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) 1976 by Jacqueline Bielowicz. This story is Rated PG. It was originally printed in Menagerie #10, 1976, boojums Press.
The Seeds of Vision
Suran lay under the swollen sun, the insects swarming on his half-closed wounds. The verdant blood had trickled to a sluggish stop and he lay, benumbed with pain. Most of his wounds were on his back, the marks of a coward, the stigma of a man who had run. With the extravagance of youth, he had condemned himself to execution by neglect.
His thoughts drifted back to the preceding morning. He had stood with the rest of the Warriors, aware of the admiring looks of the young women in the crowd. He was two meters of solid Vulcan manhood, just at the beginning of his fighting career. He felt he was lucky because he was old enough to take part in the greatest campaign his homestead had endeavored.
He was dressed in the latest of fighting gear. His loins were girded with the hardened hide of the smatel and his chest was covered to the groin with a black metal breastplate. On his belt was his coiled an wun and the dagger his father had presented him in honor of his first battle. His war gloves and boots were made of flexible reptile hide. He stood at attention, his feet apart and his lirpa slanted outward with the blade glittering in the sun.
How proud Suran had been when they had marched on the enemy to the cheers of those left behind. The pennants flying, the drum of marching feet, and the brief glimpses of the War Chief, Sard, who was famous over all Vulcan for his generalship. Then the sun had not been so hot. There was an exhilaration in his blood and excitement in his heart. All that changed when the battle started.
Suddenly, there had been the screams of the wounded and the smell of fear and blood. There was dust choking the throat and sweat in the eyes. Fire crawled along the brain channels as the enemy Mind Warriors sought to kill him without laying a weapon on him. Over half the casualties today would be from the warrior who let his mind-shield slip for even an instant. Fear clawed at Suran's gut and then there was a face before him, almost a mirror image. Another young Vulcan, but from the other side. Instinctively, he swung, slashed his lirpa against the intruder, decapitating him. In horror, he watched the head hit the broken ground and visualized his own face on it. Completely panicked, he wheeled, fighting not to gain honor, but to leave this place of madness. He cut down everyone in his path, and once he was clear, ran until he dropped in exhaustion.
Suran shuddered as the memory died away. He was filled with shame and relief and confusion. Then he screamed as a hand gripped his shoulder, turning him over. The sun blinded him until a head came between him and it. The figure was an older man dressed in a dull red tunic. His face was calm though concerned. He spoke gently. "I am Suqar. Let me aid you."
Suran reached stealthily for his dagger and the man smiled slightly. He showed his empty hands. "There is only peace between us."
Suran tried to speak but his mouth was too dry. Suqar placed a water bottle to his lips and the blessed wetness flowed into his throat. All at once, life seemed very good. Suqar began cleansing Suran's wounds, using the materials from his desert kit. Suran felt as if he were floating and lay accepting the other's ministration. While being treated, Suran became faintly aware of five men approaching them. There was something strange about the men although for a moment Suran didn't know what. It was their empty hands. Not one of the men, Suqar included, was carrying a weapon. Suran was baffled. Never in his life had he ever seen adult males unarmed except within the homestead. Yet none of these men carried so much as a dagger.
Suran's tiring mind tried to understand the anomaly while a low-voiced conference went on around him. As he was loaded onto a makeshift litter, he slid quietly into a comatose state, uninterested in where he was being carried. Time passed; as he was carried into a cooling shade, he totally let go of consciousness.
It was night when he regained awareness. A darkened window was in front of the couch he was lying on. His armor had been removed and his wounds expertly dressed. He felt lethargic but there was no pain. He cautiously looked around at the small room. It was made of natural stone and furnished with only two beds and a small stand between them. On the other bed lay a man, little older than Suran, lightly covered with a sheet. Suran looked him over carefully and he grew tense. The other was dead. Suran had seen dead men before but he had never slept with them before. Without removing his eyes from the corpse, he slid slowly out the opposite side of the bed. His legs were shaky and he clung to the bed, trying to force himself to move towards the door. Three men came in and one immediately moved to his side.
"You must return to bed. You aren't strong enough to be up yet." His very attitude marked him as a Healer. Suran resisted him and Suqar, who was one of the other men, hurried over to help the Healer. "It is all right. We are here to help you."
The third man moved to the end of the bed, examining Suran minutely. Suran wanted to resent the man's staring, but there was a stillness in the man that made it hard. He stood with his thumbs hooked in his belt, not at all flustered by the younger man's glare. Then slowly he raised his hand, the four fingers divided evenly in a "V" and the thumb separate, and said, "Live long and prosper."
Suran's eyes narrowed suspiciously as he remained silent. The older man continued, "I am Surak of the tribe Sal'dar."
Suran smiled contemptuously as he replied, "Hail, Surak, coward of the tribe of Sal'dar. I am Suran, Warrior of the tribe of Sal'dar." It was meant as an insult, but the three men didn't react to it as an insult. All children of Sal'dar knew who Surak was: a man who would not fight for the homestead, not even in defense. He was the one who wanted all the tribes to rule equally on Vulcan. He didn't even have the normal amount of pride in his tribe. His was the catch-name for coward. Even as this thought crossed Suran's mind, he was filled with shame. Who was he to call Surak a coward when he knew that all these men had probably seen the marks on his body? He, too, had proved himself a coward.
