Healer by F. Paul Wilson - 1976

    Heal thy Nation


YEAR 1231


THE HORRORS persisted at varying levels of virulence for well over a millennium and during that period certain individuals with the requisite stigmata of flamestone, snowy patch of hair, and golden hand, purporting to be The Healer, appeared at erratic intervals. The efforts of these impostors were somehow uniformly successful in causing remissions of the malady. And although this was vigorously dismissed as placebo effect by most medical authorities (with the notable exception of IMC, which, for some unaccountable reason, refused to challenge the impostors), the explanation fell on deaf ears.

The Children of The Healer would have none of it. Rational explanations were meaningless to them.

And so the cult grew, inexorably. It crossed planetary, commonwealth, and even racial barriers (we have already discussed the exploits among the Lentemians and among the Tarks during the post-war period), spreading in all directions until... the horrors stopped.

As suddenly and as inexplicably as the phenomenon had begun, the horrors came to a halt. No new cases have been reported for the last two centuries and the cult of The Healer is apparently languishing, kept alive only by the fact that various individuals in Healer regalia have been spotted on vid recordings in public places here and there about the planets. (The only consistency noted in regard to these sightings is that, when interviewed later, no one in these scenes could ever remember seeing a man who looked like The Healer.)

The Children of The Healer say that he awaits the day when we shall need him again. We shall see.


from The Healer: Man & Myth

by Emmerz Fent






Federation Central, First-adjutant’s office, Federation Defence Force. Ros Petrical paced the room. He was fair, wiry, and prided himself on his appearance of physical fitness. But he wasn’t trying to impress the other occupant of his office. That was Bilxer, an old friend and the Federation currency coordinator, who had been passing the time of day when the report came in. Bilxer’s department was responsible for tabulating and reporting –  for a fee, of course  – the fluctuations in the relative values of the member planets’ currencies. There had, however, been a distinct and progressive loss of interest in the exchange rates through recent generations of currency coordinators, and consequently Bilxer found himself with a surfeit of time on his hands.

Petrical, until very recently, could hardly complain about being overworked during his tenure as first adjutant. At the moment, however, he wished he had studied finance rather than military science. Then he would be stretched out on the recliner like Bilxer, watching someone else pace the floor.

“Well, there goes the Tarks theory,” Bilxer said from his repose. “Not that anyone ever truly believed they were behind the incidents in the first place.”

“Incidents That’s a nice way of dismissing cold, calculated slaughter!”

Bilxer shrugged off Petrical’s outburst as semantic nitpicking. “That leaves the Broohnins.”

“Impossible!” Petrical said, flicking the air with his hand. He was agitated, knew it, and cursed himself for showing it. “You heard the report. The survivors in that Tark village –” [123]

“Oh, they’re leaving survivors now?” Bilxer interjected. “Must be mellowing.”

Petrical glared at his guest and wondered how they had ever become friends. He was talking about the deaths of thousands of rational creatures and Bilxer seemed to assign it no more importance than a minor devaluation of the Tark erd.

Something evil was afoot among the planets. For no apparent reason, people were being slaughtered at random intervals in random locations at an alarming rate. The first incidents had been trifling – trifling, at least, on an interstellar scale. A man burned here, a family destroyed there, isolated settlements annihilated to a man; then the graduation to villages and towns. It was then that reports began to filter into Fed Central and questions were asked. Petrical had painstakingly traced the slaughters, reported and un-reported, back over seven decades. He had found no answers but had come up with a number of questions, the most puzzling of which was this: If the marauders wanted to wipe out a village or a settlement, why didn’t they do it from the atmosphere? A single small peristellar craft could leave a charred hole where a village had been with little or no danger to the attackers. Instead, they arrived on-planet and did their work with antipersonnel weapons.

It didn’t make sense... unless terror was part of the object. The attack teams had been very efficient – they had never left a witness. Until now.

“The survivors,” Petrical continued in clipped tones, “described the marauders as vacuum-suited humanoids – no facial features noted – appearing out of nowhere amid extremely bizarre atmospheric conditions, and then methodically slaughtering every living thing in sight. Their means of escape? They run toward a certain point and vanish. Granted, the Broohnins are unbalanced as far as ideology goes, but this just isn’t their style. And besides, they don’t have the technology for such a feat.”

“Somebody does.”

Petrical stopped pacing. “Yeah, somebody does. And whatever they’ve got must utilize some entirely new physical principle.”

He stepped behind his desk and slumped into the seat. His expression [124] was gloomy as he spoke. “The Tarks are demanding an emergency meeting of the General Council.”

“Well, it’s up to you to advise the director to call one. Do you dare?”

“I don’t have much choice. I should have pushed for it some time ago, but I held off, waiting for these slaughters to take on a pattern. As yet, they haven’t. But now that the Tarks have been hit, I’m up against the wall.”

Bilxer rose and ambled toward the door. “It’s fairly commonly accepted that the Federation is dead, a thing of the past. A nice noisy emergency session could lay that idea to rest.”

“I’m afraid,” Petrical sighed, “that the response to this emergency call will only confirm a terminal diagnosis.”





Josif Lenda inventoried the room as he awaited Mr. Mordirak’s appearance. The high vaulted ceiling merged at its edges with row upon row of sealed shelves containing, of all things, books. Must be worth a fortune. And the artefacts: an ornately carved desk with three matching plush chairs, stuffed animals and reptiles from a dozen worlds staring out from corners and wails, interspersed with replicas of incredibly ancient weapons for individual combat... maybe they weren’t replicas. The room was windowless with dusk indirect lighting and Lenda had that feeling that he had somehow been transported into the dim past.

In spite of – and no doubt because of – his almost pathological reclusiveness, Mr. Mordirak was probably Clutch’s best known citizen. A man of purportedly incredible wealth, he lived in a mansion that appeared to have been ripped out of Earth’s pre-flight days and placed here upon a dizzy pinnacle of stone amid the planet’s badlands. As far as anyone could tell, he rarely left his aerie, and when he did so, he demonstrated a remarkable phobia for image recorders of any type. Lenda felt a twinge of apprehension as he heard a sound on the [125] other side of the pair of wooden doors behind the desk. He desperately needed the aid of a man of Mordirak’s stature, but Mordirak had remained studiously aloof from human affairs since the day, nearly a half century ago, when he had suddenly appeared on Clutch. Rumours had flashed then that he had bought the planet. That was highly unlikely, but there grew up about the man an aura of power and wealth that persisted to this day. All Lenda needed was one public word of support from Mordirak and his plans for a seat in the Federation Assembly would be assured.

And so the apprehension. Mordirak never granted interviews, yet he had granted Lenda one. Could he be interested? Or was he toying with him?

The doors opened and a dark-haired, sturdy-looking man of .approximately Lenda’s age entered. He seated himself smoothly at the desk and locked eyes with the man across from him.

“Why does a nice young man like you want to represent Clutch at the Federation Assembly, Mr. Lenda?”

“I thought I was to see Mr. Mordirak personally,” Lenda blurted, and regretted his words as he said them.

“You are,” was the reply.

Despite that fact that he had expected him to be older, had expected a more imposing appearance, Lenda had recognised this man as Mordirak from the moment he’d entered the room. The man’s voice was young in tone but held echoes of someone long familiar with authority; his demeanour alone had beamed the message to his subconscious instantly, yet the challenge had escaped of its own accord.

“Apologies,” he sputtered. “I’ve never seen an image of you.”

“No problem,” Mordirak assured him. “Now, how about an answer to that question?”

Lenda shrugged off the inexplicable sensation of inadequacy that this man’s presence seemed to thrust upon him an spoke. “I want to be planetary representative because Clutch is a member of the Federation and should have a say in the Assembly. No one here seems to think the Fed is important. I do.”

“The Federation is dead,” Mordirak stated flatly.

“I beg to differ, sir. Dying, yes. But not dead.” [126]

“There has not been a single application for membership in well over three centuries, and more than half of the old members can’t stir up enough interest in their populations to send planetary reps, let alone sector reps. I call that dead.”

“Well, then,” Lenda said, jutting out his jaw, “it must be revived.”

Mordirak grunted. “What do you want of me?”

“Your support, as I’m sure you are well aware.”

“I am politically powerless.”

“So am I. But I am also virtually unknown to the populace, which is not true in your case. I need the votes of more than fifty per cent of the qualified citizens of Clutch to send me to Fed Central. To get those votes, all I require is your endorsement.”

“You can’t get them on your own?”

Lenda sighed. “Last election, I was the only candidate in the running and not even half the qualified population bothered to vote. The Federation Charter does not recognize representatives supported by less than half their constituents.”

Mordirak’s sudden smile seemed ill-fitted to his face. “Doesn’t that tell you something, Mr. Lenda?”

“Yes! It tells me that I need someone who will get them out of their air recliners and over to their vid sets to tap in a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ during the hour that the polls are open next month!”

“And you think I’m that man?”

“Your name is magic on this planet, Mr. Mordirak. If Clutch’s famous recluse thinks representation is important enough to warrant endorsement of a candidate, then the voters will think it important enough to warrant their opinion.”

“I’m afraid I can’t endorse you,” Mordirak said, and his tone held an unmistakable tone of finality.

Lenda tried valiantly to hide his frustration. “Well, if not me, then somebody else. Anyone... just to get things moving.”

“Sorry, Mr. Lenda, but I’ve never had much to do with politics and politicians, and I don’t intend to begin now.” He rose and started to turn.

“Damnit, Mordirak! – Lenda cried, leaping to his feet. “The human race is going to hell! We’re degenerating into rabble! A group here doing this, a faction there doing that, out-of-touch, [127] smug, indifferent! We’ve become a bunch of fragments with a common genetic background as our only link. I don’t like what I see happening and I want to do something about it!”

“You have passion, Mr. Lenda,” Mordirak said with a touch of approval. “But just what is it you think you can do?”

“I... I don’t know as yet,” he replied, cooling rapidly. “First I have to get to Fed Central and work from there from the inside out. The Federation in its prime was a noble organization with a noble record. I hate to think of it dying of attrition. All the work of men like LaNague and-”

“LaNague...” Mordirak murmured as his face softened momentarily. “I came of age on his home planet.”

“So you’re a Tolivian,” Lenda said with a sudden nod of understanding. “That would explain your disinterest in politics.”

“That’s a part of it, yes. LaNague was born on Tolive and is still held in high regard there. And I hold a number of late Tolivians in high regard.”

For the first time during their meeting, Lenda felt as if he was talking to a fellow human being. The initial void between them had diminished appreciably and he pressed to take advantage of the proximity. “I visited Fed Central not too long ago. It would break LaNague’s heart if he could see –”

“That tactic won’t work,” Mordirak snapped, and the void reasserted itself.

“Sorry. It’s just that I’m at a loss as to what to do.”

“I can see that You’re frustrated, You want desperately to be elected but can’t even find an election in which to run.”

“That’s unfair.”

“Is it? Why then do you want to go to the seat of power? ‘Born to rule,’ perhaps?”

Lenda was silent. He resented the insinuation but it struck a resonance within the bowels of his mind, He had often questioned his political motives and had never been entirely satisfied with the answers. But he refused to accept the portrait Mordirak was painting for him.

“Not to rule,” he replied. “If that were my drive, I’d rejoice at the downfall of the Federation. No one ever went to Fed Central to [128] rule unless he was a Restructurist.” He paused and averted his eyes. “I’m a romantic, I guess. I’ve spent most of my adult life studying the Federation and know the way it was in the days before the war. I’ve seen the old vid recordings of the great debates and decisions. In all sincerity, if you knew the Federation as I know it, and could see it now, you would weep.”

Mordirak remained unmoved.

“And there’s another thing,” Lenda pressed. “These slaughters, these senseless attacks on random planets, are accelerating. The atrocities are absolutely barbaric in themselves, but I fear the final outcome will be much worse. If the Federation cannot make an adequate response, I foresee the Terran race – in fact, this entire arm of the galaxy – entering a long and perhaps endless period of interstellar feudalism!”

Mordirak’s gaze did not flicker. “What is that to me?

Lenda sagged visibly but made a final attempt to reach him. “Come to Fed Central with me... see the decay for yourself.”

“If you wish,” Mordirak said. “Perhaps next year.”

“Next year!” Lenda was astounded at his own inability to convey any sense of urgency to the man. “Next year will be too late! The General Council is in emergency session right now.”

Mordirak shrugged. “Today, then. We’ll take my tourer.”



In a fog of bewilderment at the turn of events and at Mordirak’s total lack of a sense of time, Lenda allowed himself to be led down the dim halls and into the crystalline mountaintop sunlight. They boarded a sporty flitter, lifted, then plunged through the tenuous layer of clouds below on a direct course for the coast. No words were spoken as they set down on the beach and entered a cab in the down-chute of the submarine tube. Their momentum grew slowly until the angle steepened and they shot off the continental shelf toward the bottom of the undersea cavern that held the largest of Clutch’s three Haas gates.

