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


damned! An Entry! Haven’t had one in over ten years!” Suddenly the old skepticism returned. “You’re not just saying that to shirk, are you?” “I assure you that I am what I say, and that up until a very short time ago I was of a totally different race and form.” “You adjust pretty well,” the other noted. “Most of *em have the creeping fits for days. Well, I’ll take you over to the nearest government house and it’ll be their problem. I have work to do. Follow me.” With that, it started on down the road, and Hain followed. His guide was almost a third larger than he was, Hain saw. Most of the creatures he passed seemed to be about the same size or smaller than he. A few big ones were around, and they seemed to be the bosses. They walked past several of the huge cones, then up the side of one that looked no different from the rest and into the hole on top. Hain noted that the opening was so even because it was rimmed with metal, like an open hatch. He almost lost his nerve on entering. The aboveground part of the cone, about ten meters worth, was hollow to the outside structure. They were not only walking down, but at an angle. When they passed ground level, they walked onto a floor which was also some kind of metal. Tunnels lined with tile, with neon or some similar lighting stretching down in long tubes, led away like spokes on a wheel-They were wide enough to hold two of the creatures abreast, and they passed several as his guide led him down a near one. Doorless openings into large chambers filled with all sorts of strange stuff, often with dozens of the creatures working, were passed before they reached one with a hexagon in lights over the doorway. Inside the hex was a wide gray ring, then a smaller black one, then a white dot. It reminded Hain with some amusement of the view of his guide’s posterior, with its menacing stinger. Several small and medium-sized creatures were working, apparently at some sort of paperwork, Hain noted with curiosity. Huge printing machines, like typewriters, were all over, with television screens displaying what the creatures, using their forward legs,


were typing on a strange keyboard. The keyboard was a series of apparently identical cubes, forty or fifty of them, which lit momentarily as they were touched. A crazy dot pattern emerged on the screens in no apparent logical order or pattern. When the screen was filled, a hind leg would kick a large stud and the screen would go blank—and they would be back to typing again. So I can’t read the language, Hain noted to himself. Well, can’t have everything. The guide waited patiently until somebody noticed him and looked up from its keyboard. “Yes?” asked the worker and the communicated tone was one of irritated nastiness. “Found this Markling on the road, claims to be an Entry,” said the big guide in that same annoyed tone he had used with Hain. There was that word again. What in seven hells was a Markling, anyway? “Just a moment,” the clerk or whatever it was said, “I’ll see if His Highness will see you.” The office worker went into a side door and stayed several minutes. Hain’s hunger was increasing, and so was his apprehension. A hereditary empire, he thought Well, it could be worse. Finally the clerk reappeared. “His Highness will see the Entry,” she said—for some reason Hain automatically thought of his guide as masculine and the receptionist and most of the other workers as feminine. The guide moved forward. “Just the Entry,” said the clerk sharply. “You will return to your duties.” “As you say,” the other replied, and turned and left. Hain gathered up his courage and entered the doorway- Inside was the biggest creature he had ever seen. But there was something else unusual about him. The hairs on his body were white. Hain suddenly realized Just how hereditary this monarchy was. There were some boxes and bags around of more or less conventional design, and one of those typewriters with a much larger screen. Nothing else. The


big one reared back on the last four of his eight legs. Hain was impressed and cowed; he hadn’t seen anyone else doing that. “What’s your name. Entry?” the big white one demanded imperiously. The tone, Hain realized by now, was conveyed by the intensity of the signal. “Datham Hain, Your Highness,” he replied in the most respectful way he could. The official ran his tongue over his beak in thought. Finally, he went over to the typewriter and started punching up something—something short, Hain saw, because the screen was still almost empty when the large creature punched the send bar or whatever it was. A moment’s wait. Then the screen started to fill with those funny dots. The official read the message carefully, studying it for several minutes. Finally it turned back to him as he stood there impatiently, needing almost four meters to negotiate the move. “Ordinarily, Hain, we’d just train and condition you to a position and you’d fit in or die.” Hain’s heart—if he still had one—sank. “But,” the royal official continued, “in this case we have special use for you. Too bad you turned up a Markling, but that’s to be expected. You’ll be quartered near here—I’ll have one of my assistants show you where. There’s a commissary three doors down. Most of you Entries come through starving, so go in there and eat your fill. Don’t worry about what it is—we can eat just about anything. Wait in your quarters until I get instructions from Imperial Headquarters.” Hain still stood there, digesting all this. Finally, he said, “Your Highness, might I be permitted one question?” “Yes, yes,” the other said impatiently. “What is it?” “What’s a Markling?” “Hain,” replied the official patiently, “life is hard and cheap in the Akkafian Empire. Infant mortality is extremely high, not only from normal factors imposed by nature but for other reasons you’ll find out sooner or later for yourself. As a result, to ensure racial’ continuation, about fifty females are born for every male.


