Verne wasn't laughing this time

"You can't follow her. The war is starting in two months. People have been preparing for ten years. The armies are fully staffed, and even if you can get in as a civilian bystander you don't have any saleable skills. If thieves or soldiers don't kill you first you'll starve."

"I don't think I have much choice. Bringer held a spot open for me. It said it suspected I might be asking soon."

"It knew of her interests when it picked her. Bringer plays Cupid strangely," Verne mused.

"I can only hold food down when I concentrate on following her. I think if I don't follow her I'll kill myself."

"Following her could be just a complicated way of doing exactly that."

"At least if I follow her I can hope," I said miserably.

Verne looked at me for a long time, while I pondered whether the thought of losing her was going to make me vomit.

"I have something for you."

Verne rose, walked across the room, and took down a gun that was displayed among his war memorabilia.

"This isn't much of a gun, but it will help. At least you won't be helpless if you're ambushed. And it's a shotgun, so aiming isn't as important and people you point it at will know the wounds are very difficult to heal. I have about a hundred shells for it."

I didn't understand at first.

"You're giving me your gun? I don't know how to thank you."

"Don't thank me. I think you're going to die, and I don't think this will help much. But I'm your friend and I can't watch you go off like a lamb to the slaughter and just do nothing."

So Verne took me out back and I used six of his shells to learn how to use the gun. It was heavy and awkward and it made a sound like the end of the world when I fired it. It also made respectable holes in the trees I aimed it at. It had two barrels, and had to be loaded from the rear; so I basically had two shots and then I'd be temporarily unarmed.

"You'll see four main types of gun. The guns Bringer makes for the Army are the worst, and as the war goes on some will fall into civilian hands. They're small, light, fairly accurate, and can fire hundreds of shots without reloading. They use flechettes, very small and deadly ammunition, propelled by liquid natural gas.

"If you see a gun that looks like this one it's almost certainly going to be a rifle. People make them and bring them to the war for sniping. They can be much more accurate at long range than an army gun. With a rifle, someone can kill you from almost a mile away and you'll never see it coming.

"You'll see sidearms. Handguns with very short barrels. They can be quickly drawn and fire six to ten shots without reloading. They don't have much range or accuracy, but in close quarters you could get shot six times while you're still bringing the shotgun to bear.

"There will also be automatic guns. Bringer won't make them but there are some gunsmiths good enough to make them from scratch. Army guns are single-shot, and limited to one round a second. An automatic gun can spit out ten bullets a second as long as the ammo holds out. Just wave it around and mow people down. Both armies will have them; bringing one to the war is a sure ticket into an officer's uniform."

"I thought Bringer had to make anything electronic," I cut in. "That's why Cath is studying cryptography -- no computers."

"They're not electronic. They're mechanical. They can jam and they need a lot of maintenance, but they work all too well."

I took a few more shots, reloading the gun per his instructions, and then I cleaned it as he watched and instructed.

"Well, that's good enough," he announced. "You need to save the rest of the shells. Come back inside, and I'll help you outfit a camping pack."