The Haas gates had revolutionized interstellar travel a millennium before by allowing ships to enter warp within a star’s gravity well. For the first half of their existence, the gates had been placed in interplanetary space. Attempts at operation within a planet’s atmosphere [129] had met with tragic results until someone decided to try a deep-pressure method on the ocean floor. It worked. The pressure cushioned the displacement effects and peristellar and interstellar travel was re-revolutionized by eliminating escape-velocity requirements. The orbital gate, however, remained an obvious necessity for incoming craft, since contact with anything other than vacuum at the velocities obtained during warp drive would prove uniformly disastrous.

Lenda said nothing as they entered the sleek tourer, and Mordirak appeared disinclined to break the uncomfortable silence, seemed oblivious to it, in fact. But after the craft had been trundled toward the bronze-hued pillars that represented the gate and had shuddered into warp in the field generated between them, Lenda felt compelled to speak.

“If I may be so bold to ask, Mr. Mordirak, what moved you to change your mind and travel to Fed Central?” Mordirak, the only other occupant of the tourer’s passenger compartment, did not seem to realize he had been spoken to. Lenda waited for what he considered a reasonable period of time and was about to rephrase his question, when Mordirak replied.

“I have a horrid fascination for the process of government. I am repulsed by all that it implies, and yet; I am drawn to discussions and treatises on it. You say the Federation is dying. I want to see for myself.” He then leaned back in the seat and closed his eyes.

Further attempts at conversation proved fruitless and Lenda finally resigned himself to silence for the rest of the trip.

After flashing through the Fed Central gate and setting up orbit around the planet, Lenda was unpleasantly surprised at the short wait for seats on the down-shuttle. He muttered his apprehensions.

“The Fed must be in even worse shape than I’d imagined. The call for an emergency session should have crammed the orbits with incoming representatives and the shuttles should be running far behind!”

Mordirak nodded absently, lost in his own thoughts.



“From your impassioned description,” Mordirak said as they strolled through the deserted polished corridors of the Assembly Complex, “I half expected to see littered streets and cracked walls.” [130]

“Oh, there’s decay all right. The cracks are there but they’re metaphysical. These halls should be crowded with reporters and onlookers. As it is...” His voice trailed off as he caught sight of a dejected-looking figure farther down the corridor.

“I think I know that man,” he said. “Mr. Petrical!”

The man looked up but gave no sign of recognition. “No interviews now, I’m afraid.”

Lenda continued his approach and extended his hand. “Josif Lenda. We met last year during my clerkship.”

Petrical smiled vaguely and murmured, “Of course.” After being introduced to Mordirak, who responded with a barely perceptible nod, he turned to Lenda with a grim expression.

“You still sure you want to be a representative?”

“More than ever,” he replied. Then, with a glance up and down the deserted corridor, “I only hope there’s something left of the Federation by the time I manage to get elected.”

Petrical nodded. “That’s a very real consideration. Let me show you something.” He led them through a door at the far side of the corridor into an enclosed gallery overlooking the huge expanse of the General Council assembly hall. A high podium with six seats was set at the far end of the room. Five of the seats were empty. The lower podium in front of it was designated for sector representatives, and only seven of the forty seats were occupied. The immense floor section belonged to the planetary reps and was virtually deserted. A few lonely figures stood about idly or sat in dejected postures.

“Behold the emergency meeting of the General Council of the Federation of Planets!” Petrical intoned in a voice edged with disgust. “Hear the spirited debates, the clashing opinions!”

There followed a long silence during which the three men looked down upon the tableau; their individual reactions reflected in their faces. Petrical’s jaw was thrust forward as his eyes squinted in frustrated anger. Lenda appeared crushed and there was perhaps a trace more fluid in his eyes than necessary for lubrication alone. Mordirak’s face was set in its usual mask and only for the briefest instant did a smile twitch at the corners of his mouth.

Finally, Lenda whispered, “It’s over, isn’t it,” and it was a statement, not a guest ion. “Now we begin the long slide into barbarism.” [131]

“Oh, it’s not really that bad,” Petrical began with forced heartiness which faded rapidly as his eyes met Lenda’s. There was no sense playing word games with this young man. He knew. “The slide has already begun,” he said abruptly. “This just...” he waved his hand at the all-but-deserted assembly hall, “just makes it official.”

Lenda turned to Mordirak. “I’m sorry I asked you here. I’m sorry I bothered you at all today.”

Mordirak looked up from the scene below. “I think it’s quite interesting.”

“Is that all you can say?” Lenda rasped through his teeth. He felt sudden rage clutching at his throat. This man was untouchable! “You’re witnessing not only the end of the organization that for fifteen hundred years has guided our race into a peaceful interstellar civilization, but the probable downfall of that very civilization as well! And all you can say is isn’t ‘it interesting’?”

Mordirak was unperturbed, “Quite interesting. But I’ve seen enough, I think. Can I offer you transportation back to Clutch?”

“No, thank you,” he replied disdainfully. “I’ll make my own accommodations.”

Mordirak nodded and left the gallery.

“Who was that?” Petrical asked. He knew only the man’s name, but fully shared Lenda’s antipathy.

Lenda turned back toward the assembly room. “No one.”





As he stepped through the lock from the shuttle to his tourer, Dalt considered the strange inner glee that suffused him at the thought of the Federation’s downfall. He had seen it coming for a long time but had paid it little heed. In fact, it had been quite some time since he had given much heed at all to the affairs of his fellow humans. Physically disguising himself from them had been a prime concern at one time, but now even that wasn’t necessary – a projected psi image of whomever he wished to appear; proved sufficient in most cases. (Of course, he had to avoid image recorders [132] of any sort, since they were impervious to psi influence.) Humanity might as well be another race, for all the contact he had with it; the symbol of the human interstellar culture, the Federation, was dying and he could not dredge up a mote of regret for it.

And yet, he should feel something for its passing. Five hundred… even two hundred years ago, his reactions might have been different. But he had been someone else then and the Fed had been a viable organization. Now, he was Mordirak; and the Fed was on its deathbed.

The decline, he supposed, had begun with the termination of the Terro-Tarkan war, a monstrous, seemingly endless conflict. The war had not gone well for the Terrans at first. The monolithic Tarkan Empire had mounted huge assault forces which wrought havoc with deep incursions into the Terran sphere of influence. But the monolithism that gave the Tarks their initial advantage proved in the long run to be their downfall. Their empire had long studied the loose, disorganized, eccentric structure of the Fed and had read weakness. But when early victory was denied them and both sides dug in for a long siege, the diversification of humanity, long fostered by the LaNague charter, began to tell.

Technological breakthroughs in weaponry eventually pierced the infamous Tarkan screens and the Emperor of the Tarks found his palace planet ringed with Terran dread-noughts. He was the seventh descendant of the emperor who had started the war, and, true to Tarkan tradition, he allowed the upper-echelon nobles assembled around him to blast him and his family to ashes before surrender. Thus honourably ending – in Tarkan terms – the royal line.

With victory, there followed the expected jubilant celebration. Half a millennium of war had ended and the Federation had proved itself resilient and effective. There were scars, yes. The toll of life from the many generations involved had reached into the billions and there were planets on both sides left virtually uninhabitable. But the losses were not in resources alone. The conflict had drained something from the Terrans.

As the flush of victory faded, humanity began to withdraw into itself. The trend was imperceptible at first, but it gradually became apparent to the watchers and chroniclers of the Terran race that expansion [133] had stopped. Exploratory probes along the galactic perimeter and into the core were postponed, indefinitely. Extension of the boundaries of Occupied Space slowed to a crawl.

Man had learned to warp space and had jubilantly leaped from star to star. He had made mistakes, had learned from them, and had continued to move on – until the Terro-Tarkan war. The outward urge had been stung then and had retreated. Humanity turned inward. An unvoiced, unconscious directive set the race to tending its own gardens. The Tarks had been pacified; had, in fact, been incorporated into the Federation and given second-class representation. They were no longer a threat.

But what about farther out? Perhaps there was another belligerent race out there. Perhaps another war was in the wings. Back off, the directive seemed to say. Sit tight for a while and consolidate.

But consolidation never occurred, at least not on a productive scale. By the end of the war, the Terrans and their allies were linked by a comprehensive network of Haas gates and were more accessible to one another than ever before. Had the Federation been in the hands of opportunists at that time, a new imperium could have been launched. But the opposite had occurred: Federation officials, true to the Charter, resisted the urge to use the post-war period to extend their franchise over the member planets. They urged, rather, a return to normalcy and worked to reverse the centrist tendencies that all wars bring on.

They were too successful. As requested, the planets loosened their ties with the Federation, but then went on to form their own enclaves, alliances, and commonwealths, bound together by mutual trade and protection agreements. They huddled in their sectors and for all intents and purposes forgot the Federation.

It was this subdividing, coupled with the atrophy of the outward urge, that caused the political scientists the most concern. They foresaw increasing estrangement between the planetary enclaves and, subsequently, open hostility. Without the Federation acting as a focus for the drives and ambitions of the race, they were predicting a sort of interstellar feudalism. From there the race would go one of two ways: complete consolidation under the most aggressive [134] enclave and a return to empire much like the Metep Imperium in the pre-Federation days; or complete breakdown of interstellar intercourse, resulting in barbarism and stagnation.

Dalt was not sure whether he accepted the doomsayers’ theories. One thing was certain, however: The Federation was no longer a focus for much of anything anymore.

With the image of the near-deserted General Council assembly hall dancing in his head, he tried to doze. But a voice as familiar by now as the tone of his own thoughts, intruded on his mind.


Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot h ear the falconer;

Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold;

mere anarchy is loosed upon the world

... the best lose all conviction.”)

Don’t bother me.

(“You don’t like poetry, Dalt? That’s from one of my favourites of the ancient poets. Appropriate, don’t you think?”)

I really couldn’t care.

(“You should. It could apply to your personal situation as well as that of your race.”)

Begone, parasite!

(“I’m beginning to wish that were possible. You worry me lately. Your personality is disintegrating.”)

Spare me your trite analyses.

(“I’m quite serious about this. Look at what you’ve become: a recluse, an eccentric divorced from contact with other beings, living in an automated gothic mansion and surrounding himself with old weapons and death trophies, brooding and miserable. My concern is genuine, though hardly altruistic.”)

Dalt didn’t answer, Pard had a knack for cutting directly to the core of a matter; and this time the resultant exposure was none too pleasant. He had long been plagued by a gnawing fear that his personality was deteriorating. He didn’t like what he had become but seemed unable to do anything about it. When and where had the change begun? When had occasional boredom become crushing ennui? When had other people become other things? Even sex no longer distracted him, although he was as potent as ever. Emotional attachments that had once been an easy, natural part of his being [135] had become elusive, then impossible. Perhaps the fact that all such relationships in the past had been terminated by death had something to do with it.

Pard, of course, had no such problems. He did not communicate directly with the world and had never existed in a mortal frame of reference. From the instant he had gained sentience in Dalt’s brain, death had been a mere possibility, never an inevitability. Pard had no need of companionship except for occasional chats with Dalt concerning their dwindling mutual concerns, and found abstract cogitations quite enthralling. Dalt envied him for that.

Why, he wondered in a tangent, did he always refer to Pard in the male gender? Why not “it”? Better yet, why not “her”? He was wedded to this thing in his head till death did them part.

(“Don’t blame your extended lifespan for your present condition,”) said the ever-present thought-rider. (“You’re mistaking inertia for ennui. You haven’t exhausted your possibilities; in fact, you’ve hardly dented them. You adapted well for a full millennium. It’s only in the last one hundred fifty years or so that you’ve begun to crack.”)

Right again, Dalt thought. Perhaps it had been the end of the horrors that had precipitated the present situation. In retrospect, The Healer episodes, for all the strain they subjected him to, had been high points while they lasted – crests between shallow troughs. Now he felt becalmed at sea, surrounded by featureless horizons.

(“You should be vitally interested in what is happening to your race, because you, unlike those around you today, will be there when civilization deteriorates into feudalism. But nothing moves you. The rough beast of barbarism is rattling the cage of civilization and all you can do is stifle a yawn.”)

You certainly are in a poetic mood today. But barbarians, like the poor, are always with us.

(“Granted. But they aren’t in charge – at least they haven’t been to date. Tell me: Would you like to see a Federation modelled on the Kwashi culture?”)

Dalt found that a jolting vision but replied instead, I wish you were back on Kwashi! He instantly regretted the remark. It was [136] childish and unworthy of him and further confirmed the deterioration of his mental state.

(“If I’d stayed there, you’d be over a thousand years dead by now.”)

“Maybe I’d be happier!” he retorted angrily. There was a tearing sound to his right as the armrest of his recliner ripped loose in his hand.

