Book Two


F I F T Y - E I G H T



8 7 3 2

But in the days of the sounding of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, the mystery of God would be finished, as He declared to His servants the prophets. --St. John the Divine, the Revelation of Jesus Christ (Rev. 10: 7)

1 Chiron’s PQ Plan

The Blue Centaur of the Blue Planet, nursing his melancholic, philosophic nature high in the glaciered mountains of the West Bear and Turtle Island, began to change. Was it his brief exposure to the fatal Black Crystal? He had actually held it in his hands, and whoever held it but for a moment was touched to the quick of his being. The Jetstone of Pieter van de Wordt was highly contagious as any virulent disease germ or virus. Full of never-fulfilled passions and yearnings, the crystal could penetrate the shield of even a mighty Centaur’s stoic composure. Whatever it was, Chiron felt a growing desire to put his massive disappointments and gloom behind him and....and FLY! Secluded so long in the depths of the Earth, he desired to rise into the light--which he could see shining daily through the entrance of his ice cave. Its rays seemed to beckon him to an active, public life--something he had shunned for ages as a professed stoic philosopher. The short contact with the human-fragment that had turned into a black stone was extremely hurtful, but slowly his heart-wounds healed and he felt stirred throughout his being. Perhaps, if he fly, he might go and find the crystal, or at least satisfy himself that it was lost forever. Having brought it to the surface, he felt responsible for its fate. At least that was his reasoning.

With these things gathering steam within his mighty breast, the Blue Centaur began taking more of an interest in his surroundings. They were strange, indeed--so different from Roncommon. The glaciers had terra-formed the entire region, scraping off everything from one area and moving the mass of debris to another site. In his own cave system Chiron began exploring the exposed parts of a natural gas-injection electricity plant from the late 20th Century. Never put on line due to litigation, it was three-quarters complete when the project was mothballed. Most of it had arrived intact in the mountains of the Turtle and the Bear (the Bear riding the Great Turtle swimming the Divine Waters) via the glaciers after a journey of over eight hundred miles. Glaciers alone could not have moved it so far in that time, of course. But the upheavals of cometary collisions that precipitated the Re-Location also made for significant crustal shift to the south and east. This was accentuated by the splitting of the continent. As the Midwestern plains of the divided continent submerged, the pull on continental masses west and east of the Straits wrenched the crust toward the submerged center like a semi-fluid pudding. Plant, foundation for the cooling tower, shipping/receiving shed, the main contractor’s office building, Conex tool storage units, unassorted flatbed trailers, huge tanks, spools of electric line, electric transformers, Ivy Hi-Lifts, forklifts, pipes and valves and miles of orange, black, and yellow electric cords--it was there for him to explore, even including a stretch of fir trees and grass and a security guard post set at the gate next to a telephone booth. Need a new trident? T he site also was full of iron-mongering equipment with gas-fueled Ingersoll electric generators.

Next Site

The plant would have been crushed and ruined beyond recognition, of course, if it had not frozen solid first and then been scooped up and transported. Heat rising up through vents in the mountains eventually thawed huge ice caverns miles in extent, with rooms, tunnels, and chambers forming vast, sometimes interconnected mazes like labyrinths in which all kinds of artifacts came to light--if there were eyes to see them, that is.

Wondering who the inhabitants were, and what sort of creatures, the inquiring mind of the Blue Centaur got the best of him. The naiveté of his conclusions was inevitable, because he had never known an industrial or technical society. The Mukalia-Atlantis civilization had leaped directly from ox-cart and human slave labor to electronics and cybernetics--actually, a point beyond with their almost magical power crystals--with no intermediate stages of development. Having reached the summit in virtually one bound, the Mukalian- Atlanteans were content to enjoy their achievement and saw no reason to change things from that point on. Human slaves were accounted free labor and sources of amusement forever. The hierarchy running from emperor to court royalty and nobility, to wealthy merchants and tradesmen, to all the services of slaves at the bottom, was monolithic, rigid, and static, kept exactly the same from age to age just as Mizraim, a mirror image by human civilization, would attempt to do in its long tenure. Before the Mukalian and Atlantean Titans? Nothing really. The Atlantean view held the Cosmos, or Universe, existed first, then created the Titans of Mukalia and Atlantis. A rather pleasing world-view from the privileged Atlantean perspective! So they were the only gods the Universe would ever know.

Rummaging about the plant one day, Chiron found documents in the office building and the guard post that he studied for quite some time, puzzling out enough meaning to make sense of what he saw around him. It was not an easy match--his Centaurian mentality and the products and mindset of the 20th Century. Yet from a mass of papers--FedEx chits, FAX sheets, Guard Post SOP’s, and Site Work Plans, he gleaned some understanding of the operations and thinking of the vanished race and their long-dead times.

What was the name of this city (for he could not tell a workaday, utilitarian industrial plant from a city of scholars and philosophers)? He searched the papers and found what also was painted on a big sign at the entrance: TZBV-TAKOMA A Joint Venture. He decided that had to be the city’s name because it appeared so often. FAX came a close second, but he didn’t like the sound, and the longer name seemed more proper and noble for a city than FAX.

How was he able to unlock unknown language? Actually, linguistics was his hobby, and from experience with the many tongues of Atlantis he could make out the meaning of the variants and descendants, although the language spoken by TZBV-TAKOMA A Joint Venture was difficult to translate since it represented a very distant, shirttail relative of the Atlantean-Mukalian family of languages. Adept with languages, he could spell out the syllables and from a stock of root meanings common to all languages he eventually deciphered the meaning--or a good portion of the original meaning.

“WORK PLANS page 1” was his major project in language study, for it afforded the most text of all the documents.

“We hope to show you the way to lay out your work plans to fit your job and by doing this giving you a tool to help you reach you production goals. All work plans should be job specific. As we go through this work ship you will see why this is necessary. When we first did work plans at the site involved as the shop foreman I was very scheptical because I was used to the old way of laying out the work day by day using the five week schedule. I didn’t think I need to change because the old way seamed to work well. When the craft saw the work plans all they saw was more work--”

It took Chiron, able as he was, over a half -century to translate this portion, and then he was just as mystified as ever. Plodding on, he gained more knowledge by the most painstaking efforts, which finally paid off in a modest increase of knowledge.

“...They showed a lack of trust just like they do when you first introduce the PQ plan--”

Chiron’s blue ears pricked up at this point. “PQ plan”? For some reason, he had to know what that meant, if he were forced to work at it for an entire century to find out.

“...After a short period of time they saw how they were able to use the work plan to track there own production goals. It also helped me by laying out work far in advance which let the craft foremen plan they work early. This world help them come up with which men to us and how to approach the work and let them know how I planed for the work to be done. They would then study the plan and summit there ideas--”

Chiron, by now, was intrigued--all his tremendous psychological-intellectual faculties locked on and fully engaged. This paper was his Rosetta Stone (though, of course, that term had been long lost and would not come to mind), unlocking the glories of the past ages, as far as he could tell. Imagine! A race that could set goals for itself--that “planed.” Moreover, when they had laid out their work plans according to the PQ plan, it enabled them to reach the very summit with their glorious ideas. Wonders! These creatures, then, were marvels of intelligence and wisdom! He greatly desired to commune with them. How unfortunate he had been occupied beneath the surface all the time they had flourished above ground! Now there was nothing left but this grand city and their writings. He returned to his translation work, hoping to learn even more about the master-philosophers of TZBV.

“Some were very good and saved a lot of labor. In all I think once you use the work plans you willlike what they do for you. What we need to donow is to breakup in to three groups Civil, Mechanical, Electrical. (At this time read the names in each group and who the speaker is--”

Chiron’s ancient language study did equal wonders to his morale. He found the forward-looking spirit of the project men stimulating. He even wanted to try the PQ Plan for himself, and to do that he realized he needed to divide his philosophic inquiry into the three categories, Civil, Mechanical, and Electrical. But what did they mean? He went through the other papers to find the answer. And what did he produce? After all, the PQ plan concerned production goals. That stumped him for quite some time. It was actually depressing to consider that he had not produced or done anything for so long that all he could put down as work experience was his guardianship in Roncommon. Nothing he did there seemed to qualify him for taking on actual production goals. He knew he would never be able to “plane” on that basis.

Fortunately, in this impasse, he happened to pull out a slip of paper, half a sheet entitled “Basic Concept for Though One-Way of Doing a Work Shop.” This provided the needed clue.

“*Break management up to groups. Mech. Elec. Civil. ect. Pick spokesperson for each group. *Copy of Donaldson LDR to respective groups. *Start with determining what codes get a work plan. *Why did they choose *What are ground rules for choosing codes used. *Compare to what we did - Actuals- *Concept is that not all cost codes get a work plan - Bang for your buck phase--

He saw now that he was at a great disadvantage, living the solitary way he did. He needed other creatures to make up the groups, Civil, Electrical, and Mechanical, if he were going to form and reach his production goals. My, this philosophy was a complicating venture! So cooperative and social! He had studied ants and termites enough to know how cooperative they were, and this system resembled theirs to a high degree. But he also recalled the Atlantean civilization, and theirs too was highly organized, though a very merciless, oppressive system, to his recollection. A dark cloud seemed to settle on his brow. It made him grind his teeth, in fact, when he thought of them. It was a good thing he had not crossed paths with any of them. Had any survived the catastrophe when Atlantis broke up and submerged? He had no idea. But back to work!

*Have them develop out line *Each discipline *Review by each - *Use paper boards to write answers *Review with Donaldson outline *Determine how foreman reports qty’s. *What type of form. *What should be on form. *Have each displine make up one.

At this point, the paper was torn and the rest of the Basic Concept was lost forever. Alas! Yet he saw that the fragment afforded him a great deal to think about in the coming centuries. In time he would understand what each thing meant--”ground codes,” “Actuals,” “displine,” “outline or out line,” “paper boards,” “foreman,” “qtys,” and such. All things, he knew, took time to master. Difficulty did not dismay him. He had all the time in the world, and the brain to do it--to attain the summit and obtain the “bang for your buck phase”. “Buck”? “Bang”? “Phase”? They were beautiful puzzles to his mind and temperament, which were that of a philosopher and scholar--not to mention, a linguist who knew over seven hundred and fifty Atlantean-Mukalian languages, dialects, and derivatives.

The Shop Foreman, the Blue Centaur decided early on, was a philosopher like himself, only very different in aim and attitude, and supporting philosophy and premises. Though evidently from philosophic modesty and decorum, he never named himself, his title Foreman indicated that he looked forward or thought forward for the common good, directed the PQ plan, created the Basic Concept, and formed the three groups of the School or University of Philosophy at TZBV. The Blue Centaur came across the meaning for TZBV in the archives, found in various round, metal receptacles placed by flat-topped pieces of furniture. Named after Tschellcoop, Zyzbrynskje, Benton, and Velly, who evidently were the Founding Sages of this philosophical society and train of thought, TZBV A Joint Venture, he decided, was a community devoted to scholarship and philosophy. If they built things, they consisted of big, mathematical models to illustrate their theories, and that explained the objects on the site. They lived in a few of the structures, but the rest were mathematical-philosophical models.

