DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Jacqueline Bielowicz and is copyright (c) 1979 by Jacqueline Bielowicz. This story is Rated PG. It was originally printed in The Time of Surak, 1979.
HOMESTEAD OF DEATH
The wind whined sullenly through the ruins, protesting the obstruction. Every year the unceasing sand tore away at the yielding stone. Soon, as it goes in the history of time, this, the last great war camp, would be gone. At one time, Dar'kim had been the most feared homestead, controlling thousands of kilometers in every direction. But eventually the residents had surrendered to a stronger force: the Peace of Surak. They had gradually relocated to aid in the restructure of Vulcan and the homestead, whose only economy had been the plunder of weaker homesteads' trade routes, was allowed to die. Through the rubble-filled streets whispered the sounds of ghostly marching feet and shouted orders. All that could be heard clearly was the lying wind and the skittering patter of small ground animals. Never again would the war drums sound the alert over the skies of Dar'kim.
The old man and boys who accompanied him walked cautiously through the ruins, wary of falling rock. Sotlr was of medium height but his bones were beginning to bend with the weight of his 135 years. His hair was dead white and his hands gnarled, but his eyes were undimmed. In the five years since his retirement as Defense Chief, he had prepared young Vulcans for their Kahswan and the sun had baked his skin to the texture of smatel hide. He seated himself on a pile of stones and watched the young ones explore the ruins, mindful of his instructions for safety. Each group he brought seemed better able to handle the Kahswan, a ceremony that had only been in existence for twenty years. He leaned his head back against the stone and closed his eyes; savored the gentle sun and peace. This would probably be his last group; he was really too old to keep up with younger Vulcans.
A sudden shout echoed and re-echoed through the streets. Sotlr rose swiftly to his feet, his eyes catching sight of a strange creature 50 meters distant from him. It was a caricature of a soldier; emaciated, burnt black by the sun, and dressed in the tatters of a uniform. He wore no loin guard, only a dirty rag. His breastguard was missing sections and tied around his torso with rope. He was barefoot and wore one war glove with the fingers torn through. In one hand he carried a lirpa with a broken, rusted blade. The right side of his face was perfect; his jaw was square and his brow high. His long, shaggy white hair proclaimed him an old man but his face was curiously unlined. The right side of his body was scarred and re-scarred with old battle wounds.
The horror was on his left side. His face was burn-scarred, the features fused into non-existence. His bald head showed white where the skull was thinly covered with skin. The burn marks extended down to his left hip and his left arm was permanently twisted while there were three fingers missing from the hand.
He stood with his feet apart, the lirpa ready for attack as he looked silently over the small group. A mad gleam kindled in his remaining eye as he asked softly, "Who is this who dares invade the Homestead of Dar'kim?"
Sotlr motioned the boys to remain silent, then moved toward the old warrior. He stopped only when the lirpa was clenched tighter.
"It is I, Stim; your old friend Sotlr. Have you no words of welcome for an old friend?"
Sotlr spoke gently, holding one hand out to be clasped. The stranger glared at him suspiciously a moment, then the red gleam in his eye faded and he smiled faintly.
"Are you now leading armies of children, comner?"
"These are children I prepare for desert survival, Stim. They offer you no threat. Can we not talk awhile?"
He stepped once toward Stim who frowned, stepping back as he pulled the lirpa in front of his body.
"Did you bring T'Mora, Sotlr?"
"T'Mora is dead, for over eighty years."
Pain rippled across Stim's face and Sotlr took another step forward, his hand still outstretched.
"Come, my old friend, we are both too old to fight the desert. Let me take you home where we can live in peace."
As he talked, he moved slowly toward Stim who was lost in old memories. For a brief moment, Sotlr thought he might succeed, but suddenly a crafty look came over Stim and he retreated, threatening with the lirpa.
"It almost worked, comner. Your logic has taught you deception well." His voice rose to a maniacal screech. "But my armies will not lose their War Chief that easily."
He turned and ran swiftly over the rubble. At the top, he turned and screamed down to the motionless Sotlr, "Enjoy your peace, comner. My armies and I will soon put an end to it."