How’d I do that? He asked.


How’d I tear that loose with my bare hand?

(“Oh, that. Well, I made some changes a while back in the way the actin and myocin filaments in your striated muscle handle ATP. Human muscle is hardly optimum in that respect. Your maximum muscle tension is far above normal now. Of course, after doing that, I had to strengthen the cross-bridges between the filaments, reinforce the tendinous origins and insertions of the muscles, and then toughen up the joint capsules. It also seemed wise to increase the epidermal keratin to prevent...”)

Pard paused as Dalt carelessly flipped the ruined armrest onto the cabin floor. In the old days Pard would have received a lecture on the possible dangers of meddling with his host’s physiology. Now Dalt didn’t seem to care.

(“You seriously worry me, Dalt. Making yourself miserable... it’s unpleasant, but your emotional life is your own affair. I must warn you, however: If you take any action that threatens our physical life, I’ll take steps to preserve it – with or without your consent.”)

Go away, parasite, Dalt thought sulkily, and let me nap.

(“I resent your inference. I’ve more than earned my keep in this relationship. It becomes a perplexing question as to who is really the parasite at this point.”)

Dalt made no reply.



Dalt awoke with Clutch looming larger and larger below him as the tourer eased through the astrosphere toward the sea. Amid clouds of steam it plunged into the water and then bobbed to the surface to rest on its belly. A pilot craft surfaced beside it, locked [137] onto the hull, and, as the tourer took on water for ballast, guided it below the surface to its berth on the bottom.

The tube car deposited him on the beach a short time later and he strolled slowly in the general direction of his flitter. The sun had already completed about a third of its arc across the sky and the air lay warm and quiet and mistily opaque over the coast. Bathers and sun-soakers were out in force.

He paused to watch a little sun-browned, towheaded boy digging in the sand. For how many ages had little boys done that? He knew he must have done the same during his boyhood on Friendly. How long ago was that? Twelve hundred years? It seemed like twelve thousand. He felt as if he had never been young.

He wondered idly if he had made a mistake in refusing to have children and knew immediately that he hadn’t. Watching the women he had loved grow old and die had been hard enough; watching his children do the same would have been more than he could have tolerated.

Pard intruded again, this time with a definite tone of urgency. (“Something’s happening!”)

What’re you talking about?

 (“Don’t know for sure, but there’s a mammoth psi force suddenly operating nearby.”)

A slight breeze began to stir and Dalt glanced up from the boy as he heard excited voices down by the water. The mist in the air was starting to move, being drawn to a point about a meter from the water’s edge. A gray, vortical disk appeared, coin-sized at first, then persistently larger. As it grew in size, the breeze graduated to a wind. By the time the disk reached a diameter equal to a man’s height, it was sucking in mist and spray at gale force.

Curious, the little boy stood up and began to walk toward the disk, but Dalt put a hand on his shoulder and gently pulled him back.

“Into your sand hole, little man,” he told him. “I don’t like the looks of this.”

The boy’s blue eyes looked up at him questioningly but something in Dalt’s tone made him turn and crawl back into his excavation. [138]

Dalt returned his attention to the disk. Something about it raised his hackles and he squatted on his haunches to see what would develop. It had stopped growing now and a number of people, bracing themselves against the draw of the gale, formed a semicircular cluster around it at a respectful distance.

Then, as if passing through a solid wall, a vacuum-suited figure with a blazing jetpack on its back materialized and hit the sand at a dead run. Carrying what appeared to be an energy rifle, it swerved to the right and dropped to one knee. A second figure appeared then, and as it swerved to the left, the first turned off its jetpack, raised its rifle, and started firing into the crowd. The second soon joined it and the semicircle of observers broke into fleeing, terrified fragments.

A steady stream of invaders began to pour onto the beach, fanning out and firing on the run with murderous accuracy.

Dalt had instinctively flattened onto the sand at the sight of the first invader, and he now watched in horror as the people who had only moments before been bathing in the sun and the sea became blasted bodies littering the sand. Panic reigned as scantily clad figures screamed and scrambled to escape.

The marauders, bulky, faceless, and deadly in their vacsuits, pursued their prey with remorseless efficiency. Their ranks were forty or fifty strong now; and as one ran in his direction, Dalt realized that he was witnessing, and would no doubt soon become victim to, one of those mindless episodes of slaughter that Lenda had been telling him about.

He sensed movement on his right and turned to see the little boy sprinting across the sand, yelling for his mother. Dalt opened his mouth to tell him to get down, but the approaching invader spotted the fleeing figure and raised his weapon. Dalt found himself on his feet and racing toward the invader. With the high quality of marksmanship exhibited by the marauders so far, he knew he had scant hope of saving the boy. But he had to try. Something, either concern for a young life or for his own, or a combination of both, made him run. His feet churned up furious puffs of sand as they fought for traction, but he could not gain the momentum he needed. The invader’s weapon buzzed quietly and out of the corner of his eye Dalt saw the boy convulse in mid-stride and go down. [139]

The thought of self-preservation was suddenly submerged in a red tide of rage. Dalt wanted to live, yes. But more than that, right now he wanted to kill. If his pumping feet could get him there in time, the memory of the torn armrest on his tourer told him what he could do. The invader gave a visible start – though no facial expression could be seen through the opaque faceplate – as he caught sight of Dalt racing toward him. He began to swing the blaster around but too late. Dalt pushed the weapon aside, grabbed two fistfuls of the vacsuit fabric over the chest, and pulled. There was a ripping sound, a whiff of fetid air, and then Dalt’s hands were inside the suit. They travelled up to the throat and encircled the neck. A dull snap followed and the invader went limp.

Extricating his hands, Dalt pushed the body to the ground with one and snatched the falling blaster with the other. After a brief inspection: How do you work this thing? There was no trigger.

Beside him, the body of the slain invader suddenly flared with a brief, intolerable, incandescent flash; then oily smoke began to rise from the torn suit.

“What the – ” Dalt began out loud, but Pard cut him off.

(“A good way to hide your planet of origin. But never mind that. Try that little button on the side of the stock and try it quickly. I believe you’ve drawn some unwanted attention to yourself.”)

Dalt glanced around and saw one of the invaders staring at him, momentarily stunned with amazement. Then he began to raise his weapon into the firing position.

Suddenly everything slowed, as if under water.

What’s going on?

(“I’ve accelerated your mind’s rate of perception to give you a much-needed edge over the energy bolt that’s about to come our way.”)

The blaster had inched up to the invader’s shoulder by now and Dalt dove to his left. He seemed to float gracefully, gently through the air. But there was nothing gentle about his impact with the ground. He grunted, rolled, pointed his blaster in the general direction of the invader, and pressed the button three times in rapid succession.

One of the energy bolts must have found its mark. The invader [140] threw up his arms in a slow, wide arc and drifted toward the sand to rest on his back.

Then, as movements resumed their normal cadence, the body flared and belched smoke like the one before it. Dalt noted that he now occupied a position behind the advancing line of marauders.

Maybe you’d better keep up the speed on the perception, he told Pard.

(“I can only do it in bursts. The neurons can’t maintain the necessary metabolic rate for more than a minute or two.”)

Dalt settled himself in the prone position, shouldered the weapon, and found that the button fit under his thumb with only a little stretching.

Let’s even up the odds a little while we can. Without the slightest hesitation or remorse, he sighted on the unsuspecting backs of the invaders as they went on with their slaughter of the remaining bathers. As the invaders fell one by one to the silent bolts of energy from Dalt’s weapon, the skills he had learned as a game hunter on the lesser-settled planets of Occupied Space came back to him: Hit the stragglers and the ones on the periphery, then move inward. A full dozen of their comrades lay dead and smoking on the sand before the main body of the force realized that all was not going according to plan.

A figure in the centre of the rank looked around and, noticing that his detail was unaccountably shrinking in size, signalled to the others. They began to turn their attention from the bathers before them to seek out the unexpected threat from the rear.

Pard accelerated perception again and then Dalt’s weapon began to take a merciless toll of the force. He was constantly moving and sighting the strange blaster, getting the feel of it and becoming more deadly with every bolt he fired. As soon as an invader raised his weapon in his direction, he would shift, sight, and fire; shift-sight-fire; shift-sight-fire. If the muscles of his fingers, arms, and shoulders could have responded at the speed of his perception, he would have killed them all by now. As it was, he had cut their number in half. The assault had been effectively crippled; and it wouldn’t take many more casualties before it would fall apart completely.

As Dalt sighted on the figure he took to be the leader, his vision [141] suddenly blurred and vertigo washed over him. The wave receded briefly, then pounded down upon him again with greater force. He felt a presence, totally malignant, totally alien... and yet somehow oddly familiar.

Then came an indescribable wrenching sensation and he felt for an instant as if he were looking at the entire universe from both within and without. Then he saw and felt nothing.



He awoke with sand in his eyes and nostrils and the murmur of the sea and human voices in his ears. Rising to his knees, he brushed the particles from his face with an unsteady hand and opened his eyes.

A small knot of people encircled him, its number growing steadily. The circle widened as he gained his feet. All eyes were fixed upon him, and mixed among the hushed mutterings of the voices, the word “Healer” was repeated time and again. It was suddenly obvious that his psi cover must have cut off while he was unconscious.

Dalt felt something in his right hand: the stolen weapon. He loosened his grip and let it fall to the sand. As he resumed the interrupted trek to his flitter, the crowd parted and left him a wide path obstructed only by the bodies of fallen bathers and the remains of the invaders he had killed.

He surveyed the scene as he walked. The assault had apparently been broken: the attackers were gone, their vortical gateway from who-knows-where had closed. The still-smouldering ashes of the invaders who had not escaped gave him a primitive sense of satisfaction.

That’ll teach ’em.

The crowd followed him to his flitter at a respectful distance and stood gazing upward as he piloted the craft above the mist and toward the mountains. Reaction began to set in and his hands were shaking when he reached the aerie. Gaining the study, Dalt poured himself a generous dose of the thin, murky Lentemian liquor he had acquired a taste for in the last century or so. He usually diluted it, but took it straight now and it burned delightfully all the way down. [142]

Sitting alone in the darkness with his feet on the desk, Dalt became aware of a strange sensation. No, it wasn’t the liquor. It was something else... something unpleasant. He put the glass down and returned his feet to the floor as he recognized the feeling.

He was alone.

Pard? He called mentally, awaiting the familiar reply. None came.

He was on his feet now and using his voice. “Pard!”

The emptiness that followed was more than a lack of response. There was a void within. Pard was gone. Pard the father, Pard the son, Pard the wife and mother, Pard the mentor, the confidant, the companion, the preserver, the watchdog, Pard the friend, Pard... was gone!

The sudden shattering sensation of being alone, for the first time in over a millennium, was augmented by the awareness that without Pard he was no longer immortal. The weight of the centuries he had lived became crushing as Dalt realized that once again his days could be numbered.

His voice rose to a scream.






Three sullen days passed, during which Dalt’s aerie was besieged by a legion of news-service reporters vying for an interview. The Healer had returned and everyone wanted an exclusive. Foreseeing this, Dalt had hired a security force to keep them all away. Finally word came that a Federation official and a local politico named Lenda were requesting an audience, claiming they were acquaintances. Should they be allowed in?

Dalt nodded to the face on the screen and switched off the set. What do they want? he wondered. If it was a return of The Healer, they were out of luck. Without Pard he had no special psionic powers; he was just another man, and strange-looking one at that.

It really didn’t matter what they wanted. Dalt, strangely enough, wanted some company. For three days he had sulked in the windowless [143] study, and an unaccustomed yearning for sunlight, fresh air, and other human beings had grown within him.

The door to the study opened and Lenda entered with Petrical following. Wonder and awe were evident on the former’s face as he remembered the last time he’d been in this room. He had sat across the desk from another man then – at least it had seemed like another man. Now, a thousand-year legend sat before him. The white patch of hair atop his head and the golden hand only the flame-stone was missing accentuated an image known to every being in Occupied Space. Petrical seemed less impressed, but his manner was reserved.

“Nice to see you two gentlemen again,” Dalt said with pointed cordiality, fixing his eyes on Lenda. “Please sit down.”

They did so with the awkward movements of outlanders in a strange temple. Neither spoke.

“Well?” Dalt said finally. Four or more days ago he would have waited indefinitely, enjoying their discomfiture at the long silence. Now he was possessed of a sense of urgency. Minutes were precious again.

Petrical gained his voice first but fumbled with titles. “Mr. Mordirak... Healer...”

“Dalt will do nicely.”

“Mr. Dalt, then.” Petrical smiled with relief. “There’s one question I must ask you, for my own sake if not for humanity’s: Are you really The Healer?”

Dalt paused, considering his answer. Then, “Does it really matter?”

