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Thirty-two Years in the Cooler

Some jobs want a reference from your last place of employment or things like that. Adeckar had spent the previous thirty-two years in the Avisan-Taish prison, and before that, he’d worked for people like Big Odacai Naim, “Stumpy” Sein, and Jaccon “Whistling” Fair. They didn’t give references, as they were dead, dead, and serving life in prison respectively. So he didn’t get jobs which wanted references.

The breaking yard in North Falls didn’t care. Adeckar hadn’t been strong enough to break ships even before spending thirty-two years in the cooler. But the breaking yard needed a guy to keep an eye on things at night, and he was a guy.

He had the artificer’s gift, and he’d used it before he’d gotten locked away. Industrial work, at first; pulling silver and stone and brass and steel into the shapes he’d dreamed, and filling them with life, to dig and build and plow. Then work for Big Odacai; pulling things into shape, and filling them with life. Things that ran glim, and broke legs; different sorts of building, different sorts of digging. After Odacai had gotten gunned down, Adeckar had done the same thing for Stumpy Sein, and when Stumpy had got stabbed a few dozen times, Adeckar had gone to work for Whistling Fair.

Conditions of his parole meant that Adeckar wasn’t allowed even to apply for an artificer’s license, and since his release from Avisan-Taish, Adeckar hadn’t done anything that his parole officer would’ve objected to. No artificing, no contact with his old associates. Didn’t even stay in New Tinarius; cities had gotten too big, too loud, and he couldn’t understand them anymore. He’d gone out to North Falls instead and went to work. There were artifacts, sure—the hulks came in with their broken down crews, rusting iron and tarnished brass, and Adeckar would disconnect the leads, powering them down, so there wasn’t any life in them when the breaker’s torches took them apart. There wasn’t any harm in that. Didn’t even go out to see Lefty Braice when he passed through North Falls, as broken down as one of those old hulks.

There was one thing that Adeckar did which might have raised an eyebrow. There were times when he was walking his rounds when he’d pick up bits of wire, or bronze, or steel. He wasn’t allowed to practice the artificer’s art, and what he made of those scraps could’ve been called an artifact. But it didn’t do anything illegal. He hung it below the waterline at one of the docks and left it to chime soundlessly with the waves and the tides.

When Adeckar had worked for Big Odacai and the rest, he wore suits with golden cuffs, drove cars that purred like kittens, and never left New Tinarius, queen of cities, the center of the world, where ten million people lit the nights as bright as day and made the winters warm as summer. North Falls was a long way from New Tinarius, so it took a long time for the soundless chimes to get there, and penetrate thirty-two years of mud in Tinarius Bay.

During his rounds, Adeckar would stop at that dock and smoke a pipe–tobacco, nothing but tobacco, nothing to upset the parole officers. He’d stand there, and enjoy the tobacco, and the smell of the water, and if the night was clear, the stars and the moon. Every night, until one night, they answered the call. Hundreds of them, gold and black jade, each with a dozen tiny golden legs.

He put his hand down, and they swarmed over it, linking together. Whistling Fair had been the Glim King of Tinarius City for five years, longer than anyone before or since. And he did that with a thing of black jade and gold. Strong as any construct, but fast and clever, the way constructs never were. They’d never found it, and Adeckar’s failure to turn it over to the authorities or explain how it’d been made had added twenty years to his sentence.

It was warm, wearing them again, and Adeckar could feel the life he’d given them, the life that had spent thirty-two years at the bottom of Tinarius Bay, dark and wet and eternally cold. When he closed his hand, the old power was there. The border wasn’t ten miles off, and there wasn’t anything around to stop him from crossing over to where glim was legal and buying up a store. He could run glim to North Falls, build a crew, buy a suit with gold cuffs and a car that purred like a kitten.

But all the glim in the world wouldn’t make him young again, or keep him from getting gunned down like Odacai, or locked away like Whistling Fair. The things of black jade and gold had been whirring with life that whole time, but they were as fine as the first time Adeckar had powered them up. Artifacts weren’t like people; they didn’t wear down, doing nothing. He pulled the control, and the armor broke back down to parts. They’d dumped it, but that hadn’t been right, leaving the bugs alive and trapped like that, thirty-two years of waiting, thirty-two years of thrumming life, and nothing to do with it. It took hours to cut the leads on every segment, dropping them off the dock when he was done. But he finished before dawn, with time to make his last rounds. Night watchman for a breaking yard wasn’t being the Glim King of Tinarius City or even the Glim King of North Falls, but it was a clear night; he had the stars and the moon, anyway.

Alter S. Reiss

AlterReiss

Alter S. Reiss is an author and archaeologist who lives and works in Jerusalem with his wife Naomi and their son Uriel.  He likes good food, bad movies, and old time radio.  Alter’s short fiction has appeared in F&SF, Strange Horizons, Nature, and elsewhere, and his first book, “Sunset Mantle” is one of the debut novellas coming out from tor.com‘s publishing imprint.

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