“A Markling is a female Akkafian, Ham-You’ve had a sex change.” Datham Hain was led by one of the office staff to the commissary, which proved to be a large room filled with strange animals, plants, and worms, some still alive. Feeding as an Akkafian was not pleasant, at least to Hain’s unnormalized psyche, but it was necessary. The creatures frankly didn’t taste all that bad—in fact, they didn’t taste very much at all, but they filled the void in what seemed to be multiple stomachs. If he didn’t think about what he was eat-ing, the changeling discovered, it went down all right. That tongue, like a sticky whip, was infinitely controllable. Live prey were simply picked up, thrown to the rear sting area to be paralyzed, then held and fed by the mandibles a little at a time through the beak. Discovering that he was now a she wasn’t much of a shock to Hain; the odds were that sexuality was so different among these people that it probably didn’t make much difference anyway. What was disquieting was that the males seemed to be in firm charge. The Nirlings, as the males were called, were larger and controlled the government and supervisory positions and the technology that kept them in power. The females, mostly neutered, did the work, apparently compulsively. Hain had seen no evidence of force or coer-cion; the workers carried out their tasks dedicatedly, unquestioningly, and uncomplainingly. Hain understood the system to a degree. It was not unlike that of the Comworlds, where people were bred to work. The only trouble, he—no, she—thought, is that I am on the low end of the scale. To be an alien creature, to be totally different—these things she could ac-cept. To be female she could accept. To be a slave to such a system was intolerable. After feeding they took her to a rest area. This race worked at whatever it did around the clock, and individuals were spelled by others so they would get rest at scheduled intervals. The staging area rose for several storeys—a large,


underground wall of cubicles each of which was just large enough to hold a single creature. About half were filled as they entered, and Hain was assigned a number and told to go into it and wait for instructions. Hain climbed up the side easily and entered the assigned cubicle. It was warm, and extremely humid, which felt oddly more comfortable than the drier air of the offices. There was a carpet of some sort of animal hair, and a small control panel with two buttons, one of which was depressed. Curious, she pressed the other one. She had apparently found a radio which was broadcasting a series of sound patterns whose pulses were oddly pleasing and calming. A wave of relief swept over her insect body and she found herself drifting off into a dreamless sleep, The office clerk noted with some satisfaction that Hain was asleep, then went over to the superintendent’s control console at the base of the rest area. The superintendent was emptying the catch trays of waste and other products, and she showed surprise when she recognized a clerk of the baron’s household. “By order of His Highness,” the clerk commanded, “the Markling in One Ninety-eight is to be kept asleep until called for. Make certain the pacifier remains on at shift change.” The superintendent acknowledged the order and went into her office. A panel of plastic buttons laid out and numbered corresponding to the cubicles was before her, with many of the buttons lit, including Hain’s. The superintendent held down number 198 with one foreleg while punching a small red control off to one side with the other. Hain was locked into blissful sleep until the but-ton was depressed again. The clerk expressed satisfaction, and returned to the baron’s office to report. The great white Nirling nodded approval and dismissed her back to her desk. After a while, he went over to his communications console and punched the number for the Imperial Palace. He didn’t like to call the palace, since the king and the ambitious nobles surrounding him were – un-stable and untrustworthy. Barons were low on the


