Chalker, Jack L. – Well of Souls 01 – Midnight at the Well of Souls


there that the least thing they’ll be concerned about is us.” “Wind’s about as right as you can get,” the bat said quietly. “Okay, then,” Brazil responded. He removed all his clothes, and jumped, stark naked, up on Wuju’s back, his back against hers. He pulled the shin around his chest just under his armpits. “Take the ends on both sides, Wuju, and tie them tight around you. Nol Pull it tight, damn it! As tight as you can! Yes, that’s better.” Next the stretchy pants were pulled around his waist and tied in front of her. It was several minutes before he was satisfied that he was solidly attached to her, riding backward. Tied just in front of him were the packs, the two pouches full of safety matches within easy reach. Then he applied the rest of the Slongomian cooking fat to as much of his exposed parts as he could. It was a sloppy job, but it would do in the dark. Cousin Bat nodded approvingly. The two men looked at each other wordlessly, and the bat turned and started down the rocky ledge. Wuju followed, Brazil cursing to himself at his inability to see anything ahead of them, thinking he forgot something, and feeling with every step that he was slipping off even though the knots remained secure. “Stop!” he yelled suddenly, and everyone froze. “Your hair, Wuju! Tie it down. Use the scabbard— you have to hold the sword anyway. I don’t want to set it on fire or have it blowing in my face.” She did what he asked silently, draping her hair forward and over her left breast so it wouldn’t interfere with the sword in her right hand. Now Brazil was roped in three ways, and he felt as if he were cut in pieces. Which was just the way he wanted it. They had gone over the plan many times, but he was still nervous. Wuju could sprint at more than thirty-five kilometers per hour, but that was just for short distances. She would have to go all out for over five kilometers, then down into a ditch, and keep running as long as she could.


Cousin Bat took off and circled for what was only a minute but seemed to be an hour. Finally they heard him come up behind them. “Now!” the flying creature ordered. “Go!” Wuju took off across the plains at full speed-Brazil watched the grasses disappear behind her and held onto the pack for dear life. He was sitting on a bony place and being bounced around for alt he was worth. Although it was a clear night and he had excellent night vision, Brazil already could not see the rocky hills they had left. Come on, Wuju! he thought tensely to himself. Keep going! “Turn slightly right.” Bat’s voice came from somewhere above, and she did as instructed. “Too much!” She heard the bat’s voice, probably Just two or three meters above her head: “That’s it! Now straight!” Brazil panicked as he felt the upper bindings loosen, and he grabbed ali the harder on the pack sides. And still she roared ahead at top speed! He could hear her take sobbing breaths and feel her horselike half inhale and exhale mightily, but still they went on. We’re going to make it! he thought excitedly. If I can only hold on to this goddamn pack for a few more minutes, we’ll be through them before they realize what happened! Suddenly the knots from the top two bands broke, sending the elastic clothing into the night and propel-ling him forward, headfirst, into the pack. “Nathan!” he heard her call breathlessly at the break and jerk. “I’m all right!” he called back. “Keep going!” Suddenly there were sounds around them, grunts, groans, and yells. “Nathan!” she screamed. “They’re ahead of us!” “Run right at them at top speed!” he yelled. “Slash with your sword!” He grabbed at the matches, struck several against the hard leather straps. They flared, but immediately went out because of the wind caused by her rapid movement. Suddenly she was heading into them, and they were roaring and clawing at her. She knocked the first several down and found, to her surprise, that the sword


seemed to slice into them like butter. Once, twice more, she slashed at them, and they screamed in deep agony and clutched at wounds. And then she was through theml “Any ahead?” Brazil yelled. “Not yet,” came Bat’s voice. “Keep going!” “There’s plenty behind us!” Nathan called. “Slow down to a gallop so I can get at least one match lit!” Wuju slowed and he tried again. They stayed lit in his hands, but went out before they hit the ground. “Brazil!” Bat’s voice called urgently. “A whole bunch of them! Coming up fast to your right!” Suddenly a group of six or seven came at them out of the grasses. Nathan felt a searing pain in his right leg. One Murnie jumped and hit Wuju’s backside, tearing a deep gash in her Just in front of the pack. She screamed, stopped, and reared, slashing out at them with her sword. Brazil hung on somehow, and tore off one of the pouches of matches with strength that surprised him. He struck one and threw it into the pouch. The matches caught with a whoomph and he threw the pack out onto the grass. Nothing for a minute, and she bolted for the Mumies at an apparent opening. They had formed a hunting circle and their spears were ready. They expected the charge, but their traditional ways didn’t allow for their quarry to have a sword, and the formation broke. Suddenly the whole world caught fire. The suddenness and volatility was what stunned them all. My god! Brazil thought suddenly. It’s as if the stuff were made of cellulose! He could see Cousin Bat, saw the creature come down on a Mumie and kick with those powerful, handlike feet rolled up as fists-The giant green savage went down and didn’t move. The whole world suddenly became bright. Ahead she saw the stream valley, like a crack in the land. The Mumies started running and screaming. The


