VOLUME NINE NUMBER THREE FFFFF SSS FFFFF N N EEEEE TTTTT

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Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

+-+ +-+ +-+ +-+--+-+--+-+ VOLUME NINE NUMBER THREE | | ========================================== +___________+ 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' Liscomb Waiting Here For You Steve Boyko It Slid Ron Trenka *The Edged Tool Jim Owens Men Shall Have the Stars Carlo Samson Wiring Jim Owens Date: 121487 Dist: 521 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 Well, with the end of the semester and the approach of Christmas things start getting hectic, and FSFnet is no exception. We are rapidly approaching the deadline for submissions in the FSFnet cyberpunk short story contest (as outlined in Vol09N1), and hopefully we'll have one or two entries by the end of the month. I am still negotiating to purchase the prizes, which will (hopefully) be a book of Geiger artwork, and a poster print of Geiger artwork. Those of you unfamiliar with the name might recall that he did the preliminary artwork for the movie "Alien", among other works. Due to the shutdown of the WISCVM gateway and the opening of a local gateway at MIT, the YALEVM-CUNYVM link has been absolutely saturated of late. This is the reason why some of you may have received two copies of the last issue. It was originally sent on 11/23/87, but due to the large file queue it was purged and most readers did not get their issues until I re-sent the issue last weekend. Apologies to all for the confusion. And speaking of confusion, what happens when you have a machine which allows people to subscribe to FSFnet, but never sends out issues? I recently discovered a list of people who had subscribed to an FSFnet list on a LISTSERV which hadn't received an issue in nearly two years! I hastened to request that the list be shut down, and invited those users on the list to be added to the main distribution list, which many have since done. And that brings us to another topic, and that is this issue's distribution. As you can see, we have broken the 500-reader barrier with over 460 BITNET readers and over 50 internet subscribers! And, of course, this doesn't include people who get issues from local lists or newsgroups, servers, or other second-hand methods. I must thank everyone who is spreading the word about FSFnet. And, as always, a warm welcome to all our new readers. This issue is a particular treat, and I hope you all enjoy it. We have a Dargon story by Jim Owens, and several excellent short stories and poems from BITNET authors. I'm sure that you will find it a pleasant change from the standard fare. And, finally, one last comment. For some time, I have found myself in the most remarkable position of not having to ask for submissions. However, with the distribution of this issue, I find that we are again in need of material. If you are an amateur writer, please feel free to send in original stories, articles or poetry. If you are interested in writing stories for the Dargon Project, please so notify me. And, of course, all readers are encouraged to write a story for the cyberpunk SF short story contest. As mentioned in the very first issue of FSFnet, it cannot function without the support of its readership in the form of letting other people know about FSFnet and making contributions. Please get in touch with me if you would like to submit an article to FSFnet. -'Orny' Liscomb <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Waiting Here For You When the call came I took heed, To fight within this hour of need, I said "My lady, I must go" "To find and slay our deadly foe." To which she said, "Take care, my dear," "Within my heart you're always near" "I'll be waiting here for you," "I'll be waiting here for you." My heart was heavy, my sight was dim, Aboard the ship with men so grim, To recover that which was our own, Within my heart her love still shone; As I watched men live and die, I recalled our last goodbye: "I'll be waiting here for you," "I'll be waiting here for you." We knew our cause was just and right, Our foes' hearts were black as night, On and on the battles raged, Our lives and more were being waged; For months we fought for every hill, And yet her words echoed still: "I'll be waiting here for you," "I'll be waiting here for you." While deep within our foes' domain, A war did end our good king's reign, Cities sacked and temples burned, To death and ruin we returned; We slew them all with sword and steel, And deep within I knew for real: "I am coming back for you," "I am coming back for you." And after foes were all laid down, I traveled back to my home town, To find it burned down to the ground, And my love nowhere to be found; The people came and said, "Be brave," "Your lady she lies within her grave," "She waited here for you," "She waited here for you." -Steve Boyko <9090920@UNB> <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> It Slid The car sat under the tree, its occupants basking in the silence and the illusion of privacy. The man clasped the breast of his shapely companion in a passionate embrace. She responded with a moan as her hand slid between his thighs. She knew that she should be home with her betrothed, yet the passion of this stranger was more than her will could resist. The smell of sweat from the lover's bodies filled the interior of the car as the two twisted and turned in an ancient dance that man had performed since he fell from the branches of the Tree of Life. In the darkness, a shadow stirred. It lifted It's hideous head and paused, as if listening for something in that accursed darkness. A faint voice drifted through the heavy air and It heard. It moved It's hellish frame toward the voice and the voice grew stronger, more demanding. Soon, a spot of dim, flickering light appeared in that world of eternal night. It moved nearer and the voice boomed inside It's horrid skull. "Come, for it is I who beckon", the voice said. "I have a task and a sacrifice for you." And It slid through the gate. "It was his fault", she thought, as the stranger's manliness slid inside her. "If he paid more attention to me than those old books I wouldn't need this." Their bodies moved in a rhythm that followed an unheard tune. Their moans grew louder as their senses became aware, every nerve alive, sensitive to the slightest touch. And It slid. Her moans became screams of passion, then screams of fright as It's horrible head came crashing through the windshield and fixed It's toothy jaw over the head of her lover. Her screams, mingled with the tossings of her lover's dying body, formed a morbid scene. Then she was alone. And It slid. In a small room, surrounded by ancient tomes and scrolls, a man leaned over a ball of crystal and watched. A smile stole across his face as It left the car and moved into the night. The face moved closer to the crystal and watched the naked and hysterical form of his wife as she looked at the blood of her lover smeared across her belly and chest, felt the warmth of his blood on her face, tasted the saltiness of the blood on her lips. The man looked past the wrecked car to where the blackness clung to It's body, as It headed toward the gate It had been summoned from. "She will learn", he said sadly. And It slid...... -Ron Trenka <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> The Edged Tool The Edged Tool: The Metal The street was basically empty, unusual for any street in Dargon. Most streets were usually filled with people, going about their business. Some were almost impassable. This street, however, had only one person on it. Levy Barel walked crisply down the cobblestone. His staff made a tap each time he set it down on the rock. He was whistling quietly . He was on his way to the house of Cavendish, an