by Rod Hunsicker
copyright 7/15/01
all rights reserved

It was one of those nights with very little moonslight, and on Kregen that was a rare
occasion.   Two men stood in the shadows waiting for a third to arrive.   One of the
men was dark and somber and wore a Savanti sword at his waist.   The other man was
tall and thin with a scholarly appearance  unless one looked closely at his cold, blue
eyes.   These eyes told of a man who would never be limited to a paper world.

A comfortable silence existed between the two men.   It was broken by the footsteps
of  an approaching third man.

The meeting place was outside the city of Aphrasoe.   The odor of riding animals
drifted out from the nearby stable, and a riding trail branched out from the small hostel
which housed the occasional overnight guest.   At the moment there were no guests
at the hostel except for the two men who waited.

The third man walked briskly up the well manicured walkway toward the other two.  He
was younger then they were.  His movements were nervous, almost jerky.   He was a
handsome man of medium height and weight, dressed in the casual garments of the

His pace slowed as he came close to the other men.   He cast a nervous glance to the
man with the sword and then turned his attention to the tall, thin man.

"Lahal, Garvos," the young man said, hoping that he was successfully hiding his

With an impatient hand toss the thin man returned the greeting.  "Do you have
anything important to tell me?"

"Their project continues on schedule.   The subject they brought from Earth still
lives," replied the young man.

Garvos nodded.   "It seems they made the right choice for their project."

"Yes, whatever that project is," remarked the young man.

"You still don't have complete knowledge of their project?" asked Garvos.

"Not complete.   I know, as you do, that they are testing out a new selection device.
I'm not sure what the criteria are for their selection," came the reply.

"I have some ideas," said Garvos.   He was quiet for a minute or so, then pressed on.
"Dolsen, you have known Maeve for a long time, haven't you."

The question was rhetorical.   Dolsen, the young man, answered it anyway.  "Yes,
since we were children.  I know Richart well, too."

"How would you classify them?"

"Richart is intelligent and technologically savvy.   As you know he spent a short duty
as a savapim.   He's tough and he knows how to get things done."

"And the girl?"

"She's brilliant!   A gifted theorist.   Combine her theoretical gifts  with Richart's
practicality and you  form a very efficient  team."

"So I understand," mused Garvos.    "I don't think their project is as mysterious as you
do.  It is obvious that they are investigating a new method of selecting better
savapims, perhaps even entrants into higher Savanti society.  At least, that is what she told the Board of Research.   I would like to know her exact criteria for selection, though."

Dolsen frowned and looked uncomfortable.   "Why don't you just ask her?"

"Why don't you," countered Garvos, an edge in his voice.  A thorn in the flower bed
of Aphrasoe.

Dolsen laughed nervously.   "Why don't I?   Why don't I indeed."

"Get a better idea of her criteria.   Get a better idea of the mechanism she uses to
select.   The next time we meet I want to be supplied with more information."   Garvos
bore a look of serious expectancy.

"I'll try," replied Dolsen.

"Yes, do that," said Garvos, "try."

Dolsen swallowed the spit that had been accumulating in his mouth and turned
sharply on his heels.   He walked away as quickly as he could.   When he was gone,
Garvos turned to the swordsman behind him.

"What do you think, Inomoroti?"

"That boy is too mild to be our agent," said the Scythian.   He stepped closer to
Garvos.   A stray light caught his brutal face, and Garvos wondered how badly scarred
that face would be if it were not for the regenerative powers bestowed upon the Scythian by the pool of Vanti.  "Mild is a word I never would expect to issue from your mouth, Inomoroti.  You may be right, but I have a hold over this mild, young man, and he is a strong acquaintance of Maeve and Richart."

Inomoroti shrugged.   The savapim stood about six feet tall.  There was an aura of
raw physical power about his compact muscular form.   The casual Savanti clothing he
wore seemed incongruous on his warrior's body, and looking at him an alert observer
might wonder if the  single sword that he was wearing then  could ever be enough for
this man.

"You may be right.   I've talked to this Richart.   He's combat competent for a Savanti.
He is popular with the regular savapims.   They respect that he's been in the field, and
he's a naturally friendly fellow."

"I'm not very interested in his combat abilities, Inomoroti.  This is Aphrasoe!
What is interesting is that he has the ability to make Mauve's
theories real.   That is his true worth."

"So you say, Garvos," said the Scythian with a curt nod.

"I understand, Inomoroti.  The old war dog like you  can't resist eyeballing  every new
young hound to cross his path.   Keep an eye on this young dog, Inomoroti.   At least
while you are still in Aphrasoe."

"As you wish, Garvos," said the Scythian with a smile.

Valcon the Blade sat on a large flat stone.   Leaning forward he rested his bearded chin on one large fist.    There was a glint of gold around his throat.  Tucked into his tunic was the golden head of a zhantl which signified that Valcon was a hrypaktun, one of those more renowned of Kregen mercenaries.

He was talking to another man.   This man sat cross-legged on battered down prairie grass, nearly naked under the midday heat of Kregen's two suns.   Cat Smiling, a Comanche from Earth, was very different from Valcon.   Where the hrypaktun was big, blond, bearded and friendly, the Comanche was short, dark, smooth skinned and reserved.   Perhaps, in these differences the beginning of a friendship was forming.

There was no doubt that Valcon was interested in Cat Smiling.   He had halted his journey north to the lands of his own Clan so that the Comanche could rest and heal from the vicious knife wounds that had been inflicted upon him in a recent fight with one of Valcon's men.

