Saturday, October 3, 2009

30 Zinc



Tubal-cain, that industrious man, was hard at work in his smithy when the warrior walked through the door. At this time, seven generations descended from Adam, war hadn't been perfected yet. The earliest war, between Cain and Abel, was thought to have been so horrific that war would never happen again. But Seth-abel was an innovator. "What's that you're working on?" he asked.

The metal-smith turned the object in his forge. "A plowshare."

"I don't suppose you could make me one of them, only about so long, and straight, with a sharp edge on it?"

"Certainly I could." Tubal-cain lifted the glowing metal from the forge. "This long enough?"

"Yes, but I want it to be slender. Like a wedge. And put a handle at one end, with a little flange of metal above it."

Amiably, Tubal-cain put the length of brass against his anvil and with hammer and chisel cut off the excess metal. Then he hammered it long again, and set it back in the forge. "Strange harvest you must be planning," he remarked conversationally.

"Aye, a crimson one." The warrior idly picked up a bar of greyish metal. "What's this?"

"Zinc. It's what gives the brass its hardness. Copper gives it color, but zinc gives it strength."

"It's strength that matters to me. Strength and the ability to hold an edge. Your father taught you how to mix the metals, did he?"

"No, it's my own invention."

"You're the only one who knows how to make brass, then?"

"Me and my sons."

"So if I were to kill all three of you, there's nobody else who could make any more brass implements?"

"Why, what a funny thought! I suppose that's true."

The warrior grinned widely. "Well, I'll be back tomorrow, then. Be sure to have your boys here. It's been a long time since I've seen them."

He left.

Tubal-cain thought for a while. He did not like the direction of his thoughts, but he followed them where they led. Then he put two more bars of brass in the forge.

When the plowshares were done, he studied them carefully. They looked dangerous. He did not think they would be of much use breaking earth. But they might be good at other things.

The next day he called his two sons to him, and gave them each one of the brass implements. They were both good, strong lads. "Hide in the back room," he said. "Watch through the slit. Make no sound."

Uncertainly, his eldest son said, "What do you suspect, Father?"

"I can't put a name to it—it's too foul. Now go."

His sons did as he commanded. Tubal-cain returned to his forge, and to his thoughts.

If he was wrong, all was well. If right, then he would die but not his sons. They were strong and smart. They would know what to do. Two deaths would be a terrible, shocking thing, but nothing so terrible as three. He hoped he was wrong. He hoped that if he were right, this thing could be stopped here and now.

The warrior entered, whistling.

© 2002 by Michael Swanwick and SCIFI.COM.

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