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WA R G A M E S
Borgo Press Books by BRIAN STABLEFORD
Alien Abduction: The Wiltshire Revelations * Balance of Power
(Daedalus Mission #5) * The Best of Both Worlds and Other
Ambiguous Tales * Beyond the Colors of Darkness and Other
Exotica * Changelings and Other Metaphoric Tales * The City
of the Sun (Daedalus Mission #4) * Complications and Other
Science Fiction Stories * The Cosmic Perspective and Other Black
Comedies Critical Threshold (Daedalus Mission #2) * The Cthulhu
Encryption: A Romance of Piracy * The Cure for Love and Other
Tales of the Biotech Revolution * The Dragon Man: A Novel of the
Future * The Eleventh Hour * The Fenris Device (Hooded Swan
#5) * Firefly: A Novel of the Far Future * Les Fleurs du Mal: A
Tale of the Biotech Revolution * The Florians (Daedalus Mission
#1) * The Gardens of Tantalus and Other Delusions * The Gates
of Eden: A Science Fiction Novel * The Great Chain of Being and
Other Tales of the Biotech Revolution * Halycon Drift (Hooded Swan
#1) * The Haunted Bookshop and Other Apparitions * In the Flesh
and Other Tales of the Biotech Revolution * The Innsmouth Heritage
and Other Sequels * Journey to the Core of Creation: A Romance
of Evolution * Kiss the Goat: A Twenty-First-Century Ghost Story
* Luscinia: A Romance of Nightingales and Roses * The Mad Trist:
A Romance of Bibliomania * The Mind-Riders: A Science Fiction
Novel * The Moment of Truth: A Novel of the Future * Nature’s Shift:
A Tale of the Biotech Revolution * An Oasis of Horror: Decadent
Tales and Contes Cruels * The Paradise Game (Hooded Swan #4)
* The Paradox of the Sets (Daedalus Mission #6) * The Plurality of
Worlds: A Sixteenth-Century Space Opera * Prelude to Eternity: A
Romance of the First Time Machine * Promised Land (Hooded Swan
#3) * The Quintessence of August: A Romance of Possession * The
Return of the Djinn and Other Black Melodramas * Rhapsody in
Black (Hooded Swan #2) * Salome and Other Decadent Fantasies *
Streaking: A Novel of Probability * Swan Song (Hooded Swan #6)
* The Tree of Life and Other Tales of the Biotech Revolution * The
Undead: A Tale of the Biotech Revolution * Valdemar’s Daughter:
A Romance of Mesmerism * War Games: A Science Fiction Novel *
Wildeblood’s Empire (Daedalus Mission #3) * The World Beyond: A
Sequel to S. Fowler Wright’s The World Below * Writing Fantasy and
Science Fiction * Xeno’s Paradox: A Tale of the Biotech Revolution *
Zombies Don’t Cry: A Tale of the Biotech Revolution
WA R G A M E S
A SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL
B R I A N S TA B L E F O R D
THE BORGO PRESS
wildsidebooks. FIRST BORGO PRESS EDITION Published by Wildside Press LLC www.WA R G A M E S Copyright © 1980. Optiman.com . 2012 by Brian Stableford Also published under the title.
WA R G A M E S .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 157 CHAPTER SIXTEEN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 135 CHAPTER FOURTEEN . . . . . . . . 35 CHAPTER FOUR . 113 CHAPTER TWELVE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 147 CHAPTER FIFTEEN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 77 CHAPTER EIGHT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 CHAPTER ONE . 68 CHAPTER SEVEN . . . . . . . . 123 CHAPTER THIRTEEN . 13 CHAPTER TWO . . . . . . . . . 25 CHAPTER THREE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 103 CHAPTER ELEVEN. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 95 CHAPTER TEN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43 CHAPTER FIVE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 166 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .CONTENTS PROLOGUE . . . . . 55 CHAPTER SIX. . . . . . . . . . . . . 88 CHAPTER NINE . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 236 . . . . . . 189 CHAPTER NINETEEN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 179 CHAPTER EIGHTEEN . . . . . . . . . .CHAPTER SEVENTEEN . . 206 CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 222 CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 215 CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO . . . . . . . . 230 ABOUT THE AUTHOR . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 198 CHAPTER TWENTY . .
however. and it could be claimed that the pragmatic argument is the only one which we need to refute in order to justify the scheme. Each slogan represents a different mode of argument. give ample evidence in their behavior that they are perfectly capable of feeling not only such emotions as rage and detestation but also loyalty.PROLO GU E Of all the objections which have been raised by opponents of this scheme. devotion and sexual passion. The ontological argument usually takes the form of the cant phrase: “Men who cannot fear cannot love. This is a familiar argumentative WA R G A M E S | 9 . in an age of enlightened pragmatism. We live. and that what they mean is not compounded out of any combination of these qualities.” The basic claim advanced here is that by training our children not to feel fear we are also training them not to feel a wide spectrum of emotions. of course. it is easy enough to show that all three arguments are equally insubstantial. Adherents of this line of argument. Some people claim that we are actually training them not to feel at all. The graduates of our present training schools. may follow one of two contrasting lines of defense. and they may be categorized as the ontological argument. and that we are destroying the emotional basis of their being. Some will argue that none of these qualities is actually the kind of “love” which they mean. the teleological argument and the pragmatic argument. there are three in particular which have “crystalized out” into slogans to be wielded by the unthinking as if they were lances mounted with colored pennants. when confronted with this testimony. However.
10 | BR I A N STA BL E FOR D . Others who wish to defend the case despite the evidence will go on to claim that the men who have already undergone this kind of training only appear to feel these emotions. They are the stuff of which heroes are made. and is quite illegitimate. In view of the fact that appearances are all that we have to build upon in claiming to know anything about the world whatsoever. and it would be equally plausible to establish a counter-claim alleging that the human conquest of fear is. They seem in every way to be better motivated than their comrades. and they take considerably joy from their accomplishments. the graduates of our training schools provide a dramatic refutation of this case. These men without fear have settled into the army way of life better than the recruits who have undergone no such special preparation. The teleological argument against training is usually contained within the phrase: “Men without fear are men without purpose. an essential step in the fulfillment of that purpose. If we were to be as skeptical as this of claims made by others about their feelings. then it is not merely the graduates of our training schools who would be suspect but the entire human race. Once again. this argument would be worthless. and are in every way better adjusted to it. and are in fact compensating behaviorally for their loss. Its metaphysical nature would remove it from the realm of rational inquiry.ploy used by those determined to evade any possible evidence which threatens to disprove their case. is that men trained to feel no fear cannot be well enough motivated to lead lives which are both useful to the human community as a whole and satisfying to themselves. for they have proved themselves to be excellent fighting men whose recruitment to the war zones has already made a significant difference to our progress there. this kind of argument ultimately extends skepticism into solipsism. What the sentence is actually held to imply. or the purpose which motivated the seeders to distribute genetic material across the known galaxy. however. in fact.” If the purpose referred to were the divine purpose for which God supposedly created man.
it is only when a man has conquered his own fear that he becomes capable of a calm and rational assessment of a tactical situation. Only then is he able to calculate the risks accurately. The human species cannot be said to have reached evolutionary maturity until every single individual has conquered fear. though if it had any substance it would certainly cause anxiety there. the banners under which our opponents are marching are tattered and torn: the slogans which they shout are empty of sense. actually renders them more vulnerable. There is. failure and shame. This is not so. Only a man without fear knows the true value of a human life. operating not only to maximize the chance of humans emerging from any particular conflict situation victorious but also to maximize the chance of their emerging having suffered as little loss of life as possible. Only a man without fear can weigh up a situation without the risk that some irrational terror or anxiety may blind him to some of its possibilities and probabilities. and that they will be casual in putting at risk the lives of such men as they command. In brief. to apply to all human infants from the earliest practicable moment in their lives.” The argument used to support this contention is that men who do not fear death. whether it be his own or that of another. (Quotation from a speech later incorporated into the book Men of Destiny by Corvo Carrien. It is the claim that: “Men without fear make bad strategists. The truth is that fear. The speech was broadcast at least once on every world inhabited by humans in the year 2242 AD) WA R G A M E S | 11 . injury or pain will take risks on their own behalf which are injudicious. no good reason why the training of children in the suppression of phobic responses should not be extended throughout the educational system. far from serving to protect men from injury. in fact. Indeed.The pragmatic argument leveled against the crusade to extirpate fear from human affairs is one which is not normally heard within the military establishment.
W.” F. the abyss also looks into you.“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into the abyss. Nietzsche (1844-1900) 12 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D .
and its security to Yerema’s mercenaries. whose more delicate odor slowly overpowered the echo of the other. carrying the scent of the night-blooming flowers that were planted throughout the district to protect the inner city from the stench that drifted on the wind from the poorer quarters which surrounded it. who stood aside. The hallway was lit by a chandelier containing wax candles. Any siocon nobleman entering Yerema’s house would feel that he. The night air outside had been warm and heavy. to let Remy pass into the main hallway. Ziarat owed its fortunes to the traders of the Calvar clan. but the veich were no less alien for that. but he followed the habit of the Calvar merchants in maintaining an area which mimicked the ways of the siocon aristocracy. In Ziarat. the air was cooler. In most of the rooms Yerema had installed electric lighting. It was part of the price of tolerance. like the other aliens in their midst. and had to pay close attention to the niceties of interracial diplomacy. a rich man always knew who was at his door. The way that the bell sounded was a kind of signature—no two men pulled the cord in exactly the same fashion. but his predicament was more complex WA R G A M E S | 1 3 . and he released the cord immediately. and even benefactors need to be tolerated. was deferring to their customs and acknowledging the traditions of Ziarat. and there were garlands of yellow flowers mounted on the walls.CHAPTER ONE Remy reached into the shoulder-high recess and tugged the bell cord. His tug was a sharp flick of the wrist. eyes averted. The door was opened by a siocon servant. Inside the house. The same applied to Remy.
” replied the girl. “Yerema is still bathing. who were not a warrior clan. The formalities were complete now. considered excessive indulgence in bodily comfort to be a sign of decadence and spiritual lassitude. which was the most convenient of the three tongues they had in common. was waiting to receive the visitor. “You are early. in the same tongue. opening and closing the door of the antechamber for himself. the ground for their meeting secured.” Remy let the surprise show in his face.” “He implied that it was urgent. in the way of her species. more with her eyes 14 | B R I A N S TA B L E F O R D . “You look beautiful. but he did not complete the gesture. Valla. He did likewise. He could not pursue the matter further now—Yerema would explain everything in due course. in the language of the clans. switching to the language of the clanless. and returned to the language of the clans in order to say to Valla.” She smiled. He strode forward to a room that was set aside for the reception of visitors not of the siocon species. and followed the gesture with a ritual nod of the head. and then parting the screening curtains.” said Valla. indicating that it held the message which had summoned him.” she said. They both sat down on chairs that were long in the leg. and then touched her own forehead. Yerema was not in the room but his daughter. He laid the matter aside. The siocon aristocracy reveled in soft cushions. but even the Calvars. hard and straight in the back. and was silent for a few moments. She touched her forefingers to his. Remy didn’t wait for the servant to bolt the heavy door behind him and scuttle on ahead again. Is that what Yerema wants to talk about?” “Partly. “There was an attempt to assassinate the king this noonday—by a kresh warrior. “The outer city’s rife with rumors of a gathering of the kresh tribes. digesting the information. There was a table set for a light meal—a token of hospitality rather than a full-scale affair. “It doesn’t matter. He reached reflexively toward the pocket of his shirt.still: a human under the protection of the veich in a siocon city.” replied Remy.
Remy glanced at the table.” His gaze wandered then to the window. quite spotless—its cleanliness was the chief symbol of her status. It was. which was unglazed but veiled by fine. likewise sliced thin. “I’ve been here nearly fifteen years. male and female alike. “The signs are in the scents of the noonday and the night-dark. silvery fur that formed a mask around her eyes was silky-smooth. She did not have the same air of assurance in wearing the costume that a Calvar girl would have had.” “You can’t tell by looking at the calendar. The veich are better at detecting such changes than humans. as a member of a warrior clan she was habituated to more practical attire. There was cold meat. and hard bread. well-combed and groomed.” he replied lightly. A wise man simply uses it—he doesn’t bother to ask about the means by which it became solid in the late months of summer. of course.than with her mouth. There was dry wine. “Or would they be concerned about the fact that your refrigerators run on electricity?” “The Calvars supply ice to the palace every day. She was wearing a light scent that was only just perceptible to his sense of smell. But you have the compensation of being able to operate more comfortably in the noonday. “Ice is only solid water.” she said. “If we have any compensation for the inadequacy of our sense of smell. and still I haven’t accustomed myself to the pattern of the seasons. and fruit that was also chilled. sitting in a bowl of ice that had only just begun to melt. then?” he said. We are nearer in kind to the sioconi.” “The fact that humans see better by day only balances out the fact that the veich and the sioconi see better by night. “Summer’s ending. and was dressed in the kind of white robe that was conventional summer wear for all the upper-class veich in Ziarat.” she said. salted and sliced very thin. “Do you put ice on the table for your siocon visitors?” he asked. The light. blue-tinted muslin which somehow kept out the pervasive smell of the night-blooming flowers. it can only be the greater sensitivity of our sense WA R G A M E S | 1 5 .
It’s unrealistic to exaggerate the differences between us. You have your nose—I have my fingertips.” she said. Even if it isn’t literally true. “I suppose you’re right. “Yes. with a harder tegument and narrower nails. though our intermediate ancestors may have had different dietary preferences and habits. clan Syroleth was by no means an ordinary warrior clan. We come from common stock—or so it’s said.of touch. Insofar as we can trace our evolutionary path with any degree of accuracy. Your genetic material is chemically no different from mine.” “Do you believe that?” asked Valla. As a member of a fighting clan she was by no means given to the contemplation of that kind of question. It was not the kind of question that she had ever put to him before. we all seem to have descended from small lemuroid creatures almost identical in kind. “That we come from common stock? It seems so—though I wouldn’t profess to any passionate faith in the seeding theories. It is conceivable that life everywhere follows the same pattern of chemical and physical evolution. we have all come to adopt similar life-styles. “There are humans who can discern scents as well as some veich.” She studied the tips of her fingers. but it seems highly unlikely compared with the thesis that life throughout the known cosmos has a common point of origin. Remy looked at her for a few moments in puzzlement. But then.” “But it’s all a matter of degree. Ultimately. Why do you ask?” “It doesn’t matter.” added Remy. and that common identity remains in the chemical sense whether our particular double helices can trace their ancestry back through billions of billions of chemical generations to the same molecule or not. which were thinner than those of a human. there is still a sense in which you and I and every living cell on this world share a common heritage. We’re the products of our nucleic acids. and veich as dexterous as many humans.” she replied. in that it no longer had any theoretical existence and had—not counting the hundreds of clanless veich who still pledged allegiance to 16 | B R I A N S TA B L E F O R D .
he wore it like a fighting man. and where humans fought alongside them instead of against them. Perhaps. then touched their fingers to bowed foreheads. and if all the lemuroid races were cousins beneath the skin.” murmured Remy.Yerema—only two remaining members. hoping that he had the inflection correct. “I am grateful to be received in your home. if there really had been seeders. now Remy was conscious of having to look down in order to meet his eyes. Remy didn’t think that way himself—he saw nothing in the least unnatural in cousins trying hard to exterminate one another’s bloodlines—but he could see how the question might take on the appearance of a genuine puzzle. The humans and the veich had been at war now for six hundred years—since the twenty-second century. though. as though it was strange and ill-fitting. and he no longer seemed as tall as he had when Remy first met him. in terms of history. in the city of Ziarat. in the continent of Azreon. maintaining social WA R G A M E S | 17 . and the two men matched palms. The language of the clans was not so much a language in its own right as a set of social devices which emphasized the superiority of the clansmen over their clanless subjects.but perhaps not in terms of evolution. The color of his mask had faded to pure whiteness. in terms of Earth’s calendar. where the veich were citizens rather than invaders. there was a space where the war no longer existed. Its beginnings had been forgotten and there seemed no prospect of an end. Then he had seemed almost as tall as the human. He was glad when the door opened and Yerema appeared through the curtains. on the world called Haidra. Though he wore a white robe identical to that worn by his daughter.. and very active.” said Yerema in the language of the clans. Yet here. Remy stood. “Thank you for coming so quickly.. he thought. It was an anomalous situation. The father of clan Syroleth was an old man in veich terms. what lay behind her question was her memory of the war. He was still strong.
Remy had to lean forward to look at 18 | B R I A N S TA B L E F O R D . practically a peremptory summons. and implied that there was a matter of considerable difficulty and urgency to be discussed. Patience was the cardinal virtue in the veir world view. as wide as the length of his thumb. but he appreciated its importance. They moved away from the table through a curtained archway into a smaller room. and had come to Yerema’s house only to talk. He would eat again later. at his own house. designed for privacy. heavy chairs. There was a rectangular table whose scarred surface testified that it was not intended for ornament. Only thus could he expect that the Calvars would perpetuate the respect which they now gave him because of his relationship with Yerema. Remy. entirely in the language of the clans. Valla and Yerema took up their positions around it. It unrolled reluctantly. sitting on highbacked. They sat down at the table now and ate. a room without windows. The message he had received was. by veir standards. cylindrical packet of cloth. He unrolled it to reveal a small scroll of parchment. He let only twelve minutes pass before he signaled that he was replete. but he saw no need to adopt it for himself. and he pinned the top edge to the table with a stiletto-bladed knife. Yerema reached into the fold of his robe and produced a small. That fetish more than any other was responsible for the fact that the veich had lost half a hundred worlds in the last generation— including Haidra—and were now losing a war which they had once seemed virtually certain to win. but the fact that he was permitted to pretend testified to the special status he had with respect to Yerema and clan Syroleth. Fully extended. The ritual had always seemed to Remy to be tedious. exchanging only conventional remarks. and he was conscientious in his attempts to gain assurance in its ways. and drank even more lightly. He ate lightly. the strip was about thirty centimeters long.distance very effectively. There was no way that Remy could ever master the subtleties and nuances of the tongue.
“They don’t have much use for writing. Only their holy men can read and write. “What is it?” asked Remy. “It is a warrant from the gods of the sky. When they migrated here long ago they established a civilization not much less advanced than the siocon culture that was here when the veich first came. They also believe that their ultimate destiny is to recover all Azreon. and the spirit of the waters. Calvar scholars have accumulated a good many of them. contemporary and ancient.’ It’s a sacred commission. and forced them back into the northern bills and the fringes of the Syrene. that ‘all men’ means only ‘the er’kresha.” said Yerema. but they’ve only recently been able to decipher it. and could not recognize the elaborate ideographic script. You wouldn’t have seen kresh script before—it’s used to decorate sacred objects of one kind or another. and said. Kresh oral tradition still makes a great deal out of the Golden Age of the past and the fact that they were robbed of their heritage by the evil sioconi. That’s how they justify their predatory life-style—they see it as a kind of revenge for past crimes committed against them. using the language of the clanless now. “I didn’t even know that the er’kresha were literate. of course. The sioconi had taken no interest themselves—typically enough. and the ancestors of all men in the green paradise. “What does it commission its bearer to do?” WA R G A M E S | 1 9 .” “They’re not. The sioconi invaded from Omer several centuries after the er’kresha settled here. including a promise that if the bearer is killed in attempting to obey its command he will be admitted directly to paradise with all honors that would normally be reserved for the Most High.” Remy looked up at his host. It resembled the writing of the sioconi but was not identical to it.the writing upon it. Except. in the strict sense. destroying Ziarat and Tzara and all the lands those cities count as part of their empires.” Remy waited for Yerema to finish before getting back to the heart of the matter. But they haven’t always been savages.
“And why?” “There are many rumors.” put in Valla. a picture begins to emerge. in all the traditional places. In order to be so persuaded. because their traditions favor such periodic joinings. but the fact that he managed to get so far is cause for concern. “That is so. driving the sioconi and their off-world allies—we acquire demonic status in these stories— into the sea. 20 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . It appears that a new prophet has emerged from one of the desert tribes—a man of the Syrene. It seems that there may well be others still to come. arise periodically when things go badly with the er’kresha— usually in times of famine or plague. “and it is not easy to search out the truth within them.” “Why the assassins?” “The tribes fight one another as much as they fight the sioconi. “To kill the king.” replied Yerema. Such men. They watch the sky for portents. They look for events that might be omens. They can be persuaded. herald the fulfillment of all the kresh dreams of empire. The scroll gives his name as Sigor Belle Yella. a shaman and a visionary. they look to their shamans for significant dreams. but that is a title. who look in turn to their processes of divination here on the ground. unperturbed by her interruption. however. a nom de guerre. they wait for Belle Yella himself to produce miracles. and upon the er’kresha of the far north. To join them in a common cause is no easy task. though. making claims not only upon his own tribe but upon their neighbors. His aim is to unite them into a great army. “The assassin was killed in the palace grounds. who claims the status of a demigod.” “Who sent him?” asked Remy. they look for signs. They hate one another almost as bitterly. He is not merely a shaman but also a warrior. Most of all. which will then go forth to reclaim the rightful territory of the kresh race. it seems.he asked bluntly.” agreed Yerema. He is winning acceptance as a leader. indeed. and promise that one such unification will. But when the substance of the rumors is added to what the Calvar scholars have learned about the er’kresha.
Most of the kresh tribes have only two or three hundred able-bodied men.” said Yerema evenly. but they could arm them far better than any force of kresh tribesmen. In the end. His kind of movement is a typical response to what the er’kresh see as a universal crisis: a millennial cult whose mythology attempts to invert a sense of despair into a sense of imminent and triumphant destiny. Of course.” “I don’t understand.” he said.Had the king been killed. “there are some five hundred and fifty tribes.and perhaps need to accept it. Belle Yella. and they’re well off if they have a dozen guns. “The sioconi outnumber the er’kresha by ten to one. and thanks to us they have a standing army of trained mercenaries that’s several thousand strong. “You say that the ultimate aim of this man is to unite the kresh tribes in order to sweep the sioconi and the veich into the sea?” “It would probably be more correct to say that this is the aim of the er’kresha as a race. “reignited in them by the desperation of their circumstances. he will find one. The king could raise an army of ten thousand in the city if he had to—maybe twice as many if he conscripted men from the surrounding districts. Belle Yella would have claimed it as a sign.” “In fact. is a product of the times. The Calvars couldn’t arm them all. Thanks to the Calvars they have far better weapons. I think. counting the desert tribes and the northern hillmen together. Belle Yella will hardly stake everything on such a dubious operation: he will be busy promoting all kinds of other possible signs as well.” said Remy.. though WA R G A M E S | 2 1 . and the tribal chieftains would have accepted it. Your fighting has been almost exclusively with the desert tribes.” “But it’s impossible!” objected Remy.. shifting in his chair. Even if there were five hundred tribes—which there aren’t—they couldn’t put any kind of effective fighting force in the field. And that’s just Ziarat. He is the means by which the tribes can ritually bury their differences and accept a common cause. and the chieftains will accept it because they want to accept it. The hill tribes are considerably larger. Belle Yella is only an instrument.
“what has happened is worse than that.” “What you mean.” said the veir clansman. In all probability. eight thousand fighting men in a dozen different groups would represent the whole of kresh. But the er’kresha are gradually losing their entire way of life.” confirmed Yerema.” “But why now?” asked Remy. of course— killing everyone they could. “This isn’t a war in our sense of the word. It would be more a matter of casual slaughter than of warfare. “In a way. It’s theoretically possible for the er’kresha to amass an army more than a hundred thousand strong. so they’re forced to seek a transcendental solution—they’re looking to their gods and their ancestors for salvation.” Yerema smiled faintly. There’s nothing they can do about it in practical terms. and Belle Yella is the intermediary. The lands where they graze their animals are the lands which were too poor for the sioconi 22 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . Famines and plagues relent. The war that they’d fight wouldn’t really be recognizable as such by you or me. and probably of yours. There’s been no plague. it’s a response to the fact that the er’kresha see their present situation as one of utter hopelessness. They wouldn’t adopt any particular overall strategy—they’d just sweep into the various territories that are supposedly under Ziarat’s protection—and Tzara’s.not so well armed.” he said. The er’kresha have no attainable objectives in the military sense. anyhow. “It’s a type of social response to desperate circumstances which is seen in many cultures on many worlds.” said Remy.” “That’s correct. though in practical terms they’re unlikely to assemble a force one tenth as large as that. There are examples in the past history of my species. “There’s been no famine—no worse than usual. For hundreds of years—probably thousands—they have lived as nomadic herdsmen and bandits. “is that the notion of this war to reclaim Azreon is just an idea—a myth that will allow them to embark on some crazy stint of killing for the sake of killing.” “And this is the way they have reacted in the distant past to things like famines and great plagues?” “It seems so.
They rearmed the siocon armies and built new vehicles for the caravans. fighting men came here. Sometimes they have bought it—but always with goods and money they have stolen from the sioconi. is poor. Calvar guns made the territories that were supposedly under Ziarat’s protection safe from er’kreshan raiders for the first time. “All that changed a generation ago. third-class citizens despised by everyone. The living which they scrape from their agricultural projects. The only viable course open to them is to become absorbed into the growing body of siocon civilization—as the lowest of the low. We are more mobile than they. and allowed whole kresh tribes to be all but destroyed. such as they are. It is unthinkable. whose mounts have been formed by natural selection rather than genetic engineering. Remy. and the er’kresha. The er’kresha have always lived as predators upon the sioconi. when the war came to Haidra. The Calvars came to Azreon from Omer. They have looted it from granaries. Then. They have always been dependent upon the sioconi for grain. and looked hard at the scroll. and better equipped.to bother stealing. which Yerema still held extended on the tabletop. and perceiving the strange sense that it WA R G A M E S | 2 3 . bringing with them a whole new technology. could not compete. who formed a new army of veich and sioconi and even humans—professional soldiers trained in the use of weapons which the Calvars would not make for the sioconi themselves.” Remy shifted again in his seat. The warriors of the tribes cannot accept that. Men like you and me. We brought animals especially bred for speed. illuminating the rumors that had reached his own ears. Our mercenaries now insure the security of all the roads that go from Ziarat to other towns. He let the story run through his mind. particularly from the caravans that use the roads between Ziarat and the coast to the south and west. and the sioconi—despite their walled cities and their armies—were always unable to stop them. That is why the er’kresha are under threat of cultural extinction. They have taken grain from villages which they threatened.
and disperse the members of his cult. “We must track down Signor Belle Yella.” “Very well. “All right. “How?” 24 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D .” said Remy calmly. “suppose that it’s true? What can we do about it?” “Perhaps nothing.” said the clansman. kill him. “But it’s possible that we can stop it—for now.” he said.yielded up to analysis.
one set by the escort that had been hired to protect the trade caravan in Pir. the stars shone brightly. His eyes tracked her as she walked away WA R G A M E S | 2 5 . and then walked on. both parties had agreed to travel together for mutual protection against the er’kresha while they moved slowly toward Ziarat. Cesar Scapaccio. She was fully clothed. the other posted by her own party from the platoon of soldiers which accompanied it. She stood quite still for a moment. and that here the war had to be conducted in a more diplomatic manner. but his protest had been set aside. was well enough aware that the veich held the real power in Azreon. The camp was very still. Justina Magna passed the sentry who was watching the scrub land to the east. The wagons of the caravan were set apart from the wagons which the humans had brought from Omer. Neither the veir clansman who was in charge of the caravan nor his hired mercenaries trusted the humans. but the clothes she was wearing were those which she had worn through the day. whose expedition it was. with only a light jacket added as the night-dark approached. Overhead. had protested this decision on the grounds that riding with armed veich might prove more dangerous than any visitation from reckless bandits. Nevertheless. steeling herself against the chill.C H A P T ER T WO Justina Magna stepped out of her tent and shivered in the cold night air. and the humans trusted them even less. the officer in charge of the platoon. Lieutenant Verdi. Here in the fringes of the Syrene the air was crystal-clear. There were two sets of guards posted.
Or does the army always set sentries to watch its sentries?” 26 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . “You’re not very talkative.” agreed the sergeant. It seems that even people who are born on alien worlds never really fit in.” “Maybe they don’t know that. His pale eyes looked down at her.” observed the woman. the mockery in her tone only just perceptible.. “No sign of restless natives?” she asked.” “But you’re not asleep. “No. If Haidra rotated on its axis a little more quickly the people here wouldn’t be so damned miserable.” he pointed out.. and he declined. but she ignored him.. “Surely no gang of desert savages is going to attack us?” she said. She offered him a cigarette. “No.and then by day we fry in the sun. apparently engaged in watching the sentry.” she commented. illuminated by the gleam of a lantern that hung from a hook on one of the struts of the wagon’s cupola. Even out here in the desert. “And it’s not as if it were your turn to stand watch.maybe it’s something in our genes. “I couldn’t sleep. I guess that once the world of your birth has imprinted its own rhythm on your chemistry nothing can change it.from him. I’ve been here ten years.. A third of my life.” Because there was no question in the speech. “The worst of these long nights.” he replied shortly. And still I can’t adjust to a fortyhour day and a culture which operates on the basis of taking seven hours sleep in the middle of the night and another seven in the middle of the day. What do you think?” “I think you’re missing your soft bed. “Anyone can adjust to anything. I suppose you never really acclimatize to new temporal rhythms. Farther down the line she found Sergeant Garstone. are you?” she countered. in Earthly terms. “With the kind of firepower we have we could stand off a small army. “is the cold.” said Garstone tersely. by the time the night-dark comes it’s positively bitter. Garstone felt no obligation to reply.
even if he’s an offworlder not on active service.” “Why bother?” asked the sergeant.” said the sergeant. He’d imply. you’d better ask Lieutenant Verdi.” “I didn’t think it was. and would know much more intimately in the long months to come. that this whole affair is a stupid waste of time and that he wishes he were back in barracks waiting for the war to recall him to its bosom. “Why are you here. “I was ordered to come. as you do. In fact. Scapaccio is a colonel of sorts.” “Ask him when he wakes up. “If you want to ask questions that touch on matters of military security. But if Command Haidra really felt like that they’d have turned down Scapaccio’s request for military escort. Sergeant Garstone?” she asked.” “That’s not what I mean. He shrugged. What do you think made them change their minds?” “They didn’t bother to tell me. staring out into the night and taking a last draw from her cigarette. The taste of the silvery dust was something they all knew by now. “Don’t you think you’re being unnecessarily rude?” she asked.” “Maybe. sharing her sensation. “And maybe not. The woman licked her lips. “Are you a misogynist?” she inquired ironically. Probably a simple matter of protocol.” “He’d only say that he’s doing his duty and following orders. Garstone watched her. tasting the metallic dust which had settled there since she removed the veil that had guarded her mouth and nose during the long trek.” “He’s asleep.“I don’t need much sleep. “You’re getting what you WA R G A M E S | 2 7 .” She looked at him speculatively. with a certain amount of sour wit. “I’m a noncommissioned officer.” he replied. initially they did turn it down. He probably bullied a few captains and majors at Command Base into juggling the paperwork so that he got his platoon without anyone at the top of the tree knowing or caring.” said Justina Magna.
******* Remy teased the focusing wheel of the binoculars with his forefinger.” “Should I?” “That depends. Sometimes I suspect that you don’t even like having to associate with me. you despise Delizia and you don’t like having to associate with so many unpacified veich. And that’s a good philosophy you’re peddling.” she said. She swung her hips deliberately as she walked away. You might be in on Scapaccio’s exciting archaeological discoveries—buried treasure from a million years ago. But you don’t like any of this. with the air of one who has emerged victorious from a battle of wits. Enjoy yourself. He ran his hand up and down the barrel of his rifle. “All you need is warming up a bit.” “You can be quite articulate when you try.” she said. and almost began to hope that there would be an attack before it was time to move on. You’re getting a nice long holiday in the wilderness to appreciate the desert flowers and the moonbeams. The combination of the haze and the dust defeated him.. do you? You hate the desert. trying to work a sharp image out of the blur where the horizon should have been. “Whore. straight out of some ancient mythology. You’ve got away from the Base and its routines. and the only thing which testified to the continued presence of the er’kresha within his field of vision was a ruddy tower of cloud which sparkled like frosted 28 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D ..” muttered Garston.” She turned. If only you could take it into your own heart.want out of the trip. Then again. He was a patient man—as a soldier. he had been trained for patience—but even the most phlegmatic temperament builds up frustrations that need action to be released. there’s the fabulous exotic city of Ziarat.but I’m prejudiced. you hate Scapaccio. “I’d say you should. You might even get to see your loyal protectors shoot up a few of the locals. He failed.
That’s where Belle Yella is.” he said. “Well?” asked Doon. “According to the Calvar scholars. all right. “East-nor’east. First. “Now that would be a miracle. but Yerema figures that it rains there every year just as it rains in the north and the south and the east. The worst possible place for him to be. “According to Yerema. screened by the rock on which Remy and Doon were perched. “They’re headed straight out into the Syrene. as told to Yerema. but the er’kresha have always regarded it as being in some way the centerpiece of their mythical empire. Secondly because it’s wild and desolate and completely private—an excellent place for working miracles.” said Remy.mist: the extra dust stirred up into the hot air by the plodding hooves of the er’kreshan mounts. but with no greater success than Remy. who was laid out prone alongside him. from our point of view. “the er’kresha have various stereotyped ideas about what constitutes a miracle. “But in the mountains the dice are loaded in Belle Yella’s favor.” said Remy dully.” Doon tried to focus the binoculars.” said Remy. “It rains there sometimes.” he said. who was standing a few meters away. patched here and there with black thorn bushes and spined grasses. One of them is bringing rain to make the desert bloom.” “I don’t see that it’s any better for miracles than anywhere else.” muttered Doon. because the range of mountains in the heart of the Syrene is in some way sacred to them—nobody lives there. Remy passed over the binoculars. “Why the hell are they heading into the desert?” asked Madoc. When the cloud blows in from the east at WA R G A M E S | 2 9 . as I said. “there are two reasons. so nobody can testify to the regularity of its circumstances. Nobody lives there on a permanent basis.” Doon lowered the binoculars and squinted out over the flat plain of gray sand and bronzed rock. “Shit!” murmured Remy.
and the war will be on. What’s happening out there is that Belle Yella’s cultists are slowly gathering acolytes and witnesses.the end of summer the mountains drive it up and precipitate a downpour. Couldn’t we give this one back to him?” “They couldn’t do it. With luck. But it’s not a job we can look forward to. I don’t think we have any alternative but to go into the Syrene heartland after him. but they themselves have a somewhat more benevolent climate. but we may have between twelve and twenty days. who are going to spend a lot of time praying bareheaded in the noonday until they’re hallucinating visions and revelations on a regular basis. and his followers will proclaim him the next best thing to God. “They haven’t done a damn thing except police the streets of Ziarat since the king and the Calvars started using us for all important operations. they can find them easily enough.” said Remy. Remy and Doon turned to look back at him. Then the support will rally in no uncertain terms. “And it would show us in one hell of a had light. Yamba and his friends hate us enough as 30 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . It isn’t going to be easy getting to him in that sort of territory.” “What about Yamba’s so-called army?” asked Doon. “The sioconi say that the end of summer is already here. The Calvars reckon they know enough about er’kreshan history and oral tradition to write a script for this whole stupid crusade. When people need miracles. but made no move to scramble down from their coign of vantage. but I reckon it’s a better bet than one of his assassins getting to the king in Ziarat. I don’t know how long it will be before Belle Yella’s miracle arrives on schedule.” “So what do we do?” asked Madoc. while he’s surrounded by several hundred crazy followers. That’s why the rivers flowing through the Syrene fill up with water again after the summer drought. The mountains are surrounded by hundreds of miles of desert in every direction. the er’kresha in the mountains will be preoccupied with spiritual affairs—and they certainly won’t be expecting visitors. Then Belle Yella will make rain and force the desert to bloom.
meanwhile. This is our problem even more than Ziarat’s. but they were usually ridden hard only in a fight or a pursuit.” Doon. the other a siocon—both were trusted men within Yerema’s private army. I think Yerema will want to lead this one himself. That didn’t augur well for their reasons. Doon got down and mounted in a more conventional manner.” “So what kind of force do you propose taking into the desert?” inquired Madoc.it is for what we’ve done. They were longer in the leg and faster than the indigenous species that filled the same ecological and cultural niche.” Remy had no difficulty in picking out the approaching men.” he said. Remy waved a signal to the approaching men. Then he moistened his lips with his tongue. but to the south. If we turn our back on the first major crisis—a crisis which our coming here has helped to precipitate—we lose virtually all of our influence in Ziarat. “Riders. “They’re ours. not for fast speed over short distances. Subala. That would be fatal. One of the riders was a veir. passing the binoculars back to Remy. They met the riders at the bottom of the WA R G A M E S | 31 . and the three rode back the way they had come toward the rough desert trail. “Half a dozen commandos—or a small army?” Remy adjusted the veil that masked the lower part of his face. were bred for endurance and for the ability to work well in desert conditions. had put the field glasses back to his eyes and was staring into the distance—not to the east. which Remy thought of for the sake of convenience as “horses” though they were not of Earthly stock.” he said. “I’m not sure. The animals brought by the Calvars from Omer. “We’ll have to make plans back in Ziarat. waved back. and we have to solve it. where the er’kresha had disappeared. riding Calvar beasts at a gallop. The two slowed their mounts appreciably. and the veir. which shied uneasily at the shock of his abrupt arrival. and Remy jumped from the top of the rock into the saddle of his own horse.
for the siocon’s brown skin had an odd bluish tint. “The news was transmitted from Pir by radio. “without this. Though Remy’s skin had been burned dark brown by the sun there was still a contrast in coloring. Find out what they’re here for. and his eyes were very dark. I’m to come with you. “We’ve got enough trouble as it is. “Help escort them to Ziarat.” said Remy. protected from the morning sun by a natural shield which had evolved in the sioconi from a nictitating membrane owned by one of their distant ancestor species. but his veil was dyed to match the color of his skin. along with this?” said Remy. the siocon. “What is it?” asked Doon.” replied Fiemme. “It’s several days old now.” said Fiemme. but the er’kresha were. holding up the paper.” Remy read it through. Remy got down before opening it. Iasus Fiemme.shallow slope. considerably shorter and more bony in the features.” answered Fiemme. of course. His bald head carried a series of lateral ridges. Subala will take your report back to Yerema now.” “Those instructions came verbally. He was. and then looked pensively at the siocon.” To that Fiemme made no reply. where the road—such as it was—led away across the coarse sandy soil toward Ziarat. We picked it up in a small village three hours to the south. so that he can consider the matter of what to do about Belle Yella. The other was a fraction taller than he. on average. “I suppose he realizes that I might not exactly be welcome with these people? I am a deserter from the human army. and the alien also dismounted. “That’s right. veiled against the fine corrosive dust. when all is said and done. handed Remy a folded piece of paper. but seemed very spare and gaunt by comparison with Remy’s stocky figure. What does Yerema suggest we do about it?” “He wants you to ride north and meet them. The sioconi and the er’kresha were members of the same species. leaning forward from the saddle 32 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D .
” said Remy.” said Remy dourly. “Wagons and horses instead of lorries and tanks. “they may have come to arrest us all and take us back for trial.” “I’ll ride with you anyhow.” Remy folded the piece of paper and put it carefully away into his pocket. though with some unease in his voice. It would have done him no good—the message was written in the language of the clans.” “Well. “It was carrying Calvar trade goods. The caravan can’t be more than a day’s ride north of here. “Maybe more recruits for the cause?” suggested Madoc. “It doesn’t say.” “They’ve never made a habit of chasing deserters. Yerema wants me to find out what they’ve come here for.” Madoc pointed out.” The real purpose of the operation had been to bring the civilian veich who had settled in Omer under the direct control of a human governing WA R G A M E S | 3 3 .as he tried to catch a glimpse of the paper.” said Remy. Remy remembered the last time that he had seen army uniforms.” said Doon. “On the other hand. You want to come? Or would you rather ride south with Subala?” “Do they have any women?” asked Doon. They’re heading for Ziarat with a Calvar caravan. “Why not? They’re hardly likely to shoot us down on sight. an assortment of horses and something like twenty humans. mostly soldiers. Then he swung himself back up into the saddle. “A ship from Omer docked at Pir some days ago. and also half a dozen wagons. during the last months of what Command Haidra referred to in its communications as “the pacification.” said Madoc. Why didn’t Command fly them over?” “I don’t know. Must be figuring on a long stay with no support from home.” “Me too. “we could find out. “It’s never been policy—not worth the trouble.” “Doesn’t exactly sound like an invasion force.” said Remy. They’ve always worked on the theory that if people want to go native they can.
There isn’t any world big enough to be a bolt-hole. “We’d better move on. The pacification had been different. In ten years since his desertion he had frequently recalled all the key incidents of that year—his first real encounter with the war. 34 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . Remy had done his own bit toward the pacification through a long year of police work interrupted by occasional skirmishes. he remembered.council whose job was to make sure that their surplus wealth went to a good cause—the human war effort. “All right. and he had seen no direct action except for having to defend the troop ships against aerial attack with the aid of a laser cannon. said one of those slogans. So much for military philosophy. On the ships. That had seemed to him to be a very impersonal mode of combat. Command Interstellar made a point of spreading slogans through the troops to help their thinking run along the right grooves. There isn’t much to add to what he already knew we’d find. You can’t escape the war.” He turned his mount to face north. and urged it into a slow walk. The fighting which he had done after the first landing on Haidra had been brief. Subala—you ride with us for a couple of miles and I’ll tell you what to report to Yerema.” he said. when Iasus Fiemme had mounted.
Darkness was falling. As it was. “Why didn’t they let us through and then attack the caravan? They could have hit the rearmost wagons and we wouldn’t have been able to get back to help. but she thought not. pulled the sunhat from his hand. He looked neither grief-stricken nor surprised.” said Garstone harshly. and laid it over his face.” “The reason they came at us. the sun had set and there would not be a long twilight.CHAPTER THREE Justina Magna knelt over the body of Lieutenant Verdi. “I don’t understand. The bandits must have lost fifty men or more—their attack had been positively suicidal. Garstone saw her hide Verdi’s face. When the lieutenant had been hit the sergeant had known immediately that he was not going to make it.” said the woman. The wagons were out of the gully now. but that was all in the way of things. and she was virtually certain that all but a handful of the er’kresha had fallen before the guns of the defenders. with open country to either side. Garstone had never liked the officer. they ran right into our guns. It was possible that nightfall would bring a new attack. they simply had not realized the strength of the force they were attacking. and had never trusted him. Perhaps. It had counted for nothing while Verdi was giving the orders. They could hardly have encountered this kind of firepower before. as Garstone had suggested. looking up at Garstone. and came over to stare down at the dead lieutenant. “was that we’re carrying something a great deal more valuable than WA R G A M E S | 3 5 .
