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Skeptic Tank!

1 +-+ +-+ +-+ +-+--+-+--+-+ VOLUME SIX NUMBER ONE | | ========================================== +___________+ FFFFF SSS FFFFF N N EEEEE TTTTT | ++ | F S F NN N E T | ++ | FFF SSS FFF N N N EEE T | | F S F N NN E T |_________| F SSS F N N EEEEE T /___________\ ========================================== | | BITNET Fantasy-Science Fiction Fanzine ___|___________|___ X-Edited by 'Orny' Liscomb <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> CONTENTS X-Editorial Orny For the Pot Jim Owens *Spirit of the Wood: 3 Rich Jervis Father's Fugue Jim Owens *Respect thy Elders: 3 Orny Date: 100686 Dist: 166 An "*" indicates story is part of the Dargon Project All original materials copyrighted by the author(s) <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> X-Editorial Greetings, and welcome to the first issue of volume 6 of FSFnet! I am your host, Mr. Pourke, and he is Fattoo... Ah, yeah. Sorry about that. You know, school and all. The first (serious) order of business is to welcome the new subscribers. Keep spreading the word! Secondly, I'm once again attempting to organize BITNET Diplomacy games, and anyone interested should get in touch with me before yesterday. Thirdly, I'd like to make a comment about another fanzine. GateWays is an Arpa fanzine, and is available by sending mail to CHUQ%PLAID@SUN.ARPA. Finally, I'd must say that since school is back, so are several of our best authors, and I'm *sure* (right guys?) they will be more productive than ever. Well, I must keep this short. Thanks to everyone for being so patient. On to the good stuff... -Orny <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> For The Pot Wolf climbed slowly up the hill. The hill was gentle, but Wolf had been walking all day, and while he wasn't tired, he wasn't exactly fresh either. As he walked he thought of the village he had just come from, and the destruction his quarry had caused back there. It had attacked several people's herds, killing or wounding over one hundred animals in the tight flocks. Before that it had performed similar deeds in several villages in a roughly straight line extending for many miles. The toll in dead animals was high. He felt no anger at that, only empathy for the owners at having lost so much. He did not blame his prey; it was its nature to kill. Nonetheless, it was a danger, and had to be destroyed. He topped the gentle rise, and looked out at the plain that spread for hundreds of miles behind him. He then looked across the top of the hill. An old road ran across the top of the hill in a shallow depression. Tall grass blurred its outline. He remembered coming this way once before, in his travels, and he came this way in hopes of catching up with his target. It had not been traveling in this direction when it had left the village, but its path would cross the road after several miles, if it traveled straight, and when it did it would follow the road to him. To be sure, however, he carefully examined the road. The tracks would be faint, but he was good at tracking; he would find them, if they were there. He hoped he wouldn't find any. He groaned when, after a few minutes, he found traces in the earth; it had beaten him to t he hill. He followed the tracks, trying to figure out where it would have gone after it left the hill. He tried to think like his prey. The hill was part of an outcropping that rose up out of the plain to form a ridge running several miles to the right as he looked along the tracks. The hill was a reentrant, near one end. The old road ran down the other side of the hill, and skirted around the near end of the ridge a few miles distant. His prey would follow the road around the ridge. If he could get over the ridge, he could wait on the road ahead of his quarry, and set an ambush for it. Wolf's thoughts drifted as he jogged across the saddle toward the ridge. He thought how nice it would be to be home, watching his corn grow, watching his flocks grow, watching his children grow. How he missed his wife! Wolf often wondered if he shouldn't have learned a different way to put meat on the table. He hardly ever got to see his family. He had spent the last half of his life living out of a backpack. He ran as he thought, hardly heeding where he was going. He had no need to fear. There were few large animals in the area. He was hunting the only thing that would hurt him. Soon he was scrambling down a small rockslide to where the old road was visible beneath years of dead grass. He made a quick survey: no tracks. He was finally ahead of it. He glanced in the direction it would be coming from. The ridge had another reentrant here, and the road curved out of sight a few hundred yards away. He quickly set his trap, and hid in the grass to wait for his prey. As he