeping the jugs?” asked Sarah.

“Yes, most of them if they're from the Public House in town,” said Anna. “He gets some of the best jugs I've seen, especially recently, and Hans uses some for traps, so I keep the best ones he turns out for our use in making beer.” Pause, then, “we have about twenty or so beer jugs, but I think I'm going to need closer to a hundred of those things at this rate, especially given that I must make three or four different kinds of beer now.”

“Almost want a pot like that one there for making it up,” I said, motioning to the still-boiling pot. “What's in there? Buzzard soup?”

Anna nodded, then said, “one of Esther's specialties, I think. I've already asked Paul to write down what she does, as my handwriting is getting worse every time I try to write anything, and I wonder just how much losing a toe does to someone.”

“Oh,” I murmured. “Wait until it gets dark. We'll have some hornets to deliver to Waldhuis.”

“You do?” asked Anna incredulously. “I've only seen two of those things in my whole life.” Pause, then, “how will you...”

Sarah had left the table, and as she searched among the bags and bins, I could hear gentle whisperings, something about 'where is that mortar'? and 'where did they put the shells to that thing'?

“Over here, dear,” I said to Sarah. “Sarah, you need a bath, then I just got one, and I think Anna wants one, as getting tossed by that fetish put some junk in you, dear.” I meant Anna.

“It did?” asked Anna. “Do those do that when they go where they belong?”

“I think so,” said Sarah. “I think I want to watch you put the hornets to that place, Anna, as we were told you'd be especially good at it.”

“It has to do with being musically inclined,” I said. “The shells are long, green with some red writing on them, and since seeing my first hornet today, calling them that sounds about right, especially given how much trouble they are on the receiving end.” Pause, this as I drank down another cup of beer. “dear, let me help you with those things, as we need to show them to Anna.”

Finding the mortar needed not merely my help, but also Anna's, as she 'seemed to have a nose' for the things, though one bin caught her attention and she opened it. I was not prepared for her reaction.

“Well, at least we are set for Harvest Day,” she said delightedly. “Now how did you get those things, seeing as how no one has started making them?”

“Those are not Harvest Day squibs, even if they're close enough to size and shape, Anna,” said Sarah. “Take one out and read what is on it, then put it back, as we'll wish to take some of those things on the trip.”

“They're closer to seven sticks of mining dynamite, and not common dynamite, but the stuff that Hans has nightmares about,” I said. “They're just a lot easier to use, and can stand some dropping, unlike that stuff he spoke of.”

Anna put the 'training aide' back where she had found it and closed the lid with all haste, then resumed searching for the mortar. What she next found was a box of rifle ammunition.

“Hot tracer ammunition, type 1116?” she asked. “What are tracers, and how are they hot?”

“What you use when you want to start fires or mark targets for guns,” I said. “Now, I can feel that bag with the mortar, and... There, dear. That one has some shells. We'll show Anna once the two of you get yourselves bathed.”

The two women did so, one after another, and by the time Anna had emerged in clean clothing, I had found the shells and was closing in fast upon the mortar. I had several shells out laying on a spare towel, and as Anna looked them over, I could tell she was muttering about 'hornets'. She then came over to where I was.

“Sarah's in there now,” she said. “I dropped more shot and stuff in that tub, and that bag is getting full.”

“Bag?” I asked.

“I've been filling it with what comes out of those tubs,” said Anna. “Now what is this here?”

“That's the mortar!” I yelped. “Help me with these bags, so I can get it out.”

I had the mortar's pieces on the table, and as I began cleaning each of them with aquavit, I asked, “any word on a new table?”

“They're working on that thing in shifts at the house proper,” said Anna, “and I expect Georg to be taking it home tomorrow when we ride home with him.” Pause, then, “it's a special one, one that has a center section that gives it two added feet of length should we have company, and the other parts slide out, just like a ballroom table.”

“And Paul and your buggy?” I asked. “The trip with our baggage tomorrow?”

