Chapter 5

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My brain hurt.

A component of the damage was self-inflicted, true, but it still hurt. That fancy scotch may have gone down real smooth but there was an iron fist behind all of that velvet. My head was hammering like a hauler with a misaligned thruster. Not the smartest thing for me to do, given the tattered wisps of my autonomy, but I'd needed a reset.

I ate one of the packaged meals for breakfast - it tasted like real eggs - and planned my day.

My first goal was to retrieve my revolver from Partridge.

My second goal was to unearth a lead on those fancy fighting bastards that had ambushed me in the loading bay. They had proven more than capable of dismembering me with their fists and feet. Hrna's intervention made it unlikely that Smooth-face had sent them after me. Which meant that they were a second party with a sudden and unhealthy interest in my affairs.

I also needed to kick myself for failing to notice that I had been under surveillance. Not only by the fancy fighting mob, but also by Hrna. Her appearance in the loading bay had been no accident, she must have been keeping a close eye on me. Who else was watching me? I hadn't even begun my reconnaissance of Trip-G and her family. Once I started that part of the job I would no doubt draw the attention of station security. That would mean three parties were interested in me.

I needed to get over my shock and regain focus. Become more aware of my surroundings.

I was certain that no one was shadowing me on the way to the lab. Partridge was waiting for me when I entered. She wore the same white coat as yesterday but had added a small blue ribbon to her short, silver hair. It looked ridiculous. Her eyes searched my battered face, but she said nothing. She was an intelligent woman. The lab looked the same, though the mechweld now stood motionless at its bench.

"Mr Waters. Good morning. Your weapon is ready." Partridge gestured towards a black case that was sitting on the bench beside her. There was a bright edge to her voice. Anticipation, maybe.

When I opened the case, my revolver lay glistening on a soft yellow cloth.

Partridge touched my shoulder. She smelled of something sweet, like flowers or candy. Sickly. "That is an oiler cloth that I have created for you. Wipe her down with that whenever you can, and especially after... well after use, when you get the chance. The oil will release upon contact with your weapon. I will replace it every month or so." I doubted I would be around long enough to need a replacement.

I lifted my revolver from the box. She looked the same, felt the same in my hand. The cylinder latch operation was smoother, and I saw that the cylinder was empty. I pushed the cylinder back into the frame, raised her in a two-handed grip and looked down the sights at the wall. The hammer pulled back easy and quiet. I squeezed the trigger. There was no play and the pull felt lighter.

"Here." Partridge reached under the counter and placed a pad in front of me that contained six cartridges. The casings were silver and the tips - bullets - were a dull grey, shaped into little domes with green tips. She turned to her screen and made some adjustments. The wall in front of me disappeared, replaced by a target about 30 metres away.

"Load and shoot, Mr Waters."

I loaded the cartridges into my revolver. They felt lighter than the ones that Pyke had built for me. I closed the cylinder and aimed at the target.

"Single action, first."

I looked at her. "Single action?"

She sighed. "When you pull the hammer back, or cock the gun, before firing. Single action. Double action is a longer pull and you need to get used to the new behaviour of the gun, first. Single action, two hands."

Oh. I'd never considered giving the two firing methods different names. I 'cocked' the gun, looked down the sights and squeezed the trigger. The kick was startling. I stared at my revolver and then down at the target - I'd hit it, but high and left.

Patridge gave another of her tiny smiles. "We will start on these light rounds until you are comfortable with the recoil and you can land consistent hits. Then I will move you up through the medium rounds and into the heavy rounds."

Wait, these were the light cartridges? "Won't they damage her? These ones are already crazy powerful."

"I am not going to bore you with the details, Mr Waters. Leave the science to me. Trust me that you will be hitting longer and harder with my design, and doing a lot more damage. And it will be safer for you." Partridge pulled a tray of the green-tip cartridges from beneath her bench. She put them on the table beside me and placed a cool hand on my wrist. "Another thirty rounds. Fire them all, and then I will teach you how to field-strip and service her. And then we will do it all again. You will soon learn to manage the recoil and stay on target for your follow-up shots."

She pulled a set of ear-moulds from her pocket. "Put these on. You will thank me later."

I spent the whole morning practising. I'd shoot a tray of the green-tipped cartridges and then strip the revolver. Partridge gave me a little kit to use for servicing, containing oil, rods, brushes, cloths and a little fold-up screwdriver. "It's all rather manual, I am afraid. You need to touch her often, as long as you use only the utmost respect and love. Aged beauty always responds well to a touch of respect and love."

Partridge was relentless. Clean, inspect, apply oil. Wipe down. Reload. Fire the revolver, six shots with her in my right hand. Six shots with her in my left hand. Six shots from a two-handed grip. Left hand again. Right hand again.

By the end of the morning, I was landing most of my shots on target using my right hand. I was more accurate with a two-handed grip. I'd usually hit with the first shot, but bringing the sights back on target from the kick was new for me. My second shot was often a little wayward. I started slowing down and spacing my shots, which helped.

My left hand was terrible, with three shots in six missing the target completely. It had never occurred to me to practice shooting with my left hand, which seemed stupid in hindsight. My fingers were aching from using the manual screwdriver, the brushes and the cloths. My wrists were aching from the kick of the revolver - the recoil. These new cartridges produced much more force than my old cylinders.

As I removed the ear-moulds, Partridge eyed my last set of results from her screen. "Hmmm. Another session on the greens, before I move you into the medium. We will continue to practice with single action, for now."

She sat me down and gave me a set of stressing gloves to help strengthen my hands and wrists. She took me through each exercise until I had learned them all. She also presented me with an attachment that she had built for my holster. It melded with the back edge of the holster and had little loops to hold six of her new cartridges. She leaned across me to fix it in place. The sweet scent was cloying. "Your load should usually be enough," she chirped, "but it is always wise to carry a little extra."

I couldn't recall a time where I had ever fired more than twice during a single contract, but I went along with her. I needed Partridge onside until I had no further use for her.

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