Valcon drew a knife from his weapons harness and tossed it to Cat Smiling.   The Comanche caught it deftly by its handle.

"The knife you are holding is a simple fighting knife.  One side sharp, small cross hilt, handle long enough to fit comfortably in a one handed saber grip.   It has a six inch blade with a clip tip.   It doesn't seem much next to swords and spears.  That is deceiving.  In the hands of an expert it is very deadly.  Especially, in close quarters," said Valcon.

Cat Smiling said nothing.   He waited for the big, bearded man to continue.

"Cat Smiling, you have marvelous skill as an archer.   I might be able to teach you a few things, but I doubt I could improve your aim or efficiency.   The bow is a much bigger part of your life than just a fighting weapon.   From what you've told me of your people, the bow is necessary as a hunting tool as well as a weapon.  I have noticed that you are rarely far from your bow."

The Comanche nodded.

"Your skill with a knife is not nearly as good.   Mation the Cut was a superior knife man.   You killed him because he was foolish enough to play with you.   I'm not belittling your talents.  You have quick reflexes and good instincts.   I was impressed by your instincts most of all.   You chose the best time to charge Mation.   Usually, when you charge a skilled fighter like you did against Mation the results of the charge are disastrous.   There are many ways to deal with the all out charge.  Yours succeeded because you timed it perfectly.   That's instinct."

Cat Smiling remained silent while Valcon talked.   The Comanche had discovered early that Valcon was a man who liked to talk.   He was also a man who said something when he talked so Cat Smiling didn't mind listening to him.

"You  carry an ax.   I would like to test your skill with that weapon as well.   The ax you carry was superbly made.   It is a costly weapon.  I suppose you took it off a fallen enemy," said Valcon with a smile.

Again, the Comanche nodded.    Valcon laughed lightly and leaned back.   He held out his hand and Cat Smiling tossed the knife back to him.   Holding the knife in the Comanche's full view he switched it from a saber grip to a reverse grip in the twinkling of an eye.   Then he did it again, this time much slower so Cat Smiling could see how it was done.   He tossed the knife from one hand to the other and back again.   Then he returned the blade to the Comanche.

"Practice that for a while.    You won't win a lot of fights if your only attack is a reverse grip stab.   Your wounds are getting better.  While you are healing practice the grips I have showed you," said Valcon.

Hard black eyes stared at the clansman.   "Why do you help me?" asked the Comanche.

Valcon shrugged.  "Several reasons.  If you stay with my little band I want you to fight as well as you are capable.   Second, I like you a little bit and don't mind helping you survive.   Most of all, I see potential in you.  I think you can be a first class fighter.  Something in me  wants to see that happen.   I guess that's the artist in me.  I'd like to see a rose bloom, thorns and all."

Cat Smiling had a natural suspicion of the white man.   His people had dealt with bearded men before and had seldom enjoyed the dealing.   Cat Smiling knew that the white man usually had a different code of living than did the Comanche.  For this reason they couldn't be trusted.  Something was not so different about this white man.  Valcon the Blade acted and lived as no white man Cat Smiling had ever heard of.   For this reason the Comanche had decided to take a chance and trust the clansman.   At least a little bit.

"I will practice, Valcon the Blade."

"Good,"  said Valcon.  He rose to his feet and walked over to his nearby zorca.   "I'm going to get back to my camp.   My people are eager to push on.  I think you'll be able to do so soon.  They'll be glad to hear that."

As the clansman rode away Cat Smiling started to toss the knife from one hand to the other.   When the pinto dove circled above him he looked up, watched it for a while, and then returned to his practice.


"It seems as if your young savage is a very lucky man," said Richart as they watched the meeting
between Valcon and Cat Smiling through the eyes of a pinto dove.  "I've heard of this Valcon the Blade.  He will be a fine teacher."

"As a theoretical scientist I've never been happy with the concept of luck, Richart.      I prefer that
there are more predictable elements underlying his success," said Maeve.

"That is the security of cause and effect, Maeve.   Sometimes I think that security is the goal of science, rather than good works," mused Richart.

Maeve smiled at her friend.   "And I think that technical scientists such as yourself are more
concerned with that kind of security.   Cause and effect is not all that I was talking about.   The
elements I referred to might not be aligned in a cause and effect sequence.   My selection process
goes deeper than that and so must my analysis procedures.   The difference between my selection
process and the standard selection process that has been implemented for the past thousand years is that my process hopes to isolate circular elements that bring fruition or success to a process through the endeavors of one significant individual.   I believe Cat Smiling is such an individual."

Richart sighed.   He sat down on a nearby stool and said, "He is a survivor.  I'll give him that.   Most people cast onto Kregen shores naked and unarmed would have died within the first week."  He saw the frown on her face and quickly raised his hands to wave off her next comment.  " I know, Maeve, I know, this is about more than just survival."

She came over and put her hand on his broad shoulder.   "Everything we do must be more than just a matter of survival."    What more she was going to say was interrupted by a soft bell that announced the arrival of someone  who wished to enter the observatory chamber.

"Who could that be?   This is a restricted area," wondered Maeve.   She pushed a few buttons and
identified the visitor.  "It is Garvos."

Richart snorted.   "It was expected.   Nosey, isn't he?"

"We'll have to let him in," said Maeve.   In the society of Aphrasoe there was little official formality, but within that informality was a formality that always defines the structure of any human society, even one as homogeneous as the Savanti, and inherent in those informal rules was the insistence that Garvos, as a respected elder, be admitted.

