The woman stared down at the man who lay on the grass. She was dressed in a short white robe. Behind her stood a man dressed in a similar fashion. There was a look of curiosity on her beautiful face, but the man looked doubtful.
"This man is a savage. Not fit for our service," said the man.
"Kregen is a world of savagery. There are many situations where a civilized man must fail because he doesn't understand savagery. This man understands what it means to be a savage. That is why he is valuable," said the woman.
The man shook his head. His lips twisted into a scowl. "Savages are too difficult to control. Their minds are too narrow. Besides, we can recruit any savage we need from Kregen's native population. Recruit and discard."
The woman turned and gazed fully into the man's eyes. For a moment it appeared as if she were looking at a fool. The man recoiled from her momentary disdain.
"Richart, have you studied this man's readings?" was all she said.
The man grimaced. "Readings are not always a predictor of success, Maeve, no matter how promising they appear to be."
Maeve looked down at the man's unconscious body. He was
a bronze skinned human, a member of the human race. His hair
was long and black, and under his closed eyelids his eyes were just as
dark. He had a short, thick, muscular body that had always
known hardship in his twenty odd years of life. His face was broad
with prominent cheekbones and slightly slanted eyes. His
lips were full and sensuous, perhaps they would have been sensitive on the face of a less hard man. He was naked, lying on the ground as relaxed as a babe.
"Behavioral kinetic analysis indicates that he is an actuator. He can get things done. It merely is a matter of getting him to do the things we wish to have done," said the beautiful Maeve. "His psychodymanic matrix indicates the potential for growth. Along several different avenues of development. His potential to actualize said development is very realistic."
"His morality quotient is low, as fitting a savage. He places a tribal value on human life, including the lives of other apims. In some ways he is no more benevolent than a Kataki," said the man.
"So we require benevolence in our savapims? I think not all the time. We require obedience and success! Those are the goals we must assign this man."
"They will never accept him in Aphrasoe!" Richart barked.
"I agree. That is why I will observe him before I decide whether it would be proper to bring him to Aphrasoe. I have placed him in a physical environment that is very similar to his native setting. Let's see how he does," suggested Maeve with a smile.
Richart moved his head negatively, then shrugged before the determination in the woman's clear blue eyes.
"An experiment, then," he muttered in acquiesce. "What is the apim's name?"
"Cat Smiling," said Maeve with a small, victorious smile.
He stood up in the semi darkness, trembling in the cool pre dawn air,
around for something that was familiar, something that could tell him where he
was. He was known among his people for his sharp eyes, and even in the
darkness he could see better than most of the men of his band. He looked and
saw nothing that was familiar, and though he was a warrior of twenty five
seasons, began to tremble because of a discomfort that came from more than just the cool air.
It was not long before he was done with trembling. His innately
sprang into effect. He took stock of his situation. He was totally naked. His long black hair hung down, unrestrained, to his buttocks. He had no weapons near him, and that was the thing that disturbed him most.
He heard the rustling of grass, but it was a grass that smelled
different from the
grass that grew on the great plains on which he had been born . The air carried stranger scents, and in it was an odor that seemed a mixture of plants and things that he didn't know. Cat Smiling frowned because he was displeased at all these
new things. He was displeased because he didn't know where he was, and he was unarmed in a place he did not know.
The gentle wind blew the hair from his face. In all his
life he had never cut his
hair. It fell around his head and body like a blanket. Cat Smiling brushed
his hair back and took a deep breath. He was grateful that the air was clean and
good. This was a sign that the Great One had not abandoned him.
With nothing else to do and feeling no danger at the moment, Cat
dropped to a sitting position on the grass and began to braid his hair. He had
no leather thong to tie it so he twisted the ends of his braids and tied them with
the twisted strands. When this was done he remained in a cross legged
position for something to happen. Most of all he waited for the Sun to rise
because he believed that with the rising of the Sun all questions would be
Presently, as he sat quietly, a thought occurred to him.
He lifted his hand and ran
his forefinger over his right earlobe. The shell earrings he had taken from a
Mexican trader were gone though the holes in his lobe were still there. His
nakedness was complete.
