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