We were unlucky to lose four men.” said the sergeant. watching him. miles from anywhere—kresh territory. The closer we get to civilization the less will be the probability that we’ll have to face a further attack. Fear and cowardice aren’t the same things at all. we’re nearly halfway to the city. “I see now that he’s dead. and they know they have to face it. and always seemed to move in a lazy. They must have thought that the long odds looked worthwhile. Guns—grenades— explosives—ammunition.. The last thing they want is a human invasion of Azreon. Never imagine that a man who can fear necessarily will. This is a corner of the desert. I’m sorry. not because the possibility has been burned out of them. but because of their whole way of life.” said Delizia evenly. Garstone resented the face of his very existence. “Stay under cover.” said Garstone. I didn’t mean to interrupt you.” “Whatever happened to fear?” asked Justina Magna with equal bitterness.” “It would be better. Anyhow. Delizia was small and swarthy. with ill-disguised impa36 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . “Don’t you think that you might be overvaluing yourself?” said a new voice.the trade goods in the merchant’s wagons. “They may not have our educational advantages. “Get the hell out of here. In the city no one will dare to lay a finger on us. “What makes you think that Command Haidra would invade Azreon for revenge if anything happened to you in Ziarat?” Garstone half-turned to see Ramon Delizia standing three meters away. fluid manner. “Is our cargo that valuable?” “Maybe. “But we can stand them off.” replied the sergeant. “but you can’t judge them by the standards set by creatures like Delizia. Death’s cheap on a world like this. It’ll teach the other young bastards not to be so damn complacent. They aren’t afraid of death or injury.” “Do you think they’ll come back with reinforcements?” she asked.” said Garstone..” “I came to see the lieutenant.
“We will continue to Ziarat. and when she caught up with him he was trying to inquire of one of the Calvar’s clanless servants what was likely to happen next. We might as well rest here until night-dark and then make an early start. because the only language the two had in common was that of the sioconi of Omer. “It’s probably best. having stripped it down to adjust the ammunition feed. “Immediately?” she asked. “The less time we spend on the road the better. he turned abruptly on his heel and went off down the line of wagons.” Garstone shrugged. She took over the questioning. “They are his men. who was responsible for their being here.” said Delizia. looking for Cesar Scapaccio. Andros had the casing of a heavy machine gun in his lap. using the language of the clanless.” she replied. brushing sand from her hands.” he answered. calling her attention to what Garstone had said. He confirmed that that was his meaning. She explained this to Garstone. She turned to follow Garstone back along the line.tience. quite calmly. I don’t think we’ll be moving on. He went beyond his own wagons to those of the veich.” she told him. He wasn’t getting very far. “if you’d all stay in the wagons and let my men take care of the dead.” he told her.” When neither Delizia nor Justina Magna moved to go. They found him in the back of one of the wagons talking to the optiman Andros. who seemed displeased. The gun had jammed during the WA R G A M E S | 3 7 . unperturbed by the irony.” she told him. We can take the dead with us and bury them when we do stop for the night. It’s his expedition. and neither was proficient in it. “What did you want to say to the lieutenant? A few words of condolence—an apology—or a prayer?” “Maybe a little of all three.” They walked back to the wagons they had brought from Omer. Justina Magna stood up. scowling. “We’d better ask Scapaccio. “He’s all yours. “My men.
All four stood and stared at the newcomers.” said Remy dryly. but trailed off almost immediately as something caught his eye.fighting.” said Scapaccio.” explained Justina Magna. He was once a sergeant in the army. could see.” said the sergeant flatly. an object of muted horror.. “Remy.” began the sergeant.. They don’t want to spend any more time on the road than they have to. grimly. “I think they’ll proceed anyway. ******* Remy dismounted in front of Garstone and the woman. and brought the lamp from the front of the wagon to the back. ignoring the scowl on Garstone’s face. “I don’t. and he was the only one of the four in a position to see it. “His name is Remy. It was something at or beyond the front of the wagon train. Scapaccio looked up as the sergeant and the woman approached. Do we go with them?” “Of course. “I was about to ask you the same question. stepping around him so that she. “What is it?” asked Justina Magna.” 38 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D .. taking no pains to control his surprise at finding a human on the road to Ziarat. There was a momentary silence. Scapaccio pushed his way in between Garstone and Justina Magna and looked Remy up and down. Of all the people in the party. though the sergeant’s finger was not as yet on the trigger. By this time Scapaccio had come out of the wagon. “Who are you?” he asked. too. followed by Andros. “They want us to move on. The other three could only watch the expression on his face changing. and along the line all work had stopped. only Scapaccio seemed to get on well with the optiman. the rest regarded him as a rather nightmarish prospect. “Visitors. He noticed that Garstone’s rifle had shifted in such a way that the muzzle was now directed at his head.” replied Garstone.
Remy looked at the sergeant for a long time, his eyes hard and
bright, trying to remember where he had met the man and what
name he had borne. He couldn’t capture the essential memory
until the other said, “I’m Garstone.” Then it fell into place—a
minor incident in the pacification, involving the annexation
of some property. There had been a squabble concerning the
matter of how much annexation was to be done by two separate
groups under different wings of Command Haidra’s network of
“This man’s a deserter,” said Garstone to Scapaccio.
“That’s right,” said Remy. “I threw away my stripes.” He
pointed behind him at his mounted companions. “This is Doon,
and Madoc, and Iasus Fiemme. We make a living trying to keep
the roads clear for the benefit of innocent travelers. We don’t
“My name is Cesar Scapaccio,” said the man in front of
Remy. “Colonel, Command Kilifi. I’m an archaeologist.”
Remy’s eyes narrowed. “What brings an off-world archaeologist to Azreon?” he asked. “Or to Haidra, come to that?”
“I travel quite a lot,” replied Scapaccio. “Visiting sites of
various kinds, mostly to do with the mapirenes. Haidra was
once a mapirene world.”
“Thirty thousand years ago.” said Remy. “And there was just
a small base—not far from our base in Omer. As I remember,
the word was that it was taken out by a particle beam from orbit.
Pulverized entirely—not that there was much of it to start with.
That doesn’t explain why you’re here in Azreon.”
“I have reason to believe that there was a second base on this
world. In the heartland of this continent.”
“The heartland!” Remy made no attempt to mask his astonishment. “You mean Syrene?”
“The area that’s now a desert—that’s correct.”
Remy glanced sideways at Iasus Fiemme, who looked quite
impassive. One of the horses ridden by the humans snorted
“How badly did the er’kresha hit you?” asked Remy, his
WA R G A M E S | 3 9
voice much softer now, with the aggressive edge quite gone.
“We lost four men, including the officer in charge of the
platoon. Our doctor is also wounded, though not seriously. I
don’t think the other party lost any men at all—the attack was
concentrated on our wagons. There were about fifty in the group
that attacked us—you can count the dead back in the canyon, if
Remy let his eyes roam from Scapaccio’s face to the sergeant’s
gun, then to the woman’s face and finally to the huge bulk of
the optiman. Then his gaze passed beyond the group to meet the
eyes of a newcomer who had come up behind them—the veir
with whom Justina Magna had talked.
“They were from one of the hill tribes,” said the veir. “They
must have been ahead of us, keeping just clear of the road,
heading south. I don’t know where they were going.”
“I think I do,” muttered Remy. Automatically, he made the
comment in the same language the veir had used, and Justina
Magna looked at him sharply. She was the only one of the
humans able to understand it.
“What do you mean?” she asked, also in the language of the
Remy looked at her, surprised to hear the alien words on her
lips. “Who are you?” he asked.
“Justina Magna. I’m a linguist. I’m supposed to be the
mission’s interpreter—I learned the languages of Azreon from
strangers in Omer. This seemed to be a good opportunity to use
and extend my knowledge.”
Remy turned his attention back to Garstone, more to evade
the woman’s question than because he had anything to say to
“Still a sergeant,” he commented, “after all these years.”
“What are you?” retorted Garstone.
Remy pointed at the giant, and said, “What’s he?”
“My name is Andros,” said the optiman. His voice was
surprisingly soft. Remy looked at him more closely. He was
over two meters tall, with massive shoulders. Remy noted that
40 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D
he held the machine gun effortlessly, though an ordinary man
would have staggered beneath the weight.
“You’re not in uniform,” said Remy calmly, as if that
explained the question he had directed at Garstone.
“But I am a soldier,” said Andros. “One of a new breed. A
product of genetic optimization. I was nurtured by an artificial
placenta, and some would say that makes me an android rather
than a man, but my genetic material was human in origin.”
“So the genetic engineering of people is no longer banned
by law?” asked Remy, though the answer was obvious enough.
“It was considered to be a logical step in the development
of new and more sophisticated fighting units,” said Andros, his
musical voice precluding any hint of irony from creeping into
“And what are you doing here?” asked Remy.
“Gaining experience,” replied the optiman lightly. “There
are several hundred of us scattered through this zone—perhaps
a dozen on Haidra itself, attached to units of various kinds. As
there are very few units on any kind of active service now, it
was considered desirable that I should accompany this platoon.”
“I see,” said Remy. He turned back to Scapaccio, and said,
“You’d better load up. I think the caravan is just about ready to
get moving again. I don’t think there’ll be any more trouble, but
the sooner we’re in Ziarat the better. Then we can discuss the
matter of your going into the Syrene.”
“I don’t think we ought to take orders from this man,” said
Garstone casually to Scapaccio. “In fact, I think we ought to
Remy laughed briefly, without any real humor. “That would
be stupid,” he pointed out. “You need me. In fact, you don’t
realize how much you need me. I can get you what you need in
Ziarat, and I might even be able to get you into the heartland of
the Syrene, if that’s really where you want to go. Is that what
As he spoke the last few words his eyes were fixed on
Scapaccio’s face, and he saw there that this was, indeed, what
WA R G A M E S | 41
the other man wanted—and it seemed to be something that he
wanted very badly.
“I take it,” said Scapaccio dryly, “that you’re for hire.”
“Very much so,” replied Remy.
42 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D
He looked up when Scapaccio climbed in over the tailboard.” “All you had to do was ask the caravan master to have his own doctor take over.” pronounced Remy. “we WA R G A M E S | 4 3 .” Scapaccio sighed with relief. when he was through. There were bunks inside the wagon for four people. “That’s all I did. Your interpreter could have done the same. Beneath the lower bunks there were fitted drawers. Their color was yellowish brown.” “Maybe if you’d arrived sooner.” he said. “Of course. In one of the lower bunks there was a man sleeping. I doubt if any of us could have taken the bullet out. followed by Remy. He was under sedation. Ramon Delizia lay on the opposite bunk staring into a microfiche reader.” said Remy. with space at head and tail for stacked boxes. and the light that streamed through them made the faces of those within look distinctly jaundiced. “He’ll do.” Delizia interposed. stripping away the dressing with surprising delicacy. stacked two on two. “He’ll be able to keep the bullet in a jar on his desk. occasionally flicking the control switch with his forefinger. “That’s something. it had to be that the one man who ended up needing an operation was the doctor. Remy took the sheet from Melcart’s body and inspected his wounded leg carefully.CHAPTER FOUR Inside the wagon the bright sunlight was softened somewhat—the sections of the plastic cupola were translucent but not transparent.
” he said.could have saved Verdi. The bullet that got him was Calvar-made—stolen or plundered from some siocon farmer near Ziarat and traded halfway across the continent since. the sheer mass of the supply will ensure that in the end they’re liberally distributed throughout Azreon. That was probably the last round of ammunition he had for it. “they wouldn’t have needed Calvar rifles. “There are supposed to be no accessible fossil fuels on this world since the mapirenes stripped it thirty thousand years ago.” “I suppose that in time the er’kresha will all have veich weapons. but the shells don’t need to hit a vital organ to smash you up irredeemably. They’d have had your guns—automatic rifles that can fire a dozen rounds in a ten-second burst and reload before the other guy can draw breath. Not much range. “But the siocon farmers in the south have been persuaded to go in for the right cash crops. “he’d be dead. including a kind of cane that produces sweet carbohydrates in its core and can be rendered into high-grade charcoal itself. pointing to the rifle slung across Remy’s shoulder.” said Remy sourly.” Scapaccio intervened quickly.” said Remy.” said Delizia.” “If the band that attacked you had had twice the strength and a more favorable time of day. The veich show a damn sight more discretion than you do. if the veich have factories turning out rifles for the sioconi. The doctor was lucky. “I’m surprised that the Calvars can maintain factories turning out weapons like yours.” “And that makes him lucky?” “If he’d stopped the next one. “After all. a heavy machine gun and Earth knows what else. The sioconi and the colonial veich are supposed to be dependent on a woodbased energy economy as far as metalworking is concerned. Ziarat’s gradually committing more and more land to that kind 4 4 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . Justina didn’t quite get around to asking the veich for help while he was still alive. “The rifles the er’kresha are using are long-bore things with a relatively slow muzzle velocity.” replied Remy. grenades.” “They are.” Remy shook his head. I’ve seen people hit in the arm die of the shock.
we find relics which tell us a good deal.” said Scapaccio.of crop because with advice from the veich the yield of the cultivated land in terms of staple crops has been increased four. He splashed liquid into each of them in a deliberately careless manner. though the tumbler did not fall over. provided that they aren’t attacked by the wrong kind of bacteria. It’s not too difficult to find what remains of mapirene buildings. and then passed one to Delizia and one to Remy. and sometimes mapirene machines. Plastics can last almost forever. It’s easy enough to figure out that either the mapirenes or the cascarenes held these worlds at one time. but difficult to find out much more. “Why not?” Remy replied. and sometimes we recover the remains of information storage systems from which a little bit WA R G A M E S | 4 5 . Here and there. but went to the head of the bed where Melcart lay and produced a bottle of colorless spirits. “Do you want a drink?” he asked Remy. But the products of a technology like that can be very durable—certain aspects of it. The next stage will be using the sugars to produce alcohol to drive internal combustion engines. Before he could take up his own. none that can be easily extracted—but the veich can still produce a technological civilization. “As you probably know. Thirty thousand years is a long time. “there was practically nothing left of the base in Omer. “What makes you think that there was once a mapirene base in the Syrene?” asked Remy casually.” Scapaccio did not respond to the challenge implicit in the last sentence. and most of the sites we know about were blasted out of existence by very powerful weapons. and some of it splashed out. Metal casings rust. the wagon jarred slightly as it hit a rut in the road. Nothing recoverable. given time. but they hold their form. And given the freedom to operate. That’s the story all over the known universe.or five-fold. anyhow. Silently. There may be no coal or oil here—at least. he replaced the lost liquid. Scapaccio produced three small tumblers made of clear plastic from the same box that had contained the bottle.
where the disc was analyzed.can you imagine Command Haidra giving us their full-scale cooperation for something like this? All that they would do was to promise that if we found anything of military importance. They refused to commit any substantial resources to the supply or support of this expedition. “It wasn’t a desert then. this is an army expedition. “Most of what we find is incomprehensible. The Syrene appears to have been created by men—by lemuroids.” “Why would the mapirenes build a base in the middle of a desert?” asked Remy. and what the disc seems to say about the base is confusing and incomplete. One particular information disc. proved to contain what we think is a reference to a base or installation of some kind here in Azreon. excavated out of an exceptionally well-preserved site on Kilifi. We had to finance the trip ourselves.” “And why all this?” asked Remy. or got into a situation where we needed pulling out. We have radio equipment in one of the other wagons which can get a signal to one 46 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D .of the information can still be retrieved..” “Us?” queried Remy.” said Delizia. Ramon is from Pajilla. it’s a private endeavor. Notionally. “Ramon and I. but for all practical purposes. All that Command Haidra would do for us was to give permission for a platoon of soldiers to escort us. indicating the interior of the wagon. But here and there we find something that tells us a little more about the mapirenes.. We can rarely get all of it—usually a very small fraction—but with the right equipment we can recover some. “Why didn’t you have Command Haidra drop you on the spot by plane?” Scapaccio laughed shortly. Sergeant Remy. but it seemed to us to be worth checking. You know the army. We’re not entirely certain. we could call for assistance. “Command Haidra has little or no interest in archaeological exploration. Most of what we can understand is useless. that is. “We found that out when we came to Haidra.
“It depends how long you want my services. Then Delizia asked. waiting. too. He might be nasty and more dangerous WA R G A M E S | 4 7 . Remy handed back the plastic tumbler.” murmured Delizia. “Not any more. Horses for sure. vaulting over it and down to the ground without apparent effort.” replied Remy. I want the guns that came with the men who were killed in the raid. aren’t you? And it’s your expedition. “I don’t know.” Scapaccio met his eyes. I’m sure the story is familiar. Garstone won’t like it—so tell him to go to hell.of the comsats for immediate relay. Scapaccio looked at Delizia. “But I don’t take army paper for payment.” said Delizia.” replied Remy. “I can always use more rifles. He stood beside the road.” “I’m sure you will. “Are you willing to take us into the Syrene?” “I’ll take you. “We’d be crazy to trust him because he’s human. You can call me by my name. “What the hell—you’re a colonel. once. and two cases of ammunition for each gun. We’ll think of something. “Is it agreed?” asked Remy. leaving him behind. questioning him with his eyes. There was a moment’s silence.” said Remy.” “And what else do we pay you with?” asked Scapaccio. “It belongs to the army. That was the limit of their generosity. You can throw in a case of grenades for good measure.” replied Remy.” “I’m not a sergeant. and turned back to the tailboard of the wagon. “Maybe wagons. Scapaccio hesitated for a second or two.” he said levelly. and the wagon rolled on. if the occasion arises.” Scapaccio apologized without sounding particularly sincere. For a first installment.” said Remy calmly.” said Delizia.” “So did I. then nodded. “That equipment isn’t mine. What’s he going to do—lay charges against you when you get back?” “You said the first installment. I don’t have a rank. “Does that mean there’ll be others?” “Maybe.
“What are they doing here?” asked Madoc. his voice hoarse because of the dryness of his mouth and throat. Remy didn’t bother to answer. Then the two went forward to join Iasus Fiemme and Madoc riding in advance of the foremost wagon.” replied Remy.” To that. I said that we would. of course?” commented Madoc. looking up at the wooden slats of the upper bunk with a concentration so intense that one might almost have believed that he. and Remy remounted.” “They don’t know about Belle Yella.” he said instead. So why did they give him a platoon of soldiers? They must have had another reason 48 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . But he might get us through where Garstone wouldn’t stand a chance. ******* Doon brought Remy’s horse from the rear of the column. and because their guns will come in very handy when we try to break up Belle Yella’s little party. too.” said Scapaccio. Through. “They want us to take them into the desert. “What worries me. Remy adjusted his veil and donned eyeshades to protect him from the slowly climbing sun. According to Scapaccio.” “Why?” asked Doon. “is what Garstone’s doing here.and back again. “he’s no friend of Command Haidra—and they’re no friends of ours.. Delizia did not reply—in fact. His dark eyes settled on the serene face of the unconscious doctor for a few moments.” “And after all. Command think he’s the next best thing to a lunatic—they wouldn’t release any substantial equipment to him or support the expedition in any tangible fashion.than a cohort of veich clansmen.. “Looking for buried treasure in the middle of the Syrene. the remark seemed to make him extremely uncomfortable. or so they say. was unconscious. and then he lay back. “Because we’re going that way anyhow.
.. WA R G A M E S | 4 9 . except the er’kresha. They may have sent Verdi over to gather preliminary information that the comsat spies can’t glean from outside the atmosphere. If the army did come to Azreon—for whatever reason—the niche that he had carved out for himself in Yerema’s organization would cease to exist. All the mercenaries. He would become a fugitive again—and Yerema with him. if there is anything to know. Command doesn’t like its troops to get bored. and there’s not likely to be. I think they just came to have a look around.” Silence fell while Remy pondered that possibility further. “It’s been a long time since the pacification. It’s possible that Command is planning a small war. no ship’s rested in orbit here—except the fortress—in the last seven years. They’ve been working on their own archaeological projects since they first arrived here. “What is there to know? No one goes there.” “Does it matter?” asked Doon. There’s been no opportunity to trade off units.” prompted Doon. It wouldn’t be worth the trouble. After a few minutes. however.. so Haidra looks set to become a permanent backwater.” “After us?” suggested Madoc. “The Calvar scholars will know. “There’s barely a dozen of us. They’re gathering intelligence. in fact. would have to retreat into the wilderness or face internment. The siocon shook his head. No.for sending men over here. “What do you know about the mountains in the Syrene?” he asked. he put the matter aside and turned to Iasus Fiemme. just to give the troops something to occupy their idle minds. A little game to keep everyone amused. Maybe they just want to know what the veich are up to on this side of the world.” “Or. It’s just possible that they’re planning to move in on Azreon—for no particular reason but to have something to do. at Ziarat and the surrounding territory. The war isn’t likely to swing back this way. In all probability.” Remy shrugged.
“we don’t find it easy to talk to the clansmen in their own language. “They’re no different. She kept looking at him.“Maybe not. “What do you do about the dust?” she called.” “High metallic content.” he answered. but his immediate reaction was always to keep his intentions to himself.” She looked at him sharply. “What’s it to you?” “In Omer. He turned his mount away from the other three. and began to move back along the column of wagons. “Probably poisonous. “Do you talk his language. and smiled in a slightly wolfish manner.” he replied.” she said. “Are you going to talk to the clansman?” “Maybe. and make you sick anyhow.” he told her.” he told her. “It’s vile stuff. He had no real reason for evading the question. “It’ll kill you if you eat enough of it.” he replied.” she said. He turned his mount to fall into step with her. then asked. She was wearing a yellow scarf tied around her mouth and nose—a highly inefficient substitute for the veil which he and all the other nonhumans wore.” said Remy. heading for the Calvar caravan. “So what does that make you? A clansman by adoption?” “In a way. 50 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . but kept his features rigid without effort. deliberately going no further. They live to keep us at a distance. keeping his voice low and his tone guarded. He was surprised. “What do you do for sex.” “No. He showed her how his own mask was secured. The rearmost wagon in Scapaccio’s group was being driven by Justina Magna. Get one of the soldiers to drive and stay inside—they’re paid to take risks. It’s their way of preserving some kind of superiority even while we rip them off. too?” “I know the language of the clans. I just wondered whether things were different here. Remy?” she demanded.” She made a dismissive gesture. who saw him approaching and waved him to a stop.
He’s anything but a pacifist. The sioconi aren’t built for it. where there was also green land. either—but I wouldn’t worry about it. Away to the east. the desert stretched to the horizon.“After all. however. There was a cool wind blowing from the east. Remy sheltered in the lean shadow of one of the wagons WA R G A M E S | 5 1 .” she said. “Scapaccio or Delizia? Or maybe Andros?” She laughed. Or has Ziarat got more exotic pleasures to offer?” Remy breathed out slowly. “I like a lot of choices. The same goes for Garstone—that he doesn’t approve of me. he turned his horse and rode away toward the other group of wagons. “I promise not to worry about that.” said Remy. A clanless veich cast out of her protectorate would sleep with anything I guess—especially something that could stand eyeto-eye with a Calvar clansman.” Abruptly. The soft grayish sand had been rippled by the wind into dunes. I think I do.” she replied. I mean. “Garstone doesn’t approve of you. so it must be the veich.” she said. “He doesn’t approve of me. and wherever it accumulated the grass took a firmer hold. “Who are you with?” he countered. the implied insult bouncing off without threatening her composure in the least.” “That’s all right. “Delizia’s a pacifist. though it was temporarily shielded from view by a tall ridge. pock-marked with patches of scrub and dappled with the dark green grass that was its most prolific vegetation. either. his voice relaxed and slow.” “That still leaves a lot of choices. capping the drifts with tangled tufts of spiky leaves. “you can’t have seen a human woman in ten years. ******* When they stopped for noonday the ribbon of green that marked the end of the Syrene was clearly visible in the south.” Remy pointed out.
The er’kresha move about in the wasteland without too much trouble.” “Why didn’t they just hit it with a particle beam. For the coastal regions it was different. There are two or three permanent water holes between Ziarat and the mountains. Not bombs—they just sowed the atmosphere with small particles.” “You mean that’s when the middle of the continent became a desert?” “That’s right. shading out the sunlight with opaque screens that covered the translucent plastic of the cupolas. and most of the hill country. “I know about the dust. “Can we cross it?” he asked. Virtually all of Scapaccio’s party had chosen to remain inside the wagons. and will give us all we need in order to get back again without dying of thirst. By the time we get into the heartland the rain should be due in the mountains.” “We think that Azreon was a casualty of the war. it couldn’t be reclaimed. He stopped beside Remy and glanced out toward the desert.” said Delizia slowly.” he said. that is. For thousands of years before that there wouldn’t even have been the grass. “If you want to. That’ll fill up the rivers that flow out of the range. the way 52 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . “I don’t. The cascarenes dusted the heartland of the continent with short half-life radioactives. “Tell me then. “The season’s about right for it.” said Remy. Nothing could live here then—nothing at all.” He nodded. But the Syrene is probably very little different today from its appearance twenty-five thousand years ago. The dust is bad. Once the soil was eroded to sand and dust. sidling along in the shadow.while he ate cold meat and crumbling dry bread and sipped water from his canteen. “The war between the mapirenes and the cascarenes. but Remy preferred the brightness of the sun to the stifling heat of the wagons.” said Remy. That’s how they took out the second mapirene base. He was about to roll out his bedding in order to take his rest when Ramon Delizia approached. though—the er’kresha are used to it but you’re not. This plain never recovered.
. “I thought we were winning the war against the veich. then we’d do so. “I didn’t think that it needed me any longer. “It’s gotten to the point where I couldn’t see much merit in the way it was being fought on Haidra. Slowly. “But we don’t know for sure.. Both species disappeared rather abruptly.but that’s not easy. “Is yours?” countered Delizia. “Ten years ago. We’re already busy tailoring plagues to kill veich without affecting humans.” agreed Remy.” Remy squinted up at the small man. You’ve seen Andros.” “We suspect that the cascarenes won it. “I’m WA R G A M E S | 5 3 .they smashed up the other?” asked Remy. “That’s a matter for pure conjecture. and then Delizia said. Their war had been going on for well over a thousand years.” There was a moment’s silence. we didn’t even know that.” “I take it that your own mentality isn’t very warlike?” said Remy.” he said. at our current rate of progress—and it’s escalating all the time. “Have they figured out who won the war yet?” asked Remy. you know how far the war mentality has progressed. remembering that Justina Magna had described him as a pacifist. Just the way our war with the veich looks like it’s going. If we could turn creatures like that out of factories by the billion. and I certainly didn’t need it. It could drag on for hundreds of years.” Delizia said. “We are. The supposition is that one side or the other finally threw aside all constraints and went in with everything they had left—some kind of doomsday maneuver. It thought I might do better on my own. in terms of our dating techniques. and the veich keep producing new technology that slows us down again. We keep looking around for a new advantage to press on a little harder. We don’t know why. because we’re too much alike physiologically.” replied Delizia. though. but the prevailing opinion is that the cascarenes finally wiped out the mapirenes in an all-out fight in which they took such heavy losses that they couldn’t recover.
in general.” said Remy casually. Remy had known him for years. He had already reached this conclusion. “You’d better get some sleep. when he wrenched open a crate of fruit with a crowbar and a spider had crawled out onto his hand. and had entered into the pacification as ruthlessly as any man of his rank.” said Delizia. Indeed. Through the brief war that followed the initial landings he had come unscathed. “It’s still a long way to Ziarat.” Remy didn’t reply. He had heard no more about the incident thereafter.branded as a kind of deserter myself. those odds somehow came to seem less impressively long. I scare easily.” Still Remy said nothing. he had seemed unusually cold-blooded in every aspect of his being. And what happens when the repression breaks down. and the confession was therefore unnecessary as well as illmannered. “I wonder how effective the training really is. Such things were known to happen. He had to be carried away. who had indeed broken down. It wasn’t even a particularly large spider. “Sometimes. Worse. A one-in-a-million chance. in a way. But his memory dutifully called forth images: images of a man named Pavese. The terror that had overwhelmed him had arrived quite without warning. but were known to be extremely rare. My training didn’t take—my phobic responses wouldn’t yield to suppression. when the images subsided. as Remy once had.” 54 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . and had never known him to show the least sign of fear of apprehension. But when you added up the total number of men in the army. foaming at the mouth. and never saw Pavese again.
“As you know.CHAPTER FIVE Yerema sat with his back stiff against the spine of his chair. He could imagine the thoughts that had run through the other man’s mind when the Calvars had told him of Yerema’s existence. Clan Syroleth had been charged with the defense of Haidra. It was a situation which the imagination of the other warrior must find almost intolerable. Clan Syroleth. “there is a relay station on one of the WA R G A M E S | 5 5 . asking for his help.” he said. even for himself. Mere days before he had been an officer aboard a veir battleship. in the eyes of this clansman from another world. over half of whom were sioconi. The visitor was wearing a black uniform trimmed with yellow—dress which contrasted strongly with Yerema’s white robe. and Haidra had fallen. Yet here was Yerema. His name was Zemak. but he should not have retained his clan identity. There was no longer any honorable work for a warrior clan on Haidra. holding protectorate over nearly a thousand men. Yerema was not honor-bound to die in defense of the world. the very quality of the light was alien to his eyes. and his clan was Cagiriama. There was a hostility in his eyes that he could not or would not completely hide. He had eaten hardly a mouthful and had sipped at his wine as if he believed that it might be drugged. should no longer exist. accepting Yerema’s hospitality. And yet the other was here. maintaining himself as a warrior. He clearly found his surroundings very strange: its scents were new to him. and the clan Syroleth should have been absorbed by the Calvars. looking into the eyes of his visitor.
in diplomatic terms. The Calvars have used it to transmit information regarding the activities of the humans on this world. Whatever message had brought Zemak here had been sent from Ziarat. the war still raged. but it does not matter if we fail—provided that we can relay a message by the same means that the Calvars used to summon us. that my friends had not warned me of your impending visit—nor have they acquainted me with the reason for it. undetected. as he knew full well. veich fighting men. Whoever had transmitted the information which had interested the military hierarchy sufficiently to cause them to dispatch Zemak on his mission had done so in secret. without consulting even the elders of his clan. Naturally enough. “I came with only three men. “I need more men.” “Of course. of course.outer satellites of this system capable of relaying messages sent from the surface. They had allies in Ziarat. but it had come initially from Omer.” said Zemak.” 56 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . and neither would he.” said Zemak.” said Yerema politely. I am told that you can supply them—trained fighting men. In Omer. though it rarely expressed itself in actual fighting. Whether we will escape undetected remains to be seen. the elders of the Calvar clan knew as little as he did.” “There are fighting men under my command. They are by nature discreet. of course. “I fear. however. the Calvars would not have admitted as much to Zemak. We were able to land in the hills to the east of Ziarat. I mean. The veich there were organized in their enmity to the humans. Haidra is considered unimportant and is not well guarded. Mercifully. “In the meantime. “We were forced to use a craft small enough to evade the surveillance of the human comsats.” “I knew this. but mostly among the younger members of clan Calvar—the elders played a different game. “We defend the Calvar caravans which carry goods across the wasteland.” agreed Yerema.” In fact.” acknowledged Yerema. and took what opportunities there were to express that enmity.
” conceded Yerema. There is no sign of this base on photographs taken from above. “It is possible that the war will return to this sector. it may well be in a state of preservation unparalleled by other mapirene sites in the known galaxy.” “This is a world of no importance. with a deprecatory gesture calculated to annoy his guest. and the human military establishment regards it as a matter of no importance. as seems likely.” said Zemak. “Deserters from the army in Omer. Apparently. the mapirene force on Azreon was destroyed by means of radioactive dust—dust which has.” Zemak plainly thought the subject unsuitable for discussion and dismissed the matter with a gesture. they have given hardly any support to the men who came here to investiWA R G A M E S | 5 7 . “The humans do not seem to be interested in the base—at least. of course.” “And you think—or your superiors think—that the information that might be recovered from the excavation of this site might be of considerable military value. our informant concluded that the base may well be virtually intact.” he said. But when combined with information which the Calvar scholars have.” “A few. More importantly.“It seems. If. “that there are also humans under your command. It seemed more sensible to take them under our wing than to make them into troublemakers. it is perhaps not insignificant. “No human must know what I am about to tell you. this means little.” said Yerema. and that Haidra will be at the heart of the greatest battle yet to be fought between our two races. there is no sign on such photographs that the region where the base was established has ever suffered extensive bombardment. it is underground. From this. In itself. with obvious distaste.” “There is that possibility. “Why should anyone fight to keep it?” “Intelligence has reached us that human archaeologists have found evidence that there was once a mapirene base on this continent.” Zemak confirmed. long since become inert. Two archaeologists have come to Haidra intending to discover the truth of this matter.
and his careful circumlocution was intentionally offensive. “So. “The world from which the archaeologist Scapaccio recovered the artifact from which he deduced the existence of the base was. But there is a reason. and we think that we understand more of the information that was recovered from that disc.” “Your evidence seems very slender.” Though there was not the faintest undue stress on the word “loyal. But we cannot take the risk of allowing the humans unchallenged access to the discovery. “I 58 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . “the war returns to Haidra in spite of everything. We cannot tell.” Zemak obviously did not intend to reveal anything further. Zemak did not trust Yerema. then there is something very important to be learned from that base.gate it. There are veir colonists there.” His pale eyes stared out at her from the mask of white fur. and even veir workmen on the site where the artifact was found. if there is a discovery to be made. If our interpretation of the information is correct. where he bade him farewell with all due ceremony before returning to the room where Valla was waiting.” commented Yerema. a world once controlled by the veich. He rose and accompanied his visitor to the door.” said Yerema quietly. “I will lead them myself. and wisely so. for thinking this a matter of some importance. That may be because they know less than we do—or it may be because they know more. like Haidra. It may be that they do not realize the significance of what they have.” replied the clansman of the Cagiriama. It may be that they are simply ignorant of the implication in question. believe me.” Yerema had no difficulty in appreciating the implied insult. There is no way that we can be certain—it may be that the humans have interpreted correctly while we are mistaken. “There is still need of loyal fighting men on Haidra.” “I thank you. We think that we know more about the mapirenes than the humans do. But Yerema had to concede that the other was merely showing good judgment.” she said as he sat down. “I will give you men.
Perhaps this base in the Syrene is nothing but a mirage. without anger or audible bitterness. he could not believe that. as Remy has?” After a moment’s silence..a figment of the imagination. As the group followed the zigzag path. created out of a poor interpretation of a message which has had thirty thousand years to rot away and change its meaning.and to Remy.. In here”—he tapped his chest above the heart—“the war is over. The gate was tall and solid. it is to Remy rather than to Zemak. You cannot keep Ziarat apart any longer. the wall even more so. “But how many of the clanless who acknowledge the protection of your name would follow you into betrayal?” “Betrayal?” he echoed. in a way. “to see that it does not. and now there are warriors from another world. will survive outside and beyond this stupid war. to the hope that something. “it would be wise to put no more trust in your own men than he puts in you.” “Nevertheless.” “It already has. somewhere. “And in the end.” she said.will do everything in my power..” Somehow. there is no war. They hid a small rectangular garden planted with flowering shrubs and herbs. somewhere.” Yerema nodded slowly..” he said. To the elders of the clan Calvar..” he said softly. If I owe my loyalty to anyone. ******* Remy led Scapaccio and his party through the gateway of his home. I will do that. must save something.but someone. We have new loyalties now. Both were rimmed with broken glass.” she said bluntly. In Ziarat. Remember that. walking WA R G A M E S | 5 9 . though. And. “There are humans in Azreon. “It is we who were betrayed. Can you understand that?” “I understand you. Perhaps we cannot save Ziarat.. he said. which was still filled with the scents of summer and the murmuring of countless insects. Or will you turn on your own people. “If it is necessary. “perhaps he will find nothing.” she replied.
straight-backed chairs and angular tables. There was little concession to luxury save in the purely decorative aspect of the internal arrangements. Remy instructed siocon servants to attend to the needs of his guests. which gave the whole edifice something of a pyramidal appearance. concealing the actual layout of the rooms—were very much in the style of veich furnishing. hanging upside down. After taking care of these details he returned to his own rooms to bathe and prepare for the first decent meal that he or his guests had faced in several days. the smaller second story sitting atop the first so that the outer edge of the first formed a narrow balcony running completely around the building. Inside the house the air was cool and carried a scent less obtrusive than that generated by the garden flowers. surrounded by a roof garden on top of the second story. When this was done he took Madoc aside and instructed him in the matter of getting a discreet message to Yerema explaining all that had happened. The outer walls were plastered and evenly whitewashed. The house itself was square in section. the hospitalization of Julian Melcart and the accommodation of Garstone’s soldiers. and so were the spare. and retired from the scene. The windows were glazed and protected by wooden shutters. Parts of the balcony were screened off by wooden lattices intimately interlaced with the slender stems of climbing plants whose bold red and yellow flowers seemed to grow from the wood itself. curtains and screens—which seemed to be everywhere. He asked that when Madoc had done this he then begin assembling a force consisting exclusively of human mercenaries to accompany Scapaccio’s expedition into the Syrene. Back in the street he gave detailed instructions to Doon and Iasus Fiemme Concerning the storage of the wagons.in single file. The lightweight doors. There was a small third story. The food served at Remy’s table was mostly the food preferred by the veich of Ziarat—local produce treated and prepared in 60 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . green-scaled lizards which clung to the branches of the bushes. they were watched by small. the stabling of the animals.
They have to concede us status because if they didn’t they couldn’t explain how we come to be fighting them on more or less even terms.” observed Scapaccio. “They are generous in their treatment of those who are essential to their affairs. it wasn’t too much of an extra step to get them to accept the notion of humans holding authority somewhere in between that of clansman and clanless. and they handled both their food and their language in a way which any veir clansman would have considered so alien as to be unworthy of the most degenerate of outcastes. and clever—but the veir military and social system is such that they can’t be promoted to any level of considerable responsibility.” Scapaccio followed up. Once Yerema got the Calvars and his own men used to the idea of fighting with humans rather than against them. but humans are different. You must be a rich man. in Ziarat’s terms. “You have a very fine home. In the veir world view. the notion of operating under the orders of sioconi would be intolerable.” “The Calvars control all the wealth in Ziarat and its protectorates. for the most part.” said Remy in a neutral voice. Because we’re at war with the veich—and for no other reason—we’re accorded the status of potential equals. They talked as they ate and drank. and in a curious fashion Scapaccio and Justina Magna seemed to exaggerate their mannerisms as if to express some spirit of rebellion against the pervasive veir influence. “Compared to what we saw beyond the city wall—and within it also—this is almost a palace. Only the etiquette followed by the participants in the meal differed sharply from the ways of the veich. It was much easier for me to become his second-in-command WA R G A M E S | 6 1 . They’re good men. Virtually all the veich in Yerema’s organization are clanless affiliates of the clan Syroleth who came here from Omer.imitation of the habits and traditions of the clans of the veir homeworld. Especially men who can give orders. “Exactly how are you essential?” “Trained fighting men are in short supply.” “That’s what I can’t understand. It’s not quite what I expected of a deserter who makes a living guarding veir trade caravans.
it seems to me that the Calvars aren’t very popular with the sioconi either. “The king has architects working to redesign the city’s sewage system.than it would have been for a clanless veir. and to the fact that the king is content to rest his own power base on Calvar money. The king isn’t popular either. Kings and merchants never are popular among the poor. In Ziarat. “Why?” asked Remy innocently. “They recognize necessity. we have a situation of continuing prog62 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . obviously interpreting the reply as a concession to her perspicacity. but that’s because they make convenient scapegoats for all the gossip and vilification that expresses their dissatisfactions. In fact.” The woman smiled. to our mutual benefit. Calvar methods and Calvar force of arms.” said Delizia. “I understand your popularity with the Calvars. Let’s say that we all manipulate one another.” he said.” “Just as much. Isn’t that right?” Remy’s reply was still quite bland and light. and the garden with the garish flowers really serves to produce a powerful olfactory sweetness to protect you from the smell of shit and corruption outside.” “So you are almost an honorary clansman?” put in Justina Magna. “In a generally improving situation. “But it seems to me that you aren’t so popular with the sioconi. Nevertheless.” “In brief.” “Somebody must be losing. “Acting under Calvar advice. Your house has a high wall intended to keep people out.” said Delizia. thanks to the Calvars. The Calvars aren’t popular with the mobs that haunt the alleyways. and then simply said. of course.” confirmed Remy.” she said. “But also just as little. “At least you are in the eyes of the clanless veich who take your orders. everybody can be improving his position. But what about the clansmen themselves? Do the Calvars afford you that kind of status? Do the Syroleths?” Remy looked at her for a few moments. any improvements in the condition of Ziarat’s poor that take place within the next few generations will be due to the Calvars. “he’s just as much a puppet of the veich as you are.
“I don’t know that the attractions would be quite so strong. I suppose the man who lost most was the king’s bastard brother. “She WA R G A M E S | 6 3 . “Though I doubt even that.” “The old guard of the siocon establishment have lost out. there might be very many more potential deserters. Even bastard brothers can be dangerous. Command Haidra wouldn’t like that. but Remy had no difficulty reading them as a threat. But in terms of power.” “Don’t take too much notice of Justina. paused long enough to say.” Scapaccio. Force of arms can’t set aside the fact that the veich are outnumbered a thousand to one by the sioconi. Perhaps the king has as much power now as he ever had. They were both corrupt and inefficient. The king was very glad when the Calvars offered him the opportunity to build up a personal bodyguard of trained veich. It didn’t seem to Remy that it was a particularly dangerous threat. If this were known in Omer. It still exists. He was the head man of Ziarat’s so-called army. from the king’s point of view.” put in Delizia. “If all the human deserters lived like this. “But that’s no bad thing except for them.ress. but mainly as a police force. especially if they run the army.” The words were lightly spoken. it would be different—but even a pack of jackals has only one leader. “This may be barbarian territory. Jero Yamba.” said Justina Magna.” said Justina Magna. but I can see the attractions it holds. But he’s no puppet. Yamba’s political influence has been drastically reduced—a good thing. with much better equipment than any possible gang of wouldbe usurpers.” conceded Remy. nor did it seem to be a particularly wise move on Scapaccio’s part to make it. taking wine in small sips from a thin glass. perhaps. but Remy registered it calmly and proceeded to ignore it. but he must have traded in the old set of supporters and advisers in favor of the new. someone must have lost the power the Calvars—and your organization of mercenaries—now hold.” “In terms of wealth. the Calvars live in Ziarat on sufferance.