When the sun rose in the sky, Cat Smiling was fully awake.
It would have
better had he been sleeping because the sun that rose was not the sun he knew
to be the home of the Great Spirit. It was more red than anytime Cat Smiling had ever seen before, and it was larger than expected. The light that sprang
from its face was tinged with red. Cat Smiling wondered if the Sun was
bleeding. Panic froze his mind. Was the world was ending?
Nothing bad happened. As the Comanche warrior waited the
sun rose up in the
sky, brilliantly casting its pinkish light over the world. There was no
destruction, no death, so Cat Smiling let fear escape from his mind and
began to wonder again at the strangeness of this place he was now in.
Was he having a vision? Perhaps, he was dreaming, though he did not feel like he was in a dream. And if this was a vision it was more vivid than the wonderful vision he had had upon attaining manhood. Besides, he couldn't remember beginning a vision quest.
Old Coyote Fang had urged Cat Smiling to follow the trail of the Shaman. The young Comanche warrior had smiled his catlike smile at this suggestion and had replied to the wise old man that he preferred the warpath.
The grass was yellow, tinged rose by the sun's reddish glare.
rose to his feet and walked in a circle. He touched the grass and looked afar. Everything was a great plain, dotted by sparse trees and an occasional big rock. This sort of landscape was something he was accustomed to. It made him feel more at home.
He had toyed with the idea that he had gone beyond the Sun to the Land
Happy Dead. This could not be true, however, because there were too many
things about the situation that were wrong. For instance, where was his horse?
Under no circumstances did he believe that had he been killed in battle his
brothers and friends would not have killed his favorite pony to carry him into the
Land of the Happy Dead. Yet there was no horse here.
Nor did he have weapons. The Great Spirit would have allowed him
to take his
weapons with him. Additionally, he was hungry, and this land was no more
eager to give him food than the plains he lived on with his people. There was
no sea of buffalo for him to hunt, at least none that he could see, and without
buffalo there could be no paradise for a Comanche warrior.
Instead he was naked, set adrift in a new land under a new Sun with
needs and limitations that he had under the old Sun. He felt a sense of being reborn. Under a new Sun. Then, his practical Comanche nature began to take over. He laughed at his predicament. There was a philosophical slant to his nature that told him it was better to be reborn in a man's body than in that of a babe.
Cat Smiling was hungry. There was no point in remaining
still. He set
out to scout the area to see what animals he could find to eat.
When the green sun came up Cat Smiling was stupefied.
Two Suns in the
sky was something he had never imagined in all his days. His people considered
the Sun to be a great spirit. Some thought it was the Great Spirit. Others
thought it was the home of the Great Spirit. Cat Smiling had rarely been
concerned with religious ideas. He had always thought that those ideas were for
old men such as Old Coyote Fang. Not being able to fight, old men had the time to think about those things.
Cat Smiling was thinking about those things now. There were
spirits in this sky. Somehow the green seemed to clash with the red, yet when
the light settled on the tall grass there was a harmonious blend. The Comanche
warrior shook his head and grunted. What he needed was a horse! A man could think better with a horse under him.
Cat Smiling squeezed his eyes shut tightly. He breathed deeply and slowly. These things had been taught to him by the old shaman. When his mind had cleared, he determined to focus on the familiar things such as the plains and prairie about him, and pay wary attention to the unfamiliar things. With that decision made he still needed a horse.
He found no horse that day. Instead he spent his time weaving
small ropes of
grass and setting traps for the small animals whose sign he saw. This was a land that had grass hens and burrowing animals just as the plains and prairies of his old home had. It was not until the next day that he caught and killed a small animal. It was similar, but not identical, to the small animals that he knew from his old home. He found a sharp stone and cut the animal. He didn't bother to start a fire; instead; he ate it raw.
He found a larger stone and made a crude knife out of it. Later he made a stone axe.
Over head he saw a dove. Its markings were curious.
It was a brown dove with white spots, a sort of pinto, and this made the
Comanche smile because pinto horses were so favored among his people.
There was another thing curious about the dove.
