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   Chapter 4 No.4

Free-Wrench By Joseph R. Lallo Characters: 5292

Updated: 2018-01-19 12:02


"They certainly have been discussing the guns an awful lot lately, " Lita said, selecting a peach from the fruit bowl.

"I hear the folks from the west have been making airships that can go even higher. We've got to improve our guns or they might be out of range, now."

"It still seems silly to me, " Lita said. "As far as I can remember we've never even fired those guns except to test them, and at the annual memorial celebrations. Surely if the outsiders had wanted to invade, they would have done so by now. Better to dismantle the ugly things. Make room for a magnificent lighthouse or two. Or perhaps a really grand statue like they have at the mouth of Meristis Straight. That titan could really use a bride."

"Oh, I'm sure the outsiders would love that. You know what a mess the rest of the world is. Foul air. People floating about in those ugly machines. Keeping them out is the only thing that has kept us safe from the same fate, " Joshua said. "They are completely lawless out there…"

Nita filled her dish as her brother spouted the same tired speech she'd been hearing her entire life. Caldera had indeed closed its borders to the outside many decades ago, long before she or even her parents were born. These days the only time people were likely to get a glimpse of a foreigner was during one of the few authorized trade visits, or else by sneaking off and trading with black marketers as Drew did. Everything she knew about the outside was based on hearsay and rumor. It was said that their technology was far beyond that of Caldera, with swift airships that could cross the sea in days instead of weeks and mechanisms that made the coil carriage look primitive by comparison. Of course, she'd also heard they were enslaved by a legion of ghoulish fiends and their favorite food was boiled rat. Like most things, Nita took the tales of their exploits with a grain of salt.

"I hear they even throw their own airmen into the sea for the most minor offenses, and…"

"Mother, is something wrong?" Lita said.

Nita looked up to see her mother slowly lowering her teacup to the table. Her hand shook visibly, threatening to spill it.

"It is nothing, dear. Put it out of your mind, " she said, rubbing her fingers with her other hand.

"It's getting worse, isn't it?" Nita said.

"It's nothing. I… just didn't get very much sleep, dear. I'm tired."

"Have the treatments been helping?" Nita asked.

"Yes, yes, dear, of course. It will pass, " she said, holding out her hand as the tremor began to subside. "There, you see? Nothing to worry about."

In her day, Gloria Graus had been the finest sculptor in

Caldera, if not the world. Shortly after her children were born, however, she noticed an unsteadiness in her hands. To her and the family's horror, she was found to be suffering Gannt's Disease. It was rare, no more than three cases had been recorded in the history of Caldera, but the prognosis was well-known. Shakiness was just the first symptom, but it had already robbed her of the precision necessary to honor her muse. For a lifelong artist, that was almost worse than the disease's ultimate result: early death. The family tried not to discuss it, as what little could be done had been done. Yet if the tremors were back, it meant the end could be very near.

"Now. Let us not have sour faces around my table, hmm?" said Marissa as she cleared away the emptied dishes. "Josh and Lita have a full day ahead of them, and Nita has a long day behind her."

"Yes, off with you, children. The academy wants me to select a lecturer to fill in for me."

The family stood to go about their day, but Nita lingered. Her mother had moved unsteadily to the parlor and stood staring at something on the mantle. It was littered with vases, statues, sketches, and paintings, as well as a large handmade clock of Nita's father's design. Gloria could have been staring at any one of them, but Nita knew without asking which it was that held her mother's gaze.

"Mother?"

"Oh. Yes, Amanita dear?" she answered, shaken from her reverie.

"How long has it been?" Nita asked, plucking a small figurine of a deer from the mantle. It was skillfully made from clay, but, unlike the other figurines, it was unglazed and unpainted.

"Oh… sixteen years now. Oh cruel fate, eh? To take my gift from me before I could paint my final piece." She paused to settle down to a chair. These days she couldn't spend more than a few minutes on her feet. "Tell me, dear. What you do at the steamworks, does it make you happy? Does it feed your spirit and nourish your heart?"

"It is very fulfilling."

"Then cherish it, love. You won't have it forever. And you never know when you might lose it. I think back sometimes. To balls I attended, galas I hosted. I think of all the hours I could have spent with my fingers in the clay or with a chisel in my hand. There isn't anything I wouldn't give to have just one of those hours back again. Just one more day that I could hold a brush and know that the line I paint would stay straight and true." A tear ran down her cheek. "Oh, but listen to me. No sense talking like that. We look to the future in this family. I can still teach, eh? Off with you. Get some rest. Don't listen to your silly old mother."

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