” said Justina Magna dryly. or could not find the condition tolerable. throughout the known universe. represents rather crude thinking.” The woman didn’t reply to that. There’s no room for further ambition. There are no jackals in the Syrene. He was a pacifist. He’s content to pick over the bones of the kills which—for reasons outside his concern—litter his world. when they could find a kill to scavenge.” Delizia intervened. and he doesn’t have any enthusiasm for slaughter. “even Remy’s life must have become a little tedious. but her thought was easy enough to read in her silence. In reality. All carnivores are.” he said. can he? You can’t become a siocon king and you can’t become a veir clansman—so you’re just about at the top of your own particular tree. you know. There’s no need to despise a scavenger.” said the woman. “My priority isn’t power—it’s survival. implying that he understood perfectly. “Of course.” “Naturally. the Edenic serpent of modern man’s 6 4 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . lions were scavengers too. aren’t you?” She had begun by addressing her remarks to the company in general. He doesn’t take too many risks. He picked up his own wine glass and took a sip before replying. I think I could find the jackal an admirable creature. “A jackal has to think like that—or how could he tolerate being a jackal?” “The same argument applies in reverse. excessively and neurotically vulnerable to fear.delights in being provocative. Maybe it’s the lion we should despise—or the metaphor lion that you seem to be opposing to the metaphor jackal. “A lion has to think like a lion. in my view. and to choose to do so. Delizia would think like that.” Remy inclined his head briefly. is there? The leader of the jackal pack can’t aspire to be a lion. He was also subhuman. but if I understand the implications of the word correctly. These proverbial myths of old Earth aren’t entirely to be trusted. but she ended by shooting the question directly at Remy. “I’m not an ambitious man.
” “Silence is worth something. and the situation you’ve made for yourself. Command Haidra might not give a damn about me. reverting to the mode of oblique threat that he had adopted earlier. “Are you afraid that we might open up a road that others may want to follow?” “Would it matter if I did?” countered Remy.” replied Scapaccio. “I’m not sure myself exactly how much. That goal may not be entirely out of reach. “No. I don’t want anyone else hurt. of course. if possible. Now that I do. It was Scapaccio who took up the conversation again. but if its army units start disappearing they’ll investigate.revamped creation myth. isn’t it? I can offer to refrain from turning in a report to Command Haidra about your presence here.” “Are you afraid that I might turn on you and kill you all?” asked Remy. “Because you know and I know that you wouldn’t get away with it. Mr.” “Pigs might fly. I’d like this whole affair to pass by without incident. I begin to wonder about your motives in offering to help us. I didn’t realize before just how much you might have to lose.” agreed Remy. It seems to me that I’m in a position to offer you a little more than I thought. Remy?” he asked. “By helping us—guiding us through the desert to our destination—you might be contributing to the downfall of your own little war game here in Ziarat. “Do you see us as a threat. No—I was thinking about the matter of your fee for guiding us. All that I’ve put out over the radio is a series of token checks which no one at Command will bother to take the least notice of.” WA R G A M E S | 6 5 . I haven’t made any such report so far.” said Delizia “there’s a world where they do.” observed Justina Magna. “Somewhere. and I want Command Haidra to continue ignoring Azreon in general and Ziarat in particular. and that’s worth something. I can offer you silence. I’d like you to see what you came here to see and then go home quietly.
between them.” said Scapaccio. “That really was a wonderful meal.” All three of his guests were watching him closely now. I’ll survive. as if the whole argument were of no concern to him. “My house is yours. but don’t go outside the gate without my arranging for a proper escort.” said Remy plainly. As I said. That could be dangerous. but both Scapaccio and Justina Magna seemed grateful that their companion had dispelled the tension which. which Delizia broke with calculated casualness.” he said.“The problem is. It will no longer be a refuge from the war for deserters from Command Haidra. and the value of your silence. they had injected into the situation.” He made a small mock bow and then left the room. by all means. still sipping his wine continually whenever he was not actually speaking. Just one thing more—you overestimate the value I put on my position here.” There was a moment’s silence.” he said. “There’s no point in my explaining my motives. most humans are less than popular with the people of the streets. I have to cooperate with you because I have no alternative. “Yes. “that if we do find what we’re looking for. And you have to cooperate with me because you have none. As you pointed out. I’m confident of that. there will be other humans coming to Azreon in considerable numbers.” “It’s a big continent. “You couldn’t trust them any more than you presently trust me. But let me put it this way. No one bothered to echo the artificial sentiment. Whatever happens.” said Remy. who obviously wanted to drag the obvious out into the open where everyone could see it. “Are you still prepared to guide us across the desert?” asked Scapaccio. 66 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . with only the merest hint of irony. “I am. It would be a mistake for you to overestimate the hold that you have over me.” he added. my priority is survival. Remy rose to his feet. Enjoy the gardens. “until we leave for the heartland of the Syrene.
“he may be more useful to us than he thinks.he’s at least a wolf.” she replied. her voice neutral enough as she invoked the symbol of forbidden fear. “Nevertheless.” said Scapaccio.When he had gone. catching Delizia’s eyes with his own. “He’s no jackal. Ramon Delizia turned to Justina Magna and said.” WA R G A M E S | 6 7 ...” “He may even be a snake.
He did not open his eyes.” she said quickly. and he had clutched them close for warmth. nor did he move a muscle. but because he could not quite believe it. but hesitated even before he heard the hiss of the other’s alarmed voice. on the floor and tangled in the woolen cloth. “Valla?” he said—not because he did not know. conscious that someone was in the room. and knew that he could not get clear of them. His right arm snaked out to take the gun that rested in a niche cut into the side of the table beside his bed. He waited until the presence was close and then rolled from the bed. and in preparing for action he did not tense himself for a killing blow. and he lowered the gun. in an urgent whisper. No one else can. He regretted the unseemly position into which he had thrown himself. in the language of the clanless. and 68 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D .CHAPTER SIX Remy woke. but tried to measure by sound alone the position of the intruder and the direction of his movement. even here. “No one else could be trusted.” He slowly pulled himself out of the tangled bedclothes. He opened his eyes to judge the shadow of the intruder and leveled the gun. threequarters naked. With so many strangers in the house he did not leap to any conclusion about the probable identity of the unexpected visitor. “No!” she said. “It was necessary. He made no attempt to disentangle himself from his blankets—it was the cold of the night.
resting his back against the wooden headboard. Of the clanless who have accepted allegiance to Syroleth.” Remy felt his flesh creep as the cold raised gooseflesh on his arms and shoulders. she was in disguise. They have demanded help from the Calvars and from clan Syroleth.” Remy sat down on the bed and swung his legs up onto the mattress. in a low.fumbled for the matches that lay beside the candle on the table. Effectively. of the Cagiriama. The Calvars have said nothing. “My father cannot come to you. though the elders may shield him. He may have information the humans do not have—but he cannot be sure. Zemak has been sent here to find out what the humans discover. One clansman. still feeds information back to the war zone. and perhaps for us. most will be loyal—but some will not. “Because of the humans?” he asked.” she said. for now. and to relay back a message should the discovery be of any military importance. There is danger—for you. “He knows about the human expedition into the Syrene. and have not asked the vital questions. Everything is at stake. They do not understand Yerema’s position. He saw that she was also dressed in shirt and trousers. “They are not the only visitors to Ziarat. Valla WA R G A M E S | 6 9 . here and on other worlds. and cannot speak of you. He seems to believe that it will be. The veir intelligence network. The Cagiriama clansman threatens everything. but they are protecting their own honor. thinking that he could easily guess.” “What does he want?” asked Remy.” she said. with a leather belt at her waist like that worn by veich warriors. especially our life here. though he is uncertain. in dull colors. “Veir warriors are also here. but she also carried no insignia of clan or status. rapid tone. Yerema cannot trust them. They used moon shadow to evade the comsats in an unarmed spy vessel. “You must not come to his house. Yerema must disown you. She carried no weapons. three clanless warriors. Valla waited silently while he lit the candle and put on his shirt.
“Whatever the circumstances. “I would not act against Yerema. When you take the humans into the Syrene. We will try to select men who will remain loyal to Yerema no matter what. “If the war returns to Haidra.took the chair from the desk in the corner of the room and brought it to the edge of the bed. Yerema had been betrayed by his brothers of clan Syroleth. I will defend him with my life.” He knew as he said it that this was clumsily expressed. as would a clan brother. with her elbows resting on her knees. and also on the er’kresha who are already at large in the Syrene. that I swear. They had tried to make him recant. If necessary.” she told him. but Remy knew. Even the Calvars did not know the whole truth of the matter. he had betrayed them.” “That goes for all of us—so what does Yerema intend to do?” “For the time being. we will take perhaps ten or twelve veich. because Remy was an alien and could think the unthinkable without effort. 70 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . for the Cagiriama clansman it must be unthinkable. It may be that we will not have to take action—that depends on what the two parties find. For a veir. we will follow. it was on the very margin of the unthinkable—indeed. he will act against his own kind rather than acting against you. in their eyes. She sat down. You and he must decide what to do. and as a member of a warrior clan he had dishonored himself in the sight of his kin. “we will do what is asked of us. There could be no more telling evidence of just how far Yerema had been alienated from his clan and his race in the years before the war came to Haidra. You will take a force just large enough to outnumber the soldiers.” Remy had no difficulty in appreciating the commitment contained within that final sentence. leaning forward slightly. “What does Yerema intend to do?” asked Remy softly. though some of the elders must know nearly all. and had the war not come they would have killed him. By opposing the war he had made himself a heretic.” she said. “we lose everything. Yerema had been able to tell Remy.” said Remy quietly. Yerema will meet you during the journey and again when we reach our destination.
“I think. There was. There was something which they genuinely did have in common with one another that they had not found in any other man of any race.” Remy stared at her. slowly. “that you once saved his life. as if she were trying hard to add no endorsement to what she said. a marriage between his daughter and Remy might serve the purpose of declaring openly his concession of clan status to the human. feelings and values of their own kind.” “It’s true. It wasn’t the time to explain that the incident was not the cause of Yerema’s attitude toward him. Yerema. “that my father would like me to marry you. it would be as bad—and it could not be worse—as marrying one of the clanless. In a crude sense. perhaps.” Her tone was colorless. but the clansman: the inheritor. could have described it. would be for her to marry a Calvar. In their eyes. “It is said.” said the girl. The natural thing to happen to Valla. “In my father’s eyes. however. and failing. that incident and Yerema’s attitude had a common cause. more to the rapport between them than such a crude analysis could reveal. and had found imaginary kinship with other aliens.What Remy was trying to say was that he accepted the responsibilities with regard to Yerema that his erstwhile clan brothers had denied him. easily taking the implication.” He let it go at that. Remy could not. “I did—once. trying to divine her own opinion of the matter. she was saying he was not merely a clansman. Indeed. and one far less easy to spell out.” Valla murmured. In Yerema’s eyes. To be more than a brother was to be a son. He could only hope that Valla would understand. Remy bit his lip. WA R G A M E S | 7 1 . Both felt themselves alien. “you are more than a clan brother.” answered Remy. In Yerema’s eyes. as a female member of the almost extinct clan Syroleth. Yerema and Remy both felt themselves to be remote from the affairs. he lacked the words. but it would not be easy for Yerema to persuade the Calvars to accept that view. and become part of the merchant clan.” said Valla.
It could also be argued that it was the words and the concepts which created and shaped the reality. veich and veich. but 72 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . true.” she countered. and that without proper terms in translation any union between human and veir must necessarily be anomalous and alien. where conquest had mixed the races. and that there was some essential reality which applied to all relationships between humans and humans. acknowledging the truth of her statement. and made a move toward the door. It might be argued that the words made little difference. of course. He stood up quickly. “It would be necessary for you to agree before he would speak such a thought aloud. The sioconi were ill-adapted for sexual intercourse with humans or with veich. Justina Magna’s words came back to him—the remark she had made about his having to rely on clanless veir women for sexual release. would not have spoken the thought aloud. either in the language of the clans or in that of the clanless. switching for the first time into the language of the clans. Sexual attraction was possible between human and veir. but to talk of marriage was to talk of something else. as yet. and could be mutual. and probably even on worlds so far untouched by the war. and were described frequently in terms that had no precise parallels in any human language that Remy knew. The veir had no concept precisely analogous to love.” she said. Their relationships were locked together by loyalty and responsibility. He was silent because he did not know what to say. knowing that Yerema. he wondered if Justina Magna had ever slept with a veir man. in veir terms. He did not even know. He inclined his head slightly. He did not know whether she could take the implication from the gesture.Strangely. Idly. “And for you. “I must go now. It was the kind of thing that featured very frequently in obscenely humorous anecdotes on all worlds like Haidra. He could not be sure of the significance of the shift.” said Remy. and humans and veich. At least half the humans in Ziarat were married to veir women. what there was to be said. It was.
He could not have spelled out all his reasons. twisted and pushed. The routine was geared to involve all the muscles of the body. and it seemed to him that new hope was welcome. and avoided the conclusion until he was sure. He lay back without extinguishing the candle and stared for a while at the flickering play of its light upon the bare ceiling. his long legs stretched out before him. and he did not see how she negotiated the high wall. It was intended to try the muscles both individually and collectively. Remy went back to the bed and slowly removed his shirt. want to marry Valla. The possibility seemed to him to represent a kind of hope. dusty flagstones. He had seen the program through a dozen times before. Here. but still it fascinated him. By the light of the lantern that hung from a hook on the inside of the stable door he watched Andros exercising on the cold. great and small. and which would very probably bring the war to Azreon. is man aspiring to the condition of WA R G A M E S | 7 3 . No wall was adequate to keep out the nimble thieves of Ziarat.she pointed with a slender finger at the window. he stood back and watched her lower herself onto the narrow balcony and then swing herself out onto one of the trellises. in fact. which stood ajar and unshuttered. No doubt the problem gave her little trouble—the wall was symbolic rather than a genuine barrier. ******* Garstone sat on the wooden floor of the wagon. Shrugging his shoulders. but he was sure. Andros turned. thought Garstone. She disappeared into the night. apparently without tiring although the effort he put into his work was obvious in the sweat which stood out from his naked skin. easily clambering down into the garden. There were few enough avenues to hope in the deadly game that he had joined. He stalked the issue carefully. It took him perhaps half an hour to decide that he did. testing their strength and their powers of coordination. his elbow resting lightly on the tailboard.
when you come right down to it. “Love is a particularly negligent kind of self-indulgence. Each joint is checked and double-checked for perfect articulation. There is a sense in which it is all quite selfless. but somehow that served to bring out the malice in the words all the more clearly. after all. breathing deeply to recover his composure. You could never possess my augmented eyesight or my speed.” “Self-development can become indulgent too. but any human can aspire to the optimization of his own abilities. we don’t love ourselves enough. it also speaks of an acutely developed sense of self.” admitted Garstone. Each system is checked and double-checked for perfect transmission of information and initiation of action. To fail in this is a curious kind of weakness. and you will not train your musculature into its optimum condition. the very paradigm of humanity. When the optiman finished. “We don’t care enough about ourselves. for while it is happening his very consciousness seems to lie dormant. for the one thing that cannot be doubted is the fact that optimen care about their bodies sufficiently to keep them in the best possible order. You are a big man—very strong. switched into the lowest possible gear.” “That’s true. speaking lazily and with the air of a man who is saying nothing of any consequence. he squatted on the floor. Each component is checked and double-checked for performance and tensile strength.” “Perhaps too much.the machine. “you would be stronger and healthier. Our ancestors play the heroic role in thousands of works of art 74 | BR I A N STA BL E FOR D .” he observed.” There was no trace of hostility in his tone. Maybe. But you carry too much fat. “If you were to do something like this. He saw Garstone watching him and met the sergeant’s eyes. One of nature’s optimen.” said the optiman. still breathing deeply and smoothly.” answered Andros. “I find it difficult to understand why humans consider us to be so inhuman. “Especially when it becomes a fetishistic—like neurotic washing of the hands. And yet.” answered Garstone. “We are. whereas humans—quite simply—don’t.
“But there’s no paradox about it. when they appear? Will they be more alien than their makers. is there?” asked Garstone. by and large. as a temporary relief from reality. almost by necessity. in time.” said Garstone. “Through them.. “Despite your being sterile. There’s no WA R G A M E S | 7 5 .. You will get used to us. and just as matter out of place becomes dirt. We work for the same ends. So. The enemy are the veich and.” said Andros gently.produced in tens of thousands of years. or less?” “Tell me. “perhaps even that.” said Garstone. “How do you feel?” “Your kind will learn to accept us. Optimen.” “Many humans feel that we should never have been created. Do you?” “I don’t know. You’re out of place. we’re on the same side.” said Garstone idly. the veich optimen. But to look upon someone else who has no failings is something different. “do you find humans alien? Or are you so inhuman that you don’t have our petty prejudices— inhuman enough to regard us with benevolence and love as your immediate kindred?” “It would be a neat paradox. not your kind in general—detest my kind so strongly? Jealousy?” Garstone shrugged his shoulders.” said Garstone. because we aren’t enemies. “Of course. That’s pleasant. “no matter how much we can contribute to the war.” “Is that why you—I mean you in particular.” said Garstone. so mind and body out of place become. “Humans. “Yes.” “And what about the veir optimen. hate optimen. we can imagine ourselves without our failings. despise humans.” “Some of our women already find you irresistible. Why is it that you find the idea so appealing and the reality so appalling?” “Works of art are products of the imagination.” “More alien than the veich?” challenged the optiman.alien.” said Andros. or less? Will they be more alien than my kind. despite the way we react to one another. It’s because you bring an image out of the realm of the imagination and into the real world that you are so monstrous. And yet. we accept one another.
After all. any more than you can be afraid of us. we can’t be afraid of you. We’re above all that. aren’t we?” Andros came slowly to his feet.other possible basis for our dislike. “it doesn’t explain why the dislike is so dramatically mutual. brushing the dust from his haunches. Garstone turned his head to look at the rim of the wagon’s cupola as it arched across the rear aperture.” 76 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . “Of course.” he murmured to himself. He nodded to Garstone in acknowledgment of the last statement and then turned to walk away into the darkness beyond the gleam of the lamplight.
it has water all year round. used information gathered by various travelers in and around the Syrene.” Scapaccio pointed to a ring marked on his own map. The uncertainty starts when we begin to contemplate getting back.” said Remy. with a moderately large mountain growing right out of the middle. our information also runs out. “That’s a lake. prepared by Calvar scholars. Where our supplies come under threat. It’s low. Remy and Scapaccio began the task of integrating their maps. Scapaccio’s were based on information gathered photographically by the human comsats. when everyone had risen and eaten. as we approach the central mountains.CHAPTER SEVEN In the dark of the morning. though the gullies which carry water in and out when it’s at its largest all dry up. During the wet season it drains all those slopes and extends to a size such that its least diameter is more than a thousand meters—that’s the distance from the central island to the shore on either side. getting there is no problem. In the dry season it shrinks dramatically. and were topographically sounder. Remy’s maps. though they lacked something in terms of practical details concerning the likelihood of finding water in various locations where it was occasionally to be found. surrounded by ridges. “The main problem.” he said. “is that we can carry adequate supplies of water across the terrain about which we have reasonable information. “According to my information. We should WA R G A M E S | 7 7 . not including the island itself. To put it another way. but it doesn’t disappear.
Where’s the base that you’re looking for?” “As near as we can judge. “its location coincides almost exactly with the location of the lake. but rumor has it there’s a lot of warriors out there now. “That only leaves one awkward problem.” he said. If you want to get to your base.” “What’s that?” “Er’kresha. It’s not exactly a reasonable way to look at things. That makes sense. We can take care of that. Not only that.. We’ll have to buy those today.” replied Scapaccio. They don’t make a permanent home in the hills. The problem is getting to it. They aren’t going to like our being there. We presume that it’s mostly underground—whatever was left above ground must have been weathered away a long time ago. And I want to rig up better protection for the entrances to your wagons. Nothing shows on the comsat pictures except a few rectangular traces on the surrounding ridges that could easily be coincidental.find water there even if the rains are delayed.or go thirsty for a couple of days. I don’t know how many. before we get up into the hills. we have to keep the dust out as much as possible.” “Will they give us trouble?” “Undoubtedly. They regard that range as their territory. but they’re going to look upon our going there as a violation.” Remy nodded again. then we’re going to have to fight them. “Maybe not entirely in comfort. “All right. We may have to use masks rather than the veils when we’re crossing the worst of the dustlands. of course. but I do know one thing—if that lake’s the chief source of water they won’t be far away from it.. “We should be able to do it. We’ll have to renew our supplies somewhere in this region here.” 78 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . and you can’t ride around with them open the way we were able to do on the road from Pir.” Remy began to trace a route with his eye which would take in the farthest oasis that he knew about. but rumor also has it that they’re getting unusually excited lately because of some kind of religious revival among the tribes. but safely. too.” he said.
and you’ll need a new one to play before you’re very much older. But you don’t seem to care much about that.” Scapaccio pondered the matter for a few moments and then said. and Scapaccio stared back. You don’t feel particularly protective toward us?” “I don’t want the er’kresha getting hold of your weapons.” said Remy. You may be in trouble with Command Haidra.” replied Remy.” said Scapaccio. without help from Command Haidra. do you?” His tone was mildly insulting. Your little game here is nearly over. How would you feel about that?” Remy leaned across the table to put his finger on the small WA R G A M E S | 7 9 .” said Remy calmly.” “That’s right.” “I presume that this apparent altruism is only apparent. “Yes. “You’ve known about the savages for some time.” “So I assumed. We can both get what we want. “if you and I can cooperate in this matter to the full. “You seem to be bent on playing a lone hand.” “No. but in a larger context Command Haidra is extremely unimportant. “I want to reach it very much indeed. In fact. “And yet you’re ready and willing to take us into the Syrene. Maybe you haven’t told them everything you know—maybe you haven’t told anyone everything you know. they’re going to hit the land around Ziarat—and it’s going to be my job to defend it.Remy looked steadily into Scapaccio’s face as he said all this. I take it?” he said. When they come out of the Syrene.” “Mr. Remy. I think that you might be useful—to me. “The others wouldn’t like it much if they knew that I was knowingly leading them into this kind of danger. I don’t take too kindly to the idea of the er’kresha gathering force at all.” said Scapaccio. “I want to reach that base. there might well come a time when I’m in a position to help you. I’d like the chance to break up the party—and you have every reason to help me do it. “they wouldn’t. knowing that we might face the prospect of an attack.
He removed his finger from the map. as you say. the sioconi once believed that the blood of the sun flowed from the sky to the soil in the moment 80 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . That. both had gone out into the city.” he said. but only Delizia was waiting for him. During those few minutes the sun’s light turned the eastern horizon into a great blood-colored ribbon: a gigantic wound separating earth and heaven. Although the city was more than a hundred and fifty kilometers from the edge of the desert. thought Remy.” Remy grinned. there was still a thin curtain of dust-laden air between sun and city in the few moments that it took for the solar orb to become visible as a semicircle resting on the horizon. “In Ziarat. Remy and Delizia watched the display in silence. But he said nothing.” “In which case. Remy said. “I’ll contact Doon and Madoc. On the other hand. if the veich know it too. Due east of Ziarat was the southern part of the Syrene. was a pity. If Scapaccio could keep his cards hidden. where the dust never settled even when the air was perfectly still. spreading from a glistening scarlet core. it may be no bloody secret at all.. When it was over. “we’ll scatter your bandits and you can return here with your job done. “Nothing at all.” said Scapaccio.” he said. he thought.circle which Scapaccio claimed was a lake.. “There might be nothing there. They would not get the full benefit of sunrise from the level of the streets. “All right. be nothing at all. so could Remy. he went up to the roof garden to watch the dawn.” And on the other hand. and they can start getting in supplies to fit us out for a long trek across the desert. Scapaccio shook his head.. “It may. He had invited all his guests to be there. Justina Magna and Scapaccio had other things on their minds. Apparently. “I don’t suppose you’d consider telling me what it is you’re keeping secret?” he said.” ******* Later.
and Remy paused. the temples. “Why?” “I’d like to know why you’re here.” From their vantage point Remy and Delizia could see the upper parts of the great buildings of Ziarat—the houses of the rich. turned the patchwork of bare walls into a series of building blocks drifting in a living sea. Not many people desert the army—not many people can even conceive of there being any kind of life outside the army.” “You didn’t know what you were coming to when you deserted.” “Haven’t we already been through that? Was it you or Scapaccio who said that now he’d seen my home he understood how much I have to lose? Here. but Delizia half-turned and reached out a hand as if to restrain him. In the army I was nothing—like one of the motes in that cloud of dust that turned the horizon into a river of blood. Only the streets were invisible. until that point. to make the land fertile and to give strength to the arms and hearts of men—who had. of course. now that the light of day made them bright. but the message was clear enough. They know better now. He did not actually touch Remy’s arm. The colored flowers.” said Delizia.” “I knew what I was leaving behind. floating without support. been senseless lumps of shaped clay. Whatever the faults of WA R G A M E S | 8 1 . with flat roofs testifying to the dryness of the climate and decks of heavily scented blooms testifying to the need to hold at bay the stink of the streets. Mostly they were built in the same style as Remy’s house. Remy turned to go indoors again. their squalor and their dirt. the theaters and the palace itself. That’s a pretty drastic step. “I’d like to talk to you. The upper stories seemed to be suspended. and the inexhaustible host of the poor. I’m a wealthy and powerful man. with their low-slung shanties of wood and cloth. your sense of purpose.of creation. You were leaving behind the identity that the army trained into you.” “You were leaving behind your humanity.
“So what?” he added.” “I didn’t look at it that way at the time. giving him a role within an endeavor of vast importance. black and white. “I’m fascinated by the way in which it shapes our consciousness of the universe in which we find ourselves and controls our attitudes to it—the war as mythology. in every meaningful way. between good and evil.or perhaps I should say theirs. a stake in the survival of his world and his species. You found it possible to join a mercenary army run by veich for veich. so I opted out. The war has given us all a thoroughly Manichean view of the universe. It gives every man alive a sense of purpose.” he said. if you want to put it that way.” He broke the multifloreted head from the stem of a flowering plant close to his right hand. it does serve certain human ends. “I’m accusing you of being anti-war. still hold power. “I just got sick of being and doing what the army made me be and do.” said Remy.. “At least.” “You found it possible to live in a country where the veich. I didn’t bother to weigh up the philosophical implications. I never have. “I’m fascinated by the war.the war may be. “So I’m anti-war. It binds the human race into a single cultural unit—something that would be impossible for an interstellar civilization that wasn’t at war. Don’t you feel that that testifies to a certain failure in your conditioning?” “What are you trying to prove?” asked Remy. It’s not something that can be thrown away lightly. and were already swarming with tiny winged insects though the air was still quite cold. The florets were yellow. human and veich. a battle for the soul and spirit of man in which courage struggles endlessly against the fear which we have supposedly conquered but which still threatens to rise again from its dark prison to release pandemo82 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D .” said Delizia. We see life itself as a continuing battle between opposing forces.. and makes us see things in terms of polar oppositions. I’m anti your war.” said Delizia.” Remy shrugged. “That I’m like you?” “I’m not accusing you of feeling fear.
but in the sense of exterminating it from our very being.nium within the sacred halls of consciousness. The patterns of evolution are spectacularly similar.” he said.” he said. “Metaphysics.” replied Delizia. On the basis of our discoveries to date we calculate that there may be as many as six million in this galaxy—six million worlds not very different from the one we’re standing on now. perhaps above all else. in time. wondering whether to leave the little man to babble to himself.. “It’s a little too metaphysical for me. but then stayed. Not just in the trivial sense. and everything coherent and meaningful simply vanishes into vapor.” said Delizia. there’s nothing more in life than what we see and do. That’s why I’m interested in you. motioning perfunctorily toward the sky.” said Delizia. Remy. whose blue was slowly brightening. The war controls the way we act and the way we see. chemically speaking. Without it. but I think that you may. On every one of those worlds there are nucleic acid molecules coding for life forms very little different from those we find on Earth. On every one of those worlds there is life. We know of some thirtyfive or forty thousand.. “It will do you no harm to listen. It is important. All life on those worlds is related. “I’ve no time for this. “are millions of sol-type suns with Earth-like planets.and what interests me. “Out there. “is the one thing that really matters. if you count the second-hand knowledge we’ve acquired from the veich. relaxing against the barrier rail that ran around the outside of the garden. WA R G A M E S | 8 3 . “Wait.” Remy hesitated. You may not see the relevance now. I’d like to know just how far you’ve managed to escape your conditioning. is the possibility of winning free of it. at least to me.” Remy made a dismissive gesture and hurled the flower-head out into space so that it fluttered down beyond the lower balcony to fall into a bush in the garden below. I just want to explain something—something which I think is important.” Remy scowled. of overcoming the way in which it makes us see ourselves and the cosmos as the foci of eternal conflict.
has its own sequence of evolutionary development and things happen within it in a fairly ordered way. only means that the average age difference is to be calculated in terms of hundreds of millions of years. which specifies that in every independent evolutionary sequence on worlds with Earthlike orbits. it’s possible that only certain types of organism are efficient. we find no worlds on which the evolutionary story is just beginning. the possible range of their environments and the liquidity of water. organisms based on DNA and RNA had to emerge. And yet. Even in terms of the time scale of evolving life.We’re familiar with that fact now—so familiar that we’ve almost forgotten what an incredible fact it is. and there is no other way that evolution can happen. that there are certain viable structures and combinations of structures which also have to emerge and follow similar patterns of competition and adaptation. that topples the hypothesis over the edge into impossibility. Maybe the differences which we see between the life systems we know about. and between the organisms which occupy similar niches. “Most of the sol-type planetary systems in the galaxy are about the same age—the galaxy. All that seems to me to be the most monstrous chain of coincidences imaginable. Perhaps there is but one stable pattern for carbon-based life. There’s one more factor. and none where it has reached a stage that we can identify as being tens of millions of years ahead of the present stage of the pattern as we see it on Earth. “It might be that out of all the chemical compounds of carbon that exist only a few are capable of functioning as coding molecules in genetic systems. are the only differences that can exist. and that’s the time factor. But ‘about the same age. but let’s concede it a not-quite-negligible probability. Perhaps there is a curious chemical determinism at work. as an entity. In addition. The difference between the most advanced worlds and the least advanced can be measured in terms of changes whose time scale 84 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . though.’ in terms of the lifetime of a star. a hundred million years is a long time. given the physical composition of the worlds.
“All this may be true. “but I don’t see how it can or should affect the way we lead our lives. because we don’t know how much concession to make to the tyranny of adaptive destiny. designed to be persuasive and couched in flowing rhetoric. if we and the veich disappear as they did. He had been used to hearing such speculative notions as part of an intellectual game played purely for amusement. maybe a third when the ancestors of the lemuroid races and less-favored primates were introduced. privately.is hundreds of thousands of years—three orders of magnitude short. For himself. up to and including the intelligent lemuroids. There are thousands of candidates to become the next space-faring races.thousands which would be ready to step into our shoes after a time lapse of twenty or thirty thousand years. Nobody knows. Perhaps we are a phase in a process which leads on to something else. was seeded. Maybe it was seeded once. But we do know—for certain—that the galaxy was seeded. But we are. Somebody created us. “Those three orders of magnitude are the proof—to any reasonable mind—that the galaxy. He admitted. though never in such an urgently polemical form. in potential.. Remy—which is not to say that we lemuroids represent the planned end product of the seeding. but he was suspicious of it simply because it was a case. the coherency of Delizia’s case.. he could not see how the case could be proved one way or the other—nor could he see how it mattered. perhaps less. So far as we know. nevertheless. and that we are the results of that seeding. We don’t know how many times it was seeded. with protistan organisms which contained the entire evolutionary story.” “Any theologian of the first or second millennium would be WA R G A M E S | 8 5 . Perhaps we are a mere by-product. one way or the other.” he said.” Remy had heard the arguments before. there were no space-faring lemuroid races before the mapirenes and the cascarenes. or at least the fraction of it that we call known space. a consequence of someone else’s planning. Maybe there was a second seeding at the time of the first vertebrates.
but we do know. now. But the fact that we do not know the answers to these questions should not be allowed to obscure the fact that we do know. We don’t know who seeded the galaxy— aliens living beyond the core. because no one can possibly argue that the answers are irrelevant to us. perhaps it constitutes some vast experiment in which the whole galaxy has become a laboratory.” said Remy. If you were to tell me the answer now. There could be no more profound intellectual revolution than the discovery of the purpose for which the seeders spread a special kind of life across the galaxy. Nor do we know what their purpose was. the original lemuroids. “And if I could. We do not know the purpose of the creation.” “We can’t. not the survival of any political or racial collective. it might be interesting—it might even evoke some kind of emotional response—but it wouldn’t affect the state of affairs in Ziarat in the least.” “But I can’t answer that question. The knowledge that those questions are there to be answered is a challenge that we cannot ignore. “But there are nevertheless real implications. but we do know.” said Delizia. that there was a creator. that the questions are real. infer from the evidence any particular theological system. Such a discovery would tell us exactly what place we occupy in the universe we inhabit. “I can’t. Perhaps the operation constitutes a kind of colonization not too different from the movement we initiated in the time of the diaspora. in their terms—and you cannot see that it can or should affect you in your daily life?” “No.” Delizia went on.horrified to hear you say that. I don’t believe that metaphysical anxieties and states of spiritual crisis are conducive to survival—and I’m talking about my survival. now. and that they are in principle answerable. “Here we have an empirically based scientific theory which clearly testifies to the existence of a being or beings responsible for our creation—a god. 86 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . here and now. of course. that it was purposive. beyond the shadow of a doubt.” said Remy calmly. I’d still have to live my own life here on Haidra. visitors from another galaxy. We do not know the identity of our creator.
You’re an archaeologist. That’s all there is to it. “I think I can show you that the questions which interest me are. To you. Delizia. most of whom hate me and many of whom want to manipulate me as some kind of expendable instrument. relevant to the problem of your continued personal survival. They may. indeed. accepting momentary defeat. and in your ordinary life you’re dealing. But I’m a fighting man—a mercenary soldier. and muttered in a barely audible tone. “I doubt it. and making a living in a city full of aliens. this time determined not to turn back. be the crucial factors involved.” Remy contented himself with a brief backward glance. Mr. “I’d like to continue this conversation another time. What occupies my mind is the problem of staying alive from one day to the next. at least imaginatively. the question of who seeded the galaxy and why is real and important.We’re thinking on different wavelengths.” WA R G A M E S | 8 7 . in fact. with the history of the last few tens of thousands of years.” said Delizia.” He turned to leave.
The principal reason for this delay was that one of his human lieutenants had been taken two days before by Jero Yamba’s police force and charged with murder. and Yamba certainly would not 88 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . Furthermore. Yamba had looked for an opportunity to move against the mercenaries. This work was completed a few hours after the noonday. Mouse was. A great many sioconi would be glad to see him apprehended and executed. This news was brought to him by Madoc. but Remy decided to postpone setting out for the Syrene until after the following night-dark. and the Calvars would make no move without direct instructions from Yerema. if Remy were to leave the city and leave Mouse behind the chances of the king’s star chamber finding him guilty as charged would be increased greatly. who had spent the greater part of a day trying to find the man. Yerema was hardly in a position to act in his favor. would be of considerable value if and when the expedition had to fight the er’kresha. Yamba knew all this and had chosen his moment accordingly. who was known by the name of Mouse in ironical reference to his great size and aggressive temper. of course. and this fact was generally known. The man in question. guilty of the murder. if only to vent the spite that had accumulated during the long period of his gradual slide from real power in Ziarat. Undoubtedly.CHAPTER EIGHT Remy spent the greater part of the morning gathering his party together and obtaining supplies. The news was disturbing for several reasons. For some considerable time.
” said Remy. “That’s what they all say.” “I was planning to share a tent with some of my men. with a contrived sigh. were he to fail it would emphasize his lack of power. in exactly the position that Remy was wont to adopt.” “I’ve been busy. inviting them to enter. Justina Magna came in. She looked at the desk and the pen which Remy still held.” WA R G A M E S | 8 9 . He decided that he would have to take advantage of the night-dark to remove Mouse forcibly from Yamba’s custody and get him away from the city with the expedition before dawn. lifting her legs up and setting her spine against the headboard. to be delivered discreetly during the nightdark. however. when he was interrupted by a knock on his door.” she replied. Remy retired to his room to write a letter to Yerema. As the afternoon wore on. “Naturally.” “You haven’t made much progress in seducing me. “And we won’t be here much longer.” she said.” he replied.” “I’ll be alone in mine. His intention was to leave the letter with one of his sioconi. She walked over to the bed and sat down on it. The fact of Mouse’s arrest posed Remy with a difficult problem in tactics and diplomacy. He made suggestions as to the most convenient times and places where he and Yerema might meet in secret during the journey. closing the door behind her and closing the curtains that screened it. He was barely halfway through writing the note. He slipped the incriminating document into a drawer and called out to whoever was waiting. On the other hand. “One has to make provision for all eventualities.lose in popularity if he could bring it off. giving details of the route which he intended to follow and passing on the information which Scapaccio had given to him. Deserts are so romantic. With time being of the essence there seemed to be only one viable course—and that a hazardous one. “Never mind—it’ll be different when we get out into the desert under the stars. “Writing your will?” she asked.
Maybe we have more in common than you thought. They didn’t make him all to scale. lifted his foot to brace himself against the desk. he has right from the start. They gave him balls because they needed the testosterone.” “Actually. “Isn’t it obvious?” “Apart from that.” said Remy. and rocked backwards. So. “There’s a certain poignancy about it. I put myself first. but he’s staying here anyhow. you can forget it. I’m inspired to find out what’s going on by simple curiosity. Scapaccio’s beginning to bore me. it was Verdi—and now it’s Garstone. you might be trying to set up some kind of leverage that will help you make later demands of me.” he replied. “I don’t give a shit for Command Haidra. just as Scapaccio wants to get out of his particular setup. but they screwed up his chromosomes so that they 90 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . If anyone was acting for Command. If so. Like lust. with maybe the ghost of a hope that I can get off Haidra. with a calculated sneer. he’s holding it back from me too.” she said.Remy sat back in his chair. I think you want something. I don’t know about Dr. “Maybe not to any specific commission. “What do you want?” he asked. Melcart. then Scapaccio.” “Do I need other reasons?” “I can’t believe that this is a simple case of lust at first sight. you know—and he’s quite sterile. In fact. On the other hand. Command Haidra comes a poor third. “You think I’m acting on behalf of Command Haidra?” “Probably.” she countered coolly. “I have. I’d like to get out of the setup here. Something you’ve already failed to get out of Scapaccio. but you’re part of the setup on this world. and since you became official interpreter for Scapaccio you must have figured out that he’s holding back something from Command—something he thinks is important. let’s forget all that and return to matters of more immediate interest.” She raised an eyebrow.” “Maybe you should try the optiman. If it’s any consolation.
It doesn’t make them less alien. There was a knock on the door. but it does.” “I see. But Andros is remarkably human.” Remy’s jaw tightened slightly as he thought of Valla. not born. the intention was to create a new kind of weapon..don’t match ours any more—there’s no way his sperm could fertilize a human egg. “There aren’t any. A lot of the units are locked into inversions. When he turned WA R G A M E S | 9 1 . “I see what you mean by busy. when you get to know him. Even if there were two optipersons identical in chromosome structure.” she said. apparently. The training they put him through is really only the same training they put army infants through. meiosis would probably pull their equipment apart and induce functional sterility of the fertilized zygote. After all.” “Oh. thrust upon them. But Justina Magna knew nothing about Valla..?” “You can say the same of a thousand alien races. If we prick them. His expression was tense. She was. that the veich are just the same as we are behind their masks and their social system? I don’t see that my screwing Andros is any different from your screwing veir whores. “You know that. Who knows better than you. in fact. do they not bleed. and there was no mistaking the flare of jealous anger which he fought and controlled. more concentrated and uninfluenced by other factors. Justina Magna laughed lightly.” “I detect a certain distaste in your tone. This time. as it were. the visitor was Cesar Scapaccio. Optimen have to be manufactured. though— the tectogenetic techniques involve duplication of gene sectors and partial polyploidy of each chromosome.” “What about an optiwoman egg?” asked Remy. It probably wouldn’t make any difference if some of them were female. a very straightforward person.” she said. not a super-race. Optimization is. her comments were meant quite straightforwardly. He barely glanced at Remy before his eyes fixed themselves on the woman.
his voice was low without being conspiratorial.” he said.. “All right. “It’s all right.. “I’d like to talk to you. “You go. There was no point in letting himself be sucked into the game on such a ridiculous level. He is very good at his job. and Remy did not glance back to see if Scapaccio was staring at him. “It seems. “I need Ramon. but then suddenly changed her mind and turned the action into a lazy stretching of her body. Scapaccio cut him off with a gesture.” Scapaccio went livid as his jaw clenched—the effect. I’ll wait here.” he said evenly. obviously. “She didn’t. “I need him for his knowledge and his expertise. felt an impulse to respond angrily. Remy closed the door behind him.” Remy still looked surprised. Remy. “In private. “We’ll go up to the roof.” he began. By the time they reached the roof garden Scapaccio was once again the most reasonable and most even-tempered of men.” Remy looked surprised. When the colonel eventually spoke. letting her score twice with the same strike.” Justina Magna slid off the bed immediately. He folded it carefully and put it into the pocket of his shirt..” she said. “Not her.” he said.again to look at Remy his voice was flat. They did not speak to one another. “that I am not the only one who has tried to enlist your help. as if to leave the room.” He reached into the drawer and took out the half-finished letter. and watched Scapaccio’s gaze dart around. searching the shrubs for some hidden eavesdropper. He and Scapaccio left the room and climbed the staircase to the small third story.” said Scapaccio evenly. but when he saw Scapaccio’s reaction he suppressed his own. “I mean Ramon. that the woman was seeking. He was not about to take any reckless chances with such sensitive information as was implied by its contents. in a rather sickly drawl. too. He knows more about mapirene artifacts than any other man 92 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D .” he said.
but he does have what one might call WA R G A M E S | 9 3 . I think it’s time to make things clear.” said Scapaccio. as Remy knew full well. by now recovered from his surprise. and you probably have no patience at all with his vapid imaginative maundering. freedom from prosecution for any past indiscretions and enough money to set yourself up for life. but I wanted to emphasize that there’s nothing behind his crazy ideas. I can deliver that. “So far. But he has some rather curious ideas. Scapaccio was anxious to keep control over the expedition and was worried about the possibility that Remy might learn too much about the particular treasure that he was hunting for.. if I get what I want in the Syrene.. Treasure hunting. which must not be taken too seriously. that is. Scapaccio was worried lest Delizia had given away more than he actually had.in this sector—perhaps more than any other man alive. He’ll be happy enough to stay in the desert while we do what we have to. in the way that I am. hoping that Scapaccio might go on. you understand. I think it’s important that you’re made aware of the fact that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. But after he’s got it for me. If you’re prepared to act in my interest in this affair—in my interest and no one else’s—then I will guarantee you a trip to any world in the known universe.” “Really?” said Remy. is the kind of occupation which promotes paranoia on a grand scale. He is invaluable. “I’ve been rather vague in my promises to you.” Remy stopped there. I’ll have to keep him quiet. but they seem to be sincere enough. that I obtain sole control over the information concerned. You’re a sensible man. I know. I need Ramon to help me get that information. His reasons for being here may not be the same as yours. I don’t intend to harm him in any way. He’s not an ambitious man. What he expects to find in the mapirene base which we’re searching for is some kind of pseudo-religious revelation—an expectation that’s shaped by hope rather than by any kind of reasoned argument. “He seemed quite coherent to me. Provided. Plainly.