What a high civilization this had to have been! he thought. It even seemed to have advanced far beyond that of Atlantis, where brutal force and cruelty were used routinely to grease the gears and keep things running smoothly. Here, the inhabitants of the city worked together for the society’s production goals, breaking off into groups to achieve greater efficiency and help their Shop Foreman and various craft foremen administer the program. The cooling tower, proving his conclusion, was a place where the greatest seekers and thinkers retired to let thoughts settle, whenever their lofty explorations tended to expand too fast. They could also share thoughts in more of an intimate setting designed for fruitful collaboration, amendment, rebuttal or confirmation, and, thus, enjoyed a highly complex communication system. This city, then, was a collection and dispersal facility for the products of philosophic studies. From this university streams of the most advanced, progressive philosophy and wisdom flowed out to the entire world!

Chiron, realizing this about the site, felt thoroughly at home. But, yet, he wanted to explore the world more than ever once he had learned how to organize with others and facilitate the grand production goals of Philosophy. Yet to organize with others meant he had find “others.” Who would these “others” be. The original TZBV savants and philosophers were gone--extinct for thousands of years. He could not turn up a single bone, in fact--not that he wished to find any. Still it seemed a bit strange there was not one tomb or cenotaph on the site. Surely, the exalted Shop Foreman would order a handsome marble cenotaph before his demise. That was the practice of all the Master Race Atlanteans, who lived so long they had no fear of death and vied with each other building the most talked-about funereal monuments and held splendid, year-long farewell parties and willingly took hemlock in golden goblets and toasted Thanatos, or Beauteous Death, when they grew bored with life. Or the TZBVites lived as long as the Centauri--which was indefinitely, barring some accident--and were innocent of the elaborate Atlantean death cult with its Cenotaphs, Thanatos banquet, eulogies, golden goblets and the final sip of perfumed hemlock. Whatever the case, they left few personal marks of their presence behind, other than what belonged to the whole society.

The thought brought back certain memories, which still were rather unpleasantly fresh. As for accidents and mortality, it sometimes happened that a Centaur met fragmentation, or “termination”--terms he was trained to apply to his kind. (Only Atlanteans were judged people, and everything else was an ignoble thing which the Atlanteans classified as not worthy of the dignity of Death). He had known of such incidents in the past. In fact, he had terminated quite a number himself in Roncommon in the unpleasant human fragment episode. How painful that experience had proved! How painful!

But Chiron changed the subject quickly. He had no desire to dwell on that aspect of the Past. He was now forward looking and thinking, thanks to his re-location and new studies. It was so new to him--looking outward and upward! Yes, upward! Often, feeling the strain of idleness on his mighty limbs from so much study, he would go to the entrance of the cave and look out on the wide world, wondering what lay below. Even with his limited vision--his night vision was excellent but he was half-blinded by the intensity of daytime illumination--he could make out the major features. Would he find men of like spirit that he could befriend, who would help him organize the three crucial groups of philosophic endeavor? He truly hoped so. But first he needed more study, to gain the knowledge he needed once he embarked on a journey to find his co-philosophers. Once found, he would seek to train them up to “Specs,” as job requirements were called in the papers.

His understanding was greatly deepened, however, by another discovery. He looked into the guard post hut one day and found old SOP’s. Because of his size, he could just manage to get his head and hands into the small post hut located by the main gate. A water dispenser, a desk and swivel chair, windows all around, several objects of which he could not tell the use (since he had no knowledge of coffee and radio), regulations posted on the wall with tiny, color-tipped darts. What were those thin objects covered with black stacked together on the desk? He pulled one out carefully. Cracking open the first page, beginning to read, something dawned in his spirit.

Site Security Supervisor

1. Responsible to TZBV Personnel for all inquires on guard activities and overall responsibility for guard compliance with instructions.

2. Responsible to train new site officers as needed after 1500 hours on regular Detex Rounds.

3. Change Detex disc and review data with TZBV personnel M W F at 1400.

4. Conduct periodic visual checks of equipment area across from the main gate when in the guard house.

5. Keep security management informed of any changes to policy or procedure requested by TZBV personnel.

6. Maintain a current list of security employees assigned for work at TZBV (Scheduled and back-ups)

7. Maintain a current list of required telephone numbers.

8. Maintain a payroll log, recording time worked by all security officers assigned to TZBV.

At this point the account became illegible, due to water seepage, mold, and simple age. The paper crumbled even as he read the account, and the entire contents of the SOP manual fragmented and fell like moldy cracker bits out of the notebook he was holding.

But what he had read was most stimulating! It reminded him of his own duties in Roncommon. He too had performed periodic visual checks of the “equipment”--the various monsters under his authority. Now as for the Detex disc, what was that?

He looked in again at the hut’s contents and found a small, black, rounded object hanging by a strap from a nail on the wall. Carefully taking it by his fingers, the strap went to pieces immediately, but the object itself was solid and hard, able to withstand the changes and pressures of many, many years. Chiron gazed at the disc for long moments, trying to determine its use. He turned it round in his fingers and found a glassed eye with the same markings as the much bigger ones he had already seen in the philosopher’s main lodge. Was this the same thing, only much reduced in size?. Since it bore numbers--1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12--was it used to mark twelve sequential steps in philosophic inquiry and thinking? That seemed most likely. This disc then was a most valuable means to chronicle his actual working out of the progress of the philosophic program of the university. How fortunate he was! He suspected he had found the jewel of the entire operation, the philosophic linchpin and chronometer, the portable philosopher’s stone that would transform all dross to gold! No doubt the Shop Foreman had carried it upon his breast as he paraded daily from college to college on the grounds. For his use there were long, open-ended , yellow chariots with “TZBV” painted on their sides. What a grand sight it must have been, the Shop Foreman riding back behind the chariot’s driver installed in the little cabin, sitting on the long black bench marked COMMANDER, and waving to the multitudes of working philosophers as they took the tour.

Drawing some color-coated copper thread from a spool and biting off a section, he made a new strap, but one long enough so he hung it on his neck like a rare amulet. After more examination, he saw he had previously missed something--a small, strangely shaped incision. Something, obviously, was inserted in the philosopher’s disc, but what was it? Turning the disc, he found a very tiny black object hanging on a metal chain. Was this it? No! Where, then, had the philosophers put it?

Some time later he was moving about the compound when he happened to notice a little black box affixed to a fence. He had seen it before, but it had meant nothing to him other than it was probably a solar emblem colored black. But going close he saw the word “Detex,” which instantly made him very excited, indeed. Opening the box was difficult, for it was so small his finger tips were almost useless. Yet he managed with great care to open it and get out a shiny object fastened to a metal chain. The object at the end was, he saw at once, just what he was looking for, and without hesitating he put it in the disc and--nothing. The disc refused to open and disclose the hidden treasures of TZBV’s wisdom. Whatever knowledge the disc received by the turning of the key, it kept secret.

Chiron scratched his great, silvery blue head of hair. Maybe this one was not working. If he could find another, perhaps that would work to open the disc.

He went in search, and after much difficulty, for the mysterious Detex boxes were small and set at points widely distant from each other, he located four more. Each was a great disappointment, however, as he tried it and found it would not open the disc.

It was a dead end! he concluded. But he had traversed many such in his career. In fact, wasn’t Roncommon nothing but a dead end, though vast in size? Bright, most powerful beings had brought him there, handling him kindly when he did not resist. There, treating him differently from the other monsters of the Masters, he had been assigned charge of a certain area and its inhabitants. SOPs of how to conduct himself and perform his duties was given to him, and he had done his best to the last of his stay. Now that he had left Roncommon, he saw it for what it was--a place of confinement. He had realized that at the beginning, though he knew he had done nothing wrong. There was just no use for him on the surface. As for the other monsters, they were destructive and ferocious, and there was every good reason for confining them forever.

Now that he was free, he felt somewhat at loose ends. Yet thanks to TZBV he had found new meaning for his existence. Even though he had failed to open the philosophers’ disc, he still had discovered enough about the workings of their new Philosophy to radically transform his own outlook on the Universe. How self-circumscribed the Atlanteans, his Masters, had been in their philosophic views! he realized. Here was the proof in hand! His former Masters, wearing blinders of power and arrogance, saw no Providence, no Creator God, in the workings of the Universe. All they gave credence to was Mechanistic Philosophy of the most narrow sort, and though in the dim past some of their more original thinkers had entertained the idea of a Supreme Deity, the main body of their philosophers had assured the hold-outs by persuasive arts of suppression and character assassination that such a Being could not possibly exist, since everything they apprehended in the Universe was the outcome of a Primal Explosion of Hydrogen Matter, a First Cause of all things, that happened once and produced the stars and galaxies. From that start everything had evolved. One clever, highly thought of cynic in the Imperial Academy of the Arts and Sciences publicly dismissed the notion of a Supreme Being by reading a well-written monograph proving his point with unassailable logic before the august assembly at its annual review and banquet. Most Exalted Sage of the Physical Philosophies, Lord and Exalted Dragon Huxx, termed such a Being a “gaseous biped,” drawing laughter from all his colleagues, and, thus, snuffing the question forever, relegating it to the dustbin of an intellectually-disreputable “Forbidden Category.” This was the svelte, exquisitely pale-complexioned, and sleek-black maned Academician who, after great applause at the end of his speech, entertained the Academy at the banquet with the dry wit and brilliant irony of his metaphysical sonnet, “Dance of the Autumn Leaves,” composed for the occasion, in which an octogenarian Gaseous Biped danced on a fallen leaf with an young, adoring, tripedal Mineral representing the Natural Elements of Cosmos, the Terrestrial, and the Sub-Terrestrial.

So, for the Atlanteans, the Supreme Question that ought to have been the wonderful, prime preoccupation of every intellectally endowed creature was too trivial to give a moment of their time. To them a Supreme Being was not necessary, thinkable, or even respectable. All that the Universe needed, then, was the Start Up First Explosion, which shot out everything like threads from a single, tiny spool, only as the threads of matter streamed forth they underwent physical changes that grew increasingly in complexity as billions of years passed, until the highest forms of life--the Atlanteans--ultimately emerged as the head of gold to rule over everything. This Great Philosophy, as his former masters called it, satisfied the believers completely, to the point where no competing points of view were permitted. Formed with the purpose in mind of providing a philosopher conversation on topics of Mechanistic Philosophy, the royal-blue Chiron felt hedged about and very uncomfortable the more he was schooled in his masters’ philosophy. Why should he just think their thoughts on things? Was there no other way?

Yet it was well he kept such misgivings to himself, for he knew he would be instantly terminated if he stepped out of line. Fortunately, his true thoughts never came to light. The other siblings of his kind, created for the same purpose as his, failed to provide interesting companions to leading philosophers. They were nothing but barbaric monsters, electing the more active life to that of intellectual companions, choosing to brawl like tavern riffraff with each other at the least opportunity--not at all philosophically inclined as Chiron, the first to come off the drawing table and the assembly line. Yet, unfair as it was, Chiron was herded together with the others and confined to a desert island off the coast. It was there he witnessed the first onslaughts of the catastrophes that engulfed the Centre, the Masterland of the World Kings. Explosions of crystallized methane gases in the seabed all along the coast threatened to transport his prison island and its Master guards to the heights of the skies, but blinding-bright, shining warriors had suddenly materialized, and rounded the Centauri up, flying armed escort for them into the depths of the Earth.

All this past, doleful experience rushed back into mind. It suddenly made sense. The Master Philosophers were wrong, at least concerning the Supreme Being as a “Forbidden Category”! Now he was obliged to entertain the possibility there was nothing whatsoever wrong about delving into “FC.” Those bright, warrior-like beings, for example! They had come after reigning Titans’ evil residing there, but transported him safely out when the continent broke up from spontaneous combustion, and put him in Roncommon, instructing him in his duties, then leaving him when he was able to perform satisfactorily with the huge, electrified trident they gave him. Where had the flying beings come from? They were not Masters and Overlords, he knew. Surely, they served a greater Master, one much more powerful than any of his former lords, however mighty they were, possessing airships with dreadful, killing weapons and power crystals that enabled them to do virtually anything they wished. Ever since the beginning of his contact with the flying warriors, he had determined to find out the Truth. Until now, the opportunity had not presented itself. But with his return to the Upperworld, he could pursue the matter to his heart’s content.