He entered with nervous energy.  A thin, rapier of a man.  Garvos wore his usual dark colors in a city that favored white or brilliant hues.   As he stepped into the room with an air of authority his pale eyes swept over everything.   When he was done he turned to Maeve and smiled coldly.

"Hard at work, I see," he said.   Aphrasoe was a city of non violence.  Garvos was no exception.
There was not a hint of violence about him.  Nothing physical to be certain.   Despite that standard impression of non violence,  there was something disturbing about the man.   Perhaps it was his intensity, his dedication to his goals, either personal or the goals of the Savanti.  His was not the intensity of the bulldog, rather the intensity of the ever hungry wolf hunting  forever for the perfect meal animal.

"Work is our pleasure," said Maeve with a faint smile.   She looked at Richart and was fortified by his quiet strength.

"Very good.  That is how it should be," commented Garvos.   "How is your work going?"

"Proceeding well.   Its an extended project and not expected to be complete early," replied Maeve.

"You can understand my interest, Maeve.  For a long time,  I was coordinator of the savapim program and still am very interested in its development.   We suffered a setback with the Englishman," said Garvos.

Garvos glided over to the view-wall.   He pointed to the image of Cat Smiling sitting on a stone,
practicing with his knife.  "Is this the subject?"

"Yes.   A Earthman."

"Ah, like the previous one!   The failure!"

Garvos studied the Comanche for more than a minute.   Maeve turned and shrugged her slender shoulders toward Richart.

"You are very secretive about this project, Maeve.   The Savanti are an open society," said Garvos softly.

"There is nothing covert about this operation except that which is necessary as defined by the parameters of experimental  procedure.   Because of the multi-dimensional nature of the work it is necessary that as few people as possible be conscious of its particulars," Maeve explained.

Garvos turned around and nodded.  "I understand that.   The brief you submitted to the Council
mentioned a quasi teleological premise.  If design, purpose or destiny is the first causality, then our talk might be part of the causality loop.   I intuit that all this is part of your research.  I hope my interest in your project doesn't compromise it in any way."

"I hope so too, " remarked Richard dryly.

Garvos  spared Richart a glance.  "How sweet!   Support  from the craftsman behind the thinker."

Richart absorbed the moment of hostility with a short laugh.  He refrained from continuing it by
remaining silent.

"I trust that the practicality of the master craftsman keeps the thinker bound to the theme of the project.   That project is to produce  more superior savapim.   I have little use for theories and projects that do not contribute to the Mission of the Savanti.  I know we all share that concern.

"What can you tell me about the subject?"  asked Garvos.

Maeve walked over to the image on the wall.   She pointed to Cat Smiling with an open hand.

"Generally, a 'superior'  specimen.   Very efficient, perhaps brilliant.   I can't be certain about the full extent of his plural intelligence without bringing him in for more standard testing.   Well above average in strength, reflexes and stamina.   Senses are at human perfection."

"Psychological profile?"

"Very well adjusted.   He has no outstanding deficiencies that might initiate deviate behavior.  No feelings of inferiority or need to express superiority.   Quiet mind, relates well to his peers.   Left alone in his natural environment he would have become a respected, successful war band leader with many wives and children.   His inherent superiority would have provided him with answers to most of the problems that might have arisen in his primitive world and society.  This is all assuming he would have survived the fatal situation that precipitated his call to Kregen."

"His response to being separated  from his natural environment?"

"He has responded well to the new environment.   All that is part of the experiment,"  said Maeve.

"Your experimental brief suggested a capacity for destiny.   Left alone on Earth he might have been important to the destiny of that planet.   Do you feel responsible for removing a potentially significant influence from that planet?"

"Not at all," said Maeve.   "I repeat, all that is part of the experiment.   Was it our experiment that initiated his removal from Earth or was it the inevitable result of a suspected destiny effect.  Perhaps his true destiny is on Kregen."

"I guess that is the question, isn't it?" said Garvos.   There was a rare, genuine smile on his hawkish features.

"Yes, Garvos, it is."  replied Maeve.

"And that his true destiny is congruent with that of the Mission."

Through out the exchange between Maeve and Garvos, Richart had been proud of his friend and
associate.   She stood proudly, her lithe, feminine form erect and somehow soft at the same time.   She had kept her voice controlled, never allowing more emotion that politeness to contour her answers.

"Very good," said Garvos.   "I will tell some of the other elders that your work is
proceeding well.   I thank you for your time and cooperation."  He bowed his head slightly.

"We appreciate your interest," said Maeve.   For a moment their eyes locked, their wills tested each other, and when she didn't lower her gaze, Garvos nodded in respect.   He spoke his farewells and left the room.

Richart let out a loud gasp.   "Well, that was a bit unpleasant.   Tough character, isn't he?"

"One of the few people in Aphrasoe whose presence is unsettling.   Not everyone can be pleasant.
He gets results from his efforts."

"So, he does.   If nothing else his little visit has cleared the air,"  noted Richart.

"I wonder," mused Maeve, "I wonder."

"You have a special interest in this one?"

Wrevo leaned against the wagon.   He was fond of leaning, Wrevo the Spear, and did so often.   To the casual observer he appeared a long, lazy beanpole of a man until the observer noticed the fire in his pale brown eyes.

"Yes," said Valcon.   "He has potential."

Wrevo shrugged.  "Perhaps he was only lucky against Mation the Cut."

Valcon laughed.  "I think you know better than that, sword dom.   He has the instincts.  He killed Mation through sheer will power.   His quick body kept him in the fight long enough for his will to wear the Cut down."