Everyone else who might take a hand is to be cut out. 94 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . was scheduled to be cut out if Scapaccio got his own way. if you’ll excuse me. “It’s all quite clear. but Scapaccio was too firmly in control. and I get a cut. Like all greedy men. Scapaccio was deluding himself about the strength of his position. “in fact. You’re exactly what I needed. but he could also see clearly enough that the likelihood of things going Scapaccio’s way was very small. You expect to make a fortune. I think Justina’s waiting for me. He has no sense of discretion. He knew perfectly well that he. “And now. I’m very glad that we found you.” said Remy. too.” “I suppose I am. Do you understand?” “Certainly.” He watched Scapaccio’s face carefully for the expected reaction. That was something Remy was always careful not to do.” “I’m glad—” said Scapaccio.an evangelical streak.” said Remy. It’s the only way to play.
He was an easy man to insult. But Mouse knew in his subconscious mind that the sound had to be significant of one of two things: interrogation or rescue.” whispered Mouse. A similar incident had been responsible for his coming to Ziarat in the first place. and was quick to react. The siocon with whose murder he was charged was not the first man he had killed for inadequate reason in a flush of anger. and much of his bulk was fat rather than muscle. and saw it flicker into life. He heard a match grate against the stone wall.CHAPTER NINE Mouse was recalled from a dream by the grating of a key in the lock of his cell. “Mouse?” hissed a voice. less rapidly than he would have liked. He harbored a suspicion that others were perennially ready to mock his slowness and to accuse him—falsely—of stupidity. “Here. He groped on the floor beside the WA R G A M E S | 9 5 . It was not for ideological reasons that he had deserted. He came to his feet. His despair of his own physical clumsiness was one of the main sources of his uncertain temper. He was impatient with himself. held between the thumb and forefinger of a human hand. The sound was not loud and would have been insufficient in itself to dispel the shades of sleep. The yellow light of the match illuminated Remy’s face as the hand moved upward. but he was ponderous in his movements. He possessed great strength. He was a big man. and doubly impatient with others. The stimulus that jerked him into sudden wakefulness was the response of that subconscious awareness.
bed. but had hardly moved three paces when there was the sound of another door opening—and then another. which Mouse recognized as belonging to Madoc. There are more of Yamba’s men in the building.” said Remy tersely. The four men began to climb a long flight of stone steps which spiraled clockwise around a central pillar that was cold and damp to the touch. “I’ll follow Iasus. now used mainly as a barracks. his voice hoarse as he tried to keep it low. Only Iasus Fiemme. but that was stupid. and the others followed—first Remy. Ready now?” “Ready. “Hurry up. Then he moved through. Mouse put his hand on Remy’s shoulder and followed him out into the dark corridor. then Mouse. this was a guardhouse in one of the poorer quarters of the city. with Madoc bringing up the rear. It’s a good thing they held you here—if you’d been in the prison we’d have had to blast you out. Behind Remy’s left shoulder he could see the blue-black face of Iasus Fiemme. “Bribed one to drug the other four. having to feel their way up the stair with the toes of their boots. “But we still have to be careful.” He blew out the match and put the stalk away in his pocket. looking for his boots.” urged a second human voice.” said Remy. knew what was happening. whose eyes were geared to seeing in the dark. They moved away from the door. Yamba was trying to keep your whereabouts secret. “How’d you get in here?” asked Mouse. Mouse felt Madoc’s hand move from his shoulder to take the latch of the door. They moved quietly. but by no means silently. They paused while Iasus Fiemme opened the door and peered out. There were other cells. but none was occupied. “Hand on my shoulder. The cells had been intended for matters of army discipline in the days when discipline counted for something in Yamba’s army. At the top of the stairway there was a wooden door which gave out onto a much wider corridor. but Mouse heard a voice from 96 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D .” answered Mouse. along the stone floor.
the shadows say.” Yamba scowled and signaled to the armed men with his long arm. with rifles leveled. the bastard brother of the king of Ziarat. cast long shadows back along the corridor.” As the four siocon soldiers came forward.” said Remy. was a man that Mouse recognized as Jero Yamba. Iasus Fiemme was armed only with a knife.” said the siocon. between them and the door which gave access to the building’s main hallway. There were two more armed sioconi behind them. “are not always as effective as one hopes. To Remy. stood before Remy’s group. In fact. and there was a WA R G A M E S | 9 7 . Standing in a doorway almost directly opposite the door of the spiral staircase. I could shoot you down now. “We’ll see which way the Calvars jump in good time. No one but these men here would know that you did not try to fight—and they are loyal to me. and its light flickered blue before turning a rich yellow. Someone standing six or seven meters away applied a match to the wick of an oil-fired lamp. which was borne aloft by the arm of one of the sioconi. leaving them no avenue of retreat. coldly. and Yerema has the ear of the Calvars. “Then I could shoot you down. The light of the oil lamp.” “So it seems. “Take them back down. Mouse saw over Remy’s head that the door at the far end of the corridor had opened. “Are you proposing to arrest us all?” “Unless you’d like to try to escape.” said Remy. with a pistol in his band. not to Calvar money.” Mouse felt Remy freeze and he did likewise. who have the ear of the king—who has never been noted for the abundance of his brotherly love.” he ordered. Don’t touch your guns. he added. Two sioconi. Mouse saw that Remy and Madoc were both wearing pistols holstered at their waists.” “I don’t think you quite dare go that far. No one else was looking that way. “Arresting us isn’t going to go down well with Yerema. alone. “Be still. “Bribes.” said Yamba.
“Dead. and was looking for a target. Remy took just one look at Yamba by the light of the fallen lamp. which told him that the figure was a hooded siocon. Fascinated.bulky cabinet of some kind which buttressed a covert of black darkness extending almost to the lintel. The siocon riflemen turned as a scream was strangled in the throat of their erstwhile commander. lashing out with a leg to tumble the two who were behind him. and saw Jero Yamba half-turn at the sound of the bowstring. but he was quick to chop one of the remaining sioconi on the back of the neck even as he fired. and by the time he had done so there was no more danger. Mouse saw a figure slip from the open door into that darkness. but it tore as he wrenched it free. Then. He pulled the bow from the dead man’s hand and found that there was something wrapped around the grip. and their fire sent whining bullets into the black shadow. Mouse ran to the body that was lodged in the doorway. In the meantime. and for a moment he accepted the evidence of his eyes. catching the light of the lantern and throwing it back. In the split second that the bowman was visible in trying to move back through the open door Remy fired. Two of the rifles went off. something emerged from the shadow. and the assassin dropped. shearing straight through the windpipe. he watched the arrow fly. and he realized that it was an arrowhead. He held it out 98 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . Remy had drawn his own gun. and turned it over. Mouse dived for the weapon dropped by the man Remy had hit. The arrow took the tall figure in the neck. and Iasus Fiemme went to disarm the two that Mouse had kicked.” he said. Remy was obviously startled. He peeled it away. Mouse used the butt of the rifle which he had recovered to knock one of the sioconi unconscious. As Madoc grappled with the fourth siocon. He remembered that the figure had been unusually short and realized suddenly that it was not a siocon at all. and Mouse acted. which was spilling burning oil in a river across the stone floor.
” agreed Remy.” he said incredulously. he’s going to have to put on quite a show when the news breaks that his brother was assassinated.” Madoc came up behind. “No one’s following us.” Madoc pointed out. the spirit of the waters and the ancestors in the green paradise. and then fell in with Doon at the rear of the column.” said Remy hoarsely. “What was that?” asked Mouse.” “It doesn’t matter. “Kresh. Iasus Fiemme was following.” said Remy. And he’s really dumped us in the shit. one by one. long time. He put it away in his shirt pocket. referring to the stricken sioconi. “One of them’s dead.” “Sure. “A commission from the gods of the sky. Remy took the paper scroll from his hand and glanced at the torn section before allowing the whole thing to roll up again. “They’ll WA R G A M E S | 9 9 . “If he hadn’t come in.” said Doon.” said Mouse. “No. We may not have done the deed. but we’re on the scene—and that means trouble. This lucky boy went straight to heaven when the bullet hit him. Remy watched them go past.” ******* The last wagon moved out of the city’s east gate into the starfilled night. He did us a favor. carrying two rifles. “I hit him too hard. “But something tells me that because of him we’re going to be persona non grata in Ziarat for a long.” Remy told him. “but no matter how short the king is on brotherly love.to Remy as the other approached. He looked back over his shoulder at the looming walls and the glow of orange light that was growing steadily as the citizens of Ziarat woke from their nocturnal sleep.” said Madoc.” “It wasn’t our fault. “we’d be down in the cells. “Yamba’s men won’t come after us.
Eventually.” “What happens if we find it?” Remy laughed briefly. “And we’re going to stop hoping it’s not there and start hoping that it is..” He urged his horse forward. they will.. Remy let him wonder.be glad to see us gone. a consciousness of isolation and of uncertainty.” “It was enough.. It’s Yerema who’s protected us. Yerema will be out of the city too..” “Won’t the Calvars protect us? After all—we didn’t do anything. Doon said..” said Remy. and now that the Calvars have an opportunity to wash their hands of us.” Doon was silent for a few moments. unless you count breaking Mouse out of jail. on Delizia. there’s always Tzara. 10 0 | BR I A N STA BL E FOR D . The Calvars don’t love us any more than the sioconi. He just didn’t have the answers. He felt the way he had felt when he had first deserted the army in Omer. If everything fails. He felt quite calm—indeed. we concentrate on staying alive. and that wasn’t a comfortable situation in which to find himself. he was almost unusually placid—but was inhabited by a coldness that withdrew his mind from his actions and allowed him to watch himself and to consider himself as though objectively. not wanting to hear any more questions from Doon. There was a curious emptiness in his belly. For the time being. perhaps even to take Remy’s place. wondering whether there was any way back for him. when he had traveled across Azreon not knowing where he was going or where he might end up. It would lead nowhere. They’d rather have us sentenced to exile in our absence than have to deal with us in the flesh. on the clansman of the Cagiriama.. He rode to the head of the column and stationed himself there. perhaps resenting the fact that what Remy and Madoc had done would reflect on the entire company. on Yerema. leading it along the road to the east. “What are we going to do?” “We’re going to look for a mapirene base in the Syrene. We can’t go back to Ziarat. “I don’t know. We were involved. That depends on Scapaccio.
He had been on Haidra a long time—half of his life—and had become accustomed to it. had almost come to be all that there was. In the early days. For some time now. seeing and feeling with his inner senses. evading his thoughts with casual ease. to visit other planets and other peoples. accompanied by a dozen lean animals—the local cattle—moving off the road in order to let the wagons pass.He ran blurred memories of Ziarat through his mind. to be taken into the new phase. he had often thought of leaving the planet. Now. which illuminated their faces as they watched Remy go by. and much would depend on Yerema. Those imaginings had drained away over the years and now he rarely bothered to send his memory fluttering back to life aboard ship. and the only man to whom he had ever looked for guidance. They seemed strangely different now that they were complete. and now had to be locked away. was a small party of men and the veich who would follow him from the east gate before the next sunset. though. whose battles sapped the productive capacities of thousands of worlds and billions of men. Their eyes were bright. he looked up at the stars and knew them as the matrix of a vast conflict involving millions of starships. but they all wore a uniform expresWA R G A M E S | 1 0 1 . It was a thought that made the stars themselves seem hostile. the one man he felt he could trust. All that remained from it. and he looked up to see a party of sioconi. Even the war had faded from his consciousness. belonging to the past in a new way. That phase of his life was ended. As he rode along. in Omer. The stars which lit his way seemed preternaturally close in the cold. still air. to live on a ship as he had lived most of his formative years. He was jerked from his contemplation by the sound of a bell. like the drifting silvery motes of dust that haunted the Syrene by day and by night. His future was still inextricably entangled with theirs. One of them carried a small lantern. Haidra—even Azreon—had come to be all that mattered in the universe. it was easy to imagine that he could reach up and touch them. or to any of the alien worlds of which he had caught brief glimpses.
culled now before autumn came and supplies had to be laid in for the winter. the sioconi drove their animals back onto the road and silently resumed their weary journey. They would be the excess stock of a village herd. where the carcasses would be butchered and the meat salted for storage. When the wagons had passed by. They were taking the cattle to the city—to the slaughterhouse.sion of incurious dullness. 10 2 | BR I A N STA BL E FOR D .
The plants that grew there did not need much foliage: there was plenty of sunlight to be fixed. WA R G A M E S | 1 0 3 . only lizards. The animals hung their heads low. In the deeper cracks the soil would be cool. It was a problem that the animals would not have to face much longer. rockstrewn slope.CHAPTER TEN The wagons made their way down a long. but were patiently ignored. The tempo of life in the Syrene was slow. lolling their tongues from their mouths and panting hard. making progress after the fashion of a drunkard trying to walk a chalk line. and by the dust particles suspended there like smoke. even plant life sought what shelter it could from the parching sun. In the Syrene. Flies buzzed around their eyes and ears. There were no mammals here. and there was often a flash of green peeping over the edge of a fissure. its waves caught and held as if the moment had been caught and frozen. or birds. shallow. but the horizon was blurred by the heat haze which shimmered above the rocks. Nothing grew except for the occasional blade of coarse green grass and squat succulents that looked more like rocks or crystal growths than living things. pulling one way and then the other. and the limiting factor was water. and perhaps even a little moist. The desert stretched away to the horizon like a sluggish gray ocean. The air was still and the sky cloudless. Here and there the rocks were interrupted by cracks and crevices. The sturdy. shaggy animals which pulled them picked their way carefully. for before them was the great flat plain that was the Syrene wasteland.
Even the insects here were slow and discreet. with the sky like a great blue eye looking down through a ring of fire. they used them rarely. What conditions are like closer to the center. when we’re well into the plain.which could live for several days on the energy obtained from the capture of a single insect. Got to take it steady. and Delizia followed. “Five days. Perhaps the buildup of waste products had something to do with the dull pain. He could not afford to open permanent sores. He did not know its cause. “Look your last at the horizon. “By tomorrow. Wherever he set it there were points of friction which would eventually rub his skin raw. watched the column descend. The going’s easy—the dust drifts aren’t deep. speaking slowly and clearly so that he could be heard distinctly through the mask. It looks pretty weird even when the air’s still. if they had wings. though. I just don’t know. and finally reined in when he had turned to draw parallel. hoping fervently that none of the wagons would break a wheel. most of his face covered by a shaped plastic mask with filters over the nose and the mouth and shaded eyepieces.” “How long will it take us to cross to the inner mountains?” asked Delizia. Ramon Delizia. Remy. He reached up to move the mask slightly. but knew that it would fade in time. He was not sweating—his body had acclimatized to conserve moisture as much as possible. but if he moved it slightly every now and again. 10 4 | BR I A N STA BL E FOR D . and as long as the animals steer clear of the crevices they’ll be all right. there was no significant damage.” said Remy. but when the wind gets up it can be really spectacular. we’ll seem to be in limbo. dressed in similar garb and mounted on one of the specially bred horses the humans had brought from Omer. came slowly across the slope toward him. though. Can’t push them too hard. There simply was not energy to spare for such luxuries as flight. It’s anyone’s guess.” He began to ease his mount down the slope. maybe six. becalmed in a world with blurred edges. Inside his loose shirt his chest was banded by a painful contraction of the intercostal muscles.
of course.” “But with the veich. but chemical change and changes in the crystal structure take their toll even when circumstances protect the artifacts from erosion. “that’s by no means confined to the veich. clearly wondering what the other was getting at.” “That’s right. Their neo-feudal society is intrinsically conservative and inefficient.” answered Deliria. The amateurs are good. We managed to recover about twenty percent of the recorded data. I was working on Pajilla.. in raw form. dryly. There’s not a great deal of prestige in alien archaeology—it’s the kind of work that tends to be left to amateurs.” said Remy. Scholarship tends to follow well-established trends. and decoded about half of that.though in a sense they make their own bad luck. and he brought the disc to me for deep analysis. He looked across at Remy. a pretty good performance. it’s not only normal but chronic. “You didn’t by any chance buy the information disc from an itinerant beggar in the Chinese quarter of some rundown city like Ziarat?” “Scapaccio found it.” replied Delizia. but they aren’t too good at communicating with one another—they tend to be working largely for their own satisfaction. and have the advantage of their own hobbyist interest. “Why didn’t they find the disc?” “They were unlucky.“How did you find out about this base. and the prestige attached to various disciplines varies greatly. and it reached a plateau long before they expanded out of their own solar system.. They have a longer history than we have—they had a period of rapid technological advance about three thousand years ago.” “To judge by you and Scapaccio. The power groups which emerged during the period of rapid change got a chance that ours never had—a chance to use the gifts of science to WA R G A M E S | 1 0 5 . considering that the disc was thirty thousand years old. They’re immune from bacterial decay. “On Kilifi.” “Kilifi was a veir world once. That’s why they’re losing the war. exactly?” asked Remy. wasn’t it? Like Haidra.
and by careful economic control of all important resources. allowing reinvasion after a couple of generations. in esoteric knowledge. that suggests a radical disparity of priorities. “the Syrene is a relic of the battle which the mapirenes and cascarenes fought over Haidra. “That’s a very expensive way to take out a continent. they were too well-set in their ways.” confirmed Delizia. In the beginning.reinforce their power and to design a political system which would ensure their keeping it.” said Remy. He knew how easily Delizia could be led into endless philosophical rhapsodies. If the cascarenes used dust this side of the world and a particle beam on the other. In fact.” That was a point which Remy didn’t want to pursue. The cascarenes hit this continent with radioactive dust—short half-life stuff that wiped out all life from the heartland but which decayed quite rapidly. His own interests were rather more narrowly focused on the present situation. They established a self-perpetuating aristocracy. but we stole their advantage and now we’re ahead. “There are much cheaper methods of large-scale destruction—methods that were used practically everywhere else. They entered a period of historical stability—uninteresting times. They’ve adapted slowly.” said Remy carefully. in fact. and we were able to militarize our society from top to bottom more thoroughly than they ever could. They couldn’t react fast enough. and carefully defended it against possible threats by investing in a new language. When they met up with us.” “That’s right. The one thing that worries me. but they were ill equipped to switch their economic system over to a war footing. We were much better at inventing warlike philosophies and warlike attitudes. which is why all your mapirene sites are so badly pulverized. “According to you. is whether we could ever change back again if the war were to end. consciously exploiting a model from their own history. the only possible reason for them to use dust was that 10 6 | BR I A N STA BL E FOR D . they had five times as many worlds and a healthy margin in their favor in terms of technological skill.
” “I think so.” “Which implies that they couldn’t—that whatever wiped the mapirenes and the cascarenes alike from the part of the galaxy hit within a century after the battle.” he said. “that this base we’re searching for represents the last word in mapirene war technology. which was drifting back along the trail.” said Delizia.” said Remy calmly. it puzzles me even more. There was no sign there yet of the veich who were following. Remy glanced back over his shoulder.” Delizia said nothing to that. “There seems to be a possibility. in view WA R G A M E S | 1 0 7 .they intended to come back after fifty or a hundred years and take over the Syrene base with all its hardware intact. “There’s one thing that still puzzles me. “In fact. but the next day at the latest they too would be signaling their presence with an aerial display. isn’t it? A new weapon—something big. their approach was going to be noticed well in advance.” confirmed Delizia. “In the last furious flurry of activity—when both sides threw everything into the middle with such good effect that they wellnigh annihilated one another.” admitted Delizia. did they?” “Apparently not. That’s what Scapaccio thinks he’s going to find.” “That would seem to be a reasonable inference. Remy adjusted his mask again. Something that cascarenes didn’t have— and wanted badly to copy. “But they didn’t come back. and the foremost ones were already beginning to churn up the dust. He and Delizia were falling in behind the rearmost wagons.” “The dusting must have taken place near the very end of the war. He turned back to Delizia. From now on the column was going to be as easy to see as a ninety-meter pillar of fiery cloud. content to let Remy pursue his course of speculative reasoning. Unless Belle Yella and his followers were nursing a false sense of security and had their minds entirely wrapped up in higher things. looking at the western sky.
You didn’t seem to want to hear me out. “After all. whose great scarlet circle was sharply delineated and mottled with brownish striations. but whether the cough was coincidental or contrived.” ******* That evening. I’m not sure that you’d find my reasons comprehensible. You don’t strike me as the kind of man who’d throw in with a paranoid monomaniac in order to help him secure the plans to the ultimate weapon. “we’re going to have to fight like hell to get within spitting distance of that base. Mr. Where the dust was thickest the roseate light formed a kind of spray.of what you’ve just said. The cloud of dust which they had stirred up by their passage was to the south of the sun.” murmured Remy.” Delizia coughed. Now. I want to know what we’re fighting for. as Remy had forecast. though. some removing their eyeshades in order to appreciate the spectacle 10 8 | BR I A N STA BL E FOR D . To tell the truth. Delizia?” “As I tried to tell you once before.” said Remy. “my interests lie in a different plane. I got the impression that what I was saying didn’t make too much sense to you. the color of dried blood.” “I think I was a little hasty in Ziarat. And I would like to understand your reasons. “I think that I didn’t try hard enough to understand. Remy couldn’t tell. like the coral which sometimes grows in tropical seas. I want to know more about it. I regarded the base itself as something of a fantasy. Why are you here. knowing that the words would be muffled by the mask. they were able to look back at a colored sky which seemed almost to be ablaze. All of the humans—Remy’s men as well as Garstone’s— turned their heads continually to look back at the display. Around the rim of the circle was a strange sparkling halo: a wavering nimbus which bulged horizontally and rippled like the frills of a swimming cuttlefish. I don’t quite see your part in all this.” replied Delizia.
Now there was nothing. small villages whose houses were built from pale stone and brown brick. caused by the finest particles of dust that oozed through the filters on their masks. Before they had descended to the plain they had been continually interrupted in their progress by minor accidents and unexpected events. already. They were now in the desert. He was not overly careful about the way he did so. There was no one who did not entertain doubts about their finding and reaching some kind of destination in the heart of the desert. It was the most hostile environment that they had ever faced on the surface. But these were feelings to which no one would admit. accepting the stinging of their unprotected eyes as the price to be paid. There had been difficulties and delays. of a metallic taste in their mouths that would not go away. They ate and drank sparingly— but neither the food nor the water could take away that taste.all the more. When the color died with the twilight its absence made the darkness seem unusually black and the light of the stars much whiter than normal. When they eventually made camp for the night-dark. Mouse and Madoc. there was a new mood infecting the expedition. It was easy to believe that the mountains were a myth or an illusion. condemned to shadowless darkness. and by night. was preparing for sleep when Scapaccio yanked back the tent flap and fought his way through the protective mesh that was intended to keep the interior free from the dust. and it was obvious WA R G A M E S | 1 0 9 . They were all conscious. but the land they had been moving through was inhabited—they had never been far away from cultivated fields. it was easy enough to court the illusion that they were walking through a kind of hell. Remy. in the tent which he had shared with Doon. There was no prospect before them but to trudge on through a world that was almost surreal in its remoteness and its alien coloring. surrounded by the ring of fire. facing several days of trekking through featureless landscapes that were all but lifeless and virtually waterless. By day. grazing herds.
“We have a problem. “What kind of sabotage?” he asked. and read there the accusation that had not been put into words.” “If I were to weigh up probabilities.” replied Remy coldly. After a moment’s inarticulate inner struggle. “The radio.” rasped Scapaccio. still taking no trouble to work his way through the mesh in such a way as to keep the dust out of the tent. Scapaccio said. not bothering to argue with the erroneous judgment. Remy met his eye. “Why would I do that?” asked Remy. None of mine would cut his lifeline. “Or ordered it done. “I’d say that the one man with a long history of keeping secrets from Command is you. hauling himself by degrees from the clutch of the sleeping bag. “It’s our only link with Command Haidra—the only way we could possibly call for help. For use in an emergency. “Within the last hour.that he was in a state of high temper.” Scapaccio backed out of the tent. buttoning his shirt. When he saw Remy halfclothed and already in his sleeping bag his eyes narrowed. “It has to be one of your men.” 110 | B R I A N S T A B L E F O R D . and it seemed that he bit back an accusation that had been hovering on his lips. he said.” “Let’s take a look. While the wagon was unattended—we were eating. Remy squatted. in a much more orderly fashion.” “When did it happen?” asked Remy. Doon and Mouse were already lying down.” said Scapaccio tersely.” Remy sat up quickly. but both had their eyes open. Sabotage. “You think I did it?” he asked. When they were outside. Madoc sat on his pallet. watching.” “You didn’t hear anything?” “No. As Command Haidra out of Azreon at all costs. Remy followed him.
“Someone even more secretive than Scapaccio. or report anything back to Command. “He says it wasn’t him. “All I had to do was refrain from using it. “Whoever did this did it silently?” asked Remy.” Scapaccio’s scowl was easily visible by starlight. Nor one of my men. addressing Remy. “who was it?” “Someone who doesn’t want us to be able to call for help.” muttered Delizia. Delizia was inspecting the wreckage carefully. quickly. After all.” said Remy evenly.” retorted Scapaccio. but it was obvious that there was no hope of repairing it.” confirmed Scapaccio. and we weren’t straining our ears to catch the slightest sound. “Quietly enough not to attract attention.” said Justina Magna.” said Remy.” For the benefit of the other two. “You didn’t do it. with a slight shrug of his shoulders. “Okay. “But we weren’t particularly close. I’d say the four leading suspects are right here. The circuit boards had been torn out and comprehensively crushed—almost pulverized.” he said.” Remy became conscious that each of the other three was looking at him. It wasn’t just a matter of wires being wrenched loose or printed circuits being snapped. whoever it was. everyone is playing pretty much his own hand. at least so far. It looks as if one of us wants to preserve that situation. “If it wasn’t you. he added.” Delizia and Justina Magna were already in the wagon where the radio apparatus had been stored. and I’m as anxious as you are to find out who—and why. Even the skeleton of the machine had been attacked— warped out of shape as if by blows from a hammer. Neither did I.” “Unless you suspected that someone else might use it to feed information back to Command that you didn’t want them to have. “Okay.“I wouldn’t have to smash the damn thing. That means someone else did. Not Garstone or any of his men—they’re Command Haidra writ small. “You WA R G A M E S | 111 . In fact.” “He did a thorough job.
don’t believe me. “except keep a closer watch—on one another. “Maybe.” he said. and it wasn’t Scapaccio himself”—here he glanced sideways as if to suggest that this was a dubious hypothesis—“then someone here is playing a game the others don’t know about.” 11 2 | B R I A N S T A B L E F O R D . What’s going to happen if Command doesn’t hear from you again? Are they going to get anxious?” Scapaccio shook his head.” he added eventually. “There’s nothing we can do. that suggests that someone believes that we might get to the point of wanting to send out a call for immediate assistance. Nobody would have broken it up in the hope of attracting attention. and to stop us from getting out an appeal for immediate assistance. To me. if that’s what you think. He eyed the damage speculatively. “I don’t think so. wondering whether the slim fingers of a siocon could possibly have done so much in the way of twisting stout metal rods out of shape.” Remy shrugged. without feeling too confident. But if it wasn’t me. Maybe I did do it and conveniently erased it from my memory. Whoever did this did it in order to stop specific information from going out. A two-minute message could have done that.
He did not. This particular river contained water for no more than fifty or sixty days in the year. offer them any explanations as he rode away to the northwest. with dust drifts banked up about every loose rock. He was carrying a flashlight. and it never reached the outer boundary of the Syrene. For the present. the channel was bone dry and boulder-strewn. Remy moved his mount along the bank. He made no attempt to go surreptitiously. however. however. The starlight was perfectly adequate. but he did not switch it on. for he was a few minutes late. a ribbon of green along either bank—patient spike grass and thornbush. and where he had arranged to meet Yerema. It took him perhaps fifteen minutes to locate the spire of rock that was one of the very few landmarks in this part of the Syrene. About a kilometer from the camp he found the dry riverbed which he sought—a shallow rift etched in the gray rock by the water which poured out of the central mountain range once or twice a year. following the line of the river. It was not a tall spire—a shallow cone perhaps fifteen meters high—but in the flat country it was easy to find. but he dismounted in WA R G A M E S | 11 3 .CHAPTER ELEVEN Remy left the camp while there was still an hour of the nightdark’s sleep to run. but showed himself both to his own men and to the men whom Garstone had left on guard. even for human eyes. There was. and the occasional broad-leafed flowering plant with a thick waxy tegument protecting its flesh from desiccation. Remy was a little surprised when no one came forward to meet him.
There was black rage so powerful that it made him tremble. it also enabled them to manipulate a complex web of obligations. He felt a flood of emotion rising within him such as he had not experienced in many years. Until that moment he had not consciously realized how deep his friendship with Yerema had run. a clansman of the Syroleth. Then his nostrils caught the odor of burning. With this disadvantage. but for some reason it seemed ominously sharp. loyalties and marks of respect that could bring people closer together rather than forcing them apart. and this had been responsible for the smell of burning. He was startled by the fierceness of his response. He was not wearing a mask. There was a cavity in Yerema’s chest big enough for Remy to put a finger in. There—apparently having fallen from the spot where he now stood—was a body. but he knew full well that as he rode up to the spire of rock he must have provided a perfect target for any would-be assassin. in Yerema’s eyes. and turned the body over. 114 | B R I A N S T A B L E F O R D . Then he directed the beam downward.the shadow of the spire and allowed his horse to wander free along the ribbon of green. Remy glanced around at the shallow slope of the gully. and a tide of grief that brought him to the brink of tears. but his mouth and nose were veiled. and Remy knew now the extent to which he had accepted that role and all that it implied. Instinct begged him to crouch lower or to dive for cover. Remy had become. so that the sightless eyes stared up at the star-filled sky. Remy leaped down. had raised between them a curtain of convention and politeness. into the gully. He switched on the flashlight and shone it briefly around. though by no means of ordinary veir rigidity. But veir etiquette was not simply a constraint upon its users. All of the speech that had passed between them had been styled by a formality which. The flesh around the wound was cauterized. The veir had been killed by a bolt of energy which could only have come from a laser cannon. his olfactory sense would not normally have been powerful enough to detect such a faint scent.
but they had not. It was obvious that Yerema had not been shot because he accidentally stumbled on his murderers. They’ll pay the price for your murder—I swear it. They had not been close by. even through a telescopic sight or an infrared sensor. Yerema’s party. silently. He tried to judge where Yerema had been standing when the bolt hit him. and from what direction the shot had come. trailing his fingertips along the cold rock on which it lay. but he could not be sure of getting the inflections right. As far as Remy knew. but somewhere out in the desert. Why pick off one man? “Whoever did this. but the Cagiriama clansman could hardly be equipped with a laser cannon. You still have a clan. It was important that things should be right.Using a laser cannon to kill a man was somewhat akin to using a bulldozer to clear away cobwebs. though there might be no one to admit the fact.” whispered Remy to the dead man. “made a mistake. quite deliberately: he was a selected target. and because the energy traveled at the velocity of light there was never any problem of aiming. and laid it in the WA R G A M E S | 11 5 . With a laser cannon. though he knew that he should be speaking in the language of the clans. Anything which could be seen. but it had two advantages: the target could be struck down from a very great distance. He knew the words in the other tongue. They could have picked off Remy with equal ease. They had picked him off. the unknown assassins could probably have mopped up Yerema’s entire party. Apparently. but could see no sense in it. Remy thought about it. He carried Yerema’s body out of the gully. was camped somewhere to the south of the riverbed. all the laser cannons on Haidra were mounted on battle tanks or planes. And every single one of them belonged to Command Haidra. the assassins were—or had been—positioned somewhere away to the northwest.” He spoke in his own language. could be hit. He knelt down again beside the clansman’s body. which was less than twenty strong. he knew.
Scapaccio’s “secret” appeared to be known to virtually everyone in the known universe. If even Yerema had not been quite certain of retaining the loyalty of his clanless affiliates now that the Cagiriama were on the scene. While Yerema lived. Command Haidra could have taken over Scapaccio’s expedition had they wanted to. Instead of joining forces against the er’kresha. If Yerema had been a selected target then the likely reason was surely the fact that he was the only real link between the two parties making their way across the Syrene. for Remy to talk to one of the veir mercenaries. He could not bury it. it was now likely that the two groups would end up fighting one another. whoever they might be. perhaps. In time. For a few moments he considered doing so. Now. but that simply didn’t add up. That still left the question of who stood to gain by such an eventuality. The presence of the laser cannon suggested very strongly that the third party were representatives of Command Haidra. but opposed. the mercenaries accompanying both parties retained the potential of acting as a single force. Yerema’s death changed things greatly. but there was ample loose rock to build some kind of cairn about the corpse. that potential was gone. Remy thought about the damaged radio and considered the 116 | B R I A N S T A B L E F O R D . Scapaccio and Zemak were not the only ones interested in the mapirene base in the Syrene. how would it be possible for Remy to deal with them? As that thought crossed his mind he suddenly saw a possible reason for the assassination. they owned the world. It would be better to let the veich take Yerema—and it would be as well. The humans and the veich were not merely separated. Clearly. It seemed rather as if the third party. but then abandoned the idea. Remy thought. someone would come from the veir encampment looking for him—probably Oclo. They could airlift a thousand troops into the Syrene if they wished. also.dust beside the spire. There was no need for them to act surreptitiously—for all practical purposes. were just as keen to escape the attention of Command Haidra as Scapaccio and Zemak.
watching his horse crop the coarse grass a few meters “downstream. “Where is Yerema?” she asked as he took the bridle of her horse. it appeared. was far more complicated than he had expected. and waited. The conclusion was a guess. Someone in the human camp was obviously not working for Scapaccio but for the third party that was somewhere out in the desert with a laser cannon.” he said. Remy stood up and moved forward. A rider approached from the south. but he was past caring about Scapaccio’s suspicions.” He kept the flashlight in his hand. and he was surprised when he discovered that the rider was not Oclo but Valla. He moved on to consider a further implication of the conclusion. It might make Scapaccio more suspicious of him. the mount trotting briskly over the rocky soil. The body was hidden from her view by the spire. but he could feel the tenseness in her body. He waited. He could not see the expression on her face in the starlight. knowing that the veir would have no difficulty in seeing him. but he felt ominously confident that he had got it right. An hour passed before anyone came looking for Yerema. He knew that Scapaccio and his companions would be waking now. and Remy knew that he could not be sure of it. Save for a single sharp intake of WA R G A M E S | 117 . and that they would miss him. She must have recognized him long before he recognized her. “He was dead when I got here. and it was not going to be easy to spot their pawns. The game. It would have been too difficult—no one would even have attempted it. After a moment’s thought.hypothesis that someone had come into the camp from outside in order to destroy it. Valla. he rejected the notion. with his back against the conical column. “I’m sorry. There was another set of players. He sat down on the bare rock. but he did not fear that anyone would worry overmuch about his absence.” He reached out to help her down from the saddle. Veir eyes were made for effectiveness in the dark. but had switched off the beam. in the language of the clanless.
but kept it all inside. “I think they must be.” he said urgently. after his own horse. “Humans. “I think I know why they killed him. “you’ll be letting your father’s murderers get what they want. They could have got me too. and then she said.” she said. leaving her alone with her father. his voice suddenly urgent. “Of course.” he replied evenly.” She said nothing. He also found Yerema’s mount. “But I don’t know who. Valla. Oclo and the others will be adopted by the Cagiriama now—unless you can stop them. They’ll be gone now.” he said. under control. “They must have been on a ridge about two kilometers to the northwest. “You won’t see them.” she said. They knew who they wanted to hit and they’ve done that. I’m going to kill them.” said Remy. and was. He found her standing upright.” “Valla. though he could not 118 | B R I A N S T A B L E F O R D . “They got him with a laser. staring out into the northwest. He walked away. They did it because he was the one man who could unite the veich and my humans into a single fighting force.breath she made no sign of having realized the full import of what he had said. All of them.” “Yes. Among the veich that kind of thing could be taken for granted. I don’t know. They did it in order to set us at one another’s throat. unhurriedly.” said Remy.” For a moment she hesitated. Maybe some colonel from Command Haidra who has ambitions and wants to bypass his own superior officers. colorlessly. But I intend to find out. He led her to the body and stood back as she knelt beside it. her eyes gleaming in the starlight. his voice sounding strangely remote.” She looked at him. “Why should I?” “Because if you don’t. He brought back both animals. He didn’t need any display of hysteria to tell him what she was feeling. “They must have used an infrared sensor. wandering in the gully thirty or forty meters away.” He was conscious of her staring at him.
He saw in the war nothing but the ruination of both our species.” she said.” She turned away from him and knelt beside her father. But we still have the er’kresha to fight. I don’t know that I can prevent their taking it. “When we began this game. “Help me lift him. “But I know that he would have done anything rather than have the war return to Haidra. shadowing her eyes. because he believes that every veir clansman has but one priority—the war against humankind. Yerema would not have wanted it delivered into the hands of the humans or the veich. “We will have to tie him to the saddle.” He helped her lift the corpse and secure it across the back of the animal which had brought him here. if for no better reason than the fact that they won’t let us find what we’re looking for without a fight. Her head was bowed slightly forward. exactly. That seems to have become rather pointless—I can’t go back to Ziarat.” said Remy slowly. for the benefit of Ziarat. and the men with the laser cannon. They performed the WA R G A M E S | 11 9 . “I don’t have any firm plans either. But you know that. Zemak assumes that Yerema would have helped him. just as the war between the mapirenes and the cascarenes destroyed both sides. but I will not help them. He doesn’t know that Yerema was under sentence of death passed by his own clan brothers for his supposed treason to that cause. And don’t forget that we have two common enemies—the er’kresha. We stand a far better chance of surviving that fight if we can turn our guns on common enemies rather than on one another. “I don’t know what Yerema’s plans were.see her face. our objective was to fight the er’kresha. I would not give it to Command Haidra or even to Command Earth. and the knowledge won’t let you pretend that Yerema would ever have thrown in with the Cagiriama. Maybe there is something of great military importance tucked away in that base under the Syrene hills—but if there is. but I will say this: I will not let Scapaccio have whatever is in that base if I can possibly prevent him from taking it.
would you come?” He knew that it was a bad moment to ask such a question.” he said in a low voice.” She paused and then said. Then. Oclo and the others would not want to fight you. but I do not think they will have any choice in the matter. He wished now that he had had the determination to pursue the issue when she had come to see him in his house at Ziarat. but Remy was still holding the bridle and would not release it when she reached for it. it seemed.” This time. Perhaps then we can make plans.” he said.” she said. “Valla. she nodded. Yerema had planned for his daughter and his friend..” he said.” he said. “I will meet you. Finally. Perhaps it was too late now to find out what her opinion would have been of the marriage which. “Where to? Where is there for you to go. “You are not my enemy.. For myself. “But if there were to be a chance somewhere to go. In her left hand she held the bridle strap of Yerema’s 120 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . “When we reach the mountains. I would not want Zemak to bring the war to Haidra again. My father would have made you his son. “I will follow my father’s way. she said..for yourself. she said. “what do you want out of all this.what does it matter? What is there to do but return to Ziarat and the protection of the Calvars?” “You could come with me.. He felt almost elated by the fact that it was not a refusal. when she was ready to leave.. Remy.” He released the bridle then and let her urge her mount into a walk. “I must see you again. without hesitation.. The first night-dark—the sixth hour—between our two camps I will look for you. “I cannot answer. Remy?” “I don’t know. realizing that he probably could not see the gesture.” She placed her foot in the stirrup and hauled herself up into the saddle.operation silently. at least for fighting the er’kresha. You and I are all that remains now of Syroleth.
” “You aren’t thinking of going yourself?” asked Doon. You could make it. “I’m staying with Scapaccio. We’re on our own. Or keep going south to the coast.” “Yerema’s dead. He sought out Doon and Madoc. and as well as the er’kresha we may well have the veich against us.horse. How about Mouse?” “Back along the line—his turn to drive. You must have passed him. “The whole thing’s gone to hell. “But you figure on giving the rest of us the option?” WA R G A M E S | 1 2 1 . Then maybe head east for Tzara. “Where would we go?” “There’s time to turn south. What took you so long.” said Remy. which fell in behind hers.” replied Madoc. Do you want to split?” Madoc laughed humorlessly. skirting the Syrene.” said Remy coldly. now this. How?” “Somebody shot him. As be moved his horse past Scapaccio’s wagon he was conscious of being watched. “You could be out of the desert in two days. who were riding at the head of the column. Remy motioned him to be quiet and continued in a low tone. but he did not ride close enough to permit the asking of questions.” “A laser?” The exclamation was from Doon. He’s in one of the wagons. “With a laser. First the mess with Yamba. Not to mention the owners of the laser. Remy stood and watched them go and did not mount his own animal until they had faded into the darkness.” said Remy. “He took the last watch. ******* When he got back to the wagons everything was already loaded and the train was about to get underway. without offering any reasons. “Sleeping. “Where’s Iasus?” he asked. bearing its burden without apparent effort or concern.
looking for Mouse and for the rest of the mercenaries he had brought from Ziarat.” “Why not?” “At a guess. “It doesn’t make sense—somebody having a laser all the way out here. “Do you think Scapaccio’s actually going to find something in the heartland?” Remy shrugged. Whoever they are. watching him go. They could have blasted Yerema’s whole party if they’d wanted to—but they didn’t. But we’ll be hearing from them again. “If there’s nothing there. Maybe four or five. “That’s right.” said Madoc. “it might be the mapirenes themselves. you can bank on that.” “So what do we do?” growled Doon. I don’t know what he’s holding back.. Our little operation in Ziarat is finished now.so that they can come along when it’s all over to pick up the prize. Madoc and Doon looked back.” “For all I know.” said Remy. They may have a laser cannon. I think they’ll play a waiting game until the odds are in their favor.” replied Remy.” said Madoc. “For now.” “They could pick us off without our ever getting close to them. “We don’t seem to have very many alternatives. but they can’t take on several hundred er’kresha—maybe not twenty-five humans either. It has to be Command—but that doesn’t make sense either.” “We never had to take orders..“You don’t have to take orders anymore. 122 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . “They can. and then with one another. there’s going to be a lot of disappointed people.” “Who killed Yerema?” asked Doon. but there was something on that tape that’s got everyone excited. we wait.” said Remy quietly. Maybe they want us to fight it out with the er’kresha. “they’d like us to stay in the game for the time being.” He turned his horse and moved back down the line. my guess is there aren’t too many of them.” said Remy.