“We won't need to take as many trips,” said Anna. “Not with two buggies running sleeved wheels.” A pause, then, “this book here? 'Handbook of Mortar-Guns'?”

“Yes, dear,” I said. “Read it carefully while I put this gun here together.”

“I'd be careful with that thing once it's put together,” said Sarah as she came out of the bathroom. “It may be difficult to get it through the door when it's entirely together.”

“This?” asked Anna, as I put the sight in place and mounted the assembly on the baseplate. “How much does it weigh?”

I lifted it with one hand, though it was not something that I wanted to carry any real distance. I then saw the carrying handle, and picked it up that way.

“Much easier,” I said. “I can probably take it out right now, and show Anna some details about it.”

“Best do that in here, where the light is better,” said Anna. “Good, it uses a lanyard.”

“When it is set to lanyard-fire,” said Sarah. “That is so you can carry it in readiness to fire on short notice.” Pause, then, “you can set it so if you drop the shells down that barrel, they will fire automatically.”

“Why would someone wish to do that?” asked Anna.

“When you have a big mass of witches coming, and they're all really close together, and they've just passed one of your aiming circles, and you dump shells while your helper is turning that range knob there so as to put out a 'spread' of shells as they charge,” I said. “About three or four shells, and you have to wait a few minutes for the tube to cool, but that mass is usually thinned out enough by those shells that your rifle-people can get the rest of them easily before they get close enough to be worrisome.”

“How fast is that?” asked Anna.

“About the time it takes to load and fire a round out of Willem's guns,” said Sarah. “I'd try using the string, unless you've fired guns before. Have you?”

“N-no,” said Anna – who now began to gently twist the various knobs, then looked through the sight. “My,” she said, as she gently turned the knobs, then adjusted the sight. “I'm glad I did so much work with that microscope lately, as now the rest of this...” Anna turned and looked at me, then gasped, “It is just like tuning an instrument so as to play music!”

“We were told that,” said Sarah. “Now, let him try, and watch him, as we were told he might well play something in the future.”

“Hopefully not what Hans has,” said Anna. “He might be decent enough to play in the orchestra, but they had little call for people playing those, unlike violins.” Pause, then, “they have more of those than almost anything, and I usually got the hardest parts...”

Anna was watching me, and as I felt the knobs, I could tell precisely what I was doing. My hands had more than merely a mind of their own; they seemed to have a direct connection to my mind and the realm beyond my knowing, so much so that when I picked up the gun and took it outside, I noted the slow-setting sun now well down in the east, and when I carefully 'laid' the thing, Anna whispered to Sarah, “has he done this before?”

“N-no,” said Sarah, “though if I were an Iron Pig, and he a pointer on a gun, I would prepare to sup with Brimstone, as he'd drill my head with the very first shot, and that no matter what I did to hide.”

I continued twisting knobs, then as I saw something 'far' in the distance, I twisted the range and azimuth knobs so as to 'align' the gun.

It would put its first shell dead center in Waldhuis. I was certain of it, and I thought to ask Anna if I was right or not.

When she put her eye to the sight, however, she muttered, “how did you get this thing so close, and why am I seeing that stinky town so well?”

“Perhaps you need to wait until tonight and then we can put some hornets in their midst?” I asked. “Oh, do you see this really big barn, one that, uh, has a coach coming into it for tonight?”

“Yes, I do,” said Anna. I could hear a tone in her voice unlike anything I'd heard her speak before. She began gently turning knobs, then focused the sight better, and gently, she adjusted the knobs again. “There. I've got it centered on that place.” She turned to me. “When it's dark, so they get that place set alight, and then we go after where they run to.” Pause, then, “how many shells, and do we want Georg and Willem to see it?”

“You'd best dose Georg first,” said Sarah. “Oh, that's right. He'll be at the Public House.

“Need to head there in about two hours, unless I miss my guess,” said Anna. “We'll start getting ready about ten to twenty minutes after he leaves.” Pause, then, “I saw this greenish gray cloth. We'll wish it to cover this thing, then some rocks from the wall to weigh it down so the wind does not grab it.”