antelope panicked and ran in all directions, trampling many Murnies underfoot to get away. She jumped into the ravine, and the momentum and steep sides caused her to lose her balance. She went sprawling down the hill. Brazil felt himself suddenly free as he was flung away onto the bank. He was stunned for a minute, then he picked himself up and looked around. There was a glow still from the fire above, but down in the valley there was a still, near-absolute darkness. Feeling numb and dizzy, he ran down the valley in the direction Cousin Bat had said the river flowed. He looked around for Wuju but couldn’t see her anywhere. “Wuju!” he screamed hoarsely. “Wu]u!” But his voice was no match for the riot of noise above him, the cries of burning animals and panicked Murnies, many of whom were plunging over the bank into the valley. He ran down the muddy shore and into the river and followed it. The rocky bottom cut his feet. But he was oblivious to pain, running like a scarecrow, mindlessly, aimlessly down the river. Soon the glow and the sounds were far behind him, but still he pressed on. Suddenly he tripped and fell facedown in the water. He continued, crawling forward, then somehow picked himself up and started again. The fetid odor of swamp mud was all around him and all over him, yet he continued. Until, quite abruptly, everything caught up to him and he collapsed, unconscious before he hit the water, stones, and mud.


The Nation—a First-class Hotel THEY HAD NOT, AS IT HAPPENED, BEEN ARRES1ED. They had been quarantined. The way the robot manager explained it, an analysis of the particles found in their waste gases had revealed two of them to have certain microscopic life forms that could cause corro-sion problems in The Nation. They were, therefore, being held until their laboratories could check out the organisms, develop some sort of serum, and introduce it to them so they could safely get across the country without causing difficulties. For Ham this was her first real vacation since entering this crazy world, and she lazed, relaxed, and seemed in no hurry to go on. The Diviner and The Rel accepted the situation in-dignantly but with resignation; it kept pretty much to itself. Since their hosts had evacuated the wing in which the four were staying, they were allowed to visit one another. Vardia was the only mobile person who cared to do so; she started going to Skander’s room regularly. The Umiau welcomed the company, but refused to talk about her theories on the Well World or to discuss the object of their journey for fear that other ears were listening. “Why do we have to go through with this?” Vardia asked the scholar one day. The Umiau raised her eyebrows in surprise. “We’re still prisoners, you know,” she pointed out. “But we could tell the management,” the Czillian suggested. “After all, kidnapping is a crime.” “It is, indeed,” the mermaid agreed, “but that is also unheard of cross-hex. The fact is, these people don’t care if we’re prisoners, victims, or monsters. It just isn’t their concern. I*ve tried.”


“Then we must escape once we’re back on the road,” she persisted. “I’ve already seen a map—it’s in a desk in my room. The next hex borders the ocean.” “That won’t work,” Skander replied firmly. “First of all, we have no idea as to the powers of this Northerner, and I don’t want to test them. Secondly, Hain can fly and walk faster than you, and either one of us is ]ust a few good mouthfuls for her. No, put that out of your mind. Besides, we’ll not be ill-served in this. In the end, I have the ultimate control over us all, “because they can’t do a thing without the knowledge I possess. They are taking me where I want to go and could not get myself. No, I think we’ll go along with them—until midnight at the Well of Souls,” she added with a devious chuckle. “That’s about how long we’ll be kept here,” Vardia said grumpily. The Umiau reclined lazily in the shallow end of the pool. “Nothing we can do about this. Meantime, why not tell me something about yourself? You know all about me, really.” “] really don’t have much of a history before com-ing here,” she responded modestly. “I was a courier— wiped clean after every mission.” The mermaid clucked sympathetically. “But surely,” she urged, “you know about your world—the world of your birth, that is. For instance, were you born or hatched? Were you male or female? What?” “I was produced by cloning in Birth Factory Twelve on Nueva Albion,” she said. “All reproduction is by cloning, using the cellular tissues of the top people in history of each occupational group. Thus, all Diplos on or of Nueva Albion were cloned from the Sainted Vardia, who was the go-between in the revolution several centuries ago. She kept contact between the Liberation Front on Coriolanus and the Holy Revolutionaries in reactionary Nueva Albion. Thus, I carried her genes, her resemblance, and her job. My number, Twelve Sixty-one, said I was the sixty-first Vardia clone from Birth Factory Twelve.” Skander felt a sourness growing in her stomach. So that’s what mankind has come to, she thought. Almost