Furrows appeared on Petrical’s brow but Lenda straightened in his chair with sudden comprehension.

“No, it doesn’t.” He glanced at Petrical. “At least not for practical purposes. By now most of Occupied Space considers him The Healer; and that’s all that matters. Look what happened: A lone man, outnumbered fifty to one, turns back a murderous assault on helpless bathers. And that man happens to look exactly like The Healer. The incident has proven more than enough to excite the interest of the Children of The Healer; and I believe it is quite enough for me.” [144]

“But how could you be The ” Petrical blurted, but Dalt stopped him with an upraised hand.

“That is not open for discussion.”

Petrical shrugged. “All right. We’ll accept it as our basic premise and work from there.”

“To where?”

“That will be entirely up to you, Mr. Dalt.” Lenda said.

“Yes. Entirely.” Petrical nodded, taking the lead. “You may or may not be aware of what has been taking place during the last three standard days. Federation Central has been bombarded with requests for information on the Clutch incident from all corners of Occupied Space. The isolated slaughters, which until three days ago had been of interest only to the victim planets and even in those cases of only passing interest are fast becoming a major concern. Why? Because the Children of The Healer, a group that had, because of its origins, previously been of mere sociological interest only – and long thought defunct has undergone a tremendous resurgence of public sympathy, and surprises us with the sheer size of its support. The group is now applying political pressure for the first time in its history.”

Dalt frowned. “I never knew they were still around in any numbers.”

“Apparently the group never died out; it just became less visible. But they’ve been among us all along, keeping to themselves, growing and passing along the article of faith that The Healer would one day return in time of crisis and they should be ready to aid him by whatever means necessary.”

“I’m gratified,” Dalt said quickly, “but please get to the point.”

“That is the point,” Lenda said. “People in and around Fed Central have recognized these assaults as the first harbinger of interstellar barbarism. They see a real threat to our civilization but have been powerless to do anything about it as you well know. They could no longer find a common thread among the planets. But the thread was there all along: your followers. The Children of The Healer form an infrastructure that cuts across all boundaries. All that was needed was some sort of incident – ‘sign,’ if you will to activate them, and you provided it down there on the beach. You, [145] as The Healer, took a stand against the butchery of these assaults, and that suddenly makes opposition to them a cause for your followers.”

“They’re working themselves up to a frenzy,” Petrical added, “but totally lack direction. I sent representatives from the Federation Defence Force with offers of cooperation, but they were uniformly rebuffed.”

“That leaves me, I suppose,” Dalt said.

Petrical sighed. “Yes. Just say the word and we can turn a rabble into a devoted multicentric defence force.”

“Blasterfodder, you mean.”

“Not at all. The civilians have been blasterfodder for these assaults to date. They’re the ones being slaughtered and they’re the ones we want to protect.”

“Why don’t they just protect themselves?” Dalt asked.

“First off, they’re not set up for it. Secondly, the assaults take place in such a limited area when they hit that there’s a prevailing attitude of ‘it can’t happen here.’ That will eventually change if the number of assaults continues to rise at its present rate, but by then it may be too late. The biggest obstacle to organizing resistance remains our inability to name the enemy.”

“Weren’t there any clues left down on the beach?”

Petrical shook his head. “Nothing. The bodies were completely incinerated. All we know about the marauders is that they’re carbon-cycle beings and either human or markedly humanoid. The weapons they carried had a lot of alien features about them, but that could be intentional.” He grunted. “A bizarre transport system, strange weapons, and bodies that self-destruct... someone’s trying awfully hard to make this look like the work of some new alien race. But I don’t buy it. Not yet”

Dalt shifted in his chair. “And what do you expect me to do about all this?”

“Say a few words to the leaders of the planetary Healer sects,” Petrical replied. “We can bring them here or to Fed Central, or wherever you’d like. All we have to tell them is they’ll see The Healer in person and they’ll come running.”

“And what’s in all this for you?” [146]

“Unity. We can perhaps go a step further beyond a coordinated defence. Perhaps we can bind the planets together again, start a little harmony amid the discord.”

“And inject a little life into the Federation again,” Lenda added.

Dalt turned on him, a touch of the old cynicism in his voice. “That would make you the man of the hour, wouldn’t it?”

Lenda reddened. “If you harbour any doubts about my motives which might prevent you from acting, I will withdraw myself completely from the picture.”

Dalt was beginning to see Josif Lenda in a new light. Perhaps this errant politician had the makings of a statesman. The two species were often confused, although the former traditionally far outnumbered the latter. He smiled grimly. “I don’t think that will be necessary.”

Lenda looked relieved but Petrical frowned. “Somehow I don’t find your tone encouraging.”

Dalt hesitated. He didn’t want to turn them down too abruptly but he had no intention of allowing himself to become involved in another conflict like the Terro-Tarkan war, which this might well escalate to in the near future. He still had a number of good years left – in normal human terms but to a man who had become accustomed to thinking in terms of centuries, it seemed a terribly short number. He knew that should the coming struggle last only half as long as the T-T war, any contribution he made, no matter how exalted the expectations of the two men before him, would be miniscule. And besides, he had things to do. Just what those things were he had yet to decide, but the remaining years belonged to him alone and he intended to be miserly with them, milking them for every drop of life they held.

“I’ll think about it,” he told them, “and give you my decision in a few days.”

Lenda’s lips compressed but he said nothing. Petrical gave out a resigned sigh and rose. “I suppose we’ll just have to wait, then.”

“Right,” Dalt said, rising. “One of the security men will show you out.”

As the dejected pair exited, Dalt was left alone to face a chaotic jumble of thoughts and emotions. He paced the room in oppressive [147] solitude. He felt guilty and didn’t know why. It was his life, wasn’t it? He hadn’t wanted to be a messiah; it had been manufactured for him. He’d only wanted to perform a service. Why should he now be burdened with the past when the future seemed so incredibly short?

His thoughts turned to Pard, as they had incessantly for the past three days. It was obvious now that their two minds had been in tandem far too long; the sudden severing of the bond was proving devastating. He did not feel whole without Pard – he was a gelding, an amputee.

He felt anger now – inwardly at his own confusion, outwardly at ... what? At whatever had killed Pard. Someone or something had taken a part of him down on that beach. The mind with which he had shared twelve hundred years of existence, shared like no other two minds had ever shared, had been snuffed out. The anger felt good. He fuelled it: Whoever or whatever it was that had killed Pard would have to pay; such an act could not be allowed to pass without retribution.

He leaped to the vidcom and pressed the code for the guard station. “Have those two men left the property yet?” he demanded.

The security chief informed him that they were at the gate now.

“Send them back.”



“The pattern of these attacks is either unapparent at this time,” Petrical was saying, “or there simply is no pattern.” He was in his element now, briefing the leaders of the planetary sects of the Children of The Healer.

Dalt watched the meeting on a vid panel in the quarters that had been set up for him on Fed Central. As The Healer, he had appeared before the group a few minutes ago, speaking briefly into the awed silence that had filled the room upon his arrival. It continued to amaze him that no one questioned his identity. His resemblance to the millions and millions of holos of The Healer in homes throughout Occupied Space was, of course, perfect. But that could be achieved by anyone willing to sink some money into reconstructive work. No... there was more to it than appearance. They seemed to sense that he was the genuine article. More importantly, [148] they wanted him to be The Healer. Their multigenerational vigil had been vindicated by his return.

A few words from The Healer emphasizing the importance of organized resistance to the assaults and endorsing cooperation with the Federation had been sufficient. Petrical would take it from there.

The plan was basically simple and would probably prove inadequate. But it was a start. The Children of The Healer would form a nucleus for planetary militia forces which would be on day-and-night standby. At the first sighting of a vortex, or as soon as it was known that there was an attack in progress, they were to be notified and would mobilize immediately. Unless a local or planetary government objected, representatives from the Federation Defence Force would be sent out to school them in tactics. The main thrust of this would be to teach the first group on the scene how to cut the invaders off from their passage until other groups could arrive, and a full counteroffensive could be undertaken.

The Children of The Healer would become minutemen, a concept of defence that had been lost in the days of interstellar conflict.

The sect leaders would leave by the end of the day. After that it would be a waiting game.



“I just got word that you were back,” Petrical said as he entered Dalt’s quarters. His features showed a mixture of relief and annoyance at the sight of Dalt. “You’re free, of course, to come and go as you please, but I wish you’d let someone know before you disappear like that again. Nine days without a word... we were getting worried.”

“I had a few private sources of information to check out,” Dalt said, “and I had to do it in person.”

“What did you learn?”

Dalt threw himself into a lounger. “Nothing. No one even has a hint of who or what’s behind all this. anything new at this end?”

“Some good news, some not so good,” Petrical replied, finding himself a seat. “We’ve had reports of four assaults in the past eight days. The first two occurred on planets which had not yet set up [149] battle-ready militia units. The third,” – his face broke into a smile – “occurred in a recreational area on Flint!”

Dalt began to laugh. “Oh, I’d have given anything to be there! What happened?” Flint was an independent planet, a former splinter world on which virtually every inhabitant was armed and ready to do battle.

“Well, we don’t have much hard information – you know how the Flinters are about snoopers – but all reports indicate that the assault force was completely wiped out.” He shook his head in grudging admiration. “You know, I’ve always thought that everyone on Flint was a little crazy, but I’ll bet it’s quite some time before they’re bothered with one of these assaults again.”

“What about the minutemen?” Dalt asked. “Have they seen any action?”

Petrical nodded. “Yesterday, on Aladdin. A vortex was reported only a hundred kilometres away from a fledgling unit. They didn’t do too well. They forgot all their tactical training. Granted, it wasn’t much, but they might as well have had none at all for the way they conducted the counterattack. They forgot all about cutting off the escape route; just charged in like crazy men. A lot of them were killed, but they did manage to abort the attack.”

“First blood,” Dalt said. “It’s a start.”

“Yes, it is,” Petrical agreed. He glanced up as Lenda hurried into the room but kept on speaking. “And as the militia groups proliferate I think we can contain these attacks and eventually render them ineffective. When that happens, we’ll just have to wait and see what response our unknown assailants make to our counter- measures.”

“They’ve already made it,” Lenda said in a breathless voice. “Neeka was just hit simultaneously in four different areas! The militia groups didn’t know which way to go. The attacks were all in greater force than previous ones and the carnage is reported as incredible.” He paused for reaction and found it in the grim, silent visages of the two men facing him. “There was an unusual incident, however,” he continued. “One of the minutemen drove a lorry flitter into the vortex.” [150]

Dalt shook his head sadly. “I guess our side has its suicidal elements, too.”

“Why do you say that?” Lenda asked.

“Because the passage obviously has either low or no pressure on the other side of the opening. It appears to be a vortex because the pressure differential sucks in atmosphere wherever it opens. The attackers don’t wear jetpacks and vac-suits just to hide their identity. I’m sure they must wear them to survive transit through the passage.”

Petrical nodded in agreement. “We’ve assumed that from the beginning, and have told the men to keep their distance from the vortex. That fool’s bodily fluids probably started to boil as soon as he crossed the threshold.”

“But it’s indicative of the dedication of these groups that they all want to try the same stunt now,” Lenda said. “They want to carry the battle to the enemy.”

“A counterattack on the enemy’s home position would be the answer to many problems,” Petrical mused, “but where is their home? Until we find out, we’re just going to have to use the forces we’ve got to play a holding game.” He glanced across the room “Any ideas, Mr. Dalt?”

“Yes. A couple of obvious ones, and one perhaps not so obvious. First, we must definitely discourage the minutemen from entering the passage. Next, we’ve got to expand the militia groups. These attacks are escalating rapidly. Rather than random incidents, they’re now occurring with a murderous regularity that worries me. This whole affair could be bigger and more sinister than anyone – and that includes the two of you – has yet appreciated.”

“I’m ahead of you on that last point,” Petrical said with a satisfied air. “Before coming in here I issued another call for an emergency session of the General Council, and this time I think the response will be different. Your followers have been agitating for action on all the planets and have generated real concern. As a result, the Federation has received a steady stream of applications for reinstatement. In fact, there are loads of fresh new representatives on their way to Fed Central right now.” [151]

This was not news to Lenda, who kept his eyes on Dalt “What’s your ‘not so obvious’ idea?”

“Drone flitters equipped with reconnaissance and signal gear,” he replied. “They’ve given us a tunnel right to their jump-off point. Why don’t we use it against them? The flitters can send out a continual subspace beam and we can set up an all-points directional watch to see where they end up.”

Petrical jumped to his feet. “Of course! We can place a drone with each militia group and it can send it through during a counterattack. We’ll keep sending them through until we’ve pinpointed their position. And when we know where to find them...” He paused. “Well, they’ve got a lot of lives to answer for.”

“Why can’t we just send an attack force through?” Lenda asked.