This was that it seemed to enjoy flying in a great circle over his head. It didn't do this all the time, but did it at certain times of the day. Cat Smiling wondered if it were a spirit bird, but after he determined that it wasn't a threat of any kind, he went back to the work of making tools and weapons.
The weather was not uncomfortable for a man used to outdoor hardships.
With inferior tools it was difficult and tedious to skin and cure the hides
of the small beasts he killed. Always, he looked out on the plains for buffalo,
but he never saw any. Soon he decided it was time to move on.
One of the reasons he had not moved on before was that he hated to walk.
Comanche ever walked when he could ride. Cat Smiling had no horse,
and he saw no sign of horses in the small distance that he had walked. So he
began to walk in a search to find a horse more than anything else.
Cat smiling sat by a small stream that cut through the tall grass. In a rare moment of relaxation, he was able to turn his practical mind away from the pressing business of survival and turn it to the more pleasant activity of remembering his family. Already, at twenty five summers, Cat Smiling had taken two wives. He summoned up memories of his wives, his sons and even his somewhat less important daughters.
His head, usually held high and proud, sagged a bit as he thought of his family. He didn't know for sure but he felt that they were far, far away. Perhaps, he would never see them again, unless they came to this place where he was. The sudden deadly quiet of loneliness overcame him. In the quiet, Cat Smiling steeled himself with the stoicism of a barbarian, men who needed to endure to survive.
Eventually, his misery passed. Though his eyes were closed he no longer saw the faces of his sons. He heard a cry of a bird, and looking up he saw the pinto dove flying in circles overhead. Emotion welled up in his thick chest and he gasped, or was it a sob. He rose to his feet quickly and shook his head clear of entangling emotions. It may be that he would never see his family again, but there was life to be lived in this new strange place. Certainly, that had been the message of the spirit in the pinto dove.
He could only do what was in his power to do. Though he was lost now, he set himself to do what he could to make the best of it.
After several days he began to find the track of large beasts.
Most of them
were grazers. On the fringes of the herd he found the tracks of predators.
The size of the tracks warned Cat Smiling that he didn't want to meet any of
these predators without weapons. From then on he was more careful where he
There was something strange about the tracks. So many tracks
individual animals spoke of many feet. Too many feet for any animal Cat
Smiling had ever seen. He squatted by a set of tracks, and studying them for a
long time he was forced to come to the conclusion that this animal had
more than four legs.
The bird continued to follow him over the past several days. The Comanche began to grow fond of the bird. Sometimes it flew close enough for Cat Smiling to see it more clearly. Soon it began to remind Cat Smiling of his favorite horse at home, a pinto called Grass Burner, so when he regarded the bird he did so with amusement and favor and called it Little Grass Burner.
Though it drifted closer at times, the bird kept a respectable distance away from Cat Smiling. This distance widened more after it had seen the Comanche bring down a small rodent with a thrown stone. Cat Smiling noticed that the bird kept a greater distance away and nodded with satisfaction. It was good that the creatures in this new place be wary of Cat Smiling.
When the bird was not with him Cat Smiling assumed that it was
feeding. When it returned, the Comanche was a bit happier than his usual grim
self because it had become something of a companion for him.
There was a time when a great hawk appeared in the sky and circled above
Comanche. Cat Smiling was not afraid for himself, but wondered if the hawk
would kill the pinto bird. It was a tense moment as Cat Smiling watched the two
birds circle each other. Nothing happened. They seemed to ignore each other
and eventually the hawk went away.
Cat Smiling thought the pinto bird had a large spirit protecting it. This brought the bird into more favor with the Comanche. One could never have to many friends among the spirits.
The struggle to survive continued. After a week, Cat Smiling
came upon a
group of men.
Since he had started his journey across the plains, Cat Smiling had
with the utmost caution. Several times he had avoided the sign of what he felt
was a large predator. Always, he moved as quietly as possible and kept low in
the tall grass. Water holes were circled several times before he went to drink.
Kills were eaten raw. The caution he exercised was the same caution he would have used if he had been stranded alone in his own country. Though he saw sign of potential enemy, no enemy had appeared, and Cat Smiling wondered for the thousandth time where he was because this was such a strange place to be in.