Like mighty streams converging on a single point--the rivers of experience, old questions presently revived, the “PQ” plan and Progressive Philosophy of TZBV, especially the philosophers’ Detex disc that led him to the little, black, power boxes--Chiron’s understanding grew by quantum leaps.

He could never go back now to what he had been. He was determined to find out the Truth. Was there a Supreme Being? What did the “PQ” plan really mean? What could he gain by the Progressive Philosophy? He had to find the answers somehow.

He began daily rounds, hoping that something would turn up in his researches. From Detex box to box, he made his circuit of the site, turning the little key in the disc. But the disc never opened to disclose its great wonders, and slowly Chiron saw that he needed to find another key that would unlock the meaning of the disc. It might even entail his doing something drastic? But what?

With these goals in mind, Chiron grew determined to investigate the truth of TZBV’s progressive philosophy, and to do that he developed “flying machinery,” or wings. Actually, they were not proper wings, since his species had never been engineered by the Atlanteans with flying in mind. Yet his design did not preclude wings, and rudimentary wings were a part of his equipment, so that all Chiron had to do was train his immense mental powers on them to start them growing. It took some time and effort, but he had plenty, and bit by bit his wings grew out to the point where he could flap them at the entrance of the cave and feel a lift of his massive frame. He was amazed, of course, the first time he saw the new skies at night, filled with strange stars and constellations that bore no resemblance to Heruka, Orion, and the other Titan heroes of Mukalia and Atlantis. But though his long stay had put him out of touch with what was going on above, the Underworld had rarefied his physiognomy somewhat, doubling the inner space of his atoms, which made little visible difference in his size but lightened his body mass considerably without reducing his tremendous strength. Without feathers, his wings resembled an extinct pterodactyl’s, and thus were unsightly, but he saw no reason why they couldn’t be patterned with lengths of caution tape (the stripes of yellow affording a nice effect next to his dark blue skin), and an entire shed was filled with the tape so he would never run out.

On one of his first trips he tried out his wings, and all went well, despite the confusion and difficulty the unknown continent gave him when he tried to navigate. He returned to his cave and was startled to find a human who must have come in from a connecting tunnel. Turning pale in face, the human ran off immediately, throwing away his bow and quiver of arrows in his haste. What a shame! Chiron thought. He wished to converse with the man, if possible. Perhaps, he might be trained to “Specs” and fitted into one of the work groups. But the opportunity was lost.

There was nothing for it but to go in search of other work group prospects. He flew more sorties, and at a great distance found villages, nomadic camps of conical, hide-covered dwellings that the humans used and then dismantled and dragged on travois poles behind their horses from one site to another. But when he dropped lower to see the humans better they shouted at him and began shooting arrows. That wasn’t a good idea, for he could easily rout them, despite their weapons, but he wasn’t about to start a conflict, so he flew off, determined to look elsewhere.

Yet everywhere he got the same response. Thoroughly discouraged, he returned to TZBV, and knew it was useless to try again. His heart felt broken. He had begun to hope that he might break through the dark cloud covering his vision, to gain the Brightness of Truth on the other side that he darkly sensed was there. His hopes seemed crushed before his eyes and thrown back into his face! He began to do a very unphilosophic thing. No stoic who steeled his will and mind against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune should have shed tears--but the Blue Centaur could no longer help himself. His heart was truly broken. Previously wounded in his heart and soul by the human-fragment that turned into a black crystal, the great blue heart now burst along imperfectly joined fracture lines just as he had begun to fly toward his Answer concealed by Cloud and Avalanche.

Chiron wept, huge, blue-tinged drops streaming down his bearded face. His PQ plan had crashed on its first solo flight. Now what would he do? All was lost--lost!

Suddenly, a message flashed into his mind that brought him to his feet like a bolt from the skies.

You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with your whole heart. I am the Lord of all being, and I will teach you a new song.

2 Elektra’s Comeuppance

The mills of Divine Justice may grind slowly, but they grind evenly and thoroughly, missing not one grain. For Elektra, who knew no God in her philosophy, events were interpreted as either being for her--aiding her in her quest of the Imperial Throne of Earth--or against her, in some way opposing or impeding her grand objective.

A simple-celled individual in her chemistry, unlike the “simple cell” in nature that is unthinkably complex and constantly conducting innumerable chemical processes simultaneously in order to interact with its environment and with other cells, she had learned virtually nothing in some 20 millennia of existence. Why should she? She knew all that she needed to know, as far as she was concerned. Only common drudges and inferiors needed to learn to keep their place in the cosmic hierarchy of things. Ordained to ascend the Throne, that was the reason for her being and all she did. Everything, except herself, was sacrificed and subordinated to ascension. For that same reason her governance was extremely simple. If anyone appeared to oppose her power and right to ascension, she did away with that enemy. If they favored and supported her in it, she allowed them to live and serve her. Knowing this about her kept everyone in line for a long, long time. If there was a general insurrection, she would terminate everybody, and do it without a moment’s hesitation.

Naturally, there was no revolt, chiefly because everyone always knew where Elektra stood and also because her subordinate officers and nobility believed in the same hierarchy she did, and without it they were meaningless zeroes--the event-horizon mouthed Singularities, the Black Holes-- the ”wandering stars” spoken of by St. Jude in the Book?-- which like raging waves of the sea never find a resting place except the “foam” of their own dark wickedness and shame. For such, says St. Jude, is reserved the “blackness of darkness forever.” Evenso, at best the exiles’ existence must have seemed a trying limbo at times--the usual fate of governments-in-exile. A growing sense of malaise must have afflicted this rump-Atlantis state, contributing to the tenseness in their midst that could only be allayed by large daily doses of big band music. It also helped that they knew that in extreme difficulties, the top staff of the starfleet under her command could exert some pressure to get orders amended or curtailed in some way in order to save the fleet. Elektra could, under danger of losing her right to succession by external threats, amend her tactics somewhat.

With the Throne of Atlantis always before her mind’s eye, the commander of the roving, rootless principality of Atlanteans was not wicked, in her own estimation. She was what she was: commander-in-exile of the Atlantean contingent of émigrés, as well as heir apparent to the Throne since the Dauphin Prince and his consort were assassinated.

The loss of the Imperial Horus-Headed Dauphin in, according to human reckoning, ANNO 1924, by the hand of human barbarians was a terrific jolt at the time. Preserved in a crystalline state for a safe ascension to the Throne once it was restored, the Dauphin, eldest surviving son of the First Wife the Empress, was the Great Hope of the remaining Atlanteans. That was why he was crystallized. Nothing should be allowed to happen to him--he was too precious to them. Only in the case of the most dire emergency--which the igniting of vast gas rock beds all around the coasts and the volcanic break-up and submergence of the Imperial Domain truly was—would the royal family submit to the procedure. The Dauphin, seeing the entire realm plummet to the bottom of the sea, gladly submitted. He knew what a thread his succession hung on, and no sacrifice was thought too great at that moment of peril. If everyone else perished--and it appeared at one time that such would be the case--at least one viable royal would survive to carry on the imperial line.

By Atlas's tears! Now he was gone too! But Elektra, seeing herself royal and next in line, which she certainly was as the eldest surviving daughter of the Second Wife of the late Emperor and no legitimate royal male standing before her, was determined to see that nothing extinguished her chances to restore the Throne. She knew she lacked a certain royal majesty, which in the Dauphin was unmistakable in his imperial characteristics of Horus the Sacred Hawk, her more ordinary appearance was not major impediment, nor was it her female sex. When she ascended the restored Throne, she would do so with a chosen prince-consort. Any properly-attired male of the court nobility would do, for she would be Empress, and he would be a mere formality. His throne would be set next in position to hers, but of course placed down a flight of gold and emerald steps that led to her Peacock Throne set a thousand feet above on a supporting power crystal dais. While in court he could never address her directly, but would have to go through a Court Chamberlain or the Chief Cupbearer if he wished to inquire about anything. Nor could he touch her without her permission--especially not in public court, where her royal person was sacrosanct and any infraction was awarded instant death, no matter the exalted rank or nobility of degrees of lineage.

Elektra lived in a tight, close-knit cocoon of splendid, ages-old ceremony and procedures surrounding the Throne that were far more real to her than the pallid existence she knew as an exile. She despised the world that had replaced hers. It was chaotic, meaningless, crude, inferior--of no interest to her. She only wanted to see it subjected to her absolute control and completely subordinated to her plan for restoring the Throne. But that aim always seemed to elude her grasp. Just when she thought she had fixed and grasped the prey, it always slipped through her fingers! How tiresome! For twenty millennia now this had been going on. The frequent moves, too, were wearing on her nerves. What really made the mercury rise in her veins was the occasional thought that she was getting no closer to her Goal, even slipping further back.

Mars her little red jewel, of course, had been an expedient--a convenient place to wait out developments on Earth until it was judged ripe for Atlantean take-over and restoration. But then this great power, the red jewel, flew in out of nowhere and upset everything--everything! A thorough-going Classic Mechanist-Realist, no believer in divinity or even in sympathetic magic, she turned the study of the thing over to her staff, but they could not make anything of what they observed, except that it possessed certain formidable powers and energies. Watching its machinations and disruptions of Earth, however, many of her officers, as early as ANNO 1912 (according to the terrestrial human reckoning) favored a pull-back from Mars to some other star system immediately. But that option she found difficult, risky as their position was rendered by the intrusive, vastly powerful star-stone. How she wanted to remain on Earth, or, failing that, nearby on Mars! As star-stone-initiated catastrophes multiplied on Earth, her people grew more alarmed, and pressure increased on her to give the command to evacuate the Red Planet. Finally, with no certitude they could hold what the star-stone was apparently going to destroy, she most reluctantly gave the evacuation order. Abandoning the City of Orion, Orionopolis--her palace complete but the quadrilateral observatory’s foundation only just laid-- they removed themselves from the line of fire.

Not one to take inconveniences lightly, she was furious with the star-stone which had thrown a wrench in her gears, but dared not risk a direct confrontation, not at this point. A contest of power with a very potent unknown was not to her liking, nor did her officers advise it. The removal to another star system was well-advised. It gave them a safe anchorage for a time. But, unfortunately, they somehow fell afoul of the star-stone and escaped utter destruction by a single hair’s breadth! How it happened Elektra could not say. A wretched, sneaking little Cray supercomputer had been meddling in Earth’s affairs for quite some time, and she knew it was one possible cause of turning the star-stone against them. Now they knew the magnitude of the teeth behind the star-stone’s mouse’s squeak--teeth that could rip apart their entire fleet!

The more Elektra thought about the incident the more she suspected that the Cray was the culprit. The roving Cray was the agency, she decided, that accounted for all sorts of absurd images being projected upon her starships, rendering them highly visible targets for the rampaging star-stone. It was not only humbling to find this out, it was absolutely enraging. Deciding that she had been operating on someone else’s miscalculations, she executed some of her staff and lesser grades in a way meant to be especially humiliating and degrading, then calmed down to consider her position afresh. But her position was not good. Again, they had to move or face sudden and violent extinction! This additional effront to her dignity put Elektra almost beside herself. She vowed revenge--but on what? When? Where? Running out of places to go, they turned Earthward. There it was--her beautiful little Earth! Settled beside a stellar cloud, it had a make-shift moon once again, and--that dratted star-stone!