That’s why they smashed WA R G A M E S | 1 2 3 . “What’s this about?” he asked. Delizia squinted at the friable earth. Remy sought out Ramon Delizia.” remarked Remy conversationally.C H A P T E R T W E LV E When they stopped for the next night-dark. and took him outside the circle of the wagons. “About the war.” said Remy casually. Someone in our party is working for that competition. I don’t think so. and then shook his head. I thought that you might have come to similar conclusions to my own. “I thought you might understand. most of all. “We have competition. “I thought that it was about time we continued our conversation. trying to find a smooth spot. well beyond the gleam of the lanterns that illuminated the camp. I know better now.” invited Remy.” “Try me. “At one time.” he said. Delizia shook his head. about what brings you out into this forsaken wilderness. “Sit down. Now. and about its cosmic significance—and. Remy applied a match to the wick of a candle and then carefully placed it in a crack in the ground. “Scapaccio’s not the only one heading for that base. I suppose I had a rather romanticized view of you. Because you deserted from the army. as if uncertain whether he was being mocked or not. They moved away until they were out of earshot.” said Remy. without any obvious reason.” Delizia looked at him curiously.
He turned away from Remy and away from the flickering candlelight. there was some point in it. “Go on.. “Convince me. you know. We accepted it. We’re said to be winning the war now.” “We’re being followed. “I told him that the cloud behind us was only the dust that we’d stirred up. It’s become an end in its own right. but he was convinced.” “You say that you’ve never speculated about the seeders and their purpose. Remy. 124 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D .. a way of life. That was the issue as it was sold to us by the military.the radio. The war has absorbed us. It’s a question which seems to me to be of fundamental importance. and Remy said. Remy.” Delizia looked startled. But the war is no longer fought for that reason.” Delizia looked around. if it ever was. and because it always has been there and always will. But I speculate. That makes you the prime suspect. “I don’t know anything about it. and it wouldn’t make any difference to the way we live. We could have made peace a dozen times. “Like I said—try me.” “The war has taken us over. Then his eyes narrowed. all right. Mr. as if waiting for encouragement. I put it down to his paranoid temperament.” he said. Mr. We were in competition with the veich for mastery of the known galaxy—either we would own the star worlds or they would. We could go on winning it forever. not just for me.. I don’t suppose many people do—it’s a question which could easily frighten people. Once. if we’d wanted to.” He paused. and has saturated our consciousness to the point where most people can’t think of any alternative way of being. or so it appeared.” said Delizia. I know that you’re not on the same side as Scapaccio.” he said dully. We fight the war because it’s there. but for the entire human race.” said Remy. “I don’t think you’d find it very convincing. “Cesar said that we were being followed. because we hold more worlds and because our ships beat the veir ships when they meet in deep space. as if searching for something to stare at.
In war. We and the veich could stay at home. On the surface. quite independently of any human action.. human beings are obsolete. “I know as much about the mapirenes as any man alive. Remy? Why do you think we fight the war the way we do. and that such times cannot last longer than the average life-span of a man. Into every world we capture we pour thousands of troops whose main effect is to reduce the efficiency of our war machinery. “I’ve been an archaeologist all my adult life.“I’ll tell you a strange thing about the war. their own automatic defenses and strategic computers. he appeared to have started a new train of thought. It’s several centuries now since our machines—especially our war machines—attained relative independence of us. When he began again. our missiles their missiles. Ships that could perfectly well do everything by themselves carry thousands of men. our tanks could fight the veir tanks. even granted that we have to fight it at all?” “It’s said that war answers a psychological need.. We’re supposed to be innately aggressive. maybe forever. It could be fought entirely without people. But we don’t do that. Remy. Why do you suppose that is.” said Remy quietly. Our ships and our missiles have their own automatic guidance systems and response-programing. we’re sure as hell aggressive when we’ve gone through army training. We don’t have to be pieces in our own game. Mr.” he said.” Delizia seemed to ignore the remark. lost in his own thoughts. Our ships could fight the war in space without any human involvement whatever. and let our hardware do all the fighting. though—whether we’re aggressive or not before we start.” “Do you believe that?” “How do I know? How could anyone know? One thing’s sure. attending to the domestic affairs of our respective worlds. We could fight the war without casualties for generations. and have been since the twentieth century. We don’t have to be pawns and pieces in this conflict—we could all be players. But I don’t WA R G A M E S | 1 2 5 . Mr. “It’s said that human beings always rebel against times of peace.
“Nobody knows what the purpose of the seeders was. and perhaps we’re the kind of creatures we are because the seeders deliberately made us that way. On every world which they occupied in this entire sector there must have been survivors of the war. We fight the war because of the kind of creatures we are. “Do you really believe that?” he asked finally. you see. what happened to the mapirenes and the cascarenes becomes immediately understandable. Maybe that’s true. but there are countless speculations. and Remy let a few moments of silence go by. They fought their war for fifteen hundred or two thousand years and then they disappeared. One is that the seeders were inveterate game players.” He stopped. On that basis. I think—I fear—that I can see our own destiny in what happened to the mapirenes. whether the same fate awaits humans and the veich. “I’d be crazy if I did. why we can’t let it end. No one does. as far as we can ascertain. you see.know what eventually happened to them. Utterly. It would explain so much—about the distant past and the present too. and that the galaxy is the board on which they play. “Wouldn’t I?” 126 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . There are no living mapirenes today. I can’t help wondering. But I can’t help wondering how it was that two space-faring races like the mapirenes and the cascarenes spent all those generations fighting one another and then vanished from the scene without trace. it might not have been a matter of mutual annihilation. you see. There’s an old saw which claims that people who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it. The prevailing wisdom is that they were wiped out by some great plague—probably one that was specifically engineered to take them out. When the game was over. but the destruction of the winning side by an infinitely more powerful outside agency.. they were simply removed from the board—swept away like so much garbage..and yet the mapirenes apparently became extinct on every single one. to leave the field clear for the next tournament. It would explain why we fight the war in the way that we do.” replied Delizia. and that the game which they play is interstellar war. That way.
” said Remy.” said Delizia. “is that hardly anyone wants to end the war. because only then can we make any sense out of what we are and what we’re doing. What he did was to cooperate in a conspiracy aimed at setting up negotiations to declare a truce in this sector of the galaxy. half-heartedly. “The bit that Scapaccio thinks is such a big secret. is the only hope we have of ending the war. “Yes you can.” said Remy. “But if it were true. If we knew what the seeders intended. Worlds like Haidra. It’s the only thing that could stop it.. There could be battleships knocking hell out of one another in the system before next WA R G A M E S | 1 2 7 .” “Worlds of no significance.or any other discovery that would stop us from confronting each other and make us confront ourselves. perhaps we could stop the war.to stop the needless slaughter of thousands of people.” “I don’t believe it. I knew a man once who was condemned to death by the brothers of his clan—the people sworn to defend and protect him—because they thought he had dishonored their name. The secret’s leaked so badly it’s a wonder half the galaxy isn’t here.” said Remy. who were bound to get killed in a battle for a dozen worlds that nobody really wanted..” “I can’t tell you.” “The problem. We need to know about the seeders and what their intentions were. and that that dishonor was quite intolerable.. then I think the most important thing in the world would be to find out in time. probably millions. If we were to find out that both we and the veich had been genetically programed to fight for the galaxy for the amusement of some hobbyist aliens. “I need to know what was on that disc. I think we need to know that too. People who oppose it—whether they’re veich or human—are likely to become its victims.that.” said Delizia. And you will. “I think you would... I think.” said the little man. And if it isn’t true—well then. The bit that dragged you out here. “except to stand as squares to be captured in the game of advance and conquer.” Delizia turned back then to meet Remy’s eye..“Yes. in an oddly resigned tone. and Kilifi. and Pajilla.
and someone else wants it too..’” “The seeders.. The veich know about the disc. again I can’t be sure we got it right.. But if the mapirenes did know the secret of the seeders.. the reference was to ‘the secret of the seeders. that you might not even have translated correctly?” “There was one more thing. “The mapirenes may have known. “I can follow the argument from then on. which was considered to be of vital importance by the mapirenes..” “What phrase?” asked Remy flatly and impatiently..spring.” To that. cutting him off with a dismissive gesture..” said Remy.. Scapaccio thinks that the mapirenes had got something that was capable of smashing the cascarenes once and for all. “That what brought you here? Just that—a phrase.’ or words to that effect.” said Delizia. “That leaves us with just one problem.and it may be somewhere in that base.. do you see? They may have known the answer.” “I know. and our other competitors are carrying a laser cannon.but that they never got to use it. it may not have meant that at all. “All that we could get from the disc was the fact that it was a military base of some considerable size.” said Remy.” said Delizia. “If you’re telling the truth—and it’s so crazy you can’t be making it up— then somebody else on the team is the one who smashed the 128 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . They’re after something a great deal more brutal. Delizia did not reply. What’s in that base?” “I don’t know. But you’re in something of a minority. It. They aren’t chasing any kind of metaphysical enlightenment. “Another phrase. There was other material—most of it very garbled— but there was one particular phrase... “As near as I could make out. It said: ‘the war will soon be over. The veich have sent out a warrior clansman.” Delizia must have realized even as he was saying it how weak it sounded. Remy stared at him.” echoed Remy.. He thinks that it’s still there.I don’t even know if I have it translated correctly. I’m not going to fight them all unless I know what I’m fighting for...
and the one who may be working for the opposition. You’d better get some sleep now. He reflected that there was still time to take up the option he had given to his men—ride south and let the various parties in the Syrene fight it out between themselves. not even a barrel-shaped cactus. “It probably doesn’t matter. as far as the eye could see.. there was not the least sign of anything except dust. “If someone from Command Haidra is in on this. and as Remy looked out toward the east he knew that the real challenge was just beginning. it could be any of Garstone’s boys—maybe even the freak. They had been traveling over rock and stony ground.radio. The two walked back to the circle of wagons. and for that reason had made good time.. He blew out the flame. no thorn scrub. He returned to his own tent. one reason for refusing to ride south: there was something he had to do for Yerema. “I don’t know anything about her.” he eventually finished.” said Remy. without having to run through dust drifts more than a few centimeters deep. ******* When they stopped for the next noonday they had entered a region that seemed to be a featureless ocean of dust. then paused. We can’t get far on guesswork. He found. holding it between thumb and forefinger and avoiding the hot wax that dripped from the wick. How much do you know about Justina Magna?” Delizia looked startled. He sipped water from his canteen and WA R G A M E S | 1 2 9 .. if it still existed. that he did not care in the least what might be in the mapirene base. and Remy watched Delizia walk across the open space to his tent. He cared neither for Scapaccio’s ultimate weapon nor Delizia’s lunatic puzzle—he was not by nature a curious man—but there was one thing that he did care about.” he began. Before him. “I don’t know. thinking about it. There was no spike grass. But now the dust was everywhere. speaking to no one.” Remy picked up the candle from its crevice.
We could hardly start a fight in Ziarat—a city which has a veir population in the tens of thousands.” growled Scapaccio. “For now.” “What are we going to do about it?” demanded Scapaccio. I wouldn’t bet on their being friends now. He was not surprised to see them—he had been expecting some kind of deputation since he had spoken to Delizia. either. his voice hoarse and bitter.” “But you didn’t think to mention it?” “No. “Except for the off-worlders. his voice partly muffled by his own mask. We’d be fools to attack the veich by 130 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . that is. “We’re being tracked by a party of veich. “Since we got back to Ziarat after picking you up on the road from Pir. “We’re being followed. Justina Magna and Garstone were standing behind him. He heard someone call his name and turned to find that Scapaccio. “nothing.” “How long have you known about the veich?” asked Scapaccio. trying to get away from the abrasive dust that was beginning to rub red marks around his waist. Most of them are—or were—Yerema’s mercenaries. at least for the time being.” “I suppose the veich are friends of yours?” said Garstone.” said Remy. We can’t start anything here. There was nothing we could do about it then and there’s nothing we can do about it now. He carefully screwed the cap back onto his canteen. It seems that Azreon has become a war zone. “They were. to judge by the dust they’re raising. making sure that the seal was tight and comfortable. “That’s right.shifted slightly in his clothes. though.” confirmed Remy. If anyone makes a move toward anyone else in daylight the move would be written across the sky. but they’re being led by an off-world clansman who was sent here to check up on you.” said Remy. I don’t know who they are. There’s someone else tracking us both—a smaller party. I didn’t. and replaced his mask.
They’d be fools to attack us.” said Garstone. As for the third party—we don’t know enough to start planning anything against them. “if we still had the radio. “what are we going to do about these others when the time comes—assuming that it does come. Then. because they see better than we do in the dark. How long have you known we were being followed. the muted anger obvious in his tone.night. “On what?” “On the er’kresha. then our first objective has to be to get rid of them.” “It depends.” Justina Magna intervened. Then the fight becomes three-cornered again. because we outnumber them—and because their mission isn’t to take over the base but simply to report on what we find there. If there are er’kresha in the mountains. I can’t give orders to the veich—but I might be able to presume on our former association to make some kind of deal.” “This would be a good time to call in Command Haidra. They must know that as well as we do. “You’ve been holding back a lot of information. “The point is. and I’m not about to try getting close to them while they could burn me as soon as look at me. If our force and theirs can combine in order to hit the er’kresha we can take command of the lake. Is everything clear now?” “Like hell. Calling in Command Haidra would be the end of everything.” said Scapaccio.” answered Remy. we can hit the veich. That’s what we want.” “As things are. and that’s what our mysterious third party wants. they pose a threat to all of us. “the odds are stacked against us—but I think Scapaccio still prefers them this way.” said Remy. that’s what the veich want. If there are a lot of er’kresha.” said Remy evenly. Scapaccio? Did you find out before the radio was WA R G A M E S | 1 31 .” said Garstone. maybe. from his viewpoint. “You weren’t exactly eager to tell me everything you know. Mr. we’ll never get out of the Syrene. But if we fight the veich first. All I know about them is that they’re better equipped than we are.
no doubt—but not the clansman.” answered Scapaccio. “That’s right. though the smile was invisible behind his mask. Maybe—just maybe—we could extend that deal to keep the alliance alive in order to fight the third party. “I think that sounds like treason. his voice still harsh and angry. but there may be a way we can get help. I just want to postpone the fight until we’ve taken care of the real opposition.” Remy smiled. Scapaccio. it’s going to take time for the veich to swing the war back this way. He’d doublecross you as soon as he thought that it was politic to do so.” said Garstone quickly.” “To me.and when they do they’ll very probably get beaten a second time. “Okay.. we’d have to offer the clansman a guarantee that he could make his call. If we’re going to live through this. Ask yourself.. It might also be after we’d taken care of the third party—and that could be the crucial issue. 132 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . Mr. He couldn’t. one question—if you have to share your discovery with someone. “Then think about this one. But to do that.smashed or after?” “I’d rather turn the base over to Command Haidra than wind up dead. we’re going to need some very good luck. “it sounds like a chance to survive. We can’t get help from Command. whom would you prefer? After all. If you approached him with a deal like that he’d consider it so dishonorable he’d feel entitled to agree to it with every intention of breaking his word. I don’t have any objection at all to fighting the veich. “The mercenaries would go for it.” said Justina Magna. We can maybe make a deal with the veich to help us deal with the er’kresha. You might just be able to buy yourself the time you need to sell whatever you find to Command Interstellar or to Command Earth. if we have to.” “Do you really think that you could make this deal with the veich?” asked Scapaccio. “But that would be after we’d taken care of the er’kresha—and it wouldn’t come as a surprise.” he conceded.” replied Remy. What do you think?” “I’ll tell you what I think.” said Remy.” “It would be treason from their viewpoint too.
no one will be able to touch me. “I intend to try. he doesn’t want anyone to know. Nobody lives forever. Instead. “I don’t suppose you’d have any idea who the third party might be? After all. following Garstone back toward the wagons. it’s your secret they seem to have got hold of. “you’re getting a full share of the excitement you wanted. I’d be very disappointed if I had to die without finding out what’s hidden away in those mountains. “Once I find out what’s in that base. “He can’t hurt me.” “I wouldn’t rely on finding out.” “The fortunes of war.” He too turned and began to walk away.” Scapaccio shook his head.” Her dark eyes stared at him over the rim of her mask. he said.” Garstone made a small sound in his throat.” The casual assumption of invulnerability seemed to Remy to be a symptom of madness. “I have no idea.Remy shrugged. “Do you think you can get us out of this?” “It’s not going to be easy. but there was little point in making an issue of it. turned on his heel and walked away.” he said. “you can promise him whatever you want—always presuming that we’re not expecting to have to deliver.” she replied dryly.” he said. “Well. but he isn’t going to offer us equal shares in the loot—just a payoff when he’s got his ticket to Earth and WA R G A M E S | 1 3 3 .” admitted Remy. “Unless it’s someone from Command Haidra. “One thing about all these complications. “but it’s an interesting problem.” said Remy with equal dryness.” “Rather too much.” said Remy to Justina Magna.” said Remy.” said Scapaccio evenly. “All right.” she said. “If I have Scapaccio figured right. “I wasn’t planning on getting killed.” said Remy casually. “is that they make the puzzle itself seem so much more interesting. I’ll be headed for Earth. “The sergeant doesn’t approve. He needs us to cover him.” he said. Scapaccio glanced sideways at Garstone.
his promotion to the ranks of the demigods.”
She laughed, and said, “I’ll find out.”
He watched her walk away and then turned briefly back to
his contemplation of the sea of dust before making his own way
back to the shade in order to take his noonday rest.
He wondered, as he walked, whether Scapaccio was the kind
of man who talked in his sleep. He looked the type.
134 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D
CH A PT ER T H I RT EEN
Remy knew well before the dawn of the fifth day that the
new sunrise would reveal more than the red haze that the people
of Ziarat called the river of blood. He had been conscious of the
change in the ground even before the night-dark. Once again
their path had become hard and uneven; the dust mingled with
grit and coarse, friable soil, with bare rock showing through in
patches. When the sun had set there had been nothing visible
in the east but the usual purple blur, but now that it was rising
again it was emerging from a castle of shadows.
When the first light showed he reined in, drawing ragged
breaths through his soiled mask. His throat was sore and the dull
pain across his chest had returned. His voice was all but gone.
He spoke now in a hollow whisper, as did they all. Conversation
had become difficult, and the tension and hostility which had
built up within the party was a further discouragement.
Remy blinked several times, trying hard to make tears that
would ease the aching. He knew that as the sun climbed, it
would get worse. But he also knew that by the time it set again
they would be in the foothills, away from the worst of the dust,
with abundant shade available and with at least the chance of
The mountains stood above the haze as a jagged row of
clean-cut shadows—a row of broken teeth protruding from a
bloodied jaw. They could hardly be said to seem inviting, but to
see honest black between the blue of the sky and the orange haze
was welcome enough. The last few days had seemed almost
WA R G A M E S | 1 3 5
timeless, as if he and all his companions had been condemned
to purgatory, to roam an infinite plain forever. Everything had
been suspended—all problems and relationships laid aside,
immutable, until a change in the landscape allowed their
Remy knew well enough that the chances were against his
ever returning from the mountains to the world outside the
Syrene, but he was nevertheless grateful for their appearance on
the horizon. The waiting was just wasted time—derelict time
that was like a temporary death. It counted for nothing. If there
was to be a fight to the death then he would far rather get on
with it than delay it endlessly with blank, wasted waiting time.
As the wagons began to move past him, Remy looked around
for another rider, but there was no one. For the last three days
virtually everyone had found it more comfortable to ride in the
wagons, where they need not wear masks and where the dust
did not get into their clothing. He watched the wagon drivers
as they went past, one by one, muffled in their night clothing,
their faces completely hidden save for the eyes. He recognized
Madoc, but the drivers were by now virtually indistinguishable; there was no way to tell his own men from Garstone’s.
The soldiers had abandoned their uniforms long ago in favor of
apparel that was actually planned for use in and near the desert.
Even Garstone had capitulated to necessity.
When the eighth wagon had passed, Remy remained still for
a moment or two, staring into the great dust cloud that had been
raised by the hooves of the plodding horses and the wheels of
the wagons. Then he urged his own mount into motion again,
taking it sideways away from the column and the worst of the
dust. The animal snorted, ducking its head as he pulled at the
bridle. It was a good deal leaner now than it had been when
they had first descended to the plain, having run through a
substantial fraction of the fat that served as its emergency water
supply. The horse was not yet suffering from dehydration, but
it might well be hungry, and the dust that invaded its nose and
throat would no doubt be as irritating as that which affected
136 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D
the humans. The animals could not be masked, though all were
equipped with veiled hoods during the daylight hours.
Remy patted the animal on its hairy rump and urged it
forward with his heels. Wearily, it complied.
They moved into the foothills in the later afternoon, and
Remy sent riders out in pairs in search of water. The wagons
moved slowly into the greener country, keeping to the more open
land. There was no obvious sign of the er’kresha, and it seemed
entirely possible that their approach had not been observed, but
Remy was cautious. When dusk fell the human riders returned,
and Remy sent out his three sioconi, all in a single party. It
was they who found water and were able to guide the train
into a valley sheltered to the west and east by two great ridges.
Though the hilltops were bare the valley itself was verdant, and
there was still enough foliage remaining from the summer’s
growth to allow the horses to make up their deficits. The water
was a series of stagnant pools connected by gullies that would
carry a fast-running stream when the rains came. The water
would have to be distilled before it would be drinkable, but this
provided no real problem.
Remy felt a good deal better once the wagons were positioned around the largest pool and the horses, confined by a
rope corral, were grazing the dry vegetation. It was good to be
able to walk about without a mask, and the air tasted marvelously clean, almost intoxicating. There were, however, problematic aspects to their situation. The hills on either side were tall,
and their slopes were not too precipitous, but they were by no
means in a good position to withstand an organized assault by a
considerable force of men—even poorly armed men. Garstone
wasted no time in pointing this out, but Remy invited him to
find water on top of one or another of the ridges.
“How long do you intend to stay here?’ the sergeant asked.
“That depends,” answered Remy. “One day’s riding could
WA R G A M E S | 1 3 7
“I’ll take Mouse with me.” said Remy with finality.” “If I don’t come back.” “Not even for the sake of the future of the human race? A weapon that could win the war.” said the sergeant. “What’s the matter?” asked Remy softly. I’ll take half a dozen men out before noonday to see how the land lies. you do that. Remy had told his own men. We should be safe enough. I don’t want to fight your desert savages.” The sergeant was still scowling. You might have to put Scapaccio under restraint.” replied Garstone. Take my advice and head due south. He was probably the only man in the camp who hadn’t caught up on the rumor. “If you don’t come back. I’ll leave the sioconi at your disposal.” “If it were up to me.” said Remy easily. I don’t think my men will fade out on you. I’ll reserve judgment on the possibility of your being dead. and maybe all tomorrow.” Remy confirmed. and from now until the fighting’s done Scapaccio counts for nothing. “What do you mean. the expression clearly delineated by the light of a lamp that hung from the rib of a nearby wagon. leave?” “I have an appointment.” said Remy tiredly. “it’ll be your show. We’ll be back before dawn. but we’ll need to know where the er’kresha are first. None of this is of my making. We should have turned back when the radio was smashed. It’ll be up to you to get them through..or the secret of the seeders?” Garstone didn’t understand the reference. “Well. avoid 138 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . but your superiors in Command would probably reckon that you’d done the right thing. and it had spread from there.” “And if they attack in the meantime?” “We defend ourselves.” Garstone scowled. “Do you think I’d desert you?” “Put it this way.” “With the veich?” “With the veich.. We stay here all night.take us to the lake. “You’d better post a strong guard. “if you want to pull your men out. “we’d be heading back across the desert as soon as we’d picked up enough water.
” “You’re setting up a deal to give him exactly that chance. “But just between you and me. You don’t have to tell me—I have confidence in the guess. But there’s somebody out there who does. of course. even if it takes you half a year. I’m liking it a damn sight better than you are. “Tell me one thing before I go get some sleep until it’s time to ride out. I like to be a player instead of a pawn. there’re two reasons for trying to make a deal with the veich. and I think that from now until they get him. Zemak might have brought the whole veir war fleet back into this sector. which might just help us trap the guys with the laser. I might have been safer staying with the army—but on the other hand. So you see. they help us get past the er’kresha.” “You’re a bastard. Second. That ought to make even you feel good—except that once they’ve got Zemak.” agreed Remy. I might be standing exactly where you are. By that time. and for a moment Remy thought that he’d made a mistake. “is being free to make my own decisions about how to play it.” said Remy. with my platoon commander dead. “That’s right. “And I’d like to take you back to Omer with me when I go.” said Garstone. All of us. was he? His orders were to gather intelligence in Ziarat. he’s their number-one target. Verdi wasn’t sent here to play nursemaid to Scapaccio. Think about it.” “You’d know. I’d lay a thousand to one against his being able to use that signaling device of his. You’ll get home again. “don’t you?” “What I like about it. if you want to know. they’re going to be coming after us. they provide Zemak as bait.Ziarat.” “How would I know? I’m only a sergeant. We’re in the same boat—but yes.” “Sure. For myself.” replied Remy.” Garstone flashed a wolfish smile across his thick lips. I don’t much care.” said Garstone harshly. Then the WA R G A M E S | 1 3 9 .” said Garstone. First. chasing a crazy fake colonel into the valley of death. And make sure that your strong man has his machine gun close to hand.” “You really like this game.
” said Remy.” said Remy. That’s it. As Remy had forecast. No ships calling here to allow the rotation of personnel.” said Remy confidently.you can always look around in search of a petty quarrel. since the so-called pacification cooled off. Better to let Valla set things up for us—and get the clansman used to the idea that he’s going to need what we have to offer.sergeant said. “I wasn’t sure at first. “All right. The army of occupation’s been idle for a long time. which were arranged in an open-cornered square..” “We’re going to have to talk to the clansman eventually. A lot of soldiers kicking their heels without seeing action. unconcerned. She was alone.. As a training exercise. “How’s she going to find us?” asked Mouse. those were the orders. Command Haidra’s toying with the notion of invading Azreon. in a croaking whisper. but now I think I am. They dismounted and settled down to wait.” said Remy. “She’ll find us. “Did you think you’d be safe forever. to play your own game with the veich. When the war seems to have passed you by. “I’d ride right into the camp if it weren’t for the possibility of being picked off by an overeager sentry. ******* The veich were camped on open ground about four kilometers away.” They waited for a quarter of an hour and then saw a rider silhouetted against the lights of the veir encampment. Do you know why?” “I think so.. Remy and Mouse had no difficulty in locating them and rode to a hummock about six hundred meters from the wagons. “If it’s that easy. isn’t it?” “Did you think you could build yourself an empire here?” asked Garstone mockingly. making a fortune in Ziarat?” “Nothing lasts forever.something to while away the time. they could all come to the party.. she had no difficulty in locating 14 0 | B R I A N S TA B L E F O R D .
the humans and the men who killed Yerema. How are things with your party?” “The clansman is unwell.” said Remy. There’s no way you can fight the er’kresha. it might be different.” said Remy. He knows about tactics and double-dealing. Remy went forward to meet her and greeted her formally in the language of the clans. “I don’t think they know we’re here yet. “But they don’t seem to like us any more than they like you.” said Remy evenly. but they’re more dangerous to both of us than we are to one another. two groups might just beat the other two. when she gave him back the canteen.” “It was Yerema they killed. She barely glanced at Mouse.” WA R G A M E S | 1 41 . “We are all tired and thirsty. You can persuade him. If they’re gathered at the lake. “That’s impossible.” “They are not veich. “you must realize what an impossible situation you’re in. She accepted it and drank sparingly.” she replied. If it weren’t for the men with the laser. Not Oclo. they may not have seen our dust as we came across the desert. that’s why they killed Yerema.” answered Remy. or any of the others. Together. “So they’re human...” “Zemak would never agree.” she said.” she replied flatly. He knows about expediency.them. His honor and his pride would not let him. “No. It’s the only way. Only you. “As your father’s daughter.” “His honor and his pride wouldn’t let him be sincere—but he’s a warrior.. Only you can do it. The men with the laser know that. “Have you seen any sign of the er’kresha?” she asked. “I want to talk to the clansman. or Subala. Valla. The only way anyone is going to survive this mess is by combining forces—however reluctantly—with someone else.” “That’s exactly why someone has to take his place.” He took the canteen from the saddle of his horse and offered it to her.
” “I had to. Then she looked up. The optiman looked over his shoulder. “but it’s a false assumption.” said Delizia weakly. Remy took the automatic rifle from his shoulder and fed the first bullet into the chamber. looking out and up the long slope.” said Delizia. Not until he heard the voice did he realize that it was the optiman. That’s not the way we see ourselves.” There was no need for her to say that they were close—they had to be or she would not have been able to smell them. functionally designed for specific and limited purposes.” said Andros smoothly. looking up at the optiman’s shadowed face.” she said calmly. “The er’kresha know that we are here. “After all. You think of me as something not quite human—some kind of android. But Remy had seen veich look up like that on countless former occasions—even city veich. and big heart accelerated until it was fluttering madly. Andros was taller than he by a full half-meter. Silently. “Not really. You think of me as a machine. “What is it?” he asked. “What do you think about all this?” asked Delizia. taking up a position at the opposite shaft. “That’s rather a bizarre question.” he said. The optiman lowered the gun which he had held at the ready and ducked under the shaft. “You shouldn’t be wandering about in the darkness.For a moment her head was bowed and she was silent. “You might get shot by one of the sentries. big voice dry with alarm. ******* Delizia jumped as the shadow suddenly loomed over him. Delizia stared at his back.” replied Andros.” 14 2 | B R I A N S TA B L E F O R D . “You were wrong. almost as if she were looking to the haze-hidden stars for inspiration.” “You may see me in that light.” He leaned against the long shaft of one of the wagons. “The new water—I think it affected my digestion. there’s a sense in which you’re outside of it all—an objective observer.
and we are all too well aware of the implication that we are not and cannot become perfect.” said Delizia. We put a great deal of effort into your training. exercise a kind of eugenic selection. I don’t know why.” said Andros. “We have always believed that they might turn on us and destroy us. We believe that you might despise us—and in believing it. “Can you doubt it?” “No.. to make you think as we want you to think. but our training is no more than the logical extension of the training which is given to every human child. and we cannot help but think that you will consider yourselves so.” “You cannot reproduce your own kind. Andros said nothing. in the same way that your other children are yourselves. it seems rather perverse to deny that we are members of the human race. “I suppose not. to try to make you believe exactly what we want you to believe. We are the product of your flesh. We have tried to make you perfect. however rough-and-ready. calmly.” “Perhaps. But human parents. I think the reason that we do not regard you as human is that we cannot believe that you regard us as beings like yourselves. We are yourselves. You have spent many generations trying to make yourselves into optimen.” said Andros. feeling somehow reckless in saying it. “The time will come. in their choice of mates. Then he said. but there is always the suspicion that if we have made you well.” “We have a long history of being afraid of our creations. “Is there really such a difference between a womb of metal and plastic and a womb of flesh? Our genes are selected—we are preplanned. within the limitations of our purpose.” said Delizia. We have made you in order to be superior. Now that you have found the way to do it. we concede that there might be justice in it.“How do you see yourselves?” For a moment.. then that training cannot wholly be effective. “you ought rather to be anxious in case your believing that we are inhuman makes us so.” said Delizia quietly.perhaps because we have always been afraid that human creativity was a usurpaWA R G A M E S | 1 4 3 . We are trained from the moment of birth.
I can believe that a man might overcome his fear of dying. And so we created you. That can only be defeated by avoidance. we have evolved in their image. But there are different kinds of fear.” Delizia was startled by the remark and peered blindly into 14 4 | B R I A N S TA B L E F O R D .” “From fear of physical danger. A strange irony. Sometimes I wonder how the human race—all the lemuroid races—stand with regard to their own creators. so that he will fight without feeling an impulse to run and hide. in an attempt to prove its nonexistence. from trembling helplessness—all but a few exceptions.” suggested Andros.” “It was my understanding that for some twenty generations humankind has been free of fear.. If. Do you see what I mean?” “I understand what you are trying to say. but we cannot admit that. but not all fear consists of phobic responses. I have no need to follow that policy—I have a license to be afraid.. but I cannot believe that a man can overcome his fear of death.. indeed. it is not enough to eliminate the word ‘fear’ from our speech. but because of it. not in spite of our fear.tion of the prerogatives of God.” replied Andros.. Phobic responses yield easily enough to conditioning. It may be our remote descendants who become seeders themselves. from panic. There is a different kind of fear which emerges from the contemplation of ideas. “That is why we find ourselves in a curious situation regarding genetic optimization.” “Perhaps. so that he will be careless of his possible fate. It would be rather horrifying to think that their seeding of the galaxy was inspired by similarly twisted motives.but it is quite another to free him from the threat of his own ideas. “We are afraid of you.” said Delizia. plainly choosing his words with care. Believe me. We cannot even tolerate the notion. “we have a great deal of evolving still to do. as so many people believe. It is one thing to make a man courageous. There are fears which emerge from the necessary properties of experience. even to be a connoisseur of fear.. to which there can be no immunity. The pretense is not adequate to establish the reality.
“That too. musical laugh. “Yes..” said Delizia. We make our evolutionary decisions now. “that we have for many centuries been responsible for our own evolution.” “Genetic optimization. “Tell me. “I do.and the next? And how many other men have used exactly those words to promote their own projects.one that was made several hundred years ago by a man named Carrien. silky tone.” he replied. “Do you really consider yourself more human than Scapaccio or Garstone or Remy?” Delizia didn’t hesitate. of course.” “It’s a conscious recapitulation of another statement. Toward a kind of creativity which would not force us to create nightmares in order to persuade ourselves—falsely—that we need not be afraid of them. But then—it’s in my interest to think that. trying to see the optiman’s face.” said Delizia dryly.. “The problem is.” “You’re quoting. “is the single most important step in the future evolution of mankind.. ‘The conquest of fear is the single most important step in the future evolution of mankind.” “Then you must consider yourself to be even more remote from men like myself. I wonder.the dark.. unsuccessfully?” “You think Carrien was wrong?” “Yes.. We have no way of knowing whether we are transforming ourselves into seeders.’ What will be the next step.” “Yes. He could not. Our choices will shape our ultimate descendants.. though he knew that the other could see his face clearly enough.. while the fact of my own fearfulness makes me as much an outsider among my fellow men as your optimization.” he said.” Andros laughed—a low. in a low. “Yes..” WA R G A M E S | 1 4 5 .” admitted Delizia.” “What would you consider to be the proper direction of human evolution?” “Toward greater knowledge and greater understanding. “From the director of the project—our spiritual father.” Delizia replied slowly.or into monsters.” “You were born out of your time. Toward peace instead of war. I do..” said Andros evenly.
” 14 6 | B R I A N S TA B L E F O R D . “No.” he said. The sound was gunfire.” the optiman told him. “How did you know?” he asked. but Delizia knew well enough that he was being mocked. “No one else. “But it may not be too late for the direction of history—and human evolution—to change. as Delizia strained his ears to catch the faint crackling sound. What was it?” Andros drew himself up to his full height and lifted the rifle that he had been holding loosely in his hands. “I didn’t hear anything. there was no mistaking it. Listen!” This time.” “If only you can find the secret of the seeders. “Wake Garstone. “There’s no one in camp who doesn’t. “Can you hear that?” Delizia started at the note of sudden urgency that invaded the optiman’s final speech. “We seem to be enjoying good fortune. “The er’kresha are attacking the veich.” said Andros.” he replied.” said the optiman.” said Delizia. The optiman’s voice was level and there was no trace in his tone of sarcasm.“I know.
WA R G A M E S | 1 4 7 . Mouse was already mounted. but there was insufficient light to see how the fight was going. The attackers split into two groups and flowed around the makeshift defense. so did the fire of the veich—the whole camp was roused now. “No!” he said. taking the lead and urging it on to maximum effort. Though the leading riders discharged their rifles hopefully they could not unleash any considerable fusillade. Remy grabbed her arm. while he struggled into his own saddle.” She touched his restraining hand—a gesture of acquiescence. We’ll have to make a run for the valley. “We’ve got to get out of here. Remy kicked his horse into motion. complaining of the rough treatment. though no more than four or five could have been awake. As their fire grew in volume. and he saw horses go crashing down. Remy saw silhouetted riders tumble from their mounts in the hail of automatic fire. galloping across the open ground at the lamp-lit square of wagons. who was moving back to her horse as if she had every intention of riding into the battle. His attention was distracted by Valla. but it accelerated into a gallop. The heavier fire came from the automatic rifles of the defenders.CH A PT ER FOU RT EEN The kresh riders came from the north. and he let her free to mount up. The animal whinnied and tossed its head. spreading out to allow themselves room to shoot without the danger of hitting one another.
From behind. about to bring its hooves down upon him. his rifle clattering on full automatic fire for twelve seconds before the clip ran out. It had come to a dip in the ground and had been unprepared for the change in slope. Remy came to his feet and raised his own weapon. Ordinarily. without warning. but then something very solid crashed into the back of his head. “They’ve seen us!” Remy groped for the trigger guard of his rifle and managed to get it into a position which would allow him to fire one-handed if the occasion arose. For the time being. however. and he was knocked unconscious. crumpling at the knees and throwing Remy forward over its head. and he showed no inclination to regain it. She had not risen from the ground. Then a riderless horse cannoned into him and sent him flying. As Remy rolled. As the shadows of the pursuing riders bore down he fired. The last sound he heard was Mouse cursing volubly. and tried to move away again. Valla and Mouse were riding would outdistance kresh horses without difficulty. and their reserves of strength would not have been replenished by their brief sojourn in the valley. Then. picking off the first two without effort. but Mouse stayed in the saddle and brought the animal under control. Against a backcloth of stars he saw Mouse’s horse rear. Instead. his horse fell. the fallen animal brought down Valla’s horse. He heard Mouse’s rifle go off as the big man fired at their pursuers. trying to keep a hold on his rifle. he heard Mouse’s voice call. the animals which he. but he could find no sign in the darkness of Valla. but these animals had trekked across the desert. he kept the weapon low down at his side and concentrated his attention on keeping his balance on the swift-moving horse. He saw the animal wheel vengefully. on the move for many days. All his momentum was lost. he vaulted from the saddle and whirled to face the oncoming er’kresha. though. When he tried to rise he saw the horse rearing above him. he knew. and he threw himself aside. 14 8 | B R I A N S TA B L E F O R D .
Until the sun actually shone directly into his eyes. “We should be safe now. “We don’t know how many of these savages there are. The camp routine had been badly disturbed.” replied Scapaccio. he took half the men off sentry duty and began delegating work to those who had slept out the last shift. When it finally did so. There were wispy white clouds drifting in the sky. dawn came late to the valley where Scapaccio’s expedition was encamped.” Garstone told him. He looked up when Garstone entered. they’ll leave us alone in daylight. “He’s probably dead by now. “Remy’s already made his mistake.” Garstone set down his rifle on an unoccupied bunk. Garstone did not relax. though.” be pointed out.” “I think we should move up closer to the lake. “As you say. They won’t attack now. Delizia was asleep in one of the bunks. We can expect them some time after nightfall.” said the sergeant. “Well?” he said. his head ducking to avoid the edge of the one above. Garstone sought out Scapaccio in his wagon. while Scapaccio was studying his maps. according to Remy. “They know we have the advantage in daylight.” “Ten to one is a more likely figure.” said Scapaccio. but a meal was in preparation.******* Because of the high ridge to the east. and everyone seemed tired. and lowered himself in order to perch on its edge. and they were lit with yellow light long before the Sun’s rays reached down into the cleft of shadow. I’m not going to risk my men in any WA R G A M E S | 1 4 9 . We can find a better position to mount a defense—and to prepare for an attack.” “An attack?” “We have to take and hold a position close to the lake eventually—and we need freedom of movement to search for the base. “We could be outnumbered a hundred to one.
” He watched Scapaccio’s eyes carefully.attack unless I know precisely where the enemy are..” “No—but there are defensible positions between here and there. “We send Remy’s men out as scouts during the noonday. don’t you?” 150 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . but you’re not a field officer. They know enough to steer clear of trouble.” Scapaccio curled his lips into the shadow of a smile—a token gesture.” “We won’t be close enough to the base to stand any chance of locating it. colonel. Make it twenty-one fighting men. We have to get closer. But when the fighting’s over. “We can’t afford to lose men. Delizia or the woman. sergeant. and how many they are. We wait until they report back before we do anything. “All right. but we still have to take the savages seriously. half of whom have guns.” “I don’t want to waste too much time.” he said. “but this is a military operation. We have only twenty men now that we’ve lost Remy and his giant friend—not counting yourself.” Garstone added. And we have to stay here long enough to build our water supplies back up to something reasonable. “We’re going to need all the cover we can keep. You may hold a commission. the colonel seemed preternaturally calm.” “What do you suggest?” asked Scapaccio. The er’kresha are the immediate problem.” “That won’t leave us time to get within twelve kilometers of the lake.” said Garstone quietly. If there are four or five hundred kresh bandits out there. that will very probably be the best place to set up a defense. I wouldn’t like to think that someone else might get there first. but there was no flare of anger.. We may have a heavy machine gun and a handful of mortars. and I’m taking it. Indeed.” “I’m sorry. You do understand that. If we can get to the base.” “We have to take it slowly. they could give us one hell of a lot of trouble.you’re under my orders. This is my responsibility. “You take command while there’s fighting to do. We might be a long time in getting to that lake. no matter how fast we try to move.
mechanically.Garstone held his own features rigidly blank. and then he saw Mouse behind her. too. similarly secured by cords of seasoned leather. The light was dim. Garstone knew that they were in enough trouble already. “On the island in the middle of the lake. watching him through half-closed eyelids. and found that they. but his hair was matted with blood and there were two overlapping bruises on his left temple. He picked up his gun and stood up. He blinked twice. were tied. and sunlight streamed through it. but he could see that they were inside a tent. and felt a touch at his shoulder. bumping his shoulder on the edge of the upper bunk. He muttered expressive obscenities. His hands were tied behind his back. no longer asleep. sir. The tent was conical. he tried to move his feet apart. His head was throbbing and he tried to reach up to take it in his hands.” Scapaccio didn’t look convinced. Valla moved aside to let him roll over. it would do. and he was lying on compressed clay littered with the needle-like leaves of some evergreen tree. “Yes. but for the time being. He too was awake.” replied Valla. He opened his eyes. presumably intended to function as a chimney. ******* Remy woke slowly from a delirious dream. but billowed out along one side. He tried to roll over onto his back. “Where are we?” he asked. Valla was beside him. It had no floor. but someone’s knees were in the way. but there was no open flap. and a sizable camp on the part of the lake bed that’s dry. trying to clear his head and recover the fugitive memories that might tell him where he was. but couldn’t. There’s a bridge of boats. Experimentally. WA R G A M E S | 1 5 1 . There was a hole in the roof. experiencing a strong sense of dislocation. As he turned to go he saw Delizia. without any kind of split developing within the camp. and said. “I was conscious when they brought us in.