lay, he counted. He had made five kills in the past year. Hunters were not plentiful in these peaceful years after the last blowup, and nobody wanted their son to be a hunter. The random killers were few and far between anymore, and the occupation of hunter was a dangerous one. Often a hunter would get called off to a far village, never to return. Another factor was that no one really wanted a neighbor who's occupation was such a violent one. It was a bad influence for the children. The job needed to be done, however, and the bounty was always enough to pay for the things the house needed, and perhaps a few things the wife wanted, but didn't really need. Soon he would have to think about getting Greta, his eldest daughter, a few baubles to teach her the appreciation of feminine values. Luxury items were expensive in the village he lived in. Fortunately, as the prey became scarcer, the reward became higher. He planned to make a good deal selling this catch, if he got it. A faint sound brought him out of his musings. He had planted the trap at the very end of the reentrant, just on his side. He was as far from it as the trip cord would allow. The sound grew louder. It deepened, and then he saw his prey come around the bend. Grey plates glinted dully, while tank treads spun almost silently, barely marking the ground. The noise he had heard was coming from the ancient drive unit. Blue smoke, almost invisible, blew fast out an exhaust port. The flat turret pointed straight ahead, its recently fired gun showing considerable rust. Several scanning devices protruded from the remote's surface. One was smashed, possibly by an ill-fated hunter who hadn't aimed carefully enough. Wolfgang wasn't taking any chances. It rolled in front of the concealed weapons, and he squeezed hard on the firing device. Piezoelectric crystals sent a burst of voltage down the line, and two flashes of flame answered. Two rockets leaped the short distance from the roadside to the side of where they seemed to disintegrate into handfuls of dust, which blew away in a sudden wind. Actually they had fired armor piercing warheads through the plate. Wolf pulled the wire out of the trigger and shoved in a backup, but there was no need. The tank rolled a short distance, and then the engine stopped, dead. Wolf waited, but the tank remained motionless. He got up, dusted himself off, and walked over to the carcass. He opened the access hatch, and examined the damage. His timing had been perfect. The missiles had destroyed the main controller, while basically leaving the rest of the device intact, ripe for salvage by a parts-hungry world. He closed the hatch, laser-sealed it, and burned his brand into the side of the tank, in plain view. He then turned and started the long but pleasant walk back to his family. -Jim Owens <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Spirit of the Wood: Chapter Three Loric thought it was strange to return to the empty hut that up until this morning he shared with his grandfather. He looked at the lifeless structure and felt the shadows of despair creep upon his heart. There was no real use in becoming a man, he thought bitterly, for even if he could do everything that the elders wanted of him, it still wouldn't bring back Oldsir! "I passed the ropemaking and firestarting tests today," he thought to himself, "even made my own evening meal from a rock snake that I found under one of the logs. But what good is it? I began this day a boy with a family; I end it a near-man with little family, and in three day's time, even my sister won't acknowledge me as kin." Loric decided that being a man was lonely work. He entered the hut, and for a moment he started, thinking he saw Oldsir's shadow on the wall where the cooking fire always cast it this time of day. He could hear the floor creak as his grandfather rocked back on his heels, satisfied that the coals were banked just right. He would turn like a sighted man, and give Loric a wink and toss his head toward the table and say something like "Shuck-ears and crabs, burnt the way you like 'em." Then he would join Loric and talk into the night until Loric's head started to droop, then he would stretch mightily and admonish Loric for keeping an old man up so long. After that Loric could hear him moving about stepping out now and then for a sniff of air. Loric realized he had never seen his grandfather asleep at any point in his life, and with a pang, he realized he never would. "Oldsir, I always liked your shuck-ears, nobody could burn them like you!" With a sob and tear-filled eyes, Loric ran to his hammock and fell weeping into it. The next day, Loric was put into the Pit. He was given the rope he had made the day before and made to watch as a fist-sized rock was dropped in. It fell and made a splat at the bottom. "Aiee," thought