pecking order, but they had a much longer survival rate because they were away from the palace. Make your quota and the living was pretty good. Communication was by audio only, so things had to be spelled out. Although the Akkafians had no ears, they “heard” in much the same way as creatures who did. Sound, after all, is a disruption of the surrounding atmospheric pressure by varying that pressure. Although he had never heard a sound as such, the baron’s hearing was better than most creatures on the Well World. After a long period, somebody at the palace woke up and answered. The Imperial Household was getting sloppy and degenerate, the baron reflected. Perhaps one day soon it would be time for a baronial revolt. Of course, the titles and such were not the same as human equivalents, but if Hain could have overheard the conversation, it would have been translated much like this: “This is Baron Kluxm of Subhex Nineteen. I have an emergency topic for immediate transmittal to His Majesty’s Privy Council.” “The Privy Council is not assembled,” came a bored reply- “Can’t this wait. Baron?” Kluxm cursed silently at the insolence and stupidity of even the household help. The operator was probably one of the king’s Marklings. “I said emergency, operator!” he emphasized, try-ing to keep his temper from showing. “I take full responsibility.” The operator seemed unsure of herself, and finally decided in good bureaucratic fashion to pass the buck. “I will transfer you to General Ytil of the Imperial Staff,” she said. “He will decide.” Before Kluxm could even reply he heard the relay switch, and a new, male voice answered. “Ytil,” it said curtly. The baron had even less use for imperial military men; they generally went to war with other hexes when shortages developed every few years, and invariably lost them. However, he decided that Ytil would do for the same purpose as the operator had;


after he explained the situation, it was somebody else’s problem. “I had an Entry today, one of the ones we’d been told to watch for.” “An Entry!” YtiTs voice was suddenly very excited. The waves were so bad that the general’s voice started to give Kluxm a headache. “Which one?” “The one called Datham Hain. As a common Markling breeder,” he added. Ytil’s voice still quivered with excitement, although the last plainly disappointed him. “A Markling breeder! Pity! But to think we got one! Hmmmm. Actually, this might work out to our advantage. I’ve got to go over my files and recordings of Hain at Zone, but, if I remember, he’s the greedy and ambitious type.” “Yes, that’s what my file said,” Kluxm acknowledged. “But she was abnormally respectful and quiet while here. Seems to have adjusted to our form extremely well.” “Yes, yes, that’s to be expected,” Ytil replied. “After all, no use antagonizing everyone. Hain’s smart enough to see the social structure and her limits in it right off. Where is she now?” “In a rest area near my office,” Kluxm replied. “She’s on lull music and has a full stomach, so she’s out for two or three days until hunger sets in again.” “Excellent, excellent,” approved Ytil. “I’ll call the Privy Council together and we’ll send someone for her when we’re ready. You are to be commended, Baron! A fine job!” Sure, Kluxm thought glumly to himself. For which you’ll take all the credit. But credit was not what was on Ytil’s mind as the general scurried down the palace corridor after terminating the conversation. He stopped in a security room and picked up a tiny, black, jewellike object on a large chain. Carefully he placed it over his right antenna and then went down to the lowest level of the palace. The guards weren’t very curious about him; it was


normal to have high-ranking military and diplomatic people using the Zone Gate. The Akkafian general walked quickly into the darkness at the end of the basement corridor. And emerged in Zone. Zone—the Akkafian Embassy THE MARKLING RECEPTIONIST LOOKED STARTLED AS General Ytil emerged through the Zone Gate. Each hex had a gate somewhere, which would transport anyone to Zone instantaneously, and from Zone to his home hex. There were 780 such gates to the offices of each of the Southern Hemisphere races, as well as the one master Gate for Classification through which all entries passed and the huge input-only Gate in the center. It made things very easy for interspecies contact. General Ytil dismissed the startled exclamation and apologies of the receptionist and made his way immediately to the Imperial Ambassador’s office. The Baron Azkfru had barely been tipped off by the clerk when the general rushed in the door. The ambassador could see the obvious excitement and agitation in Ytil’s every movement. “My Lord Baron!” the general exclaimed. “It has happened! We have one of the new Entries as it was foretold!” “Calm down, Ytil,” Azkfru growled. “You’re losing your medals for dignity and self-control. Now, tell me rationally what this is about.” “The one called Hain,” Ytil responded, still excited. “It turned up earlier today over in Kluxm’s barony as a Markling breeder.” “Hmmmm …” Azkfru mused. “Too bad she’s a