And he disappeared, laughing. Sotlr attempted to follow but Stim's knowledge of the ruins was greater. He returned to his children, the mad laughter still ringing in his ears.
"Who was that man, Sotlr?" one of the six-year olds asked. Sotlr looked down at the fresh, young faces. They were not afraid, just curious. He seated himself on the ground and they gathered in a semi-circle, squatting on their heels.
"He is my cousin," he began slowly, watching the faces before him. They waited patiently; it would be a good lesson for them.
"It began with the conversion of Sal'dar..."
* * *
The changeover in Sal'dar had been relatively painless; except for a decree from the Elders banning weapons, there were no laws changed. Representatives from restructured homesteads moved into temporary dwellings around Sal'dar and started yet another massive job of changing a culture from war and chaos to peace and logic. At first, the citizens were wary of these calm strangers who seldom smiled and were never hurried. Their unusual tranquility made them seem like an alien race.
The strangers organized schools for all ages, but did not insist on participation. The first classes were sparsely attended but gradually curiosity drew in most of the citizens and interest in this new philosophy held them. Scraps of Surak's reforms had floated around the homestead for decades, but this was the first time the citizens had had a full explanation of the advantages. The children of Sal'dar found the days very full; besides the schools, there were special groups organized for sports, arts and music, physical development, and community participation.
Economically, Sal'dar was, as other homesteads had been, a largely military hold supported by the rest of the populace. Only the physically unfit or those crippled by battle became the artisans, merchants, and farmers. Now, counseling sessions were set up to help fit a warrior to a productive new occupation in a peacetime economy. No longer were men born with congenital defects forced to second-class citizenship; instead they were judged according to their own abilities as were the warriors.
Stim was sitting in mediation. It was a hot, brooding day, so typical of second season. Since the changes, arguments were no longer settled by personal battle between the contestants, but rather presented to a third, neutral person for mediation. At best, Stim found the duty boring and today had been no different. His only relief was that the last case was approaching.
Outwardly, Stim had made the necessary adjustments to the new routine. He attended the classes in the philosophy and history of Surak's movement. As a minor leader, he was present at the Council meetings where decisions were made that slowly and subtly planned the change of the homestead. Though the outsiders never forced their way, merely offered a variety of alternatives, he hated the interference that was altering his familiar world. Outwardly he was adjusting; but even after half a year, he inwardly rejected almost everything of Surak's. The only item he willingly took was their lessons in personal defense.
One of the participants for the mediation was a former warrior, a hard, crude man famous for his merciless fighting. He swaggered into the mediation room, confident of victory. His opponent was smaller, hunched over with a twisted spine. His eyes showed sharp intelligence and, according to the petition, he was a most gifted metal worker. Two other persons entered the room; a tall, strong looking woman and a man whose expressionless face marked him as an outsider. They remained near the door. According to the petition, the warrior, Stot, had wanted to marry a widow, T'Bas, and her father had agreed to the marriage. But T'Bas had preferred the metal worker, Spock, and fled to his family. Stot had issued challenge to Spock as was custom, the victor to receive T'Bas. Before the fight could start, the outsider, Sotlr, had separated the men, suggesting compromise; Stot and Spock had agreed to mediation.
Stim read the particulars rapidly, a frown of bewilderment on his brow. Looking up, he asked curtly, "Why was this brought to mediation? We all know the custom; a woman is controlled by her family. Her father has given T'Bas to Stot. What is the conflict?"
Spock limped forward. "Noble Mediator, according to the Precepts of Surak, a widow is a free agent, free to choose her own consort. T'Bas has chosen me."
Stim looked at him, his eyes as cold as his voice. "The Precepts of Surak also advocate mating according to premium reproduction. A mating between T'Bas and Stot would at least guarantee normal children."
Spock jerked upright, ready to argue, but the woman strode forward to stand beside her chosen. "Mediator, Spock's deformity is not genetic; his father beat his mother shortly before the birth. Genetically, we are compatible. Also, Mediator, Spock and I have many interests in common, interests that Stot and I do not share. As a marriage, Spock and I are more ... logical."
