The Last City

There were memories Amanda knew she had to keep. Her mother's death was one of them. Her father's, too. But the Chaperone was just as clear in her mind, even when the sound of their voices faded.

Amanda remembered the final shots of her mother's gun that rang out the night she died. The terror Amanda felt, and the loss. When she reached the Last City, the sound stayed with her through those early years. It would jolt her awake. It would pierce her thoughts. It would make her feel completely alone, even when she knew she wasn't.

But eventually, once she finally felt safe in the City's walls, the memory of that sound reverted from a terror to a comfort once more. It had kept her, and so many others, safe. Just like the City did now.

The gun had been laid to rest in her mother's grave. The only other person who had fired it was in his own grave a half day's walk north of the City, dead from disease. She couldn't bring them back like the Traveler could. She couldn't put her family back together. But there was something she could bring back, in a way.

"I have a commission," she said, and laid down everything she remembered about her mother's gun. The Tex Mechanica gunsmith took her plans with a smile. In two weeks it had soured to confusion, in four it had curdled to annoyance. Amanda inspected each piece as it was made, comparing them all to her memory.

"Not like that," she said. The chamber was retooled.

"Almost," she said. The barrel was reshaped.

"That's not right," she said, pointing at the curling designs that were meant to finish the weapon. At this, the frustrated armorer laid the chisels down on the worksurface.

"I've done everything you asked," she said, pushing away from the table with an exasperated huff. "Now what?"

"This is the only thing we got left," Amanda offered.

"Then do it yourself," the gunsmith said. "I'm not going to spend the rest of my life on this gun. I'm not even going to spend the rest of the day on it. Do it yourself."

She did.

It wasn't her mother's tools, or her mother's gun. Amanda had to keep reminding herself of that every time she tapped the tungsten chisel into the barrel. A pile of scrap metal, scored and marked and discarded, told her she was getting a little bit better at it each day. Her hands a little steadier, her memory a little sharper. Slowly, slowly, she traced the night in the cowshed with her chisel… and brought back the beauty of the gun before her eyes.

Then one day, Amanda pressed it against her hip, held the barrel, leaned forward. She'd seen her mother use it so many times that she could mimic the stance and movement, even though she'd never been allowed to fire it. Now her grip tightened, and she pulled the trigger.

When it fired, it fired clean. The sound was lighter, more piercing. But it kicked, and it shone. Her life was better than her mother's had been. Nora had made sure of it. And the life of this Chaperone would be better than its predecessor's as well.

It would keep people safe.

That was all that mattered.

The Ravine

Category: Book: The Beaten Path