The star-stone, after following the Re-located Earth to 3C 295, gratified her highly wounded temperament by restoring the continent on which she had been born and lived before the Submersion, then spoiled everything by systematically blowing up the Universe starting from the center. Again the risk of a dire confrontation. Yet it never happened! The star-stone vanished! Yet her joy was short-lived. Others like it appeared and began to meddle in her Earth. Somehow, they had a hard time of taking root, fortunately, and one after another was driven off, though by exactly what means Elektra could not make out.

Elektra now poised to spring on what was rightfully hers, but star-stones kept coming and interfering with her plans, creating all sorts of new situations she had never seen before. By the time of the Algol, her old allies, she though she could finally install herself as World Empress. In fact, she had the Dauphin Prince’s royal garments altered and made to conform where needed with the female anatomy, and she was daily practicing points of ceremony that went with royal ascension. Yet there was a fly buzzing in the ointment of success. The star-stones experienced rebuffs and actual defeats, as had happened in the past. Only now the Algol were wiped out along with the star-stone, so she lost one main pillar of her Co-Prosperity Sphere. The other pillar, the Rom, soon followed. She was left with the Turtle on which her whole edifice of state was supposed to rest--and this tortoise was of the type that did not like to be ridden. Reduced in numbers, her staff was not adequate to policing the planet to see that her commands were obeyed, so she needed allies such as the Algol, Rom, and such. With them gone her plans for the Restoration were thrown into serious question.

Was the cause these absurd “ human butterflies” she kept hearing about from her informers? She ordered them tracked down, but could never seem to get one on a ship and brought to her for examination. One of these “Human Flies” possessed a stinger and had dared to attack a plasma-harvester of hers! Information came to her that this creature was later slain, but that did not make up for the loss of the Algol. It simply meant more interminable delay! Though practically immortal, she was subject to certain constitutional and temperamental limitations. Her nerves, for instance, were worn to the quick. Anyone or anything that fell afoul of her now was dead mutton! She aimed to be World Empress, whatever the cost! Rubbing the livid, serpentine scar on her arm that traced an old confrontation with a star-stone, she vowed with all her being to restore the Throne, whatever it took.

It was good she could distract herself for long periods of time, or she might have turned on her staff and terminated them all long before. She kept to her stateroom, too royal for socializing and fraternizing with inferiors, however noble in blood. Either amusing herself with music from her stringless harp or playing rounds of various games, she kept from flying apart as she waited to implement the Restoration. One game was “Gladiators”--her favorite. It was really the only way she indulged a modicum of humor and excitement. To watch a gladiator plead for his life the moment he faced certain, excruciating death--she always found that amusing. “Thumbs down” was her inevitable response, and her royal wish was carried out. That took many interesting forms. Flaying alive, disembowelment, dismemberment or quartering--there were endless variations on the theme.

Classic Period Mayan temple ballcourts, as long as they lasted, had furnished her nice places for her game. She had enjoyed a long series of games played with agents from human governments. Until the process of negotiation soured--that is! Finally, a NRA agent had come on board that said some pleasing things, only to betray her confidence and break the Security NRA-Atlantean Protocols (SNAPS) by passing information about her flagship to some confederate waiting in the jungle. She had seen to it that both men were punished, of course, by playing gladiators. The fat specimen did not last long, for the skinny one was far more clever. Yet he had tricked her again. The fat one was only playing dead after a supposedly mortal sword thrust by the champion. When she was bestowing the golden laurel wreath by the hand of a guard, the fat gladiator leaped back to life, and together the two contestants ran in different directions, making it impossible for her guards to catch them for a few seconds. Before the thin, clever human could be apprehended and killed, he raced back into the ship and stuck his head into a galley garbage compressor and valve hatch, pressed ON and Reverse and blew his brains and innards all over the kitchens. It was a terrible mess to clean up. She got quite a lot of plasma from the fat man in compensation before he turned useless husk, but the thin one--not even half a pint for all the trouble he caused!

Elektra strode about her abbreviated domain, the B Deck stateroom-command room of her flagship, as she reviewed her position in her mind. She satisfied herself on all points--that nothing vital was in jeopardy, despite certain little setbacks among old allies. She would do without them! She had all the power she needed to attain her Objective, without any help whatsoever! As long as her power crystals functioned--and nearly half of them still did--she was invincible. Pleased that all things were in order in her war-making arsenal, Elektra conducted yet another inventory of the Royal Wardrobe, which contained the gown and imperial insignia of the Throne of the World. Crook, mace, orichalc necklace with all the Royal Titles and Power Crystal Displays, robes of a golden alloy that appeared to be elastic crystal--everything was as it should be! At a moment’s notice, with Earth secured under her control, she would leap into the robes and seize her crook and mace, and her installation as World Empress would just be a matter of hours away!

What a splendid spectacle as World Empress she would make! The horrid scar on her arm--that could be covered with another arm bracelet--and then there would be no sign that she was anything but perfect, the supreme and rightful successor of the Imperial Line of the Masterland. She had no metallurgists aboard anymore--true. But she would order a search made for one. Surely, there had to be one among the barbarian human stock. They were forever grubbing in the ground and extracting precious metals of various kinds for making into crude weaponry and also jewelry. Thinking this and congratulating herself, how could she know that at that moment a creation of her own race, the Chim, a monster bred for the Imperial Seal of Court of Poseidia, was stirring up a cauldron of trouble for her, the monster’s very existence providing drawing power for two champions, one human, one of equal human and Centaur parts?

Was it only coincidence that report reached Elektra of the Imperial Chimaera’s existence and whereabouts just when she had determined it was now or never to make the giant step up to the Throne? Naturally, she wanted the Chim retrieved. Its presence at her installation would add an impressive touch of legitimacy to the proceedings. Since she almost always got what she wanted, she did not give the matter a second thought as she ordered her fleet out of anchorage to perform the necessary reconnaissance and encirclement of the monster. Well aware of its ferocity and near-invisibility, which rendered it so elusive, she thought the use of the entire fleet would be sufficient to round it up without risking the humiliation of a failed mission.

After escaping Roncommon, the darling of the Atlantean Ronn-series of monsters, the Chim of the Imperial Logo, searched out a number of caves, finding one to its satisfaction on the Rain Mountain. It wasn’t particular, it mainly sought seclusion in a high place from which it could soar off a rock and each the winds that would take it wherever it chose. From the Rain Mountain it could command a vast region covering half of the West Bear and Turtle Island.

For weeks it lay with scarcely a movement in its lair, a warm steam vent that kept out the ice and snow, then roused itself to tremendous activity as something fierce and insatiable stirred up its energies. Able to breed a furnace-like intensity of flame in its voltaic, chemical-electric generator, the Chim needed to vent excess rage from time to time.

Anyone seeing would have been terrified at the sight of the mingled animal parts--hairy bearish skin, talon-like claws, a serpent tail with a biting head at the end, and plates stronger than any burrowing ant-eater's. But the most frightening thing was the deep in the lionine head and fire-spouting snout, with lizard and catlike, heavy-hooded, double-irised eyes. Whenever this head became active, then it was clear the thing was awake and alert, intent on doing the world some mischief.

Unafraid of anything yet encountered in the Upper World, the electric-bolt hurling trident of the great Blue Centaur out of sight and out of mind, the Chim moved sluggishly to the entrance, uncoiling itself as it went. Even then it resembled a badly crumpled circus tent, it lurched and writhed about. Its eyes alive and darting, the hoods withdrawn into its skull, it poised itself on the rock ledge at the entrance.

Clouds swirled about the promontory heavy with the constant rain that had given the Mountain its immemorial name--”Rain-in-[Giant's] Ear”--because of the continual sound of falling and splashing waters. Rain poured further down, turning to snow and ice which added to the glaciers birthed by freezing rains on all slopes of the Mountain.

Suddenly, the huge, non-aerodynamic mass of the Chim leaped off into space and a remarkable thing happened--it flattened out instantly, like an 18th Century lady ‘s bat-winged serpent-goddess costume, snapping her wings open as she made a grand entrance at a masque ball. Soaring downwards, it easily passed over the peaks of foothills and continued on toward the warmer southeast. Black on its upper side, silvery on its underside, the bi-coloration, added to the triangularity of design, rendered the Chim nearly invisible. None of this the Chim knew about itself, its brain centered on few basics, among them finding and devouring prey and venting excess spleen.

Forked and barbed serpent tail trailing far behind the main fuselage and turning this way and that like a rudder, the Chim glided, displaying the effortless flight skills of a masterpiece of aerial design. Then when it wanted more elevation, it caught thermals which took it upwards many thousands of feet so that it could gain a better view. Its preferred prey was two-footed. Though there were plenty buffaloes, which it could easily chase down and catch, the Chim had no taste for them. Something in its dim past--human sacrifices, perhaps--had caused it to choose humans above even more available foods. Learning from experience, the Chim knew that clusters of cone-shaped objects meant tasty, two-legged prey, and so it looked for them with a passion. The problem was they were not located in the same place for very long. From habit it always looked first in the old spots, but they seldom reappeared there, and he had to look further. Sometimes they hid in deep river beds and were impossible to get at with its tearing claws. All it could do was try to smoke them out by pouring in fire from its gut, but that never seemed to work very well, and they just burned up where they were hiding. Other times they nested under thick trees. The Chim knew how awkward its body was on the ground amidst vegetation, so it preferred sites that were more exposed.

The Coastal Plains, naturally, were the best places to hunt and strike. There was little cover in which anything could hide. But out on the rolling terrain villages were few and far between. It had to look sometimes hundreds of miles for any sign of the cones. It could pass within a few miles and not see them, since grasses were so high that the tops of the little cones were hidden from view a short distance away. But sometimes when the wind was not blowing hard, tendrils of curling, blue smoke gave them away. If it once sighted smoke, it could be sure that the cones would be somewhere beneath. Before dark, at dusk, the Chim had success. The evening meal was being prepared at a Paiute band’s camp when the Chim sighted smoke and glided in for a closer look. Seeing the cones amidst the tall grass next to a small stream, it dropped close, giving no warning as it attacked. Running children stopped in their tracks. What, they wondered, was the thing flying down toward them from the clouds? It grew large in seconds. Then larger still. A great bird? A great bat? A serpent? What was it?

Women, catching sight of the hybrid monster too, gave shrill warning. Warriors with weapons in hand came racing out from the tipis, and boys with practice bows and arrows readied themselves. But the half-liquid fire caught those out in the open--a huge belch of flying fury that no one had expected. The Chim landed, hobbling toward the remaining cones. It leaped and landed on one tipi, tearing at it with lion jaws and claws until it captured some squirming creatures. Meanwhile, the remaining warriors were shooting all their arrows, the boldest running forward with a spear--all proving useless against the monster because of its armor plates.

Roaring, the Chim replied by vomiting more napalm fire, which scorched and crumpled them black like leaves cast in the fire. Buckskins aflame, fourteen year old Mink tumbled across the ground to the edge of the camp.. He tore off his moccasins, but not before his feet were scorched. Looming over the remaining tipis, a haunting sight that could stop human hearts--something so monstrous its victims stared at it, unable to flee. Bat wings outstretched, the Chim, gulping down bone and flesh without having to chew, was soon satisfied with what it had eaten and did not linger. It made several awkward hops into the face of the prevailing wind, holding up spread wings, and suddenly lifted and was gone. Circling several times, it caught the edge of the wind again and rose and vanished, the silvery underside rendering it invisible.