She had a faint air of triumphant amusement. Stim's rage began to rise. T'Bas did not care much, one way or the other, about Surak's concepts, but was willing to use them to get what she wanted. Stim, as part of the ruling class, was bound by duty to render a decision that would advance the new ways, regardless of custom.
Stot broke into Stim's thoughts, his words blustering, "Dwer, I am a warrior, son of warriors. It is not fair that I should be rejected by a daughter of warriors in favor of a cripple. T'Bas is mine."
Stim's rage was in full bloom. The fool! Had he no brains to present a logical argument? The old ways are passing and if the warrior was to survive, then the smart man was the one who could use the new rules for his own profit. Stim's eyes passed over the ones before him to the silent outsider who, as usual, had not interfered. They locked gazes, Stim infuriated, Sotlr speculative. Stim wanted nothing more than to smash the other man to a pulp, but a man doesn't become a leader by losing his temper. Without breaking his look at Sotlr, he asked the contestants, "Do you agree to accept my decision?"
Hardly waiting for their assent, he continued, "In accordance with the concepts of Surak, inasmuch as T'Bas and Spock have agreed freely to marriage, so be it."
With an oath, Stot lunged toward Spock, his hands outstretched for the throat. Silently, Stim leaped from his chair, catching Stot by the arm, and using the man's own impetus, slammed him against the wall. He stood over the fallen man.
"My decision is given, Warrior. Report to the farms. Perhaps eight yram of hard work will ease your temper for you."
Stot rose to the attention position before the officer-voiced order, saluted, and stalked from the room, casting black looks over his shoulder. T'Bas and Spock, without a word, hurried out behind him.
"A logical decision, Mediator," the quiet man by the door remarked. He and Stim were cousins, grandsons of twin brothers, and they shared a faint resemblance. What was controlled power in Stim with his warrior's stance had become restrained authority in Sotlr. They were both medium-sized men, with lithe movements and solid builds. Stim's face and body were marked with scars, but even without the scars, Sotlr looked like a Warrior. Their eyes were the only things that were different; Stim's were the eyes of a cunning, intelligent animal, now frustrated, while Sotlr's were deep and still, filled with peace.
Despite their differences in attitude, a warm friendship had developed between the two cousins since Sotlr had appeared at Stim's door, asking for kinsman's rites while he remained in Sal'dar. They had talked, worked, even argued together, but neither could honestly say he understood the other.
"I need to speak with you on an urgent matter, Stim."
Stim struggled to swallow his rage, "Not now. T'Mora expects me. Can we speak of it tonight, after the evening meal?"
Without waiting for a reply, he rushed out of the suddenly confining room and hurried through the crowded streets. He stalked into the house, slamming his gloves on the ledge next to the door. Stim moved through the main room, ignoring his wife, T'Mora, and stood staring out the window, his hands clenched behind his back. T'Mora watched him, noting his rigid jaw and tense muscles. She was a beautiful woman, slim and supple. Her face was oval, set with two wide brown eyes. Her gleaming hair fell casually to her waist like a cascade of black water. She had flaring cheekbones and a natural gravity that was belied when she smiled. She was gracefully seated on a low stool, her long legs tucked beneath the stool. Her mending lay forgotten in her slender hands.
"Tell me about it."
Tersely, he gave her the bare facts of the last mediation, his anger still white within him. The vision of a Warrior losing to a cripple rankled him. He struck the wall with his fist, exclaiming, "It is disgusting that a woman built to be a good breeder of Warriors should..."
"We have no need of new Warriors, but we can use good artisans. War for us is over. The Council has made its decision." She stated a fact, her voice firm.
He whirled around and paced angrily. "The fools!" She sat quietly, waiting for his anger to work itself out. He continued to pace and rage.
"We almost had it all and they gave it away. We were the only homestead that had true warriors; we could have conquered the world."
"The whole world?" She had a trace of laughter.