He lowered his eyes to the coverlet, clenching his hands, and fought the unexpected tears that rose to his eyes. Oh gods, if only one could die of shame and not have to face any man again. Surak's voice came as calmly as before. "Fear is a normal emotion. Many a great warrior has panicked at his first battle. The secret is to control the emotion, not to let it control you. The greater bravery is not to kill the other man first, but to live with him in peace despite your differences."
Suran looked at him, wary. There were rumors that this Surak was a Mind Warrior, one who could seduce men from their duties. Suran stiffened his mind-shield. He may have dishonored himself once, but he would not do so again. Suqar and Surak turned to leave. "How long until my execution?" he asked tersely.
They turned to look at him and Suqar answered, "You are not a prisoner. You may leave whenever you like. I suggest you wait until the Healer says you are ready to travel." His voice became slightly mocking as he gestured toward the small stand. "You will find your armor in there if you feel a need for defense."
They left the room swiftly as Suran lay fuming, feeling like a rebuked child. The Healer ignored him as he examined the dead man without touching him. When it looked as if he too were leaving, Suran snarled, "Is it your custom to leave the dead unburied?"
The Healer replied simply, "He isn't dead." At Suran's skeptical glance at the body, the Healer stepped back to Suran's bedside. "Sotir was badly crushed by a thresher, far more than my skill could handle. However, Sotir was raised completely under Surak's concepts and is able to heal himself." Seeing that his explanation did not make sense to Suran, he began to speak as if lecturing a class. "Surak teaches us that the mind, or logic, controls all parts of our life. This includes the body. By using trained portions of the brain, it is possible for the person to withdraw into himself and initiate healing. It is a rigorous exercise, one which most of our young people have been taught." He glanced at his other patient as he continued, "The greatest danger is that the person will become ... well, trapped within themselves. In a few hours, Sotir will begin coming back." He looked back at Suran, holding him with direct eye contact. "If he should begin to speak, either do as he tells you or call me immediately. Failure to do so could cost Sotir his life or sanity. I'm sure no Warrior would kill an unarmed man." His emphasis on the word "warrior" made Suran determined to aid Sotir if only to provide the Healer with proof that he would no longer play the coward.
The Healer then left Suran alone with his thoughts. They were very bitter. By now, all his family knew of his shame. In the army, you either marched back or were carried back. No prisoners were ever taken and if he or his body didn't show up, then there was only one inference to be made. No man ever willingly left his tribe. His soul felt black as the view of the window he stared out, visualizing the scene that would occur when he returned home.
The first pale banners of dawn were in the sky as he became aware of the muttering from the other bed. He turned and looked. Sotir was rigid in the bed, his head turning from side to side as he whispered. Suran slipped of his couch and bent over the other man. "I am here. What do you want me to do?"
Sotir's eyes were closed and he whispered tersely, "Strike me!" Suran was startled.
"Strike me!" The whispering voice was sharper.
Suran flattened his hand and sharply slapped Sotir across the face.
Suran struck him again and again, hesitating between blows to see if there were any results. Faster than Suran could see, Sotir grasped his wrist, holding back the last blow. His eyes were open and clear.
Suran stood still, his wrist held in a tight grip while Sotir looked him over. Then Sotir released him, raising the hand in the same sign that Surak has used. "Live long and prosper."
Suran shrugged and returned to his bed, staring through the window again. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Sotir rise and stand erect. He sensed that the other man was stretching without moving. Finally, Sotir moved in front of him, blocking the window.
"The proper response is 'Peace and long life'." Again Suran refused to speak. Sotir cocked his head to one side. "Are you new among us?"
"No." Suran's tone was disgusted. "I may be a coward, but I'm no traitor to my tribe." He had the feeling that Sotir was not highly impressed with his words though his face had the same stillness that Surak's face had had. Why was it so hard to tell what these people were thinking? he thought resentfully. Sotir returned to his bed and there was silence between them as the rising sun poured light into the room.
Two yelems had passed when the Healer returned. He and Sotir exchanged the greeting that Sotir had tried to teach Suran. The Healer quickly examined Sotir, his face passive. "If you feel that you are ready, you may return to your duties." He then turned to Suran and began removing the bandages. Sotir made no move to leave, watching as the Healer re-salved and re-bandaged Suran's wounds. "You may leave here if you want, Suran, but it would be better if you rested a few days before attempting to return to your homestead. Sotir, you show him where he can stay." The Healer left without looking back.
Suran forced himself up, ignoring his stiff muscles. He retrieved his uniform from the stand, freshly cleaned, and began dressing without speaking. Sotir, too, began dressing in a blue tunic taken from the stand. When they were ready, he led Suran out of the infirmary into the homestead. It was much larger than Suran had expected. The buildings were built along straight streets that had none of the haphazard manner of Sal'dar. The buildings were placed in such a manner as to utilize the surrounding forest. As they walked along, Sotir pointed out various points of interest. Every area was designated for a certain function: schools in one area, residences in another, merchants in yet another. It was all very neat and orderly.