breeder, but it can’t be helped. Where is this Entry now?” “In lull sleep, safe for two or three more days,” the general told him. “Kluxm thinks I’ve notified the Imperial Household and the Privy Council. He’s expecting someone to pick her up.” “Very good,” Azkfru replied approvingly. “It looks like things are breaking our way, I never put much stock in fortune-tellers and such crap, but if this has happened then Providence has placed a great opportunity in our hands. Who else knows of this besides Kluxm and yourself?” “Why, no one. Highness,” Ytil replied. “I have been most careful.” Baron Azkfru’s mind moved quickly, sorting out the facts and deciding on a course of action with a speed that had guaranteed his rise to the top. “All right, return to your post for now, and nothing of this to anyone! I’ll make all the necessary arrange-ments.” “You’re making the deal with the Northerners?” Ytil asked. Azkfru gave the Akkafian equivalent of a sigh. “Ytil, how many times do you need to be reminded that / am the baron? You take orders, and leave the questions and answers to your betters.” “But I only—” Ytil began plaintively, but Azkfru cut him off. “Go, now,” the ambassador said impatiently, and Ytil turned to leave. Azkfru reached into a drawer and pulled out a pulse rifie-This one worked in Zone, at least in his offices. “Ytil!” he called after the other, who was halfway out the door. Ytil stopped but couldn’t turn. “My Lord?” he called back curiously. “Good-bye, fool,” Azkfru replied, and shot the general repeatedly until the white-haired body was a charred ruin. Azkfru buzzed for his guard, and thought. Too bad


/ couldn’t trust the idiot, but his incompetence would give the show away. The guard appeared, and looked down at the general’s remains nervously but without curiosity. “The general tried to kill me,** he explained without any effort to be convincing. “I had to defend myself. It appears that he and the Baron Kluxm are at the heart of a baronial revolt. After you dispose of this carrion, go to Kluxm’s, and eliminate his whole staff and, of course, the baron. Then go to the rest area and bring a Markling named Ham to my estate. Do it quietly. I’ll report the revolt.” They nodded, and it took them only a few minutes to eat the body. After they had left, he buzzed for a clerk. “You will go to the Classification Gate and enter. It will take you to the North Zone. When you get there don’t leave the Gate room, but simply tell the first inquirer that you want to talk to Ambassador Thirteen Forty, and wait for that person. When it comes, tell it who you are, who sent you, and that we are ready to agree. Got that?” The clerk waved her antennae affirmatively and repeated the message. Dismissing her, he attended to the last detail. He flipped the intercom to the receptionist’s desk. “The General Ytil wasn’t here,” he told her. “Understand? You never even heard of him.” The clerk understood all too well, and rubbed out Ytil’s appearance in her logbook. It was a big gamble he was taking, he knew, and it would probably cost him his life. But the stakes! The stakes were too great to ignore!


The Barony of Azkfru, Akkafian Empire DATHAM HAIN’S MASSIVE BODY, NOW IN A DRUGGED sleep, rested in the center of the lowest floor of the Baron Azkfru’s nest. The room was filled with computer banks flashing light-signals and making clicking and whirring sounds. Four large cables were attached to Ham’s head at key points, and two smaller ones were fixed to the base of her two antennae. Two neutered Markling technicians with the symbol of the baron painted between their two huge eyes checked readings on various dials and gauges, and checked and rechecked all the connections. Baron Azkfru’s antennae showed complete satisfaction. He had often wondered what the Imperial Household would say if they knew he had one of these devices. There would be civil war at the very least, he thought. The conditioner had been developed by a particularly brilliant Akkafian scientist in the imperial household almost eighty years before, when the ambassador himself was just a youngling. It ended the periodic baronial revolts, and assured the stability of the new —now old—order by making revolution next to impossible. Oh, you couldn’t condition everyone with certainty, so it was done subtly. Probably every baron dreamed of overthrowing the empire—it let the pressure and frustration out. But none of them could do it. Because, although they could dream about it, they couldn’t disobey a direct imperial command. But Azkfru could. His father had duplicated the device here in the earliest days of its development. Here, slowly, moth-Ill odically, key ones were deconditioned and reconditioned. Even so, he reflected, you couldn’t change the basic personality of the conditioned. That was why Ytil had to go—too dumb to keep quiet. As for Kluxm—well, it was known for some particularly strong-willed Nirlings to break free, although never with any prayer of support from the rest of the conditioned leadership. “We are ready when you are. Highness,” called one of the Markling technicians. Azkfru signaled satisfaction and went down to the floor. Quickly and efficiently two additional cables similar to the ones on Hain were placed on his own antennae. When he now said something, it would be placed in the machine, amplified, processed, and fed directly into the brain of Datham Hain in such a way that it would be taken as acceptable input and engraved in the other’s mind. The baron signaled a go-ahead, and the technicians touched the last controls. “Datham Hain!” the ambassador’s brain called out. Hain, although unconscious, answered, “Yes?” “Your past to this point you retain, but it is an academic past, there to call upon if needed but irrelevant to your present and future,” the baron told her. “What is important to you, what is the only thing of importance to you, is that you are a breeder Markling of the Barony of Azkfru. Your destiny is whatever the Baron of Azkfru wishes, and that is acceptable and normal to you. My will is your will, your only will. You exist to serve me alone. You would never betray me, nor allow harm to come to me. You are my own, my property, and that is all that is good and happy in your mind or life. When you serve me you are happy, and when you do not you are unhappy. That is the measure of your joy in life. I am your leader, your lord, and your only god. Your worship is normal. Do you understand this?” “I understand, my lord,” replied Hain mechanically. The baron signaled to the technicians to break contact, which they quickly did, then unfastened the two cables from his antennae.