Then, one day he heard the voices of men. Immediately he
dropped into the tall
grass and froze. From the sound of the voices they were at least fifty feet away and approaching. They were coming around a small hill dotted with a few gnarled trees. Cat Smiling scurried into a depression nearby which was crowned by an old broken log.
The voices came closer. Cat Smiling grasped his stone knife tightly.
heard men talking to each other, rough voices speaking a language he didn't
know. There was the sound of strange animals, snorting and mewling, and
occasionally he heard the plaintive cry of a man or woman. He heard the slap of
a whip and the cry was stilled. Cat Smiling dared to raise his head high enough
to spy upon this party and what he saw he could scarcely believe.
Men with the heads of birds, walking upright with weapons of iron and
shirts. Other men with animal heads, some of them fully furred, and a few of
them sported tails. There were a few normal men among them. These looked like
white men, being fairer of skin than the People. All of them were armed with
metal weapons, long knives, big axes and the bow. A few of the mounted men
carried long spears.
Strange as the beastlike men were, Cat Smiling trained his eyes on the
that they were using as mounts. His astonishment and fear were drained away by his exultation of seeing a riding animal. He looked upon these beasts with instant
envy and almost rose from his hiding place. At the last moment he caught
himself and dropped back into the grassy depression.
Except for the odd appearance of the animal men, and the even stranger
appearance of their long legged, horned mounts, there was little else astonishing
about the party. In one glance, Cat Smiling recognized it as a raiding party. There was bounty strapped to some pack animals, and captives tethered to each other stumbled in the rear of the party. As they passed him without noticing his
hiding place, the Comanche's chest relaxed, and he grew calmer with the
realization that he was not going to be caught by these aliens.
Truly these beings were spirit beings of a very potent kind. Fortunately for Cat Smiling his awe at these beast shaped men was countered by his flat line practicality. He breathed slowly so they would not hear him as they passed.
When they had passed on, he sat up and considered his position.
poorly armed and they were many, but they had something he wanted. To be truthful they had many things he wanted, but chiefly, he wanted one of their animals. No Comanche walked while he could ride, and if those "men" could ride those strange beasts, then he could too.
So with Comanche cunning he resolved to steal one of them.
First, he followed them. Their captives slowed them down.
thought that these riders would have been smarter to put their slaves on beasts,
but was thankful that these strange 'men' simply dragged them behind with iron
tethers. That gave the Comanche time to study the riders and their beasts.
One thing that helped him was the wonderful feeling of lightness that made him run faster, jump higher and feel better all around. Never a man to walk when he could ride, Cat Smiling didn't mind walking when each step was as light as a feather. He didn't even mind running which he thought was for lesser men. He had always been a man of quick reflexes, but now he was astounded at how rapidly his hands and feet moved.
The animals the strangers were riding was different from the ponies
Cat Smiling knew in his home. Their legs were much longer and they
had a horn sprouting from their heads. The shape of their body was
not as full as Comanche ponies. Cat Smiling paid particular
attention to the way the riders handled their horned
beasts. After a day or so of study he thought that he could handle the beasts
as well as their riders.
He memorized the tracks of these beasts, and by them he estimated their
weight. He noted their stride and calculated their speed and endurance
observation and experience.
All the time he studied the strangers he gave no thought to the captives. It was a way of life that some people were masters and some people were captives. Cat Smiling had taken many captives himself during the many raids he had been on. His only interests in this odd party were the riding beasts and their weapons.
When he thought he was ready he decided to steal one of the mounts.
He went in at night. These strange men had guards posted,
but they were no
obstacle to the Comanche. His people had generations of experience at stealing
horses. It was one of the first things a warrior learned how to do.
He was a little distressed that he had very little weaponry. He
had that stone knife
he had made out of a piece of flint he had found in his travels. It was pointed
and sharp, but not a masterpiece. He also had the stone axe that he had made. He needed desperately to steal weapons as well as a mount.