The people that they met on their way puzzled Suran the most. Very few of them hurried or spoke above the normal range. No one shouted or screamed abuse, or for that matter, even laughed. Every now and then, there would be a swell of noise, but so minute as to be hardly noticed. There were no stray sehlats and few pet ones in view. Strangest of all, there were no children playing at mock battle up and down the streets. Suran questioned this and Sotir answered him carefully. "The way we have chosen takes a great deal of work and discipline. It is necessary that the children begin early. At the age of four, they are in school and even their recreation time is used in learning to discipline the body."
"Have you no time just for yourself?"
Sotir started to grin, then used his hand to smooth away the smile. "Yes, but even our private lives are expected to be disciplined. Especially now, when we have so much work to do for Vulcan."
Suran felt uncomfortable. "What of your tribes?"
"We are still members of our tribes though we generally refer to them as families. It is simply that our greater loyalty is to our whole world, not just a small segment."
Suran was beginning to get a nasty idea. "You're mind controlled! Like the ancient ones used to do!" He was appalled; the legends told of the horrible things that had occurred when the ancients had used enslaved minds to dabble in forbidden things.
Sotir answered coldly, hostile now, where he had not been before. "That is not allowed. Privacy of the individual is a primary concern. It is not allowed to even attempt to link with someone without their express consent."
As they continued their walk in silence, Suran felt a sense of relief. He was beginning to like this young man and he felt glad that he didn't have to fear invasion from him. Sotir soon came to a halt before a medium-sized residence. It was made of stone, like all the buildings. Beside the house was one of the many parks that were scattered throughout the homestead. Sotir opened the door and motioned Suran inside.
The interior of the house gave the impression of open space with the bare minium of furniture and full-length windows, draped with thin, flowing material. Sotir walked across the main room to a doorway and softly rapped on the door. Suran heard the invitation to enter and they opened the door. The room beyond was filled with bookcases and a large desk covered with papers. Seated at the desk was an older man who was without doubt Sotir's father. He and his son shared the now familiar greeting and the man turned his attention to the stranger. "Father, this is Suran. The Healer says he must rest a few days before returning home and I brought him to stay with us."
"Live long and prosper, Suran."
Awkwardly, Suran returned the hand sign. "Peace and long life, dwer."
The man rose and came around the desk. "We use no titles here, Suran. I am Strar. May our house bring you peace." He then turned to his son and began questioning him about his healing. As they talked, Suran looked around him, curious. He had never seen so many books in one place except for libraries. Soon Sotir turned to him. "If you will come with me, I will show you your sleeping area."
They left as Strar returned to his work. Sotir led up the stairs and into a small guest chamber. Suran sat wearily on the sleeping couch. "Is your father a teacher?" he asked idly.
"No. He is a lawmaker. He and others are now working on a law code based around Surak's concepts. You will find all through the homestead there are people who are working to re-organize the whole culture, to base it on logic."
Suran was confused. "Isn't that what we have now? Our ability to use logic separates us from the animal and makes us superior."
"Your people use logic only when it agrees with their wants. If logic goes against these desires, then logic is thrown over for emotion, 'in our best interest' or 'for the good of the tribe.' Even to the extent of killing one another." He seemed pained within and with an almost visible effort, his face returned to its normal passive appearance.
He left Suran, promising to return for him in time for the evening meal. Suran quickly fell asleep and when Sotir later returned, felt much stronger. As they went to the table, Suran was introduced to Sotir's mother, an agricultural researcher, and to T'Jarl, Sotir's twin sister, apprenticed to a Healer. Suran was stunned at the idea of women who worked outside the home. Strar explained, "Women are as fully capable as men and can increase the work force twofold. Most women here work, except for those whose children are too young for school. You will find many differences here, but feel free to ask questions. What we hope to develop here is an entire social change for Vulcan. We must change or our race will go extinct. Even now, more men die in battle than ever before. Not only do we lose these men, but also any children they might have sired. We cannot afford this. That is why we advocate peace, logic in all life's actions, and equality for all people."
They sat down to eat and that first meal was the beginning of the strangest week Suran had ever lived. There was no meat at the meal because killing, even for food, was not allowed. Killing was permitted only when there was no logical alternative. In the days that followed, Suran was introduced to a lifestyle that was as strange as if he had suddenly been transported to another world. Emotions were treated as bad manners; if he got angry or excited, not a word was said to him. He was simply avoided until he had himself under control again. He saw classes in a form of hand-to-hand combat that rendered the opponent unconscious but did not kill. Each person had a place, responsibilities due the whole culture. Even the children knew their duties.
Each adult had a vote on matters concerning the whole, though the value of the vote depended on the individual's competency in the area being voted on. All decisions, private and public, were worked out like a mathematical equation. The homestead was not concerned with acquiring arable land to support their ever-growing population, but rather with developing means to make even arid land produce.
Even marriages were arranged logically, based on the individuals' genetic patterns and mind-compatibility. Children of seven years Bonded as a means of protecting adolescents from sexual confusion though Suran noticed there was more reticence on the part of this homestead toward sexual matters than on the outside. Strar admitted that the Bondings often didn't hold due to changes in the couples' mind development, but that an increasing number of Bondings were culminating in stable marriages.