They were out in the hills as a group of foraging parties.” Remy tested the strength of the cords that were lashed around his wrists. He checked the cords around his ankles.” She talked quickly. but to judge by the size of the camp and the number of animals there must be six hundred kresh fighting men gathered here. and strained at the bonds. “Before nightfall.We got here a couple of hours into noonday. but there was something almost compulsive in the stream of words. There could be more in the vicinity. She seemed quite composed. They had suffered a great deal at the hands of mercenaries.” said Mouse. though—the island. They attacked the camp without realizing how much firepower there was. his voice ragged. it’ll be too late. but they haven’t got around to us yet. We’re on the lower slopes. They had taken away his boots. If we’re going to get out. and there was little elasticity in them. even at the best of times. “they’ll send out the warriors in force to attack both camps. They had been tied tightly.” he said. There was nothing. and so he looked around for a stone in the debris that surrounded him. sacred to them.” “They didn’t bring in anyone else?” She shook her head. an imaginatively vengeful people. in some sense. They were. With it being noonday when we arrived I couldn’t say for certain. It’s afternoon now. It’s not very large. This must be Belle Yella’s station. If they’d come back here to fetch their friends. as mountains go. and those cords too were digging 152 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . and now the mercenaries had invaded land which was. They will. in a colloquial form of the language of the clanless. When they come back. but there’s no real peak. They lost thirty or forty men. it’s mostly woodland above us. She knew why the er’kresha had taken them alive. “No use. There were only a hundred in all. it will have to be then. It’s steep. with a couple of wagons. They had taken the knife—and everything else—from his belt. “They gave up the attack on the camp. That only made them cut into his skin. it would have been different. He sat up. from what I could gather.
One. He was carrying something in his bony hand. He laid his head on the ground and tried to squint through. In his hand WA R G A M E S | 1 5 3 . Both were tall. without even sandals on his feet. If he kept still. It was hopeless—he could see nothing but a few inches of bare ground and the root of a tree protruding from the clay. “It’s my commission from the gods. Before he got there. His throat was very dry. and two er’kresha entered the tent. to judge by his apparel. though Remy was taller than either. He was very thin. “I’m a messenger. it was yanked back. “Work on the ones around Mouse’s ankles.” said Remy. for their kind.” While the girl tried to get into the best position to get her fingers to the knots securing Mouse’s feet Remy rolled to the side of the tent. but with a curious accent. and seemed only to make things worse.” said Valla.” “Don’t try. but every experimental tug pulled the knots a little tighter. He sat up again and began to slide sideways toward the sealed tent flap. “but I can only just reach them with my fingertips. “I think I could probably untie the ones around my ankles. The other was dressed sparingly in a loincloth. Remy sat back and looked up. and as his eyes caught Remy he raised the object as if to catch his attention.” The kresh warrior made a small sound of disgust. and he was extremely thirsty. they did not cut off the circulation. He coughed.into his flesh. torn diagonally across but rewound so as to keep the pieces together. in the language of the sioconi. “Where did you get this?” asked the kresh. where there was a crack of daylight between the hide and the ground. Remy recognized the object as a small scroll of parchment. the bones standing out from his taut skin around the eyes and the jaw. was the leader of one of the many bands of marauders that had congregated here. ducking low in order to pass through the portal.” said Remy hoarsely. He spoke it clearly.
They have delivered you into our hands. not because he didn’t believe what he was saying. “Where did you get the scroll. as they promised. “He is now with big ancestors.” said the prophet... but again Belle Yella stayed his hand. “We must show you to the people. you can have him. “I am Sigor Belle Yella. He turned his wrist.” “Of course. but the other man stopped him.” “You will be treated with all the respect due to you.” replied Remy.he was carrying a large flashlight which he must have taken from Remy’s saddlebag.” said Remy. “while Yamba burns in the hell of noonday.” Belle Yella assured him. “You’d think that I could be treated with a little more respect. his brother will join him. Many of them will know you—some have fought against you. Soon. preparing to strike Remy across the face with it.and so that they may read in your suffering and death the promise of their victory. “It was promised that all of our enemies would be delivered into our hands. “The gods have brought you here. so that they may see the sign. It is promised that we shall sweep through the lands of Ziarat to reclaim what is ours by right and that none will stand in our way. but because he was relishing the fact that Remy didn’t believe it.” Again the warrior moved to hit him. “I said I was a messenger.” “Promised?” queried Remy.” said Remy. This is a sign.” “You can have it back then. all know your 154 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D .” he asked again. I’ve quit Ziarat.” Remy was almost sure that there was a note of irony in the other man’s voice. bearing gifts for the er’kresha.” said the man holding the scroll.” murmured the prophet. You have brought us new weapons—and the gift of yourselves.” “Maybe. “For my part.” said Remy. “The commission is mine. shrugging his shoulders. “I took it from the man you sent to kill Yamba. “I don’t suppose your ancestors would let me into the kresh paradise anyhow.
It wasn’t gloating—not in the ordinary sense.” said Mouse hoarsely. he’s really going to whip them up.” Belle Yella told him.” “It seems to me.” said Remy. the king Hellen Grygla and his bastard brother Yamba. Remy struggled to sit up again. They won’t be invulnerable— but they’ll think they are. with a loose-lipped smile.” “Everything that is promised will be given.” said Remy laconically. allowing himself to be knocked to the ground. “When your father told me the er’kresha were gathering in order to wait for a miracle. the other kresh following. The trouble is. “Not to me—to himself.” he said to Valla. “He wanted to prove how clever he was. All the machine guns and mortars in the world aren’t going to stop them. They’re going to hit Scapaccio like a hurricane—Zemak too. if he has enough men left to put up any real resistance.” “And the ones who aren’t go straight to heaven?” This time the prophet let his restraining arm fall. It has been promised that all four will die. but it jarred his teeth and renewed his headache. He believes it all. so that they may know the justice of the ancestors. He wanted to get it all set in his own mind. “they will know their destiny. and the warrior swung the flashlight to strike Remy across the mouth. “When my people have seen the sign which the gods have sent to them.” replied Remy. It was not a particularly hard blow. “It isn’t going to be easy collecting those guns. They will be invulnerable.” replied the prophet. Nothing can stand in their way. and that the faithful will see your death and that of Hellen Grygla. When he puts on his show. his faithful followers will believe it too. and Remy rolled with it. but his belief needed boosting. Belle Yella turned and left the tent.name as they know the names of veir Yerema. “that you’re embroidering these godly promises a little to suit the circumstances.” “Why did he tell you all that?” asked Mouse. WA R G A M E S | 1 5 5 . “I didn’t think I’d end up playing the role myself.” “I don’t think it’s going to matter to us.
craning her neck to look behind her in a futile attempt to see what her hands were doing. Can you imagine Belle Yella’s horde advancing on Ziarat armed with a laser cannon?” “I think I can loosen these knots. He concentrated on the knots around Mouse’s ankles.” he mused. or whether they managed to slip through.“It matters to me.. Maybe there isn’t a base in these hills.” said Valla.so much for hesitation. they hauled him out into the afternoon sunlight. and the information disc was planted on Kilifi by some other-worldly friend of the kresh spirit of the waters. Remy coughed again. instead of scouting the road to Pir. “If Delizia were here. I wonder if the skinny freak knows that there’s a third gift package wandering around out there. “I still have unfinished business—and so has Valla. and the thin. Maybe the gods did deliver us to his doorstep—maybe that’s what this whole crazy crusade is about. Covertly. “he’d be trying to confuse himself with wondering whether Belle Yella might be right. Mouse looked down at his ankles dubiously. Letting his feet drag along the floor. realizing that an unpleasant compulsive element had taken over his speech. Then the tent flap was torn open for a second time and two warriors came in. we could have smashed the er’kresha—we could have been in possession of the whole damn range when Scapaccio and Zemak came staggering out of the Syrene begging us for water. 156 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . he began to mutter obscenities. They ignored Mouse and Valla. but picked Remy up by his armpits. If we’d brought a task force out here right away.” replied Remy.. nimble fingers that were trying to loosen them.” He stopped.
though at present the actual water level was twelve meters down. some halfWA R G A M E S | 1 5 7 . mostly gathered around the periphery of the camp.CHAPTER FIFTEEN They had cut notches into the hard wood of the two tall trees that stood on the edge of a sheer cliff. its surface cracked and channeled by desiccation. There were a hundred tents. They untied Remy’s wrists. There were other domestic animals roaming free—the kresh equivalent of hunting dogs. weathered rock. so that his arms were at half-stretch. those twelve meters of almost vertical fall were matched by a great expanse of gray-brown mud. That area sloped away at a gradually increasing angle until it was cut abruptly into a much steeper face of bare. leaving him dangling above the ground. Across the far side of the muddy lake as it now lay. Then. On that vast expanse. That would be the lake’s high-water mark. The precipice curved away to a region of jagged rocks and thorn bushes some thirty meters below. a dozen small fires. was the Kresh horde. and some small branches had been cleared away from the main trunk below that level. enclosures not merely for horses but also for three small herds of goats. arrayed before him. The notches were three meters from the ground. some five meters apart. using poles with Y-shaped ends to lift him. baked as hard as concrete by the sun. they slotted the shaft to which he was secured into the notches. There were a dozen wagons. facing outward over the rim of the cliff. his arms twisted painfully. and then lashed them to a pole.
as he hung from the slowly bending bar. then his guns could probably rip the heart out of the entire horde. They stared back.loaded with vegetables and stale loaves. There were perhaps seven hundred warriors all told—more than he had expected. but there was no defense against the blurring effect of the glare. Those who had only swords would not be able to use them until the fighting was hand-to-hand. and more than Valla had been able to estimate. Only three hundred or so had guns. and it was painful for him to move his neck muscles in order to glance around. They had come to the lake shore in full strength. He was Sigor Belle Yella’s miracle. He was on show for their benefit: a display. a sign. He had 158 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . If Garstone’s lines of defense held out against the first barrage and the first charge. Remy stared down at the waiting er’kresha. and the angle was such that in trying to look at Remy they were also trying to look into the sun. fully armed with whatever steel they had been able to secure in a lifetime of plundering. but seemed to have some difficulty in so doing. The sun was slowly sinking into the sky behind his left shoulder. of course. there were the warriors of Kresh—the army of an imaginary nation. And. Because the horde below had captured his immediate attention Remy was slow to realize what was happening around him. They all looked up—every one—at Remy. Even seven hundred men cannot stand for long under the fire of a dozen automatic rifles and a heavy machine gun. and that would be the vital figure if and when they attacked Scapaccio’s wagons. however. The three hundred rifles would have to provide cover for a mounted charge—the spearmen and the bowmen would not be effective until the ring of wagons was actually breached. Their eyes were hooded by the pigmented membranes that protected them from the searing brightness. Because he was so close to the edge of the cliff there was nothing immediately in front of him. trying desperately to work his arms and wrists into a position which would cause him less pain.
The words came faster. Remy could have kicked him over the edge of the cliff. Before the pain made him jerk his head forward again he saw a dozen kresh dressed in the same fashion as Belle Yella assembling on the apron of open ground that separated the cliff face from the edge of the forest. his head and his stretching arms were silhouetted against the ball of the sun itself. Remy could imagine what it looked like from below. slightly in front. obviously. with more emphasis. Then the prophet began to speak. who had bound him to the crosspiece of his present frame. and he knew that his torso. Had he moved one further pace to the left. As the sun sank toward the shoulder of the island-mountain the forested slopes would darken into shadow. His pale clothing would make sure that he stayed visible while there was still twilight. Remy could not understand what was being said. but he had seen no other kresh except for the four warriors under the supervision of the tribal chieftain. His peripheral vision was adequate to show him only one—the man who came to stand to the side of him. but that made it easier for him to perceive the rhythm of the words as phrases were repeated and juxtaposed. This. and he tried to look sideways. At present the sun’s rays cut across his back. As time wore on. Soon.already seen as he had been bundled out of the tent that there was half a dozen other tents in close proximity. The sign would not fade even when Belle Yella had finished and his warriors had begun their long ride to the first of many WA R G A M E S | 1 5 9 . It was the sound that swelled from below that told him something was happening. Belle Yella’s arms were raised and his voice grew in volume. but still with the same mesmeric repetition. was Belle Yella himself. He began quietly and rhythmically. the sun would leave him to be exposed against a backcloth of deepening blue. punctuating his words with precisely measured pauses. The murmur from below died away to an unnatural silence at some signal from Belle Yella. He took up his position just a tantalizing half meter beyond the reach of Remy’s naked foot. on the very lip of the precipice.
though. again and again. The chant began to beat inside Remy’s skull. His skin was split on both sides. but there had to be some grand gesture planned to end the speech. The assembled fighting men began to respond. He became almost oblivious to the blows from the flashlight. and he felt blood trickling into his beard and spreading along the jawline. At first. the blows were not particularly hard—Remy’s feet were far enough above the ground so that the kresh had to use the full extent of his arm and the flashlight to be able to reach his face at all. with the prophet almost screaming in hysteria. As the flood of words continued. that there had to be worse to come. now. and now Remy could see from the corner of his other eye that the chieftain with the flashlight had taken up a similar position to his left. but the kresh was ready.confrontations with death which Belle Yella had assured them they need not fear. laughing to show that he knew full well that every sudden movement Remy tried would send waves of agony from his spine to the extremities of his fingers. in time to the chant. but as Belle Yella’s harangue grew fervid he stepped across. he just stood there. They would not kill him yet. bawling ritual phrases over and over. hoping to kick the warrior away. and evaded him easily. the warrior assisted his punctuation by striking Remy rhythmically. jolting him badly but lacking the force to break the bone. raising their guns and spears to catch the light of the sun like a glittering cascade. and when Belle Yella stopped for a dramatic pause. but all the blows were falling on the edge of his jaw. He knew. he hit Remy across the face with the torch. chanting along with Belle Yella to the rhythm of the blows. Twice he tried to lash out with his feet. and was so compelling that he found himself repeating the nonsense syllables deep in his throat. but he was in no danger of fainting from the pain. Belle Yella went on. The wide head of the instrument was jarring him back and forth. The chanting warriors were moving. letting his head loll back and making no 16 0 | B R I A N S TA B L E F O R D . In fact.
The interruption of circumstances affected the mesmeric rhythm of Belle Yella’s harangue. but he had no chance. The man with the flashlight. He folded up as he fell. stopped dead. was the operative word. in a totally unnatural way.. Belle Yella’s chant picked up again. Remy lashed out with both feet. falling to the ground as though the tissue that held his bones together had turned instantly to water. The shadow passed. A small cloud was passing across the face of the sun. That stride brought him directly in front of Remy.. Consciousness refused to slip away. He went tumbling over the edge. seemed to falter in its oppressive meter. too. The whole scene seemed to darken. Belle Yella’s voice was cut off in mid-word.attempt to ride them. but he began to feel curiously remote. momentarily obscuring its light.. Suddenly. the resumed chant had surged forward again. which seemed somehow to be pregnant with change.. letting go of the desperate scream for which his prophet simply had not had time. Then there was a sudden coldness as the radiance of the sun no longer streamed across his back. he hesitated in the wrong place. seemingly unable to believe his eyes. for Remy from the corner of his eye that the prophet seemed to sway back and forth and then crumpled. took one stride toward Belle Yella’s stricken form and then hesitated. The chant.. The hesitation took his attention completely away from his prisoner. before the second edge of the cloud began to pass across the face of the sun and restore its direct light. WA R G A M E S | 1 6 1 . But only for a moment that seemed hardly longer than the moment during which the light had gone. For a bare second.. The silence was slow in coming. The kresh threw up his arms in a wild attempt to keep his balance. driving them up and forward with every last gram of force that his twisted arms could master. and decayed raggedly as the impact of what had happened slowly made itself felt. Dead. it seemed. There was just that one moment.
They had been waiting for many days to see a sign—a sign that Belle Yella had promised them would testify to their coming victory over their ancient enemies and to their guaranteed worthiness in the eyes of the gods and their ancestors. Remy rocked with the pain of his kick. preparing to shout. He clenched his jaw for ten seconds or more. ******* Mouse kicked the legs out from under the warrior who was standing on guard outside the tent. They had no way of knowing that Sigor Belle Yella had just been shot by a bolt from a laser cannon. dropped by one of the flailing hands onto a cushion of leaf needles. Belle Yella had set out to tell them that the sign was here. And what had they seen? A shadow across the sun. only the gods could have been responsible. had reminded them of its meaning. The sound brought a murmuration of terror from the crowd on the mud flats. high-pitched wail: Mouse’s name.Only the flashlight remained. and then stamped hard on his head. In their view. which had struck their prophet down. He looked around in time to see Remy writhe desperately to avoid the thrust of a spear blade which was being jabbed clumsily at him by another of the kresh fighting men. and 162 | B R I A N S TA B L E F O R D . and whipped them up into an emotional orgy of self-congratulation. bowling over two of Belle Yella’s confused acolytes. as he knew he must. When he was finally able to force the air from his lungs he howled a single syllable in a protracted. and Remy realized with a surge of triumph that they must have incurred a severe psychic shock. and then a thunderbolt from nowhere. The kresh spearman saw him coming. His calloused heel was naked. who were not trying to make a fight of it. but it was hard enough to break the kresh’s jaw. Mouse tucked his head down and charged. clenching his teeth against the tearing pain in his wrists and the strangling clutch of his neck muscles.
“Help me!” she shouted to Mouse. The gun went off. and caved it in. Mouse dropped on him. and Mouse felt the bullet sear his neck as it went past. The gun was a breech-loader and the kresh had no alternative but to use it as a club. Then he picked up one of the poles the kresh had used to lever Remy into position and unhooked the crosspipe. He looked around. gasping for air. had already cut her own hands free. Once he was down he was done for—Mouse brought his heel crashing down on the stricken man’s rib cage. saw the rifleman and charged him. in the language of Ziarat. flipping it to catch the barrel and wielding it butt outward. By the time Mouse rose again to his feet most of Belle Yella’s attendants had fled. Remy lay still. There was a knife in his back. but failed. releasing his arms at last from their agony. The kresh was already falling forward as he fired. who was some fifteen feet away aiming at Mouse’s huge torso. who had taken the knife from the first man Mouse had felled. A rifle went off. The rifleman tumbled back. She recovered the knife and ran quickly to Remy. aiming to take Mouse’s head off. but the bullet went harmlessly into the ground between Mouse’s feet. but that was a rifleman. using his knee to crush the kresh’s windpipe.moved away from Remy to meet him. but he knew even as he turned that the kresh had ample time to fire. Valla. and brought up his foot to catch the wood behind the blade with such force that the kresh fell backward. and stifled a scream as the fall jarred him and the pole twisted his wrists. Remy tried to land on his feet. There was only one fighting man left. Valla slashed at the cords which bound him. But as the kresh reached forward with it Mouse swayed back. leaving a terrible sting but no considerable flow of blood. He swung it in a horizontal arc. in a crumpled heap. but could not cut him down. no more than two WA R G A M E S | 1 6 3 . Mouse lurched over and turned his back so that she could cut his bonds. but Mouse ducked under the stock and rammed his head into the warrior’s midriff. Mouse tried to duck behind a tree. Mouse—his wrists still tied behind his back—must have looked an easy target for the spear.
but they were coming with rifles. Remy gathered his arms close about him. trying to make the blood flow back into his hands. forearms crossed. they staggered away from the notched trees toward the tent where they had been held prisoner. “Can you run?” He raised his head to look down at the confused crowd. the fallen prophet. and Valla ducked. Valla knelt beside Remy. There was a path along the cliff which ulti16 4 | B R I A N S TA B L E F O R D . but he got to his feet and looked around. He rolled over so that his forehead was touching the ground while he knelt. and Mouse stumbled away in search of his boots. which seemed to be in utter turmoil. not bothering to set the pistol aside while he drew them on. Valla took Remy’s first and forced them onto his feet and then grappled with her own. “They’re coming after us. and firing as they came.” she said. He was close to the edge of the precipice. “Nothing wrong with my legs. He could not clench his fingers.meters from the corpse of Sigor Belle Yella. Mouse appeared from another tent triumphantly waving three pairs of boots in his massive right hand and clutching a revolver in his left. with men running every possible way. Only a handful were crossing the bridge of boats to the island. Remy still couldn’t use his arms. “The rifles are gone.” He dropped his boots. Together. He rolled away from the edge of the cliff and let Valla help him to stand. and grabbed for his own. surprised by the weakness of his voice.” he moaned. The girl picked up the flashlight and used her sleeve to wipe away the blood from the rim. trying desperately to work some life back into his wrists. “Get these on. and they would have to come a long way around to get to the top of the cliff. which now lay limp on the ground. and Mouse pulled him back.” he said gutturally. A bullet kicked up a slurry of clay from the rim of the cliff. There were two more revolvers and a couple of large knives stuck in his belt.
The assassins had not saved Scapaccio from attack. At best.mately turned down toward the boat-bridge—that was where the pursuers were going to emerge from. “Come on. like an intoxicated one. leading the way. and Remy wished that he had been able to judge what the horde assembled by the lakeside might do. and that was in battle. The bolt from the laser might have filled them with superstitious dread and shattered their confidence in their invulnerability. WA R G A M E S | 1 6 5 . We can lose them. the words renewing the pain in his jaw. but an anguished kresh. but in his heart he could not believe that they would. They could hear the shouts of their pursuers. and they began running as fast as they could. Within seconds they were obscured by the trees and there was no more firing. they had increased his chances of surviving and perhaps made sure that when the next day dawned. they would have no further heart for fighting. Valla fired back. It was hardly likely that all seven hundred would join in the hunt up the mountain slope. knew only one way to burn off his emotional fury. and the kresh were suffering the aftermath of their emotional fever. “Straight up. The big man gave it to Valla instead and took one of the big knives from his belt.” he said. though if they held him personally responsible for Belle Yella’s death it was not impossible. as they ran. as long as we don’t get stuck in any thickets. into the trees. and Remy set off. but there was no path there. Another bullet whistled close by and was lost in a clatter of foliage. however. He jerked his head. He hoped that they might disperse. In the other direction the cliff curved away and trees obscured it. but he shook his head.” Mouse offered him a gun.
an area of some fifty square meters commanding a considerable tract of land. whose topsoil had long since been scoured away by the wind. Its angle was shallow—no more than thirty degrees—and its top was flat. At one side of the camp there was a steep scree slope which descended for more than two hundred meters. Garstone had considered positioning the machine gun there. men on foot could approach this way. There was only one direction from which the new encampment could be approached by mounted men. but they would find the going very tough. so he had put three of his men and Iasus Fiemme up there. he began to unship the ammunition. but it would be perilous ground for horses to cross at any pace beyond the most careful walk. Men on foot might climb it. A single piece of field artillery could have made the 16 6 | B R I A N S TA B L E F O R D . Again. but had decided that weapon would be most useful firing down the throats of the oncoming horsemen. On the fourth side there was a high gathering of rock that looked rather like a natural step-pyramid. This was bounded on one side by a flat region of loose stone and thorn bush. where there was a wide tract of flat ground. using the bushes for cover. to get a horse up it would take hours. and barricades of boxes and bunk slats covering the gaps where the hafts were extended.CHAPTER SIXTEEN When Garstone had the wagons positioned exactly to his liking. The main defense was organized to withstand an assault from the opposite direction. armed with a single mortar and an abundant supply of grenades as well as their rifles.
gave him a flare pistol. Garstone didn’t answer. making the night a good deal darker than was usual. but Command Haidra had sent the platoon out with “personal arms” only. Garstone. He brought him to the front line of the defense. Scapaccio and Justina Magna accepted rifles and allowed Garstone to position them without offering any comment. The sergeant did not include Delizia in his plans. and told him to fire on command and keep firing until the first box of shells was exhausted. though. “All day they’ve watched us while we moved up.” said Garstone sourly. Doesn’t mean they’ll all come after us. crouched behind a low wall of boxes extending some eight meters from the rear wheel of one wagon to the front wheel of the next. With the night came a light wind and the sporadic cloud that had been in the sky all day increased. Delizia frowned slightly. Andros and Madoc.” “You actually got close enough to see the lake?” “That’s right.whole contest into a virtual massacre.” replied the optiman. As dusk fell he sent out the last water round and then forbade anyone to move from his station. who had ridden out with the second scouting party.” said Delizia. Madoc turned. The sergeant was not anticipating a long battle. Delizia found himself in the company of Garstone.” said Madoc. They watched the scouting parties too. merely a fierce one. “This may be a stupid question. after studying the sky for several minutes. “And I already told Scapaccio— we didn’t see any sign whatever of any kind of building or anything that wasn’t natural. “We saw the camp—couldn’t count too well. though he made sure that the little man had a revolver. and said. How about you?” The last sentence was addressed to Andros. But WA R G A M E S | 1 6 7 . wondering if the other was implying that perhaps he had seen something that was not a building. but maybe five hundred.” “How many are there?” asked the little man. went to dig Delizia out of his wagon. “I didn’t see any buildings. “but are you sure they know where to find us?” “They know.
In his mind. Of all the other men in the camp. lifting the belly of the machine gun from the ground. Garstone. he thrust his right arm vertically 16 8 | B R I A N S TA B L E F O R D . without any clear reason in his mind for doing so. The tempo of the hoofbeats picked up abruptly as the attackers realized that they were within range of at least some of the humans. Delizia nearly jumped out of his skin. and there was a ragged rattle of futile answering fire from the er’kresha. but he complied. Two rifle shots were fired from the pyramid. Garstone cleared his throat and said. seemed perfectly composed. “Flare!” Even though he had been expecting it. however. Automatically. Andros. only Garstone might have attempted to do likewise. Apparently. Garstone yelled. Delizia doubted that it was necessary. in his massive arms. but the sergeant obviously had not seen fit to interfere. As the sound of the hoofbeats grew to signify a gallop. Madoc pointed up at the peak of the pyramid where a light was winking on and off. and was sure that the weapon could perform adequately in the normal way. was prepared to hold it—and aim it—for as long as was necessary.he hesitated before asking. A quarter of an hour passed. he had no intention of using the weapon’s mounting but proposed to wield it as before. No doubt Garstone knew this too. the minutes dragging by with— for Delizia at least—almost agonizing slowness. “Get ready with the flares. and Garstone would not have been able to hold the weapon while it was actually firing for more than a few seconds. now that Mouse was gone. and Garstone howled to the men defending the wagons to hold steady. Delizia couldn’t see how silence was going to help the cause. Delizia was surprised to find that he could hear the sound of the approaching er’kresha as the hooves of their horses clicked and rattled against the rocks that strewed the open ground. and Garstone interrupted with a terse command to drop the matter. it seemed. Finally.” Andros moved slightly. and he knew that the optiman was merely taking an opportunity to show off his strength and emphasize his supposed superiority.
into the air and felt his wrist gripped as Garstone forced it to a more reasonable angle. As Garstone howled the command to open fire. and it was impossible to tell screams of pain from angry howls of fury—it was all just noise. and now he was aware that countless voices had added their sound to the noise of the guns. Delizia pressed the trigger and squeezed his eyes shut in anticipation of the light. though the wall the defense presented to them was only half of that in extent. Fear made him shake for a few brief seconds. this time making sure himself that the flare arced out over the attacking throng. There was nothing in the cacophony that could be taken for words. and then the little man was able to see an instantaneous result as the fire ripped a hole in the advancing wall of horsemen. but in those thirty seconds they had to concede a WA R G A M E S | 1 6 9 . it was three seconds later that the flare burst. growing and consuming his senses. and immediately opened up with his own rifle. appalled. as if partly anesthetized. filling all the space that was available to them. It took the er’kresha only thirty seconds to cover the ground which had separated them from the wagons when the defenders opened fire. He fired the third flare and began to reload automatically. He reloaded the flare pistol and fired again. but the panic passed almost immediately and left him strangely cold and calm. As Garstone hissed some imaginative curse. and wrench back the firing lever. Delizia had imagined the savages charging into such a hail of bullets that they would be cut down almost without a chance. at the onrushing horde. which seemed to be a hundred and fifty meters wide. Actually. and showed the er’kresha streaming across the open ground. Not until the second shell burst did Andros come lazily to his feet. aim the machine gun. Mortar bombs began to burst as Delizia loaded the third flare. The gun opened up with a juddering roar that made Delizia flinch. Delizia stared. but he was amazed to see how few riders tumbled from their mounts as the first few rounds were discharged.
though massively outnumbered. or under their wheels. and the charge broke. but the one thing that was certain was that there were hundreds of mounted men still alive as the galloping horses approached the wagons. reared up at the defense. only eighty of which were repeaters. or over the low barricades. and Garstone drew his pistol to take care of the axe-men. For every bullet they released. much more nearly vertical than any of the others. the defenders. Faced with the actual barrier. still armed with guns that could tear them apart. rifles emptying entire clips while the machine gun roared on and on. and reached immediately for their knives once they had released their single volley. the er’kresha fired hardly at all. as well as the fearsome fire. He groped in the box for more but found none and struggled sideways to crouch closer to the shelter of the wagon. but the bowmen could not reload.massive advantage in firepower. and only thirty er’kresha managed to hurl themselves onto the wagons. In truth. If there had been twice as many. Hardly half a hundred came right to the barricade. the horses wheeled and turned. carrying an axe-wielding kresh. beyond the reach of the hooves. Madoc. shot the beast through the neck. however. and if they had believed themselves invulnerable and god-inspired. Fifty or sixty arrows were released from the horde as they charged. smashing the heads of two of the savages who tried to vault the barricade. By the light of the last flare he saw Andros drop the machine 17 0 | B R I A N S TA B L E F O R D . but as it was the thirty found themselves facing hardly fewer opponents. Garstone had to back up a little as one of the maddened animals. When the sergeant yelled for light Delizia realized that he had paused in his work. How many men and horses died in the course of the charge it was impossible to estimate. and he sent up the next flare. released half a hundred. the fight might have gone differently. for they had no more than three hundred guns. Andros stopped firing in order to wield the great barrel of the machine gun like a club of red-hot steel. refusing to jump it. Nearly half the attacking force was armed only with spears or swords.
and he tried to huddle closer into the small protective gap between the edge of the barricade and the wheel of the wagon. But then a bullet evened the score. It made no difference—Andros threw the kresh away with a contemptuous thrust of his arms. on sudden impulse. Two men were grappling in the area defended by the wagons. cutting the kresh down before he could take another stride. but their fire was directed outward. leaving the other dead. rolling on the ground close to the pen which confined the restive horses of the expedition. WA R G A M E S | 17 1 . and knew as the flare’s light caught a gleaming blade that it was not the human who had won. When the new flare went up he saw that the battle was not yet over. with a rush of relief so great that it seemed utterly unreasonable. He felt the flare pistol wrenched from his hand. He saw one rise. He remembered. and with the light gone he could not see anything at all. He looked up. The darkness still seemed to be full of sounds. that Andros could see in the dark as well as any kresh. descending on Andros from the air. He gasped. Garstone fired yet another flare. but his throat would not produce an effective warning. He heard Garstone cursing. Garstone shot the man in the head. The noise seemed to be draining away. and saw a shadow obscuring the stars as it leapt from the roof of the next wagon. Then the flare faded. using it as a club to parry a sword thrust aimed at him by a ducking tribesman. The rifles were still firing. with the screaming of men and horses taking over once again from the now-sporadic mutter of rifles. and saw the dim shadow of Garstone struggling to sit something into it— another shell from a new carton of flares. and a nearby scream. He also saw Madoc hurled back from his station by the momentum of a kresh spear that nearly beheaded him and sent a great spray of blood gushing from his neck with such force that droplets spattered Delizia’s leg. and this time he could see no evidence of living kresh within the defense.gun and pick up the empty rifle that Garstone had dropped.
” she said. felt rather sick. He had to close his eyes and hold his breath in order to suppress the sensation.” replied Mouse. it seemed safe to close them. Delizia. Meanwhile. “If we mount a guard. I have night vision. and came to Mouse’s shoulder. it’d be too dark.” 17 2 | B R I A N S TA B L E F O R D . At least. which narrowed to a tunnel of uncertain extent. Three revolvers and a dozen bullets isn’t much of an armory.the attacker’s back broken by a single savage twist. directing its beam back into the dark recess of the cave. No point in sticking to the entrance. “They lost us.” said Remy. looking up at the stars and then across at the edge of the forest. Remy rubbed his wrists and shoulders to ease the pain.” muttered Remy. Valla sat back. If they see it we’re in trouble.” whispered Mouse. watching him.” “Probably as well. His mouth was dry and his gums were tender and bleeding where they had swollen under the repeated blows from the flashlight. suddenly and belatedly. or move farther back. Valla switched off the light and came forward to join them. Mouse peered out from the entrance of the cave. “If they come in after us we’ll hear them—or you’ll catch their scent. “No. “I think we’re okay. searching for movement in the tangled greenery. “then it ought to be me. ******* Gun in hand. In her other hand she was still holding the flashlight. “We don’t have the firepower to stand off a siege. by now. “Can you see the camp from here?” asked Remy.” Valla looked down at the gun she was holding but did not check to see how many bullets were left. Remy swallowed. The sky is clouding over. and wished that Mouse had snatched a canteen of water as well as the pistols. working the joints back and forth. and she flicked it on.” “We’d better move along the tunnel.” Remy got to his feet. You’d better switch that light off. “Even if I had a clear view.
“This is basaltic rock. It’s hardly a main entrance.” A few meters farther on they met a blank wall. but that’s almost completely oxidized and ready to flake away. They obviously wanted it to survive an ordinary attack—but the cascarenes found out about it and took appropriate measures.” he said. Remy took the flashlight from Valla and tapped it gently. it seemed no different from the amber-gray of the tunnel wall. “Hardly. “That’s plastic.They moved into the tunnel. In color. The tunnel was almost exactly horizontal.” “Want me to smash through it?” asked Mouse. playing the beam of the flashlight along the floor. It must have been one hell of a grind cutting through it.” replied Remy.” Remy made a small sound of agreement. when they had gone some thirty meters back into the mountain. and added. he said. “The elevator’s bound to be in the basement. breaking the rotted hinges WA R G A M E S | 17 3 . They always are when you’re at the top. but it had a different texture. It must be a pretty extensive operation—it might stretch for miles. “This thing isn’t natural. He ripped away the protective plate. The substance beneath was a dull gray. though—that’s probably on the far side of the lake. always about a meter apart though the tunnel twisted and turned somewhat.” He shone the light up and down the side walls and quickly picked out a rectangular panel set into the rock. very solid. Very old. trying to work out what Remy meant. groping their way slowly along. A harder tap made a visible dent and flakes of substance cracked away from the edges of the scar.” “Why not?” “What do you think is on the other side?” Mouse paused. He got the hollow ring that he expected. They went to some trouble to hide it. “I wouldn’t if I were you. Finally. and the walls were never far from the vertical. but the surface also seemed to crack and yield to the blow.” murmured Mouse. “It was covered with a veneer of some kind of alloy. “An elevator shaft.
with ease, revealing a single button and a small disc of clear
He pressed the button. Nothing happened.
“Out of order,” he said.
“How long is it since the mapirenes were here?” asked Mouse.
“Thirty thousand years?”
“About that,” agreed Remy. “That’s a long time. The power
plants will be so much slag by now, and a lot of the wiring
must have rotted away. The electronics will be so much silicon
junk. But it is inside a mountain, and artifacts last a hell of
a long time if nobody interferes with them. You can still dig
up clay pots from the neolithic on most inhabited worlds, and
that sometimes means eight or ten thousand years in the past—
twice as much on civilized worlds like Earth. When this place
was hit, assuming the dust got inside, it would have been pretty
thoroughly sterilized, and though life will have reinvaded there
won’t be much down there to attract very many organisms.
Anything made of flesh and blood will have been rendered back
into dust, and most of the exposed metal will have corroded...
but chemical devolution is a very slow process, and a lot of plastics are resistant to every kind of decay. It won’t exactly be just
like yesterday, but there’ll be a hell of a lot to find.”
“The elevator isn’t coming,” said Mouse dryly.
“No,” said Remy. “I wonder how deep the shaft is.”
“Move back,” said Mouse. Remy came away from the
barrier, easing Valla back with him, so that the big man could
squeeze through and take up a position directly in front of the
obstructing door. Steadying himself against the left-hand wall,
Mouse picked up his right foot, crooked his leg, and then lashed
out with astonishing force to hit the door waist-high near to the
point where it was bedded into the rock.
A second kick ripped the whole left-hand edge of the door out
of its bed, and it was then easy to peel it away from the runways
in the floor and ceiling of the tunnel. There was, indeed, a shaft
Remy put his fingers into the groove in the tunnel wall,
174 | B R I A N S TA B L E F O R D
feeling for the locking mechanism. Then he inspected the horizontal grooves along which the door had once slid.
“Drawn back and forth by an electric motor,” he said. “The
elevator was probably electric too. No cables now, though.” He
shone the flashlight upward to show the cavity where the mechanism controlling the car was lodged, including the spindle for
winding the cable. It was empty. He picked a small piece of
metal out of the bottom groove and tossed it down the shaft. He
began counting, and had reached ten before the faintest of clicks
suggested that the fragment had hit bottom—or, at least, had hit
“That’s about five hundred meters,” he said, after a moment’s
calculation. He shone the light around the sides of the shaft and
picked out a set of hollows cut into the stone of the left-hand
wall of the shaft, only thirty centimeters away from the edge of
“They may not have been human,” he murmured, “but their
elevators still went wrong occasionally. Emergency stairs, cut
right into the shaft.”
“Do we go down?” asked Mouse.
“Damn right. We probably have thirty or forty hours’ start on
anyone else—if anyone else gets here at all.”
“Not the ones with the laser,” replied Mouse grimly. “They’re
already here. They could even be inside by now.”
“True,” said Remy. He sat back against the wall of the tunnel,
thinking about that.
“I still don’t get it,” said Mouse, when half a minute had gone
by. “Why did they shoot Belle Yella?”
“He was the one thing keeping those kresh tribesmen
together. Without him, they’re not a coherent fighting force.
They might be attacking Scapaccio now, but by morning they’ll
be nothing but a few gangs of scavengers. There’ll be nothing to
keep them together, and they’ll scatter. The boys with the laser
are reducing the opposition forces piece by piece and promoting
strife between them. In all probability, there’s nothing left for
them to do but tidy up. At a guess, they’ll hit Zemak and what’s
WA R G A M E S | 17 5
left of his party next. Then there’ll only be Scapaccio and
“They could have hit you, too,” Mouse pointed out.
“If they thought there was a chance I’d get down from that
pole, they probably would have,” said Remy. “But they thought
I was out of it—they probably still do. They didn’t hit me when
they hit Yerema for the simple reason that it wasn’t worth the
bother. They knew then that they could hit me at any time—
because they have a man in Scapaccio’s camp. That’s why
they’ll hit Scapaccio last; they have an extra margin of advantage—unless Garstone can spot the joker in his pack. I could
make a good guess at who it is, but I could be wrong, and I can’t
figure out who’s behind him.”
There was a moment’s silence. Then Mouse said, “Are you
sure you can make it?”
“I’m sure,” replied Remy. “Valla?”
“I can climb,” she returned tersely. “Shall I go first?”
“No,” said Remy. “I’ll go first with the light. We may not
need to go all the way down. There may be two or twenty floors
down there. We’ll get off at the top one, and look for a more
He came back into a crouching position, and stretched his
arms experimentally. They felt good again, and the ache in his
head had subsided into a dull echo. He ripped a long strip of
cloth from the torn left sleeve of his shirt, and used it to bind
the flashlight to his left forearm. Held thus, it would not prevent
his using both hands to cling to the stone steps, but could be
directed whichever way he wanted to look.
Without a word, he swung himself out into the shaft and
descended a couple of meters, shining the light upward to show
Valla where she was going. When Mouse was also lodged on
the precipitous stairway, Remy began the downward climb.
Within minutes, the strain of his wrists and shoulders began
to tell. It was all very well to have flexed the joints and found
them comfortable, but now that they were compelled to bear
his weight again, as they had been when he hung from the
176 | B R I A N S TA B L E F O R D
suspended pole, the pain soon flooded back. He took things
slowly, aware of the danger of rushing, trying to make his body
move like a machine, evenly and regularly. With all the force of
his concentrated mind he tried to block out the pain, to make it
irrelevant, to reduce it to the status of one more sense datum,
inconsequential in its insistence.
He let his mind run back to the memories of shipboard
training school—memories that he would have abandoned had
he been able, but which clung hard, irreducible and irredeemable. He recalled the ways they had taught him to cope with
pain, helpless in restraint while the electrodes dug into his flesh,
firing his neurons with chemical brutality. Sharp pain, slow pain,
grinding pain, cold pain and hot pain—he had learned to know
them all, and not to fear them. It was one of the most important
lessons which life and science had to teach, and Remy—so far
as he knew—had learned it as well as anyone. It was part of
what it meant to be human, and another thing they had taught
him was never to regret being fully human.
He tried to remember the quotation in the handbook which
was particularly pertinent (or seemed so) to his present predicament. The words evaded him, but the argument began with
the statement that the teaching of pain was a species of torture,
although the torture of children was by no means a symptom
of depravity, for its aim was to transcend torture, to free the
adult from its threat. The teaching of pain, the book claimed,
was directly analogous to the process of immunization against
disease by means of attenuated virus strains.
Curiously enough, Remy had not hated that part of his education. Few children did. They looked upon it—and were encouraged to look upon it—as a kind of trial by fire; something that
would make them into men, and at the same time offer them
proof of their status. They were Spartan idealists all.
Even as he climbed, and the pain crawled across his back
and wracked his arms, Remy could feel within himself a kind
of exultancy—a sense of triumph.
He remembered, calmly, that several of the friends of his
WA R G A M E S | 17 7
. they climbed out into the corridor and sank exhausted to the cold stone floor. bleeding to death in search of the ultimate proof of his transcendence of pain. still drawing breath with considerable effort. and then explained the situation to Valla and Mouse. hugging themselves against the bitter chill. One had killed himself by self-mutilation.” 17 8 | B R I A N S TA B L E F O R D . For himself. rested for a moment. Remy shone the weakening light along the corridor. he had never doubted.” said Remy. “Well. The air temperature was hardly a degree or two above freezing point. were the treacheries of doubt. Some three hundred and eighty meters down he found another doorway—another means of egress from the shaft. One by one. showing the extinct strip lighting in its ceiling. allowing Mouse to undertake the task of opening the door. “we’re here. and doors whose handles still gleamed in the glow.. He and Valla descended. Such. which he did without too much trouble.. He stopped.childhood were now dead. he supposed.