That took perhaps two minutes: and then, it was time. I had to go down and decant what was in the pressure pot, and as I removed the clamps, I noted Hans still casting revolver bullets. He was getting help from Willem now, as Hans was wringing his hand and speaking of cramps.

“Best let me spell you for a while on that mould,” said Willem. “You must be planning on airing out a lot of witches' smelly hides with that many bullets. Were you?”

“Yes, that is possible,” said Hans, “but these are not just for here.” Pause, then, “they need a bag of those things done for tins for their pistols, and I know Dennis and Sarah have two of those things each, and Karl and Sepp have at least one, and then they need enough for ten loads per pistol, and that is for them.” Pause, then, “then, I and Anna each need ten loads for what we have, and then, Andreas, Lukas, and Gilbertus each want some of these things, as a lot of witches will show, and that place in the house that is called General's Row will have lots of those stinky wretches in it, and that type of witch does not listen to talk.”

“So I heard,” said Willem. His deadpan voice was a marvel. “You need plenty of lead for those people, as most of 'em's coming from the south, and with them, you can expect some to be hard-witches.” Pause, then, “you know about hard-witches, don't you?”

“Yes, Lukas told me about them finding one in the fifth kingdom house proper,” said Hans in chastened voice. “Those stinkers need plenty of lead.”

“You know where you need to put that lead?” asked Willem pointedly. In his own way, Willem wasn't much less than Tam when it came to being 'hard'. “You put two bullets in his chest, and you center that part, and then you give him a third eyehole. That stops hard-witches, and they're ready for Brimstone's dinner plate.” Pause, then, “now, say this. Two in the chest, an' one in the head. That is what a hard-witch needs to be dead.”

“That sounds good,” said Hans. “I will remember it.”

“No, don't do that,” said Willem, his voice going 'hard' and cold. “Do this like someone on a gun-team. Repeat it every day, as often as you can, and when you face up to a hard-witch, you'll do it without a second thought. Now say it, and say it like you mean it.

Hans did, hesitatingly at first, while I poured out the 'tallow' into the mold and cleaned the wires of the material. Their bright shiny nature made me wonder, but the smooth white 'soap-like' material had me wondering yet more until Esther said, “I finished the last pieces of those lanterns, and now they are as black as a sack of fifth kingdom coal-dust. What do I do next?”

“Wait a minute, dear, and I'll be right there. I've got a lot in front of me right now, but in a few minutes, I'll be able to help you.”

It took more than what felt to be a few minutes, but by the time I had reached Esther, I noted the following:

Each lantern of the nine was laid out for ready assembly.

Each lantern had all of its roughly dozen parts, complete with its pan-headed screws. Amazingly, these brass things had not been significantly buggered up, which surprised me greatly, given said screws were of rod-brass and fairly soft.

The tools needed for assembly were in good order.

And, finally, a table had been set up for doing that assembly, along with a bag of candles ready to insert in each lantern once it was assembled.

I began assembling each lantern in turn, and as I finished them, Esther inserted a candle. I asked her to leave the bead 'up' all the way, and when she asked why, I said, “If you lower it enough, and the right candle mix is in there, those things will ignite without matches.”

“I think I wish one, then,” said Esther. “Do they cause trouble?”

“Yes, enough that you will wish goggles,” said Sarah. “I almost will wish sleep-goggles for tonight, as well as darker inserts.” Sarah then gave goggles to Esther – who promptly put them on and then gasped.

“My eyes!” she squeaked. “These really help my eyes. May I keep them?”

“Yes, for now,” said Sarah. “We'll wish some for every person that goes on the trip, as they keep things out of your eyes that do not belong there, and if you must ride in dust, they keep the dust out of your eyes and let you see a lot better.”

“Two pairs, one for work and another for sleep,” I said. “I can only sleep in a dark room, and they don't really have those things over there.” Pause, then, “I wonder if I can cut that stuff.”