For the first time, Suran heard a complete history of Surak, without the usual rumors. Surak, after the birth of his first son, a crippled male, had been resentful at the thought that the boy would always have second class status. No thought was given to the fact that he might be a creator; only those who served as Warriors were held to have value within the homestead. Only those crippled in battle had honor. All his life Surak had been appalled at the cost of life the constant wars had produced. As a man well respected in the councils of Sal'dar, he had the right to speak and began to use this right to advocate peace.
At first, the council thought he was speaking of an enforced peace with Sal'dar as the rulers. Surak held great honor as a former Warrior and they believed he had plans on how they could conquer all around them. But as his vision of a unified Vulcan took a more specific shape, they found that he was forming a society where each man, even each woman, had equal voice. That was more than the council was ready for. They ousted him from the council, but that didn't silence him. He met with others in the tribe who either felt as he did or were at least willing to listen. Things came to a crisis when one soldier, Stonn, refused his service in the army on the grounds that he was a pacifist. They executed Stonn and exiled Surak. With the exile went many of his followers.
The first years were hard, trying to survive as a small group, always prey to raiding parties. Often misfits and exiles from other homesteads would join their group. Some stayed, caught up in Surak's beliefs, but most left, unwilling or unable to fit in. As the years passed, new members usually came from citizens convinced by family members that Surak was right. Then, five years ago there had been a change in policy. Surak had decided that an overt attempt must be made to convince homestead councils: in order to save the species, peace, lasting peace must be obtained. Envoys were sent to all councils, teaching and speaking to all who would listen, that differences must be accepted and the culture totally restructured. The first envoys were killed and most of the ones sent after them fared no better. But in the five years, Surak was able to see several of the smaller tribes converted. Now a comprehensive effort was planned for the larger homesteads.
On Suran's sixth day in the homestead, Surak came to the house of Strar to speak with Suran. Suran sat on edge, suspicious and wary. He remembered well the calm of this man. Though he was impressed with the work that Surak had done, he still neither fully trusted this man nor believed that his concepts would work. Surak did not speak at first, seeming to be weighing Surak's qualities. Finally, he spoke.
"Do you mean to join us?"
"No. When a man puts down his weapon in the presence of his enemy, it is an invitation to be killed. The weak may find comfort in your ideas, but the strong don't need them."
Surak had heard this before. "Then I would ask you a favor. When you return to your homestead, take our envoy with you."
Suran gave him a cruel smile. "Have you someone here who is so eager to die?"
Sotir answered for Surak. "I have no wish to die, my friend. Besides, all I'm to do is extend an invitation. Surely your council won't kill me for that."
Suran wished that he could give a positive "Yes" but he couldn't. Every previous envoy of Surak had been killed. Sal'dar leaders felt great shame that Surak was not only a pacifist, but had survived as one. They felt he was a great threat, not only to their way of life, but to their honor. He agreed to escort Sotir and listened carefully to the message that Surak gave Sotir. It was simple enough, surely nothing that would cost Sotir his life.
At dawn the next day, they started for Sal'dar across the hostile desert. Each was carrying a desert kit though the journey was only two days. Vulcan children learned early to live off the land. Suran carried his usual weapons, but Sotir carried only a silver-colored tube that used tranquilizing darts against marauding animals. Their long strides quickly ate up the kilometers. As they walked, they discussed many things, primarily their different ways of life. Suran felt he had helped Sotir understand the militaristic mind better, even if he still didn't agree with it. And Suran himself began to understand a way of life that was free from sudden alarms, constant watchfulness, and gory battles.
"There is one particular thing I don't understand, though." Suran's eyes were slitted against the midday sun. "Why is it that no one has conquered your homestead?"
Sotir gave a small chuckle. "It isn't logical, but I would say luck." He became grave. "Pacifist societies in our history have very seldom lasted long. Usually by the time they get to a level where they can provide a comfortable living for their members, some poor militaristic tribe moves in and either takes over or destroyed the society. So far, no one has done this to us, but that isn't to say someone won't try. I do know that if we were invaded, we would do our utmost to protect the women and children, but we would not fight." He looked straight at Suran. "Make no mistake, Suran. Vulcan must change or there will be death for all. If Surak's ideas fall now, some perhaps unborn Vulcan must prevail. Death does not halt logic."
Suran countered, "I trust you and to some extent your Surak, but I would just as soon not trust every man. What guaranty do I have that if I put down my weapon, I won't be killed within one day's time?"
"What guaranty do you have that you won't be killed within one day's time if you don't? Or that you just won't drop dead, at no man's hand? The only quaranty that peace brings is that you can devote your life to living, not dying. At least with peace, you won't have to watch your back every minute."
They walked along, companionably, until Suran spoke, almost musingly, "Most of the research done now is for more and better weapons. In peace, this time could be used more productively. Better ways of maiming each other would not be as gratifying as better ways of helping each other."
"Keep thinking logically and you will be one of us."
"No," replied Suran flatly. "You ignore the basic nature of men. They are naturally aggressive. You can't change nature."