"Aye," Wrevo agreed, with a trace of a smile.   "I saw it too, Valcon.   True instinct.   He waited for the exact moment to strike.   The only moment he could strike and win.   Such instinct is priceless."

Valcon took a deep breath.   The heavy odor of the tall dry grass filled his head.   It had not rained for a week.   He looked up at the deep blue sky with piercing eyes.  He rubbed his face with his hands.

"Something else?" inquired Wrevo.   He had been   with Valcon for a long time.   He knew that the hrypaktun was a friendly man, often pausing to help others in need so it didn't surprise him that Valcon was helping the stranger.   What did surprise Wrevo was the serious commitment the Blade was investing in Cat Smiling.   There was more to the story.

Valcon smiled at the spear man.   "Something else?   Perhaps, a little.   Something I was told once," he said softly.

Wrevo waited for his friend to continue.

"You remember that old san we helped down in Paz.   His name was Rule Ki-tong or something like that," asked Valcon.

"Yeah, I remember him, Val.   A red headed Lohian.   We saved his ass from some fish-heads.   That was a long time ago," remembered the Spear.

"Yes, more than forty years ago.   A long time.   Something he told me has stayed with me all these years," said Valcon as he nodded toward Cat Smiling.   "You might think it strange, or that I'm foolish but I'll tell you anyway.

"He told me that I will meet a savage red man with uncut black hair.   He said that if I chose to do so, I might teach this man what I have learned."

"Nice of him to give you a choice," Wrevo remarked dryly.

Valcon laughed sharply.   "A choice that is no choice.   I am a simple man, Wrevo.   A wandering warrior.   Thinking about occult matters and the precognitive statements of wizards is just an entertainment for me.   Now I am faced with the actuality of such a  statement.   What should I do?   You see, my old sword dom, the choice is not really a choice at all."

"Not true, Val.  You could walk away.   Ride north to your Clan and leave the red man behind.   That's how simple it is," said Wrevo.

"Simple for you, Wrevo.   Perhaps, I am not as simple as I've always thought.   Perhaps, that old wizard put a spell on me.   Perhaps, there is more to this issue than either of us will ever know.  Or, perhaps, I make a leem out of a rast.   I need to forget about old wizards and concentrate on what I do know.   This red skinned fellow has a lot of raw potential, and if the truth be told, I like him.   It would be a sin to waste such potential," said Valcon.   He seemed to have reached a conclusion.

"I hope your gift to him won't turn sour," said Wrevo.

"Not if I am any judge of men.   There was love and loyalty in his eyes when he looked at his woman.   Sure,  she's a appealing wench if not for her leem scar, but I note that he rode into unknown danger for her.   If a man can feel love and loyalty then this is a man I can give something to," explained Valcon.

"I hope you are right, my dom of many years," said the Spear in a low voice.

Most of the time Cat Smiling was a silent, somber man.   He had been named by his uncle, a big, robust man whom everyone liked.   His name was a joke for his uncle was a joking man.   No one had ever seen a cat smile.  Neither a prairie pole cat or the mountain cougar, and if a cat were to smile his uncle had suggested that it would only be to show its teeth.

That was not entirely true of Cat Smiling.   He knew the value of being accepted by people.   His smiles were usually small, and he rarely showed his teeth, but he was often friendly to people and rarely argumentative.

There came a time when Valcon's group moved close to the Comanche camp.   When he was able to do so, Cat Smiling walked among the white people.   He and Eroin were introduced to the others by Valcon.  Cat Smiling had been relieved that no one had asked for obi.  He was not afraid to fight.  Simply, he thought the idea of fighting strangers over  dominance was foolish.   He thought a fight among men should develop naturally as a result of conflicting opinions or goals.  In regard to the right of one man to lead or dominate another, Cat Smiling believed that  personal matters should be settled  based on the conflict of the moment and not for the reason of bowing one's head to another on some sort of semi permanent basis.   Such servitude was reserved for slaves, and Cat Smiling wondered if obi was a way of making slaves of one's own people.  A man's ability to lead others should be a result of his being chosen to lead because he was successful at leading.  That is, successful at the hunt or at war.

Valcon had told Cat Smiling that there were elections among the clansmen.   This was some sort of leader selection process not related to obi.   Cat Smiling thought that was a good thing.

All the people in Valcon's group were apims.   Most of them were clansmen with the  two notable  exceptions of a tall muscular woman and a man who did not appear to be a warrior at all.   Valcon told him that the woman was a warrior, something called a Jikai Vuvushi.   She was attractive in a masculine way.  Her breasts  and legs were large and muscular, and she had more strength in her arms than Cat Smiling believed a woman could have.  Once he saw her hoist a big keg of water onto a wagon.   He doubted that many Comanche women could have done that.

She carried a full array of weapons.   Like all Kregans she was well armed.   Valcon assured him that she could use them skillfully.  Her name was Donni.

The other person who was not a warrior was some sort of storyteller.   Cat Smiling saw him writing on paper.   He did this frequently.   Valcon called him a stylor and historian.   His name was Shemura.   He had slightly slanted blue eyes and flaming red hair.   His country was far away and called Loh.