Loric, "there's no snakes in there, it full of the Domai, the cave fungus that eats you alive!" He started to back up and found he was surrounded by villagers. The other end of his rope was tied to a rock and then Dernhelm motioned him forward. He leaned outward and looked down into the darkness. The dark gave no secrets away, and he wondered if he shouldn't refuse this test. It would mean going back in defeat and trying again when he felt he could pass, but what was the point in that? He would just return to this spot and he knew he couldn't go on then, either. No, it would be better to face this now with the teachings of his grandfather fresh in his memory. He shook with the thought of what awaited him below, but he straddled the rope and walked himself down into the darkness. He was very cautious, feeling and looking below him and then up at the expressionless faces above him. He had gotten about halfway to the end of his rope when he felt something below him. It was a sudden shock to him when he felt his rope being cut from above. He let go of the rope and balled himself for the impact into the fungus, but came up short and found that the bottom was only a foot more below him. The bottom made of clay and there was a bit of water seeping into the corner. The rock Loric had seen thrown in had hit this and made him think he was going to be eaten alive! He laughed a bit at his fear and sat down on the floor to think his way out of the hole. He tested the walls to see if he could carve foot-holds in it but the soft clay walls gave no support. He found he could put his toes in a hold, and they would slide right out. There was no way he was going to trust his neck to that! He examined his rope as best he could from the pit floor; the other end was still tied to the rock, but it had been cut half through. This was a puzzler, thought Loric. If he wasn't supposed to climb out on the rope, why hadn't they cut it all the way, or just taken it up behind him? He tested it and knew it would not hold all of his weight, and he tried several times to pitch the other end up and lasso the rock it was attached to. Finally he got a good throw and tugged on this. It seemed to hold, then he noticed to his horror that the rock was sliding in the clay. At this rate it would fall on his head long before he had made it out of the pit. Dejectedly he snapped the rope and flipped his lasso off the rock. He sat down and noticed that the water had puddled up a bit in the corner. He tested it and found it drinkable, and cleared an area where he could get an unmuddied drink. With his nose a scarce inch from the water, he could almost see the water rise. Maybe this was his way out! He used his kesh-knife to dig at the spot where the fresh water was coming in, and was rewarded by a squirt of water that soon became a small fountain-like stream. He drank a long swallow and laughed at his success as his feet were soon covered by the cold torrent. He would surprise them all! He would rise to the top without any effort at all, letting the water work for him! He danced in the mud, and threw gobbets of clay and mud out the opening overhead hoping to tag someone watching. He howled and enjoyed the echoing sound of his own voice. Passerbys would think that he had been taken by madness, but he didn't care! All the childhood fears of the Pit had fallen away and he felt exalted. "Bring on the Domai, bring on the mistle-thratch, I fear them not! Oooowwwwwwl!" He howled again and it was quite some time before he noticed that the flow of water had slowed. The water came only to his knees and after marking the wall a few times, and gauging how long it took it to climb the wall, he realized that it would be a long time indeed for the water to lift him even a small bit. He looked up and tried to figure how much daylight he had left. He knew no one would bring him a meal, that no one would bring light or even speak to him. He was on his own and had to get out on his own. There's got to be a way! He felt in the water and pulled up the rock. He frustratedly pitched it up at the opening. A rain of clay and dirt was all the reward he got for his effort. "Everything I do make things worse!" He moaned inwardly as he dodged the rock's return. Crunch! This wasn't going to do. If he stood in this water all night, he would die of the shudders before they would come back to find him. He didn't even have a place to lie now! Silently cursing himself, he leaned against the wall and tried to gather his wits. It was small wonder Hiram's brother had come out of this test blubbering, he had probably done the same thing and gotten sick. They had finally brought him out after three days! "Three days," moaned Loric, "I'll be water-rotted by then! What would my grandfather tell me to do? First keep your head. Okay," thought