Teysa's visit with Uncle has concluded productively, and she is returning from the mansion district to the city center. She says farewell to the ancient solifuge golem Pazapatru who guards the bridge, but as she steps off its edge and her messenger thrulls approach, something ripples. She trips on her bad leg and briefly loses sight of her surroundings.
"Acid of ammonia and alcohol... Would that make an ester? No, no. Mmh. Oh, wait. That's just mercury fulminate, isn't it. White powder? Explodes if you jostle it too much? That discovery was the key to modern mostly-reliable impact fuses, you know. Good stuff, good to know the chemistry's the same at any rate, means mizzium might be promising."
"Sounds about right. When I've seen it, it was a mixture of red and blue, but they'd add color if they could, red and blue are their guild colors and they're as egotistical as anyone. Mizzium cannot be bent, and can withstand the highest heats ever recorded and any amount of fire-enhancing magic. I can write down my estimates of the ingredients and proportions, they're economically important, but the final synthesis is secret. They say it requires dragonfire, but they basically worship their leader, Niv-Mizzet, who's the last dragon alive, so if anyone claimed to have another way, they'd probably be executed. Possibly by being thrown into the mizzium synthesis. You need incredibly high temperatures, certainly, I don't know your scale but it's at least, oh, fifty times the difference between ice and steam?"
He laughs and rubs his hands together. "Cannot be bent or cannot be bent without shattering first instead? Now that's an exciting sounding synthesis. What do you say to a free gun for everything you can think up about it and an explanation of what red and blue mean? Yes," he says impatiently to the officer. "It still counts as a referral. And you can listen in."
"Hmm, it may shatter under extreme pressures, I'm not sure. They salvage it from their wrecks and they're very proprietary about that - they revere the substance somewhat, like the dragon who makes it, hence the name. But it's tough enough for thin spars to support twenty-story towers for decades without maintenance, maybe centuries. Red and blue - so, as far as theorists know on Ravnica, magic is fundamentally composed of five types, usually called colors. Each of the nine guilds is aligned to a different pair - mine is white and black, as you might have guessed from my clothes. Red is passion, fire, intuition, anarchy. Blue is ice, wind, technology, minds. Izzet combine the two and get geniuses who make massive leaps of logic and are usually right, but when they're not, it misfires. And sometimes levels whole city blocks."
"That does not sound like any remotely mundane material, no no. Hmm. I can't say the colors make sense to me, I'm a rat of hard science."
"Heh. Sir, blue mana would stick to your fur. Science, the progress toward understanding and control of the fundamental forces of the world, is just about the bluest endeavor possible."
"And since I'm a cantankerous and proud bastard of a rat too, maybe I'd fit right in with them, eh?"
"It would depend a bit on how you feel about big explosions, but yes, you'd probably be a shoo-in. Are most rattus faber craftsmen - craftsrats? - like yourselves?"
"Positively, if I'm behind a nice sturdy blast shield. Yes, by long tradition and natural, possibly even designed, inclination. Tinkers, mechanics, tailors, gunsmiths, welders, machinists, canners, chemists, pneumaticists, electricians, and more. Several of my relations are soldier types instead, that'll be second most common, and my granddaughter Filo she became a ratronaut, but even that involves maintaining her rocket between scouting missions!"
"You sound like Izzet, only much more sensible. And unlikely to... actually, I think listing all the stupid callous things Izzet do and you don't would just seem offensive. I'll just summarize it as 'designated close-range explosion observer' is, as far I can tell, a common hereditary job title for Izzet goblins, and it's as bad as it sounds."
"Yes, well, let's move on. Untrained shooter, hmm?"
"Yeah. I've used a bam-stick, but not often and I'm an awful shot. Though I've also never had the need to defend myself personally, and the Ambiguous Officer suggested they'll try and give me a proper shooting lesson; maybe I'll be competent with a little practice now that I'm motivated."
"So no marksmanship rifle for you..."
"I was thinking shotgun," the officer says.
"Hush, let me decide. Which of these sounds best? A gun that will shoot every single time you pull the trigger, even underwater or soaked in mud. A gun that hits really, really, really hard and kills things that usually take more. A gun so steady and smooth an arthritic octogenarian can shoot it five times without so much as a creaking joint."
"Probably the steady one. If I lose my footing I'm in trouble, the cane isn't decorative."
"Pistol then. Clever blowback mechanisms and springs can get the recoil down to almost nothing. I can do that."