One person that Cat Smiling took an instant liking to was Hastan Opine, the small clansman who cared for the beasts.   The Comanche spent most of his time with this man, learning everything he could about zorcas and the other odd mounts that were in the remuda.   All Comanches were experts on horses, having learned to ride as soon as they walked, but Cat Smiling had an even deeper interest.  He shared this interest with Hastan, and the two became fast friends.   They would spend hours talking about zorcas, calsanies, and a clansmen mount called a vove that the Comanche had seen from afar when he had scouted the clansmen.   Hastan answered questions such as how much poundage a pack animal could carry, what was the best way to pack each type of beast and other important things like what obstacles on the trail would be troublesome to each mount or cause it to balk.   Back on Earth, the Comanche had a far more limited selection of mounts and pack animals, mostly ponies and mules, but on Kregen Cat Smiling learned that there was a plethora of beasts that served that purpose.   Knowing how to handle mounts and pack animals was essential to any Comanche, and Cat Smiling realized he had a lot to learn about the subject on Kregen.

Eroin blended well with Valcon's group.   The men seemed to respect her.  Part of this was because they knew that Cat Smiling was a tough man, and part of it was because of her leem scar.   Any woman who would fight a leem rated high in their estimate.   Eroin and Donni drifted together and became friends.

The brown and white dove had stayed with them.   Cat Smiling saw it sail above him in slow, lazy circles.   He thought that things were going well.


Eeshan lived far away from the majestic reed towers of Aphrasoe.   His home was a small cottage located in a semi rural area near the gray rock face wall that surrounded the Savanti valley.   He was old and lived alone, spending most of his time in the contemplation of subjects not related to the Great Mission of the Savanti.   This was allowed because of his old age and his many years of service.   He was as close to a retired person as a Savanti gets.

Maeve walked up the pathway to Eeshan's cottage.   Along the path grew wild flowers and ankle high grass.  She noted that there were no weeds so she knew that the old man had been tending his land.   The way she was walking appeared to be a saunter, but in truth she was hesitant about talking to her old teacher and was taking her time getting to his house.

Richart had wanted to go with her.   She had insisted on going alone.   She was seeing Eeshan on a personal matter and the presence of her good friend would have been a distraction.

As she came up upon the house she saw the many bird houses and perches that splayed out among Eeshan's garden.   Flying creatures of a multitude  of colors and species flitted about.   They chirped and sang a greeting to her, not alarmed at her presence, but definitely letting the old man know that someone was visiting him.   As it was, Eeshan opened the door before Maeve could knock.

"Well, Maeve, isn't this a pleasant surprise," he said pleasantly.   It was the middle of the morning.   It was the best time to visit Eeshan since he was an early riser and fully alert by mid morn.

"Lahal, Eeshan.  I hope I'm not intruding," she said softly, almost shyly.   As was always the case she felt a little in awe of his intellect and wisdom.   It was her sincere wish that she was not disturbing some project he might be working on.

Eeshan stepped out into the sunslight.   He wore a soft white shirt and duck trousers.   His feet were bare and he wiggled his toes in the grass.

"A visit from such a pretty girl is never an intrusion," he said with a laugh.   "Its a beautiful day, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is," agreed Maeve.   She took a step back and crinkled her nose.   She was a pretty girl with blue eyes and brown hair.   Like all of the Savanti, she was in excellent health.   They had all dipped in the regenerative, milky waters of Vanti's pool and emerged with an almost superhuman vitality.  Suddenly, she realized that she spent too much time in her laboratory.   Standing in the bright Kregen's bright sunslight she felt alive and natural.

Eeshan sat down on a nearby stool.   With a wave of his hand he invited her to sit beside him.   In the clear morning light, Maeve saw the age in the old san.   He had dipped in the pool at least two times, and was close to needing another immersion.   Despite his ancient age there remained a spark in his light brown eyes as he regarded her with expectation.   It did not occur to her that it was  odd that she thought of Eeshan as "san".   In Aphrasoe titles meant little, but Eeshan was so old, so filled with wisdom and so venerated that everyone thought of him as san.   In Kregish, san meant teacher or wizard, a person of great learning.

"How can I help you, my dear?" he asked lightly.

"Oh, Eeshan, how is it you think I need help," she replied with the same lightness.

"Oh, Maeve," he mocked lightly, "something in the heaviness in your step, the worry lines in your forehead.   And the time of the day you have chosen to visit.   I think if this were a social call you would have come later in the afternoon.   That is a better time for relaxation.    The morning is a time for work."

Maeve sighed and leaned back on the bench.   It was her habit to dress in white or pastel colors.   Now, she wore a soft, pale pink dress with a v-neck, short sleeves and a skirt that ended at her knees.   She crossed her legs with  a natural, feminine motion.

"You are right, Eeshan.   I need your opinion about something," she admitted.   There was no longer any need for lightness.

"You were one of my favorite students, Maeve.   One of the most promising.   I am willing to help you," said Eeshan.

"I don't know if you know much about my current project.   Let me tell you about it," she began and proceeded to inform him on what she had been doing lately.   She finished her story with the Garvos visit.

"Maeve, there is always a need for new people to continue our Work.   If your new method can isolate and call  better qualified people I commend you," said Eeshan.

"Am I right to bring someone to Kregen without their full consent?"

"Are you referring to the Earthman?   What were the conditions of his translation?"

"We isolated him with our new sensors.   You have to understand, Eeshan, that these sensors go deeper than ordinary locating devices.   I believe that our sensors reach  into a sort of precognitive metaphysical plane.   I am beginning to doubt whether I am in control of the experiment or it is in control of me.  I wonder if I have done Cat Smiling a disservice in allowing him to translate to Kregen.   The process of translation is best implemented in a moment of danger, perhaps fatality, when the subject is most willing to be transported to Kregen.   Savanti translation requires the consent of the subject, even if that consent is implied rather than vocalized formally."