"Perhaps all that is needed is to convert it, channel the aggression into more acceptable paths."
Suran had no answer to that, but continued thinking as they moved along.
The next evening came without incident, and with it sight of Sal'dar. Suran felt his stomach tightening. He had been so involved in Sotir's mission, he had forgotten that he had problems of his own. He still faced the charges of cowardice. As they halted to rest briefly before the trip into Sal'dar's valley, he commented bitterly to Sotir, "Perhaps you had better go in alone. It won't do your mission any good to be associated with a coward."
"Then I will have to go in with my friend." Sotir's voice held no concern.
Shortly before they entered the homestead, armed guards surrounded them, escorting them in a tight wedge. Among them were two special comrades of Suran but they gave no sign that they had ever seen him before. In silence they were brought to the officer in charge. Suran recognized him as Soldt, an ambitious dwen of a lower classed family. Suran was sure that Soldt was pleased at a chance to turn in a member of the ruling class, as Suran was. His manner was very curt. "What is your purpose here, strangers?"
Suran gritted his teeth at the studied insult. "I am Suran of Sal'dar, presenting myself for arrest."
Soldt turned his glance on Sotir. "I'm Sotir of Vankye, personal envoy of Surak of Sal'dar to the High Council of Sal'dar."
Soldt snorted. "Am I supposed to be impressed? By two beggars out of the desert?"
Sotir grabbed Suran's arm to prevent his lunge forward. "You are expected not to exceed your authority, dwen, and report our presence to the proper official." His tone was courteous, though his words brought a flush to Soldt's face.
"If I had my way, the Council would not be bothered by sehlat droppings like you. There would be a standing order to kill you on sight."
"Since there is no such order, I suggest you obey the orders you do have."
Cursing, Soldt turned to his subordinates and assigned two to take Sotir to the Council Hall and three to escort Suran to the War Chief's office. Suran preferred to go with Sotir, but refused to ask a favor of Soldt. His last view of Sotir was the young Vulcan striding through the streets of the homestead. His calm assurance made his guards appear like an honor guard while the gathering crowds gaped at the stranger. Suran's guards pulled off his weapons, one coolly appropriating Suran's dagger. No crowds watched as Suran marched through the streets. The passing people ignored him as if he didn't exist. It was a long way to Sard's office.
The War building was old and austere. Inside, the rooms were filled with hurrying men, involved in all the various aspects of maintaining an army in the field. Under the leadership of Sard, Sal'dar had conquered several nearby tribes and assumed control of the surrounding area. Other tribes, frightened by Sal'dar's success, were now allied against Sal'dar and Sard found himself encircled by enemies. Suran's guards motioned him against a wall, out of the way, and one trotted off to find a higher authority. Suran was aware of some hostile looks, but he ignored them all, standing rigidly at attention.
Soon, a patrol headed by his company commander came up to him. The dwer was Spaar, one of Suran's favorite officers. Spaar's face was stern as he assumed responsibility for Suran and moved his group into a temporarily empty room. After ordering the patrol to guard the outside of the door, he closeted himself with Suran. The younger man remained silent as Spaar looked him over, noting the partially healed wounds.
"Now, report!" Suran knew Spaar would remain unbiased until he heard all that Suran would say. Suran told him the truth, making no excuses and asking no favors. He admitted that he had panicked and run from the battle. Spaar listened quietly, asking no questions except to clarify a point. When Suran finished, the dwer thought for a moment, then spoke.
"Do you know your choices? You have three. You can ask for a trial and offer mitigating circumstances, or you can waive trial and accept whatever punishment the Chief gives you. Or … you can declare yourself a coward and be removed from the army. Of course, the third alternative will deny you your citizenship. You will have to take the worst jobs open, you will have no friends or even a wife; you will be a pariah. But at least you will live in safety. It is your choice."
Without hesitation, Suran answered, "I will accept the Chief's Sentence."
Spaar was pleased. "With your training record and a few words from me, it shouldn't be too hard." Impaling Suran with a steely gaze, "But I don't expect this to happen again. Now tell me about this man you brought with you."
While they waited for the Chief's summons, Suran told him about the past eight days. He told Spaar of Suran's homestead, the attitudes of the people in it, and explained his own ambivalent feelings about Surak.
"I'll tell you, youngster, I don't care what the powers-that-be may say about Surak, I say he shows his own kind of bravery. Any one who could stay alive that long in a hostile world has to be some kind of brave. Of course, I also think he is stupid if he feels he can single-handedly change the world. Most of us just try and get along as best as we can, but there are a few who are born with the souls of la-matyas. They kill for their needs because they enjoy killing. They don't want to live any other way. If those of us who are normal ever put down our lirpas, the killers would be over us in no time. Besides, I've heard that Surak's group is not allowed emotions. I don 't know about you, but I can't imagine a world where I couldn't love all the women I wanted."
Suran laughed at that, but he couldn't help thinking of Strar and his wife. There was no overt emotional response between them, yet it was obvious even to Suran, an outsider, that their marriage had some special aspect. T'Mard had the full respect and support of her husband. Far more than Suran's mother had ever received from his father. The love was there, simply more restrained.