“Because we wouldn’t know where we’d be sending them,” Petrical replied. “We don’t know a thing about this vortical passage. We assume it to be a subspace tunnel, but we don’t know. If it is, then we’re dealing with a technology that dwarfs anything we have. Any man who got through to the other end – and that’s a big ‘if’ in itself – would probably be killed before he had a chance to look around. No. Unmanned craft first.”

Lenda persisted. “How about sending a planetary bomb through?”

“Those have been outlawed by convention, haven’t they?” Dalt said.

Petrical gazed at the floor. “A few still exist.” He glanced up. “They’re in deep-space hidey holes, of course. But a planetary bomb is out of the question. We’d have to manufacture a lot more of them, one for every planet involved, and they’d have to be armed and trundled to the assault scene by inexperienced personnel. A tragedy of ghastly proportions would be inevitable. We’ll stick with Mr. Dalt’s idea”

The two men left hurriedly, leaving Dalt alone with a feeling of satisfaction. It was gratifying to have his idea accepted so enthusiastically, an idea that was totally his. He had relied too much on Pard’s computer-speed analyses in recent centuries. It felt good to give birth to an idea again. The lines between his own mental [152]


processes and Pard’s had often blurred and it had at times been difficult to discern where an idea had originated. With the thought of Pard, a familiar presence seemed to waft through the room and touch him.

“Pard?” he called aloud, but the sensation was gone. An old memory and nothing more.

Pard, He thought as he clenched his golden hand into a fist before his eyes. What did they do to you, old friend?





There was an awful wrenching sensation, at once numbing and excruciatingly painful, and then Pard’s awareness expanded at a cataclysmic rate. The beach was left behind, as were Clutch and its star, then the entire Milky Way, then all the galaxies.

He had been cut free from Dalt. He had no photoreceptors, yet he could see; he had no vibratory senses, and yet he could hear. He was now pure, unhindered awareness. He soared giddily, immaterially. Spatial relationships were suddenly meaningless and he was everywhere. The universe was his …

... or was it?

He felt a strain ... subtle at first, but steadily growing more pronounced ... a stretching of the fibres of his consciousness ... thoughts were becoming fuzzy ... he was becoming disoriented. The tension of cosmic awareness was rapidly becoming unbearable as the infinite scope and variety of reality threatened to crush him. All the worlds, all the life-forms, and all the vast empty spaces in between pressed upon him with a force that threatened sudden and irrevocable madness. He had to focus down ...

focus down ...

focus down ...

He was on the beach again. Dalt lay sprawled on the sand, alive but unconscious. Pard watched as the marauders made a hasty retreat toward their hole in space. The question of their identity still piqued his curiosity and he decided to find out where they were [153] going. Why not? Dalt was safe and he was gloriously free to follow his whims to the ends of existence.

He hesitated. The bond that had united their minds for twelve centuries was broken... but other bonds remained. It would be strange, not having Dalt around. He found the indecision irritating and steeled himself to go.

(“Goodbye, Steve,”) Pard finally said to the inert form he had suddenly outgrown. (“No regrets, I hope.”) His awareness shifted toward the closing vortex. Like a transformed chrysalis departing its cocoon, he left Dalt behind.

Within the vortex he found the deadly silence of complete vacuum and recognized the two-dimensional greyness of subspace. The attackers activated their propulsion units and seemed to know where they were going. Pard followed.

Abruptly, they passed into real space again, onto a beach not unlike the one on Clutch. There was no mist here, however. The air was dry and clear under a blazing sun that Pard classed roughly as GO. There were other differences: The dunes had been fused and were filled with machinery for kilometres in either direction up and down the coast, and more was under construction.

He turned his attention to the inhabitants of the beach. As the remnant of the assault force landed on the beach, each member stripped off his or her vacsuit and bowed toward a mass of rock on the sea’s horizon.

They were most definitely not human, nor did they belong to any race Pard had ever seen. He allowed his awareness to expand to locate his position relative to Occupied Space. The discovery was startling.

Galaxy UGC10214 - The Tadpole Galaxy - HST-ACS-2002_hs-2002

Occupied Space had evolved as a rough ovoid bubble centred around the ancient and legendary system of Sol, some thirty thousand light-years from the centre of the Milky Way galaxy and in an arching highway of stars called the Orion arm. The long axis of the ovoid remained along the spiralling Orion arm, but was only about one thousand light-years deep in this thin section of the galactic disc. Seekers had extended the boundaries outward from the centre, some thirteen thousand light-years into the next wave of stars of the Perseus arm; they had also ventured a similar distance to the arm closer to the centre. This was all to one side of the Milky Way, considered in standard a moderate to large galaxy, with a disc of about one hundred and twenty thousand light-years in diameter, with a thick inner nucleus, dense with stars; some twelve thousand light-years in diameter and ten thousand light-years thick.

But Pard found that he was in the opposite and far Sagittarius arm of the Milky Way, clear across the nucleus, beyond the range of even the deepest human probes, some sixty thousand light-years away from the edge of Occupied Space. And yet the attackers had traversed the distance with little more than a jet-assisted flying leap into subspace. The ability to extend a warp to such a seemingly impossible degree, from atmosphere to atmosphere with pin-point accuracy, indicated a level of technological sophistication that was frightening.

He focused down again and allowed his awareness to drift [154] through the worlds of these beings. They were oxygen breathers and humanoid with major and minor differences. On the minor side was the lack of a nose, which was replaced by a single oblong, vertical olfactory orifice. A major variation was the presence of two accessory appendages originating from each axilla These were obviously vestigial, being supported internally by cartilage and equipped with only minute amounts of atrophic muscle. Both sexes – another minor variation here was the placement of male gonads within the pelvis adorned the appendages with paints and jewellery.

After observing a small, hive like community for a number of local days, he concluded that from all outward appearances, this was a quiet and contented race. They laughed, cried, loved, hated, fought, cheated, stole, bought, sold, produced, and consumed. The children played, the young adults courted and eventually married the race was strictly monogamous – had more children, took care of them, and were in turn cared for when age made them feeble.

A seemingly docile people. Why were they crossing an entire galaxy to slaughter and maim a race whom they didn’t even know existed?

Pard searched on, focusing on world after world. He found their culture to be oppressively uniform despite the fact that it spanned an area greater than that of the Federation and the old Tarkan Empire combined.

He came upon the ruins of three other intelligent races they had contacted. These races had not been assimilated, had not been subjugated, had not even been enslaved. They had been annihilated! Every last genetic trace had been obliterated.

Pard recoiled at the incongruous racial ferocity of these creatures and searched on for a reason.

The most consistent feature of the culture was the ubiquitous representation of the visage of a member of their own race. A holo of it was present in every room of every hive and a large bust occupied a traditional corner of the main room. There were huge bas-reliefs protruding from the sides of buildings and carved heads overhanging the intersections of major thoroughfares. The doorways to the temples in which one fifth of every day was spent in obeisant worship were formed in the shape of the face. The faithful entered through the mouth. [155]

And there in the temples, perhaps, was a clue to the mysterious ferocity of this race. The rituals were intricate and laborious but the message came through: “We are the chosen ones. All others offend the sight of the Divine One.”

Pard expanded again and refocused on the mother world, his port of entry, the planet from which the attacks were launched. He noted that there was now a much larger contingent of troops on a beach; they were bivouacked in half a dozen separate areas.

Multiple attacks? He wondered. Or a single massive one? He realized he had lost all track of time and his thoughts strayed to Steve. Was he all right or had he been caught in another attack? It was highly unlikely but still a possibility.

He vacillated between investigating that revered mound of rock in the sea and checking on Dalt. The former was a curiosity; the latter, he realized, would soon become a compulsion.

Had he possessed lungs and vocal cords, he would have sighed as he expanded to encompass the entire Milky Way; he then allowed a peculiar homing instinct to guide him to Steven Dalt, who was sitting alone in a small room on Fed Central.

He watched him for a few moments, noting that he seemed to be in good health and good spirits. Then Dalt suddenly sat erect. “Pard?” he called. He had somehow sensed his presence and Pard knew it was time to leave again.

Back on the alien mother world, he concentrated on his previous target – the island. It was immediately evident that this was not a natural formation but an artefact cut out of the mainland and set upon a ridge on the ocean floor. The island was a single huge fortress-temple shaped in the form of what he now knew to be the face of the race’s goddess; the structures upon it formed the features of the face. An altogether cyclopean feat of engineering.

He allowed his awareness to flow down wide, high-ceilinged corridors tended by guards armed with bows and spears – an insane contrast to the troops gathered on the mainland. The corridors were etched with the history of the race and its godhead. In an instant, Pard knew all of the goddess’s past, knew what she had been to humanity and what she had planned for it. He knew her. Even had a name for her. They had met... thousands of times. [156]

He sank deep into the structure and came across banks of sophisticated energy dampers – that explained the primitive weapons on the guards. Rising to sea level again, he found himself within a tight-walled maze and decided to see where it led.

He finally found her at the very heart of the edifice, in a tiny room at the end of the maze. Her body was pale, corpulent, and made only minimal voluntary movements. But she was clean and well cared for – a small army of attendants saw to that.

She was old, nearly as old as mankind itself. A genetic freak with a cellular consciousness much like Pard had possessed when in Steve’s body, which had kept her physically alive and functioning over the ages. Unlike Dalt/Pard, however, the goddess had only one consciousness, but that was a prodigious one, incorporating psionic powers of tremendous range through which she had dominated her race for much of its existence; shaping its goals and fuelling its drives until they had merged and became one with her will.

Unfortunately, the goddess had been a full-blown psychotic for the past three thousand years.

She hated and feared anything that might question her divine supremacy. That was why three other races had already perished. She even distrusted her own worshipers, had made them move her ancient temple out to sea and insisted that her guards don the garb and accoutrements of the days of her girlhood.

Pard was aghast at the scope of the tragedy before him. Here was a race that had colour and variety in its past. Now, however, through the combination of a psionically augmented religion and a philosophy of racial supremacy, it had been turned into a hive of obedient drones with their lives and culture cantered around their goddess-queen. Any independent minds born into the race were quickly culled out once they betrayed their unorthodox tendencies. The reasoning was obvious: The will of the goddess was more than the law of the land – it was divine in origin. To question was heresy; to transgress was sacrilege. The result was a corrupt version of natural selection on an intellectual level. The docile mind that found comfort in orthodoxy survived and thrived; while the reasoner, the questioner, the wavemaker, the rebel, the iconoclast, and the sceptic became endangered species. [157]

As Pard watched her, the goddess lifted her head and opened her eyes. A line about “a gaze blank and pitiless as the sun” went through his mind. She sensed his scrutiny. Her psi abilities made her aware of his presence, tenuous as it was.

She threw a thought at him. It was garbled, coloured with rage, couched in madness, but the context could be approximated as:

You again! I thought I had destroyed you!

Enjoying her impotent anger, Pard wished he had the power to send a laugh pealing through the chamber to further arouse her paranoia. As it was, he’d have to be content with observing her thrashing movements as she tried to pinpoint his location.

Pard’s awareness began to expand gradually and he soon found himself around as well as within the temple. He tried to focus down again but was unable to do so. He continued to expand at an accelerated rate. He was encircling the planet now.

For the first time since he had awakened to sentience in Dalt’s brain, Pard knew fear. He was out of control. Soon his consciousness would be expanded and attenuated to the near-infinite limits he had experienced immediately after being jolted from Steve’s body – permanently. And he knew that would be the end of him. His mind would never be able to adjust to it; his intelligence would crumble. He’d end up a non-sentient life force drifting through eternity. It had long been theorized that consciousness could not exist without a material base. He had proven that it could – but not for long. He had to set up another base. He tried desperately to enter the mind of one of the goddess’s subjects, but found it closed to him. The same with the lower life forms.

All minds were closed to him ... except perhaps one ...

He headed for home.





Dalt awoke with a start and bolted upright in bed.

(“Hello, Steve.”)

A cascade of conflicting emotions ran over him: joy and relief at knowing Pard was alive; and at feeling whole again. Anger at the [158] nonchalance of his return. But he bottled all emotions and asked, What happened? Where’ve you been?

Pard gave him a brief but complete account in the visual, auditory, and interpretive mélange possible only with mind-to-mind communication. When it was over, it almost seemed to Dalt that Pard had never been gone. There were a few subtle differences, however.

Do you realise that you called me “Steve”? You’ve been addressing me by my surname for the last century or so.

(“You seem more like the old Steve.”)

I am. Immortality can become a burden at times, but facing the alternative for a while is a sobering experience.

(“I know,”) Pard replied, remembering the panic that had gripped him before he had managed to regain the compact security of Dalt’s mind. They were now welded together – permanently.

“But back to the matter at hand,” Dalt said aloud. “You and I now know what’s behind these assaults. The question that bothers me most is: Why us? I mean, if she wants to send her troops out to kill, surely there are other races closer to her than sixty thousand light-years?”