"That is known to me, child," said Eeshan.

"I wonder if Cat Smiling is so qualified an individual that what appeared to us to be a potentially fatal situation was not really as dire as we thought.   Perhaps, we allowed translation when it wasn't necessary.   Everyone has a desire to escape when faced with the real possibility of death.   Cat Smiling was surrounded by several enemies.  He was severely wounded, but does that mean he might not have extricated himself from his difficulty without translation to Kregen?"

"We will never know that," said Eeshan.

"Follow up studies reveal that Cat Smiling had a family.   He was happy in his old life.   Was it an injustice to translate him to Kregen?"

"What is your other concern?"

"I am investigating the principle of Destiny.   Does design include destiny?  If it does then people of exception quality might indicate higher destiny potential.   Its a little more detailed than that, but that's the basis of my experiment.   If the whole of Cat Smiling's life is a design of Destiny, then was the experiment part of that destiny?   Am I a part of Cat Smiling's design rather than a part of my own?   All the things that make up the subjects design, his body, his mind, his actions, his interactions are part of his destiny.   If I am part of that destiny am I doing the Savanti Mission a service  or a disservice by bringing Cat Smiling to Kregen?"

Maeve's voice had begun to tremble as she went deeper into her questions.   Eeshan reached over and placed his hand on her shoulder.

"Easy, Maeve.  You are over complicating the situation.   Your first question is part of your second question."

"One thing you must understand is that no matter how smart we are we will always act in ignorance.   It may be a small ignorance or a large ignorance.   Your problem is that you have gone from a small ignorance which was the  unknown variables you permitted in your experimental design, to a greater ignorance which is the depth that you have sunk into when contemplating the destiny of one man, one society, one world.   The ignorance that has engulfed you has made you feel like a victim.   Do not allow this to continue.   If you feel like a victim your options for success are far more limited.   The leem devours the victim because the victim has given up."

Maeve swallowed hoarsely.  "You are telling me to stay the course."

"What else can I tell you?   The wheel has already begun to turn.   We don't know if you started to turn it or some other force did before you.  Or some force after you.   It is your responsibility to recognize your part in the turning.   You must not take your theoretical premise too  far.   Do not let this conscious realization of destiny prevent you from acting with a free will.   If you are troubled by this Earthman, then send him back to Earth.  If you think he will be happier back with his family, send him back to Earth.   If you fear his will do harm to the Mission in some future time, send him back to Earth.

"Or, if you wish to see your work completed, stay the course.   If you believe that your device proves that design causes destiny and destiny causes design, or that reality is a whole of many interacting parts toward a multitude of stratified goals, then stay the course.   It is the course that you have chosen.  If your choice is a small part of the wheel that spins Cat Smiling's destiny, then so be it, for it is also a part of the wheel that spins Maeve's destiny.

"Free will is simple.  Its choosing to do what is right regardless of the consequences or any real or philosophical ramifications.   Don't worry about it.  It all fits together.

"Your problem has been debated and thought about by philosophers of many ages and worlds.  The difference is that you have devised a method for testing the debate.   Should your experiment verify the teleological argument in some small way then it might be worth whatever ramifications that develop," said Eeshan.   He paused to take a deep breath.

"I'm getting too old to give speeches like that," he said with a laugh.

Maeve joined him with a laugh of her own.   "I think that in your own way you've just told me that I'm too full of myself.   No, no, I know you didn't mean it that way.   Thank you,  for your council, venerable san."

"Venerable is another name for too old.   I hardly need to be reminded of that," Eeshan said with a twinkling in his eye.   Then he turned sober and asked, "There is something else, isn't there?  Something about Garvos?"

Maeve hesitated again.   Somehow Eeshan had ciphered out that Garvos upset her.   If  he already knew that then it wouldn't hurt to admit the truth.  She nodded.

"I have known Garvos for a long time.  He is very old, yet I was his teacher.   I am sure that he is just  as dedicated to our mission as any other Savanti.   We are a homogeneous group of individuals who are bound together by the strength of our conviction to the Mission.   Yet, we are all individuals.  Garvos has always been intense, hard working and more interested in the outside world than the things that go on within our protective mountain walls.   His talent includes being able to deal with external Kregish societies.  That is why he was the leader of the savapim for a long time, and how he managed to take the Scythian under his wing so long ago.   Garvos is very protective of our society and our mission.   It is no wonder you are under his scrutiny."

"He's a little frightening," Maeve admitted.

"Do not be afraid.  He will not act outside the restrictions of our society.  At the very worst  he will alert other elders and advise them that your project be shut down.   For that reason only you need be concerned, Maeve," said Eeshan.

"That shouldn't matter, anyway, because if your project was in some major way antagonistic to the Mission I'm sure you would want it terminated," he continued with a sly smile.

"Of course," Maeve replied quickly.

"Then don't worry about it.   Come inside with me.  I've just made the most delicious breakfast.   Oh, don't look so shocked.  I am getting up later these days, and today, you are the beneficiary of that indolence.   Stay awhile because there is a new mathematical theory I've been wanting to discuss with someone with someone who can actually discuss it with me.  You see, your arrival here can help me, too.  Talk about destiny," he said.

Maeve laughed again, light and warm, and followed him into his cottage.