The Chief's aide summoned them to the hearing. Spaar marched beside Suran while the rest of the patrol ranged about him. Sard was seated at a long table covered with maps and reports. His body was scarred and leathered by the sun. His eyes were cold; they reminded Suran of the la-matya of which Spaar had been speaking.
"You are charged with cowardice in the battlefield. Have you been advised of your right to Decision?"
"Yes, comner. I choose to accept the Chief's Sentence."
Sard looked surprised. Punishment under the Chief's Sentence could be very rough. He looked at Spaar. "Are you willing to accept this coward's Decision and trust him as one of your Warriors again, dwer?"
"Yes, comner. I know this man; he will not fail me again."
Sard's glare returned to Suran, examining, judging him. Finally, he barked, "One round of gorthan. Dismissed."
Suran felt his stomach shrivel, but his face remained stoic. Not even gorthan lasted forever. He and Spaar saluted, wheeled, and marched out of the office. Spaar grinned at him. "You're lucky. I've seen some men get ten."
Suran spent the night in solitary confinement. At dawn, he heard the call to assemble. A short time later, a squad marched him to the parade square. The entire tor, 1225 men, were lined up in two files, their an wuns in their right hands. Spaar stood at the head with his aides. "Do you still accept the Chief's Sentence?"
"Very well, You know what to do."
Suran placed himself at the head of the lines, between the first two men. An order was shouted in the crisp morning air and Suran took a deep breath. He began pacing himself slowly down the column as the other Warriors, two by two, lashed him across the back with the leather straps. He was totally naked except for a protective cup over his genitals. The first lashes scored his flesh with fire; he gritted his teeth against the pain. Fixing his sight on the upper corner of the sleeping quarters, he put his full attention to the problem of reaching the end of the line. According to the rules, if he failed or even faltered, the Chief's Sentence wouldn't be fulfilled and he would be thrown out of the army, disgraced.
Soon the only things in his mind were the never-ending pain and the footsteps that led nowhere. His eyes barely even focused. Suddenly, Spaar was before him, speaking without sound. He hauled Suran toward the now close building. Suran pulled away from him. "No … no, I must finish."
"You have finished, youngster. Now the Healer is waiting for you."
By this time, Suran understood that he had walked the gorthan and now it was over. Now he was allowed to faint and he did so. For the next three days, the Healer kept him unconscious so that the torn flesh could ease a little. When Suran regained consciousness, his body still ached, but there was no agony.
The Healer declared Suran ready for light duty and released him from the infirmary. Suran moved back into his sleeping quarters, quietly greeting his mates. They caught him up on all the news; there was an unspoken agreement to ignore all that had happened since they last met. He took a little time to see his family, another painful meeting. Within two days, he was back in the routine he knew. But, try as he might, he could get no news of Sotir.
On the fifth day of his return, he received a summons from Chief Sard. He was eager to go because it would give him a chance to ask a few discreet questions about Sotir. But again the Chief's office was busy and Suran had to wait. Finally, he was motioned into the office. Sard looked the same as he had when Suran saw him before: the same maps, the same papers, the same killer look in his eyes. He motioned for Suran to stand at ease.
"Spaar has stated that you are a Warrior. Are you prepared to perform your duty?"
"You will be sent as an envoy to Surak to give the Council's answer. You will also make a delivery to him. Come."
Suran followed the Chief through the crowded halls as Sard led him to an underground room. Inside, on the floor was a long box. Sard threw the lid off the box, and in it lay Sotir, an an wun twisted around his throat. The congested face was battered and there were slash marks on the body.
Suran's gorge rose in his throat, but he swallowed quickly. Sard was watching him with an amused smile. He was hoping, Suran knew, that Surak's homestead would kill him, Suran, in revenge for Sotir, but the young Warrior had no such fears. He was too filled with hate for Sard.
"When do I leave, comner?" Suran asked coldly.
There was grudging respect in Sard's eyes. "Tomorrow." Suran saluted and left. When he was in the privacy of his quarteres, he retched until his stomach hurt. He then threw his shaking body onto his sleeping couch and tried to erase the memory of the underground room. Only a madman would have killed Sotir.
Early the next morning, Suran loaded Sotir's body on a methane-powered wagon and started the journey to Surak's homestead. The trip seemed much longer than when he had traveled with Sotir alive. When he reached the homestead, he halted immediately before Surak's office.
"Live long and prosper, Suran." As Surak appeared in the doorway, his face showed no curiosity for the box.
"Peace and long life, Surak," Suran answered, his hand up in the Salute. A few people gathered around them. "I come as envoy of the High Council of Sal'dar. And I return your envoy." With tears in his eyes, Suran tore the lid off Sotir's coffin. There was a gasp from the crowd. Suran turned back to Surak. "I swear to you I will avenge him for you."
Surak motioned for two men to remove the box. "If you would give Sotir's life … and his death, meaning, you will do nothing, Warrior." Surak's voice was inflexible. Suran's eyes warred with the other man's as they fought a battle of wills. All that Sotir had ever said to him flashed through Suran's mind. "Very well, Surak," he whispered.
Surak stood aside. "Come. We will discuss your Council's message." Suran entered the office, followed by the council. The older men seated themselves, but Suran refused, preferring to stand.