He wormed his way through the grass, into the wind until he paused behind the first sentry. It was not a man who sat on a large stone a few feet before him. It was some creature that stood like a man but had the head of a bird. Its vulture like head was leaning forward as the creature seemed to be dozing. A strange, ugly odor wrinkled the Comanche's nose. At this point Cat Smiling was hesitant about what to do. If this creature had been a man, Cat Smiling could have easily killed him, but since it was not a man, the Comanche was uncertain as to whether the techniques that could kill a man would work on the creature. He might attempt to pass the bird-man, an act he was sure would work on an ordinary dozing man, but again he was uncertain as to the powers of this strange creature. Would it awaken as he crept past? Cat Smiling froze with the paralysis of uncertainty.
Beyond the bird-man were animals he could ride. He had observed these odd beasts-like-men from afar, and from those observations he drew memories that reminded him that these creatures were of flesh and blood. Once he had seen one of the bird-men stub his clawed foot, and another of the beast-men, a creature with fox like features wore a bandage over what had to be a wound in its arm. No, he was not certain exactly what these creatures were or what the extent of their abilities were, but he knew they could be hurt. He decided that if that were true then they could be killed.
Silently, he stole up behind the bird-man and hit it as hard as he could on its vulture like head. Bones cracked and the creature fell over without a sound. Cat Smiling checked the creature's limp form and deduced it was dead. Further examination discovered a knife, a long knife and a short bow. Cat Smiling confiscated these weapons and tossed his stone axe away.
Feeling much more confident, the Comanche continued to stalk his way toward the long legged mounts. Trained from early childhood to be a horse stealer, Cat Smiling drew no attention from the sleeping party. There was another sentry on the other side of the camp, but he, too, was dozing. Cat Smiling worked his way over to this sentry, a person he was happy to discover was a man and killed him quickly with an expert stab into his kidney.
Squatting by the body, Cat Smiling robbed it of a metal bladed axe. Even in the dark he saw that it was a fine weapon. Much better than his discarded stone axe. He stripped the body of some belts and harnesses so he could carry his weapons more efficiently. All this was done quietly and quickly. When he was done he crept over to the horned mounts.
The Comanche handled the horned beasts with care. He had observed how their masters had handled them, and he mimicked their handling with expert ease. He knew the beast he wanted, a great spotted beast that had reminded him of the pinto ponies that his people loved so much. When he found this beast, he rubbed his hands over its hide and spoke to it softly as he would speak to a favorite horse in his own herd.
Lightning cracked overhead. A storm was nearly upon the camp. Using the metal knife he had stolen, Cat Smiling cut the spotted beast from its tethers. He leaped on its back and directed it out of the small herd.
A light rain fell upon the ground as he eased his prize away from the camp. Lightning blitzed across the sky again and several of the men awoke in the camp. Many of the captives woke as well, and the camp was soon fully aroused. It didn't take them long to discover the two dead sentries. When they did a commotion broke out in the camp, and as he rode away, Cat Smiling heard the rough shouts of men and beast-men as they angrily searched for the foe men and thieves who had invaded their camp.
There was already two moons in the sky, and when a third raced across the heavens, the world was lit up as if it were daylight. In this new light, the men of the camp saw Cat Dancing as he rode away. Immediately, they leaped at their mounts and went out after him.
As lightning screeched across the sky, Cat Smiling lamented that he had been betrayed by the great Thunder Bird. Most Comanches thought that the Thunder Bird, that great spirit of the storm, was neutral toward the People, but this night the storm had awakened Cat Smiling's enemies and had helped to show them where he was. He nearly cursed the Thunder Bird, but this insanity passed as he realized that the storm was doing what it must, and the Thunder Bird had no concern at all over the small people that lived on the plains. They were beneath his notice, and the great spirit of the storm went about his affairs oblivious to the needs of the people. It wasn't personal.
Still, Cat Smiling had always felt a strange affinity to the storm and its great spirit, the Thunder Bird. He looked up into the sky, so eerily lit by three moons and intermittent, bold lightning, in the hope that he might see the Thunder Bird. Was the Thunder Bird a powerful spirit on this strange world?