two-thirds of mankind reduced to clones, numbers— less human than the mechs of this absurd Nation. “Then you were a woman,” the Umiau said conversationally, not betraying her darker inner thoughts. “Not really,” she replied. “Cloning negates the need for sexes, and sexes represent sexism which promotes inequality. Depending on the clone model, development is chemically and surgically arrested. All glands, hormone production, and the like are removed, changed, or neutralized permanently, in my case on my eleventh birthday. We are also given hysterecto-mies, and males are castrated, so that it is impossible to tell male or female after the turning age. Every few years we were supposed to get a complete treatment that kept the aging processes arrested and freshened the body, so that one couldn’t tell a fifty-year-old from a fifteen-year-old.’* Outwardly the Umiau remained impassive, but internally Skander was so depressed that she felt nauseated. Ye gods! the archaeologist swore to herself. A small, carefully bred cadre of supermen and super-women ruling a world of eunuch children raised to unquestioning obedience! I was right to have killed them! Monsters like that—in control of the Well! Unthinkable! They should all be killed, she knew, hatred welling up inside of her. The masters who were the most monstrous of spawn, and the masses of poor impersonal blobs of children—billions of them, probably. Best to put them out of their misery, she thought sadly. They weren’t really people anyway. Suddenly her thoughts turned to Varnett. Same idea, Skander thought. Although the boy hadn’t come from a world as far gone as Nueva Albion, it would go that way in time. Names disappear on one world, sex on another, then all get together to form a universe of tiny, mindless, sexless, nameless organic ro-bots, programmed and totally obedient—but so, so happy. Vamett—brilliant, a truly great mind, yet childish, immature, in thousands of ways as programmed as his


cousins whom he despised. What sort of a world, what sort of a universe, would Varnett create? The Markovians had understood, she reflected. They knew. I won’t betray them! she swore intensely. I won’t let anyone wreck the great dream! I will get there first! Then they’ll see! I’ll destroy them alll Murithel— Somewhere in the Interior COUSIN BAT CIRCLED AROUND FEELING HELPLESS. Maybe I can pick him up, he thought, looking at Brazil’s battered and bleeding body in the mud. He’s not a very big fellow, and I’ve moved some pretty heavy rocks with these legs. He was about to give it a try when a group of Mumies came running up the valley. They got to Brazil’s unconscious body before Bat could do anything at all, and the night creature thought, It’s all over. They’ll chomp him into pieces for a late snack now. But they didn’t. Four of the savages stayed with the body, while two others made for the top of the valley and the plains above. Fascinated, Bat stayed with them, balancing on the air currents. The two returned a few minutes later with a litter made with tough branches for poles and, apparently, woven grass for the stretcher. Carefully they placed Brazil on the litter. One Mumie picked up the front, the other took the rear. They climbed the bank effortlessly, and Bat followed them, still invisible in the dark. Darkness had returned to the plain as well. Bat was amazed to see hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Mumies beating a large, smoldering area about a thousand meters from the valley where they had