(“Perhaps the human mind is especially sensitive to her, I don’t know. Who can explain a deranged mind? And believe me, this one is deranged! She’s blatantly paranoid with xenophobia, delusions of grandeur, and all the trappings. Steve, this creature actually believes she is divine! It’s not a pose with her. And as far as her race is concerned, she is god.”

“Pity the atheist in a culture like that”

(“There are none! How can there be? When these beings speak of their deity, they’re not referring to an abstraction or an ephemeral being. Their goddess is incarnate! And she’s with them everywhere! She can maintain a continuous contact with her race – it’s not control or anything like that, but a hint of presence. She has powers none of them possess and she doesn’t die! She was with them when they were planet-bound; she was with them when they made their first leap into space. She has guided them throughout their entire recorded history. It’s not a simple thing to say ‘no’ to all that.”) [159]

“All right, so she’s divine as far as they’re concerned, but how can she change an entire race into an army of berserk killers? She must , have some sort of mind control.”

(“I can see you have no historical perspective on the power of religion. Human history is riddled with atrocities performed in the names of supposedly benign gods whose only manifestations were in books and tradition. This creature is not merely a force behind her culture ... she is her culture. Her followers attack and slaughter because it is divine will.”)

Dalt sighed. “Looks like we’re really up against the wall, We were planning to send probes through the passages to try to locate the star system where the assaults originate so we could launch a counteroffensive. Now it makes no difference. Sixty thousand light-years is an incomprehensible distance in human terms. If there was just some way we could get to her, maybe we could give her a nice concentrated dose of the horrors. That’d shake her up.”

(“I’m afraid not, Steve. You see, this creature is the source of the horrors.”)

Dalt sat in stunned silence, then: “You always hinted that the horrors might be more than just a psychological disorder.”

(“You must admit, I’m rarely wrong.”)

“Yes, rarely wrong,” Dalt replied tersely. “And frequently insufferable. But again: Why?”

(“As I mentioned before, the human mind appears to be extraordinarily sensitive to her powers. She can reach across an entire galaxy and touch one of them. I believe she’s been doing that for ages. At first she may only have been able to leave a vague impression. Long ago she was probably probing this arm of the galaxy and left an image within a fertile mind that started the murderous Kali cult in ancient India. Its members worshiped a many-armed goddess of death that bears a striking resemblance to our enemy. So for all practical purposes, we might as well call her Kali, since her given name is a mish-mash of consonants.”)

“Whatever happened to the cult?”

(“Died out. Perhaps she went back to concentrating on her own race, which was probably moving into space at about that time, [160] and no doubt soon became busy with the task of annihilating the other races they encountered along the way.”)

(“Then came a hiatus and her attention returned to us. Her powers had grown since last contact and although she was still unable to control a human mind, she found she could inundate it with such a flood of terror that the individual would withdraw completely from reality.”)

“The horrors, in other words.”

(“Right. She kept this up, biding her time until her race could devise a means of bridging the gap between the two races. They did. The apparatus occupies the space of a small town and is psionically activated. You know the rest of the story.”)

“Yeah,” Dalt replied, “and I can see what’s coming, too. She’s toying with us, isn’t she? Playing a game of fear and terror, nibbling at us until we turn against each other. Humiliation, demoralization – they’re dirty weapons.”

(“But not her final goal, I fear. Eventually she’ll tire of the games and just wipe us out. And with ease! All she has to do is open the passage, slip through a short-timed planetary bomb, close the passage, and wait for the bang.”)

“In two standard days,” Dalt said in a shocked whisper, “she could destroy every inhabited planet in Occupied Space!”

(“Probably wouldn’t even take her that long. But we’ve quite a while to go before it comes to that. She’s in no hurry. She’ll probably chip away at us for a few centuries before delivering the coup de grace.”) Pard went silent for a while, (“Which reminds me: I saw a major assault force gathered on a beach. If she really wanted to strike a demoralizing blow...”)

“You don’t think she’ll hit Fed Central, do you?”

(“With a second chance at interstellar unity almost within reach, can you think of a better target?”)

“No, I can’t,” Dalt replied pensively. The thought of alien berserkers charging through the streets was not a pleasant one. “There must be a way to strike back.”

(“I’m sure there is. We just haven’t thought of it yet. Sleep on it.”)

Good idea. See you in the morning. [161]



Morning brought Lenda with news that some of the flitter-probes were outfitted and ready. He invited Dalt to take a look at them. Lacking both the heart to tell Lenda that the probes were a futile gesture and anything better to do, he agreed to go along.

Arriving at a hanger atop one of the lesser buildings in the complex, he saw five drones completed and a sixth in the final stages. They looked like standard models except for the data-gathering instruments affixed to the hulls.

“They look like they’ve been sealed for pressurization,” Dalt noted.

Lenda nodded. “Some of the sensors require it.”

(“I know what you’re thinking!”) Pard said.

Tell me.

(“You want to equip these flitters with blaster cannon and attack Kali’s island, don’t you? Forget it! There are so many energy dampers in that temple that a blaster wouldn’t even warm her skin if you could get near her. And you wouldn’t. Her guards would cut you to ribbons.”)

Maybe there’s a way around that. He turned to Lenda. “Have Petrical meet me here. I have an errand to run, but I’ll be back shortly.”

Lenda gave him a puzzled look as he walked away.

Dalt headed for the street Throw the Mordirak image around me. I don’t want to be mobbed out there.

(“Done. Now tell me where we’re going.”)

Not for. He stepped outside and onto the local belt of the moving stroll-lane. The streets were crowded. The new incoming representatives had brought their staffs and families and there were tourists constantly arriving to see the first General Council of the new Federation. He let the stroll-lane carry him for a few minutes, then debarked before a blank-fronted store with only a simple hand-printed sign over the door: WEAPONS.

Stepping through the filter field that screened the entrance, he was faced with an impressive array of death-dealing instruments. They gleamed from the racks and cases; they were sleek and sinister and beautiful and deadly. [162]

“May I help you, sir?” asked a little man with squinty eyes.

“Where are your combustion weapons?”

“Ah!” he said, rubbing his palms together. “A sportsman or a collector?”


“This way, please.” He led them to the rear of the shop and placed himself behind a counter. “Now, then. Where does your interest lie? Handguns? Rifles? Shotguns? Automatics?”

“The last two.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I want an auto shotgun,” Dalt said tersely. “Double-barrelled with continuous feed.”

“I’m afraid we only have one model along that line.”

“I know. Ibizan makes it”

The man nodded and searched under the counter. He pulled out a shiny black case, placed it before him, and opened it.

Dalt inspected it briefly. “That’s it. You have waist canisters for the feed?”

“Of course. The Ibizan is non-ejecting, so you’ll have to use disintegrating cases, you know.”

“I know. Now. I want you to take this down to the workshop and cut the barrel off” – he drew a line with his finger –“right about here.”

“Sir, you must be joking!” the little man said with visible shock, his eyes widening and losing their perpetual squint. But he could see by Dalt’s expression that no joke was intended. He spoke petulantly. “I’m afraid I must see proof of credit before I deface such a fine weapon.”

Dalt fished out a thin alloy disk and handed it over. The gun-smith pressed the disk into a notch in the counter and the image of Mordirak appeared in the hologram box beside it, accompanied by the number 1. Mordirak had first-class credit anywhere in Occupied Space.

With a sigh, the man handed back the disk, hefted the weapon, and took it into the enclosed workshop section.

(“Your knowledge of weaponry is impressive.”)

A holdover from my game-hunting days. Remember them? [163]

(“I remember disapproving of them.”)

Well, combustion weapons are still in demand by ‘sportsmen’ who find their sense of masculinity cheated by the lack of recoil in energy weapons.

(“And just what is this Ibizan supposed to do for you?”)

You’ll see.

The gunsmith reappeared with the foreshortened weapon.

“You have a target range, I presume,” Dalt said.

“Yes. On the lower level.”

“Good. Fill the feeder with number-eight end-over-end cylindrical shot and we’ll try her out”

The man winced but complied.

The target range was elaborate and currently set up with moving, bounding models of Kamedon deer. Sensors within the models rated the marksman’s performance on a flashing screen at the firing line that could read “Miss,” “Kill,” “Wounded,” and variations. The firing line was cleared as Dalt hooked the feed canister to his waist and fed the string of shells into the chambers. Flicking the safety off, he held the weapon against his chest with the barrels pointing downrange and began walking.

“Left barrel,” he said, and pulled the trigger. The Ibizan jerked in his hands; the cannon like roar was swallowed by the sound dampers but the muzzle flash was a good twenty centimetres in length, and one of the leaping targets was torn in half. “Right barrel,” was faintly heard, with similar results. Then a flip of a switch and, “Automatic.” The prolonged roar that issued from the rapidly alternating barrels taxed the sound dampers to their limit and when the noise stopped, every target hung in tatters. The indicator screen flashed solid red on and off in confusion.

“What could you possibly want to hunt with a weapon like that?’ the little gunsmith asked, glancing from Dalt to the Ibizan to the ruined range.

A smug but irresistible reply came to mind.




“You wanted to see me about something?” Petrical asked.

“Yes. I have good reason to believe – please don’t ask me why – [164] that the next assault will be a big one and will be directed against Fed Central itself. I want you to outfit these flitters with heavy-duty blasters and pick some of your best marksmen to man five of them. I’ll take the sixth.”

An amused expression crept over Petrical’s face. “And just what do you plan to do with them?”

“We’re going through the passage when it opens up, Dalt replied. “Maybe we can end these attacks once and for all.”

Amusement was abruptly replaced by consternation. “Oh no, you’re not! You’re too valuable to risk on a suicide mission!”

“Unfortunately, I’m the only one who can do what must be done,” Dalt said with a glare, “and since when do you dictate what I may and may not do?”

But Petrical had been involved in too many verbal brawls on the floor of the General Council to be easily intimidated, even by The Healer. “I’ll tell you what I will do, and that’s have no part in helping you get yourself killed!”

“Mr. Petrical,” Dalt said in a low voice, “do I have to outfit my own flitter and go through alone?”

Petrical opened his mouth for a quick reply and then closed it. He knew when he was outflanked. With the new General Council arriving for the emergency session, all that was needed to bring the walls tumbling down upon his head was news that he had let The Healer take the war to the enemy alone – with no backup from the Federation Defence Force.

“But the probes were your idea...”

“The probes have been rendered obsolete by new information. The only solution is to go through.”

“Well then, let me send a bigger force.”

“No.” Dalt shook his head. “If these six flitters can’t do the job, then six hundred wouldn’t make any difference.”

“All right” Petrical grunted with exasperation. “I’ll get the armourers down here and start asking for volunteers.”

Dalt’s smile was genuine. “Thanks. And don’t delay – we may not have much time. Oh, and have an alarm system set up here in the hangar to notify us the minute a vortex is sighted. We’ll live in and [165] around the flitters until the attack comes. I’ll brief your men on what to expect and what to do.”

Petrical nodded with obvious reluctance.



(“Why haven’t I been consulted on any of this?”) Pard asked indignantly as Dalt returned to his quarters.

Because I already know your answer.

(“I’m sure you do. It’s all insanity and I want no part of it!”)

You don’t have much choice.

(“Be reasonable!”)

Pard, this is something me must do.

(“Why?”) The voice in his head was angry. (“To live up to your legend?”)

In a way, yes. You and I are the only ones who can beat her.

(“You’re sure of that?”)

Aren’t you? Pard did not reply and Dalt felt a sudden chill. Answer me: Are you afraid of this Kali creature?


Why should you be? You defected her at every turn when we were battling the horrors.

(“That was different. There was no direct contact there. We were merely fighting the residue of her influence, a sort of resonating circuit of afterimages. We’ve only come into direct contact with her once... on the beach on Clutch. And you know what happened there.”)

Yeah, Dalt replied slowly. We were blasted apart.

(“Exactly. This creature’s psi powers are immense She’s keyed her whole existence toward developing them because her dominion over her race springs from them. I estimate she had a four-thousand-year head start on us. All the defence precautions around her island temple – the energy dampers, the guards with their ridiculous costumes and ancient weapons – would not stand up against a single mercenary soldier in regulation battle gear. They’re trappings required by her paranoia. The real defence system of that temple is in her mind. She can psionically fry any brain in her star system that threatens her. Short of an automated Federation dread-naught turning her entire planet to ash – and we have no way of getting one within half a galaxy of her – she’s virtually impregnable.”) [166]

Pard paused for effect, then: (“You still want to go after her?”)

Dalt hesitated, but only briefly. Yes.

(“Insanity!”) Pard exploded. (“Sheer, undiluted, raving insanity! Usually I can follow your reasoning, but this is one big blur. Is there some sort of racial urge involved? Do you feel you owe it to humanity to go down fighting? Is this a noble gesture or what?”)

