Book: Man-Kzin Wars X : The Wunder War (Man-Kzin Wars)

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Chapter 6

Andre brought Colonel Cumpston into the chamber at the point of a nerve disrupter and secured him with a police web. He had, he explained, found him at one of the disguised entrances to the fortress. He had evidently been following the kzinti. Raargh affected complete indifference and signaled to Vaemar to do the same. Cumpston had been searched and X-rayed and had a number of small weapons removed.

"I'll leave you," said Andre, "with these two. Perhaps you had better hope they don't get hungry."

Obviously there would be listening devices and spy cameras in the room where they were kept. In any case, humans and Kzin were coming and going. Still, it was impossible not to talk. They had no writing materials.

"How find us?" Raargh asked.

"I put a tracking device in Vaemar's chessboard. I knew he seldom traveled without it. Forgive me for this discourtesy. It was useful in the event." Cumpston replied in his careful human approximation of the Heroes' Tongue. He did not think it tactful to tell the kzin that some of the game they had eaten had contained both chemicals and micro-robots that had made tracking them a great deal more certain than that.

"There is much discourtesy," growled Raargh. "And it does not seem very useful." Still, the bond between them held. Raargh had not forgotten how Cumpston had helped him—and Vaemar—to life and freedom on the terrible God-forsaken day of Surrrendir , and the three of them had shared things since.

I can't tell him help will be on the way,thought Cumpston. Though friend and foe both should be able to work that out. Help will take a long time to get here, though. If I'd had a few more minutes it would have been a different story. The entrance to the subterranean fortress—if it was the main entrance he had been brought through—as well disguised. Obviously, if it's not been picked up by satellites over the last five years. It had taken him a long time to be brought this far, past guarded doors and weapons positions. He had seen only a few kzin, but they were well dug in and protected, and there were heavy weapons. The place was like a maze on several levels, a labyrinth. Any attacking force would face heavy fighting and innumerable delays.

Cumpston and the kzinti exchanged stories, speaking fairly freely. There was no point in hiding from their captors what they knew already.

This chamber, like the one containing the hologram projector, and like others Cumpston had been led through, was electronically smart. It contained a control console and stacks of weapons and ammunition. None of these presented him with any opportunity, since he was restrained in the web and in any case the weapons were securely locked. The two kzinti had more freedom of movement, but he could see they were being closely tracked. The snouts of cameras and guns followed their movements from several corners.

He had expected the kzinti, confined, to be in a killing frenzy, but Raargh was moving slowly, deliberately. Cumpston had undergone an intensive course in Kzinti body-language, and what he read from the big kzin was relaxation, laziness, a sort of lofty contempt for events. Even his tail, usually the giveaway with a kzin trying to conceal his emotions, was relaxed. So, as far as Cumpston could tell, were the pheromones of his body. He could detect little of the gingery smell that, when intensified, signaled kzin anger. Vaemar, he saw, was copying Raargh's example. Maybe they've drugged him, Cumpston thought. Or maybe he's the greatest actor on this planet.  

Rarrgh had tried to free him when the guards left, but when he approached the web an alarm had sounded and a quick, stabbing red laser beam spat into the ground at his feet. Raargh adjusted his artificial eye and told them the web, as well as the weapons cabinets, was guarded by infrared rays, too closely meshed for him to get through.

Food for the kzinti was provided through an automatic feeder system. Officers' field rations of bloody meat, better than Raargh had been used to as a Trooper or a Sergeant, and some small live animals. There was even that prized Kzinti delicacy, a zianya, tipped into a trough and bound with cords to heighten its flavor-enhancing terror and prevent its struggling and shrieking. There were a couple of indoor fooches and even some entertainment tapes, though neither kzin used them. It was plain great efforts were being made to keep them comfortable. Raargh recognized soothing pheromones in the air. The small animals provided for them were kzin natives, presumably bred from stock imported during the occupation. Contemplating them, and particularly the futilely kicking zianya, gave Raargh the beginnings of an idea. Though he was not yet very hungry, he killed them all, and as he ate them spilled what was in total a good deal of blood, blood whose smell was very similar to that of kzin blood. No alarms responded, and the kzinti who appeared to be on maintenance work in different parts of the large room, but who were presumably doubling as guards, did not seem to notice. Most enclosed chambers frequented by kzinti or used by them as living space had a smell of blood about them, not to mention a complex of other smells. It was bracing and taken for granted.