He glared at her a moment, then his rage died and he grinned crookedly at her. He threw himself down on the floor next to her, bracing his back against her knees.
"Very well, not the whole world. But it is folly to give up war. What will happen to our young manhood? Softened, weakened, turned into farmers and merchants. They will be unready when the invader comes."
"What invader, Stim? Sal'dar is the last homestead to accept the Reforms of Surak. Who are our enemies? For the first time in history, Vulcan will have no fighting anywhere. What need we of war?"
She placed her hand beneath his chin and turned his face toward her, a slight frown between her winged brows.
"Are you so eager for broken sons on a bloody field, for widowed daughters and orphaned grandchildren that you would wish for war?"
"What grandchildren?" he asked harshly. "Seven years of marriage and still you give me no sons."
She flinched and immediately he turned, kneeling, his arms around her waist and his face buried against her breasts.
"Forgive me. It is not your fault we have no children."
She sat holding him, her fingers lightly caressing his crisp, curling hair. "What is it about peace that you fear?"
He sat back on his legs, his eyes intent on the flames in the firepit in the corner of the room.
"The loss of myself. I am a Warrior, the son of Warriors. When I kill an enemy, there is an exhilaration. As you march into war, there is excitement, a sense of power knowing soon you will hold life and death in your hands. You see the fear in the other man's face and you know, because you are stronger and faster, you will be the victor. The blood begins to sing in your veins. And when the battle is through, your triumph lies at your feet, ready to be counted."
He was breathing heavily, as if just finishing a battle and his voice was exalted. Because his eyes were still on the fire, he didn't see her stricken face or notice her hands balled in her lap. When she finally spoke, he almost didn't hear her.
"When your great-uncle Suren left Sal'dar, he had a reputation for being a great Warrior. Yet he converted; he even became an acknowledged leader of the peace movement. You could do the same. Use your talents in the restructuring of Vulcan. You were a leader of Warriors; you can be a leader still. Help our people adjust to the peace." Her voice was almost frantic.
He looked into her eyes doubtfully. She lowered her voice.
"For my sake, Stim, try!"
He smiled at her gently and lifted her hand against his cheek. "What choice do I have? The Council has issued its orders and a Warrior always obeys orders."
Sotlr's return home broke their pool of contentment. T'Mora rose to greet him; she had come to trust this cousin of her husband's who so often helped clear up confusion in her mind. Soon, she went to prepare the evening meal and Sotlr sat on T'Mora's abandoned stool. He removed a folded piece of paper from inside his tunic and dropped it in Stim's lap. Disinterested, Stim opened it and glanced over the map it disclosed. He straightened up and looked at Sotlr in puzzlement.
"What is this?"
"It is a map of Dar'kim. Are you acquainted with the territory?"
Every child of Vulcan had heard of Dar'kim, the Homestead of Death. Mothers had used it for centuries to quiet troublesome youngsters, threatening to turn them over to the Warriors of Dar'kim. There was no crime too black, no battle too bloody to turn away their Warriors. Fifty years previously, when the homestead had accepted the Reforms of Surak, it had been considered a great victory for the Logicians. Since then, the homestead had been dying, too far away from other homesteads to even be the site of curiosity-seekers.
"Not from first-hand knowledge, though I have studied the maps and records we have. Why do you ask?"
Sotlr examined Stim's face as if searching for a hidden message, then dropping his gaze to his templed fingers, said without facial expression: "When a culture makes a change in philosophy, especially such a drastic one as this, there will be individuals who cannot make the adjustment. Normally, they would simply move on to another culture that they can concur with or they create problems within their own changed culture. There are individuals, from many homesteads all over Vulcan, who cannot or will not accept the Reforms of Surak." Stim stirred uneasily, but Sotlr continued, ignoring the movement. "Some of these ... misfits have called for a war of restoration. They are calling for volunteers to meet them at Dar'kim and restore the glory of Vulcan."
There was a touch of sorrow in Sotlr's voice, as if it weren't just facts he were reciting, but actual painful thoughts. Stim eyed him for a moment, then asked warily, "How many of them are there? What do you intend to do about them?"