Loric. He took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. "Now, instead of thinking about what you don't have, think about what you've got. Fine, what have I got? A pit into the ground, a knee-deep puddle of water, and one end of a rope. What is it you are trying to do? Say it! I'm trying to get out of this puddle and back on dry land. This isn't going like it should," thought Loric, "but I'll finish anyway." "Is there another way of looking at your problem? How are similar problems solved? Well, in a way it's like crossing a stream with no one on the other side. To cross a stream you put a stout stick at the end of your rope, and toss it across to some forked tree or outcropping and test it for fastness. Then you anchor the other end and you hang on it, feet toward the opposite side and work yourself across. Fasten the other side and make it secure for the rest of the party, or the return trip." Loric remembered seeing this demonstrated and remembered that the man who went across first had made the far tree sag into the river. He had gotten quite a drenching before tieing enough twist-knots into the rope to take the slack up. Some of the streams nearby were home to animals that would think nothing of making a meal out of a crossing man. Now, said Oldsir's voice in Loric's head. Look at your problem again. "Hmm, I have the same problem, I want to get a man to the other side. I already have one end tied off, but it slips. I need to tie the other end, and take some of the weight off the other end so that it won't slip loose. Time to try some different things." Loric felt around in the water until he found the rock again. He tied the loose end of the rope to it and then swung it about in the cramped space he had. It seemed every time he pitched his rock up to the ground, it would slide along and then fall back in. It was getting harder to see it coming back down as the slanting evening rays marked time on the walls of his prison. The thought of some unseen observer watching his efforts made him doubly frustrated each time the rope and rock back came down. "You haven't beaten me yet!" He thought savagely. He knew somewhere up there someone was watching to make sure that no one aided him in this test. Probably sitting on a lianas log and smoking oxy root! Loric hoped he hit them with the mud he had thrown earlier, if not with this rock! "Maybe I did, there was one throw where the rock had seemed to have gotten wedged, but not well enough to hold." I can't get a good grip on anything up there! What do you do when your anchor slips? You anchor it to a stake, and achor the stake with lots of pegs. Maybe I can get something to catch if I put several loops on the end of this rope and toss it over to where I thought it had caught! Loric quickly cut several lengths from the rope and made four loops in the end of it. It reminded him of a tangle foot vine. Which is just what he needed now! Now where was that spot? It was probably a log set out there for the watchers, but it would do if it caught. He had no idea where the spot was, so he marked a slash on the wall and started pitching. Each time the stone came back he would throw a little to the left of it. Once or twice he thought he had found it, but had only managed to pull a limb or some brush into the pit on top of him. This was a disappointment, but he added it to his 'anchor' and worked steadily on. When he was just opposite of where the rope was tied, he succeeded in catching onto something. It gave a little and then held fast. Now he had a line on both ends, and wondered if he shouldn't pull the rock down and try the same thing with the other side. No, there was another thing he remembered from his grandfather's teachings and it was that luck was a fickle spirit and you could easily send it flying away from you if you asked too much. Loric knew he still needed a good bit of luck for the climb out. No, I'll not ask so much from the luck spirits, I'll just use the half-severed end as little as I can, keeping it taught as I climb so if this end comes loose, I have a chance to brace before I fall back in. A chance for what, I don't know, I hope I don't find out. Perhaps that's asking too much from luck also. I'll be trusting my neck to the hidden anchor, and it could slip at any time. I know the other will slip, but I can see it and tell when it's going to give way. The best course then is to use a bit of each, cinching it up as I go, like the man crossing the stream. Each moment requires the judgement of a new moment, as Oldsir used to say. Loric said a quick prayer to the Spirit of the Wood to keep luck from fleeing, and started out by working out an equal length from both ropes. This accomplished, he sat on the knot, trying to judge the moment of the rock falling and the fraying of the rope. It creaked