old friend of his. There he planned to eat supper, and, if the evening ran pleasantly enough, possibly even spend the night. He was passing one of Dargon's many alleys when the sound of voices drew his attention. He looked sideways down the alley, and what he saw stopped him in his tracks. In the alley were four men. One, obviously a foreigner, had his back to a wall. The other three, swords drawn, were facing him. The foreigner had his hand on one of his two swords, but had not drawn. Levy hesitated. From the looks of the three natives, he could guess what was going on. Alone in a strange town, the foreigner was an easy target. Levy could not conceive of the stranger as being in the wrong. At the same time, cutthroats did not earn their title through good deeds, and a second murder came easier than the first. He put one foot forward, toward the confrontation, and then stopped, uncertain. "Help him." Levy looked around. He saw no one else. "Help him!" Levy leaped forward. He ran full tilt towards the group. "Hey! Hey!" Levy yelled as he ran. He had no sword, no armor, only a small knife that was buried under his travelling clothes. He wondered what he would do when he reached the thieves. "Hey!" The four men turned and looked at Levy. Under any other condition, the flapping cloak, awkwardly held staff, and bug-eyed expression would have been hilarious. Instead, however, the three ruffians took to their heels and fled. Levy slowed down to a walk. He and the foreigner watched as the thieves disappeared out the other end of the alley. Then they looked at each other. The stranger was shorter than Levy, and yet still had a good presence to him. He was wearing a long tunic under a heavier overcoat. Judging from the foreign make of the other's clothes, it was obvious that he came from a land not much warmer than Dargon. "Are you all right?" Levy asked. "Yes. We did not hurt each other." The other looked to the far end of the alley, where the cutthroats had fled. He then looked back at Levy. "Thank you for helping me. I... appreciate it." The other gave a short bow. He spoke as if he was still learning the language. "It was...nothing." Levy thought back. Who's voice had admonished him to aid the stranger? There had been no one else around. "Who are you?" At the question Levy looked back at the other. "My name is Levy Barel. Who are you?" "My name is Ittosai Michiya. I..." "Let us get out of this alley." Levy interrupted. "Please. Come with me." Ittosai paused. He was still not used to the west's strange ways. Finally he relented and followed Levy. The two reached Cavendish's house without further incident. Cavendish welcomed Ittosai warmly. It didn't take Levy long to realize that Cavendish not only knew Ittosai, but that Ittosai was on his way to Cavendish's house when he had been attacked. Over supper Levy learned many things. He learned that Ittosai was on a self-imposed exile from his country, something Ittosai felt some embarrassment over. He learned that Ittosai had only been in Dargon a few months, and that Lord Dargon had commissioned Ittosai and Cavendish to record all Ittosai could remember about Bichu, his native land. Cavendish thought it wonderful that he could take a break from his dull court records, and while Ittosai would not admit it openly, Levy knew that it was an opportunity to get his feet under himself in a strange land. Levy spent that night at Cavendish's house, and, at the scribe's insistence, the next night as well. Levy had contracted a room at a local inn, but the innkeeper refunded some of the fee, and both parties were satisfied. Ittosai had been living with Cavendish as well, and Levy found himself in a strangely furnished room that he knew he had once slept in, but that now looked like it was in another country. It was neat, however, and so Levy didn't mind much. The second morning Levy was packing his horse up for the trip home. He had come to Dargon to buy gold and gems to make into the golden articles he fashioned for a living. The stones were worth a lot of money, and even though Levy's inheritance would be great, Levy's father was not dead, and so Levy had worked long for the money. He was tightening the last knot when Ittosai startled him from behind. "You are leaving now, yes?" Levy turned to see Ittosai dressed in heavy traveling clothes. "Yes. I have to get back to my village. Are you leaving also?" Ittosai shrugged. "I have recorded enough for Lord Clifton Dargon. He has rewarded me, and I... can now go." He held up a bulging leather sack for Levy to see. "Where are you headed?" Ittosai had told Levy that he knew no one outside of Dargon. "I know not. I was wondering... a companion, you would like? Someone to travel with? I would be honored to go with you." Ittosai was smiling confidently. Levy smiled back. He had been dreading the lonely trip home, and would be happy to have a partner. He told Ittosai so. "Good! We can leave now then!" Ittosai ran around the corner of the house, and returned a moment later leading a huge horse loaded with twice as much baggage as Levy had ever carried in his life. "Is that all yours?" Levy stared at the bundles. "Yes. Most it came from Bichu, my home land. Don't worry, I know to pack." Levy nodded hesitantly, and then the two started off. The Edged Tool: The Forging Levy stooped near the fire. He stirred the broth carefully, trying not to slosh any into the fire. The scent was good, and it was bubbling fiercely. He and his travelling companion, Ittosai Michiya, had stopped for the evening. They had stopped early, several hours before dark, so that they could replenish their depleted supply of water and meat. Ittosai set out to catch some birds, and Levy had set up camp. When Ittosai didn't return soon, Levy searched out a small creek and filled their water bottles. He found Ittosai cleaning his catch when he returned. As they cooked the fowl and ate them, along with generous helpings of week-old stew, they discussed Ittosai's plans. "...want to see much...as much... of your land as I can." Ittosai paused to take a bite of stew. He had discovered that the technique of using a wide spoon didn't differ as much from the technique of the chopstick as he had originally thought. The stew, on the other hand, was something he would need time to get used to. "I think that's a good idea. I have seen much of it myself. It's beautiful, for the most part. Some parts are wild and uninhabited. Some parts are wild, and inhabited." Levy chuckled at his own humor. Ittosai gave Levy a puzzled look. "Please...What do you say?" "Some parts of Baranur have bands of men, thieves, murderers, robbers. Others are cities, like Dargon, only in the warmer south. They can be very rough. I am careful not to go where I know I might get into trouble." "No man will trouble me. I will...dee...defend? Defend my honor. I will make my ancestors proud." He patted the swords at his side. Levy looked at him. "You seem awful sure of yourself. It doesn't pay to depend on yourself for too much. No matter who you are, there is always someone or something you need to fear." "I fear no one." Ittosai finished his supper, and stood up. He dusted himself off and walked off to clean his bowl. Levy watched him, then shook his head and finished his own meal. The next morning they continued on their way. They had been traveling for four days already, and that afternoon they came into a small village, one just big enough to have an inn. There they bought more food, and continued on. A few miles out of town they left the main road. Levy explained that this path would take them south toward his village. Ittosai continued with Levy, although he was no longer as talkative as he had been before. That afternoon they paused in a clearing in the woods. It was one obviously used by travellers, and