Sotlr came out of his reverie, "We do not know. Sal'dar is the closest homestead and you were ... are Sal'dar's best strategist. We would like you to reconnoiter; find out their strengths and weaknesses."
Stim was surprised. "Do you plan an attack?"
Sotlr looked faintly amused. "Just because we believe in peace does not mean that we plan to be unprepared. An enemy known is an enemy half unarmed. No, we plan no attack, but we must be prepared for anything, including retreat if necessary."
Stim was appalled. "You would let them take Sal'dar, just walk in and take over?"
"Not unless absolutely necessary. Sal'dar is only a physical thing; it can be rebuilt. Dead men cannot be reborn."
Stim answered tersely, "I will take your mission. I can leave at first light."
The rest of the evening was spent in almost silence. T'Mora, when told of Stim's mission, worriedly prepared his kit. Before the hot sun made its appearance, Stim was gone into the desert.
Stim was gone for 20 days. News of the rebellion spread quickly through the homestead and every day citizens would tell of this Warrior or that who had left to join the rebels. On the fifth day after Stim's departure, Stot, the warrior Stim had sentenced to the farms, slipped away into the night. Sotlr and T'Mora carried on with their normal routine, never speaking of Stim; she because of the fears she had within her that Stim might decide to join the rebels.
It was a different man who came through the door on that last day. Stim was thin, almost to the point of gauntness and his skin burnt like smatel hide boots by the blazing sun. He, Sotlr, and the Head Elder disappeared into Stim's office where Stim made a full report.
"They are now about 2,000 strong and increasing in numbers every day. They are not very united yet, except in drinking and whoring. The discipline is loose. The man with the most authority appears to be Samp; he is an experienced Warrior, but has never held command above dwen rank. Their defense of the homestead is fair and daily they drill, pulling their ranks into order. If you decide to attack, now is the time before they get someone who can make them an effective fighting force."
The Head Elder glanced at the impassive Sotlr, then said, "We will not attack. Set up some scout teams to watch them and warn us if they move toward us."
Stim acknowledged his orders, hiding his disgust. The scout teams were sent out on a rotation basis and evacuation procedures practiced by the entire populace. Stim did as he was ordered, but T'Mora could see that something was bothering him. Finally, on a quiet evening when, for once, they were home alone, she confronted him.
"What have you on your mind, Stim?"
He refused to meet her eyes, staring into the firepit. "I cannot stay here. I am losing my manhood, my self-respect. If I were there, I would be the leader; I'm the best qualified and the strongest. More important, I would once again be among Warriors."
"Manhood?" she retorted. "Is manhood dependent on killing all the men you can? Is your cousin Sotlr less of a man because he doesn't fight? Anyone looking at him would know that there is a good chance he could beat even you..." She clapped her hands to her mouth and whirled around, hiding her face from his view.
His mouth had a sad, half-sided smile, "Yes, it always comes down to fighting, does it not? You say you accept their concepts but your values are still the old ones. Now that I am no longer a Warrior, do I seem less attractive to you?"
"I did not mean that," she replied sullenly. "Old habits die hard, but that does not mean they cannot die." She became more fierce, "I want no more of war. No more waiting to see if you come home alive or dead; no more waiting to see if you will end up a cripple, needing me for support. Tired of the feel, smell, and taste of death every day for the rest of my life."
"I cannot survive here! I am only half a man, a non-entity, unwilling to face even you: I want to go!" His voice became gentler, persuasive, "And I want you to come with me."
"It is madness." Tears were pouring down her face, "Can you not see it?" He gave her no answer.
"And if I tell you I bear a child? Will that make a difference?" she continued.
Wonderment and joy swept across his face and he took her in his arms, nestling her face in his throat. "A son. At last, a son."
She relaxed against him, sharing the joy. She was content, within her home with her love and his child.
"It makes a difference, T'Mora. My son deserves his Tradition as the son of a Warrior."
She attempted to move away from him, but his arm tightened, holding her prisoner. "I want you to go with me, but if you do not, I will go alone."