"The message of my High Council is that in three yram they will meet you at the Plain of Tok'Vol. Be prepared to fight or surrender."
The council exchanged glances, then Surak spoke. "Tell your council that we will meet them at the appointed time, but that we will neither fight nor surrender. Now we invite you to rest before your return to Sal'dar."
"I would prefer to attend the services for Sotir and then leave tonight."
"We have no services for the dead. We retain his memory with us always because he added so much to us, but we do not mourn his death."
"Not even at the grave?" Suran felt a sense of loss. Now he would have no chance to bid farewell to his friend.
"We don't bury our dead. The bodies are chemically reduced for use in the soil." Surak paused, as if he knew how hard it was for this young man to accept so many new things so quickly. "Sotir will live in Vulcan as long as the planet exists. Rejoice in that."
Somehow the thought of Sotir living in Vulcan comforted Suran. He made the necessary parting to the council and though the sun was setting, began the return trip to Sal'dar.
After traveling a few hours, he made camp for the evening. Lying under the tapestry of the star-strewn night sky, he felt the tension build within him, slowly, unyieldingly, until finally it broke to the surface and great tearing sobs ripped through him. Sotir was dead, dead.
But, Surak had said, he would live in Vulcan … as long as Vulcan itself would live.
Eventually his racking weeping died and his breathing slowed from the gusty gasps. His whole soul felt washed, renewed. From the back of his mind came Sotir's voice, "Now you can begin living for the both of us, my brother." Suran smiled slowly and, turning over, fell quickly asleep.
After his return to Sal'dar, Suran was caught up in the grind of the new war. Repeatedly Sard threw his armies against his enemies, without success. Each battle lessened Sal'dar's manpower. Sard was able to maintain the territory he had acquired, but was thwarted in gaining any more. A stalemate developed; Sal'dar attempted to thrust outward once more but was contained. Finally, the council was forced to sign a truce, one that cost them all of the land that Sard had won. Sard was furious; he argued constantly with the council, but they refused to continue a war that gained no lands.
Suran had performed courageously, even winning honors. He gained a reputation as a warrior who killed coldly, without thought. But in reality, Suran fought so as to end each battle as quickly as possible. He found that he could not join in the nightly gatherings of drink and boasting, could not take any pride in the body counts. Half a year of destruction, death, and nothing to show for it but new widows and orphans. All it meant to the rest of his comrades was a temporary rest until the Chief could figure out a different set of war plans. Then it would be back to the field. Until then, it was drink, make love, and retell old feats.
Suran, feeling isolated, began to haunt the libraries, reading all the books he had ever heard Sotir mention and more. Philosophy, theology, history - he read as many as he could, spending long hours by himself. When he found points he didn't understand, he would diverge onto yet other fields: sociology, psychology, even poetry. The bulk of the material seemed to be dominated by one theme: get yours even if you have to use force. Every now and then there would be a voice of reason, one such as Surak, a creator who spoke of universal good. While others rationalized war, justified destruction, these too few men would warn, even plead, the cause for common need. Suran wanted to believe them, but he was held back by the look of the la-matya Chief. How does the pacifist protect himself from the killer?
As the time drew close for the meeting between the High Council and Surak, rumors began to fly around the army. Sard was taking a select group of warrior to accompany the council. Because Suran had once met the infamous pacifist, he became the target of hundreds of questions. Would Surak fight? Would he surrender? Or even worse, would he work some kind of foul magic that would enslave the citizens of Sal'dar? Suran gave the same answers over and over; no, to the last question, and he didn't know, to the rest. But within himself, he did know. Surak would neither fight nor surrender. If he couldn't convince the council to a permanent truce, he would simply return to his homestead … or die. The real question was, what would Sard do? He was the irrational one.
Suran was not surprised when the day before the conference, he was ordered on the journey as a personal aide to Sard. He had been the most recent information source on Surak's homestead; Sard would certainly want him close at hand. After a sleepless night, Suran marched with the rest of the Chief's staff in the weak light of pre-dawn. Every step was an effort; he wanted to break ranks and run as fast as he could to warn Surak, warn him to hide his people, to stay alive. But it would do no good. Surak would go to the Plain of Tok'Vol as long as there was one chance of convincing one person of Sal'dar to accept peace, logic, and life.
The Sal'dar council's Head Elder, Sopt, raised his hands, palm upward and advanced toward Surak. Surak met him in the middle and the two men talked quietly. Soon, Sopt motioned for the rest of his council to join them, as did Surak his. The two groups seated themselves on the ground and proceeded to talk. Surak's attendants sat down behind the main group, waiting patiently, unmoving. Sard's second-in-command put the warriors into guard position. Suran watched the conferring men from the corner of his eye, trying to interpret what was happening by the facial expressions. Time passed as the talks went on. The sun burned hot in a still sky. Suddenly an order passed down the ranks for Suran to join the Chief.
Sard had edged away from the councils and was standing to one side, waiting for Suran to approach him. "Come with me." His voice was curt and strained. He seemed angry, as though things weren't going as he had hoped.