ominously, but seemed to hold. Loric looked down at the water that was still seeping into the pit. At least that water and mud will help break my fall, a little. He had the rope looped under his bottom and over his shoulder. He lifted his weight off the rope and put a twist in the rope over his head. Then he slipped his body out of the sling in the bottom and pulled it up with his feet through the twist. He wormed his feet up and then sat his weight on the new loop made by his efforts. He marked the wall and then repeated his efforts. This was slow work! He watched with concern the rope on the rock. Whatever he had anchored the other end to seemed to hold, so he planned to switch all of his weight to it should the rope give so it wouldn't snap abruptly. Half a dozen loops and Loric realized he couldn't keep this up. The rope was so tangled and knotted that he wouldn't be able to slip it through any more. He stood on the knot and thought a bit, then held himself up by his arms, he flipped the rope around with his feet, and managed to clamp it under his arm. He brought the two ropes together and grabbed the rope with the his teeth and made a loop a round one arm. then pulled it through again with his teeth. Doubled over, he inched up and got his toes into the knot and slowly put his weight on it. He couldn't believe he managed that and looked up at the rope. He was shocked by the amount of fraying that his acrobatics had caused. Now he was within a man's height of the top, but he realized that one more attempt like this was more than the rope would take. It was one more than he had in him, anyway. "Think Loric! What do you have to work with? Nothing I'm not using, My whole body aches from just hanging here, and there's nothing else up here but empty space and me! I don't have a use for my kesh-knife, I don't want to cut anything..." "Do I? Can I tie another knot and then cut a length of rope off the bottom and pitch it over the rock?" Loric knew that as soon as he thought it, it was impossible; the rope would sever before he got the first knot tied. "I might as well cut it now and get it over with!" Loric drew his knife and held it in one hand as he used the other to pull up on his braced rope taking some of the tension off the severing rope. "It would be simple," thought Loric, "all I have to do is let go with this hand and the jerk would cause that rope up there to snap and I'll fly into the other wall and then down into the muddy water below. I wonder how many bones I'll break? Maybe I'll just be knocked out and drown in the water below. Maybe the slam into the wall would be hard enough to knock me out? I wouldn't even know it when hit the bottom. No one would blame me, I've tried to get out, and I can't! There's always a test you can't pass right?" It was not the way of Loric's people to give up, but they were not immune to despair. Loric looked up and watched the slow fraying of the rope, now seconds away from separating. He looked at the kesh-knife he carried, it had a long history, and had been made from kesh-wood three generations before and passed down from father to son. "To me," thought Loric. "I'll never pass it on now." He leaned out and started slicing the knife into the clay walls of the pit. "If I can't pass it on, at least I can see to it that it isn't damaged in my fall." If he could strike some kesh-root the properties within his knife would hold it fast. "The men that would free it later would know that I had honored the memory of all it's owners by not letting it lie with me when I died. If it fell too, it would be burned on my burial pyre, and that would be a loss more grievous than that of a near-man who failed his tests!" With that Loric thrust blindly into the wall and felt the knife bite and hold. It melded to the living kesh-root and held fast. He grasped the handle and pulled himself over to it. It took all his weight and did not move. The rope he hung from gave way and he slipped downward. He made a quick shift of weight and a mad grab for the kesh knife as the rope fell into the pit below. His slight frame shook with the effort to get one arm over the handle and the other gripping the hilt. His toes dug and dug in the clay wall but could find no purchase. Hardly daring to breathe, he slid his hand over as far as he could without touching the cutting edge of the knife. Then he brought one knee up and rested it on the handle. The gnarled grip bit his skin mercilessly, but he held out. "Oh Spirit!" thought Loric, "perhaps you have use for me yet!" With one hand, he creeped up the wall and tried to judge how far from the top he was. He couldn't guess so he finally looked up. He was relieved to find that he was close enough to stand up and reach the opening. That wouldn't be easy; it was almost dark now, and the opening was dim and