there was running water nearby. Levy topped off the bottles while Ittosai busied himself with a flute he was carving. Levy returned after a few minutes. He was carrying the two bottles on either end of his walking stick. He set the jugs down, and threaded the stick out from the handles. He stood up, and saw a man step out of the woods between Ittosai and himself. He called out to Ittosai, but even as Ittosai stood up another man followed the first out. Within a few seconds, the two found themselves surrounded by a dozen armed men. Ittosai watched the intruders approach. He rested his hand on the hilt of the sword his uncle had given him. Perhaps this would be its first real use. Five of the men formed a rough half-circle around him. The rest surrounded Levy. They all carried drawn swords, but the ones confronting Ittosai stopped just out of his reach. Levy watched as Ittosai surveyed the situation. The five men confronting Ittosai seemed content to stand their ground, as did the ones Levy faced. Ittosai was not made of similar material however. He had never been taught to take the defensive. The first man never even moved his arms. Ittosai killed him on the draw. The next man took a defensive stance, but failed to take into account his foe's longer blade. The remaining three stepped back, forcing Ittosai to pause to realign himself. He then once more pressed the attack. He dropped the next with a belly cut, and stepped into the fourth. Their swords struck once, and then Ittosai whirled and cut down the fifth, who was trying to come in from the side. He then turned once more to the fourth one, who was standing with his sword outstretched. Ittosai saw the other's eyes flicker for an instant, and stepped in with three quick blows, the last of which cut almost all the way through his opponent's body. Ittosai pulled his sword out quickly, but before he could straighten up completely he felt a massive blow on the back. He fell to the ground, something pinning his lower body down. He quickly levered himself up with his right arm, and swung his sword up behind him with his left. It connected, and Ittosai felt blood spraying the back of his neck as the weight rolled off his backside. He tried to get up, but discovered to his horror that his legs didn't want to respond. He looked up at the rest of the people in the clearing. They all just stood there, none moving. Ittosai reached behind himself, and felt down his spine. In the small of his back, his fingers encountered something hard. He grabbed it, and pulled. It came out, and he suddenly felt very weak. With trembling muscles he held the bloody knife up to his face. It fell from his weakening fingers, and a moment later his right arm also gave way, dumping him across one of his victims. As he watched, the others turned away, to consider their other captive, Levy. Ittosai saw Levy, head bowed, forehead resting on his hands, which were clasping the top of his staff. Then the other men obscured Ittosai's view of Levy, and a moment later Ittosai closed his eyes. "Ittosai. Ittosai. Wake up. Ittosai." Ittosai opened his eyes. Levy was staring down at him. When Levy saw Ittosai's movement, he smiled, and extended his hand. Ittosai grabbed it, and felt himself being pulled to his feet. He looked around. He was standing on the edge of a mound of gore. Bleeding bodies littered the clearing. Ittosai put his hand to his back, but while he had no problem finding a small slit in his cloak, there was no corresponding hole in his skin. "When I saw that ruffian knock you down, I was worried. I started praying that you would be all right. I guess you just got the wind knocked out of you, though." Levy seemed unconcerned about the carnage behind him. "I... but...no..." Ittosai was severely confused. He looked at his hand, felt at his back, and looked around once more. "What did you do?" "Me?" Levy was surprised. "I didn't do anything." He surveyed the clearing smoothly, almost casually. "I'm not a fighter. I can't give anyone life, so why should I take it? My god fights for me." Ittosai stared; at Levy, standing there in true sincerity; at the bodies littering the ground; at his hand, which no matter how many times he put it to his remembered wound, would come away dry. Ittosai numbly helped Levy drag the bodies into a large pile in the center of the clearing. Levy considered the pile for a few minutes, and then walked over to the fire. He grabbed a burning branch, and with Ittosai's help proceeded to burn the bodies. Once the fire was going properly, Levy and Ittosai packed up and hurried away from the stench. All the while Ittosai was running the matter over and over in his mind, and every time his hand would wander to the small of his back. They made camp well after dark. Levy once more dug out the stew pot, and heated up its well churned contents. Ittosai declined his offer of the pungent food, and watched as Levy ate it with obvious relish. Finally he could take it no longer. "Did I die?" Ittosai wasted no words of introduction. "Huh?" Levy stopped in mid-bite. "Did I die? Did I ..." Ittosai fought for a word. "Did the man kill me?" "You're here, aren't you?" Levy was looking confused now. "He knife me!" Ittosai was loosing his mastery of the native tongue as he grew more and more excited. "Here! He knife me!" He turned and showed Levy the tear in his clothes. Levy examined the blood-stained tear carefully, and the skin underneath. "Maybe he did. Maybe you did die, or something. But you're alive now. If you died, and are alive now, then my god didn't want you to die. If you didn't die, well,..." Levy paused, looking for a good answer. "...Well then he still doesn't want you to die. Maybe he wants you." Levy looked thoughtful, then turned back silently to his food. Ittosai considered this. His religious teaching had not involved the worship of any particularly large deities. The idea of a god powerful enough to save a life was new to him. He silently left Levy, and retired to the privacy of the shadows. Levy watched him leave. He had not explained to Ittosai how he had prayed for deliverance, and how when he opened his eyes all his enemies were dead on the ground. Nor had he ever told Ittosai of the voice he had heard back in Dargon, urging him to go to the aid of a foreign stranger. He pondered his own words. They had come out clumsily, but suddenly he saw a greater meaning in them. Of course, in the dark, after such a frightening experience, it was easy to assign meaning to meaningless things. Such speculation was best left for the morning. Levy sensibly finished eating, and went to bed. The next dawn found Ittosai returning from a small stream, having finally washed off the previous day's dried gore. He once more looked neat, his blades at his side. He stepped into the clearing, and was shocked to see a man once more step into the clearing with Levy and himself. Ittosai's reaction was blindingly fast. His blade whistled as it arced through the air. The stranger's reflexes were faster, however. Ittosai's blade screamed harmlessly off a steel bar clamped to the other's forearm. Before Ittosai could recover from the follow-though the intruder had grabbed Ittosai with a grip like iron. While the two struggled, Levy ran up to the pair. "No! No! Ittosai! Stop! Captain Koren! Stop!" At the sound of the name, Ittosai paused, as did his opponent. Sure enough, when he really looked at the man, Ittosai recognized the captain of Dargon's city guard. The two released each other. "Many pardons, please. I did not know." Ittosai returned his sword to its sheath and gave a short bow. Captain Koren smiled as he stepped back and ran his fingers through his hair. "It's all right, my friend. After your little encounter yesterday, I'm not surprised you're a little edgy." Levy and Ittosai