For the Paiute village left behind in desolation--horrors! The phantom beast had come out of the sky, cast fire brands on most of the village, killed half the men, women, and children by burning some up and ripping others apart with panther-like jaws, then rose and departed swiftly like a wisp of smoke out a tipi’s smoke hole! Mink the boy-warrior, hurt like other survivors, shocked to the core of his being by the unexpected calamity, gathered with his people among the remaining tipis. The women wept and wailed the dead as they stumbled about the charred camp, trying to care for the wounded.

But Mink, though smarting badly with the experience and limping on bare, burned feet, was not one to weep and wail. He felt he could, given the chance, slay this bat-winged fiend. If he could only figure out how! Bows and arrows, even spears, were useless, it seemed. He had seen that with his own eyes! The sky-monster had a plate-armored skin thicker than any tipi’s. No, he needed something better than tribal weapons alone. A horse on the ground would be no help either, swift as his grule mare could be. Mink, soon as he could slip away unnoticed, went to think deep thoughts, the deepest of his life. If only he had a way to climb the clouds of the heavens just like the monster, then he could track and kill it, he decided. None of this he told the others. They would laugh long at an untried youth who took so much upon himself, he knew. To sink the arrowheads of their jokes deeper, they might add that one pelted with such a smooth skin as his--which everyone wanted to touch because it was just like the sleek fur of the animal of his name--should best keep close to the camp lest he spoil it for some maiden’s touch. But his mother, she divined his heart rage and deepest thoughts when she slipped over to him with a bowl of fresh stew and some buffalo fat for salving feet.

“You will go and smite this evil serpent-tailed thing from the skies,” she said concerning the attack. The widow of a Paiute prophet, she paused, then smiled with the triumph of a woman who knew things other mothers did not about her only son. “Never mind the others. You will do this for your people when you have thought of a way.”

Mink’s face nearly burst into a wide grin, but he caught himself. “What does a woman know of war-making?” the fourteen year old, would-be champion and chief answered gruffly. “Fighting this sky-panther is a man’s business! And stew and children and keeping the tipi are woman’s business!” He took the rabbit and turnips and tried to swagger away on burned feet, spilling half his stew as he started limping again. Mink’s mother shook her head knowingly, then turned back to nursing the wounded and dying amidst the keening wails of the mourners. His heart burned like his feet, and his fingers clenched, making it difficult to eat. He thought how he would show everybody how great a warrior he was! He would make up for this cruel thing done to him--being born with a softer skin than any papoose’s. He suddenly threw his bowl down and raised his face to the stars. “I will climb your heights and put my moccasin on your face!” he vowed, his eyes blazing with hurt and wounded pride. “I will climb up and throw this sky-spirit down upon the ground and spear it through the heart!”

It was too dark now to look, but as soon as it turned light enough he rose and limped out in search of the right tree to use for his spear. Dressed in war clothes, his face streaked with red on one side and green and white on the other, he had gone forth, the women and the other braves, old and young, staring at him, wondering what had gotten into Mink. “The boy dreams in his heart he will spear a buffalo like a mighty warrior,” one man suggested. The others laughed. It was a good joke until later that day when the still limping Mink dragged a log back into camp and, without a word, set to work turning it into a spear so big no man could possibly carry it on horseback in a buffalo hunt. Now there was no joking. Everybody, except Mink’s mother, thought he had gone mad in his wits.

Yellow Fang, who couldn’t let this pass, strode over to the working Mink and put his hand on his scorched shoulder, thumping it with a blow that made the boy wince. “Hey, boy, what is this you’re doing?” he joked. “Is it a new tipi pole? The women can always use good tipi poles, but this one is maybe too thick for the women to handle. And that blue paint--you’ve got far too much. You just need enough to cover a little arrow! Why waste good paint on something for boys to play with as they hunt rabbits and the popping weasel?” Yellow Fang paused, casting a glance back at the watching tribe and a smile playing on his face as the victim of Yellow Fang’s humor continued to whittle at the big pine with his knife.

“Is it a new tipi pole? No! I do not think so. It is too big. Well, what is it? Not a spear! No man could go to war or hunt the buffalo with a spear like this! Leastwise a boy with so soft a pelt as yours!” Yellow Fang’s fingers now gave a stroke to the back of Mink’s neck. Instantly, Mink sprang around to his feet, and he made another movement, and everyone saw Mink’s knife thrust deep in Yellow Fang’s belly. Yellow Fang’s eyes sank back in their sockets, the grin frozen on his face as the knife was withdrawn and he stumbled backwards and fell in a crumpled heap. Women screamed, particularly Yellow Fang’s woman and her mother. Instantly, the camp closed around Mink, cutting off escape. Turning slowly around to face them with his bloody knife, Mink waited pale but calmly for someone to attack him, but a surviving elder in a fire-blackened blanket nodded to the hot-blooded who had drawn their knives, and they held back. Mink, seeing an opening in their ranks, leaped through and scrambled head over heels into his tipi. Mink’s mother was waiting for him inside, should he escape punishment. He could tell at once she had been praying to her Wasichu god. Her hands were raised, with her back turned to the entrance. Hearing movement behind, she slowly turned, saw him crouched and staring up at her, and she let her hands drop. The holy book, the one that the mothers before her bound with bullhide and passed to daughters for how long nobody could remember, lay open--its picture of Elvis Presley inside the cover and the inked inscription, “Praying for you Elvis” partly showing--unstained by great age, for the book never wore out. She snatched it up, to find the portion she had been reading that day, thinking to tell it to him, but there seemed no time now.

“The Lord God has written it is wrong for you to kill a brother,” she told him, face to face. “You must go and ask them to forgive you, and then you will have to serve his family all your life in his stead. Do not let your anger live. See what it has done to us! It will kill you too, my son! Master the black voice speaking to your heart, or it will master you!”

Mink was in no mood to listen to his mother spouting something from her holy book. He grabbed his quiver, blanket, a medicine pouch containing a special, glittering black stone and some body and face paints, and crept like a shadow to the side of the entrance to listen. It was growing dark, time for him to make his break if he was going to. His mother stood watching him, then whispered. “Your feet are not healed. If you must go like this, I will go with you! But we should wait, to see what the elders say is to be done with you.”

The brother slayer whipped his head around and gave her a savage look. Waiting, for him, was out of the question. He knew how the matter would go. And she was asking to die with him! He wouldn’t consider a woman going along! Imagine that! He’d never get away then, with someone tagging along! No, alone, he might get clean away--if his grule ran fast enough and her strength held out. But first he needed his mare! How was he going to get to her with everyone on the alert? He listened hard, not twitching a hair, then crept gingerly on hurting feet to the west side of the tipi. Taking his bloody knife he began scraping and cutting a small black hole, enlarging it until he had a hole large enough to slip through. Waiting for the right moment, he pushed out his gear, then slipped through in almost one movement--his mother standing back, forming and holding this image of her wayward son.

A short dash and he had his grule. Untying her and several others, he made his mare rear, then bolted through their midst. As the horses scattered, Mink dashed right through the midst of the camp and leaped the cooking fire at the center. Mink was running for his life, but they would make him pay for despising the elder’s judgment by running away before the matter could be decided. All this Mink had planned, but doing it was something different. He felt so strange--as if someone else were doing these things. In a dark dream he hurtled down the stream bed, then climbed the surrounding hills, heading west and north toward the Big Ice Mountains. He knew that in his killing Yellow Fang he had left boyhood behind forever, but--but he didn’t feel as much a man as he thought he should feel after fighting and killing a grown warrior. Rather, he could scarcely breathe and there was no joy in his breast--only dread that the ones chasing him would catch up close enough to take him with an arrow.

His grule sped light and swift as the wind, but to Mink she could not run fast enough. Every tree he came upon, every shadowed rock, now seemed an enemy. Yet he knew his grule could stand a strong test like this. He had a good chance if she didn’t lose a foot or hoof in a ferret or prairie dog’s hole. He still might get clean away, even though he had killed Yellow Fang, the favorite who always brought in the most and biggest game for his family and the tribe.

Dusk crept up on small, swift otter feet, and still he rode without sparing his mare. Finally, he knew he had to stop and let her drink and gain some strength from forage. Looking for the right spot, where he would not be surprised if anyone came, he was passing through trees on an upland trail when he felt a blow in his side. Not having to think what it was, he lay flat and dug his heels in his drooping mare, to get one last burst of speed out of her. She took the cue and galloped forward up the rocky trail, her legs trembling on the slope. Reaching the crest, she collapsed and Mink tumbled off over her head. She couldn’t get back up, she was dying. Leaping off the trail, Mink fell and slid down the side of a ravine, catching himself on branches wherever he could to slow his fall. Bleeding, his body badly bruised, his feet really too burned for running, and also cracked and bleeding, he reached a streambed, dashed through, and scrambled up the other side. Just as he was about to crest he heard a rock falling from above him. He froze right where he was on the rock face where many passers-by of bygone peoples had carved and written old woes.

This volunteer monster-control provider was now in the worst spot of his young life, and he knew it. What was he to do? Go forward and be captured? Go backwards and be captured? Moving to the side his groping hand plunged through the rock into a cleft. Frantic, he felt it and his heart nearly stopped as he realized it might be large enough. How far back it went he had no idea. But he was determined to make it hard as possible for his pursuers. Let them drag him out of the cleft if they could. He would wedge himself in so hard they would have to kill him there! At least that would spare him a more public humiliation!

He put his head down to the face of the rock and slithered flat as possible into the cleft. Expecting to butt against hard rock any moment, the cleft instead widened, and he found room for his entire body. A few feet more and the roof began to arch overhead out of reach. A cave! A big one too! But he was wounded, half-burnt, exhausted, and there was no light. He could fall into a deep hole and perish at any moment as he stumbled further in. Just as he feared, he tumbled suddenly down a slope, but as he got to his feet, crouching, he saw the dim shaft of light from the far-off entrance and turned and continued on into the cave’s darkness. Anything, he decided, was better than capture and punishment. Handsome Otter, no doubt, would be one of his pursuers. This warrior was the greatest of the younger men, and would be leading the party.

Pausing to catch his breath, Mink listened hard. But he heard no footfalls or telltale falling rocks. Nobody was following him yet! Suddenly, causing his heart to stop, a wave of beating wings caught him, engulfed his crouching body as it swept toward the entrance, escaping to the outside and giving the location of his hideaway to whomever was looking for him.

Sweeping bats from his face and body Mink fought a way through, searching for a hole where he might climb in and lie silent and unseen. That was his last chance, he knew, after the pursuing party began a search of the cave for him. He still had his knife. He would make them pay, if he could, before they took his life from him. He might even bag Handsome Otter! He found a hole, climbed in and waited. Except for the laggards among the bats, nothing stirred in the cave. With no one springing to attack him, Mink began to feel his own hurts badly. He felt his side for the first time, and it was wet all down his thigh from the wound. The arrow shaft had broken off as he wedged himself into the cleft, so he now could feel only a bit of it where it entered the wound. With growing time on his hands, he could deal with it. But the bit of shaft kept firmly wedged in the wound, and was so wet with blood he couldn’t get hold of it. The wound bothered him, throbbing so much he began to grit his teeth in the silence of the cave.