Sard sat down with the council again while Suran stood behind him. Surak glanced briefly at Suran, a welcome in his eyes, though he said nothing. Sard spoke to Sopt. "This Warrior can tell us of the defenses of Surak's homestead. He was there three yran ago. Warrior, were there any arms within the homestead?"
Suran hesitated, glancing at Surak's impassive face. "No, comner. Except for some ritual weapons and their tranquilizing darts, I saw no arms in the homestead." Then, anticipating the Chief's next question, he added, "I saw no method of defense at this homestead except exercises in personal defense."
Sard continued to Sopt, "They are totally defenseless. This man comes to us with promises of good living, easy ways, if only we will lay down our weapons. And shall I tell you what will happen if we do? We will be conquered."
"By weaponless warriors, comner?" Surak countered dryly.
Sard had a feral grin on his face. "No, my peace-loving friend, by your allies. Sopt, have you ever met a man who was not working for himself? Surak would have us believe that for the love of every man, he is willing to sacrifice himself, work tirelessly, give totally of himself, just for our gain! He will get nothing, of course, but personal satisfaction. And when we are all working for his better Vulcan, lulled by his false promises, he and his select group of followers will put chains on us. Oh, he may not use weapons, except where necessary 'for the common good.' More likely, he will use laws, laws for this and laws against that. Before we know it, we will be working … working for the good of Surak, not Vulcan. Then all power will be in his hands and we will be helpless."
Sard rose to his feet, his voice lifted as if exhorting his troops. "But I say we get rid of this danger now. Even now, my warriors could march on his homestead and destroy it. Not only would we be rid of this liar, but we would control the valley that leads to the Lakrer homestead. Then never again could Sal'dar be encircled with enemies." He stood erect, his fists clenched at his sides, breathing hard as if he had been running. A red glare peered out of his eyes. The men at his feet sat silent, stunned by his fury. Then Surak also rose to his feet, facing the enraged chief.
"We do not ask you to make any concessions that you are not totally committed to. We merely ask that you allow us to show you our plans. We ask that you think of what you do, that you give as much thought to developing peace as you do to developing war. No one asks that you disarm yourselves or open your homestead to invasion." He turned to the rest of the silent Sal'dar council, his intensity nearly as great as Sard's had been. "We are asking you to seek life as eagerly as you do death."
Sopt frowned at the dirt as he considered Surak's words. Then he stood and the rest of the groups followed him. "Send us your teachers. We will hear them; we will discuss the matter and then make a decision." There was a half-stifled protest from Sard. Sopt smiled wryly at the enraged chief. "But we make no commitments. I for one do not believe that our citizens will accept total disarmament. But we will consider your proposal."
Surak nodded his understanding, then turned to Sard. "Comner, no one can doubt your courage when faced with death. Can you be equally courageous when facing life, without a weapon in your hand?"
It was a statement of understanding, but Sard was too infuriated to hear it. Before anyone could move, he whirled, snatching his lirpa from his side, and slashed the shining blade down through Surak's right shoulder. Screaming with rage, he put two more deep gouges in Surak's throat, severing the main artery before the aide and Suran leaped on him. Grappling, Suran levered the gory lirpa out of Sard's hands while the aide wrestled him to the ground. Sard lay in the dust, cursing while the council gasped, appalled. Strar knelt quickly at Surak's side, but the man was already dead. The Sal'dar warriors tightened up, ready to fight if the council was attacked.
Instead, Strar signaled for his people to pick up Surak's body. Carefully, they lifted him and, in double file, began the long journey home, gently carrying the body between them. Strar turned to Sopt, his eyes filled with grief but his face calm. "Our teachers will be at your homestead in two days. Will that be satisfactory?" At Sopt's benumbed nod, he raised his hand in Surak's salute. "Live long and prosper." Then he turned and followed his band homeward.
Sard's aide released him and the chief scrambled to his feet. "Let me order an attack now, before it is too late. They will surely seek revenge, now that their leader is dead. If we strike now while they are still confused--"
Sopt interrupted him coldly. "We do not all take the honor you do in killing unarmed men, comner. Return to your men. We have made an agreement -- though no doubt your action will make it impossible for us to even consider the matter fairly." He and the council walked away from him. Sard stood rooted, looking like a thwarted child, then pulled himself together. "Start the march," he shouted to his aide, and the man trotted over to the commanders. Suran just stood, staring after the still visible pacifists. Sard moved up beside him, frowning testily. "Join up with your rank, Warrior."
Suran looked him over, judging him dispassionately. "No, Sard. I've made another Decision. I choose life." He began removing his armor and weapons, dropping them with a thud in the red dust. "You destroyed the least important part of Surak. This time the la-matyas like you will not stop his ideas. This I firmly believe."
The fury boiled up in Sard's face and his hand flew to his dagger. Suran made no move, strangely less afraid than he had ever been all his life. "Are you going to kill me? All it will gain you is another dead body. It will not slow down your finish. You will destroy yourself and we will be free to build." Sard stared into the young man's eyes, trying desperately to understand. In the end, his incomprehension was greater than before. His hand dropped to his side.
Suran turned and began to pace, slowly, easily, unweighted by armor or fear. He didn't rush to catch up with Strar. After all, he had the rest of his life.