Henrietta, Andre and Emma returned after a few hours, with a guard of several young Kzinti and humans.

"Noble Heroes," said Henrietta, "you have seen the words of Chuut-Riit. You know his spirit lives on in this fortress, as you know the fighting spirit of the Heroes of Ka'ashi is not dead. Now, in his name, I ask you: Do you acknowledge obedience to the word of Chuut-Riit?"

"Chuut-Riit was Planetary Governor and of the blood of the Patriarch," said Raargh. Was, not is, was his unspoken thought. I have my own hunt now—to preserve Vaemar and to rear him to be a leader of the kzin of this world. Once I thought the Patriarch's Navy would return with swift vengeance, but five years have passed and now I do not think that they will be returning soon. I play for time and for Vaemar. "Why do you need to ask of a kzintosh who won Name in battle?"

"Where were you going when Emma brought you here?"

Cumpston thought quickly. The less accurate information these maniacs had the better.

"Arhus," he said. Arhus was the site of the biggest planetside kzin settlement. Arrangements had recently been made to grant the kzinti there a limited degree of self-government.

"I did not ask you to speak!" said Henrietta.

"But you insult Heroes. You interrogate them as if they were prisoners or slaves."

Oddly, his words seemed to give her pause.

"These Heroes I know," he said. "Do you think you are the only human who knows the Kzin? This young kzintosh has learned fieldcraft in the wild. Now he goes to his own kind to learn other things."

"With your tuition, ARM agent?"

"I will not go with him to stay with kzinti at Arhus. How could I? But do you think you are the only human on this planet who wishes peace between Man and Kzin? If there can be peace, I do not wish the Kzinti ill. There is much about them I admire, and these two I have known long." I hope there's enough truth in that to confuse her, he thought. Also I hope that there's no telepath among the kzinti here. I hope that all the telepaths on Wunderland have got nice cushy jobs with the human security forces and have been given Names and Kzinrretti of their very own and the nice gentle new telepathic drugs I heard our laboratories were working on and have no wish to help this crazy business.  

Henrietta looked at him with somewhat lessened hostility. Plainly, he did have some relationship with these two kzinti. There was an expression of doubt or conflict on her face.

"Release him," said Vaemar. He spoke in the Ultimate Imperative Tense, which Cumpston had never heard him use before. Henrietta moved to obey, but a celfone on Andre's wrist bleeped. He turned to Henrietta and spoke to her urgently.

"We've got your car under cover and we're taking it apart," Henrietta told Cumpston. "I'll need you shortly to send a signal from its brain to say all is well. I'd advise you not to be smart and not try to do anything like sending or omitting key code-words. We have a telepath."

But if you put a telepath on me I'd feel it,he thought. What do they want with me? he wondered. Why have they kept me alive? I'm nothing but a threat to them, not potentially useful and venerated like Vaemar or respected like Raargh. They might be able to get a telepath, of course. Bring one from Arhus or somewhere and peel my brain. I wouldn't like that. Or maybe they've got some idea of brainwashing and reprogramming me. With modern drugs that was not difficult. A fully suborned ARM officer might be very useful indeed. Cumpston had been trained to resist brain washing, and it would, he thought, be interesting in that event to see whether his training or Henrietta's chemicals were the more effective. That a battle between them might leave him an organic waldo was something better not thought about. He had seen the results of such conflicts in others and tried to blank his memory and imagination.

