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