The stench of rotting flesh led the tracker to the two corpses.   Hardened to the noxious odor by a lifetime of dealing with dead things, the clansman slipped off his zorca and examined the signs around the ditch where the two dead clansman lay.   He glanced quickly at the two men, naked and pale against the thick, black prairie dirt and leaped back on his mount.   He kicked his zorca into a run, eager to report what he had found to his chief.

Two hours later, Valcon the Blade and Wrevo the Spear accompanied the tracker to the uncovered grave.   They studied the site from a respectable distance, none of them interested in inhaling any of the death stench.   The tracker sent an arrow sailing through the air to scare off the carrion eaters.

"What do you make of it, Thipar?"

Most clansmen were capable of following a spoor across the prairie.  Thipar Crodan was exceptional in this ability.   He was a man of medium height, brown hair, blue eyes and the usual tawny skin of a clansman.

"Its Wasto and Mation.   They've been here for some time.  You wondered what became of the bodies.   There they are," replied Thipar grimly.

Wrevo grunted.   "We should have recovered the bodies ourselves and not left them to that savage."

"What is the story here?" asked Valcon.

"The bodies were drug here by someone on a zorca.  I think it was the woman.  There is still a foot print or two of hers around.   There is a section of grass rope she used to drag them with.   She dumped the bodies in a natural shallow ditch, tried to cover them up with dirt and rode away."

"Anything else?"

"Yeah, one of the bodies was mutilated.  One was not."

"Mutilated?   What do you mean?"

"Wasto's hair was removed, his genitals cut off and his ankles were cut as if to prevent him from walking.  Mation's body is unmolested."   Thipar spoke evenly, without emotion.

"Any ideas who did it?" asked Wrevo dryly.

Valcon frowned at his friend.   "The question is why did he do it.   Why mutilate a dead body?  Why mutilate one and not the other.   What kind of man is Cat Smiling?"

"We don't know that, do we," snapped Wrevo.  "We better find out if you plan to let him join our group."

"We will, dom," said Valcon, "we will."


"You are a fast learner, Cat Smiling.   Your improvement in handling the knife is astonishing," said Valcon.   They stood in a spot that had been cleared of tall grass.  It was a practice circle.  In it they had been sparring a bit.

Cat Smiling held his knife out in front and looked at it with a small, crooked grin.   It was the knife that they had decided was best for him.   Its handle was on the small side because Valcon was of the opinion that a knife handle should fit its owner's one hand.  Knives with long handles were more trouble than they were worth.  They prevented the knife fighter from switching grips with the speed and certainty that was needed in the middle of the fight.  And because the handle was not extra long the blade wasn't extra long either.   It was a six inch blade, sharpened razor sharp on the one side with a sharpened clip tip.  Cat Smiling preferred the single edged blade to the double edged blade.   In the case of knife handling it was better to use the knife you preferred because natural familiarity with a specific blade made the knife fighter that much better.

Of course, Valcon would insist that Cat Smiling train with all kinds of knives.   Versatility was invaluable in case the fighter didn't have the blade he preferred.

"White men always make things bigger than they need be," said Cat Smiling.   His command of the Kregen language was swiftly growing.   With more people to learn from, he had expanded his vocabulary and was rapidly hiding his foreign accent.

"White men," mused Valcon.   "Several times you referred to me or the others as white men.   What about us makes you call us white?"

"That is what my people call your people.    If your skin isn't touched by the sky  it is nearly white.  Isn't that so?" asked the Comanche.

"I suppose so," said Valcon.  "It is an odd way of thinking.   Most of the apims on Kregen aren't concerned with skin color.   Perhaps, that's because there are so many diffs that are already  different from us.  Apims are more normally differentiated by nationalistic identities."

Cat Smiling digested Valcon's statement.   In his talks with Eroin he had encountered the concept of nations.   The closest he could come to understand it was to put the "nations" into very big tribes.   From this perspective he thought he understood what Valcon was saying.

"Where do these diffs come from?" he asked suddenly.

Valcon shrugged.  "Who knows?   Some people say they were always here.   For instance, .....
I have traveled to many places in my days, and I can truly say that there are more apims than any other kind of diff except for the fish-heads who come from beyond the curve of the sea."

"What do you think of these 'diffs'?" asked the Comanche.   He already knew that Eroin did not respect the 'diffs'.   He was interested in Valcon's opinion to provide contrast.

"Some are good, some not.    That could be said about most people," replied Valcon.  "I spoke earlier about nationalistic tendencies.  In a way, diffs are nations defined by physical differences.  Little more than that, I think.   Look at you and I.  We are apims, similar in many physical things, yet you claim that "my" people are different than "your" people."

Cat Smiling was quiet for a while.   Then, "You are saying that it is more important how differently we act than how differently we look."

Valcon laughed and clasped the Comanche on his shoulder.   "Yes, that's what I'm saying."

"My people believe in that.   Yet, we believe that the way we act is the way people act.  I was raised to believe that we are "people".   Everyone else is not."

"Do you still believe that?"

Cat Smiling shrugged.   "I am closer to believing that different actions make people different.   That's the way it is with the white men where I come from.   And that's what I think about obi."

"Obi?   What do you mean?"

"White men always complicate things.   Among my people there is no need to define clearly who is the chief of other men.   Men will follow a man who shows that he can lead them successfully.   He shows them by being successful, not by killing  or fighting them.   Your obi is more like the way wolves act.   The strongest lead the pack, the next strongest dominates the next weakest and so on down to the weakest member of the pack.   I have great respect for wolves.  They are our brothers.  We walk the same trail through life.  We on two legs, and they on four, but wolves are animals.   They are not able to see the better ways of doing things that men do.   Being a better fighter doesn't always mean a better leader, and if a man is not a better leader than another man should not submit to his rule."