Henrietta interrogated him somewhat further, then she and Andre left, accompanied by a party of the humans and kzinti. Her questions, he thought, seemed somewhat unfocused. Both the humans and kzinti in general seemed, however, to come and go at will. One kzin was doing what looked like maintenance work under the control console, a couple of others were patrolling the upper gantries. A couple were staring at screens. One appeared to be curled up in a corner asleep. In the dim light at the corners of the large chamber it was hard to see exactly how many there were. It reminded him a little of the bridge of a warship at cruising stations. There were even, he noticed, small screened sanitary compartments. Well, that was not surprising. Cumpston, one of comparatively few humans to have been in a kzin's lair as a guest, knew that Raargh had a similar arrangement at his cave. Kzinti, like most felines, liked their toilets private, apart from their use of urine as a marker and in social rituals. Raargh himself, who seemed to be moving about with a good deal of freedom, had previously been inspecting the sleeping kzin and had gone to use one of these compartments without question.

Emma, some of the men, and some of the kzinti remained. Cumpston noticed an immediate change in the atmosphere with Henrietta's departure. The men, he saw, including some manrretti, wore slightly different costumes to the ones who had departed.

"Different prides," remarked Vaemar. So he saw it as well. One of the men, plainly an officer or in a command position, walked over and released Cumpston from the web. He had, Cumpston saw, the name "McGlue" on his jacket. As Cumpston stepped down, McGlue made a quick gesture, unnoticeable except to trained eyes. It was the recognition signal of a fellow ARM agent. Cumpston felt relief flooding though him. It appeared they were not without allies. McGlue also made a queer, twisted smile that seemed to run off one side of his face. Then Emma strode over. Yes, without Henrietta, the atmosphere was definitely different. Cumpston's gestalt sense, though acquired with difficult training, was hardly even a poor imitation of kzinti ziirgah, but its signals were unmistakable. Vaemar too was wrinkling his nose and ears, and his tail was lashing now.

"My mother has no proper plans," Emma told them. "Her brains went loose after the events of the human invasion, after those things that happened when the disgraced coward once called Hroth–Staff-Officer surrendered. She has never fully recovered. For a long time she lost her memory of who she was. I did not lose mine.

"What she wishes now is to make this place into a refuge for Kzinti where they can be taught to understand human ways so they—Heroes and Conquerors—may eventually creep into some lowly place in the monkey hierarchy. She seeks to teach them the slaves' dream of proving indispensable to their masters, so they may one day rise to some kind of junior partnership, by monkey grace and favor—the mirror image of the very dream that some humans of Ka'ashi cuddled to their monkey breasts! She expects them to gradually penetrate human society, to at last take part in human plans and strategy, perhaps at last to take revenge on those who killed Chuut-Riit or their remote descendants.

"The reality is different! Never will the Heroic Race be the slaves or the copies of apes! The Fanged God will not allow such an obscenity! I have forced the issue, as my Destiny decrees.

"There are heavy weapons here for an army," she went on. "Not just infantry and armor, but aircraft, small spacecraft. Most of the human fleet is at the warfront, light-years away.

"With Chuut-Riit's son, we will rouse and rally the kzin of Ka'ashi and Tiamat. They have had five years of subjugation and persecution by monkeys and are ready to scream and leap. We can take the humans of Ka'ashi and the Serpent Swarm by surprise."

"And when the Hyperdrive Armada returns?"

"Their return will suit me perfectly. Returning, they will have to abandon their present front. The Kzin fleets and bases they engage now will have time to recover. Time also to ingest the latest lessons of the war, perhaps to rip secrets of the hyperdrive from the entrails of captured humans and human ships. And before the hyperdrive ships return we can smash the human ships and bases here.

"And do not overestimate the Hyperdrive Armada. Do not forget: With a double star the gravitational singularity is such that there is a vast volume of space in which the hyperdrive cannot operate—the whole of the combined Alpha Centauri A and B systems, stretching far beyond their outer cometary halos. The hyperdrive would not have been enough for the successful human landings here but for other simultaneous misfortunes and the fangs of treachery ripping at loyal throats. This time the kzin will not be fighting among themselves when the humans arrive. They will be roused, united, and waiting! With Sinclair fields, which we alone possess, we can boost bomb explosions until they are as destructive as anti-matter!

"More! There are hyperdrive ships at the spaceports and under repair and maintenance here and on Tiamat! We can seize them! Link again with the Patriarchy. We can strike Earth itself, and avenge the ramscoop raid with the one claw, present the hyperdrive to the Patriarchy with the other! We will achieve victory!"