“How did it take?” Azkfru asked one of the technicians. “The subject is receptive,” replied one of the technicians, part of whose own conditioning was never to consider the idea that she might have been conditioned. “However, her psychological profile is one of extreme selfishness. That might eventually cancel the conditioning, producing mental breakdown.” “What do you advise, then?” “Go along with the idea,” the technician suggested. “Go back into her mind and tell her that her only avenue to wealth and power is through you and no one else. That’s something her mind can completely accept, and it will be acted upon in concert with the standard conditioning you’ve already administered. Then, after she’s awake and you are interviewing her, hold out the highest possible position a breeder Markling could attain.” “I see,” the baron replied, and he did see. That made everything perfect. “Let us complete the conditioning,” he commanded. Datham Hain awoke with a very strange set of feelings and yet not aware that over ten days had passed since she was first introduced to the land of the Akkafian. A Markling with the insignia of the Baron Azkfru entered and saw that she was awake. “You must be starved,” the newcomer said pleasantly. “Follow me and we will take care of that.” Starvation was close to what Datham Hain actually felt at that point, and she needed no further urging to follow the servant. The feeding room was filled with pens of large, white-ribbed worms that were indig-enous to the soil of the land. Hain had no qualms this time about eating such prey, and found them most satisfying. “The baron raises his own fikhfs,” the guide explained as she gorged herself. “Only the best for this household, till midnight at the Well of Souls.” Hain suddenly stopped eating. “What was that you just said?” she asked.


“Oh, it’s just a saying,” the other replied. Hain forgot it for the moment and continued eating. When it was clear that her hunger had been satisfied, the guide said, “Now, follow me into reception, and you’ll meet the baron.” Hain obediently followed down several long and particularly plush corridors to a wide anteroom covered in that downy fur with a low-volume “music” background, pleasant but not lulling as the other had been. “Just relax for now,” the baron’s servant told her. “His Highness will call you in when he is ready.” Relaxing was just the thing Hain felt least like do-ing; extremely awake and alert, she wished idly for something active to do, something to look at. A rack in one comer held a series of scrolls in that funny writing, but it was just random dots. Not even any pictures, she thought glumly. She paced nervously, awaiting the baron’s pleasure. The baron was already entertaining a guest—or guests, he wasn’t sure which. Although he had communicated with a representative of whatever govern’ ment this creature or creatures had, he had never met any of them and knew nothing about them. He still didn’t, he realized sourly, and he didn’t like the situation, either. The Northern Hemisphere was a place so alien to him that he felt more kinship with the most different of the Southern races compared to the closest of the North. The object of his speculation and apprehension was floating about three meters in front of him. Yes, floating, he decided—no visible means of support or loco-motion. It looked like a slightly upcurved strip of crystal from which a set of dozens of small crystal chimes hung down, the whole thing about a meter long and ending just short of the floor. On top of the crystal strip floated a creature that seemed to consist of hundreds of rapidly flashing lights. Their pattern and their regularity suggested that they existed in a transparent ball fitting in the crystal holder—but, try as he would, he couldn’t make out the ball he somehow felt was there.