She twisted her head up to look at him; his face was implacable. There would be no changing his mind ... tonight. "Very well, Stim. I will go with you."
"Pack only what you can carry. We will leave tonight." He hurried into his office and she could hear him packing the weapons he had not touched in over half a year. T'Mora moved slowly toward the sleeping area, not seeing the silent Sotlr standing in the shadows until she was next to him.
"Yes, T' Mora."
"Can you not stop him?"
"Each person must make his own decision. You do not have to go with him, yet you choose to. Even knowing you carry a child that could catch his kind of madness."
"I have to go with him, Sotlr. As long as there is one chance I can turn him from this path, I must try. Besides, I need him. As to the child ... I will arrange something."
Stim came toward them. "Have you packed, T'Mora?" His eyes were on Sotlr. T'Mora hurried into the sleeping area while the two men waited in painful silence. Stim was torn between fear for this friend of his and excitement of his return to the life he knew so well. Almost too quickly, T'Mora returned, carrying a desert pack on her back. Stim picked up his kit and weapons and they headed for the door.
"Stim," called Sotlr suddenly. "If ever you need me, you only have to send." Stim remained silent, refusing to meet Sotlr's eyes, his jaw clenched.
"Peace and long life, kinsman," Sotlr whispered softly. And watched as they disappeared into the night.
* * *
Within days of his arrival at Dar'kim, Stim had forced Samp into personal battle and defeated him. Since there was no official chain of command, Stim became War Chief by merely forcing his will on the others. He spent long days and nights getting his troops, many who had never fought at all, into shape. T'Mora once again lived the life of a war camp, but she never stopped trying to convince Stim to return to Sal'dar. Many times they ended in an argument followed by cold silences for days. But she never undermined him with his men and when her son was born on a dark, stormy day, the troops celebrated wildly.
Stim led his troops on forays against surrounding homesteads, but there was little victory in taking the empty buildings. The Logicians always retreated, carrying most of the valuables with them. Sometimes Stim's troops captured citizens to work in the fields, but they were unsatisfactory. Stim had to waste valuable manpower to keep the captives from escaping. His dissatisfied troops began to quarrel among themselves, confused by the lack of success. Stim had an army of 7,000 men and no visible enemy.
T'Mora was becoming more unhappy with her life. There were few women who had come with their men and most of them were as mad for war as the Warriors. The only joy she had was her son, Silar; she began to build her whole hope of the future on him. Stim was spending even more time on the war effort, locked for hours in a special building with a scientist who had recently arrived. She had been gone for three days, with the child, when Stim realized T'Mora was missing, leaving only a message that she would return in five days. Stim went raging through the homestead, sending his troops out searching, terrified that she would be used as a hostage against him. By the time his guards delivered her to the headquarters, his anger had settled deep in his gut.
"Where have you been? Where is Silar?" His eyes were hard and cold.
"I took him to Sotlr. I do not want him to be a Warrior," she replied, just as cold as he.
He jumped to his feet, "You gave my son to my enemies?" he roared.
"Sotlr is your kinsman; if you die, he will get him anyway. Sotlr has never been an enemy to you but you are too blinded by your power to see it. Sotlr is stronger than you; he does not have to make war on children."
He slapped her across the face, knocking her against the wall, "You betrayed me!"
She wiped the blood from the corner of her mouth, wearily ignoring her pain, tiredness, and sorrow. "I do not betray you; I save your son for you."
He laughed harshly, easing the lines of stress that had developed around his eyes. "It makes no difference. In a few days, I will have the means of victory in my hands. I will take back my son from my dead enemies."
"No." The flat statement echoed across the room. "Sotlr knows of the scientist who came and what he brought. Stim, do you realize what you have done? Sotlr says this new chemical has the power to present vast new energy reserves or... Would you do this to win a victory?"
"You still do not understand. I can make you the first lady of the planet. I have the power..."
"You have nothing! If you use this substance as a weapon, you will make war worse than it is now! Can you not understand that you cannot control this kind of power? What if one other Warrior gets this substance; will you throw it at each other until the entire planet is one stinking charnel heap?" She was screaming at him, frustrated at her inability to reach the man she had once known and loved.