"What you will achieve at most," said Cumpston, "is the deaths of many humans and the extermination of the kzinti in this system down to the last kzinrret and the last kitten, whether many of them joined you or not. As for Sinclair fields, how long do you think it would be before the other side used them? They were invented during the long peace on Earth but they must be in the ARM files." Don't tell her she's insane, he thought; it will only make her worse. He hoped that phrase "long peace on Earth" might have some sort of subconsciously soothing effect, though it was badly positioned next to the phrase "ARM files." Best he could do at present.

"You will also turn a terrible war—the war now being fought out in space—into a war of annihilation without any possibility of eventual peace or truce. Without the option of life after surrender one species will perish utterly and quite possibly both will. We know such things have happened before in this galaxy." He felt as he said it that to arouse such images in her mind would probably only egg her on. But he could think of nothing else to say. Was it a good idea to provoke her? Such questions had often been asked when fighting kzin, and the general answer had been that it couldn't do any harm. If they screamed and leaped prematurely, so much the better. But this was different. "Did not Sun Tzu say: 'Do not make an enemy fight with the courage of despair'?" he asked her. "That is what you will make both sides do. Think on what we know of the Slaver war."

"You cannot seduce me with words. The conspirators you worked for—the conspirators responsible for the ramscoop raid—will be brought to justice," she replied. "It will be interesting to see how much ground they can cover when they are turned loose on a kzinti hunting preserve with ten minutes' start!" She was shouting now, and paused to wipe traces of foam from her lips. I don't think you had a good Liberation, Cumpston thought. I wanted vengeance as much as anyone at the time, but this is what it leads to.  

There is another thing,he thought. There are outlying parts of Wunderland and much of the Serpent Swarm where the Kzin had still not grown too oppressive. That would have changed as their numbers increased, but there are some humans who hate Sol System for the ramscoop raid worse than they hate the Kzin. Not many—most don't expect an interstellar, interspecies war of survival to be fought with kid gloves—but some. And if my dearest had been killed by humans, how might I have jumped   .  .  .  ? Perhaps the Kzin would have human allies. Not many, but enough to do damage. On the other hand, conflicts of loyalty could work both ways. No harm in pointing that out, perhaps. 

"Another thing you overlook," he said: "Many kzin on Wunderland have found they may have better lives as partners with humans than as regimented cannon fodder for the Patriarchy. And for their descendants, the future may be brighter still. Many have been persecuted and humiliated. Many individual kzin died after the surrender. But they have not been murdered wholesale or enslaved, and they know it. A nonconformist kzin will not be dueled to death. There are kzin on this planet who have discovered freedom." Futile, he knew. There was no rational argument that would reach someone so deeply insane.

"On Wunderland we have been granted a miraculous chance." He had to say it. He strove to put in into terms that might get through. "Perhaps some would say not merely species but Bearded God and Fanged God have made truce here. With the hyperdrive there are stars and worlds enough for all. We have a chance to show that humans and kzinti can share a planet. If they can do that, perhaps they can share a universe. Destroy that experiment here and all hope of that dies with it." Tired and dry-mouthed, he argued back and forth with her hopelessly, and he knew, pointlessly, for some time, bringing it back to the fact that postwar Wunderland was proving some human-kzin cooperation was possible.

"There may be a few who have been turned into imitation monkeys by the priests and the secret police, or been bought with monkey gold," she replied. "The Kzin race can purge itself of such perversions. It is the strongest and noblest culture in the galaxy!" She turned her attention to the console and keyed up some holos of the redoubt and its weapons stores, others of rampant Heroes and Kzin space-dreadnaughts in triumphant battle.

"As for you," she told Cumpston, "you may be useful as a hostage in the early stages. That is just. The humans you work for intended to hold the kzinti of Wunderland hostage .  .  . Noble Hero Raargh!"