It was the longest statement Valcon had ever heard the red man make.   When he was done he sat back and grunted.

"You are right, Cat Smiling.   It was one of the reasons I left the clans over a hundred years ago.   In that hundred years they have remained the same brutal, barbarian horde they have always been."

"Then why do you return?"  Cat Smiling asked the question, even though he knew the answer.

"Because its home.   At least for a while, I want to go home.  How about you?  Do you want to go home?"

Cat Smiling's face hardened.   "I want to be with my own people."

Valcon nodded.   Then he leaned forward and stared in to Cat Smiling's black eyes.  His own face had hardened.   "You have spoken about your own people today, Cat Smiling.   Tell me, why do they mutilate the dead?"

The Comanche's normally impassive face showed confusion.   There was a hard edge to Valcon's voice.  Clearly, his new found friend was disturbed, and Cat Smiling was at a loss as to how he had disturbed his new friend.

"We found the bodies of Mation and Wasto.   Wasto's body was mutilated.   Why?"

Valcon was demanding an answer.   Cat Smiling suspected that this was a pivotal point in their relationship, and their relationship was something he had grown to value.

"You left the bodies in my possession.  I disposed of them.   They were worthless to me.   I do not eat human flesh.  Should I explain the disposal of two dead bodies."

"Explain why Wasto was mutilated?" repeated Valcon.

"Wasto was...," Cat Smiling paused, searching for a word, "a rast.  He insulted me and my woman.  I cut his hair so his spirit will forever wander in the gray lands.   I cut his manhood off so he can never be a man again, and I crippled him so he will have to crawl when he wanders."

"And why not do the same to Mation?"

"Mation fought me for his friend.   He was an honorable warrior, although a fool.   Let him go to the sunny place beyond death and hunt the buffalo forever.  I bear him no grudge," said Cat Smiling.

Valcon sat back, his eyes no longer smoldering, and considered what Cat Smiling had told him.   The Comanche had said enough for Valcon to realize that the mutilation of Wasto had not been an act of individual sickness.  It had been based on  cultural cues.   Apparently, Cat Smiling had acted according to the ways of his people.   Valcon was a wandering man.   He had always found learning about new people to be very interesting.  There was no question that Cat Smiling was a savage raised among a savage, warrior people.   Although he was apim, there was a strangeness to Cat Smiling that was almost alien.   He was a mystery.  Valcon loved a mystery.   So it was that his interest in Cat Smiling was  not based just on the mysterious words of an old san.

"Okay,  Cat Smiling.  I'll accept that for now.   As long as you understand that if you join my group you will not mutilate dead people unless I sanction it."

"I understand that you lead your group.  If you are a good war leader I will follow.  If you are not, then I shall leave.  There need not be any fighting between us," replied Cat Smiling solemnly.

"Agreed!" said Valcon.  "I must clarify something about obi, though.  It is not always a matter of two men fighting over who keeps the bone.   It is a way of identifying a dominant fighting man.  You know that we also select our leaders by election.   That is how men who are too old to fight younger men can still lead them through their wisdom and experience.   Obi can only be challenged, uncontested by these leaders, when two men first meet.   We are not completely like "wolves'."

"That is a good thing," said Cat.


"What do you think of these new people?"   She spoke in the language of the Nerm, his people.  He had begun to teach her his language several weeks ago because he wanted someone to talk to in his native tongue.   She was not as adept at languages as he was.  She spoke with a harsh Kregish accent.

They had ridden off together on zorcas.   The encampment sprawled across the prairie several hundred yards away.   Eroin was clad in a buckskin dress, tied at the waist with a silken cord he had stolen from a caravan months ago.   Her black hair was brushed back away from her face and held tight by a pony tail.   She was no  longer ashamed of the jagged scar that marred her beauty.   Perhaps, this was because she knew it didn't bother Cat Smiling.

The Comanche stole a glance at her as she stared at the encampment.   He took a moment to appraise her without her knowledge.   He admired her long clean limbs, clear tan skin and womanly form.   She was showing her pregnancy more and more.  It showed in the swelling of her belly.  The rest of her was whipcord slim and wilderness strong.   She had adapted well to the prairie.  Cat Smiling was glad she was his woman.

"They are not Nerm.   Very different.  There are enough similarities between us, though, that I hope will enable me to live among them.   Valcon says his people are horsemen (here he used a Comanche word that only she would understand).   From his talk I can hear many things that are good about his people.  There are things that are not so good.   We are alone on the earth.   It will be good if we can join with these people harmoniously.    If not, we will have to leave."

She turned her brilliant blue eyes toward him.   "Are you thinking of your unborn son?"

Cat Smiling laughed.   "How do you know it is a boy!   It would be good if it is.   Yes, I think of my son.   It is better to be raised among many rather than among few on the prairie.   My only sorrow is that he will not know the ways of my people."

"Can't you teach him those ways?"

He was silent for several minutes.   "Yes, I can, but my way is different from the way of these clansmen.   They are many.  I am one.   Which way will my son chose to follow?   This is an important question.   I want my son to be Comanche!   Among the clansmen he would become a clansmen.

"We will go among the clansmen and see if the differences are too great.   We will try to belong.  I think Valcon will help us."

Eroin ran her rough palm over her the curve of her belly.   Cat Smiling grunted and let a comfortable silence bind them.

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