plunged-It was a well-coordinated, well-rehearsed fire brigade, with the bulk of the Mumies beating out the last sparks with skin blankets, while an apparently endless chain of the creatures ran a bucket brigade from the creek all the way to the fire scene. These are savages? Bat asked himself wonderingly. The teamwork and skillful handling of the fire he could not reconcile in his mind with the toothy carnivores who chased live prey with primitive spears and attacked them fiercely with spear and claw. Brazil’s unmoving form was hauled into a small camp away from the fire scene. A particularly huge Mumie, his light green skin laced with dark brown, examined the man and started barking orders. Even though Bat’s translator would—should—pick up what the big one was saying, he dared not get close enough to hear. The big Murnie got a bucket of water and started to wash Brazil’s wounds with a gentleness that surprised the bat. Others brought a large hide case and a number of leaves. The big one opened the laces on the case, and from its interior pulled out varicolored jars of what looked like mud and more leaves, some apparently kept soaked in some solution in jars. Slowly, methodically, the big one administered the muds to Brazil’s open wounds, and used the leaves to form a compress for the man’s head. He’s a doctor! Cousin Bat realized suddenly. They’re treating him! Bat felt better, almost relaxed enough to leave, but he did not. Those wounds are tremendous, he noted. The man’s lost huge amounts of blood, and probably has multiple breaks, concussion, and shock. Even if the medicine man knew the art of transfusion, there is none to give the blood. Brazil will be dead within hours, no matter what magic this creature can work. Bat realized sadly. But what can I do? And, if they somehow cure him—what then? Prisoner? Pet? Plaything? Slave? The Murnie medicine man gestured, and a smaller tribesman came into camp leading a huge stag ante-211

lope. It was the largest such animal Bat had ever seen, light brown with a white stripe running from the back of the head to the stubby tail, a large set of eerie-looking antlers atop that head. The stag was docile, too much so to be normal. Bat knew. It was drugged or something. He saw with amazement that the deerlike animal wore a collar of carefully twisted skin, from which a small stone dangled. Someone owns that animal, Bat reflected. Do these savages of the plain breed their food? Into camp from different directions came five more Mumies, looking like the witch doctor—really large ones, with that curious brown discoloration, more pronounced on some than others. Six, thought the bat. Of course it would be six. Primitives went in for mystic numbers, and if any number had power here that one certainly did. They put the stag so that it faced Brazil, and all six moved close. Three of them placed their right hands on the unflinching stag, and took the right hands of the other three in their left. The other three all placed their left hands on Brazil’s body. Bat stayed aloft as long as he could, but finally decided he had to land. He was Just coming out of the fight, and the exhilaration and extra pep that had flowed through him had waned. Reluctantly, he made for the valley and flew along until he found a place with no Mumies in the immediate vicinity. He landed, breathing hard, thinking of what he could do. In a few minutes he had his wind back, and decided on a plan that the odds said were ridiculous. He had to try. No more running, he told himself. If I can do it, I’ll doit. He took off and flew back to the camp, seeing that he was in luck. The stag was staked to a post in the ground, apparently asleep, away from Brazil, who was covered with the mud compounds and leafy stuff, still in the open. Brazil weighed around fifty kilos, he guessed. The litter? Five more? Ten? I can’t do it, he thought suddenly, fear shooting through him. That much weight, for all that distance!


Suddenly he thought of the Dillian girl. He had lost track of her while following Brazil, but he couldn’t take the time now. Nothing he could do in her case regardless, he knew. But she had run all out, all that distance on the ground, never stopping, cut and speared—way beyond her limits, while hungry and weak. You’ve been eating well, Bat told himself sternly. You’re as big and strong and healthy as you’ll ever be. If she can do it … Without another thought he swooped down to Brazil, and took one side of the litter, folding it over so he held both branches in his feet with Brazil wrapped in the middle. He took a quick glance around. So far so good. Now—could he take off, no ledge, no running start, with this load? He started beating his great wings furiously, aided by a timely gust of wind that rustled the grass across the plain. He rose, and beat all the more furiously. Too low! he thought nervously. Got to get height! The furious flapping brought Murnies running from their tents, including the big one. “No! No! Come back!” the medicine man screamed, but the wind picked up and Bat was on his way, over the stream and down along its course, the unconscious Brazil hanging from the folded litter. Cousin Bat did not believe in gods or prayers, yet he prayed as he struggled to keep up speed, height, and balance. Prayed he would make it to Czill and to modern medicine without killing Brazil, himself, or both. With shock and dismay the medicine man watched Bat fly into the darkness. “Ogenon!” he called in a deep, rough voice, “Yes, Your Holiness?” a smaller, weaker voice replied. “You saw?” “The body of the honored warrior has been taken by the one who files,” Ogenon responded in a tone that seemed to wonder why such a stupid question had been asked. “The flying one is ignorant of us and our ways, or he would not have done this,” the medicine man said as much to himself as to his aide. “He flew east, so