But there was no answer. After a few seconds it became obvious to all that Raargh was gone. Emma stared about wildly. Then she ran to the sleeping kzin. She stared down at it, then called another kzin to waken it. It seemed to have a problem doing so, and while telepaths, computer nirrds, or other lowly ones could be kicked awake by their betters, fighting kzinti were generally wary of touching another such when it was asleep. Finally the other kzin took its shoulders and lifted it. Its head flopped backwards, revealing a broken neck. As its body rolled over, long, raw, gleaming bones arced and clattered on the floor. The skin and flesh of one of its arms was missing. There was not much blood. Cord—the cord that had bound a zianya—had been wound tightly at the shoulder to prevent bleeding.

"My Noble Mentor and Stepfather, Raargh who was Sergeant, gave his Word not to harm you humans this day," said Vaemar. "He did not give his Word to remain here. And when his claws are sheathed his feet fall silently and swiftly.

"It's possible he may go to Arhus." Vaemar added.

And even now you win a few seconds for him,thought Cumpston. Vaemar was again speaking in the Ultimate Imperative Tense of the Heroes' Tongue, the tense that might be used only by Royalty or, rarely, in a situation where the honor of the Kzin species was at stake, and which, when not employed for the giving of direct orders, lent itself to poetic, circumlocutious constructions. Also, he noticed, Vaemar had caught up the idea of Arhus but he did not tell a direct lie. It took Emma some time to work out what he was saying. Then her fingers stabbed at a control console. There was a sound of doors slamming shut.

 

Raargh threw away the remains of the Kzinti arm he had carried to hide his own prosthetic one. The passage which promised to lead toward the surface was blocked by a hemisphere, glowing bluishly with some form of radiation. Raargh did not know it for a Sinclair field but he guessed it was not something to venture into. It would not have been put there to stop the passage if it was impotent. He turned and ran into the dimmest tunnel he could find. At first the ruddy light, replicating a winter's day on the Homeworld he had never seen, was easy enough for silent running and leaping. After a short time, however, the light sources became fewer, and then stopped.

Raargh ran on. This part of the secret redoubt was unfinished, he saw. Walls were unlined, roughly hewn living rock. Now there were no lights or other installations. Even the natural eyes of the Kzin, superbly adapted to night hunting, could not see in total darkness, and he was grateful now for having lost an eye in combat years before.

Thanks to his partial Name, his artificial eye was the best available, able to see beyond the spectrum of visible light. It was not perfect, but it was enough to keep him running on. He ran nearly on all fours, both because it was the naturally speediest position for kzin and for fear of beams, Sinclair monomolecular wires and other booby traps. His w'tsai had been taken but he held his prosthetic arm up before him, hoping it would protect his head and chest from Sinclair wire. "These chambers link to the great caves of the Hohe Kalkstein," the human had said. He was possibly headed in the right direction. He thought he was going south, and the surface rivers, he recalled, had flowed on a roughly north-south axis. Air currents at the sensitive tips of his whiskers gave him some ability to differentiate between long passages and blind alleys. His ziirgah sense picked up nothing.

Something gleamed very dimly in the darkness ahead. In any lesser darkness its ghostly radiance would have been quite invisible. A pile of human bones, presumably those of the slaves who had built this place. They were in fragments, and had plainly been stripped and gnawed by Kzinti fangs. After five years no tissue remained. A few lingering vermiforms wriggled away. There were a few pieces of clothing and oddments but nothing useful. Kzin do not eat carrion, but he was beginning to feel hungry and he turned some of the bare, dry bones over hopefully before he realized what he was doing. The few joints still articulated fell apart. He took a few bones simply to give his jaws something to crunch on.

This spot was evidently as far as the builders of the redoubt had reached. Beyond were natural cave formations. He wondered if morlocks or other creatures survived here. Well, if they did, he would find out in due course. He leaped up a muddy slope, ignoring the pains beginning to speak in the old wounds in his legs, and ran on. There was a stream to follow now. Since he could drink and need no longer fear becoming dehydrated at least, he began to mark his passage with urine. At one point he saw a wandering line of footprints in the mud, but they might have been there for millennia.