stopped at Koren's mention of the fight. "How did you know we had an encounter yesterday?" Levy looked suspiciously at Koren, who was grinning broadly. "I was following that group. I caught up with them just after you left. I followed your tracks from the pyre. Who else could it have been?" "Did the bodies all burn completely?" His secret discovered, Levy was his usual businesslike self. "I don't know. They were still burning when I left to follow you. What a stench!" "Why were you following them? Is Dargon so quiet you can track down mere road toughs?" Koren paused for a moment, then spoke. "You're a trusted fellow. Lord Dargon has uncovered a plot against his life. These men were somehow linked. We think they were waiting for his death, so that they could come in and pillage the city. There are other groups to the east as well. They all seem to somehow know that there is a plot going on." "Preying on the dead." Ittosai broke his silence. He was secretly smarting that Koren had deflected his blow so easily, and at the same time grateful that he had not killed the man. To add to his turmoil, someone was trying to kill the man who, up until a week ago, had been his lord and master. "What will you do now?" Koren turned to Ittosai. "Actually, I think that depends on you. I was thinking as I followed you. I'm alone on this mission, and I know that you are loyal to Lord Dargon, Ittosai. If you can handle fifteen armed cutthroats, alone, I think you might be a good person to have with me. Lord Dargon set you free to go, didn't he?" Ittosai nodded, willing at least temporarily to allow Koren to believe him to be a greater fighter than he was. "Ittosai was planning on seeing the lay of the land, Captain Koren." Levy looked to Ittosai as he spoke. "I was thinking of taking him to see my village. Of course, it's Ittosai's decision." The two looked at Ittosai. He pondered for a moment. He could go with Captain Koren, and help the man who had helped him when he needed help, or he could go with Levy, who seemed to think that there might perhaps be some purpose to Ittosai's wanderings. Ittosai thought back to the things his father had taught him, of destiny, of karma, of the world of the spirit. He looked up through the branches at the rays of light streaming from the sun. "I would be of little use to you, Captain Koren. I do not yet speak your language that well, and I would be ... obvious? in a crowd. I will go on with Levy." The Edged Tool: The Honing The sun was shining brightly when Levy stepped out from among the trees, and looked down on his house, a small square set in the midst of a golden field. He smiled broadly. No matter how interesting, there was no place that could make him feel like that tiny building made him feel. A moment after Levy stepped into the light, another person also stepped out. This person also looked out at the small house, but his mood was far from happy. He was remembering the large, beautifully decorated mansion he had grown up in. It was now many hundreds of miles away, and Ittosai Michiya, as this man was called, was not likely to see it ever again. Ittosai Michiya was an exile. Levy and Ittosai crossed the remaining distance to Levy's house. Once there they unpacked the horses and let them go. The two then carried their baggage into the house. Ittosai looked around the dark interior. The dim light seemed oppressive, as had much of the last two days of their journey. To Levy, though, the dim light was the quiet stillness of home. He promptly started to set the usual household proceedings back in motion, lighting the fire, setting a pot on to cook (the same pot of stew as during their journey), and drawing water from the well. At first, Ittosai shunned to do what he considered to be slave's tasks, but soon realized that he had left his exalted status back home in Bichu, his homeland. They hadn't been there long when there came a delighted shriek from the doorway. Levy turned around just in time to catch a fair haired young girl as she flung herself at him. "Levy! You're home!" She gave him a bear hug, accompanied by much happy squealing. Even Ittosai was forced to smile at such an enthusiastic homecoming. "You almost knocked me over there! Yes I'm home! Home at last! How's everyone? Mother? Father? The farm? What's happening?" The joy of seeing a familiar face shaped Levy's face into a big grin. Ittosai noticed that there were two young men standing in the door. They looked so much like the girl he realized they must be related. He also saw in them a clear resemblance to Levy. Levy noticed them also, as they stepped into the room. "Kane! Kine! How're you doing?" They both stepped in to give Levy a hug as well, although in a more restrained manner than their sister. Levy turned to Ittosai, one hand around each brother and his sister looking over his shoulder. "Ittosai, I want you to meet part of my family. This is Kane, Kine, and Kara, the triplets in our family. They're two after me, in order of birth. Folks, I want you to meet Ittosai Michiya, my travelling partner from across the sea." "Hello. I'm Kane." Kane stepped forward, as did his brother. "I'm Kine." Kara came around from behind Levy and stepped right up to Ittosai. Before he knew what was going on, she gave him a kiss, and then leaped out the door. "Let's go tell everyone Levy's back!" The four men watched her bound through the grass, then looked at each other. Kane and Kine smiled at Ittosai's startled expression, and then waved and followed their less restrained sister out. Levy watched them go, then turned to look at Ittosai. "Well? What do you think?" Ittosai rubbed his cheek where Kara had met him. "I..interesting." The two resumed unpacking, while Levy proceeded to tell Ittosai all about his family, for about the fourth time. It wasn't long before heavy footsteps could be heard outside. "Levy!!" The call sounded like a bull getting ready to charge. It was followed by a great bull of a man. He snatched Levy completely off his feet in a hug, then held him up at arms length for a better view. "You almost look like you've grown! I'd better watch out, or you might get bigger than me!" From the size of the man, Ittosai doubted it. As he was lowered to the ground, Levy turned to Ittosai. "Mattan, this is Ittosai, my travelling partner. He's from a country called Bichu, across the sea." Mattan stepped up and clapped Ittosai gently on the shoulder. "Wellmet, Ittoshi. Will you be staying long?" Ittosai looked up at the behemoth before him. "I .. do not know." Mattan turned and clapped his hand against Levy's shoulder, almost knocking him down. "Ma's throwing a party for you. She's been planning it almost since you left. At dark, at the house. O.K.?" "Yes. I'll be there." Levy knew better than to turn down his mother's party. Not only would he miss a great time, but he'd never live to see the end of it. "Good! Bring Ittoshi, he'll like it." With that, and a wave, Mattan also walked off. Ittosai wondered briefly how often he would hear his proud name so badly mangled, then turned once more to his unpacking. After unpacking Levy stepped outside and called the horses. Both came running at his call. With Ittosai's help he loaded the gold and gems he had bought in Dargon onto the horses, and then he and Ittosai started towards the village proper. Once there they were again met by many people happy to see Levy. Ittosai noticed, however, that there wasn't as many happy faces along the streets as Levy had said there would be. The two made their way to the smithy, where Levy was apprenticed. The smith was a wide fellow, with a wide face and an equally wide smile. Levy endured yet another bruising embrace. "Well, it's about time you got back! I've missed the extra arms! We've got a lot of catching up to do before winter comes!" "Yes, I