The little moon hurtled swiftly across the sky. In the wake of its passage the night grew darker again, but the warriors behind him were pursuing him with shouts and curses. The Comanche turned away from looking at the storm to smiling at the enemy charging him. There were about ten to fifteen riders coming on. Cat Smiling dug his heels into the spotted beast. The long legged, horned beast sprang into a run as the air split with a wild Comanche scream.
Thunder and lightning split the sky and rain hammered the ground. The horned beast ran like the wind. The Comanche, like all his race, was a superb horseman, and it was a quick adjustment to mastering this new beast. He turned the beast along a path of escape he had already mapped out in his mind. Now, he was grateful for the storm because it made it more difficult for his pursuers to chase him. Perhaps, the great Thunder Bird was not so disinterested in one small Comanche after all.
He was leaving them further behind. The world split open with another lightning strike, and Cat Smiling lifted his eyes to the sky. In the preternatural flash of power, the Comanche saw the pinto dove that had been following him reel in the sky and begin to fall to the earth. It had been struck by the bolt. It might be already dead, but when it struck the ground it would surely be killed. If the impact of landing didn't kill it then the hooves of the 'horse'men pursuing him would trample the little bird into bloody mush because it was falling directly in their path. Cruel laughter bubbled in Cat Smiling's chest as he made an quick decision. He was never sure why he decided to help the dove. Perhaps it was because the dove had been with him since he had first come to this strange place, and it was the closest thing to a companion he had. Cat Smiling was not a merciful man, but for this falling bird he knew mercy.
He kicked his mount to greater speed. His heels then caught the back of the beast and he raised himself from his seat. It would be close. The storm brought light to the ever darkening sky and in that split second, Cat Smiling saw the dove clearly. His brown hand streaked out in the rain and caught Little Grass Burner before it hit the ground.
In that last uproarious bolt of lightning, Cat Smiling saw something he had never thought he would ever see. A great bird stretched across the storm laden sky. Red, Blue and Green were its colors, flashing white were its eyes, filled with the menace of living lightning. It was the Thunder Bird, and in his amazement Cat Smiling nearly dropped the dove.
He chanced a glance behind him and saw that the creatures riding after him had not gained any ground. He kept to his plan. Rounding a sharp curve in the path, he plunged down a small slope and halted his beast in a small growth of bush and trees. The posse of semi men rode their beasts around the same curve and kept going, not noticing that Cat Smiling had left the trail. Again, Cat Smiling was grateful for the storm.
The Comanche looked up into the sky again. There was no sign of the Thunder Bird. Had it been his imagination? Had he seen the great spirit of the Thunder Bird? More importantly, had it actually deigned him worthy to aid?
As fast as it had come, the storm was passing. Cat Smiling turned his new mount toward a trail he had picked out previously. As his enemies rode hard in the opposite direction, the Comanche found his way to safety.
Later, as the suns rose in the sky, the dove in Cat Smiling's hand regained its senses and stared up at the man from the grasp of his strong hand. There was something very different about this bird. It must be a spirit bird. Not as powerful as the Thunder Bird, but there was something otherworldly about it. He opened his hand and the pinto dove launched itself into the sky.
It rose into the morning light and circled around a few times before flying away.
Cat Smiling laughed. A short, brutal laugh. He felt good. He was armed, mounted and ready to find his place in this new world.
"Well, what do you think now?" asked the woman, Maeve. She had a small smile of victory on her bold pink lips.
"An interesting demonstration, Maeve. I expected a demonstration of primitive skills and was not disappointed. I expected ruthlessness and was not disappointed. I didn't expect capricious mercy. Perhaps there is hope for this savage after all," replied the man in a musing tone.
"Capricious. I disagree. This man doesn't act capriciously. He is too utilitarian for that. He exhibited mercy because he accepted the dove as a companion. He showed an ability to socialize beyond his primary tribal/cultural bond-group."
"You may be right. Or it may be that it was a challenge to catch the dove out of the sky. He is a bold man. Such men do bold things," countered Richart.
Maeve laughed lightly. "You will give me nothing, Richart.
Perhaps, at the end of the experiment you will agree."