He estimated that it was about three hours later (time was becoming difficult to judge) that he found the bones of a kzin. With it was a w'tsai , still as sharp as a w'tsai should be, and a belt containing a couple of sealed infantry emergency ration capsules. Other personal equipment lay about scattered and broken, including the wrappings of ordinary pack rations. That hinted strongly at Morlocks, as did the fact that the skull was fractured as by a blow from above. In any case, he could smell them. The smell of morlocks was unmistakable—even humans with their pathetic mockeries of noses had commented on it—and it had been in his nostrils for some time, along with smells of old fire, old death, and a few tentative smells of new life. It was, he thought—his mind was beginning to run a little strangely now—significant that humans and kzinti smelled odd to each other rather than repulsive. The war might have been even more savage otherwise.

He made himself wait and listen for a time, arranging the bones more decorously as he did so, but the caves were silent apart from the faintest rustling of insects and the distant sound of water. There had been more life in the great caves of the Hohe Kalkstein when he had campaigned in them. The ration capsules were—just—better than nothing for his hunger, and the w'tsai in his hand felt good. His ziirgah sense picked up something now—hunger and hunting, but not yet very near. He pressed on, the sense gradually growing stronger.

He heard a well-remembered rustling over his head some time later, the morlock stench signaling their presence as unmistakably as a burning flare. His artificial eye could just distinguish movement in the darkness there. He bounded away from the downward-jutting stalactites back to a large patch where the roof above was relatively clear. He was lucky it was there, but he had been marking the occurrence of such patches for some time. The morlocks, clinging to the formations, could drop rocks and themselves onto those below, but found it harder to throw rocks or jump accurately a great distance. Like good old days! he thought momentarily. War is the best medicine! before remembering that the good old days often seemed better in memory than when actually being relived, particularly now when he was old, and partly crippled, and with slowed reflexes and tired and alone.

The first morlock to land before him he impaled on the w'tsai , in a conscious tribute and gesture of thanks to the dead Hero who had just bequeathed it to him.

Then he leaped into them with fangs, w'tsai , and the claws of both his natural and artificial hands, his battle-scream shaking the air of the chamber.

Had the morlocks attacked in the numbers that he was used to, they would have overwhelmed him. But they were less than a score, and they seemed less strong than they had been in the old days. Grabbing one with his natural hand and crushing its neck in a single squeeze, it came to him faster than thought that the creature was emaciated. His ziirgah sense picked up primitive emotions of terror and desperation. And HUNGER! He remembered how few living things there seemed to be in the caves compared to the old days. The morlocks, at the top of the food chain, might well be starving. Good! At these odds a warrior need not crave strong foes.

He kept his natural eye tightly shut to protect it as much as possible. His artificial eye and arm were both invulnerable to bites, and his artificial arm smashed aside the morlocks' puny weapons of rocks. His fangs and claws were still those of Raargh-Sergeant, once Senior Regimental Sergeant. Fourteen he counted, the last falling victim to a disemboweling kick he was sure old Sergeant and the w'tsai 's late donor would have approved of. His own wounds, as far as he could tell, were fairly minor. There was so much scar tissue around his neck and shoulders, he thought, that the morlocks would have had a tough time chewing though it.

He forced himself to eat his fill of the dead morlocks—they were not pleasant eating, but, he told himself, they were carnivores and even warriors of a sort—carved some flesh from the remainder for future needs and pressed on, marking the passage as he went. Some time later—much later, it seemed—he came upon a part of the wall scarred by flame. There were shattered crystal formations littering the cave floor here, and remains of humans, kzinti and morlocks, some scattered and broken bones, some whole skeletons, some mummies, some of the bones once again very faintly phosphorescent. There were no more live morlocks.

He fell down a long slope and lost much time finding his way back. In the confusion of stone and with his perception being affected by the dark and silence, he blundered up several blind alleys, each time backtracking with difficulty. He slept for a time, woke, and went on. He began to think his quest was hopeless and that he would soon die in these caves. There was no reason to assume these particular tunnels had any exit. He had lost all sense of time, but with all the back tracking he guessed that several days had passed.

He began, however, to feel another was traveling with him. Might it be old Sergeant, who had passed his rank to him with his actions and words as he died in the caves somewhere not far from here? He hoped Sergeant felt his old Corporal had not disgraced his judgment or his spirit. Might it be Chuut-Riit, whose last seed was now in his care?

