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