“Not yet,” said the soft voice. “Get that second batch of tallow-mix going, decant that one thing of torment-grease and get started on another, check that buggy-oil, finish assembling those lanterns, and then start working on sheaths for knives for those who do not yet have them.” Pause, then, “use some of that rolled-up elk-hide, and put the pieces together with rivets and let Sarah stitch the edges.”

I did all of this within perhaps five minutes, then resumed working on lanterns. Each took perhaps three minutes to assemble, and at the end of this matter, I found the 'tallow' firm enough that I used that one 'rigging knife' to cut it into blocks roughly two by four inches by an inch or so of thickness. I got a fair number of those blocks, and after cleaning the knife with a greasy rag, I then went up and spent perhaps five minutes looking for the elk-hide and tools...

At least until the timer went off and I had to 'kill the afterburner'. I then noticed the smell.

“This is not aquavit,” I said. “That fuel?”

“Yes, as I think it wise to try it in one of those,” said Esther. “You do not wish to go into the enemy's lair with untried equipments, and when I said that, Sarah put some of that stuff to that thing there.” Pause, then, “How is it?”

“First, it burns much hotter than aquavit, even if it leaves a bit of soot,” I said, “and then it goes further than aquavit, as I still have a fair amount in this lamp, and then it seems a bit more controllable in this size of lamp, as with aquavit you've got 'off', 'barely lit such that any wind at all blows it out', 'big fire', and 'really-big fire' – and this stuff gives more than four settings.” Pause, then, “you can actually get it to simmer with that stuff, and aquavit needs a shield to pull that one off.”

“Good that you learned that, then,” said Esther. “I would still take some aquavit, as you may need to deal with spies, and they will find that stuff unfamiliar.”

“Don't know what it is,” I muttered.

“Oh, they do know about aquavit,” said the soft voice, “but not as lantern fuel.” Pause, then, “the usual when they procure a jug is to add it to their usual drinks and get thoroughly drunk.”

“Usual d-drinks?” I asked.

“Functionaries commonly have water, and occasionally, a species of beer – very bad beer, something worse than that type you thought of as 'stale cattle urine',” said the soft voice. “Higher-ranking functionaries get more of that beer, and if they know spies that get to the mainland with any frequencies, the usual is to take half boiled water, half aquavit, toss in some sugar and ice, and then drink the resulting 'cocktail'.” Pause, then, “about two or three of those, and the average spy is about ready to tumble from his chair and fall flat on his face.”

“And those over them?” I asked.

“They have their own supplies of drink, and it makes that stuff drunk by spies and more-senior functionaries seem weak,” said the soft voice. “It might not be 'mining town whiskey' for color, but it is its twin for potency and deleterious effects – and its' smell is in another league entirely, so much so that the 'commons' who know of it by rumor have a special name for it.”

“Which is?” I asked.

“You'll learn that within perhaps four hours after you get there,” said the soft voice. “Knife sheaths for Anna and Esther, cutting that leather to size and learning how it works, rivet the important portions, and then let Sarah get her time in on that stitching awl so as to make proper sheathes.” Pause, then, “you both need the practice.”

I did so, driving the soft copper 'electro-copper rivets' that had somehow showed in a small bag, these tin things 'mashing' so rapidly that within five minutes, I had the leather cut to size, riveted on the loop on the back for belt-wear or 'looping' in women's clothing, then driven the seven rivets needed to hold the front portion of the sheath on. I tested both, then wrote with this strange silvery marking pen whose sheath was for who, and by then, Sarah was ready with her new stitching awl.

I showed her how they worked, which was like those I had save much easier to use and quite a bit faster, and as Sarah worked, I saw that I needed to attend to the buggy-oil. The stuff had cooked down a bit more, and decanting it showed it to have the consistency of pancake syrup.

“Just right,” I said. “Will this stuff thicken up when it's cool?”

“Yes, but not that much,” said the soft voice. “You know what you just made, didn't you?”