can imagine." Levy looked around the shop. Everything looked much like had seen it last, although there were the few inevitable changes. He looked back to the smith. "I've heard they're throwing me a party tonight. Were you invited?" "But of course! You know your family! It's no fun unless there're a few hundred people there!" Levy and the smith both laughed at that, although the smith didn't laugh long. "Well, I'll let you have the rest of the day to get caught up. I'll see you after sunset." With that he turned back to his hearth. Levy and Ittosai returned to Levy's house. They continued to get Levy's house back in order, checking the fences, finding Levy's two cows, and finally drawing more water. Ittosai tagged along, feeling out of place. While drawing the water, Ittosai spelled Levy after a bit, something for which both were grateful. He worked quietly for a while, and then turned to his host. "I wonder." Ittosai said that like a question. "Why is there no woman in your house?" Levy looked up from where he was sprawled in the grass. "I don't know. I suppose it's not from lack of opportunity. I guess there's just been too much else to do. I never had time to catch one, or to chase one long enough for her to catch me." He grinned at that, and Ittosai did too, after thinking about it for a moment. Ittosai pulled up the bucket. He was about to dump it into the basin, like he had the other bucketfuls, when he noticed that the water was suddenly muddy. "Levy." "What is it?" He got up, and walked over to look into the bucket. Frowning, he took it from Ittosai and dumped it onto the grass. He then carefully dropped the bucket back down the well, noting how long it took to fall. The frown on his face deepened when he realized it had dropped basically all the way to the bottom. He pulled it back up, and grimaced when he saw how muddy the water was. "Looks like someone's used my well recently. It never gets this low this time of year." He and Ittosai stared down into the black hole for a moment, and then Levy shrugged, and turned away. The two of them carted the water into the house, changed clothes, and started off for Levy's parents' house. By the time Levy and Ittosai arrived the party was already well underway, as a well planned welcoming party should be. Levy spent almost two hours introducing Ittosai to all his family, relatives, neighbors, and general well wishers. Never had Ittosai been so confused and bewildered in his life. Any social event he had ever been to was dignified and restrained. This party was anything but restrained. There was dancing, singing, wrestling, eating, drinking, talking, and laughing, all at the same time. It wasn't long before Ittosai found a nice quiet spot in the shadows where he could just sit and watch. Levy, on the other hand, couldn't have sat down even if he had wanted to, and he didn't. After being away for almost three months, and living in a strange and sometimes hostile city, he was glad to get back to a place where he didn't have to watch his back, his step, and his wallet all at the same time. He danced wildly with every pretty girl, including his sisters, he wrestled with all the young men, except Mattan (daring he might be, but he wasn't suicidal), he ate and he drank and he even sang a song for the crowd. He talked with everyone about everything, he greeted even the people he didn't like, and it was only when the crickets went to sleep and the people started to leave that he finally sat down to catch his breath. It was only then that he realized that he didn't know where Ittosai was. He looked around, then got up and started searching. He finally found him, sitting on a bench talking with Eli Barel, Levy's father and town Elder. "... thought to try distilling it. We've always liked it the way it was." Eli looked up as Levy approached. "Ah! Levy! I hope you feel sufficiently welcome now, if you didn't before." "I always feel welcome here, Father." Levy sat down next to his father. "What were you talking about?" "Ittosai here was telling me about what they drink in Bichu. He says our beer is water compared to it." Eli smiled at the foreigner, who was drinking some of that water out of a wooden mug. "It is. But that's because here it flows like water, while in Bichu it is rare stuff. Ittosai told me that Bichu is a crowded country." Ittosai nodded in assent. "Yes, it is true that here we don't go thirsty." Eli's face darkened at that word. "Or at least we haven't yet. But that time might soon come. Levy, there's something I want to show you. Come." Levy and Ittosai followed Eli through the dark. They walked down a well worn path as it led down a fairly steep slope. Suddenly the dirt gave way to water worn rocks. Strangely enough, though, there was no water flowing over them. Levy stood on the dry riverbed, his hands on his hips. "It's not right for the river to be dry at this time of the year, is it?" Ittosai could hear concern in his voice. "Nor is it right for wells like yours to have nothing but mud in them. Ittosai told me what happened. So far our well still has water, but further north wells are empty, and the drought moves further south each day. The crops still need water, at least for a few weeks yet, and if this keeps up we are going to be hungry and thirsty this winter." "Could you not send someone north? To find the problem?" Ittosai tried to make out Eli's expression in the dark. Eli's voice was flat as he answered. "I did. I sent two men north, first Jorden, son of Jesh, then Eli, son of Tharah. Neither have come back. They were to have been gone only three days. It'll be two weeks tomorrow." The night was quiet for a several minutes. Finally Levy spoke. "Ittosai. Do you wish to stay, or do you want to go with me?" The Edged Tool: The Use Levy and Ittosai left at first light. They took with them their horses and as much food and water as they could carry. Levy knew that it could always be unpacked if necessary. They followed the riverbed, walking right up its middle. At first Ittosai felt nervous about this, having once seen a man carried away by flood waters, but he soon realized that the river would not be dangerous unless there was a heavy rain, and there had been none for weeks. Soon they left all houses behind. They started to see some of the effects of the lack of water. Weeds, which normally clotted the shallows of the river in these uninhabited parts, now matted the shoreline with their dry stalks. Occasionally, in the deep pockets of the riverbed, the two travelers found flattened corpses of fish, dried by the fall sun. Nightfall found the pair camping without a fire, fearful that any spark might ignite the dry leaves that were falling from the dying trees. The next day at dawn they continued north. By noon they found themselves forced to travel single file, as the river narrowed down to a stream, a brook, and then finally gave way to what had been a marsh. Here Levy and Ittosai stopped for the night, again without a fire. The next day they started moving northwest, as that was the direction that Levy thought looked the driest. His judgment seemed good, as they were soon moving through what was rapidly becoming a desert. Trees stood almost leafless, their foliage lying at their feet, most of it still bearing traces of green. The only animals they spotted were dead, the rest having left for better feeding. As the two continued north, they approached some small hills. To their surprise, when they reached these hills they found them to be green and living. Strangest of all, the dividing line between the dead land behind them and the green trees ahead of them was as thin as a thread, running around the base of the hills. Ittosai watched while Levy studied the area. After a few minutes of walking around looking at things, Levy walked back