unclear. Not easy, but not impossible either. Loric had balanced on thinner limbs when he was younger, but now he was fatigued and rattled. He bit his lip against the pain and stood on one foot. He looked for something to grip but had to settle for knotting his fingers in the grass. He hefted up his other leg and rolled onto the turf. He gazed up at the dark canopy of the forest and moaned at the wave of pain that hit him. Every strained muscle and scraped shin made itself known to him, but his thoughts were on the pit. He looked at the one remaining piece of rope and saw that he had not caught a log as he had thought but the watcher who had been sitting on it. All this time he had been silently sitting with a loop of rope over his head and around one shoulder. He sat motionless as stone, lest he somehow interfere with Loric's trial. Loric recognized the villager as Minial, a man about his sister's age who was trained in the art of vining and knotting. As Loric hobbled over to him, he winked and rubbed his neck where the vine had rubbed it raw. "You best be thankful that I'm as stout as I am, or we would both have greeted the Spirit before our time. I wanted to start you over, but Dernhelm wouldn't let me. As far as he was concerned I was a knot on a log." He stood and clasped Loric on the shoulder. "A knot who is thirsty and wants a bit of octli." He led Loric back to the village, and talked with him almost as he would any other man. "Almost," thought Loric happily, "Almost!" -Rich Jervis <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Father's Fugue Timmy watched the water roll down the shallow slope, cutting dark channels in the dust. The fat tip finally reached the bottom, where it settled down into a brown blob. Timmy watched it for a moment, then tipped the bottle and poured some more water after it. He had been playing in the dust for about an hour, a remarkable feat for the active young boy. His hands still carried a few red smears, residue of the tomatoes he had helped his mother can. He had hurried to finish his share of the work, so that he could get out into the bright sunshine. Now he stooped lower to stare at something he saw shining under the stream of water he was pouring. He played the stream of water around, until the edges of the shiny piece of metal could be seen. He dropped the bottle and dug the shiny yellow disk out of the mud. He examined it, and then gravely washed it off. Images could be seen on it's surface. He stood up and ran towards the house. As he ran, Timmy passed a man leaning against a light post. The man smiled at the young child, who dashed past, totally oblivious to the world. Timmy raced up the front steps of his house and into the foyer, where Mr. Johnson stood rubbing stain on an old clock. "Dad! Dad! Dad!" The elder Johnson stooped down. Timmy was his first child, and Mr. Johnson enjoyed watching the boy. "What is it Timmy?" "Look what I found!" Timmy held up the coin. Mr. Johnson immediately recognized the shape, and the material. He smiled wisely. "It's a coin, Timmy. People used to use them for money." At the sound of the past tense, Timmy's eyes lit up. "Can I take it and show Grandpa?!" Mr. Johnson paused. "O.K., but go right there, don't stop at all." "Yessir!" Timmy was already halfway down the steps. He ran down the sidewalk, away from the house, away from the sand lot, toward the alley that was the shortcut to Grandpa's house. His short legs got him there in what seemed like a short time, and he turned down the alley. He ran through the dimness towards the light at the far end. He had made it part way there when a glint of light caught his eye. Visions of coins filled his mind. He turned back, his father's command forgotten. The light turned out to be a bottle in a pile of trash, but to Timmy's treasure-hunting eye, the junk pile had promise. He started pushing it around, uncovering more glass, paper, bits of wood and metal, but no coins. He pocketed the gold coin, and really got down to his search. "Timmy!" Timmy jumped up guiltily. Mr. Johnson's form stood framed against the light at the mouth of the alley. "I told you not to stop! Now get moving!" "Yessir!" Timmy turned back to his original task, fearful of his father's wrath. He ran down the alley, and out onto the street, where he found his grandfather sitting on a porch, ready to receive the precious gift from afar. Mr. Johnson watched until Timmy turned the corner, then turned to look up the street to where a rowdy group of unkept youths stood. He had seen them coming up the street, and had gotten nervous about his only child being out of adult supervision. Having seen Timmy step safely out into the light, he turned back to his house. Manual watched Mr. Johnson close the door to his house. He glanced back up the street at the youths. Feeling unaccountably