He knew he had to remove the arrow soon and wash it out. If he didn’t, he would get very sick and die. If only he had some gopher dust to throw on it to take away the bad taint from the wound! But here there was no gopher hole dust. Bat dung, yes! Plenty of that coated the rocks. Would bat dung do any good to his wound? Time passed, but Mink had no idea how long, except that the light at the far end was dimming. By now he felt very cramped in the hole, and his tongue was dry, and his whole body thirsted for water. He had to find water soon, or die. As the light in the cleft entrance died out completely, Mink waited several more hours, as long as he could hold out, then crawled back outside the cave, ignoring the agony of his feet. He felt his entire side was one big flame, and his head was light, but he was careful to make no sound and went very slowly down the slope, bit by bit, until he reached the floor of the ravine and the streambed.

Shocking, cold water rushed into his groping hands, and he began to drink his life back into his body. He took some and tried to wash out his wound. All this time, he was expected attack from the shadows, but nothing happened. Could he get away by following the stream up? Its noise would cover any sound he might make. He began to crawl along the bank, and not very far from where he started his heart leaped into his throat. He saw, in a stretch of open ground, a tipi! Then another! And still others! They weren’t Paiute, for their painted sides were not of things his people painted on theirs--and he thought hard. Were they Kiowa, deadly enemies of the Paiute? Faint in his head, he could not decide for sure. Maybe they were ghost tipis--ghost tipis of the spirit-panthers who lived by streams and lakes and sprang out to ambush people who came down to drink! In his condition, he could not tell, and he was too hurt to feel much fear. Whoever they were, people or panthers, his brothers had seen them from the top of the ravine and would not dare come down. So that was why he had been left alone until now!

But if they were people, where were they? All sleeping and nobody watching for enemies? It didn’t seem possible a tribe could be so lax. Mink stared at the tipis, and then it dawned on him why they were so still. No dogs, no snoring old ones, no whimper of children--nothing! His fear forgotten, Mink crept forward to the tipis, and passing through a lot of rubbish he drew back when he realized it was a mass of bones and skulls. Snatching up a skull, he felt it. It still had scalp and teeth, so it wasn’t long before it had been living. Dropping it like a hot ember, Mink backed away a few feet. So the sky-monster with the serpent tail had come here and caught the tribe with its sudden, terrible fire. They had not been able to get away.

Mink trembled like an aspen leaf. He had to leave, to continue upstream, but the water chilled him to the bone, and his side wound flamed and throbbed. Besides all that, his feet were little good, burned as they were, and with no moccasins. He felt unsure what to do. Then an idea came. Why not remain in this place, where his brothers refused to come. He could use it. So Mink waited for dawn, then just before the light appeared he made a fire with his medicine pouch flint, and began cooking what was already in the big cook pot. The half-stewed rabbit was ripe and stank, but the smell of cooking would easily carry, along with the smoke, to his brothers. When this was done, Mink felt he was safer. But he needed sounds. He knew his brothers, and they would never leave as long as he was somewhere in the ravine. They would wait until he tried to break free, and then they would fall upon him.

Making sounds of women was too hard, so he chanted “Hey--Hey--Hey!” as best he could, without using his Paiute words, and kept it up for some time. Meanwhile, he was thinking hard what his next move would be. He was very hungry, and sick too. He needed food and sleep. Sometimes while chanting, he lost his mind and wandered, waking up again later, how much later he did not know. The fire was out of wood, and he needed more. He went for some more pieces by the water edge, and put them in the fire. Then he resumed chanting, while clacking some pieces of wood together to make more noise.

What a sight the Paiute outlaw was to the birds that flew down to drink and found him! Mink’s feet were sore and hot, his hair tangled, and his side was oozing. The pain was getting terrible. As best he could, he tried to think of a way out while he made noises like a yelping dog and chanted. What spot would a scout choose? And what brothers would be his pursuers? Handsome Otter would patrol back and forth, crossing the ravine, risking his life to keep an eye on everything. That was his way. Lame Deer would not take risks. He would keep well-hidden in one spot. Jumping Rabbit would be braver and more active than Lame Deer, but he would not stray far. Lone Coyote would be the one to give up the chase and slink away, eager to go along at first, but hating the long spells of doing nothing.

Yes, it would be Handsome Otter he had most to fear! He would take it as honor to catch Mink and drag him behind his horse back to camp. “Well!” Mink finally decided. “ I must go to him first! That is better than letting him come to me where I am.” At the moment he decided, he somehow knew it was the best plan. He had little strength left, he knew, but with his plan he had a chance to live. He would have to surprise Handsome Otter, which would not be easy on damaged feet. And Handsome Otter was very strong, very quick, as a fighter. And if there were two waiting for him in one spot, he might die. He could not surprise two and take them both in a fight. And if there were more, the fighting would alert the others. No doubt they were already calling their positions to each other like birds, but he could not tell what birds they had chosen to be.

Sick of chanting and inactivity, Mink felt ready to burst out of the fowler’s net to gain all or nothing. He started up the ravine. It was slow going. He had to be very careful to pick his route up rock that wouldn’t crumble off and fall to make a noise. But he was careful and reached the rim. Hiding in brush, he waited and watched for a long time. He listened to all the calling birds. Which would his brothers pick? Just as he decided it was a pine bark picker-bird, a footfall nearest a picker-bird’s call gave a brother’s position away. How careless! Mink froze, flattened to the ground, and waited, not drawing breaths. When he was sure it was right to do it, he crawled toward a spot where he would be behind his enemy. Suddenly, the back and head of Lame Deer rose up and he was peering down into the ravine, calling for Mink with a bird call they had once used as boys--the snow lark’s. Surprised it was Lame Deer and not the foolish Lone Coyote, Mink leaped upon the careless brother, and gave him his knife blade in the side of the chest and a big push that sent the dying man crashing down headlong into the ravine.

Shrinking back into thick cover, Mink waited. Two! They would never forgive him now. They would kill him first, then drag his body back behind their horses all the way to camp, the dogs pulling at his carcass. Mink stiffened. He heard leaves and branches parting slowly. He looked through a tangle of branches, and caught a glimpse of a head rising--round and braided! Who would that be? Another glimpse told him. It was a young woman’s--someone he didn’t recognize. Confused, his eyes blinking, Mink thought furiously. Was she a survivor of the winged bat-serpent? The only one left? What could she be doing now? As he was watching, he also saw movement off to the side. Someone was slipping close to her, carefully bending branches to gain clearance. Suddenly, the young woman stuck her head clean out of the brush, turned, went his way, then stopped, crouching back down behind a rock. She still didn’t see him, Mink thought, for she was looking the other way constantly.

Mink knew it wouldn’t be long. Her pursuer finally edged close enough to leap out and grab her. She screamed as Jumping Rabbit got his arms around her body. Jumping Rabbit’s face looked surprised, especially when she bit his arm and hand. Raking him with her nails, biting, kicking, she was hurting Jumping Rabbit, who made no effort to defend himself. Occupied as Jumping Rabbit was, Mink saw his opportunity. No one would hear him coming now. He summoned his strength, stepped out of cover, and rushed to the struggling pair. He buried his knife in Jumping Rabbit’s back, who gasped and sprawled on his back. Both stared at Mink as if he were a lake-panther--Jumping Rabbit’s eyes pleading, but his mouth voiceless. The girl got her footing and shrank away from Mink, whose bloody knife was still dripping, fading swiftly away into the brush. Mink made no move to follow. He turned to Jumping Rabbit, whose eyes were clouded now, and who made no struggle as Mink pulled his arms and then heaved him over the side of the ravine.

Three! His Paiutes would never, never forgive so many! He was an exile for life now. But he needed water! food! rest! and healing! And still he must fight and kill the worst of his foes--Handsome Otter! But where was Handsome Otter? Why hadn’t he come when he heard all the noise of first Jumping Rabbit and the girl, and then when he killed Jumping Rabbit and dropped him into the ravine to tumble down the rock cliffs like a dog that lost its footing? Fighting pain and weakness, Mink found cover and waited for his next and most fearsome attacker. But Handsome Otter never came, though what seemed like hours passed. Mink finally had to crawl out of hiding and go down to the stream for a drink. His head felt all afire. He blacked out. When he awoke he was crawling, just to be able to move his body. He reached the tipis, and there he found his answer. Handsome Otter! He was lying outstretched on his face where he fell, a Paiute hatchet in the back of his head!

Fearing the same fate, Mink found strength he did not know he had in reserve, and scrambled away from the tipis of the ghost people. Limping badly, he headed up the ravine, toward the Big Ice River Country. Slowly, he was aware he was followed. But he was too sick and tired to care. He turned at one point, caught the sight of the young woman’s head shrinking down behind cover, and then knew. “Let her follow and kill me too!” he thought. With no Paiute brothers to observe his disgrace, he cared nothing if this foreign woman killed him. Exile for life was a very bad thing. Having slain three brothers, he could never again enter home territory. He knew his band and tribe would blame Handsome Otter’s death on him too. But why was the young woman following him? Why did she not go back to her village? What harm had he done her? Finally, he could go no more in his condition. He collapsed. When he awoke there was the smell of smoke in his nostrils. His side felt strangely cool. His fingers went to the place and the stub of arrow shaft was gone, and a poultice of clay and wet leaves placed there. He looked warily about between narrowed eyes and in the haze of smoke he saw a face, the young woman’s. Would she kill him now like a dog? No, something was put to his lips, it was cold and running. He drank, then something like stew was also put there, but the black cloud fell upon him once more, and he thought he heard the White Raven mocking croaks.

Days passed as Mink slept, awoke to drink and eat, then slept some more. Slowly, his strength came back and the hurt in his side died away. He began to throw off his blanket and turn on his bed of pine boughs, his young body anxious to get up, but he was still so weak she could push him down. So he grew better as she cared for him, and then he could push her away in turn, and he arose. His legs shaking, he limped a few steps, looking around. Where was his medicine bag, his knife and other things? Confused and unsure, he turned, but the young woman had hid them behind her, and he didn’t want to fight her for them. Sinking down, he let her come and feed him like a mother and papoose. Pushing away her hand, he took the food himself. She smiled as she watched him eat.

Finally, he had eaten all the roasted rabbit, and was hungry for more. She gave him a look: if you want more, get it yourself. She stood up, and jerked her head. A little shamed, but more angry than shamed, he picked up his bow and quiver, not forgetting the medicine pouch with the precious black stone, and then started off, leaving her watching him. When he didn’t return he grew aware she was following him. He kept on, heading northeast. When he stopped, she was just behind him, watching. Scratching his head, Mink did not know what to do. Was this woman a dog, who would not let him alone? He lay down on his blanket. After a time he saw the young woman come out of hiding and begin to make fire. Seeing her at work stirred something. He got up, went looking, and a short time later came back with a snow partridge. It was fat, and she soon had her on a spit, roasting in her own juices.

Yet, later, when he had eaten his fill, he still would not look at her, and he took his blanket and his weapons and continued walking, with her dogging his steps as before. This went on for days until they were deep within the heart of the Ice Country, with miles high fingers of ice stretched round them as he climbed the still-flowing icy rivers that ran out from beneath and between the moving ice. Finally, he had to climb on ice and snow to get anywhere, so he cut off pieces of blanket, bound them around his feet and legs, stuffed in warming, dried grasses, and with the remaining blanket around his body, he continued his journey. Many people before them had disappeared when katabatic winds struck, freezing them before they could find shelter.