He fishes out a wooden and obviously fake pistol from one of the many cubbies, plus a small tape measure.
"Hold that and let me get a couple measurements."
"Sure," she says, and watches how he goes about measuring and whatever fine-tuning or inspecting he needs for the gun itself. She won't understand what he's doing, but she can - probably, he is a new species - understand how he's doing it, and thinking about it.
Quickly and intuitively and efficiently, with occasional shouts to fetch this or that.
He continuously asks questions about mizzium as he works. Does it shatter. How dense is it. How expensive is it. What materials go into it. Any idea what kind of tooling is necessary to shape it. Does it react with a long list of chemicals. Does it rust. Does it accept paint. Is it electrically conductive and how much. Et cetera.
The gun taking shape is a slick, boxy shape, with bevels and curves along all the edges. It'll fire this standard kind of bullet and shouldn't be too hard to clean. At one point he uses tongs to place a tiny ruby glowing like miniature star inside some complicated assemblage, and mentions she'll need to cook it in a fire if it ever dims.
Mizzium is very difficult to shape, possibly it just has to be reforged entirely, she doesn't know. It's less dense than steel, but not by a large margin, maybe ten percent. Very expensive; a decorative mizzium bracelet would cost her about a week's wages, and she made more zinos in a day than a common laborer would make in a lifetime. She doesn't recognize most of the chemical names, but it's not very reactive and doesn't rust, patina, or anything like that. Probably refuses paint, there are slightly-adulterated alloys used to change the color. Mizzium wires are used for some high-performance structures, she's pretty sure, but she doesn't know how much better it is.
His overall manner is reassuring; she doesn't think he's quite too busy thinking to lie, but it's definitely not his priority. The gun itself certainly looks sophisticated, even compared to the others she's seen which seemed very advanced to her.
The whole process takes a couple of hours, complete with a grip adjusted specifically for her hand shape.
"Here we are. Take a look, get used to the feel of it. One Nibble Custom. It's low recoil like you asked, but I was thinking about it some more and for low-skill shooting the benefits of a mirror-dot sight outweigh the drawbacks. These are very new, very clever, and only work because Navarantine Rubies make about as much sense as bombazine, glowing like that - I think an explanation of the optics here would be a bit wasted on you, but the long and short of it is you just need to line up the red dot with what you want to shoot, instead of having to hold your head just so and align fore sight, aft sight, and target."
The Ambiguous Officer certainly seems excited as they quiz him on some of the details. And sure enough, if she holds the gun in front of her, there's two thin little lines of red light shining brightly, seeming to hover in midair, moving slightly as the angle changes.
"It probably would be," she nods at the mention of optics, "I know how a telescope or microscope works but that's about the extent of it. What are the drawbacks?"
She vaguely remembers the first rule of bam-sticks to be "don't point with it unless you'd be okay if it fired spontaneously", which probably applies here. She points it toward the far wall, and looks down the barrel while listening to the Officer ask questions.
The boxy sight on top with its red crosshairs does seem to be a bit more intuitive to use than iron sights.
"Expensive. It's not great at range, the dot obscures the target. But you're not going to be entering any marksmanship competitions, are you? Mox, you'll handle the teaching?"
"I most certainly will, it'll be fun."
"Great, let me just scribble down some quick maintenance notes and we'll be done here."
"Indeed not. Thank you, Nibbles. Where should we go for practice, Officer?"
"Gun ranges are popular enough that there's plenty of options," they say cheerily.
The lesson goes as well as can be expected, after they find an oddly cozy range with short-range targets. The Officer has good training mannerisms - they drill her in safety, then shows her how to load, unload, unsafe, re-safe, and do various other operations on the pistol, including disassembling it partway a few times. Then the Ambiguous Officer fires the gun a couple of times, to get used to it. Then actually shooting, with a large amount of correcting the position of her hands and fingers and critiquing her breathing.
"You'll not become a markswoman in an hour. Practice, practice, until it's automatic, or you'll just forget it all when it's shoot or die."
She's attentive and perceptive, but she clearly doesn't have any instincts for anything like this. She improves a little, though.
"I'm familiar with the principle, yes; 'your practice is how you'll play'. I'll find time. I hope the ammunition is standardized?"
"Yes, this is chambered for forty five-seventy, any arms dealer will have it standard. Just a quick tip, if a place smells like this range does? They're lazy about cleanup and probably unreliable in other ways too. There's different types of ammunition, you probably just want to get round."