I don’t know, exactly.

(“You’re right, you don’t know! You owe your race nothing! You’ve given it far more than it’s given you. Your primary responsibility is to yourself. Sacrificing your – our – life is a meaningless gesture!”)

It’s not meaningless. And if we succeed, it won’t be a sacrifice.

(“We have about as much chance of defeating her as we have of growing flowers on a neutron star. I forbid it!”)

You can’t. You owe it.

(“To whom?”)

To me. This is my life and my body. You’ve augmented it, improved it, and extended it, true, but you’ve shared equally in the benefits. It remains my life and you’ve shared it. I’m asking for an accounting.

Pard waited a long time before giving his reply. (“Very well, then. We’ll go.”) There was a definite edge on the thought (“But neither of us should make any long-range plans.”)



With the flitters armed, the volunteers briefed and the practice runs made, Dalt and his crew settled down for an uneasy vigil.

Think we’ll have a long wait? Dalt asked.

(“I doubt it. The Kalians looked almost set to go when I saw them.”)

Well, at least we’ll get enough sleep. If there’s been any consistency at all in the attacks, it’s been their occurrence in daylight hours.

(“That may not be the case this time. If my guess is right and they are aiming for Fed Central, their tactics might be different. For all we know, they may just want to set up a device to destroy the Federation Complex.”)

Dalt groaned softly. That would be a crippling coup. [167]

(“Nonsense! The Federation is more than a few buildings. It’s a concept... an idea.”)

It’s also an organization; and if there’s one thing we need now, it’s organisation. There’s a nucleus of a new Federation growing over at the General Council at this moment. Destroy that and organised resistance will be completely unravelled.

(“Perhaps not.”)

The Kalians are united wholeheartedly behind their goddess. Who’ve we got?

(“The Healer, of course.”)

At this point, if the Federation Complex is destroyed, so is The Healer. Dalt glanced up at the alarm terminal with its howlers and flashers ready to go. I just hope that thing goes off in time for us to get through the passage.

(“If it goes off, it will probably do so because you set it off.”)

What’s that supposed to mean?

(“The passage is psionically activated and directed by Kali, remember? If a psi force of that magnitude appears anywhere on Fed Central, I’ll know about it –immediately.”)

“Oh,” Dalt muttered aloud. “Well, let’s hope it’s soon, then. This waiting is nerve-wracking.”

(“I’ll be quite happy if they never show up.”)

“We’ve already been through that!”

“Pardon me, sir,” said a trooper passing within earshot.

“What is it?” Dalt asked.

The trooper looked flustered. “I thought you spoke to me.”

“Huh? Oh, no.” Dalt smiled weakly. “Just thinking out loud.”

“Yasser.” He nodded and walked on by with a quick backward glance.

(“He thinks you may be crazy,”) Pard needled. (“So do I, but for entirely different reasons.”)

Quiet and let me sleep.



Their vigil was not a long one. Before dawn on the second day, Dalt suddenly found himself wide awake, his sympathetic nervous system vibrating with alarm.

(“Hit the button,”) Pard said reluctantly. (“They’re here.”) [168]


(“About two kilometres away. I’ll lead everyone there.”)

Fastening the Ibizan feeder belt to his waist as he ran, Dalt activated the alarm and the twenty marksmen were blared and strobed to wakefulness.

The sergeant in charge of the detail trotted up to Dalt. “Where we going?”

Dalt withheld a shrug and said, “Just follow me.”

With the activation of the alarm, the hangar roof irised open and the six armed and pressurized flitters were airborne in less than a minute. Pard guided Dalt high above the Federation Complex.

(“Now drop and bank off to the left of that building that looks like an inverted pyramid.”)

“That’s where they are?” Dalt exclaimed.

(“Yes. Right in the heart of the complex.”)

“From tens of thousands of light-years away … how can they’ be so accurate?”

(“Not ‘they’ – she. Kali directs the passage.”)

With their running lights out, the flitters sank between two smooth-walled buildings until they hovered only a few meters above the pavement.

(“It’s at the far end of the alley.”)

Dalt shook his head in grudging respect. “Pinpoint accuracy.”

(“And strategically brilliant. There’s almost no room to manoeuvre against them here. I warned you she was a formidable opponent – still want to go through with this?”)

Dalt wished he could frame a recklessly courageous reply, but none was forthcoming. Instead, he activated the search beams on the front of the flitter and illuminated a chilling sight: The invaders were pouring from their hole in space like angry insects from a hive.

As the flitters came under immediate fire, Dalt gunned his craft to full throttle and it leaped ahead on a collision course with the oncoming horde. Invaders were knocked over or butted aside as he rammed into them. He noted that the flitters behind him were returning fire as they ran –

– and then all was gray, toneless, [169] flat and silent as they passed through the vortex and into subspace. Dalt felt a brief rush of vertigo as he lost his horizon in the featureless void, but managed to hold a steady course past surprised and wildly gesticulating invaders on their way to Fed Central.

(“Keep her steady for just a little longer and we’ll be there.”)

Pard had no sooner given this encouragement than the craft burst into sunlight, bowling over more invaders in the process. Without a backward glance, Dalt kept the throttle at full and pulled for altitude toward the sea

(“See the island?”)

“Straight ahead.”

(“Right. Keep going.”)

“I just hope the sergeant remembered to tell Petrical where the breakthrough was before he went through.”

(“Don’t worry about that. The sergeant’s a seasoned trooper. We’ve got bigger problems ahead.”)

The following flitters were through now and were busily engaged in strafing the Kalian encampments on the shore. Their mission was to cripple the attack on Fed Central and prevent any countermove against Dalt as he headed for the island.

(“Veer toward the south side,”) Pard told him.

“Which way is south?”


They were near enough now to make out gross details of the temple.

“Where do I land?”

(“You don’t. At least not yet. See that large opening there? Fly right into it.”)

“Doesn’t look very big.”

(“If you could thread that vortex, you can thread that corridor.”)

The guardians of the fortress-temple were waiting for them at the entrance with arrows nocked, bows drawn, and spears at the ready.

(“Slow up and hit them with the blasters,”) Pard directed.

That seemed too brutal to Dalt. “I’ll just ride right through them They’re only armed with sharpened sticks.”

(“I’ll remind you of that when they swarm over us from behind [170] and spit your body like a piece of meat. Compassion dulls your memory. Have you forgotten the bathers on Clutch? Or that little boy?”)

Enough! Dalt filled his lungs and pressed the newly installed weapons button on the console. The blasters hummed but the guards remained undaunted and uninjured.

“What’s wrong?”

(“Nothing, except the energy dampers are more powerful than I expected. We may not even get near Kali.”)

“Oh, we’ll get there, all right.” Dalt gunned his craft to top speed again as he dropped the keel to a half meter above the stone steps. Spears and arrows clattered ineffectively off the hull and enclosed cabin but the guards held their ground until Dalt was almost upon them. Then they broke formation. The quick dove for the sides and most escaped unharmed. The slower ones were hurled in all directions by the prow of the onrushing craft.

Then darkness. At Pard’s prompting, Dalt’s pupils dilated immediately to full aperture and details were suddenly visible in the dimly lit corridor. The historical frescoes Pard had seen on his previous visit blurred by on either side. Ahead, the corridor funnelled down to a low narrow archway.

“I don’t think I can make that,” Dalt said.

(“I don’t think so, either. But you can probably use it to hamper pursuit a bit.”)

“I was thinking the same thing.” He abruptly slowed the craft and let it glide into the opening until both sides crunched against stone. “That oughta do it,” The side hatch was flush against the side of the arch, so he broke pressure by lowering the forward windshield. Cool, damp, musty air filtered into the cabin, carrying a tang of salt and a touch of mildew.

He fed the first round from the canister into the sawed-off Ibizan and climbed out onto the deck. As he slid to the door, something clattered against the hull close by and an instant later he felt an impact and a grating pain in the right side of his back. Spinning on his heel, he sensed something whiz over his head as he flipped the Ibizan to auto and fired a short burst in an arc. [171]

Four Kalians in a doorway to his right were spun and thrown around by the ferocious spray of shot, then lay still.

What hit me? The pain was gone from his back.

(“An arrow. It glanced off the eighth rib on the right and is now imbedded in the intercostal muscle. A poor shot – hit you on an angle and didn’t make it through the pleura. I’ve put a sensory block on the area.”)

Good. Which way now?

(“Through that doorway. And hurry!”)

As Dalt crossed the threshold into a small chamber, another arrow caught him in the left thigh. Again, he opened up the Ibizan and sprayed the room. He took a few of his own ricocheting pellets in the chest, but the seven Kalians lying in wait for him had taken most of them.

(“Keep going!”) There was more than a trace of urgency in the directive.

He managed to run, although his left leg dragged somewhat due to the arrow’s mechanical impediment of muscle action. But he felt no pain from this wound either. As he left the bloody anteroom and entered another corridor, his vision suddenly blurred and his equilibrium wavered.

What was that?

(“The same knockout punch that separated us on Clutch. Only this time I was ready for it. Now the going gets tough – the lady has decided to step in.”)

Dalt started to run forward again but glanced down and found himself at the edge of a yawning pit. Something large and hungry thrashed and splashed in the inky darkness below.

“Where’d that come from?” he whispered hoarsely.

(“From Kali’s mind. It’s not real – keep going.”)

You sure?

(“Positive... I think”)

Oh, great! Dalt gritted his teeth and began to run. To his immense relief, his feet struck solid ground, even though he seemed to be running on air.

White tentacles, slime-coated and as thick as his thighs, sprang out from the walls and reached for him. He halted again. [172]

Same thing?

(“I hope so. You’re only seeing a small fraction of what I’m seeing. I’m screening most of it. And so far she’s only toying with us. I’ll bet she’s holding back until – ”)

A spear scaled off the wall to his right, forestalling further discussion. As Dalt turned with the Ibizan at the ready, an arrow plunged into the fleshy fossa below his left clavicle. The guards from the entrance to the temple had found a way around the flitter and were now charging down the corridor in pursuit. With a flash that lit up the area and a roar that was deafening in those narrow confines, the Ibizan scythed through the onrushing ranks, leaving many dead and the rest disabled, but not before Dalt had taken another arrow below the right costal margin. Fluid that looked to be a mixture of green, yellow, and red began to drip along the shaft.

How many of these things can I take? I’m beginning to look like a Neekan spine worm!

(“A lot more. But not too many more like that last one. It pierced the hepatic duct and you’re losing bile. Blood, too. I can’t do too much to control the bleeding from the venous sinusoids in the liver. But we’ll be all right as long as no arrows lodge in any of the larger joints or sever a major motor axon bundle, either of which would severely hamper mobility. The one under your clavicle was a close call; just missed the brachial plexus. Another centimetre higher and you’d have lost the use of your...”)

The words seemed to fade out.

“Pard?” Dalt said.

(“... run!”) The thought was strained, taut. (“She’s hitting us with everything now....”) Fade out again. Then, (“I’ll tell you where to turn!”)

Dalt ran with all the speed he could muster, limping with his left leg and studiously trying to avoid contact between the narrow walls and the shafts protruding from his body. The corridor became a maze with turns every few meters. At each intersection he would hear a faint (“left”) or (“right”) in his mind. And as minutes passed, the voice became progressively weaker until it was barely distinguishable among his own thoughts.

(“Please hurry!”) Pard urged faintly and Dalt realized that he [173] must be taking a terrible beating – in twelve hundred years Pard had never said “please.”

(“Two more left turns and you’re there... don’t hesitate... start firing as soon as you make the last turn....”)

Dalt nodded in the murk and double-checked the automatic setting, fully intending to do just that. But when the moment came, when he made the final turn, he hesitated for a heartbeat, just long enough to see what he would be shooting at.

She lay there, propped up on cushions and smiling at him. El. Somehow it didn’t seem at all incongruous that she should be there. Her death nearly a millennium ago had all been a bad dream. But he had awakened now and this was Tolive, not some insane planet on the far side of the galaxy.

He stepped toward her and was about to let the Ibizan slip from his fingers when every neuron in his body was jolted with a single message:


His finger tightened on the trigger reflexively and El exploded in a shower of red. He was suddenly back in reality and he held the roaring, swerving, bucking weapon on target until the feed canister was empty.

The echoes faded, and finally, silence.

There was not too much left of Kali. Dalt only glanced at the remains, turned, and retched. As he gasped for air and wiped clammy beads of sweat from his upper lip, he asked Pard, No chance of regeneration, is there?

No answer.

“Pard?” he called aloud, and underwent an alarming instant of déjà vu. But this time he knew Pard was still there – an indefinable sense signalled his presence. Pard was injured, weakened, scarred, and had retreated to a far corner of Dalt’s brain. But he was still there.