” retorted Garstone. “We’ll dig in.” said Scapaccio.” said the colonel. WA R G A M E S | 17 9 .CHAPTER SEVENTEEN Garstone stood on a shelf of rock by what would have been the shore of the lake had it been filled to the limit. Apart from that. There were no horses and no men. “First we establish ourselves out there.” said Garstone to Scapaccio. and the others.” replied the sergeant. He scanned the mountain with his binoculars. Then we ride out in search of the base.” “You can ride out with Remy’s men.” “All right. There may be people hiding in the woods on the island. At present. cracked mud extending away from him before the thin ribbon of gray water and the mountain that loomed behind it. there were a thousand meters of dry. there’s no one. “There are a couple of bodies on the edge above the cliff that runs along the base of the mountain. There were still a dozen tents and a group of supply wagons.” “That means we can forget the er’kresha and begin searching for the base. near to the water—where we can see anyone coming to attack us while they’re still the best part of a kilometer away.. occasionally worried by bad-tempered dogs. then lowered them to pan across what remained of the er’kreshan encampment. as he came up to join him.. “Not yet. We’ll set up in defensive formation. but I can’t see a thing.but there’re still the veich. I don’t think the er’kresha will come back. A few goat-like creatures wandered between the tents. picking up scraps from the ground. “Seems deserted.
You can’t hide from a laser cannon. My men are staying with the wagons.” “If they let you. “there’s no place you’ll be safe. “Someone has to stay home and do the cooking. 18 0 | B R I A N S TA B L E F O R D .” He let the rest die into silence. “I’ll be inside that base. that leaves me with five men.“That’s what you hired them for. if it’s here. but he thought better of it and shrugged..” Scapaccio scowled but did not reply in kind. “We’d better get the wagons out onto the mud.” For a moment. “By nightfall. With two others dead.” “If Remy’s right about there being a laser out there. I don’t want to lose any more—it wouldn’t look good when I get back to my base. Instead. “Someone has to look after the wounded. And everything in it. “I wouldn’t worry about me—I’d worry about you.” said Scapaccio. and a kilometer of dry mud isn’t going to put you behind its range. Garstone favored him with a last bleak glance and then headed back to the wagons. I don’t have your burning curiosity—but I do have ambitions to get back to Omer alive.. That’s what they want. watch out for rain—we don’t want to get bogged down for the sake of being where the opposition can’t creep up on us. as though the thought were better unspoken.” he commented. Scapaccio looked as if he wanted to argue. the same as you.” said the sergeant ironically.” said Scapaccio conversationally.” “Yes sir.” said Garstone evenly. if we’re going to get them set up before noonday.” said Scapaccio sourly. They’ll find you a way into your base. I’m not going to go near it. addressing himself as much as Garstone.” answered Garstone coldly. There’s safety in not competing. And while you’re watching out for lasers. “Caborn’s not too bad—he got hit in the hand—but Ahlmann might not make it.” said Garstone. “If I were you.” “If Remy’s right. he said.. “the people with the laser are going to be looking for the base.
and Remy knew that he was doing some marveling on his own account. there was no water in the corroded pipes. remembering as he did so to marvel again at the fact that it was thirty thousand years old. Its surface was a silky plastic and it was lined with some kind of artificial foam. clutching the bags around them. WA R G A M E S | 1 8 1 . He tried to force moisture from his salivary glands into his mouth. The metal taps above the ceramic sink were rusted solid—needless to say. and it was immune to the ravages of time. but they still stretched to accommodate bodies—even bodies as heavy as the one inhabited by Mouse. He searched with his hands for the tops of his boots and then for the flashlight. he found his boots quickly enough. however. He lowered his feet to the floor. He eased himself very slowly out of the sleeping bag. they sat up on their beds. When he moved his arm out of the sleeping bag the cold air chilled his arm and brought him back to consciousness immediately. not stitched. shivering. to combat the thirst. It had been made to last. The light also served to wake Mouse and Valla. He found that the emptiness in his stomach and the dryness in his throat were competing for his attention. then jerked them back from the cold stone. Blinking. Not only had the beds survived. and lasted it had. When he switched the beam on. Mouse rocked on the elastic lattice that formed the structure of his bed. As he moved the light beam. and that had been all but destroyed by the action of some mysterious insect species that had long since exhausted its resources and returned to the world outside. Its seams were welded. feeling warm and drowsy. The pain in his head and shoulders was now no more than a vague discomfort.******* Remy woke in total darkness. Some of the furniture had been partly constructed of wood. Everything that had been made of cloth or any kind of natural fiber had rotted away to dust. he reminded himself that the room’s other fittings had not been so resilient.
” Mouse ambled over to the sink and turned the taps experimentally. Indeed. not unreasonably. Nothing happened.” Mouse went on.The room that they were in had been a dormitory. though he could not quite specify the reason. “there must be another way out. and if I did I wouldn’t know which day or night. and their preference had been guided by the fact that it was the only one which contained no corpses. and until now he had not been able to do so.” “The cold isn’t doing us much good. A part of it was the suspicion that someone in Scapaccio’s party might want to see the rest— including Remy—dead. 18 2 | B R I A N S TA B L E F O R D . he was beginning to suspect that it might be impossible—for him. containing thirty beds. having to exert all his strength to turn the levers. Another part was the vague feeling that he was in possession of the object of everyone’s search.” said Valla. had yielded to the embrace of millions of generations of saprophytic creatures. “Lower down. “What time is it?” asked Mouse. No miraculous water supply had come into being since they had given way to fatigue. “How the hell would I know?” replied Remy. Not that the corpses looked like dead men any more. “I don’t even know whether it’s day or night. they. “We can’t keep wandering round this place forever. and that he ought to be able to exploit that.” observed Mouse. But possession counted for nothing unless he could figure out what it was that he had. We can’t live on air. and the flesh had faded from the whitened bones until it was no more than a few dark threads and smears—but the skeletons. were nevertheless unpleasant company. Remy presumed that the comment did not require a reply. They had selected it in preference to eleven similar rooms. He was reluctant to go in search of Scapaccio. “I’m hungry. either. still rimmed with plastic belts and decked with plastic boots in many instances. “We ought to get out and get back to Scapaccio—or at least to the kresh camp. Perhaps it would require someone with Delizia’s specialist knowledge even to figure out what the base had been intended to do.” Remy admitted. too.
cold corridor. What had struck Remy most powerfully as they had explored the upper floors in the hours before exhaustion had made them rest was the fact that there was so little evidence of anything alien. then we look for another way out. untouched by the processes of decay which had reduced their makers to dust. We don’t know what’s down below. that they would employ the same kind of furniture that human beings had found useful. therefore. The bags had survived in their storage locker for thirty thousand years. There may still be er’kresha on the island. they moved from the room back into the still.” “We can stand the cold for a few more hours. They headed for the single. human vandals were ripping them apart to serve as protective clothing of the crudest kind. Now. When we reach the bottom. though there were several elevator shafts. No one knew precisely what the mapirenes had looked like.” said Mouse. “But that light won’t last forever. So much for the durability of the products of mapirene technology. enclosed flight of stairs which they had discovered on the topmost floor and followed down to this point. Eventually. after a few hours of use. It was to be expected. The mapirenes had had confidence in their machinery and their power system.” said Remy. however briefly. Remy watched her. and that everything should be built to human scale. We’ll go down—so far what we’ve seen has been mostly the living quarters and some of the life-support equipment. Okay?” “If you say so. but Remy had never quite understood before how WA R G A M E S | 1 8 3 . but their skeletons suggested that they were as close to humankind as the veich. guided only by the wan light of the torch. “We can cut these sleeping bags into overgarments of some kind—cut holes in the bottom and the corners for our heads and arms. It seemed to be the only staircase there was.” Valla was already hacking at her sleeping bag with the knife which she had used to free herself from the cords the er’kresha had bound her with.Better than returning via the shaft. aware of the irony. I want to look at it.
but humans themselves went in for eccentricities of design. taps. this pattern of idiosyncratic differences paled into utter insignificance.but none of this suggested unhumanity. metal and plastic—the elements of the mapirene culture which had survived in this hidden enclave—were exactly those things that most closely approximate to cultural anonymity. something a little bit strange.. Almost against his will.none of that apparatus would have seemed out of place in a human establishment. Remy found his mind recapitulating arguments first put to him by Delizia.. Some of this bric-a-brac was unfamiliar to Remy. as he contemplated these facts. he had not realized the extent to which that instantaneous recognition was based on essentially perishable things. There were eccentricities of design. He knew from experience that one could tell at a glance whether a house in Ziarat was owned by a veir or by a siocon or by a human. guided by human inventiveness. and the decoration of the rooms was frequently strange. and there was nothing in the mapirene living quarters that Remy could point to and say. tables. And there was nothing so strange that it struck him as being. alien. though. They had left behind countless personal possessions. of course. for creativity itself. cabinets. even when one race used the materials of another or attempted to mimic the style of another. lightswitches. he found it difficult 18 4 | B R I A N S TA B L E F O R D . The mapirenes had indulged their creativity in dozens of ways. in essence. bidets. When it was set alongside the extreme similarity of machines and instruments designed specifically for particular uses. as practiced by humans. Having talked to Delizia. and there were drawers and cabinets full of small objects in many of the rooms. Doors. consists in part of the search for something new.. something idiosyncratic. that could not have been made by human hands. Until now.. There was. ornamentation to be considered. In everything that mattered—or so it seemed—the mapirenes were human. beds. too— the contents of pockets were to be found beside the collapsed heaps of bone.very impersonal and unmarked by specific racial characteristics alien technology could be. Stone.
the same historical role. perceiving the base as a kind of Godly error—something that should have been obliterated but which had escaped notice. Delizia had suggested that the humans and the veich were replaying the history of the mapirenes and the cascarenes. Perhaps not in the literal sense. as something that had happened before not once but a thousand times. Perhaps we already have. As Remy.though perhaps even that.following the same road of “progress. We are the mapirenes. neither veich nor human men were supposed to discover the truth about the previous interstellar war. he thought. and might happen again a further thousand. Perhaps.. His mind ran on along tracks that Delizia had laid. That led on to another thought.now to accommodate any other way of looking at things. as Delizia had suggested. Remy found that very easy to believe.. it does not matter in the least whether we can plunder from this vast. whether it was simply a case of parallel development guided by nothing more than the possibilities of chemical evolution or whether all of this had been written into carefully crafted genetic systems by the mysterious seeders. Perhaps we will discover that secret anyhow. He found himself wondering. moving inexorably toward the same end.. He found himself wondering whether the near identity of human and mapirene artifacts was due to chance or design.” playing the same game. As he walked through the long-deserted halls of the extinct mapirenes. whether there was not a message written into the cold stone of these corridors and chambers—a message regarding the destiny of humankind.. He found it very hard to doubt that here was the human race in a previous incarnation. equally disturbing: perhaps. too. that truth might be such as to show them their own conflict in an entirely new light—as a game replayed. dark tomb the secret it was built to contain. Perhaps. thought Remy. even in the short term... Mouse and Valla passed from one floor to the WA R G A M E S | 1 8 5 . at the command of some mysterious pair of players whose toys were stars and genetic systems. with similar rules and a similar field.but in the sense that we occupy the same existential situation.
he could not surrender the hope. and storerooms containing rack upon rack of the small discs. however. Here. They found laboratories that were full of equipment which meant nothing to any of them. On the floor below the laboratories. There grew inside him a desperate craving to discover something. As soon as he was certain that there was nothing close at hand which could provide his untutored eye with vital information. there might be a secret. It was difficult to believe (though not necessarily untrue because of that) that such modest space could have been set aside for work of vital importance in a base whose total size was so great. but it was beyond the reach of his eyes and understanding. which Delizia and his intellectual forebears had learned to use as sources of information. His one consolation was the fact that the laboratories were small—a very ordinary size. they found something which made Remy’s heart beat a little faster in expectation. at last. incredible machine occupying a gigantic chamber. Even if there were factories down below that had been employed in turning out some new weapon by the billion. Here. offices full of consoles with dead display screens. but even as the feeling grew he knew how unlikely it was to be satisfied. engraved with code symbols. they discovered kitchens and recreation rooms. Even one such room would probably reveal more about the mapirenes than a hundred years of digging in the pulverized ruins of surface bases and cities that had been built over a dozen times or more.next. The fact that something special had been lodged here did not mean that there would be some vast. to find evidence that would strike his imagination with a hammer blow and show him something that he could not previously have envisaged. they discovered a chamber so vast that 18 6 | B R I A N S TA B L E F O R D . he was ready to pass on. though he knew that by now each one must be half a kilometer in horizontal extent. it would not necessarily look any different from the factories that he had seen on a dozen worlds and on shipboard in his younger days. Nevertheless. Remy spared no more than half an hour for the inspection of each floor. heading downward. Remy knew.
the flashlight could not show them a wall—a floor and ceiling
that stretched away into obscurity, interrupted only by basaltic
pillars and by the bulk of row upon row of machines.
Remy moved quickly away from the stairway to inspect the
nearest machine, but his heart sank as he approached it, for its
form was all too familiar. Its major component was a horizontal
plastic shell: cylindrical and transparent, bedded in a complex
network of tubes and taps, each connecting the main cylinder
up to other, opaque containers. The machines were set back to
back, in double rows stretching away in both directions. There
must have been thousands, all told.
Remy stared through the clear plastic into the primary
cylinder, where a humanoid skeleton was laid out as if neatly
and deliberately arrayed for display purposes.
Mouse, at his shoulder, said, “They’re life-support capsules
like the ones they have on shipboard for metabolic regulation
and in hospitals for treatment. I guess this must be the hospital.
I’ll bet that virtually all the cylinders have someone in them.
When the dust got to them...the radiation sickness...most of
them died here.”
Remy stood quite still, staring at the skeleton and the network
of cables and tubes which was embedded in the soft plastic pallet
on which the body had lain. Then he reached out to examine
the seal where the plastic canopy fitted. As he expected, the
rubbery material of the seal had rotted away. It was easy enough
to get his fingernails into the crack and lift the lid.
“Perhaps it was not a hospital,” said Valla. “Perhaps these
men were put into some kind of suspended animation.”
“No,” said Remy. “That can’t be right. There’s no sign of
refrigeration apparatus. And if the capsules had been intended
to remain inviolate for even a few hundred years the seals
wouldn’t have been made of biodegradable material. Nobody
was intended to stay in one of these things for an extended
period of time.”
He moved to the next machine, and then to the next. They
were identical in every respect—including the skeletons.
WA R G A M E S | 1 8 7
“Here’s a young one,” said Mouse, who had moved to the
opposing row. Remy went to stand beside him, shining the light
into the chamber and seeing there a smaller skeleton, no more
“Children too,” said Mouse. “The dust got them all.”
Remy changed the angle of the flashlight beam, directing it
away into the dark, empty space between the rows of machines,
then through the small gap between the machines to see the
rows that lay beyond.
“I wonder how many there are,” he said.
“I can’t see any end to it,” said Valla. “But there’s no other
light except for the flashlight—I can’t see far.”
“It’s not a hospital,” said Remy suddenly.
“No?” said Mouse. “What is it then?”
“The layout’s wrong,” Remy began. “It’s not laid out like a
medical facility. It’s....”
He was interrupted by the sound of an explosion that seemed
to shake the floor for a moment or two. The muffled sound
echoed through the great room as the muffled roar died.
“Shit!” said Mouse.
“That way,” said Remy, pointing. “Maybe two floors down.
I think somebody must have found the main door—and blasted
their way in.”
“Well,” said Mouse reasonably, “I hope it’s our side. We
aren’t equipped for a fight.”
18 8 | B R I A N S TA B L E F O R D
At the foot of the flight of stairs Remy paused. He played the
beam of the flashlight up and down the door and then put his
hand on the handle.
“I’m going to have to switch off,” he said. “We want to see
them—we don’t want them to see us. We’ll have to feel our way
if there’s a corridor—there won’t even be light enough to guide
He checked that the others understood, then flicked the
switch which plunged them into darkness. Slowly, he eased the
door open, grateful for the fact that it did not creak. He slipped
through the gap, and the others followed.
Beyond the door there was absolute darkness, and Remy
groped for a wall. He began to follow it, keeping his hand on
the cold stone, but after a few moments he let out a low curse.
“This is futile,” he whispered. “Wherever they are, they must
have light of their own. I guess it figures that if we can’t see
their light they can’t see ours. I’m going to switch on again, but
I’ll cut it off before I touch any doors.”
With the light on, it was simple enough to move along the
wide corridor to a second set of double doors. This time Remy
put his ear to the crack and listened. After a moment, he shut
the light off but instructed the others to stay perfectly still. He
continued to listen.
“I can hear the echoes of their footsteps,” he whispered. “I’d
guess that they were in a big open space. If they really came in
through the main door it’s probably some kind of garage facility
WA R G A M E S | 1 8 9
He opened the door gingerly, peeping through a narrow
slit only a couple of centimeters wide. He was immediately
conscious of the fact that light was getting into the space beyond
somewhere, though he could not see the opening. Immediately
beyond the doors there was a row of great shadows—not vehicles, as he had suggested, but stationary machines, rounded
in section: probably parts of the power plant. Each one had a
zigzag metal stair running up to a catwalk that was silhouetted
against the dim reflected light.
“Up there,” whispered Remy, as quietly as he could. He
moved on tiptoe away from the doors, wishing that he could
remove his boots. But the metal stairs would be cold enough
to freeze the moisture on his soles, and so he would have to be
as quiet as he could. He began to ascend painstakingly. On the
third step he turned and told Mouse to return to the doorway.
There was no way that the big man could climb to the catwalk
silently. He beckoned to Valla to follow him; her eyes would be
The catwalk ran all the way around the machine and there
was a connecting bridge which united it with the similar
walkway that surrounded its twin. Remy moved only as far as he
needed to so that he could look out over the open space beyond.
From this height, looking over the top of a number of smaller
machines, he could see the gaping hole which had been blasted
through the great metal door which must have been one of the
important entranceways into the base. The door was metal, but
it was not very thick. Clearly the mapirenes had not anticipated
defending the installation against a ground attack.
There were no vehicles in the open space, but there was a
shallow ramp which led from the concrete apron inside the
door down into the bowels of the base. It was wide enough to
take a good-sized lorry or an armored vehicle. On either side
of the apron there were great cages of metal mesh—loading
bays—with conveyor belts mounted at the rear, snaking up into
gaps in the ceiling and down into pits in the floor. There were
19 0 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D
but they whined harmlessly from the stone floor as he fell. was the veir clansman Zemak. urging her to silence. Two—Oclo and another of Remy’s mercenaries—were crouched behind the twisted metal of the blasted door. but the other three converged on the clansman. He could almost feel her doubt in the barely perceptible movement of her lips. none of whom were exhibiting similar curiosity. Walking back and forth. But as Oclo and the other veir whirled and dived for cover the attackers had to move in order to get a clear shot. He held himself rigid. to give orders as to their next move. for some reason. His words were never uttered—a burst of automatic rifle fire all but cut him in two.piles of boxes in several of the bays. each from black shadow that prevented Remy or Valla from seeing either of the gunmen. They were obviously tense and nervous. He turned. inwardly certain of the fact that no matter how well the shadows hid them they must not give the least sign of their presence. The three veir who were near him barely managed to wheel their weapons in search of the attackers— they were caught in a crossfire and all three were hit. Neither Oclo nor his partner moved from the doorway. When they were all together. Remy. The bursts of automatic fire that had cut them down had come from two different points. He was attended by five men. but the one on the nearer side had nothing substantial between himself and the WA R G A M E S | 1 9 1 . but she obeyed. Remy felt slim fingers touch his shoulder. Several moments passed while nothing happened. looking out into the bright sunlight. Zemak opened his mouth to address them. The others—all of them mercenaries—were peering suspiciously into the shadows. and without a word placed his own fingers on Valla’s lips. Remy could not see the one on the far side of the concrete apron as he moved. and heard Zemak call out in the language of the clanless. He watched the mercenaries pause in their suspicious wandering. inspecting these boxes with scrupulous attention. One managed to fire two bullets. could not shake off the sensation that danger was imminent. as if in question.
His breath caught in his throat and his grip on Valla’s arm seemed to set hard. Remy watched the man he knew walk slowly forward. He felt that he had to keep her still. was identical in every feature. Only Oclo managed to get off a burst of fire in the direction of the man who slew him. I never considered that he might be running things. he felt Valla stir. Remy saw his silhouette and recognized him immediately. for both men now stood together in the full glare of the sunlight that streamed through the blasted entrance. thought Remy. The second attacker. however.unsuspected observers on the catwalk.” I couldn’t work out who was behind him. And I sure as hell never thought there’d be three of him! ******* 192 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . And while he watched he heard the second say clearly to the first. because if the riflemen were to suspect for a moment that there was anyone else near at hand all would be lost. Only by Oclo did he pause. “We’d better get the bodies out of sight. one by one. letting most of them lie where they were. Oclo was not quite dead. For a moment he could not believe his eyes. though he made no move. the muscles turned to stone. He checked the bodies. and under control. furious with himself for his failure. Andros will be here within the hour. as Andros. silky voice that he knew well enough. in the clear. He had immediately recognized the first of the attackers. in silhouette. Valla had to stand by and watch her fellow veich slaughtered. As he glided from the shadows to get a clear shot at the remaining veich. to kick the rifle out of unresisting hands. Then the other rifleman came out of the shadows. and for Remy it seemed that everything stopped. the optiman. and the burst went wild. Apparently. and he reached back to grip her hand like a vise. There could be no possibility of an error. Beside him.
We couldn’t follow it to its end.” replied Scapaccio cautiously.” he said. Wake Ramon. “Yesterday.” said the optiman. Today.. We’ll be safe in the noonday. when the camp was set up. Scapaccio stared at him. I rode out to see if I could find the end of the road. “Are you sure?” he said. “What the hell do you want?” he said.” Scapaccio’s eyes grew wider. but it seemed to me that it might be a road—weathered. For the briefest of moments his sleep-befuddled mind jumped to the conclusion that the touch was Justina Magna’s.” Scapaccio considered for a few moments. hardly recognizable. “I rode out to check. “We’re going out after the noonday. “Quietly. “I wanted to make certain.Scapaccio had been asleep for more than an hour when he felt the touch upon his shoulder. “What the hell are you getting at?” he asked. in a calm whisper. We followed a wide. I can take you there now. colonel. There is a smooth face of rock—I think it masks a metal door. The optiman put a finger to his fleshy lips. or perhaps an unnatural arch. Shall I wake Garstone? And Doon?” Scapaccio sat bolt upright.” WA R G A M E S | 1 9 3 . “There’s no need. his own voice silkily soft.” said the optiman. almost spitting the words from his dry mouth. and when he opened his eyes there was a momentary struggle as his mind tried to reconcile this judgment with the sensory evidence which contradicted it. It ends in a gigantic natural arch. and then said.. level trail that wound around the hills. but nevertheless. I arrived back here a few minutes ago and came here to report. “You want Doon to find you a way into the mapirene base. We can investigate as soon as you wish. if road it was..” said Andros quietly. “Don’t wake Garstone. “I was out with one of the scouting parties. I want to see this for myself.
and take a look around. He wanted to be on the spot first. When we get back. “Andros has found a way into the base. Scapaccio’s interest in the base was passionately—if not obsessively—proprietary. “I think. and he won’t let any of his men go either. I can use a gun as well as the next man... “I may need you. Garstone isn’t going to ride out in the noonday.” “Isn’t that rather dangerous?” “We’ll be safe with Andros. as chance would have it.” “All of us?” “Just you and me.” said Scapaccio tersely. I just want to make sure it is the base. cutting him off sharply. and everything in it was his. He was desperate to exclude others from his project except insofar as they could fulfill the roles he had mapped out for them. was on their soil.” Delizia struggled to rise. shaking him briskly. throwing off the light blanket that had covered his body. we’ll have to persuade Garstone to move the wagons up there. he was glad of Garstone’s obstructiveness. because Garstone represented Command Haidra. as if by planting a flag or some ritual he could claim it for himself. and Scapaccio was determined to deny Command Haidra any possible credit for the discovery which. He’s taking a very obstructive line of late. Delizia woke up slowly and asked what was happening. it was his base. Within minutes. We won’t be gone more than a few hours. Andros reached out and took the little man by the shoulder. He knew full well why Scapaccio wanted to ride out with as few companions as possible. 194 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . I doubt if Doon would want to go either. in the name of all humanity. “Get up. Andros moved back politely to let him up. Ramon. I want to be sure that we know what we’ve got.As he spoke the last words his eyes flicked across to the other bunk where Delizia lay sleeping as if drugged.” Delizia began weakly. “Get ready—we’re going to take a look.” Delizia looked at the colonel suspiciously.” said Scapaccio. all three emerged from the wagon fully clad.. In his mind. In a sense.
Their first and only priority was to look after themselves the best way they could. who was on watch along with one of Garstone’s men. We won’t be gone long. came over to watch them. high sun.” Doon glanced up at the bright.” said Delizia. We’re just going to take a look. Andros leading the animal which he had just ridden into camp. “We may be safer now than in the afternoon. letting his eyes ask the question. Delizia had little sympathy with Scapaccio’s eagerness to get to his prize. “Be careful. “Cesar and I are going to take a look. Delizia was not altogether sorry.” he said.” She laughed. He still felt uneasy with the mercenaries. There was an element in his curiosity which resented the possible interference of others as much as Scapaccio did. Scapaccio began making his own preparations while Andros began saddling Delizia’s mount. and Andros transferred his saddle. Doon. “It’s not too hot. You can come with us if you want. “Going somewhere?” he inquired. aware of the fact that without Remy they too were uneasy and uncertain. though for very different reasons.They walked slowly over to the compound where the horses were confined. “We think we may have found the base. Like Doon.” Doon shook his head and walked back to his post. They took three animals from the compound. He didn’t notice that someone else had come up behind him until she spoke. but as he thought about it he realized that he was eager enough for his own reasons to get to the base. He waited for Andros to finish with the horses. deep in thought. He didn’t want Garstone and his men in tow. “Andros thinks we may have found the base—or part of it. and with the insistent selfishness that amounted to dangerous paranoia. let alone Doon and his companions. and in no sense committed to the aims of the expedition. she too said. in a tone which suggested WA R G A M E S | 1 9 5 .” said Delizia.” she said. “We’re going out to check. “Going somewhere?” in a tone that was almost insulting in its casualness.
When they found the straight trail which Andros had identified as a road he found that his heart was hammering with excitement. He let the rhythm of the horse’s walk lull him into a kind of trance state in which he was able to take little or no interest in his surroundings. Delizia had been right in pointing out to Doon that it was not particularly hot. And when the great doorway came into view he felt 196 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . very different from the barbaric er’kresha. His own tiredness had dropped from him like a cloak when the possibility that he was on the brink of achieving his object had imprinted itself on his mind. Nor was the light of Haidra’s garish sun unduly bright. The ride would have been pleasant were it not for the fact that he was suffering from fatigue. It seemed to be a long time since he had last enjoyed a full period of sleep.that she didn’t care in the least how careful or careless they might be. setting a moderate pace. It didn’t seem to be an important question. At times. heading for a tent pitched just inside the circle. but instead lose himself in a private world of thought and reverie. searching the scree slopes and the clumps of thorn bush for evidence of any kind that this land had once been inhabited by creatures akin to men—civilized men. his eyes roamed everywhere. and together the three headed off across the dry bed of the lake. Although it was noonday. Instead. He was glad. was fully alert. he wondered where she’d been. heading for the hills. and there was a slow breeze blowing that cooled his skin as he rode. that they had reached their destination. ready to threaten them whenever night fell. he went to join Scapaccio and Andros. noonday or night-dark. Idly. As they rode. and he didn’t bother to lose himself in a maze of speculation. Andros took the lead. the journey across the Syrene had seemed to drag on through an endless lacuna of time in which day and night ceased to mean anything. even when the cloud did not obscure its face. even if enemies still lurked in the hills. Scapaccio. now. He turned to watch her as she walked slowly across the baked mud. The sky was filled with light clouds. by contrast.
realize what had happened. His lips formed the sound of the letter W.” replied Andros calmly. He shook his head uncomprehendingly. Mr. Delizia. He had no pistol in his belt—not even a knife. He did not look around when.a rush of triumph that took possession of his mind for several seconds. but he could not form a whole word—neither “what” nor “why. He groped for his own gun. He did not. It seemed to be an entirely natural thing to do. “It wasn’t done with a laser. Then he realized that the muzzle of the rifle was pointing at him. “Someone has already been here. We need you.” Slowly. and that it ought not to be here. of course. he realized that Andros had made no mention of that great gaping hole.” “Don’t worry. Delizia. He rode forward to join the optiman. still some way behind the other two. realize the significance of the opening. Delizia. he didn’t. stared at the two of them uncomprehendingly. and said. Then. “It must be the veich. so that he thrilled with exultancy. realized that there was no weapon of any kind attached to his own saddle. for the moment. he began to ease his mount forward. marveling at the great gaping hole that showed raw metal edges through the thin false face of rock. he glanced around apprehensively. uncertainly. jerked from his daydream.” said the optiman in his beautiful voice. Suddenly frightened by the thought.” “It appears so. at first. “I’m not going to kill you. he saw Andros draw the rifle from the holster attached to big saddle. from the corner of his eye.” WA R G A M E S | 1 9 7 . When he turned back to see the other man fall. He didn’t see the optiman level his rifle and shoot Scapaccio in the back of the head.” said Scapaccio slowly.
She had just seen six of her race gunned down by two humans. sucking the air into his lungs and expelling it again. Remy silenced him with a hiss. deep breath he needed. “Two of them?” interrupted Mouse. “Who were they?” asked Valla..CHAPTER NINETEEN Not until the door was firmly shut behind him did Remy dare to take the long. He switched on the light and pointed the beam back down the corridor toward the stair. her voice low and bitter.” said Remy tiredly.. He stood for a moment in darkness. or triplets. Command Interstellar must have sent a whole family to Haidra. when he reached the moment when the second Andros had emerged from hiding. At that stage. Once they had the formula right they must have budded a couple of dozen other primary cells from the developing blastula. “Genetic optimization wouldn’t make much sense otherwise. Not until they were three floors up did Remy pause and wait for them to catch up. He’s part of a clone. treading carefully.or any number that’s convenient.. the egg can still give rise to twins. “It makes sense. assigned to a dozen different units.. there’d not be much profit in it. “What. feeling almost as if it were a luxury to breathe. for the lack of any other target. and Mouse and Valla followed. if you had to build your product one at a time. I thought 198 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . Remy explained quickly to Mouse what they had seen. and Remy could almost feel her resentment—directed against him. He walked away. just as long as you don’t overdo it.?” began Mouse.
Mouse—it wasn’t a hospital. Those cylinders weren’t designed for suspended animation.... They must have some technique for developing the mind. it was a factory. and what the cascarenes wanted to treat with kid gloves when they put it out of action.. or even genetic optimization. a factory for making optimen.” said Valla. Hospital! Don’t you see. I should have guessed. Command probably doesn’t even realize it’s gone.” said Remy dryly. He wanted out of his dead-end situaWA R G A M E S | 1 9 9 . Others of his kind. That’s what the big secret was. they’re his other selves!” “They have the laser?” “They must have ripped it off from Command Haidra. I should have guessed when I saw those life-support capsules. “the humans will obtain this process—and make warriors to drive the veich from their worlds. And somewhere in that vast stock of information discs is the full set of instructions. blueprints and all.! Mother Earth.even if I never guessed before.” “Somehow.. covering for them. “I don’t think it’s quite that simple. If you could find and identify it you could probably carry away the essentials in a saddlebag. It makes the training program—even the kind of training program they must have put Andros through—look like child’s play. That’s what the mapirenes wanted to hide. but some kind of accelerated growth process. but for the reverse. until nothing remains.” “And now that Zemak is dead.or that they’re gone. too—some way of indoctrinating a fully grown body with all the information and abilities it needs to have—and only the information and abilities it needs to have. Scapaccio wanted to find this base so that he could use whatever he discovered here to make a way for himself into the upper echelons of power. Somehow the mapirenes found a way to mass produce people—not just extra-placental fetal development. Those chambers were designed to bring artificial men through full growth to adulthood in a matter of months—maybe days. Mapirene optimen.. Maybe there are half a dozen more in Omer.somebody had to be controlling him—I didn’t guess that he might be working with others of his kind.
If they’re in this for themselves. All that he 20 0 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . “We know—and they don’t know that we know.they might have ambitions that go beyond wiping out the veich. Andros took from within his shirt a small pocket radio—a short-range unit that worked from a tiny power pack. and he could see from Valla’s face that she could follow his implication well enough.. He’s not going to bring Garstone and Doon and Madoc here. You may think of them as humans. with a passion that I can understand. I wish I knew what they think of themselves.. They think they’re safe.. if they’re still alive. One of them said that Andros—our Andros. just for a little while. unless they call one another by the same damned name—would be here within the hour. and that everything is in their favor. nobody has to fear them because there aren’t many of them and they can’t reproduce. you see. Delizia watched him activate it.. As soon as they were inside. that they’re just human enough to be as inhuman as you can imagine.tion on Kilifi. If he ended up with the secret. in a low voice.” said Remy. Andros followed him. That means he won’t be with the wagons.. we’ll have the advantage of surprise.. we have to reach them. his eyes glazed with shock.? Something tells me that their ambitions may not be quite so limited. Once they know. Scapaccio’s body was slumped across the saddle of one of them. “We have just one thing in our favor. it would come to the same thing in the end as if Command Haidra got their sticky fingers on it. it’ll be a much more even contest—and maybe.and how well their makers have managed to train them in matters of loyalty. The hoarse whisper echoed in the stairwell like rustling straw..” He let the sentence fade away.. staggered through the yawning gap in the metal door. “What do we do now?” asked Mouse. but humans don’t. you see. leading all three horses.. At present. But the optimen.” ******* Delizia. If they are alive. There’s a possibility.
“This is Dragonel and this is Gigas. but he knew that this was not what Andros meant.” said Andros. When Delizia saw them his eyes widened.” said Andros gently. We already knew that their war had reached the same stage that ours WA R G A M E S | 2 0 1 . “Allow me to introduce my brothers. It was the only sensible conclusion.” “How do you tell one another apart?” asked Delizia. “You thought when you came across that phrase that the secret of the seeders might mean who or why.” said Dragonel softly.” “You should be pleased. Delizia noted that the three were distinguishable by the clothes they wore.” said Andros. We’re alone..though it isn’t quite the secret you thought it was. “We don’t have any difficulty. We thought that the secret the mapirenes had discovered would be how. who had drawn level with him. “It’s all right. that Dragonel’s shirt was open at the neck and had no fastenings of any kind. he noted that Andros was wearing the trousers of his army uniform. By this time tomorrow. They’re taking care of the veich wagons and the men left guarding them.” After a brief pause. After that. Andros smiled. the other two optimen stepped into view.. But when we heard it.” Delizia couldn’t find words to frame an answer. we thought of something very different. Lindos and Hallmer aren’t here for the moment. and his gaze flicked rapidly from one to the other and back again. “There are fifteen of us on Haidra—but only five of us in Azreon. and went on. a slight edge to his sweet voice. then back to Andros. without having to worry about Scapaccio’s paranoia or Remy’s double-dealing. “We’re quite a substantial family. “You can work here uninterrupted. “How many more of you are there?” he asked dully.said was. We’ll see that no harm comes to you while you discover the secret of the seeders. they’ll set up the laser on the ridge again—so that we can take care of Garstone and the last of the mercenaries. For his own benefit. Then we can get to work. we’ll have the base to ourselves.
I think the veich suspected it also.. Between you. Delizia. Even the veich.has. even if they could? But the discovery of the techniques and skills used by the seeders is quite different matter.” replied Andros. you succeeded in preventing the military establishments of three worlds from realizing that they had in their collective jurisdiction the raw materials of a significant discovery. there are genetic engineering teams on Pajilla. “How did you find out?” whispered Delizia. As for Scapaccio—I don’t know..” “I’d have known about it. It seemed only reasonable that they were pursuing similar tactical policies. There are optimen on Pajilla. We had pieces of the jigsaw that allowed your piece to make much more sense. know more—or suspect more—than Command Haidra or Command Pajilla. You were unsuitable for military training—and unsuitable to receive military secrets. We had access to data which you didn’t. What use would it have been to discover the identity and motives of the seeders. of course.. Ironic. Delizia. with your usual minute accuracy.” The optiman reached out to rest his hand on Scapaccio’s body. “You would indeed. is it not? Nobody trusted you. understand why the discovery meant so much more to us 202 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D .and the optimen. a dozen people had had access to it. We knew from other sources what kind of things the mapirenes in this sector had been working on. “By the time Scapaccio realized the significance of the disc. and Scapaccio trusted nobody. You will. “You can’t keep a secret if you don’t know it’s a secret until too late.” said Andros. Mr. in all likelihood. And now we’ll never be able to ask him. That’s how we interpreted the phrase on the discs. “had it not been for one unfortunate fact.. You know as much about the mapirenes as any human alive. some of whom were taking quite an interest in archaeological data which related to the affairs of the mapirenes in that respect.” whispered Delizia. Mr. The attempts to decode it were recorded scrupulously.except for such facts as the military felt it prudent to keep from you.. The veich. too— remember? More importantly. You’re not military personnel..
“is the most important step in the future evolution of mankind.than to Scapaccio. Human beings made us in their own idealized image.” Delizia stared at Andros.” “I think you will. I’m only one man. including opposition from human beings.” “I can’t. To us. “I won’t help you. I don’t have enough equipment or enough time.” said Andros. the human cause can best be served by universal genetic optimization... We intend to carry that program to its logical conclusion. the instrument by which he hoped to advance himself above the heads of his immediate superiors.” said Dragonel. it was merely the means to an end. “I won’t.” “On the contrary. “Genetic optimization.” he quoted.” Dragonel put in. “That was the last important step.even if I could find the answers. We are so devoted to the human cause that we will support it against any opposition. “It was all too effective. it represents freedom.” “Obviously. sweet voice that somehow sounded so deadly.” “Is that what you hope to learn here?” “Yes.” replied Andros. For him. in a voice hardly above a whisper. utterly devoted to humanity.” said Delizia. “the training which the military gave you as you grew up was not effective. Clearly. WA R G A M E S | 2 0 3 .” said Delizia faintly.” “What choice do you have?” “You don’t understand the problems. We are.” “No.” “You’ll have our help. The future generations of mankind will all be made in that image. Humans designed us to be perfect fighting machines in the human cause. The next step is the refinement of reproductive mechanisms by accelerated individual growth and the planned programing of naive but fully-formed brains. That is the single most important step that lies ahead of us.” said Andros. in the soft. “Don’t underestimate that—don’t ever underestimate that. we will have total self-control. When that is achieved. We are the true human beings.
and you will. that if you fail us.” he said.“Think of it this way. He walked 20 4 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D .” As he spoke he raised his right hand. Our makers denied us their imperfect means. in the fullness of time. which held a small radio unit identical to the one Andros had. and nothing that you can do will alter that. “I think I can almost believe you. We’re incomplete only in that we cannot reproduce ourselves. You must not think of helping us as if it were a kind of betrayal.” said Andros. “When you put it that way.” “Humankind?” queried Delizia bitterly. and that is the truth of the matter. In the end. We are free of all imperfections. You may care to note. You are fortunate enough to have an unparalleled opportunity of serving humankind. not needing the advice. You might not find out who the original seeders were.” he said.” said Andros.” said Andros. We are the men of the future.” Gigas nodded absently. his voice identical with those of his clone brothers. the reverse is true. the inheritance that is rightfully ours will be delivered into our hands.” Delizia curled his lips into the mockery of a smile. but a hundred years matters little in the lifetime of a species. and that was as it should be. That’s what we will become. “We ought to get some sleep. That’s our destiny—the destiny of humankind. however.” Andros assured him. but that will come. I’ll check in with Lindos and Hallmer. What is at stake here is merely a matter of timing.” “Yes. but you’ll be instrumental in something much more important— the making of the new seeders.” Gigas spoke for the first time. We may be delayed for a short while in achieving our immediate objectives. “You came here to learn the secret of the seeders. or why they seeded the galaxy. “You’ll have to step outside. “We can begin exploring when we’ve had some rest. “The door and the mass of the mountain block reception—I could hardly hear you when you called from in here the first time. “We’re the most human beings that there are: the ideal. it will only be your failure. “I thought that you might. “We’re human.
“No need to apologize.” As they closed the door of the cage and made it secure. the time will surely come when all men born in the old-fashioned way will be kept in cages.” Delizia glanced up at the wire mesh that was to confine him.for the amusement of humankind.past the horses and out into the noonday sun. “We’ve prepared one of the loading bays for you—I apologize for the fact that it looks so much like a cage.. “Would you care to step in here?” asked Dragonel suavely.. in a fashion that seemed to Delizia to be dreadfully sincere. Andros and Dragonel laughed.” he murmured. “After all. with a calmness that surprised him. Delizia couldn’t hear what he said when he began to speak into the radio. WA R G A M E S | 2 0 5 .
second that he was human. Remy scuttled across the gray-brown mud. it was heading straight for him. “I said I wouldn’t lay bets on your being dead. and realize that it was Remy. The sergeant leveled his rifle but did not fire. probably from a considerable height. His eyes searched the waves that stirred the surface. thirty of dried mud. He had seen no movement on the mountain. and it was the sound of the splash—faint though it was—that first caught it.CHAPTER TWENTY Garstone’s attention had wandered for a few seconds. It was less than a hundred meters away—sixty of water. Garstone found himself still holding his rifle at the ready and he allowed the muzzle to droop. Remy saw him and changed direction slightly to head directly for him. Garstone pulled himself out from beneath the wagon whose shadow was sheltering him and stood up. Only then did he scrutinize the face. but when his mind attached meaning to the sound that had alerted him he knew that someone had dived into the lake. keeping his head low—as if he were worried about the possibility of being seen. He tried to blink the tiredness from his eyes. and he saw a dark head in the water. waiting patiently in the bright silence. There would be plenty of time when the man hauled himself out of the water. 206 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D .” he said hoarsely. Garstone noted first that he was unarmed. When the man stood upright in the shadows. It was the last hour of noonday and he had been on watch for more than three hours.
We have exactly one chance—we’ve got to hit them before they can hit us. They’ll want the equipment in the wagons. so would you be. while we have the chance. We’ve got to move at least a dozen men onto that ridge without their spotting us. Four of them at least. You’re surplus to requirements now.” said Remy. They’ve been following us with a laser cannon. we’ll have to take them. The drawl was false. Scapaccio and Delizia went with him. Is the optiman here?” Garstone’s eyebrows arched in surprise. right back on the ridge from which they shot Belle Yella. If they’re not. his dark eyes were hard and he was taking in every word. “Andros? He rode out five hours ago.“You’d better thank Mother Earth that I’m not dead. He claims to have found the mapirene base. If he’s taken Delizia. Out here on the mud you’re a sitting target. He probably thinks that I’m dead and he sure as hell doesn’t know that I was inside the base. We have to move out now. My guess is that they took the laser away to take care of the veich that Zemak left in charge of his wagons. maybe six. He must have figured out the position of the main entrance yesterday and tipped off his brothers—two of them found a way in and were waiting when the veich blasted a hole in the front door. If they’re already there. “Andros’s clone brothers.” “What the hell are you talking about?” drawled Garstone. we’re in trouble.” “He has. but they’ll have it back by nightfall. They killed Yerema. We have to hit them first. but you’re as good as dead. “Because if I were. They wanted the er’kresha to soften us up a bit and then to disappear—the veich too. then we ambush them. Andros doesn’t know yet that he’s been spotted. Delizia is the only one they need. At a guess. You do have a dozen men?” ******* WA R G A M E S | 2 0 7 . They intend to finish us off at their leisure. and they shot Belle Yella.