Yet the young woman followed him here too! Mink could see her struggling behind him, not giving up as he expected. Finally, he felt shame and waited for her. He took the rest of his blanket, and made leggings for her. Together, they continued on his journey and quest for the flying bat-serpent. Mountains were very high now, and the ice with shades of blue and green along with patches of rock and gravel flowed around them, sometimes leaving open spaces on the lee sides where original forest still clung to the mountain slopes. Here people could live if the area was large enough and there was plenty water and fish and game such as deer, rabbits, spruce grouse, grayling and trout. Surprisingly warm, sheltered from raging storms and winds by walls of ice, the pockets of life flourished enough to support entire tribal bands if they weren’t too large.

Coming upon one of these known for years immemorial as Yellow Stone, Mink, seeking food and shelter, descended. The young woman followed as before. But when he saw tipis with the same signs on them as were painted on the ghost tipis far back in the ravine, he halted, drawing an arrow to his bow, but she, hearing the words being spoken by the people below, hurried on ahead.

He saw her rush out into the camp, and people with varying tribal garments gathered round. For a moment he was surprised when she was not killed on the spot, then he understood. She began to point in his direction, continuing until he realized he was being called out. Most reluctant, he climbed down and let the strange, mixed tribe surround him. Speaking rapidly, pointing at him, the young woman seemed to be telling a story. The older men, listening, nodded their heads, and the young men seemed to look at Mink enviously, especially at his knife. The young woman’s eyes shone as she took his hand and knife and drew it against an invisible attacker several times, while the audience grunted its approval of his bravery shown in her defense, especially since she was a chief’s daughter. At one point women began to wail in mourning, and the young woman paused, her face expressionless, but after a bit she went on. She pointed to his side, and said a few more things, and then women came forward with bowls of stew and blankets, enough for them both. A tipi prepared with aromatic rushes on the floor and fine blankets was opened to them as well, and Mink, letting it all happen, without protest was led inside by the chief, who seemed to think it an honor to have such a brave warrior visit his village--setting aside the long-standing issue of enmity between his tribe and the Paiute.

This band of two small "half tribes" of Kiowa and Lakota boasted a “son of Anko and Poolaw,” a Keeper of the Sacred Bull’s Hide Calendar. The Keeper came in with an older woman who had been captured as a child by the Paiute, then recaptured by her own Kiowa people in a raid for horses. She would speak for him to Mink. Mink’s face flamed for a moment as her words confirmed him his suspicions were right--this was a half-Kiowa, half-Lakota camp! It was hard for him, but he mastered his desire to strike out, since it would be very foolish to try to fight so many around him. Fortunately, the bad moment passed, and he understood by signs that they wanted him to follow. Taking pitch-and-bark torches which they lit at the sacred council fire, they led him out of the village toward a hole in the mountain slope. Resisting another temptation to fight or run for it, he went in with the others and was shown by torchlight a large cavern that continued far back into the heart of the mountain. Here he was led to large wooden hoops on which colored hide was rolled. Rolling out a section of each, the Keeper explained the accounts to Mink, who showed polite interest. What did it matter to him that a Great Canoe of the Wasichu had sunk in the Far Eastern "Divine Waters" beyond the East Bear and Turtle Island? Or that the Turtle and the waters in which it swam had rolled from its former place to a new place among the lights of heaven? Or even that the people had suffered much, and many had died in the Great Moving? All those things had happened too long before his time for him to care about them now. He was young! All the world lay before him, with much game to be hunted and taken, and glory for himself to be won by his prowess with a bow!

The Keeper of Years rolled back the old accounts, then turned to Mink and asked more details of his battle in the ravine, for he wished to enter the young woman’s account in his people’s record. This was done, as Mink told him via the interpreter what he wanted. “What do they call you, and why are you journeying so far from your people?” the Keeper wanted to know. “Why is your heart not dying like an ember within you, as you have left your own council fire for the tipis of strangers?”

“They call me Handsome Otter, and though young in face I am my people’s chief. I am looking for the big fire-breather, that attacked my village and killed many of us. I myself want to go and fight it and take its scalp to hang on my belt.”

Everyone listening in nodded approval, because it seemed the youth spoke bravely and truly if a little rashly. They knew many villages of their tribes and other tribes that had suffered such attacks. As for the youthfulness of the chief, they considered that this was a Paiute, and the Paiutes were known to do many strange things besides choosing a chief with so few years as this one.

Only the Keeper, hearing Mink, filled with misgiving and questions about the youth in his heart.

“But how can you go against this spirit with only a bow and quiver? Do you have some great power besides your knife and bow? What is it?” Mink stared at the Keeper. He could not tell them the truth--he was helpless in his condition. But there was one means by which he could achieve his great aim--one only. Finally, he made his answer and they waited with bated breath for the translation.

“I will go and get the flying horse I heard tell of when I was a youth, that abides somewhere in these parts up here. With it, and a great spear I will make as my weapon, I will slay the fire-breather.” Mink’s words struck the gathering in the tipi like a thundercloud bolt. Their faces showed they were just as much in dread of the flying horse as the flying bat-serpent--and, moreover, some growing uncertainty about this brave but young-skinned stranger now began to surface in the gathering.

The Sacred Bull’s Hide Keeper’s expression was now longer so polite and betrayed his deep misgivings. He said only gently but authoritatively, “You will die by that one too, for we have seen it, and it is not a horse but a man and a horse together.” Mink’s turn had come to be astonished and dismayed, forgetting to be offended by the challenging, slighting remark because he was so surprised. How could that be? “A man and horse sewn together”? Just the same, he wasn’t going to show he had made a great mistake in coming this far, so he put on a warrior’s stern, all-knowing expression of experience. “Yes, I know it! But I shall tame him like any wild horse. He shall serve me as I go and climb the skies and seek out the destroyer of my people in its mountain tipi.”

Who could say anything to counter that and shame him into silence? However young, a champion warrior and mighty chief had spoken! None of the Kiowa, though seasoned warriors and chiefs, dared to speak in this manner. The wise Keeper and his people, both Kiowa and Lakota, retired from the tipi. They would let time and events tell whether their hearts spoke rightly about this young strange brave.

In the morning, having kept as far from the young woman’s blanket as possible, Mink crawled out into the light, stretching. Women laughed and chattered, while young boys ran and acted out the things they had heard the renowned guest had done, while knowing nothing of why he had been so attacked by his own tribe.

The morning light seemed to shine kindly on Mink too in the eyes of the people, for they forgot their misgivings of the night before. Even the Bull-Hide Keeper decided to grant his approval of the undertaking, for all greatly desired success for the young warrior and their hopes for him prevailed over their fears and doubts.

Mink was invited to sit on the two chiefs' blanket set at the head of the whole company, as the young woman was called upon to tell the story over again. She did so, and the people murmured approval of him. Finally, when she had finished, the chief of the half-tribe of Lakotas brought his own prized eagle-pattern blanket and laid it around Mink’s shoulders. Then, still standing, but circling slowly round, he held out his eagle feathers on a long stick.

“Hey--Hey--Hey!” he sang. “This Paiute, the handsome warrior and valiant chief, despite his unlined face he will mount high on the wings of the winds-- he is this great visitor in our council’s midst! Elders, give him fine eagle feathers. “He has no feathers of power in his medicine pouch, with him, but his horse will fly beneath him, stepping from cloud to cloud as we cross a stream on rocks."

“Hey--Hey--Hey! Warriors of my people, give him feathers of the mighty eagle, give your sharp arrows with great power in them, give him also a spear that can spear the heart of the great mountain panther, though he does not need our gifts, he is so strong and mighty--this Handsome Otter of the Paiute!"

”So tell me, my people! Speak among yourselves, and come tell me what your hearts say. “Is this not the One we await, the Anointed One of the Most High Father, Who will save us? The Book the Black Robes left us, that never wears out though our own Bull’s Hide Book wears out, tells of Him. We prick the ears of our hearts to hear His moccasins tread the Earth-- the One Who rides the white buffalo calf down from his Great Cloud Tipi, where the council fire burns without wood. Is this He in our midst? The stranger is young but brave and mighty, and he goes to smite the slayer of the West Bear peoples! But I am grown old, and I cannot wait much longer before I journey to my people’s sky-lodges. Tell me, my people and kin! Speak, those with wise hearts! Your chief has spoken.”

Drawing the awed gaze of the whole assembly, the chief, weeping now, took his own paints and drew lines of black, red, white, blue, green, and yellow on Mink’s cheeks and forehead and arms and chest which he first smudged with clean gray ash from the hearth.

Gathering strength, the chief spoke again before the council fire of the joined tribes. “O stranger, you have saved the daughter of a chief of our people. We do honor to you now with the Happy Warrior Trail that leads all to the Ski Tipis of our people! These paints have power to help you on your way, if you let them sink to your heart.”

As he applied the black, he said, “This is the paint of the Time of Trouble for our great Wrong-doing, and the Father Spirit Who created us long ago was angry with us all, so angry he could not forgive us.”

When he said this, the women broke out in wails, for this was their custom. Drawing a broken line beside it like dribbles of blood, he continued, “This is the blood of the Son of the Father Spirit, slain for our wrong-doing, that we might seek the Wing of this blood-sign and shelter beneath it forever.”

The white followed, of which he said, “We are made white in our hearts by the blood of the Father Spirit"s Warrior Son that saves us, white as the water that rushes up over the rocks, white as the first falling snow, white as the winter partridge, white as the snow berries, white as the clouds.”

h3>These words were the cue for the wailing women to break into yelps and cries of joy and thanksgiving, because they had been forgiven by the Father Spirit, thanks to the sacrifice of the great Son.

Not noting that the red and white were flaking off and not sticking to him, Mink showed polite interest. He heard the blue was the power and counsel of the All-Wise Wind-Spirit, Brother to the Father Creator Spirit of the Sky Tipi Country, reserved for those who had been washed white by the blood. They would hunt and fish and be very content and happy there forever, just as the Spirit intended, the chief said.

But the old chief paused with the green. His painting finger trembled. “This is for your head, shoulders and arms, the strength of your body. You must grow as a vigorous, tender plant before the Father, and He will direct your growth! Otherwise, you will not grow, or you will turn into something bad and be cut like grass by the teeth of the grazing buffalo. This is the wonderful power of the green.”

For some reason, as he applied the green of growth, it too would not adhere to Mink’s soft, oiled skin despite the wood ash base, which shed it like scales.

Going on, the chief finished with the yellow. “Unless you be the Anointed One, your spirit will come, in your time as we all must, to the Golden Tipi Door that arches like the Great Hunter’s Bow in the clouds, and if you have the other colors you will not be turned away.”

Despite the difficulty he had with his body painting, what the chief had done was show the “High and Narrow Spirit-Path” that led from the lands and tipis of the two-leggeds to the Sky Tipi Country.

With this awesome an example and great honor performed before them, now warriors of both Kiowa and Lakota peoples quickly brought prized articles and gave them to Mink, setting them before his feet. Among them were new moccasins, a tobacco bag, a beaded martingale, and other beautiful things. The best of these gifts was Clear Stone’s. The holy man of prayer and vision brought a new medicine pouch for Mink, and he spoke, declaring the signs on it, all which pointed to deliverers the Anointed would send as forerunners. These deliverers would be great champions and smite the foes that were hurting the people and destroying the Earth. The first was the Sacred Eight Flowers Sign. Six differently colored rosebuds circled a double rose counting for two. The last rosebud encircled the inner white rose, since it was the last to be raised by the Almighty Spirit and would personally embrace the Anointed One, who appeared as a white center rose.