The Diviner and The Rel might be looking at him in an equally odd and uneasy way, he realized, but he would never know. He would not like to be, would not ever be, in its world. But it was in his, and that gave him a small measure of comfort. “Will this Hain stay loyal to you?” The Rel asked, apparently using its chimes to form the words, which gave it a total lack of tone or coloration. “My technicians assure me so,” replied Azkfru confidently. “Although I fail to see why she is necessary to us m any event. I feel uneasy trusting everything to someone so new and unknown.” “Nevertheless,” replied The Rel, “it is necessary. Remember that The Diviner predicted that you would receive one of the outworlders, and that the solution to our problems was not possible without an outworlder present.” “I know, I know,” Azkfru acknowledged, “and I am grateful that it was me who was contacted by your people. We have as much stake in this as you, you know.” He fidgeted nervously. “But why are you sure that this one is the outworlder needed?” “We’re not,” The Rel admitted. “The Diviner only knows that one of the four who came in that party is needed to open the Well. One was destined for Czill, one for Adrigal, one for Dillia, and one for here. Of the four, yours was known to be psychologically the most receptive to our offer.” “I see,” Azkfru said, uncertainty mixed with resignation in his tone. “So twenty-five percent was better than zero percent. Well, why not just grab the others so we’re sure?” “You know the answer to that one,” The Rel responded patiently. “If we missed just one of these Entries, it would hide and we couldn’t monitor it. This way, we will know where they are and what they are doing.” “Urn, yes, and there’s the second prediction, too.” “Quite so,” The Rel affirmed. “When the Well is opened all shall pass through. Thus, if we keep one of them with us, we will stand the best chance of going through with them.”


“I stil! wish I were going with you,” the baron said. “I fee) uneasy that the only representative of my people will be a conditioned alien of known untrustworthiness.” “One of you is going to be conspicuous enough,” The Rel pointed out. “Two of you is an advertisement for hundreds of other uneasy governments. Right now, neither of us knows if our agreement is duplicated by others with any or all of the other three.” That idea made Azkfru more uncomfortable than ever. “Well, damn it, you—or half of you, or whatever —is The Diviner. Don’t you know?” “Of course not,” replied The Rel. “The present is as closed to The Diviner as it is to you. Only random snatches of information are received, and that in rather uncontrolled fashion. Getting this much is more than we usually get on anything. Hopefully more pieces will fit together as we progress.” Rather than disturbing him further, this news reassured him instead. So the damn thing wasn’t omnip-otent, anyway. Still, he wished he knew more about the creature that stood before him. What were its powers? What tricks did it have up its sleeve? The fear that most consumed him was of a double cross. The Diviner—or The Rel—seemed to sense this, and it said, “Our hexes are as alien as can be. We have no commonality of interest or activity-You are an incomprehensible peopie to us, and your actions are equally so. Never would we be here, in peril of our sanity, were it not for the urgent single commonality our races share: survival. We are satiated in the summing process, and active in the coefficient of structure. Our sole object is to keep everything just the way it is.” The baron didn’t understand any of it, but he did understand that mutual survival was a common bond, and the assurance that they wanted to preserve the status quo. The trouble was, he could say exactly the same thing and not mean a word of it. And now all of his future rested on Datham Ham.


The baron gave the Akkafian equivalent of a sigh ot resignation. He had no choice in the matter. That conditioning must hold! “How soon do you wish to begin?” he asked the Northerner. “A lot depends on your end,” The Rel pointed out. “Without Skander the whole scheme falls apart, the sum clouds and changes to an infinite number.” “And you can point him out, only you,” the baron replied. “I’m ready when you are.” “No more than a week, then,” The Rel urged. “We have reason to suspect that Skander will move out of reach shortly after that.” “Very well,” the baron sighed, “I’ll condition two of my best Markling warriors. You don’t need Hain for this part, do you?” “No,” responded The Rel. “That will do nicely. We’ll have to work at night and hide out during the day, so it will take a good day to set us up once there. Another two days to get there, inconspicuously, if possible. Can you be ready within a day period from this moment?” “I think so,” the baron replied confidently. “Anything else?” “Yes. While you prepare the two assistants I should like to talk to one who understands structures and electrical systems. Is that possible?” “Well, yes,” the baron affirmed with some surprise. “But why?” “It will be necessary to perform some minor sabo-tage to ease our task,” The Rel explained enigmatically. “Although we have studied it, we want to confirm our necessary actions to be doubly certain, hopefully with one who comprehends such things.” “Done,” Azkfru told the creatures. “Now I must attend to other matters. Go out the side there and an assistant will take you to a room that will be private. I will send the technicians to you.” “We go to prepare,” intoned The Rel, and floated out the designated exit. Azkfru waited several minutes until he was certain the Northerner was well away, then went over to the