he’s taking the body to Czill. I’ll need a strong runner to get to the border. Now, don’t look at me like that! I know how foul the air is over there, but this has to be done. The Czillians must realize when they see the warrior’s body and hear the winged one’s story what has happened, but, if the body survives—not likely— they will not know of the survival of the essence. Go!” Ogenon found a warrior willing to make the trip in short order, and the medicine man instructed him what to say and to whom, impressing on the runner the need for speed. “Do the message in relays,” the old one said. “Just make sure it is continuous and that it is not garbled.” Once the instructions were given and the runner was off into the darkness, the large Mumie turned again to his aide, who was looking extremely bleary-eyed and was yawning repeatedly. “Get awake, boy’*’ snapped the elder. “Now, locate the six-limbed creature and tell me where it is.” “That’s simple, Your Holiness,” Ogenon responded sleepily. “The six-limbed one is under treatment at the Circle of Nine. I saw it being dragged there.” “Good,” the old one replied. “Now, you’ll have to go to the Base Camp and bring an elder to me, Elder Grondel by name.” “But that’s—” Ogeaon started to protest, yawning again. “I know how far it is!” the big one roared. “You can make it there and back before dawn!” “But suppose the Revered Elder won’t come,” the aide wailed, trying to get out of the assignment and to get back to sleep. “He’ll come,” the medicine man replied confidently. “Just describe to him the three alien creatures we’ve had here this night, and tell him particularly of the honored warrior and of what has happened. He’ll beat you here, I’ll wager, even though he’s eighty years old! Now, off with you! Now!” Ogenon went, grumbling about how everybody kicked him around and he always had to do everything. Once out of sight, the elder couldn’t hold back his own yawns anymore, yet he didn’t return to his tent


and mat but sat down in the, for him, very chilly night air-All he could do now was wait. Wuju relived the nightmare run for hours, then, suddenly, woke up. I must still be dreaming, she thought. Everything was fuzzy and she was feeling quite high. She couldn’t believe what she saw. She was in a Murme camp, in the earliest light of dawn, and there were horribly loud and grotesque snores all around her. Sitting in front of her, arms around its knees, was the biggest Murnie she had ever seen—taller than she, and she stood over two meters. It was also oddly colored, on the whole a deeper brown than she, laced only here and there with spots of the light green that was the usual color of these strange creatures. From a distance they had looked like walking rectangular bushes. But here, up close, she saw that they had a rough skin that folded and sagged, like partially melted plastic, all over their body. They looked like a large trunk of a body with no head, she thought. The eyes, huge as dinner plates, were located where the breasts should be, and perhaps thirty centimeters be-low them was that enormous mouth, a huge slit that seemed almost to cleave the trunk in two. There was no sign of hair, genitals, or, for that matter, a nose and ears. The drug or whatever it was seemed to be wearing off more and more. This isn’t a dream! she thought suddenly, as fear ran through her. She tried to move, but found her legs were all roped to stakes deep in the ground, and her hands were tied behind her. She struggled in panic to pull free, and the sound woke up the big brown Murnie. Its huge eyes opened, deep yellow with perfectly round, black irises that reflected the light almost like a cat’s. “Do not struggle,” the creature said to her. The words were mushy, as if they were uttered in the midst of a roar, but they were understandable. It was speaking a language it knew but its mouth was not suited to its use^


“I said do not struggle!” the Mumie repeated, getting up and stretching in a very human fashion. “You are quite safe. No one will harm you. Can you understand me? Nod if you can.” Wuju nodded fearfully, panic still all over her face. “All right, now listen well. It is difficult for me to speak this tongue, and I must concentrate carefuly to get the words out. You can understand me, but i can-not understand you, I don’t think. Say something.” “What—what is all this?” she almost screamed. The Murnie scratched bis behind with his huge, wide hand. The arms were almost to the ground when drooping by his side. “I thought so. I could not understand a word. You have no translator. You must concentrate hard, like me. Think, then answer. What language am I using?” She thought for a second, then suddenly realized the truth. “Confederacy!” she exclaimed, amazed. “You are an Entry!” “All right, I got Confederacy but nothing else. That is because all Entries continue to think in their original tongue. What they say is automatically transformed in the neural passages to the language of the native hex. You can understand me, therefore you can speak it as I do if you think hard, make your mouth form the word you think. Take it slowly, one word at a time. Tell me your name and the name of your companions. Then try a simple phrase, one word at a time.” Wuju concentrated, the fear and panic evaporating. Once this one had been one of her own kind! A potential friend she would need most of all here. As she started to speak she saw what he meant, and adjusted. “I-ahm-Wuju,” she managed, and it almost sounded right. Her mouth and tongue wanted to make a different set of words. “Moy frandiz ahar Nathan Brazil ind Cooseen Baht.” “Nathan Brazil!” the big Mumie exclaimed excitedly, suddenly very wide awake. The rest of what he said was unintelligible. My god! she thought. Does everybody on this crazy planet know Nathan? The Murnie suddenly frowned, and scratched the