"As long as I control the substance, the Logicians will have to accede to my demands." His temper was again rising, but hers was totally out of control.
"They will not! They are even now coming to take it back!"
He grabbed her by the shoulders. "The Logicians will not fight; they have never done so before. Why do you say this?"
Goaded beyond her limits, she snapped, "They will be here at dawn. For the first time in their history, the Logicians are taking the offensive. Your Warriors will not have to worry; they will carry no weapons except the tranquilizing darts they use against desert predators. But they will not leave without the substance. They have gathered an army of 10,000 and already they are marching. The only thing they lacked was an idea of your internal defense plans and I gave them that. You know they never give up; they will defeat you!"
The rage swept over him in a black tide and his hands tightened around her throat to shut off her words. Time receded to a small corner of his mind until her still face swam into his clearing vision.
"T'Mora?... T'Mora?!" he whispered. She lay dead in his arms, her throat crushed. His mind gibbered at the memory of his act and he sank to the floor, holding her close, crooning wordless promises. He sat there for a long time, smoothing her long hair back from her slowly cooling face. Then he became aware of another presence in the room and looked up from her. His aide stood nervously in the door, staring at the dead woman.
"Will you be making your rounds, comner?"
He did not like the strange glitter in his leader's eyes. Stim stood up, letting T'Mora's body roll awkwardly to the floor.
"There will be an attack by the Logicians tomorrow at dawn. We must prepare the troops. Come."
"What about the Lady T'Mora? Shall I send a woman to prepare the body?"
"Leave it. She betrayed us."
He marched out of the room, followed by a confused, frightened aide. Within a few time units, the troops were placed in their new defense posts. There was great confusion and strange rumors about the War Chief. Chaos filled the streets as swearing lower officers tried to cope with the rapidly changing orders from the top. Then the strangest rumor of all came, that the comner was locked into the special building and their orders were to protect the building at all costs.
With the rising sun, came the first sign of the attacking forces. They came slowly, but steadily, covering all points surrounding the homestead. There was no feel of the Mind Warriors who in the old days could kill the man who was careless with his mind shield. They also came without the traditional shouts for victory or the war drums. Occasionally could be heard spoken commands, but all with the air of efficiency. Their Defense Chief was Sotlr, in the front ranks, keeping a firm hand on his troops. Suddenly, the enemy ranks began running towards each other, the rebel Warriors in ragged streams, the Logicians in orderly line.
The front line rebels were swinging their lirpas, often hitting their targets while the back ranks used their ahn woons as slingshots, hurling jagged missiles. The Logicians never faltered; when a man went down, another man simply took his place. The Logicians began to take their own casualties, using their neck pinch on anyone they could reach. Rebels born and bred in restructured homesteads tried fighting this off with the defense methods they had learned from the Logicians, but generally they were overwhelmed by sheer numbers. Healers darted around the battlefield, aiding downed men from both sides, restraining uninjured, unconscious rebels with binders.
For a short time, the battle was even, but the confusion in the rebel camp showed as the battle moved into the streets of the homestead. The Logicians knew exactly where they wanted to go; they never deviated from their path. Based on T'Mora's instructions, they headed for the special lab.
Stim paced around the lab table while Sovil worked methodically on his invention. Beyond the lab doors, the sound of battle swelled and ebbed. The long table was littered with notes and crystalline beakers. The atmosphere was hazy, tinged with the odor of past errors. Finally, Sovil put down the beaker he had been working with and sat on a tall stool with his hands folded on the table-top.
"This formula will not work, either, comner," he stated flatly.
"Then do another," Stim had reached the end of his patience ... and time.
"Comner, science does not work within time limits. This substance is extremely dangerous. It would be of no use to us otherwise. It will take time to work out a means of using it safely while doing damage to our enemies. We must retreat; find a new place to work and rebuild our army."
Stim's hand throttled him tightly: "We will not retreat. You will give the power I need to rule. Now!"