doorway to his main waiting room and pressed the opening stud with his right foreleg. “Enter, Mar Datham,” he said imperiously, and quickly got back to the dais that served as his work area. He struck his most awesome pose. Datham Hain entered on the words, a shiver going through her at their majesty. Almost hypnotically, she entered the office. She stopped as she saw him, and bent down automatically in a gesture of extreme subservience. Or-giastic spasms shook her, and she cowed in awe and fear. He is God, she thought with absolute conviction. He is the epitome of greatness. “My Lord and Master, I am your slave, Datham Hain. Command me!” she intoned and meant every word of it. The sincerity carried over to Azkfru, who received it with satisfaction. The conditioning had stuck. “Do you give yourself to me, Mar Datham, body and soul, to do with as I would, forever?” he intoned. “I do, Master, my Lord God, I do! Command me to die and I shall do so gladly.” Great now. Forever, if she was around all the time. But she would have only a few interviews until he had to trust her with all he had. Well, here goes the kicker, Azkfru thought. “You are the lowest of the low, Mar Datham, lower than the fikhfs that breed to be eaten, lower than the defecations of the least of those fikhfs,” he intoned. And it was so, she realized. She felt as low and as small as she could ever get. She felt so tiny and un-important that she found it hard to think at all. Her mind was a complete blank, yet basking on pure emotion in the presence of Him who was All Glory. “You will remain lowly scum,” the Master pronounced, “until I have other use for you. But as you are the lowest of the low, so can you be raised to the heights by my command.” Now came the clincher. “A great task will be placed in your hands, and your


love and devotion to me above all else will determine all that is in your future, whether it be the mindless cleaners of the defecation pits or,” he paused for added emphasis, “perhaps even the chief concubine of a king.” Hain groveled all the more at this thought suddenly placed in her witless head. “And your name shall now be Kokur, nor wilt you answer to any other but it, and so you will stay and so you will be until you have successfully carried out my tasks. Then only will you be restored to a name, and then that name will be great. Go, now. My servant shall show you your duties until I shall call you for the task.” She turned and left the office quickly, on quivering legs. When the door closed behind her, the baron relaxed. Well, he thought, it is done. For the next few days, if The Diviner and The Rel were successful, Dathana Hain would truly be as low as one could get. Although consciously obedient and happy, that nasty subcon-scious would be helplessly humiliated by the job and the status, and that was perfect. After a few days, Ham would be willing to do anything to get out of there, and she would be offered a permanent return to that miserable state as opposed to elevation as high as she could possibly reach. Hain would serve him, he felt confidently. Kokur wasn’t a name, it was a job description. Until The Diviner and The Rel returned, Datham Hain would work in the defecation pits, piling up the huge amounts of crap his barony produced—including her own—and then treating it with a series of chemicals and agents that would change its composition into a horrible but physically harmless mess. Hain would not only work there, she would sleep in it, walk m it, and, as her sole diet, eat it. And the only name she could respond to or think of herself as was Kokur, which meant dung-eater. When off with The Diviner and The Rel, it would be a constant and humiliating reminder of her’ lowly status and her lifelong fate for failure, a reminder


that would even reach others through the translating devices used around the Well World. Datham Hain would be a most obedient slave. Actually kind of attractive, he thought. Too bad she’s a breeder. Dillia—Morning (Enter Wu Julee, Asleep) WU JULEE AWOKE FROM A DREAMLESS SLEEP AND looked around. She felt strange and slightly dizzy. The overriding fact that hit her was that the pain

was gone. She closed her eyes and shook her head briskly. The dizziness worsened for a moment, then things seemed to steady. She looked around. She was in a beautiful forest, the likes of which she had never seen before. Trees grew straight as poles fifty or more meters in the air, almost disappearing into a slight morning mist. The undergrowth was equally lush and a vivid green. Beautiful flowers grew wildly all around her. There was a trail nearby, a nicely maintained one made of deep sawdust lined with small, irregular stones. There was a slight but steady roaring sound in the distance, but it didn’t seem threatening, only curious. The path seemed to lead toward the roar in one direction, and she decided to follow it. Walking felt strange to her, but she thought little of it. She felt strange all over. She walked slowly down the trail about a kilometer, and it led her to the source of the increasing roar. She came upon a waterfall, dropping majestically in three stages down the side of a mountain whose gray rocks were well worn by uncounted years of erosion. The falls fed a stream, or river, which flowed

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Categories: Chalker, Jack L