side of his head thoughtfully. “But the other was an old-culture man by description,” he mused, suddenly looking at her again with those huge yellow eyes. “You mean he still looked like his old self?” She nodded, and his great mouth opened in surprise. “I wonder why he wasn’t changed in the Well?” “Whahr est Nathan?” she managed. “Well, that’s really the problem,” the Mumie answered. “You see, he’s sort of in two places at once.” He was a former freighter pilot like Brazil, the na-tive told her, on the line for over two hundred years, facing his fourth rejuve and with all his family and friends dead, his world so changed he couldn’t go home. He had decided to commit suicide, to end the loneliness, when he got a funny distress signal in the middle of nowhere. He had veered to investigate, when suddenly his ship had seemed to cease to exist around him, and he had fallen into the Zone Well and wound up a Murnie. “They are good people,” he told her. “Just very different. They can use nothing not found in nature or made by hand. No machines at all. They are bisexual, like us—although an alien couldn’t tell who was who. Strong families, communal, with a strong folk art and music—herdsmen who breed the antelope we eat. Very hostile to strangers, though—they would have killed you last night.” “Den woi om I ailoif?” she managed. “You’re alive,” he replied, “because you killed about two dozen warriors, directly that is, plus the fire and the like.” She didn’t understand, and said so. “The Murnie nation accepts death naturally,” he explained. “We don’t fear it, nor dwell on it. We live for each day. It’s far more enjoyable that way. What are respected most and valued most are honor and courage. You all displayed that last night! It took raw courage to run the plain, and great honor to keep go-ing until you dropped rather than give in. If you had surrendered, they would still have killed you. But they found both you and Brazil, badly wounded, uncon-ťcious in different parts of the stream bed. It would


have been cowardly and dishonorable to have killed you. You had gained respect—so they dragged each of you to the camp nearest where you were found, and your injuries were tended to. Our medicine is quite advanced—this is a rough hex.” “Nathan!” she exclaimed, “1st hay arriot?” “He was banged up much worse than you,” the Mumie replied gravely. “You’re going to hurt for a while when the herbal anesthetic wears off, but you have nothing more than four or five deep scratches on your back and a lot of bruises. We have treated them, but they will ache.” He paused for a second. “But Brazil, he was much worse. I don’t know how he kept going. It’s not possible-He should be dead, or, at best, totally paralyzed, yet he walked almost a kilometer down that streambed before collapsing. What an incredible will he must have! The Murnies will sing stories of him and tell of his greatness for centuries’ In addition to the hundreds of minor bone breaks, the enormous amount of blood he lost from gaping wounds, and a badly lacerated leg, he had a broken back and neck. He got a kilometer with a broken back and neckl” She thought of poor Nathan, twisted and bleeding, paralyzed and comatose. The thought made her sick, and it was several minutes and several attempts be-fore she could concentrate on speaking Confederacy again. Tears welled up in her eyes, and she couldn’t stop crying for several minutes. The fierce-looking Murnie stood there feeling helpless and sympathetic. Finally she managed, “1st—hay ist stuli aliff?” “He is still alive,” the Mumie replied gravely. “Sort of.” “Hay ist oncun—uncrunchus?” “Unconscious, yes,” the Murnie replied. “I said, remember, that this was a rough hex that prized honor and courage, and had a lot of knowledge and wisdom within its limits. Because Murithel is totally nontechnological, the inhabitants have turned, aside from herbal compounds and muds, to the powers of the mind. Some of these doctors—and they are doctors— have enormous mental powers. I don’t understand the