and suddenly uncomfortable, they turned back down the street and soon disappeared around a corner. Manual turned back to his task. Manual stood across from an old abandoned store. The ancient glass doors were patched with plywood and tape, but footprints in the dirt outside lead in, and not out. Manual didn't need to see them to know what was going on inside, but it was always nice to have independant confirmation. Manual turned, and watched a white van turn a corner far up the street. It drew near, and pulled up beside the streetlight Manual leaned on. Four men got out, wearing uniforms as white as Manual's turtleneck pullover and neatly pressed slacks. The driver approached Manual, followed by the other three. "Here we are. What now, Michael?" He glanced around nervously. "Follow me. It'll be all right." With that simple instruction Manual walked across the street and up to the old store front. The door opened silently for him. Inside a thick layer of dust held clear footprints. They all formed a path that entered a dark doorway. Manual followed the path. Manual stepped into the dark doorway. He turned to face the guard he had seen from outside the windowless building. The guard, startled by the silent intruder, leveled his automatic at Manual. Before the guard could pull the trigger Manual had snatched it easily away. Manual grabbed the guard by the lapels and lifted him effortlessly off the ground. "What you're planning in here is wrong. You must stop." Manual said it as if he were discussing the weather. The white clad men stepped into view behind Manual. The guard's eyes widened further. He snatched a knife from his belt. Manual tossed the automatic to one of the other men, and grabbed the knife by the blade. There was a small sharp sound, and then Manual opened his hand and allowed several metal fragments drop to the floor. They bounced, but made no sound. "Tell you what. Why don't you sleep on it." Manual set the guard down. The man blinked. He opened his mouth, as if to shout. He then closed his eyes, and slid to the floor. Manual turned to the others. "Two of you take him out to the wagon. The other two come with me." Manual and the other two traced the footprints to a thick metal door. Manual pushed it open. It opened into what had been a walk-in freezer. Now it more resembled a barracks. Maps hung over dirty cots, and rifles were leaning against the walls. The image was further enhanced by the three sleeping forms by a table. Manual walked up, bent down, and lifted two up to his shoulders. "You two get the other one and meet me outside." With that he walked out. The two men looked at each other, and at Agent Michael's retreating back. "What does he need us for?" One of the two asked as he stooped to lift the sleeping rebel. "I guess someone had to bring the wagon." They carried the insurgent out of the building. Manual met them at the door, and carried their load the rest of the way to the van. Their criminal cargo loaded, the four climbed back into the van. Manual stepped up the the driver's door. "I'll hold them asleep until you get them in custody." "Uh,... yeah. O.K., Michael." The man kicked the van into gear, made a U-turn, and drove off. Manual looked toward the Johnson's house. He could see Timmy, who had returned from Grandpa's, and Mr. Johnson prepare a place on the mantel for the gold coin. Manual smiled at their ignorance of the danger they had been living with. Manual wondered briefly what they would think if they knew what had just happened. He then shook his head, rejoicing that they didn't have to know. Out in the reaches of space, beyond even Manual's searching vision, a spaceman carefully placed a critical control pivot into the ships main thrust unit. The space suited man sighed with relief when it clicked safely into place. He carefully closed up the access panel, then pushed himself down and away from the ship's hull. He struck the planetoid's hard surface, crouched, and then leaped back up towards the netting slung around the open hatch far above his head. As he drifted higher and higher, he breathed a silent prayer of thanks that the ship had been near a fairly large mass when the pivot broke. Repairing it had been difficult, but the task would have been impossible without some orienting force, and without the drive to spin the ship or provide thrust, the only force available had been gravity. Once inside, the spaceman called up the bridge with the good news. Within the hour the main drive fired, heaving the massive ship off the large asteroid and back on course. The planetoid recoiled from the liftoff, in perfect accord with the laws of physics. It's new course was not far different from it's old one. The difference that push had made would only become visible years later, when it passed another body of rock, rather