to Ittosai. "The answer to this whole problem must lie at the base of these hills. There has to be a reason why these hills mark the boundary between this desert and living ground. I'm going to walk around this hill westward. I want you to walk around the hill eastward. We'll meet on the other side. If you see anything unusual, remember where it is, so you can show me. Understand?" Ittosai nodded. Levy took his horse, and started west. Although he didn't say it, Ittosai felt that somehow Levy was on the wrong track. Levy seemed to be trying to find a reason why one area had water and another didn't. To Ittosai, the question was not one of differing characteristics, but of change. Why would an area that had an abundance of water suddenly become practically a desert? To a person of Ittosai's upbringing, a change of state could only be brought about two ways, either by human or divine intervention. Therefore Ittosai waited until Levy was out of sight, and started to climb the wooded slope. To Ittosai's way of thinking, he needed to see the whole problem to understand it, and the only way to see an entire hill was from the top. Ittosai climbed boldly, his eyes focused on the slope up ahead. He made no effort to be quiet or inconspicuous. The slope started out easy enough, but soon the way became steep, and Ittosai was forced to tie his horse to a tree and leave it. Ittosai continued upward, pausing occasionally to check his progress. It was only when he was close to the top that he realized that he could hear sounds from above, sounds that did not belong in a forest. He slowed down, and started to try to be quiet. Like any warrior from his country, he managed very well. As he neared the top, he could see that there was a large clearing at the crest of the hill. Only the tall trees prevented the bald spot from being dramatically visible. Through the trees Ittosai could see figures moving about. As he drew close to the open space, he could see that the clearing was littered by large, stone ovens. While he watched, men busily forged swords, knives, and spearheads over bright fires. It wasn't until he had been watching for a few minutes when he realized that the fires were not producing any smoke at all. Not only that, but there was no wood or charcoal nearby to fuel the fires. While Ittosai crouched in the shadows, he became aware of a commotion approaching. It soon resolved itself into a group of men carrying buckets. Guarding them, and hustling them on their way were two soldiers carrying spears. While Ittosai watched, they approached the men working at the hearths. The men with the buckets relieved the others, who were herded back the way the others came. It was then that Ittosai noticed the guards watching the smiths. The newcomers took their buckets, and poured water from them on the fires. To Ittosai's shock, instead of the fires going out, they burned hotter! It was then that he realized where all the water was going. It was somehow being used to fuel these fires! While Ittosai watched, another group of men approached. These were led by two men. One was garbed in thick leather and metal armor, and carried a long sword. The other wore nothing but a cloak over his shoulders, despite the cool fall air. He had a detached look to him, as if he were not actually part of the group, but was merely walking in the same direction. The armored one, however, was angrily remonstrating him. The group finally stopped halfway between Ittosai and the nearest forge. "Here, wizard. Make me one here." The military one pointed at the ground firmly. The wizard lost some of his detached look, and regarded the other coldly. "Here? Another? You already have enough. Why do you need another?" The armored one's face grew red, and his expression showed rage. "I'm not asking you if I need another, I'm telling you to make me another, HERE!" The wizard's expression grew suddenly stern. "You are telling me? With a word I could wipe out this entire, pitiful band of yours, and you're telling ME!?!" The armored man was taken back a bit. "We need another spring, so that we can fire more furnaces. Is that a good enough reason?" There was a moment of silence. "I suppose so." The wizard took a step towards Ittosai, and the group fell back. Ittosai gripped the hilt of his sword. Somehow he could feel evil here. As he watched, the wizard made a motion, and mumbled a word. Suddenly a fountain of water burst out of the ground. With a shout, soldiers prodded slaves with buckets forward. They started hauling the water away. The armored man stepped up to the wizard and started to thank him, albeit rather stiffly. After a few moments, however, the spring faltered, and then stopped all together. There was silence as the wizard stared at the spot of mud on the ground. From all over the clearing there came cries and shouts. The wizard made the motion again, and repeated the word, but only a furtive bubbling rewarded him. "What's wrong? Why'd it stop?" The warlord was angry, yet fearful. The wizard looked around wildly. He waved his hands through the air, as if feeling for something. "I don't know. It's almost as if we've drained all the water we can from this area." The soldier grabbed the wizard by the cloak. "If we don't have water, we won't be able to make enough weapons to take the city when Dargon dies!" At the mention of the man who had helped him, Ittosai felt a strong and sudden urge to act. He had no ideas, no plan of attack, but the urge was just too strong to resist. He stepped into the light, drawing his sword. All around there was an abrupt silence. Suddenly Ittosai felt alone, and sickeningly directionless. The urge that had pulled him from the shadows had left him, and now he felt empty. Remembrances of the fight on the road came to his mind. Unlike then, he now felt naked and unprotected. For the first time in his life, Ittosai realized his own inadequacy. He was one man, alone, with two hands clutching a thin piece of steel. Facing him were over a hundred armed and armored men, desperate, and skilled in battle, with an unknown power on their side. The wizard started to wave his hands in a menacing fashion, and as he started to mutter strange words, the war lord drew his long blade and stepped forward. Ittosai started to make the standard attack, but fear paralyzed him. The small of his back started itching where the rough had struck him from behind, and Ittosai had to fight an urge to turn and run. "Throw down your sword." Ittosai felt a chill cover his body. The words had seemed to come from inside his own head. "Throw down your sword!" The words were more insistent. Unbidden, Levy's words came back to Ittosai's mind: No matter who you are, there is always someone or something you need to fear. In a moments inspiration, Ittosai realized that, in the native tongue, the word 'fear' could also mean 'respect'. All his life he had been drilled in respect: respect for his elders, respect for his betters, respect for his enemies. Now he realized that there was one more being in the universe he needed to respect, and possibly respect as he had never respected anyone before. Instantly his terror vanished. He straightened his back, and reversed his grip on his blade. Lifting his face skyward, he shouted in his own tongue: "I give my blade to you!" With that he flung the sword point first into the ground. The moment the blade struck the ground shuddered. The tremor soon grew into a quaking that made it hard to stand. Yells and shouts could be heard over the awesome rumbling. Men were running in two basic directions: the soldiers inwards, towards the center of camp, and the slaves outward, for the safety of the woods. The small group in front of Ittosai fell back. "Take your sword up again." Ittosai obeyed, and pulled the blade from the ground. The