powers, and I doubt if they do. These people study and concentrate over half their lives to develop the powers. By the time they’re strong enough to be use-ful, the wise men—Holy Ones we call them—are elderly, sometimes with only a few years to live and to teach the next generation.” He paused again, and started pacing nervously, trying to think of how to say it. “When Brazil was brought in so battered and close to death,*’ he said carefully, “he was already, because of his tremendous courage, the most legendary character ever to be here. The Holy One who examined him did what he could, but saw that death was probable no matter what. He summoned five others—six is a magic number here, for obvious reasons—and they performed a Transference of Honor. It has only been done three or four times since I’ve been here—it shortens the life spans of the Holy Ones by a year or more. They reserve it for the greatest of honor and courage.” He stopped again, his tone changing. “Look, I can see you don’t understand. It is difficult to explain such things when I don’t understand it, either. Umm… . Are you a follower of any religion?” The idea of religion was extremely funny to her, but she answered gently, “No.” “Few of us are—or were, in my day, and I’m sure it’s worse now. But here, against these hills and on these plains, you learn that you are ignorant of almost everything. Call it mechanical, if you will, a part of the Markovian brian’s powers, like our own transformations and this world itself, but accept it: that which is us, our memories, our personality, whatever, can be not only transformed but transferred. Now I—stop looking at me like that! I am not insane. I’ve seen if” “Arrh sou stelling moi daht Nathan ist naow e Mumie?” she asked, unwilling to believe but unwilling to disbelieve, either. Too much had already happened to her on this crazy world. “Not a Mumie,” he replied evenly. “That would involve superimposing his—well, they call it his ‘essence’ —on somebody else. No, when someone’s so respected that he rates a Transference of Honor, he is transferred to the best thoroughbred breeding stag or doe.


Don’t look so shocked—they are of such high quality that they are instantly recognized. No one would eat them, or even bother them. “If, then, the body can be successfully brought back to health—which is rare or the Holy Ones would never do the Transference in the first place—he is switched back. If not, he is revered, cared for, and has a happy and peaceful life on the plains.” “Nathan est un ahntlupe?” she gasped. It was becoming easier to talk, although her pronunciation was still terrible. “A beautiful pure stag,” the Mumie acknowledged. “I’ve seen him. He’s still drugged. I didn’t want him coming out of that state until you and I were both there to explain it to him.” “1st der—ist der unny chants dot hes boody wall liff?” she asked. “Will his body live?” the Murnie repeated. “I’m sure I don’t know. I honestly doubt it, but I would have said that the Transference of Honor was more likely than going a kilometer with a game leg, a broken back, and busted neck. The outcome will depend on how much damage he receives beyond what’s already done.” Then he told her of Cousin Bat’s rescue. “He obviously could not consider us civilized or Brazil anything more than the victim of primitive medicine. Would you? So he plucked Brazil’s body up and is even now taking it to Czill where they have a modern hospital. If the body survives the trip—and from what was told me I doubt if it survived the night, let alone the trip —the Czillians will know what happened. One of our people is getting the news to them sometime today just in case. They can sustain the body’s functions indefinitely if it’s still alive, though an empty vessel. Their computers know of the Transference of Honor. If they can heal the body, it can be returned here for retransference, but that is not something to pin your hopes on. “I said I experienced three Transferences in my eighty years. Of them all, none of the bodies lasted the night.”


Nathan Brazil awoke feeling strange. Everything looked strange, too. He was on the Mumie plain, he could see that— and it was daylight. So I’ve survived again, he thought. Things looked crazy, though, as if they were seen through a fish-eye camera lens—his field of vision was a little larger than he was used to, but it was a round picture vastly distorted. Things around the periphery looked close up; but as the view went toward the cen-ter of the field of view, everything seemed to move away as if he were looking down a tunnel. The picture was incredibly clear and detailed, but the distortion as things around the field of view bent toward the fixed center made it difficult to judge distances. And the whole world was brown—an incredible number of shades of brown and white. Brazil turned his head and looked around. The distortion and color blindness stayed constant. And he felt funny, crazy, sort of. He thought back. He remembered the mad dash, the fire, falling off Wuju—then everything was dark. This is crazy, he thought. His hearing was incredibly acute. He heard everything crystal-clear, even voices and movements far away. It took him several minutes to sort out the chatter, finally assigning about eighty percent of it to things he could see. There were Murnies moving around, and they all seemed to be light brown to him, although he remembered them as green. Suddenly he heard footsteps near him, and he turned to see a huge Murnie that was all very deep brown coming toward him. I must be drugged, he told himself. These are after-effects of some drug they gave me. The big Murnie ambled up to him. I must be standing upright on a rack or something, he thought. I’m as tall as he is, and he’s at least two meters, judging by his size, large compared to the run-of-the-Mumie crowd around. Two grossly distorted Mumie hands took his head, lowered it slightly, so the creature was looking right into Brazil’s eyes.

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Categories: Chalker, Jack L