Sovil looked into the mad eyes as cold sweat broke out on his brow. His voice was gentle, desperate, "Comner, there is not enough time. Even if I could make the weapon this minute, one person alone could not use it effectively. It will take time to manufacture enough, train the troops to use it. Indeed, we are not even sure if the men would be willing to change their mode of warfare from the traditional one-to-one form to one where you let a machine do your killing for you. There is no 'honor' in this weapon."
The hand tightened on his throat, choking off the air. "There is honor in any army I lead. Make the weapon."
Sovil tore at the hand, fighting his way free. He attempted to run to the door, but Stim struck him heavily on the head. He fell to the stone floor, blood trickling into a pool.
Stim moved back to the table, frantically searching through Sovil's notes. A sudden pounding on the lab doors told him that his enemies were nearly there, but he ignored the uproar. Recklessly, he began pouring chemicals together. As the door burst open with Sotlr at the front ranks of the entering men, a white-hot flash flared through the room. Stim had one brief instant to watch the room explode before unconsciousness took him.
He drifted slowly out of the darkness, feeling coolness and light. He opened his eyes, but only one moved. The whole left side of his body felt tied. He looked down and saw the bandages covering his left arm and hip. He felt confused; he wondered where he could be.
T'Mora is dead.
No one said it; the idea was just all around him in that room of coolness and light.
"Is anyone here? Am I alone? Is everyone dead?" Panic crept into his heart.
The door quietly opened and Sotlr entered, coming to the side of Stim's couch. Sotlr's stance betrayed his weariness; his eyes were filled with memories of pain. His green and peeling face was covered with burn-gel and his hands were lightly bandaged.
"How do you feel, Stim?"
"What is the damage?" His voice sounded strange, slurred.
"You are suffering severe burns over the upper half of your body. You have lost the use of your left eye, three fingers of your left hand. You will regain partial use of your arm and, with time, full use of your leg."
Stim smiled grimly, "Your answers are always so precise."
"You would want nothing else but the complete truth, Stim."
"So, I lost."
"No. You are still alive and you have a son to raise."
Stim's face hardened, "I have lost my rights to a son. Let T'Mora raise him. She will see that he does not become a Warrior as is fit."
Sotlr placed his hand on Stim's shoulder, peering straight into the mad eyes. "T'Mora is dead, Stim."
Stim ignored him. "As soon as I am well, I will rebuild my army. You have not stopped me, comner. I will resurrect the true Vulcan. You will see. Aide, send for my supply dwens; we do not have all day! Hurry!"
Sotlr watched in disbelief as Stim began reorganizing his army. Finally, he left the room, Stim's shouted orders following him.
* * *
The sun was low over the ruins of Dar'kim when the old man's voice ceased echoing. A chill wind swept around the rubble.
"What happened to the men, Sotlr? The rebels, I mean. And why is Stim out here alone?" queried one of the boys.
Sotlr was jerked out of his memories and looked down at the serious young faces.
"Because they represented a threat to the safety of others, they were confined. Then three years after the rebellion, Suvil the Healer developed a treatment for ill minds that was more effective than anything we had had before. Most of the rebels were healed and returned to their homesteads. A few could not be helped and will remain confined until their deaths.
In the silence that followed, faint sounds of the shouting comner leading his phantom army came to them on the wind.
"Two years after the rebellion, he escaped us and came to Dar'kim. We tried for twenty years to recapture him, but failed. Every now and then, we try again, but thus far he has eluded us. You see, he was the best strategist of Sal'dar, maybe of all Vulcan. It is sad; it has been such a loss to Vulcan."
Sotlr saw the gleam of a tear as it rolled off the cheek of the youngest boy and dropped to the rock he was sitting on. Sotlr smiled faintly; so few Vulcan children cried beyond infancy. That too would be a sad loss, the perfection of a child's tear.
"Come. It is time we returned to our night camp."
The group walked quickly out of the darkening homestead. The lying wind brought back the sound of war drums and marching feet. And the setting sun glittered on the tiny wet circle, drying on the rock.