The second sign was a white arrow with a red arrowhead flanked by two wings. The third showed a box containing four boxes. Two of the inner boxes contained crossed bows. The fourth and final sign on the medicine pouch was a row of tipis spirits coming out their smokeholes, pointing toward the time when the people would all ascend together like smoke through the tipi smoke hole into the Sky-lodge Country. Finally, he tied a breastplate on Mink, made of finely-worked porcupine quills and elk-hide, with a sign for the deliverer, the white rose with the seven surrounding rosebuds.

Not to be outdone in showing their guests honor, women brought choice pemmican in pouches for their journey. They also gave fine arm and wrist bands, beautifully fringed with strips of rawhide softened so that they flowed around his arms and body like fine grasses stirred by the wind when he danced in thanks to them.

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The Kiowa chief’s daughter was not forgotten. She received many choice ornaments for her head, ears, and wrists and ankles--feather-bead ear ornaments, neck beads of many designs and types, ankle bands of gold beaten from old coins with beak-nosed Wasichu on them, soft calfskin jackets with beads and feather trimming--all beautiful things. There was even a blue stone, a crystal, tied with leather for a neck ornament, that the women thought was good for attracting men, since it seemed to bring their voices close in their ears and put their own voices in their lovers’ ears, no matter how far apart they were. But that was a saying only. The stone had not done that for so long nobody there in the camp could remember it happening.

It was now time for a fully acknowledge and war-painted champion to go, Mink felt. Yet warriors rose up to dance in his honor. It was a long time later, with much eating and dancing, that Mink was at last free to go off to bed without offense to his hosts.

The next day, rising with only the black paint still clinging to his fine, slick skin, Mink felt even more impatient to get on with his quest. He bowed his head to the chief and the elders, who had treated him so graciously. The chief understood he wanted to leave, but he turned to the young woman, and they talked, as the chief questioned her closely.

The chief pointed, saying something, and waited for the woman’s response, and she nodded. But it was not the direction Mink wanted to go. He took the same path up that he had taken down, and soon the village shrank out of sight. He looked back, did not see the young woman, and thought he had at last gotten rid of her. Not so! Looking back after a while, he saw her! With a curse, he continued on doggedly, despite the cold and ice that covered the world, horizon to horizon, gripping his lone figure with total silence and enormous spaces. Later, though he ran to keep out of reach, she caught up to him when his foot slipped into a hole and he had to stop to draw out his moccasin. It was not a good place for that to happen. Beneath him a river roared beneath his feet and the icebridge creaked and groaned as if it might collapse and send him to his doom. “You need me!” she said in his own language, surprising him as he lay on his face, reaching down to grope into the ice crevice.

"How can you know my language?” he shouted harshly up at her, and she seemed surprised. “I don’t know! But I can understand your words too when you speak them to me!” Mink stared at her, vexed, but unsure what to do. Finally, he felt the moccasin, and pulled it out and beat the snow from it before putting it on. Meantime, he was thinking. How could anyone learn so quickly from the woman who had been his people’s captive? He stared at her, not believing his ears. He had also once heard of a chief of his people who had done something like this, in just a short time learning from a captive outlaw Otoe his language and then speaking with him to gain knowledge for making a raid on the Otoe for horses and captives, but never had he heard it this being done by a mere woman.

“I know where the horse-bodied man lives!” the mere woman said. “ The man who saw him has told me! Let me come with you, O mighty warrior!” Again, Mink understood her every word. But hadn’t she claimed she could lead him to the horse and man together? “Tell me where he has his tipi then!” he replied crossly, his fists clenched and his legs far apart. She said nothing but began to walk. Gritting his teeth, the mighty warrior followed. Just beyond there was a sudden roar erupting from the spot where they had stood. The ice had caved in. A spume of water suddenly shot up through the hole, spraying the ice all around, so they hurriedly got away from the area, since the river had risen and was breaking out of its cavern.

Nearly six hundred miles to the northwest of the Kiowa and the Paiute, the commander of the Atlantean starfleet kept her eyes fastened to the screen. This was the same ice-cold beauty whose flawless though somewhat theiomorphic face had sunk a thousand NRA agents. Her golden, wide-spaced, panther-eyes missed nothing as her ship moved slowly over the mountains and ice fields. They had begun at the Rain Mountain, the thirty thousand foot volcano whose top was crowned with perpetual clouds, and whose caldera covered four thousand square miles. But, despite their careful inspection, nothing flew out of numberless caverns and lava vents, and so they made wider circuits, marking off each sector as they passed through. Though terribly bored with the wilderness terrain, she was determined to keep on until she found her monster and had him safely secured on board her biggest carrier-ship. Let the Chimera be presented to the court at her ascension, then it could be released back into the wilds. If she required its services again, she could always return here and round it up.

Her chief officers and highest nobility among the admiralty stood with her this time, waiting her commands as if they were at red alert for war. Conspicuous for absence were the twin princes, Zeto and Kala. Zeto had bungled his mission badly and vanished into the wilds of the South Continent, eluding her control. So far there was no sign of him. Was he even alive? The commander, eager to debrief and punish him, wanted him back dead or alive. She would hand him a flame shield and nothing else and make him play “Gladiators” with the Chimera! What a compensation that would be after the disappointment he had served her a while back. To help the princes succeed, she had lent the mission two small power crystals and even, at critical points, beamed down messages.

Where were the power crystals now? She had called them by number, by they had not returned to her archives. She had sent the princes to destroy the old human who controlled the trading system that kept human society functioning, but though the old man had died, Zeto had seemingly set himself up in his stead, against orders. Then there was an insurrection of some sort, and Zeto vanished. What a tiresome development! His master had worked carefully, point by point, supervising his mission, but he had misinformed and misled her as if he were aiming at his own Throne of Earth! And this was the lucky prince she had chosen for herself, as chief prospect for Prince Consort. How his actions had stung her at the time--and continued to sting her memory! It was absolutely necessary that they retrieve the Chimera. First and foremost, wounded pride demanded it. How dare an underling cross his commander’s orders! Compounding the outrage, Zeto had seemingly preferred another destiny than the royal arms she offered. Thus, she was determined to root him out of his hiding place and make him wriggle and scream for mercy. As for Kala, for his complicity he would suffer the appropriate punishment too. Kala, who assisted Zeto in only part of the mission, was imprisoned. He had been tortured just short of the point of death, but nothing satisfactory had been gained, and she had learned nothing. Nothing! She would have killed him then if she had not thought of a better end than mere death by being pulled to pieces, slowly, with heated tongs.

“We must proceed until Ze--I mean, it is found!” she repeated to the officers. “Look for a while, longer, and let me know immediately if it appears!” Elektra went and took her seat in a power-crystal suspended chair, facing away from the tiresome screen and drew up a stringless harp the last Empress was supposed to have played at her soirees. Daughter of the Second Wife, the commander put aside the cares of the hour by enjoying the music created in honor of an Atlantean love affair, the last farewell composed by a very witty philosopher and raconteur, the late Lord Dragon Huxx, who before his elegantly-staged Thanatos Graduation, had dedicated it to his favorite concubine, the only one that did not bore him utterly. The charming song had almost ended when the Sub-commander Grand Black Cobra, Ia Petu, came quickly and bowed low.

It was imperial protocol not to be interrupted, however. The commander let the love song conclude.

“--Vipera, O my love, how my greater indeterminate is ravished by your lesser determinate! Who can explain love’s passionate Thesis and Antithesis?--the stunning contradiction that enraptures and disarms the mightiest intellect!"

“Yet grant this one wish after I am announced in the dark halls of Blest Pluto, the Guardian Lord of Oblivion, when I join all my colleagues in Philosophy who silently tread his marble floors of black and white adamantine with gilt slippers!"

“The day my Crystal Urn embossed with the Golden Serpent our Creator Principle is placed within my Cenotaph beside the Lotus Pool of Lethe in the Yew Groves of The Academy, grant that you will prick a vein nearest your heart and drop warm blood for me--for me to sip with my fading shadow one last time!”

“Grant this one wish, O Vipera, divine Vipera...”

Elektra hummed along with as the song reached the pathos of the refrain--”Grant this one wish, O Vipera--” A slave girl had just pinned a hothouse royal lotus in the empress-elect’s hair. Only then did Elektra sign for her officer to report.

Bowing deeply, eyes glued to the floor, the Grand Black Cobra did so. “Your Imperial Insigne, Ineffable Majesty of the Everlasting Five Crowns, is on screen.” Elektra might have sprung from the chair, but she remembered royal majesty and dignity and proceeded slowly back to the screen, drawing up before it with lofty disdain and imperial assurance. Between narrowed eyes, she watched a tiny shape like a wisp of gray and black scarf flying on the wind come her way, filling the wide mirror screen until she and her ship seemed to be diving down its black throat. But the monster, as if converging on her airship to attack, glided up over the screen, showing only its lizard feet, the belly furnace, and a serpent tail.

Elektra turned aside to her chief admiral. “Get it into the harvester’s hold at once!” The fleet, doing reconnaissance high over the chief mountain ranges of West Bear Island, took Ia Petu’s order, and went immediately into action. Spreading out in a V-formation that mirrored the Chimera’s own design, the ships performed a large but tightening maneuver that would herd the Chim down an ever narrowing track right into the opened maw of a plasma harvester. Flying swiftly, the cordon was already in place a minute after the given order. Now it was only a matter of a few minutes more before the monster was safely in the plasma harvester’s hold, bound with invisible, flexible shields that criss-crossed until there was no possible way for the thing to escape. As for hurling fire at the ship from inside, the entire chamber was fire-proof, and it could put out all the flames it wished and not hurt anything. Even the Chimera was careful not to get close to its own fire, and probably would not choose to vent its range in such close quarters as the hold. When it was time to move it out for the royal installation, they would sedate it, and half-asleep, drape golden Algol gauzes on its head, body, and wings, and it would be set in place for the royal ceremony, its wings raised and stretched on hidden supports as a backdrop for Elektra on the Peacock Throne. Of course, its fire generator would be pumped dry. Held in place by power crystals networking together, it would be rendered harmless for the ceremony. Afterwards, it could be turned loose, to do as it wished as king of the Ronn-beasts.

But the glory and splendor of her own endless reign could wait for a matter close to her heart. Pulling the lotus from her hair and plucking its petals, spite and injury flashed in her eyes as she reflected that, as a first act of her imperial administration, she would track the traitorous Zeto down and enlist him in “Gladiators” with her beautiful monster! Failure of any kind in her service was to be met with painful death. But this infraction was infinitely worse in her view. Empress or not, a woman’s heart demanded full satisfaction for a slight she could never forgive--not in a million years!

And if the miscreant and traitor could not be found? Well, at least she had his twin. Already he was being made ready for his coming match with the Chimaera. She had played the first of a number of quoits, using a black cobra tied head to tail for a ring to throw and encircle his head, the peg. How she loved black cobras! She had their sweet little babies tied to golden replicas of her arms, exposed to slowly increased heat, dried, then coated with gold, and wore them as arm-bracelets--the royal Creation-Insignia of her beloved homeland. All the empresses before her had done so since time immemorial. One particularly patriotic, pious empress, Aspia Persephone XVIII, had even gone so far as to have her crystal coffin filled with gilded cobras, her body completely entwined.

“Such majesty they enjoyed in the former days!” Elektra mused, her fine eyes glowing like topazes. Could she revive the golden age of her people? Her eyes and lips narrowed as she reaffirmed her own destiny. “Yes! By the Creator-Serpent-Principle! I will be the one to raise our former glory from the ashes, and everything will be as before!” She left her stateroom. Another game of quoits was awaiting her presence in her ship’s guard-room.

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