“N-no?” I said. “Buggy oil, for really heavy loads?”

“You're going to want two or three reactors for that stuff, as every postal buggy driver is going to want it, and that means orders from every kingdom that runs the post,” said the soft voice. “More, I would expect a letter from the fourth kingdom's king, as he still wants a powerplant for one of his ships, one that's due to 'slide' in about three to six weeks.”

“Not sure if I have that kind of time,” I said, thinking of a sextant that was going to be a total piece of work. More importantly, I would actually need to make three sets of main sections, which in one way simplified things.

“One setup, several parts, and I select the three best ones,” I said.

“Closer to 'selective fit-up and then marking each piece', said the soft voice. “Those things need tolerances that approach those needed to make efficient bender coils to work right.”

As I made ready to distill another batch of that distillate, I shaved wax into the greasy portion, then heated it over a low flame. I wondered if I needed to make more of the 'buggy oil', and decided a second batch was in order.

Better to have too much than not enough, given what I had just heard.

Hans was once more running bullets, but now, I could see Georg running more ingots, one perhaps every two minutes. He'd accumulated over twenty of these hefty things, and when I listened to his speech, he sounded as if he was learning something about a species of casting.

“He is, by the way,” said the soft voice. “Now you can remove the bricks of that tallow.”

As I piled the now-firm bricks, I found some kind person had left small bags with labels, and I filled each as I was able once I had verified the bricks were indeed firm. However, a question nagged at the back of my mind.

“Just what is a bender coil?” I asked.

“It is a modified form – a substantially modified form, one using a lot of equipment that is currently not invented or made – of that equipment used to alter time overseas,” said the soft voice. “While they barely have any idea of how that equipment works, what you-all do while in 'the black sack' will lay the foundations for making bender coils that actually work as intended – and they will be a piece of work, as they'll need to use vacuum tubes for almost all of their circuitry.”

“Electrically rugged, and physically fragile?” I murmured.

“Much more than that, as you'll learn once you are in the black sack,” said the soft voice. “You'll do enough research in there that after that witch to the north is done, one of your chief duties, among a great many others, will be developing the remaining hardware needed to propel starships – and to put it bluntly, a bender coil is the thing that permits faster-than-light travel.”

“Do most people that do that use those?”

“No, because they don't have the care, the skill, the knowledge, or the equipment needed to make such things, and while interstellar drives are hazardous enough, there is 'hazardous', and then there is hazardous – and a properly tuned bender coil makes the latter term seem a joke if it's not run properly.”

Pause, then, “if it is run properly, though – it makes every other interstellar drive seem like a total, complete, and worthless piece of rubbish – and I mean anything that you've ever heard about, fictional or otherwise.”

“Warp ten?” I asked.

The soft voice snorted, then said, “no.” A pause, then, “you get yourself a hot-running bender coil, and 'warp ten' is nothing, 'cause you can travel to places so rapidly it's like you jumped into a black hole and came out on the other side of the galaxy in the time it takes to count to three.”

Another pause, then, “Anna and Sarah still have medicines to work on, but Paul and Esther can now run candles – and you want all of those you can.”

“And I need that lubricating and sizing machine for those bullets,” I said, as I went upstairs to get the box the thing was in. Hans had enough bullets of one kind or another that the business of lubricating such projectiles was going to take quite some time.

The candles were 'starting' by the time I got the machine down, and as I did, I noted that one squat heating lamp, the one still part-full of that fuel, was running under the 'double boiler' for melting wax. Esther soon had to turn it down to a 'simmer' level, and as she looked at it, she said, “now this is perfect for smaller meals. Dennis, Sarah – you want one of these instead of a stove, least for regular use.”

“They had still better get a stove,” said Willem. “They might not use it for cooking much, but they will wish its heat during the winter.”

“I know,” said Sarah – though there was another matter regarding the need to 'have' a stove, and in the back of my mind, I resolved to learn just what it was.

Later, that is. Now had its own troubles.