than slamming into it with the attendant destruction such an impact always created. The other rock had life on it, human life that would survive because the asteroid's course had been altered somehow, life that rarely took the time to think about the things that fathers did for their children. -Jim Owens <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Respect thy Elders: Chapter Three Kite was beat, yet his spirits were high. He had actually managed the more difficult portion of his quest: finding the Elder Isentraum and convincing him to heal heal his fiancee, Pecora Winthrop. In exchange, all the Elder desired was for Kite to fetch a certain herb from a druid who lived outside a village named Greenmont, which he had found rather easily. Now he was headed down a footpath outside the village, towards the area where the druid, named Hartley, made his home. After a brief walk, Kite came upon the druid, sitting beneath the boughs of an ancient pine. "You are Hartley the druid?" "Yes, my son." "My name is Kite, I am upon an errand from a man named Isentraum..." Kite paused as a look of recognition came across the druid's visage. "Ah, no man there, but an Elder, and a good one, at that!" He helped himself to his feet with a driftwood staff and brushed the sweet-smelling pine needles from his tunic. "Come, tell me why you searched out this Elder, and what I may do to help you, young lord..." Despite Hartley's invitation to spend the evening, Kite insisted that he depart as soon as possible, but he promised to return and visit Hartley after he had seen to Pecora. The druid had gathered the Elmin quickly, and had spoken with Kite at length about his quest, his fiancee, and the rest of the duchy. But Kite eventually insisted upon being off, and started his journey back to the mountain where Isentraum could be found. The elder sat gazing into the fire for some moments. "Kite, the disease which grips your fiancee is strong. I have felt it." After a moment, he went on. "I shall need your aid if I am to heal her." "You have it... what do you require of me?" Isentraum smiled inwardly. Such youthful courage gave him heart. "I am old, and my inner strength wanes. I shall begin the spell, and you will merely have to concentrate your will, and believe with all your heart that your woman is well. It is not difficult, although it will weaken you temporarily. Do you wish to go on?" "Definitely." Kite could feel his skin taughten in anxiety. He was sitting in the center of a vast design that Isentraum had drawn into the dirt with a cane. The old man whirled his hands in odd gestures as he drew, speaking in a tongue that fascinated Kite. The old man motioned to the youth, and Kite closed his eyes and began to concentrate. He closed out the chanting of the Elder, and tried to visualize Pecora, standing in the Boar Hall, laughing with him. He saw them riding through the fields outside Dargon, and walking by the riverbank hand in hand. He could sense the power around him, and somehow he reached a rapport with it. It was a force for good, yet it could not be used lightly. Only with great effort was he able to shape the force to his will. He was beside and within Pecora, feeling her hurt and her fear, and he took it inside himself. He retreated back to reality, and the force drew the pestilence from him, and away. Kite opened his eyes. Isentraum was before him, leaning heavily on his staff, wide-eyed. After a moment, he slowly shuffled to Kite, and plumped down with him, a smile etched on his severe features. "Well done, my pelan, well done. How do you feel?" "As if I had been dragged behind a horse for a league. But we did it?" "Yes, pelan, we did." They sat in silence and caught their breath. Kite sensed that Isentraum was going to say something to him, so he waited. "Kite, you may not understand it yet, but what just happened was primarily of your doing. I did not intend for you to work such magic, but you did. I have rarely seen such talent!" Kite was too busy catching his breath to really contemplate the man's words as he continued. "I am old, Kite, old even for an Elder. My power wanes, yet the world needs such a power in it. Would you come back to become my pupil, and become as I have been?" Kite looked at the elder and laughed. He was a young noble, and the court held some promise of advancement for him. Yet it also held danger and difficulties which he could foresee. To leave all that, with Pecora, and take up the occupation of a living legend was tempting, and the awareness of the many people he could help still burned bright from his recent encounter with that unnameable force. He looked to the ground, then at Isentraum and said, "Yes... I will do it." -Orny <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>


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