He hated them. But he also hated Remy in the same cold.” “I’m not so sure. and every one contains a skeleton. It’ll get us away from the flats. dispassionate way. Andros and his brothers aren’t working for Interstellar—they wouldn’t have to play this crazy game of cloak and dagger if they were. but if we have to attack an already established position we’re going to need every man we have. You have to believe that—because if you don’t. but there’s no more than a trickle of water in it now. I said that I’d meet them with as many men as I could raise—they need rifles. “I don’t think so. There are thousands of life-support capsules there. though he could not have explained why. That base is for mass producing men—optimen. they’re going to kill us all. if we can get to it without being seen. Are you going to come with us or not?” Garstone still hesitated for a long moment but finally he 208 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . “that base is a factory for making optimen. Believe me. breathing hard. that seemed to be the most important factor in the decision. He was ready enough to believe ill of Andros and of optimen in general. They’re working for themselves.” For fully half a minute. Somehow. Yerema’s daughter is with him. “He’s out of sight from the ridge. they aren’t going to stop at slaughtering the veich. “I figured that Scapaccio smashed the radio. The optimen work for Interstellar—they haven’t got anything against us. “Why should the optiman turn on us—they’re on our side?” Remy shook his head. Think about that for a minute.” replied the sergeant.“Just about.” he said. That’s not the way a guardian angel would play it.” said Remy. Garstone stood as still as a rock. Finally. he said. It’s normally a stream. It was his kind of move. There’s a long channel running across the lake bed to a cleft in the rocks. demanding no further explanations but simply considering the situation. “Are you alone?” “Mouse crossed from the island away to the south. “Garstone. Andros smashed the radio.” Remy gritted his teeth.” admitted Garstone. I’m taking my men.
It’s only a matter of time before others come here—the veich won’t drop the matter and even Command Haidra will get curious—but rumors would only speed things up.everything you require.” “I thought sex didn’t have any part to play in your plans for the future of humankind. “Quietly. breathing deeply and evenly. WA R G A M E S | 2 0 9 .” Andros smiled but made no reply. “It’s only a temporary measure.” said Remy. “But she won’t take kindly to being caged. you have adequate supplies of food and water. but the little man had not spoken a word while Andros had been concentrating.” said Delizia dryly.” he observed.” “She’s available. It was Andros who broke the silence. “The conditions are hardly ideal. I think we could find a use for her.” replied Delizia.” replied Andros.. For now. We’ll find you a better bed. He was aware of Ramon Delizia watching him from his cage of wire mesh.” the optiman assured him. like ourselves. “You didn’t sleep very well. “Let’s not put on a show—just in case. “There will be women in our new world— genetically optimized.” ******* Andros finished his exercise routine and sat back on the stone floor. and we don’t want the mercenaries to get back to what passes for civilization on this continent.” he said. but we’ll make it a good deal more comfortable. we have to take advantage of whatever is available. fresh clothes. We don’t need Garstone. In the meantime..” “Do you intend to kill everyone else?” “We need the wagons. We can’t afford to let any of them live—except perhaps Justina. “Where are your brothers?” asked Delizia.nodded.” “Sexual reproduction and sex are not quite the same thing. his eyes half closed. “I’ll rouse the camp. “I’m afraid that the cage will become your home.
“We don’t need any factories of our own—not initially. “we might dream more efficiently.” he said. except for this floor and the next. it will come too late. We don’t need to have factories of our own until the day that our makers decide that we have served our purpose. it is not unimportant. not they.” “Alternatively. is that we. In a small way.one small sequence of moves in a much greater game. whose culmination will take centuries. they’ll be happy enough to make use of our discoveries in their factories. it is all a matter of timing.. Or do you propose to hijack some from your human makers. The advantage of our knowing. “I don’t think you quite understand.” replied Andros. The game does not depend on what happens here—the contribution we make to its winning will be a small one. your dreams are wilder than mine. “If anything. As we have already said. What good will it do you to discover how the mapirenes managed accelerated cell growth and mind programing? You don’t have any factories or laboratories.” he said. The task of myself and my brothers is simply to see that whenever that day comes. in search of food. But it will not be inconsequential.” Delizia had no difficulty in identifying the sarcasm. We don’t need as much sleep as your kind of human being.. Until then. Our immediate aim is to see that every optiman alive knows what he needs to know about the reproduction of his kind—everything that our makers know and more. are the manipulators. Every little 210 | BR I A N STA BL E F O R D .” “I don’t suppose you do as much dreaming. He began rummaging in the saddlebags of the horse which he had ridden out from the camp. and our having the power to dispose of the knowledge as we wish. the way you hijacked your laser?” Andros got to his feet and went to the tethered horses. “I don’t think so. We won’t need factories of our own until the day that our makers try to deny us the use of theirs.“Investigating the geography of the base. They didn’t have any opportunity to look around before the veich arrived. What we need is knowledge.
You are a philosopher. It was just large enough to pass through the mesh. I wouldn’t be too sure about the evolutionary future of humankind. We don’t. Whatever fate overtook the species did so in spite of genetic optimization and accelerated development. And it wouldn’t do to forget the veich. Their way of thinking about superiority and inferiority isn’t conducive to the development of genetic optimization techniques. you need not feel that such a terrible burden rests on your shoulders alone. would it? Not a game worth WA R G A M E S | 2 11 . There was nothing supernatural about their disappearance—it was simply that they found themselves in an impossible situation. too. “But if there were— it would hardly be a game at all.” “The veich have no optimen.” said Delizia quietly. If I were you. looking down at him calmly.thing goes to make up the pattern of history and the pattern of destiny.” “There’s no certainty. Delizia—you can appreciate what I am saying. having drawn what he wanted from the depths of the bag. “Their caste-based society wouldn’t permit it. pausing between mouthfuls. “If everything you say is true. everything they had went into a backlash that smashed both the cascarenes and themselves. Equally.” said Andros. simply because what happens here will not by itself alter the fate of humankind. He began to break pieces from a loaf of hard bread and offered one to Delizia. Mr. and Andros put the morsel into his mouth.. That’s the difference between humans and mapirenes..” agreed Andros. They may have optimen too.” “You can’t be sure of that. “the mapirenes. “That’s arrogance and optimism talking—not knowledge. made optimen. so did their optimen. The veich are losing the war—they’ll continue to lose it.our situation is very far from being impossible. The mapirenes were losing their war. There’s no way you can ever be sure.” The optiman. You need not feel that nothing really matters. But when the mapirenes disappeared from the known galaxy.” said Delizia in a low voice. Delizia shook his head. returned to stand before Delizia. either.
We should have taken the wagons off the mud. which still lay across the back of its uncomplaining horse.” said Remy. “One man on horseback.” “You’re crazy. That puts the odds in our favor. By night we have an even chance of getting halfway up the hill before they spot us—and then the rest of us have something like an even chance of getting up there before they blast us. half this side.” “I didn’t say it’d be easy. spread as widely as we can. They’re on high ground with open space all around—barely enough cover to hide a stalking cat. “We’ll go in slowly. We wait until dark.” “Their night vision isn’t as good as their day vision—it isn’t going to do them much good to see better than we do when we know where they are already.” said Remy calmly.playing?” He turned and walked away into the shadows. We could even have headed for the desert—we have enough water to get us across. with a pack horse carrying provisions. And those bastards have night vision. “is that there’s no way to get to them.” “They wouldn’t let us go. “We were crazy to come out here like this.” “That’s ten hours. ******* “Well. But while they have that laser we have the sword of Damocles hanging over our heads. That laser’s worth a dozen rifles—if we charged from a dozen different directions they could still cut us down and have time in hand to smoke a cigar. “I can’t see any more than two. some of us are going to get killed. Maybe two 212 | BR I A N STA BL E F O R D .” said Garstone. We can’t even move a sniper up.” said Garstone.” said Remy tiredly. half the other.” “The one problem. Okay—if they see us too soon. might just make it. Maybe two. and the only sound that remained when his soft footfalls faded away was the buzzing of the flies that hovered above Scapaccio’s corpse. handing the binoculars back to Garstone. unless there’s another in the wagon.
If you want to pull back.” he said.of them are worth a dozen of us—I don’t know. But we have to take out that laser. If we don’t take out that laser.” “What happens if we win?” asked the sergeant grimly. they’re on my side and you’re the veir-loving enemy. pull back. whether you like it or not. and maybe first crack at the three in the base.” “If we take the laser. Or maybe. “Two down.” Garstone sat back against the hole of a tree. I’m going after him. I’d guess they were a pretty close-knit family.” said Garstone carefully.” “You’re just going to have to guess. “You’re crazy. And I intend to do it. like the members of a veir clan.” “To save the human race from a dreadful fate?” “To pay off a score. I guess a man has to be half-mad to desert. but what you’re wrapped up in is more than half crazy.” “That’s up to you.” Garstone stared stonily into his eyes. But remember this—everything that reduces our chances reduces yours.” said Remy harshly. “I don’t even know for sure they’re hostile. You’re telling me that you’re going after Andros and his brothers because they killed a veir?” Remy passed the back of his hand over the tender bruises that mottled his lower jaw. They killed a friend of mine. being only human. your chances of getting back to civilization are no better than a snowball’s chance of freezing hell. they don’t know anything about that kind of loyalty.” WA R G A M E S | 2 1 3 . Take your goddam toy soldiers with you. “I think they’ll come after me when they figure out who killed their brothers. “For all I know. still staring contemplatively at his companion. We don’t have to go after Andros.” he said. “there’s nothing to stop us heading for home. “And you’re betting your life on it.” he said quietly. three to go—but we have the laser. “I’m not sure that I’ll have to go after them. “You really are. What’s it all for? I haven’t seen you make a single rational move since the moment I saw you on the road from Pir.
“I don’t suppose I do.” Remy’s gaze traveled the full length of Garstone’s legs and measured his massive torso. the two moved back into the coppice to rejoin their tattered army.” Together.” he said.“Do you?” “No. you’re just as likely to get burned as anyone else. But I can pretend. “If you asked me why. But I don’t seem to have much choice. Then Garstone said. 214 | B R I A N S TA B L E F O R D . Are you with me?” Garstone squinted up at the ridge of bare rock that jutted up into the blue sky seven hundred meters away. “I don’t know. “When we go up the hill.” There was a pause.” said Remy. “I couldn’t tell you. “I’m not such a big target.” he said. It’ll be straightforward Russian roulette.
easily resisted his attempts to break it. You will be able to work in peace and tranquility. as usual. While the other two made preparations to eat. a problem which.O N E When the three optimen returned. though covered by a white patina. Delizia was huddled in his sleeping bag on the makeshift pallet. brought imaginary phantoms to taunt him. In the afternoon. and that he might be confined in the cage until he died. but as soon as it had gone he began to wonder WA R G A M E S | 2 1 5 . You will not be able to begin work immediately. and he knew that it must soon be night-dark. Given time. when Andros had left him.” he said. he was unwilling to face. he decided. The darkness. He pulled himself out of the sleeping bag and went to the front of the cage. He was rewarded by the ghost of a frown which seemed to cross Andros’s brow. and when he saw the lanterns carried by the optimen he was not ashamed to feel relieved. and the door was secured by a heavy padlock that was clearly not thirty thousand years old. for the moment. but after the noonday we will recover all your instruments from Scapaccio’s wagons. He had begun to toy with the idea that the optimen might not return at all. Andros came over to him. he would be able to get out of the cage—but that still left the problem of what to do next. he had investigated the possibility of escape. He was not sleeping but merely hiding from the cold. “Tomorrow. “we will escort you through your new domain. By then.” “Aren’t you being just a little overconfident?” asked Delizia.C H A P T E R T W E N T Y. there will be no one left to bother us. but the thick wire. It had been dark for several hours.
” said Delizia.” admitted Andros.. They came down a shaft that must have an outlet on the island in the lake. “the other must have been Remy.” said Andros flatly. “Two humans and one we are not sure of. hurled backwards by the impetus of the shot. One of the humans was a very big man. He heard Gigas tell Dragonel that he was about to step outside in order to check in with the remaining brothers. It could have been Garstone..” “Er’kresha?” asked Delizia.” “True..” said Andros..?” prompted the little man. and left behind it an unnatural silence. “But. taking a simple pleasure in his mildly insulting tone. The indications are that all three returned the way they came. Andros and Delizia looked toward the gaping hole in the great metal door. and there they saw Gigas.. Then his attention returned to Andros as he became aware that the optiman was staring at him speculatively. “Is he still here?” “We think not. “Someone else has been here—recently.” The sound of the gunshot cut through his sentence like a knife.... blood flooding from the side of his 216 | B R I A N S TA B L E F O R D .” “Remy’s man?” The optiman nodded.whether it had been a trick of the lamplight.” “I haven’t seen him. without echoing. It seems as though it was Mouse.” said Delizia. Delizia looked past Andros at the other members of the clone. “It makes no difference. We do not know when. “In that case. The sound died immediately. “Three more people to kill. “Did you find something up there that you didn’t expect? Were you wrong about the factory?” “We were not wrong. They left footprints in the dust—they appear to have explored quite thoroughly. “What’s the matter?” asked Delizia.
Without the laser. “Andros!” said the voice again.. You have to come to me. now.. You’re optimen. All we needed was the advantage of surprise. and Delizia saw that Andros was staring at the radio as if it were a scorpion in his bed. but they’ll WA R G A M E S | 2 17 . You couldn’t be afraid of inferior products of random breeding. you can’t stop the wagons. I’ve killed three of you. but that won’t worry you. Andros. “I know as well as you do that there’s another way out—and the base is no place for playing hide-andseek.” Dragonel filled his lungs and yelled into the night: “Remy! We’ll. and there are two of you still to kill. but you don’t have it any more. You can’t stop them. I’ve got the laser and I’ve got most of your supplies and all of Scapaccio’s. I’ve already sent three men and half a dozen horses back across the hills. the pride of humankind. You need what I have. the blurring effect of the microphone insufficient to conceal the identity of the speaker. It will take them ten or twelve days to get the news back to Ziarat.” said the thin voice from the little box.head where part of his skull had been blown away. Suddenly—grotesquely—it began to speak. Neither moved a muscle. can you hear me?” To answer. “Andros. You had that once. The odds are against you.” Andros was beside him in three huge strides. “You can’t win. Are you there? Or is the dead man the real Andros? I’ve killed three—there are only two of you left. “This is Remy. It’s all over. snatching at his arm. But names don’t matter—it’s appearances that count.. “Shut up!” he hissed “Let him talk. either Andros or Dragonel would have had to reach out and take the radio from the dead man’s hand and depress the switch that would allow them to transmit. Clutched in his outflung hand was the small radio unit.” “I’m not going to try to come and get you. But I don’t have to come in after you. “Andros!” said the tiny box. Not even when you can see before your very eyes that it only takes one bullet to kill an optiman. You’re finished. just as it only takes one bullet to kill anyone else.
To Dragonel he said. 218 | B R I A N S TA B L E F O R D . wondering even as he said it where the courage was coming from. We’ll kill them. “He’s got the radio. Andros ignored him. “You’re right.” He seemed to have recovered his composure more or less instantaneously. “All five of us. You’re as good as dead— and so are all your clone brothers in Omer. “He wants us to go after him—right now. They’re sioconi—nothing can happen to them. The device shattered and splintered.” Andros stepped forward and teased the radio out of the dead man’s hand with the toe of his boot. “The performance on the radio was intended to goad us. “Quite a talent you have for that sort of thing.” he went on.” “Don’t tell me what we should have done!” answered Andros. His fists were clenched and his face was as white as chalk. he stamped down on it with all the force he could muster. “He was right when he said that the odds don’t matter. “You think he’s really got the laser?” asked Dragonel. Do you think Lindos handed it over to him as a gesture of good will?” Andros’s voice was harsh and guttural.” said Dragonel softly. Andros?” There was a click and the set went dead. pointing at the shattered radio. How do you feel. Delizia felt as though he hardly dared breathe. He’s trying to make us move without planning our play. Every last one. He was right when he said that we’re optimen. his fury muted so that the words came out in a near whisper. Then. and wherever else you may be.do it. if necessary. “We should have stayed together. Maybe the rest of us will set off in the morning. There’s nothing for us to stay for—we already know what we need to know.” observed Delizia venomously. your whole family. They’ll carry it to Omer in person. Don’t let it get to you. “So was he. There are no surprises left—it’s a straight fight.” said Dragonel. You’ve blown it—for yourselves. and on Pajilla. and for the whole of optimankind. when it was clear of the limp fingers.
” “I must be as crazy as you are. He got to his feet and waited for Remy and the siocon to rise. Iasus Fiemme was impassive.” Delizia saw Dragonel nod. on the lake bed. We have to.” “Why did you do it?” “Because I wanted to. By the time I shot him he’d found out— or was just about to find out—that his brothers weren’t going to answer. “They’re going to come after us. too—the whole night-dark to get as far from here as possible. like an echo of his twin. “You think they heard all that?” he asked. We could have given the wagon with Justina and the wounded men—and your men. I think they heard me. And what I said will make certain that they do what I want them to do.” replied Remy. What worries you. Garstone? We still have seven men at the camp. “I think so.” ******* Remy put away the radio. “There’s no point in waiting here. Nobody’s forcing you to stay. but the starlight showed clearly enough the grim set of Garstone’s face. ride out after the woman and your wounded soldier-boys. “we have to.” said the sergeant. as usual. and not something I can’t predict. We can handle two optimen.” WA R G A M E S | 2 1 9 .” said Dragonel. and somehow the composure of the two men was more dreadful than Andros’s sudden and passionate anger had been. They should have the laser back there by now.” said Remy calmly.” he added. we’ll win.” “They aren’t going to chase Justina. “Yes. We never had the night-dark in hand. I didn’t give away more than half a minute. “He’d switched to receive after giving his call sign. “We’d better get back to the camp. which he had taken from the body of one of Andros’s clone brothers. That’s stupid. If you think we can’t. You even told them that you’d sent them out.No matter what the odds. and turned to his companions.” “Shooting the bastard down was one thing—but that crazy talk isn’t going to help at all.
“You always want to know about the next step.” said Remy coldly. Remy and Garstone rode together. with a mind like yours they should have made you an officer years ago. And what she does is her own affair.” “And maybe she’ll do the job the clansman was sent here to do.” Remy looked across at the other rider. Every single man and woman on the surface could be killed. as he had done while they searched the area for the way into the base. “Maybe she will. They didn’t hurry. I’ll take up sailing and find myself a nice little island in the tropics where there’s no fighting needs to be done and I can settle down to a life of ease. I can’t figure out why you’re still a sergeant. you won’t be able to hide—there’s no island remote enough.” he said. I don’t want to be here when Command Haidra’s planes start shipping troops in. His eyes had no difficulty in picking the best way across the rough terrain. “I’m going to desert. and it isn’t going to be pleasant for the survivors if they aren’t. “Suppose we kill the optimen. can you?” said Remy. just to make sure you get a good. There’s more land on Haidra than on the two continents.” said the sergeant sourly. “What then?” “You never can keep your mind on the present. keeping low as they did so. You 220 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . When they were mounted. rough ride. I don’t want to be anywhere in Azreon when the invasion starts. “Do you propose to do something about that?” “Do you want to bring the war back to Haidra—the real war? Do you want battleships shooting up the system and smashing up the planet’s surface? If there’s a real battle fought here.” “You don’t think ahead at all.” said Remy. the two humans let Iasus Fiemme take the lead. no doubt?” “She’s not a whore. I suppose? You don’t have any notion of what you might do when this is finally settled?” “I’m going to do what I always do. “She’s the daughter of a clansman.They walked back to the horses. Maybe she’ll stick around for the new pacification.” “With the veir whore.
“when that threat doesn’t carry much weight.have as much interest in stopping the veich from finding out about the base as I do—as anyone does. I might just take the risk. you kill me first. I’ll put it on record—if you want to lift a finger against Valla.” “We can’t stop the veich from finding out. I can’t speak for Iasus or for Doon. you would be. “I’d be a deserter. But just in case you have any ideas.” replied Remy. if you can. Clear?” “There might come a time.” said Garstone. Take my advice and do the same. “They aren’t going to let it rest when Zemak doesn’t report. “you don’t seem to be giving much thought to the matter of possible profits.” admitted Remy. I wouldn’t turn my back on anyone. What’s in it for you. The war will return to Haidra no matter what you do.” “If I thought like you. any more than we can keep it a secret from Command Haidra. no matter what happens to any one or all of us.” Garstone told him. no matter what I do. but if I were you.” said Remy.” WA R G A M E S | 2 2 1 . “If you had any sense.” “For a man who thinks ahead. All that’s in doubt is when and how. wouldn’t I?” “That’s what I can’t understand. Sergeant Garstone? What do you get out of it all? I’m just looking to survive—to come out of this alive with all debts settled.
When the rain started. The long drought was almost over. and there was very little blue sky visible. There was desert dust in the wind and the camp’s defenders were forced to wear veils. The dying summer had expired at last and the rain would come soon—probably before the noonday was through. Out on the desert plain the sky must have been afire with the display that the farmers of Ziarat’s lands knew as the harbinger of a storm. the heat did not become oppressive. Remy sat on the ground beside the tailboard of the wagon which was broadside-on to the island. The sun was completely masked.T W O For once. Doon emerged from the next wagon to sit on the driver’s seat. and when the lone wagon that Remy had sent back with a small mounted escort descended once again into the desert it would be followed by streams of water that would rouse the autumn-blooming flowers from their dormancy.C H A P T E R T W E N T Y. The light white cloud that had patterned the sky for two days had thickened. Remy nodded. He caught Remy’s eye and pointed up at the sky. the mud that was now as hard as concrete would quickly begin to dissolve.” he said. “Bad. as the morning wore on. The laser cannon was beside him. and the wind that blew from the north swirled down across the water from the eastern and western slopes of the mountainous island. The wind was in his face and it made him blink continually because of the dust that rode upon its gusts. its turret aligned so that the barrel of the weapon pointed at the island. The lake 222 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D .
WA R G A M E S | 2 2 3 . Doon didn’t bother to confirm verbally that it was the sound of an automatic rifle. “And they’d be twice as dangerous waiting for us in the dark. If we have to go to them. Remy burst out laughing. the wind carried the sound of muffled reports across the water. “Tell the others. rapidly blackening.” said Remy.” said Remy calmly. “They’re on the island!” he said.” “We didn’t have time.” He ripped the veil from the lower part of his face and moved into the clearing between the wagons. No sooner had he spoken than there was a further sound.” “They know we’ll have to move. The forests would be slower to catch.” As he spoke. I’d rather go in daylight. “Can you smell something?” Remy sniffed but didn’t answer. “We could.” suggested Doon. “We should have started to move out before dawn. “Give it a couple of hours. He was in time to see the flash of flame that started the first fire and the first gout of smoke.” admitted Remy. “It’ll take three of us to dismantle that thing and get it into the wagon.” “Wait. The fire. Remy sat bolt upright. Doon was already pointing to the shoulder of the mountain where plumes of white smoke were belching upward into the wind.” said Doon.” “Maybe. “We could hitch up and move out now.would not take long to rise to their present elevation—a matter of hours—but before that happened the wagon wheels would begin to sink into the softening ground and would become bogged down. They’ll be waiting on the ridge.” said Doon. heading for his own belongings. knowing already what he would see. pointing at the laser. which caught them and drew them into a single billowing cloud. would spread rapidly and the thorn scrub would burn like tinder. of noticeably different quality. They’ll hit us before we can set up a new formation. “Get masks!” ordered Remy. “And they’ve run into the er’kresha. “Kresh rifles!” said Doon. he knew. Remy looked to the other shoulder.
named Roch. The smoke was already beginning to flow over the cool surface of the lake. his rifle in his hands. Mouse. already the slopes of the mountain were disappearing and the wind was turning hot. His eyes were already watering but there was nothing he could do about it—dark eyeshades were out of the question. Valla. From time to time he reached up to wipe tears from his face with the back of his hand. Iasus Fiemme and the last of Garstone’s men. The mask made breathing fairly comfortable. returning the fingers as quickly as possible to the trigger guard of his gun. though the air was unpleasantly warm. frustration boiling up within him. “Get the masks on and get back!” shouted Remy. ******* Garstone crouched behind the wheel of the wagon he was appointed to defend. But the realization came far too late. They had decided not to wait for the rain. We’re too bloody close to the water. It was as though everything had been drowned by a gray haze. dragged to ground level by the fierce downdraft in the lee of the mountain. He 224 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . He saw something move in the haze and raised his rifle. The fingers were blackened by the smoke particles that stained his face. The others broke from their positions: Garstone. and the smoke would cloak the approach of the optimen. He coughed sporadically. but it was his imagination rather than the smoke that made him do so. but it was going to get very hot. As soon as Remy’s own mask was in place he ran back to the laser cannon. We’re too close! thought Remy. his eyes stinging as the smoke swept across from his left. There was no danger of Remy and his companions choking to death. Another hundred meters and we’d be safe.but their foliage was all but desiccated after the dry season and they would produce oily black smoke in huge quantities.
almost desperately. A trailer of thick black smoke uncoiled across the amber-gray mud. He moved to the shelter of another wheel. Then the wagon above him shuddered. within their compound. The horses. As he swiveled to fire. Garstone scrambled backward away from the wheel. Suddenly. He waited. He heard Roch open up from the shelter of the next wagon. mewling with alarm. poised to move or fire. He tried to guess what the other might do but for the moment there was silence. Then the next wagon—the one Roch was defending—was blown to smithereens by a grenade. but the fire was not returned and he could no longer see the movement. running at a furious pace. his eyes searching all sides. He wondered how well the optiman could see through the murk and whether his eyes watered as furiously as those of common men. and he knew that someone had just jumped onto the tailboard. and Garstone knew that they would soon break out. Then guns opened up from the far side of the circle. if it had carried the jumper from the next wagon in the line—he had seen no movement between the wagons. reluctant to move away from cover. He couldn’t see forty meters across to the far side of the circle. crashing through the WA R G A M E S | 2 2 5 . but still there was no return fire. It must have been a prodigious leap. trying to measure the position of the man within the wagon. The circle of clear ground surrounded by the wagons was a boiling mass of dust and smoke. broke loose and ran panicstricken for the gaps between the wagons. Spars of wood and plastic flew high into the air and the first explosion was followed rapidly by another. and everything was confused. but his position was all wrong and he knew that he had not hit the running figure. He fired twice. Garstone moved back from the wheel. bullets traced a line across the wagon that was sheltering him and forced him to drop flat. The horses were moving restively.fired twice. he saw the shadow that was cutting through the smoke at an oblique angle.
and this time stored ammunition went up too. He shifted his position to let his left knee rest on the ground. obscuring his vision. Not a single one hit the optiman who stood within the tailboard. and with the smoke swirling around him. but the stream of bullets did their work. He fired through it. keeping his finger pressed down so that the rifle poured the entire clip up through the splintering wood. The wagon to his right was on fire. The touch sensations of his clothing on his body and his back against the laser cannon and his fingers gripping his rifle seemed all-important. Garstone knew that he had to stop it. he felt as though the balance of his Senses was drastically altered. and a splinter of wood went clean through his cheek. ******* Remy crouched beneath the firing mechanism of the laser cannon. He was facing inward now. this one from a wagon farther up the line. though how it had caught alight he didn’t know—probably burning wood from the explosions rather than sparks carried from the mountain slopes on the wind. but three ripped through the case of grenades which he had broken open on the wagon’s floor. so that it streamed away into the circle of wagons. The wind was carrying the gray smoke past him. and rolled onto his back. looking up at the wooden underside of the wagon. Seconds later there was a third explosion. filling the air with the popping of cartridges. His eardrums were still numbed by the last explosion. The whole case went up and the fireball consumed Garstone and the optiman in the same furious second. and the mask protecting his nose and mouth. The sergeant was knocked sideways by the shockwaves and spattered by dirt thrown up from the hard ground. and used the right to help support his rifle. A ricochet smashed into his shoulder. He 226 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . his back to the shielding which protected him from its power core.barriers and shaking the wagon beneath which Garstone was hiding. The optimen were somewhere in the encampment.
knew he had no chance of avoiding the blow. his own rifle striking like a snake. who was thrown completely off balance. he heard a click behind him. The optiman was already following the swinging barrel of the laser. screeching as it did so. but he was too slow. knowing that whoever came at him out of the murk would have the wind and the smoke in his face. The barrel struck his arm as he tried to twist himself out of the way. Remy. to wield it one-handed. The stock of the rifle barely clipped Remy’s temple. because suddenly the entire turret of the laser cannon was swinging. it sent a cascade of pain from his elbow to his fingertips. but he could not get the barrel raised quickly enough. Remy crawled away while the two figures he could barely see through his tear-filled WA R G A M E S | 2 2 7 . turning as he did so.waited. No sooner had the blow landed. than the optiman was whirling the weapon. Then another figure hurtled out of the smoke. He came swiftly to his feet. and though the blow was a glancing one. There was no further sound but the crackling of the fires—white noise that seemed to fade away as his ears tried to catch evidence of movement. colliding hard with the optiman. Somewhere away to the right there was a brief burst from an automatic rifle. with disturbing clarity. He tried to keep a grip on his rifle. however. He tried to dodge backward. but Remy was already twisting. The muzzle of the optiman’s gun was aimed at Remy’s throat. to ask who was alive and who was dead. ready to smash Remy’s head with the stock. his teeth gritted in a snarling half-smile. and he managed to take most of the impact on the joint where his breastbone and collarbone met. knocking him to the ground but leaving him conscious. bringing the squat barrel around at him. but relaxed again as he realized that it was the only distant thunder. and shocked the nerves into momentary uselessness. Then. It was the first new sound since the last explosion. reeling with the pain. He wanted to shout. That was a mistake. but he couldn’t. The muzzle of his gun swung reflexively in search of the sound. He tensed as he heard a curious rumble.
The first bullet took him square in the chest. The optiman chopped with the edges of his hands at Mouse’s body as Mouse tried to duck low and get a grip on his waist. and in that respect he was giving nothing away to his opponent. He looked beyond the stricken Mouse to the fragile figure of the girl. but the optiman saw him. The initial momentum that had given the attacker his advantage was lost now. temporarily disengaged. He tried to get his rifle back into position. with its stock wedged against the ground and the barrel aligned. As the combatants rose to their feet. and he was as certain as he could be that now that the element of surprise was entirely lost. Mouse sagged beneath the blows. The optiman. She fired again. however. and his rush was checked. hands raised like twin axes. whose arms were rigidly extended in front of her. not merely in their genes but in the shaping of their skills. Remy recalled that Andros and his clone brothers were not merely large and powerful. As the struggling figures groped for some advantage they seemed equally ungainly. They had been planned. His massive body turned with the blow. Remy knew that his savior must be Mouse. went in for the kill. The optiman brought up a knee into his face. and their weight was obviously well-matched. and his own arms groped in a slow and futile manner. He saw one of the looming figures step back. He knew that one for the optiman. the right hand gripping a pistol while the left steadied her wrist. he shot out a foot which snatched Remy’s rifle from his one good hand and sent it spinning away in the direction of the burning wagon. 228 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . Evading Mouse’s attempt to secure a hold. falling as he did so into a wrestler’s crouch. and sent him flying backwards. Valla. so was Mouse. and the struggle was an equal one—if any struggle between human and optiman could be reckoned equal.eyes fell grappling to the ground. Remy began to crawl after it. and again the bullet took the optiman in the chest. Mouse was as big and as strong an individual as the random recombination of human genes might be expected to produce.
trying to wrench away his mask to make the words clearer and to let him laugh. brutal slash of the left hand.” said Remy. “Which one was he?” asked Mouse hoarsely. Remy was able to help him to his feet. They joined Valla. Valla fired again. Remy. The optiman thrashed him aside with a wild. Mouse tried to rise to his feet. yes. “Bastard!” “Oh. rubbing his injured elbow. looking down at the dead man. and actually managed to take a step toward the girl. got slowly to big feet and walked over to Mouse. slowly and clumsily. The big man was dazed and was taking his breath in great gulps but had no bones broken.” WA R G A M E S | 2 2 9 . He spat in the dust and said.as if to absorb the momentum of the bullet.” Mouse kicked the corpse. “he was that all right. He did not fall. “They all look alike to me. “How the hell should I know?” said Remy. He toppled like a felled tree. and the bullet went through his right eyeball and into the brain. It was a derisory gesture of contempt.
The storm seemed to be approaching. The light outside was gray and dull. Alerted by the sound of his movement. No distinct beams of sunlight cut through the shadows. I should have realized that they wouldn’t hurt you.T H R E E The daylight that was visible through the crack in the metal door was no longer bright.” added Remy.” “Remy?” said Delizia. though he could not be sure—he had not yet seen the glimmer of a lightning flash. “It’s me. and adrenalin forced him into unwilling action. and he lost himself in the maze of a complex daydream. He could hear the sound of the rain and the occasional roll of thunder. the shadowy figures wielding the flashlights swung the beams to pick him out. and then stood. and shone the torchlight on his face to prove it. “I didn’t expect to see you again. He let his attention wander. “We’re all that’s left. When the torchlight suddenly brought a new radiance into the gloom he was startled. “Mr. 230 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D .C H A P T E R T W E N T Y. reluctant to go to the mesh that formed the front of his cage. You’re the eleventh survivor. They left for the desert last night. Then he used the light to pick out Mouse and beyond him Valla and Iasus Fiemme. He heard the sound of a dry laugh. drifting in the shallows of fantasy. “The others are dead—except for Justina and the two wounded soldiers and three of my men I sent with them. He knew the voice well enough but he hardly dared believe it.” confirmed Remy. He came rapidly to his feet. Delizia!” The voice made no attempt to squeeze the surprise from its tone. uncertainly.
They’d be a big hit as deserters. unless some of them can fade away before the news breaks. The optimen were waiting. he ignored Delizia and turned to the girl. They must have found an easier way when Andros first tipped them off about where to look. except for Valla—and the brothers Andros are finished. “Scapaccio’s got nothing I want. Mouse. “Zemak and the veich who blew their way in here. however.” “Lucky?” “Sure. “They didn’t bother to destroy it. “What bodies?” asked Delizia. “It’s intact.” she said. and the ghost of a smile crossed his face. “The bodies are somewhere over there. The veich were wiped out. Delizia couldn’t see it clearly.That’s not a bad score—we were lucky. Remy seemed to notice for the first time the fact that Delizia was encaged. His eyes were drawn to the lock securing the frontal element of the loading bay.” The larger object was square.” Delizia watched her move away into the vast chamber. “What bodies?” asked Delizia again. “The er’kresha must have lost more than three hundred. “They put Scapaccio over there. even in this temperature. and in the other she was clutching two objects—one small.” He pointed in another direction. pointing. Remy switched off his flashlight. however. one quite large. She was still carrying the lamp in one hand.” said Remy. carrying the lamp with her. about thirty centimeters each side and about four centimeters thick except for a few bulges. For the moment.” said Remy dryly. They just pulled the corpses out of the way—they didn’t bother to search them.” Valla returned. the two brothers cut them to pieces.” Valla switched on a powerful electric lamp which seemed to flood the area with light. The smaller object was cylindrical. “They dragged them out of the way in a hurry—you’ll find them easily enough by the smell.” he said. about five centimeters long. had another one and he switched it on. with a complicated pattern WA R G A M E S | 2 31 . When the veich came in.
“Why?” asked Delizia. “I think I know what to do. I can’t recover the plans he might have made—and there’s no point. “The war’s coming back to Haidra. Delizia looked past Remy. It changes things for me—and for Valla—in a way that nothing else has. “Garstone’s dead. I can see the inevitability of it. I tried very hard to believe that I could get away from the war. in a tortured whisper. “Zemak carried it in the pack on his back. “It’s all yours.” she said. that we were living on borrowed time. “I’m not doing anything.” said Remy. It doesn’t really matter. “It’s a signaling device. The real war. “What is it?” asked Delizia.” replied Remy. So did Yerema and Valla. “It’s not for me to interfere. No one seemed particularly concerned. I think we all knew. It has hyperspatial capacity. “Fine. I don’t know what Yerema would have done if he’d found out what this place is.. in an offband way. still functioning. Now I know that.” began Delizia. “Nothing you or I or anyone can do will stop that.” Valla looked up..” “Garstone. Yerema must have realized the way things would go when we were still in Ziarat. Valla tossed the smaller object to Remy after she laid the other on the ground. and then at the siocon.” said Remy. but he stopped even before Remy interrupted him.” said Remy remotely. at Mouse.” replied Remy calmly. I never got a chance to find out what he intended doing about it. “You’re letting her send a signal to the veich!” “She’s a free agent. And 232 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D .. though. There’s an automatic relay station on one of the outer satellites.” said Remy. Valla carried the signaling device out through the gap in the doorway—out into the rain. because the one aspect of the situation which has changed things is that Yerema’s dead.” “What in Earth’s name are you doing?” asked Delizia. We have to decide for ourselves now.of grooves laid into it like a distorted screw-thread.
” answered Remy. It makes me feel better. I’m not sure whether it matters. The war will go its own way. he was staring directly into Delizia’s eyes. you see.and that somehow we WA R G A M E S | 2 3 3 . “You can’t.” said Delizia.” whispered Delizia. It will take Justina and the soldier-boys ten days and more to get to the coast. All this is written into our genes. whichever way you want to look at it. and a lot longer to get back to Omer. “Careless of the seeders to leave it lying around when they cleared the board before setting up their new game. Even if the optimen had found their secret it would have made no difference to the eventual course of the war. “What don’t you believe?” “That the war is programed—that we’re compelled to fight it—that it’s just some colossal game the gods are playing for their divine amusement.” “I know. “This site could tell us more about the mapirenes than all the other sites in the known galaxy. in the long term. and there’s nothing you or I can do to affect that in the least. “I know that whatever I do isn’t going to make any difference. I’m beginning to see things your way.. I don’t think it mattered one way or the other who won the contest to possess this place. That’s my contribution to the war effort—or the antiwar effort.” As he finished. wasn’t it?” “I don’t believe that.we’ve decided. I’d blow the place apart myself if I had the explosives to do it. and we’re doing nothing but playing out the role prepared for us by the seeders—maybe. I believe we were intended to be something very different. The veir ships will take ten or twelve days to get here—they’ve got a lot of mass to shift and they’ll have to fight their way through—but they’ll smash this place to atoms before Command Haidra knows what the hell is going on. I don’t believe that.. “We have. What Valla is doing now will make her feel a great deal better about all of this. too.” said Remy. his voice suddenly vehement. It will take the signal a few hours to reach its destination.
“We only salvaged three wagons.” said Delizia. I’ve promised him a wagon too.” “Where do you intend to go?” Remy shrugged. Remy threw him the flashlight. and then all you have to do is beat the bombs across the desert.” “The secret of the seeders. “Anywhere. By the time the veich start bombing. You can’t get away.” Remy held up his right hand.” said Remy.” They both looked across at Iasus Fiemme. You can have a horse—or a wagon. and this is his world. I’ll be in space.” he said.” he said. “But there should be something. Perhaps you could go into partnership. I think that’s what Iasus intends to do. If the worse comes to the worst. He stood silently. You could ride hard and catch up with Justina or you could make your own way. You have maybe ten days to strip this place of everything you can carry. “there’s a small starship.when they start bombing Azreon. He’s not the space-faring type. we’ll use a rifle to shoot it off.” he said.” said Remy. in a mocking tone. “That’s up to you. but the siocon was quite impassive. 234 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D .. his voice reverting to a near whisper. Only a shell—something small enough to run the comsat blockade—but a starship nevertheless. Remy laughed briefly. waiting.lost our way.” “I plan to survive. “Mouse.. and Mouse went back outside. This is the key to the airlock.” “What then?” asked Delizia. “When the war comes back.” “What about me?” Remy looked over his shoulder. “do you think you could find some kind of lever to prise that lock away?” The big man nodded. You can stay here if you like. which still contained the small cylindrical object which Valla had brought back along with the signaling device. “Somewhere in the hills near Ziarat. “You’ll get killed too. “You don’t even have any plans of your own.
he did not feel any pressure on him to make his decision swiftly. on his long-delayed journey of exploration. unafraid. isn’t it? From everybody’s point of view. Quite finished. WA R G A M E S | 2 3 5 .” replied Remy. for the first time in many days. He would spend at least a few days of his life living as the mapirenes had lived.” Said Remy. “Maybe I can figure out what Andros and his brothers wanted to know. He had come too far for that. “I never had. if you thought it would serve your purpose.” said Delizia. Remy. Do you think it was my genes. had already set out for the desert.” “I don’t understand you. he told himself as he climbed through the bitter coldness. is the single most important step in a man’s evolution. or my upbringing?” ******* Later. he was content to rejoice in being free and in being. But he knew that the fear would return. I borrowed Yerema’s. for awhile. with Valla and Mouse.” said Delizia. “The base is all yours. but that’s over now. “Crazy. Somewhere along the line. “Neither do I. I don’t make sense. The conquest of fear.” “I don’t have that much purpose. which would bloom around them as they crossed it.“I might find out a lot in ten days. He did not know yet exactly what he would do. Delizia climbed the spiral staircase for the first time. but he did not intend to leave the base immediately.” Remy told him. For the moment. What do you expect me to do—kill you?” “I don’t think you’d hesitate. Strangely. Wouldn’t that put paid to your grand gesture?” “You’re welcome to try. I just went wrong. Iasus Fiemme was with him.
A B OU T T H E AU T HOR Brian Stableford was born in Yorkshire in 1948. He has written many science-fiction and fantasy novels. Glorious Perversity: The Decline and Fall of Literary Decadence. He taught at the University of Reading for several years. including The Empire of Fear. The Curse of the Coral Bride. and Prelude to Eternity. Year Zero. and The Devil’s Party: A Brief History of Satanic Abuse. and such idiosyncratic items as Sheena and Other Gothic Tales and The Innsmouth Heritage and Other Sequels. including books by Paul Féval. and has also translated numerous novels from the French language. but is now a fulltime writer. He has written numerous nonfiction books. The Werewolves of London. including Scientific Romance in Britain. Rosny the Elder. and J. Maurice Renard. The Stones of Camelot. Albert Robida. He has contributed hundreds of biographical and critical articles to reference books. H. 236 | BR I A N STA BLEFOR D . Collections of his short stories include a long series of Tales of the Biotech Revolution. 1890-1950. Science Fact and Science Fiction: An Encyclopedia.
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