He began to feel lightheaded. Perhaps the morlock flesh was poisonous. Perhaps it was the combined effects of darkness, silence, battle, and loss of blood. Several times he stumbled, and more than once he banged his head painfully against rock, once nearly breaking his fangs. The feeling of an unseen companion became stronger, but it was an uncertain companion.

After a time its head appeared to him, floating and swooping out of the darkness, appearing first as a tiny claw-point of light that grew larger until it seemed to engulf his vision and then passed on to dwindle and return. It looked like the hologram of Chuut-Riit. Then it looked like the Fanged God Himself, or was it the Human Bearded God? A kzinrret appeared. His mother? Or Murrur, the kzinrret he had bought after he had received his Name, the mother of his dead son, buried with him under burning debris in the ramscoop raid? It had been the last birthing she could give—fertile young kzinrretti like Veena had been for the harems of higher kzintosh than he. She had not had a large vocabulary, but even when she was not in season he had enjoyed her company.

He was in the glades beyond the Hohe Kalkstein with Vaemar, stalking the gagrumphers. There were flutterbys and the brilliant sun of Ka'ashi's day, with its differently brilliant night, the wheeling Serpent Swarm, the great jewel of Alpha Centauri B, and Proxima like a hunter's red eye. The floating figures became chessmen. Hard stone struck against him, crystal broke and fell tinkling. Gods sowing stars. He began to feel something he had felt a few times before, once in these very caves. He knew now that its name was Fear. Fear of endless darkness and silence, fear of waiting nonexistence, fear of total loss . He tried working out chess problems in his mind, but he knew hunger was growing and that before long it would be an agony driving out all other feeling. Well, he would die decorously.

He seemed to climb a high path, a great stairway, though the real floor under his feet was broken and uneven. He plunged into a cold stream that nearly covered his head before realization made him struggle clear, choking and spitting. A few more steps and he might have drowned, basely abandoning Vaemar and everything else. The realization and the cold helped bring him back to reality. He groomed his matted wet fur as well as he could, and forced himself to rest for a time, lying still, shivering. The small noises of the stream had a dangerously hypnotic sound to them, and he sang the cadences of Lord Chmeee's Last Battle-Hymn to keep them at bay.

Later he came to an area from which, it appeared, dead bodies and other remains had recently been removed. The pain in his legs was acute now, and he allowed himself to stop and rest a short time and ate the last of the morlock flesh that he carried, making himself ignore the smell. He knew he was back in the great caverns of the Hohe Kalkstein where he had won rank and Name. He knew also that it would do no good were pain, hunger and exhaustion to rob him of his reason.

Far ahead both his natural and his artificial eye detected a modification of the darkness. Nose and whiskers also detected changes in the air. There, at the top of a long slope, was a lamp, turned down and dully glowing. When he reached it he found himself back in familiar territory. There were the old mined-out guano beds, stripped by the monkeys to make dung bombs during the war. There was what the humans called the dancing room, the borrlruhm cavern where he had inspected his squad for the last time as Corporal. He moved on into the crepuscular zone, glowing now with the purple of Alpha Centauri B, at this season with the true dawn pursuing close behind it. There was the old habitat module. Its door was closed but there was a key in it, and he sensed it was occupied by humans. He salivated at the thought of the meat within.

His artificial eye showed him it was surrounded by a fairly thin web of infrared rays and automatic alarms. If he set them off it might not matter, but he avoided them from habit anyway.

 

Leonie Rykermann stirred uneasily in their sleeping bag. Five years of peace had not dulled her reflexes that had been honed in decades of guerrilla war. She woke and sat up with a startled cry, Nils Rykermann jerking awake beside her. Bending over them in the dim light was the hunched, crouching bulk of a great kzin, smelling of blood, one eye reflecting violet light, the other a glaring red point, jaws agape, fangs gleaming and dripping.

"Be not undecorous and calm liver," said Raargh in his best Wunderlander, adding considerately, "No need for manrret to cover teats. Raargh has seen before."

 

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