small hole the sword had made suddenly grew into a fissure that raced around the clearing, surrounding the army's camp. Its natural cohesiveness gone with the ground water, the soil turned suddenly to a dry fluid. With a horrible noise, everything inside the circle made by the crack in the earth suddenly disappeared, swallowed by the earth. Ittosai was knocked to one knee. Within moments, what had been an army camp was suddenly a bare, brown, expanse. When the shaking stopped, Ittosai stood. He still held his sword in his hand. He dusted it off, and sheathed it. He then turned, and walked down the hill. At the bottom he met Levy, who was understandably shaken by the tremor. He was even more shaken by what Ittosai told him. To make matters worse, men started stumbling out of the woods. Within moments there was a crowd of hundreds of freed slaves. To Levy's surprise, among them were Jorden and Eli, the two men from the village. Before they could finish telling Levy their story, however, dark clouds covered the sky. The group hastily headed for one of the other nearby hills, fearing mudslides if they remained near the shaken mount. By the time they reached the far slopes the ground was already almost too soupy to traverse. It rained for two days. The third day the sun came out, and by noon the men were sweating even with their shirts off. They started back, making their way around the swamp. They reached the creek, and found it full and muddy. The next day they were forced to walk through the woods beside the swollen river, although by night the water was no longer brown. By the time they reached the village the river ran crystal clear, and they found children playing in the flow. Elder Eli welcomed the freed slaves. The ones that had been taken from their homes were given food and clothes, and seen off on their way back, and the truly homeless were offered lands and a place in the village. Levy was again greeted enthusiastically, and this time Ittosai was not allowed to remain on the outskirts of the celebration. It was raining again several days later when Ittosai left Levy's house for the last time. He checked to make sure he had packed everything, and then carefully bowed to Levy and Elder Eli. Levy then gave him a last embrace. "You're welcome here forever, as are your children, and their children." Eli had to shout a little to be heard over the rain. "Thank you, Elder Eli." Ittosai turned to Levy. "I thank you, Levy. I think now... I mean, now I know there is a meaning to my wanderings. "I've learned as much as you, Ittosai. Take care." They clasped hands once more, and Ittosai turned his horse, and started to ride. -Jim Owens <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Men Shall Have the Stars In the beginning Apollo achieved the moon Next Viking landed on Mars; And in the future, very soon Men shall have the stars. When the solar system is all explored And men seek new adventure, To the stars they shall all turn toward And embark on this newest venture. In ships that surpass the speed of light They shall cross interstellar spaces, And find new worlds at the end of their flight And colonize alien places. But when the Earth is dead and gone Throughout the galaxy humans still roam; And to the edge of the cosmos wander on And call the stars their home. -Carlo Samson <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Wiring Bradley noticed something strange about the place the moment he stepped off his ship. That wasn't unusual, however, for all new planets are strange. He'd seen many new planets, and therefore took the strangeness in stride. Bradley strolled casually over to the depot, enjoying the warm breeze and sunny sky. He walked into the obligatory rental office and rented a small craft. While he waited he scornfully examined the young man who was serving him, observing the neat uniform, the cosmetic smile, the polished hair and face. Sucker, he thought. They already got you trapped, just like they almost trapped me, wound up in the lair of respectability. He almost considered offering the young man a 'ride', but thought better of it. No telling what the laws are like on this world, he told himself. No sense in getting picked up for 'kidnapping'. Taking his keys, he strode out to get his flitter. He passed row after row of glistening craft, all neatly arranged, all dreams of conformity. He slowed after a bit, and started to check the numbers painted on the sides of the cars against the number stamped on his keys. It was soon apparent that his car was obviously the last one on the lot. Typical bureaucratic screwup, he fumed. Making me walk all the way out here... He got to the end, and there was his car. Totally unlike the others he had passed, this one was old, rusty, decrepit, broken down, in short, just the kind of car one would never expect to find in the kind of a world he had seen so far. He looked at the key ring. He was not surprised to see a small, sticky patch on the backside of the tag, just the kind of spot left by a 'CONDEMNED' sticker when it accidentally falls off. He considered returning the rings for a new set, but rebelliously decided not too. He didn't want to get too used to the idea of conformity. Several minutes later he was cruising down the super highway, relaxing and enjoying the ride. He had a day or two to spend here, before he was supposed to rendezvous with a buyer at a nearby solar system. I'll sightsee for a day, see what trouble I can get into, spend the night, and be on my way, he told himself. Not that there looks to be much trouble to get into around here, he chuckled to himself. At least the car's reasonably functional, even if it is a little dinged up. Any damage to the machine was mostly superficial. It had no viewer, or even a radio, indeed it even lacked an antennae, but it was comfortable, and required little effort to drive. Bradley looked out the window while he reclined in the plush seat, his right pinkie handling the wheel. As he drove towards what appeared to be a big city, he examined the other cars. Must be a holiday, he thought, lot's of people on the road. Each car held from one to eight people, in what seemed to be a rather normal distribution. He pondered this, reflecting on how there were usually many more cars with only one occupant than there were cars with multiple occupants. He made a quick (but representative) survey, and found that just as many cars had eight occupants as had one. Strangely enough, there were many cars that had several adults packed in with two or three children, rather than the usual father-mother-kids type of arrangement. Another thing he noticed was that all the cars had these large whip antennas protruding from the roofs. He tried to find one that didn't, but even on that crowded expressway there wasn't a single one to be found. He pondered on that little piece of information for a bit, before his attention was distracted by the approaching city. Bradley had been to many cities before, but none quite like this one. All the buildings were clean and spare in their design, totally unlike the mad mixes usually found in large cities. As he entered the city, he also noticed that the closer the buildings were to the center of the city, the taller they got, effectively giving the city a rounded, domelike skyline. All nice and neat, just like a city park, he thought. Perfectly planned, flawlessly executed, just like a ballet. I'll bet they even die on time around here. Bradley considered for a moment that there might just be some advantages to an ordered life, and then snorted. Too dull, he told himself, no life. It was in the middle of this thought that he glanced down from the bridge he was driving on, and saw the wreck. The car was completely totalled. Smoke and fumes poured out of the engine compartment, and