Without daring a backward glance, he tucked the Ibizan into the crook of his right arm, its barrel aligned with the arrow protruding from his liver, and re-entered the maze. He was concerned at first with finding his way out, until he noticed drops of a familiar muddy fluid on the floor in the dim light. He had left a trail of [174] blood and bile as it oozed from his liver, along the arrow shaft and onto the floor.

With only a few wrong turns, he managed to extricate himself from the maze and limp back to the flitter. There he was confronted with another problem.

A large group of Kali’s guards stood clustered around the craft. Dalt’s immediate reaction was to shift the Ibizan and reach for the trigger. A gesture as futile as it was unnecessary: the weapon was empty, and at sight of him, the guards threw down their arms and prostrated themselves face down on the ground before him.

They know she’s dead, he thought. Somehow, they know. He hesitated only a moment, then stepped gingerly between the worshipers and their dead brethren who had attacked him earlier. He had a difficult moment entering the flitter when the arrows protruding from the front and back of his chest caught on the window opening. The problem was resolved when he snapped off the shaft of the arrow under the clavicle a hand’s-breadth away from his skin.

Situating himself again at the console, he first replaced the empty feeder canister with a fresh one – just in case – and activated the instruments before him. The vid screen to his right immediately lit up with the sergeant’s face. Dalt made a quick adjustment of the transmitting lens to limit focus to his face.

“Healer!” the sergeant exclaimed with obvious relief. “You’re all right?”

“Fine,” Dalt replied. “How are things over there?”

The sergeant grinned. “It was rough going for a while – couple of the flitters took a beating and one’s down. But just when things were starting to look really bad, the opposition folded... just threw down their weapons and went into fits on the beach... ignored us completely. Some of them dove into the ocean and started swimming toward the island. The rest are just moping aimlessly along the water’s edge.”

“Everything’s secure, then?” Dalt asked. The flitter’s engine was humming now. He pulled the guide stick into reverse and upped the power. The craft vibrated as it tried to disengage from the doorway. With a grating screech, the flitter came free and caromed [175] off the port wall before Dalt could throttle down and stabilize. The corridor was too narrow here to make a full turn, so he resigned himself to gliding part of the way out in reverse.

The sergeant said something but Dalt missed it and asked him to repeat. “I said, there’s a couple of my men burned but they should do all right if we get back.”

With his head turned over his left shoulder and two fingers on the guide stick, Dalt was concentrating fully on piloting the flitter in reverse. It was not until he reached the point where the corridor widened to its fullest expanse that the “if” broke through.

“What do you mean, ‘if’?” he asked, throwing the gears into neutral and hitting the button that would automatically guide the flitter in a 180-degree turn on its own axis.

“The gate or passage or warp or whatever you want to call it – it’s closed,” he replied. “How’re we going to get home?” Dalt felt a tightness in his throat but put on a brave face.

“Just sit tight till I get there. Out.”

“Right,” the sergeant said, instantly reassured. He was convinced The Healer could do anything. “Out.” The vid plate went black.

Dalt put the problem of crossing the sixty thousand light-years that separated his little group from the rest of humanity out of his mind and concentrated on the patch of light ahead of him. The return had been too easy so far. He could not help but expect some sort of reprisal, and his head pivoted continuously as he gained momentum toward the end of the corridor and daylight.

But no countermove was in the offing. As Dalt shot from the darkness into the open air, he saw the steps leading to the temple entrance blanketed with prostrate Kalians. Most eyes stayed earth-ward, but here and there a head was raised as he soared over the crowd and headed for the mainland. He could not read individual expressions but there was a terrible sense of loss in their postures and movements. The ones who looked after him seemed to be saying, “You’ve killed our godhead and now disdain to take her place, leaving us with nothing.”

Dalt felt sudden pity for the Kalians. Their entire culture had been twisted, corrupted, and debased by a single being. And now that being was no more. Utter chaos would follow. But from the rubble [176] would rise a new, broader-based society, hopefully with a more benign god, or perhaps no god. Anything would be an improvement.

(“Perhaps,”) said a familiar voice, (“their new god will be Kalianoid with a white patch of hair and a golden hand. And minstrels will sing of how he crossed the void, shrugged off their arrows and spears, and went on to overpower the all-powerful, to slay She-Who-Could-Not-Die.”)

Gained your strength back, I see.

(“Not quite. I may never fully recover from that ordeal. All debts are paid, I hope, because I will never risk my existence like that again.”)

I sincerely hope such a situation will never arise again. And yes, all debts are paid in full.

(“Good. And if you awaken in the middle of the night now and again with the sound of horrified screaming in your brain, don’t worry. It’ll be me remembering what I’ve just been through.”)

That bad, eh?

(“I’m amazed we survived - and that’s all Ill say on the matter.”)

Details of the coast were coming into view now, and below, Dalt spotted an occasional Kalian swimming desperately for the island.

You know about the warp generator? Dalt asked.

(“Yes. As I told you before, Kali activated it psionically. She’s dead now so it’s quite logical that it should cease to function. I think I can activate it briefly. So call the sergeant and have him get his men into the air - we’ll have to make this quick,”)

Dalt did so, and found four of the five flitters, each overloaded with men from the disabled craft, hovering over the shore.

(“Here goes, ) Pard said. (“I can only hope that there was some sort of lock on the settings, because I haven’t the faintest idea how to direct the passage. We could end up in the middle of a sun or somewhere off the galactic rim.”)

Dalt said only, “Do it!” and pressurized the cabin.

Nothing happened for a while, then a gray disk appeared. It expanded gradually, evenly, and as soon as its diameter appeared sufficient to accommodate a flitter, Dalt threw the stick forward and plunged into the unknown. [177]





They seemed to drift in the two-dimensional greyness interminably. Then, as if passing through a curtain, they were in real space, in daylight, on Fed Central. And what appeared to be the entire Federation Defence Force clogging the alley before and above them, in full battle readiness. There was more lethal weaponry crammed into that little alley than was contained on many an entire planet. And it was all trained on Dalt.

Ever so gently, he guided his flitter to ground between incinerated Kalian bodies and sat quietly, waiting for the following craft to do the same. When the last came through, the vortex collapsed upon itself and disappeared.

(“That’s the end of that!”) Pard said with relief. (“Unless the Kalian race develops another psi freak who can learn to operate it, the warp passage will never open again.”)

Good. By the time we run into them again - a few millennia hence, no doubt - they should be quite a bit more tractable.

With the closing of the passage, the marksmen in the other craft opened all the hatches and tumbled out to the pavement. At the sight of their comrades, the battle-ready troops around them lowered their weapons and pandemonium broke out. The flitters were suddenly surrounded by cheering, waving soldiers.

Ros Petrical seemed to appear out of nowhere, riding a small, open grav platform. The milling troops made way for him as he landed beside Dalt’s flitter.

Dalt opened the hatch and came out to meet him. His effect on the crowd was immediate. As his head appeared and the snowy patch of hair was recognized, a loud cheer arose; but when his body came into view, the cheer choked and died. There followed dead silence broken only by occasional murmurs of alarm.

“Pardon my appearance,” Dalt said, glancing at the bloody shafts protruding from his body and tucking the Ibizan under his arm, “but I ran into a little resistance.” [178]

Petrical swallowed hard. “You really are The Healer!” he muttered.

“You mean to say you had your doubts?” Dalt asked with a wry smile as he stepped onto the platform.

Petrical shot the platform above the silent crowd. “Frankly, yes. I’ve always thought there was a chain of Healers... but I guess you’re the real thing.”

“Guess so. Where’re we going?”

“Well, I had planned to take you to the Council session; they’re waiting to hear from you in person.” He glanced at the arrows. “But that can wait. I’m taking you to the infirmary.”

Dalt laid a hand on his arm. “To the Council. I’m quite all right. After all,” he said, quoting a line that was centuries old, ‘What kind of a healer would The Healer be if he couldn’t heal himself?’

Petrical shook his head in bafflement and banked toward the General Council hall.

A sequence of events similar to that which had occurred in the alley was repeated in the Council hall. The delegates and representatives had received word that The Healer’s mission had been successful and that he was on his way to address them personally. Many of the men and women in the chamber were members of The Healer cult and started cheering and chanting before he appeared. As in the alley, a great shout went up at first sight of him on the high dais, but this was instantly snuffed out when it became obvious that he was mortally wounded. But Dalt waved and smiled to reassure them and then the uproar resumed with renewed intensity.

Between horrified glances at Dalt’s punctured body, the elderly president pro tem of the Council was trying to bring order to the meeting and was being completely ignored. The delegates and reps were in the aisles, shouting, waving, and hugging one another. Dalt spotted Lenda standing quietly amid the Clutch delegation. Their eyes met and Dalt nodded his congratulations. The nod was returned with a smile.

After a few minutes of the tumult, Dalt began to grow impatient. Switching the Ibizan to the single-shot mode, he handed it to the president pro tem. [179]

“Use this as a gavel.”

The old man took it with a knowing grin and aimed the weapon at the high ceiling. He let off four rounds in rapid succession. The acoustic material above absorbed the end-over-end shot with ease but was less successful in handling the accompanying roar. The crowd quieted abruptly.

“Now that I have your attention,” he said with forced sternness, “please take your places.”

The Council members laughed good-naturedly and compiled.

“I’ve never seen or heard of a more vigorous, more vital, more rowdy bunch of representatives in my life!” Petrical whispered, his face flushed with excitement.

Dalt nodded and inwardly told Pard, I feel pretty vigorous myself.

(“About time,”) came the sardonic reply. (“It’s been a couple of centuries since you’ve shown much life.”)

The president pro tem was speaking. “We have before us a motion to install The Healer as chief executive of the Federation by acclaim. Now what I propose to do is...” Even with amplification at maximum, his voice was lost in the joyous chaos that was unleashed by the announcement.

Shrugging, the old man stepped back from the podium and decided to let the demonstration run its course. The pandemonium gradually took the form of a chant.


Pard became a demon voice in Dalt’s mind. ( They’re in the palm of your hand. Take command and you can direct the course of human history from now on.”)

And be another Kali?

(“Your influence wouldn’t have to be malevolent. Look at them! Tarks, Lentemians, Humans! Think of all the great things you could lead them to!”)

Dalt considered this as he watched the crowd and drank in its intoxicating chant:


Thoughts. of Tolive suddenly flashed before him. You know my answer! [180]

(“You’re not even tempted?”)

Not in the least. I can’t remember when I last felt so alive, and I and there are many things I still want to do, many goals I still want to achieve. Power isn’t one of them.

Pard’s silence indicated approval. (“What will you tell them?”) he asked finally.

Don’t know, exactly. Something about holding to the LaNague charter, about letting the Federation be the focus of their goals but never allowing those goals to originate here. Peace, freedom, love, friendship, happiness, prosperity, and other sundry political catchwords. But the big message will be a firm “No thanks!”

(“You’re sure now?”) Pard taunted. (“You don’t want to be acclaimed leader of the entire human race and a few others as well?” )

I’ve got better things to do. [181]




Kolko lounged by the fire and eyed the wagon that sat in darkness on the far side of the flames. His troupe of Thespelian gypsies had turned in early tonight in preparation for their arrival in Lanthus tomorrow. Kolko was hurt and angry – but only a little. Thalana had taken up with the new mentalist and wanted no part of him.

He was tempted to enter the darkened wagon and confront the two of them but had decided against it for a number of reasons. First off, he had no real emotional attachment to Thalana, nor she to him. His pride was in pain, not his heart. Secondly, a row over a love triangle would only cause needless dissension in the peaceful little company. And finally, it would mean facing up to the new mentalist, a thought he did not relish.

An imposing figure, this newest member of the troupe, with all of his skin dyed gold and his hair dyed silver ... a melding of precious metals. And quite a talent. Kolko had seen mentalists come and go but could not figure out how this one pulled off his stunts.

A likable fellow, but distant. Hiding from his past, no doubt, but that hardly made him unique among the gypsies of Thespel. He would laugh with the group around the fire and could drink an incredible amount of wine without ever opening up. Always one step removed. And he had an odd habit of muttering to himself now and again, but nobody ever mentioned it to him... there was an air about the man that brooked no meddling with his personal affairs or habits.

So let him have Thalana. There would be other dancers joining the troupe along the way, probably better-looking than Thalana and better in the bedroll... although that would take some doing.

Let ’em be. Life was too good these days. Good wine, good company, [182] good weather, good crowds of free-spending people in the towns.

He picked up an arthritic tree limb and stirred the coals, watching the sparks swirl gently upward to mingle with the pin-point stars overhead.

Let ’em be. [183]

END PART THREE: Heal thy Nation - Healer by F. Paul Wilson - 1976
eEd tobagojo@gmail.com - March to May 2011 - TT
20110325 - 20110601 - 20140801