nothing moved inside. Bradley's heart started thumping, and he fought to control it. He had seen death before, just not recently. Get a grip, Bradley. People buy it all the time. They'll even get you one of these days. Then, as he watched, another car veered off a nearby road. It's movements were purposeful and direct, not erratic, as it jumped a concrete bank and slammed into the damaged car. It was followed by another, and then by a large truck. Finally a sports car swerved off the bridge just ahead of Bradley, vaulted the guardrail, and fell easily one hundred feet to land exactly on top the smoldering pile. With it's impact, the whole heap burst into flames. Suddenly Bradley felt afraid. Not the kind of fear you have when you realize you forgot to turn your taxes in, or when you realize you left you wallet in your other coat, but the kind of fear that forces all the breath from your lungs, and causes your testicles to crawl up into the pit of your stomach. He looked around wildly. All around him the people in the other cars sat, stonily ignoring the accident, him, and the whole world in general. Bradley let out a moan. "Something is definitely wrong here," he said, his voice breaking. He searched wildly for an off-ramp. Finding one, he cut across four lanes of traffic to reach it. He slid down it, and made a left at the intersection at the bottom. He pulled into the first driveway he saw, and up to the door of a large tower. Leaving his car parked in the middle of a large curving driveway, he rushed through a set of glass doors and into a large lobby. There was only one person in the lobby, a woman standing behind a desk, wearing a pink outfit with a tall hat. He rushed up to her. "Miss! Miss!" Bradley staggered up to clutch her desk. "You've got to help! Please!" "Yes? How can I help you?" The girl's smile didn't waver at the sight of the wild-eyed man panting in front of her. "There's been an accident! Cars, a couple of them! And a truck, too. All mashed together! And burning!" "Yes?" She continued to smile, as if Bradley were discussing the weather. "You gotta call the authorities, or something! It was terrible! They just ran right into each other! I mean, one wrecked, and then the others ran into it, just Bam! like some big crashup derby, like they were just a bunch of..." Bradley looked at her bland, smiling, face. "Just like they were a bunch of toys." Bradley stared at her, fear once more welling up in his gut. He thought back to the freeway, to all the cars, moving neatly along, all with their... Suddenly he leaned forward, and with a broad sweep of his arm, knocked the receptionist's hat off. His arm also brushed her head, mussing her hair, but still she beamed on. Bradley cautiously walked around the desk, his eyes never leaving her. She watched him come. He leaped forward, grabbing her by the arm and twisting her around. There, plastered against the back of her neck, was a thin, flexible steel wire. He grabbed it, and pulled. It came out easily, trailing a thin cable, which was slick with blood. He stared at her in horror as she turned, still smiling. He backed away from her, then turned and ran. He raced out of the lobby, and leaped into his car. Without looking back he gunned the engine. It responded smoothly, hurling him down the drive. As he approached the road, however, he slowed. He looked back toward the tower. There was no one in sight. Bradley sat, panting. Am I going nuts or something? he asked himself. People don't have wires in them, no matter how much alike they look. They may act like a bunch of robots, but that doesn't mean they are robots. He considered. Maybe I'd better go back and check things out. He turned back around to take the wheel, just in time to see a man in gardener's clothes reaching for the door handle. Bradley didn't need any more convincing. As the door opened, Bradley kicked it with all his strength, sending the gardener flying. Bradley then shut the door, locked it, and sent the flitter flying into traffic. Almost immediately Bradley saw a sign directing him to the freeway. When he turned down that road, however, he suddenly found himself circling a large, round park, with a fountain in the center. Everything was green and beautiful, with children running around with balloons, and parents walking strollers. Then he saw that the fountain pool was filled with a dozen or so men and women, in business clothing, calmly swimming laps. "That does it. I'm out of here." Bradley swung the car towards the outside of the traffic circle, looking for an exit. It wasn't until he had made two full revolutions that he realized that the road that he had take into the circle had suddenly and totally disappeared. If that weren't enough, though, he suddenly noticed a commotion in the park. As he watched, all the swimmers stood up, and began to walk towards him, spiralling outward towards the edge of the park. He made a quick search of the control panel. It was sparse, but...there. He reached down and grabbed a large lever. "You can't fool me! I've seen too many different vehicles not to realize that this isn't just a ground car!" Bradley shouted to no one visible. Lifters in the stub wings whined as the flitter lifted off the ground. It cleared the ground clutter easily, and Bradley turned the flitter toward the landing area, accelerating as he went. He watched anxiously as he flew, but there appeared to be no pursuit. Once at the landing port, Bradley set the flitter down right beside his ship and leaped out of the car before it even stopped. He franticly activated the port lock, all the while closely watching the nearby ground attendants as they repaired a nearby ship. The door was just starting to open when they suddenly dropped what they were doing and turned to face him. They took a step toward him...and then the port was open, and he was inside, slamming it shut. Once inside his own ship he finally felt safe, or at least safer. Sensors showed no one else on board. For once the stench of thousands of accumulated man-hours didn't annoy him. He leaped up to the conn before the first blows started to fall on the side of the hull. Bradley wasted no time with trying to raise the tower. He activated the emergency flight mechanism, and strapped in. The launch pinned him to his seat, but his overhead view unit showed him the view below. As he rose above the plain, he saw long lines of flitters streaming toward the spaceport. Try and catch me now, suckers! he thought, the acceleration not permitting him to actually talk. As the ship rose higher, Bradley could see the city laid out below, then the plain it was built on, and finally hills surrounding it. Shining objects, arranged regularly around the city on the surrounding hills, caught his eye. Were they towers? Once free from the clawing atmosphere, the ship started accelerating in earnest, making its heated rush for the stars. Bradley's eyes started to fog. Before he finally blacked out, however, he thought, or perhaps hallucinated, that he saw, moving in the hills far below, large shapes, carrying large boxes, each with a large rod, or antennae, protruding from its end. Little Orf got up from where he was hiding, behind the dirt mound. Across the model city from him, Tad did the same. "Aw, what'd you do that for? I wasn't gonna hurt him!" Orf adopted that whine he always did when he was begging. "Whaddya mean? I thought he was yours!" Tad's facial tentacles showed surprise. "It wasn't mine." Orf looked at Tad. Tad looked back at Orf. Then they both looked up, at the small point of light fading into the sky. Then they both turned and ran home. -Jim Owens <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>

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E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank