It is strength and it is weakness. It is intangible, mysterious and enigmatic. It can shrivel one’s soul or provide a path to deliverance. It can span across time and distance though indifference can annihilate it. It is a key to life and its absence can lead to a death of the heart. It touches the lives of Ubars and Peasants, free and slave. It reaches into every inhabited part of this world. And it can be twisted as well, distorted into horrible forms.
I walked daily with love. It traveled within my heart, the knowledge of my sweet Neko. It was a reciprocal matter as I knew she too walked in love for me. A special union of the soul, that originated on Earth and then was forged in a crucible of adversity on Gor. A love that instilled an ability to surpass the most difficult of obstacles, to defy even death itself. A love that had endured for over fifty years.
And now it must all come to an end.
What I actually mean is that the relationship must end. Not my love for Neko. That will persist until the day I die. It will perpetually reside within my heart. It will remain there even if she were to suddenly turn against in hate.
I must leave Neko and I cannot tell her why. I must be silent as to my true intentions. I must deceive her, concocting some other rationale for my departure.
What excuse for leaving would sound plausible to the one you have loved for over fifty years? Probably none. She will know I am lying and it will hurt her terribly. And I cannot prevent or soothe that pain. It will always be a mystery to her. And in time, her love for me might twist into hatred.
There are a number of pivotal decisions in our lives, times when we must make the most crucial of choices. In time, we will replay those decisions in our minds, trying to assess if we chose wisely. Sometimes we wish we could relive those moments and choose differently. We try to imagine what the results would have been but if only we had followed a different path. In some ways, every decision we make is like that. But certain key decisions stand out and seem of far greater impact.
For me, the one that haunts me the most involves my final hour on Earth. As I waited for a ship to arrive to transport me back to Gor, I spoke with my Neko. I invited her to join me, to share my life with me. To take a mighty risk and follow her heart. I knew she loved me and I knew where her heart told her to go. I held my hand out to her.
And she stepped back, away from me.
The pivotal moment arrived. Should I leave alone or should I grab her, throw her over my shoulder and forcibly carry her onto the ship? I chose to leave alone.
Why did I make that choice? Why did I choose to surrender the love I possessed? What did it benefit me to be alone?
How would things have changed if I had taken her forcibly to Gor? I had captured many women in the past, what difference would one more have made? Would her love for me have lessened? Would that love have transformed into hate and anger?
Or is that what she actually wanted? Did she want me to claim her so? Was she disappointed when I just turned and left without her?
Though we discussed it briefly, a long time ago, we never truly delved into the complexities of the matter. It was still an area of ambiguity.
I had reached another pivotal moment in my life. I already knew that I would relive this moment many times in the future. Did I make the correct choice?
Maybe those pivotal choices have no proper answers. Maybe either choice has its own negative ramifications. As we cannot replay our lives, we shall never know the truth. We can only try to second guess ourselves which is an exercise in futility. Looking back into the past may be a mistake. Maybe we should always look ahead to our future.
I was not pleased with my current choice. The negative impacts of that choice strike to the core of my being. I had to hurt the one I loved the most, to destroy a relationship that had brought me so much joy.
But I did not feel I had a choice.
What would you do to save the life of the one you loved?
Would you be willing to leave her forever? Could you abandon your relationship with her so that her life would continue? Would you die in her stead?
Speculate as you wish. Until you are placed in that situation, you cannot conceive of the agonizing decision you might have to make. You cannot comprehend the sacrifice. You cannot fathom the pain.
To allow Neko a chance at life, I have sacrificed everything.
My sacrifice would not benefit solely Neko. She was just the most important part of it all. In fact, my efforts were directed towards saving all of Gor.
The entire planet was at risk, in danger from a vicious enemy who knew no mercy. These Others had targeted Gor in the past but the Priest-Kings had always thwarted their devious schemes. But now, the Priest-Kings were unable to act against the Others.
I was needed to prevent the Others from conquering or destroying Gor. My assistance was essential to the success of any opposition.
Twenty years ago, I provided Caste Sanctuary to a brother Slaver. He told me a fantastic story of the Priest-Kings and the Others. He claimed to be an agent of the Priest-Kings, fleeing from murderous agents of the Others. He simply needed a place to stay for the night, a haven from the searchers scouring the streets.
The next morning, he left.
Six years later, we met again. He recruited me to assist him, basically just sending information to him on a regular basis. We became close friends.
My work was never dangerous. The information seemed mainly innocuous to me. And I learned a little bit more about the Priest-Kings and Others as time passed.
I told Neko little of this information. She had no need to know and it was safer that she did not know. She understood only the basics, that I worked providing intelligence to an organization dedicated to protecting Gor.
Five years ago, my friend vanished. A different man came to see me, someone I had met a few times before. Someone I knew to be trustworthy.
He stated that my friend, Phaetor, had died in the line of duty. My services were no longer needed. I was presented with a purse of gold tarns and thanked for my assistance over the years. I was deeply saddened by Phaetor’s demise.
One month ago, I was contacted again by this man. This time though, I was taken to the Sardar. We traveled by spaceship and descended into those black, foreboding mountains. The Sacred Place. Home of the Priest-Kings.
It was a maddening experience. I met actual Priest-Kings and was horrified at their huge insect-like forms. Everything about the place was incredibly bizarre. My mind was reeling with so many new sights and sensations.
I learned so very much. And they asked for my help.
Phaetor has been one of their best agents. He knew much about the Priest-Kings and had been to the Sardar several times.
And he was alive.
But, he had faked his own death and now was working for the Others. The Others were called the Kurii. The Beasts. They were alien invaders that lived on vast spaceships out past Jupiter. They were absolutely relentless.
Phaetor was a traitor and may have told the Kurii many secrets concerning the Priest-Kings. Other Priest-King agents had orders to apprehend him on sight, using force if necessary. They were not to let him escape, even if he had to be killed.
The Priest-Kings had received intelligence that the Kurii were planning a massive offensive. It would be launched within the next three months. Their objective was to conquer Gor, destroying many key cities.
It was to be a final stand.
The Kurii had vowed to continue fighting until either they conquered Gor, destroyed it or the last Kurii was slain. All of the hibernated marches were to be awakened and armed. All of the Steel Worlds, their cyclopean ships, would move against Gor.
The Priest-Kings were in a weakened state. They could not prevent such a massive invasion. They might be able to damage some of the Kurii ships, but the bulk of the monstrous fleet would penetrate the Gorean defenses.
Many thousands would die in this great war. And the surviving Goreans would become the slaves of the Kurii, or even their food. It was not a war Gor could win.
What good was a gladius against advanced weaponry such as rifles? How would a tarnsman defend against a missile from a Kurii ship?
It seemed like our doom.
So why was I here? Because I might be able to stop the invasion.
Phaetor had contacted the Priest-Kings. He wished to speak with me and intimated that I might be able to prevent the looming invasion. If a confidential meeting could be arranged between Phaetor and I, then there was a chance for peace.
A time and place was set. I was to be picked up by a black ship and taken to one of the Steel Worlds. There, I would meet with Phaetor, under the watchful eyes of the Kurii.
The Priest-Kings asked for my help. If they had been human, maybe they would have even pleaded for it.
If I agreed, I could not tell anyone else, even Neko. Anyone who knew would be potentially in danger. Agents of the Kurii might want to prevent this meeting so war would occur.
And once I left for the meeting, I might never again see Gor. It might be a trap and I might end up dead or enslaved. I would have to abandon Neko, leaving her with a lie, and possibly end up killed as part of some elaborate ruse.
But I might also save Gor. And then be reunited with my sweet, sweet Neko.
I agreed to help. I agreed to the conditions.
Preparations were made and I lied to Neko. I left her in tears and it broke my heart. At night, I can almost hear her weeping still.
And I journeyed to the lands northwest of Ar, to await my rendezvous with the black ship.
When it came, I was expecting the menacing Kurii to be aboard. But the ship contained only men, vile, repugnant men who had betrayed their world. I scowled at them as I boarded and looked around for Phaetor. I was told he would meet me upon the Steel World.
I took a chair and rested for the duration of the journey.
It took a significant number of Ahn to reach our destination. From my vantage, I was unable to observe see the docking procedure but could hear and feel the intricate maneuverings. I wished I had been able to see one of the Steel Worlds, those enormous habitats that housed the Kurii.
Once the ship was in place, a slave hood was placed over my head and I was led off the ship. All I then know is that we passed through a few corridors, doors and rooms before we ended our short journey. They then removed my hood.
I found myself in a spacious room with rather large doorways. I could only imagine the massive creatures that required such an entryway. The only furniture in this room were two small benches, obviously made for humans. My hands were bound with binding fiber and I was made to sit on one of the benches. My captors then left me in the room alone.
I did not have long to wait before Phaetor arrived. Grim-faced, he sat on the opposite bench and looked at me. There was no joy in his eyes, only great pain. Despair.
Was he being coerced to aid the enemy? Was he being blackmailed or extorted?
“Phaetor, my friend. What has happened? I don’t understand this predicament? Why are you working with the Kurii? Why are you assisting them in conquering Gor? And why bring me here?” I asked him.
Phaetor paused for a few Ihn before replying. I could hear the sadness in the tone of his voice. "I have told the Kurii nearly everything I know of the Priest-Kings. Their invasion plans are almost complete. The time schedule approaches and there is only a slim window of opportunity to thwart their plans. My intelligence was crucial to their planning.
“I was betrayed by someone very dear to me, someone I loved. You could say it jaded my outlook on humanity. I soon after met an agent of the Kurii and he made me an interesting offer. I would have the opportunity to avenge myself upon my betrayers, to strike out at a world that had hurt me. And I would also receive great wealth and power. I eagerly accepted.
“I have little respect for humanity. I have seen how even the best of people can destroy others, callously and so very easily. The Kurii are far more honest in their lives. A Warrior race, led by their generals, they have no need for the weak emotions like love. They live only for glory. I am more able to respect that view.”
Phaetor bowed his head. I felt that he had been swept up in a larger whirlpool and did not know how to escape. I saw regret within him but still far more anger.
“Phaetor, why did you have me brought here? How can I stop this madness?” I asked.
With a grim smile, he responded, “You cannot stop anything. Your arrival here only ensures that the invasion will proceed as planned. It is known you went to the Sardar and spoke with the Priest-Kings. You will be interrogated and your answers will confirm all I have told them. And then the invasion will occur.
“Your presence here only ensures that war shall come.”
I look at him with incredulity. Had Phaetor gone mad?
He then spoke again. “The Kurii are notoriously cautious. For years, they have been hearing of the weakened state of the Priest-Kings. And they slowly built up confirmation. I was a prize to them, confirming so very much. But, they needed one final piece of confirmation. So I told them how they could achieve it. I told them how to use you to do it. And it worked.”
“But I won’t tell them anything. And if I say anything, I will lie to them.” I angrily retorted.
Phaetor grimly smiled again. “You will tell them everything. For I told them of the lever needed to compel you. Your dear Free Companion. Our agents have her in their custody. If you fail to cooperate, she will suffer the consequences.”
I hurled myself off the bench, launching myself at Phaetor. I threw my shoulder against his chest, knocking him to the floor. Even though my hands were bound, I tried to head butt and kick him.
But Phaetor recovered quickly from my surprise attack, springing to his feet and easily neutralizing me. With my hands bound, there was little I could do.
I vehemently cursed him, vowing to kill him if Neko was harmed in anyway.
He stated that was solely in my hands. As long as I cooperated, he promised that she would be untouched. But, if I lied even once, she would suffer greatly.
Phaetor then left the room, telling me that my interrogators would come for me soon, and to think carefully on what I would tell them.
Innocent Neko, what have I done? How could I have involved you in this horror?
Phaetor played Kaissa well and I was but an average player. And Kaissas such as this were far beyond me. I had not the experience in such matters. Phaetor had played well against the Priest-Kings and seemed like he would prevail.
It seemed strange how a single betrayal could have sparked such animosity. It did not fit with what I knew of Phaetor.
I had little choice. I would remain silent while being interrogated. Phaetor clearly had no honor. And I doubted the Kurii did either.
I did not believe that they would let Neko or I live. They had no reason to. They would not reward me even if I told them everything. We were fully expendable.
I would never see Neko again, unless it be in the Cities of Dust. I was so sorry for the pain she might soon have to endure and could only pray that her death was quick. And I felt sorry for my world that would soon face a brutal conquest.
I screamed out in a futile rage until my voice was hoarse.
Sometime later, exactly when I am unsure as I lost track of time, men came for me. They dragged me down a corridor to another room, empty save for iron manacles on the walls. My wrists and ankles were secured and then the men departed.
Several Ehn later, a huge door opened into the room. Two men, one burly and rough and the other slight and more refined, entered first. And then They entered.
Even though I had heard a description of them, I was not prepared for the reality. Maybe nine feet tall, massive creatures with thick dark fur. A mouth full of razor-honed teeth and dagger-sized claws. An aura of the supreme predator, arrogant, relentless, cruel. Each wore a metal device, similar to a small translator, around their necks. To see one Kur was terror. To see three of them turned my blood to ice.
What hope did a mere man have against such monstrosities?
The slight man held a pen and a piece of parchment attached to a board, ostensibly to take notes. The burly man stepped up to me, standing only horts away from my face, trying to intimidate me. After seeing the Kurii, I doubted another man would ever seem quite as intimidating.
“Will you cooperate with us and give us the information we want?” demanded the burly man.
I thought of Neko and I thought of my world. I could not save Neko no matter what I did. I might be able to save Gor though.
I then replied, “The only thing I will give you are my curses. You are a traitor, lower than a pile of bosk dung.”
The man grinned, nodded and then said to the man with the pen, “Contact the Tuchuk and tell him he has one Ahn with the woman.”
Once again, I screamed in rage. Now too, the tears flowed freely.
The Tuchuk had to refer to one of the dreaded Clan of Torturers, a favorite hireling of Ubars and Initiates. They had refined torture to an art form, knowledgeable in maintaining life while causing great pain. An Ahn with the Tuchuk would seem like an eternity. An experience that would haunt one throughout the rest of their life.
Forgive me dear Neko.
I will never forgive myself.
As the man with the pen moved to the door, I yelled, “No, I will tell you everything. Just please do not harm my companion. Please.”
The burly man told the other to wait a moment. The slight man stood at the door, awaiting a further directive.
The burly man then said, “Tell us everything now. This is your only chance. Fail us and the Tuchuk shall perform his skills upon your woman. And it will not be pleasant. This particular Tuchuk is skilled in flaying the skin from a person.”
My eyes closed for a moment as I composed myself, trying to hold back the screams and the tears. I needed to be rational, to be extremely clever.
The most believable lies are those that are closest to the truth. Just the slightest twist of the truth. When a single lie is massed with dozens of truths, it can be more easily concealed.
The most believable lies are also those where the listener makes his own assumptions based on what is heard. In essence, the listener deceives himself. Such assumptions are most often based upon a person’s predispositions and prejudices. Those assumptions seem more palatable.
I had a single chance to lie to my captors. If I failed, Neko would likely be irreparably harmed. And Gor would fall. It was all riding on these next few Ehn.
How convincing could I be?
I began my story at the beginning, back at my initial meeting with Phaetor. I told them how we met and then detailed our subsequent meetings, in chronological order. I assumed this was all information that the Kurii knew already. Information already disclosed by Phaetor.
This information would help establish my veracity, a solid foundation of honesty that would support that single lie I would later relate. This also gave me additional time to conceive of the lie I needed to tell. I could easily relate this story of my past without thinking much about it. My real thoughts were geared towards a solution, a route of escape.
And it seemed to work. They listened patiently to my story, not trying to hurry me. The facial expressions and body language of the burly man tended to indicate that he believed me or at least that my story matched what Phaetor had told them.
I had to assume Phaetor told them everything about the Priest-Kings. I had to assume they knew about the Sardar. I could not lie about anything that Phaetor may have said. That did make it more difficult. Phaetor knew so very much.
Did the Kurii have a weakness? How could I exploit that flaw?
I was aware that they were extremely cautious. And the massive invasion they had planned would not occur unless they had an absolute surety of their position. How could I slip seeds of doubt into their heads? How could I make them hesitate? How could I make them fear the Priest-Kings?
Any lie I told would also have to convince Phaetor, and that was the greatest challenge.
I eventually spoke of my time at the Sardar and what transpired between the Priest-Kings and I. I elaborated on the details of the underground complex, describing view screens and communication gear. Though the details seemed casual, I was hoping that my captors would be curious about a few things I mentioned, false details I added.
I told them essentially everything.
And when I finished, the questions began. Their initial questions concerned my meeting with the Priest-Kings. And after several generic questions, they asked me about the Prison Moon.
It was difficult not to grin. The bait had been accepted. Now was the time to carefully reel in the fish.
The Prison Moon was one of the two small moons in the Gorean skies, to the right of the large moon. The origin of its name is lost in antiquity, mired in myth and legend.
It presented a mystery, an unfathomable conundrum. The Priest-Kings might be the only ones aware of those hidden answers. They might know the truth about the Prison Moon.
In my speech, I mentioned seeing a view screen of that moon and several Priest-Kings monitoring it. They pushed me for more details of what I had seen. I then mentioned a few vague observations, of possible structures concealed within the rocky terrain. My words were intended to raise suspicion about the moon, to make the Kurii assume it entailed a potential threat.
It seemed to work. Though they asked me further questions, many later questions returned to the Prison Moon.
The Kurii, who had been silent throughout the interrogation, suddenly began conferring with each other in a cacophony of snarls, roars and other animal noises. It sounded almost as how an intelligent larl might converse. It was unnerving.
Whatever they decided, they all exited the room together.
The burly man then looked at me, an evil glint in his eyes and a smug smile on his face. He directed his words to the slight man. “Send the Tuchuk and tell him to make it last a full Hand. Make her beg to die. Her usefulness has ended.”
“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!” I bellowed in utter rage.
He chuckled and then the two men left the room.
I could not break out of the sturdy manacles. I was absolutely helpless. I should have known that men who would betray their world, their people, could never be trusted. I should have relied upon my first instinct. But the thought of Neko with the Tuchuk had terrified me.
I vowed, that if I ever had the chance, I would kill every one of those traitors and as many Kurii as I could.
I waited there, emotionally drained, devising painful methods to eradicate my enemies. And after maybe an Ahn, Phaetor returned to see me.
I cursed him, threatening to disembowel him if I ever had the chance. He seemed oblivious to my threats and sat down on the floor a distance from me.
“Tell me about the Prison Moon.” He asked.
“I know nothing about it.” I replied, trying to regain control over my emotions.
His questions continued and I repeated everything I had told the Kurii, hoping I remembered exactly what I had said earlier. I made it seem that what I had seen was nothing, insignificant.
Phaetor accused me of lying but I denied it. I asked him why I would lie about something so minor, something unrelated to the invasion. And my responses appeared to placate him.
The Priest-Kings monitor so many places, including the Earth. It would be normal for them to observe the moons as well.
I then accused him of breaking his promise to me. I had cooperated fully and he had promised that Neko would not be harmed. But, orders had been given to hand her over to a Tuchuk Torturer.
Phaetor almost looked saddened by that. He claimed that the matter was out of his hands. He had no power to contravene the order. He apologized to me, stating he understood my pain.
I cursed him, accusing him of being cold and callous. I told him he knew nothing of my pain, he who had betrayed his entire world. I told him he was a coward and a fool, a pawn that the Kurii would crush when he was no longer needed.
Phaetor simply shrugged. My words meant nothing to him.
“Then at least explain to me what happened to you. Why did you change sides? Who betrayed you? How can you blame all of Gor?” I asked.
He reflected a moment and said, “It will not hurt to tell you. We were once friends. And I am truly sorry that I cannot help your woman.”
He rested his head against the wall behind him and closed his eyes. He then began to tell his tale.
“You knew of Melina, my Free Companion. Five years we spent together in bliss. My love knew no boundaries and I was the happiest I had ever been. She was everything to me I could ask for. Then came the day I learned it was all a lie. I accidentally over heard a conversation between Melina and a male slave. They were plotting to kill me.
“Melina had companioned me only for my money. She had been patient, pretending to love me for all this time. She was couching with the kajirus and he adored her. He would have done anything for her, including murder.
“I could not believe I had been betrayed so. I had given her everything, and she still desired more. A greedy slut with murderous intent. I was lucky to have discovered the conspiracy before it was too late.”
He sighed and then continued. “I had the kajirus brought to me by a couple of my trusted guards. After some forceful persuasion, he confessed all. I had him fed to the sleen.
“I then confronted Melina who denied it all. I refused to accept her denials. I forcefully collared her, smuggled her out of the city and had her sold to the cheapest paga tavern in Port Kar. For a tarsk bit, the filthiest, most vile men of Port Kar can have their way with her.
“How could I trust anyone again? Humanity is a pack of deceivers, intent on personal gain only. There is no nobility in that. Kurii are upfront and honest. There is no need to play those games of love and deception. I am sure, in time, even your lover will betray you. Women are all the same. They are worthless unless they have steel around these necks. And even then, you must not hold back on the whip.”
I then responded to him, “But that was one woman. How can you judge the rest of women by that single example?”
He angrily retorted, “Because she was but one in a line of such women I have known. They have all betrayed me in one manner or another. Melina was simply the final straw.”
Phaetor was beyond reasoning. His hatred had twisted his soul and I doubted I could reach the inner core of him. The accumulation of betrayals, or at least his perception of such, had eventually been too much for him to handle.
“Please at least release me. Send me back to Gor. We were once friends. We shared Caste. Please.” I pleaded.
Phaetor shook his head. “You are scheduled to be executed tomorrow.”
I was numb, far too much in a short period of time. Sensory overload. Could nothing go right?
“I am sorry.” Said Phaetor as he rose and left the chamber. Again, I was alone.
Five Ehn later, two muscular men, likely Warriors, released me from the manacles and took me to a small cell. They gave me some Sa-Tarna, very weak paga and a hunk of verr cheese.
They gleefully explained that I would be executed at the Seventh Ahn the next day.
They left me unbound within my cell, a cell devoid of furniture. The only items I possessed were a wooden plate and a tin cup. Even if I could escape from this room, where could I go?
I did not know my way around this massive ship. I did not know how to navigate the small space ships. I could not send a message to the Priest-Kings. I could not save Neko. I could not save Gor.
Pure helplessness. And ten Ahn remaining before my execution.
But I would die with thoughts of my beloved Neko in my mind.
I sat in my cell, reliving pleasant memories, times spent with Neko. Why linger on my dire fate? Spend those last Ahn at least thinking of the positive aspects of one’s life.
Over fifty years of bliss with my beloved Neko. So many wondrous memories.
My reminiscing was interrupted by the cell door opening. It was not yet the Seventh Ahn. It was not even the Twentieth Ahn yet. Why were they coming now?
Standing in the doorway was a Kur, its ominous bulk filling the space. I involuntarily shrinked back against the wall. What did it want?
It closed the door behind it, filling most of the room with its massive form. I was greatly intimidated and I had no shame in my fear.
“Tell me about the Prison Moon.” It spoke Gorean, in a raspy, feral manner. It sounded so very unnatural in its mouth. It enhanced its horrific aspect.
I repeated the story I had related earlier, giving the exact same details. I did not embellish any further.
“Tell me about Phaetor.” It then asked.
I held nothing back as there was no reason to lie. I criticized, demeaned and attacked Phaetor’s character. My vehemence was obvious and I went into great detail how he had betrayed so much. Home Stone, Caste, honor.
When I finished, I waited in silence. The Kur was eerily motionless and quiet. It must be thinking but it almost seemed unreal.
It startled me when it spoke again. “I do not trust Phaetor either. I think he leads us into a trap. I think the Priest-Kings have used him as a pawn to annihilate my People. “
Miraculously, it then told me how to escape, how to get to the docking area and which spaceship would automatically navigate back to Gor.
I had to ask it. “Why?”
It refused to answer, just telling to me go now before it was too late. Without another word, I fled from the cell and followed the Kur’s directions.
My best rationale for the Kur’s actions were that it wished to discredit Phaetor. It wanted to implicate him in my escape. Maybe, like Goreans, there existed different factions among the Kurii, factions that did not always agree as to the best course of action. Factions that were more cautious than others. Factions worried about the upcoming invasion.
The Kur’s directions were accurate. I made it to the docking area undetected and was able to sneak aboard one of the small black ships. I set in motion the autopilot and headed back to my home world, Gor.
I prayed to the Priest-Kings that I would arrive in time to rescue Neko. I hoped they had remained at my home instead of transporting her elsewhere. If they had moved her, it would be far more difficult to locate her.
As the ship soared through space, I explored it thoroughly, being careful what I touched or moved. I did not want to upset its path home.
I was shocked to find Kurii battle plans, notes and maps, stacked up in one room. It was a complete breakdown of their planned invasion. So, there was at least one Kur who obviously wanted to thwart this war.
Many Ahn later, the spaceship glided down to the surface of Gor. I collected all of the invasion plan scrolls into a bag and prepared to disembark.
I wanted to get away from the ship as soon as possible. I did not want the Blue Flame to incinerate me. The Priest-Kings might have tracked the ship and were headed toward to, prepared to destroy it.
When the hatchway opened, I began to walk down the ramp. I intended to enter the nearest patch of forest but I suddenly stopped. There was someone at the edge of the woods, someone watching me.
Phaetor, a gladius in hand, stood before at least six other men, all armed with crossbows. I was unarmed.
Phaetor grinned. “Luckily someone saw you leaving and notified me immediately. The programmed ships take their time traveling so it was easy to overtake your ship with one of my own. We have been waiting here for you for several Ahn.
“You shall hand over all of the materials you possess and you will tell me, in detail, how you escaped and who aided you. There is no escape in this situation.”
I could likely run back into the ship, avoiding the deadly quarrels, but I would then be trapped. I could not fly the spaceship away.
And if the Priest-Kings arrived, they would incinerate the ship, even with me on it as they would not realize I was there.
Though if Phaetor returned me to the Steel Worlds, his reputation would remain untarnished. The invasion would go off as planned. Maybe it would be better to die here, my body unrecoverable. That might be the only way to forestall the war.
I began to slowly back up the ramp, prepared to run.
Phaetor then said, “Bring her forth. Show her to him.”
I immediately understood what he meant. He had Neko. Damn him, damn him, damn him.
A man moved to the edge of the forest, holding Neko in front of him. There were manacles on her ankles and her hands appeared bound behind her. She was also gagged, garbed in a rep cloth tunic. She appeared unharmed though I saw the terror within her eyes, those alluring eyes.
Her captor held a sleen knife to her neck, its point a few inches below her right ear. One quick thrust would propel that blade up into her brain. There would be no saving her then.
I stopped backing up, rage building within me.
I challenged Phaetor to a duel, man to man. A battle of honor.
But he only laughed.
Phaetor replied, “Do you think we are Warriors who must accept every challenge issued? We are Slavers, my friend. We have no such precept in our Codes. There is nothing in our Codes that would force me to accept your canjellne. And this is war. War has no rules. Victory is all that matters.
“Now, come down here and give me all the documents you stole. And tell me how you managed escape. I need to know who aided you, who is my enemy.”
What should I do? How could I save Neko? I knew that Phaetor could not be trusted. I am sure he intended to kill us both.
And my primary duty had to be to prevent the invasion, to stop the war and save Gor. That had to take precedence over my concern for Neko. Over my own life.
I backed up a bit more so that I was almost back inside the ship. Phaetor bellowed at me to stop or Neko would be killed.
I placed the bag of scrolls inside the ship and called out to Phaetor. I told him that I was now in charge. I was controlling this Kaissa. We would now play by my rules or the game would simply end, and he would still lose.
Phaetor laughed, arrogant in his position, smug in his seeming superiority. “You are a fool. Surrender and you and your woman can leave, once my questions are answered.”
“No.” I replied.
“This is how things shall proceed. You cannot be trusted Phaetor. You would betray me in an Ihn. There is little you say that I will believe.
“Of course I want to save Neko. But my first duty is to save Gor, to halt the Kurii invasion. I know that you have to return to the Steel Worlds with me to protect your own credibility. Without me, the Kurii will have doubts and they will not invade. Their caution is their weakness. Unless you now play by my rules, I will enter this spaceship and hide here. Soon enough, the Priest-Kings will notice this ship and they will incinerate it in Blue Flame. I will die but you will thus be unable to prove to the Kurii you had nothing to do with my escape. They might even execute you to be on the safe side.
“You can try to bluff me now all you wish. I know I am correct. You have no choice now.”
Phaetor started to speak but held his tongue. He pondered a few moments, realizing he was in a dilemma.
I knew he wanted to dispute me, to pretend he still held the upper hand. But he must have realized that his time was limited. The Priest-Kings could arrive at any moment. And they would not be here to discuss matters.
He finally relented. “What do you want?”
I grinned. I might be able to save Neko now, as well as all of Gor. All it would require is a Sacrifice. A Gambit as it was known in Kaissa.
“I want a tarn brought here immediately with an attached tarn basket. Neko is to be unbound and placed into the basket. She will then fly that tarn away from here. After that, I shall duel you Phaetor to first blood. If I win, you let me go with all the materials from the ship. If I lose, I will tell you everything you wish to know. You will at least have a chance at winning then. I am willing to take that chance to see Neko survive.”
Phaetor gave the orders to comply with my request for a tarn. Neko was unbound and ungagged. I wanted to rush to her arms but could not. I had to see this plan through. Too much was riding on my choices.
But I could speak to Neko, even though everyone else would overhear me. And I knew I needed to say a couple things to her.
“My sweet Neko, please remember that I have and always will love you. I am so sorry for any suffering you have sustained. And I am sorry for the lies I told you when I left. There was so much I could not tell you but it was for a greater good. Please forgive me.”
I could have spoken for Ahn. There was so much I desired to say but there was no time.
And she replied, in her soft and tender voice, “My love, there is no need for forgiveness. This was out of your hands. I understand a little of what is happening. And I have faith in you. I have never doubted your love, even through my sadness. I will always love you, Ubar of my heart.”
Tears rolled down my cheeks as a draft tarn was brought forward. Neko was lifted into the tarn basket and handed the reins.
“Fly to Ar my love. It is not too far to the southeast.” I said.
She blew me a kiss, brushing it upward with your fingers, and ascended into the sky, headed to glorious Ar. She would be safe now. She was free and could obtain assistance from the authorities in Ar. My Caste brothers would aid her as well.
I smiled, knowing that I would never see Neko again.
It was time for my Sacrifice.
Phaetor now called for me to come down and face him, to begin our battle. He stressed that time was short. We needed to duel immediately.
I told him I needed to grab a gladius and would be right out, to show him the true meaning of honor.
Phaetor assumed that I intended to keep my word. He probably had no doubt in his mind. And he figured that he was a better swordsman than I. He may even intend to simply capture me, having his men disable me with crossbow quarrels. His word could not be trusted.
But this time, I intended to break my word.
It is true that we were Slavers, not Warriors. Our Codes were very different. Nothing in our Codes stated that we were bound by our sworn word, not like the Codes of the Warrior Caste. Yes, we were still often honest and often chose to keep our word. But we were realistic as well and under the proper circumstances then we might break our word.
I intended to save Gor, to prevent a barbaric invasion that threatened everything I hold dear. It was my duty to do whatever is necessary to ensure the war never occured.
And sometimes duty requires sacrifice, a willingness to die to protect a greater good. What was a single life compared to an entire world? How could I live with myself if I failed in this duty, knowing that I could have succeeded?
Neko had been saved. It was now time to save Gor as well.
I entered the spaceship, quickly retracted the ramp and closed the hatch.
Phaetor raced forward but he was not quick enough to reach the hatch before it closed. He screamed at me to exit the ship, to face him in a duel. He screamed that I had no honor, that I was a cheat and a liar.
I ignored him and waited.
Phaetor quickly realized the extent of my plan. And in his futility, he pounded his fists against the black metal hull of the ship.
Phaetor had no means to gain entrance to the ship. And he knew that time was very limited. The surveillance ships of the Priest-Kings would likely have already detected these Kurii ships. They might be sending a ship to destroy them at this very moment.
And that is what I waited for. I waited for the Priest-Kings to incinerate the ship, turning me into ash so that Phaetor could not return me to the Steel Worlds.
Without me, Phaetor would lose. His credibility would suffer and the Kurii would doubt that the invasion would succeed. They would worry that it was a trap.
My Sacrifice, my death, would save Gor.
I sat in the ship, thinking of Neko, pleasant memories again. I would die with her in my thoughts. The same way I had done waiting to be executed on the Kurii ship.
Phaetor knew that I was not coming out. He and his men fled back to their ship to leave the area. I am sure though that they left at least one or two men behind, hidden in the forests, just in case I did try to leave the ship. Phaetor will hedge his bets carefully.
I was committed though. I would remain here until the Priest-Kings arrived. I would not give Phaetor any chance at capturing me.
The decision has been made.
I felt a strange sense of peace, even knowing that death was not far off. Maybe because my death would have meaning. Because my death would accomplish much.
There was satisfaction in knowing that I was but a lone man who had turned back a massive army. I had thwarted an extremely intimidating force. A mere Slaver, not even one of the High Caste.
A single individual can move mountains. You must simply find your inner power and be dedicated enough to follow one’s dream. Perseverance, intelligence, imagination and discipline. All vital attributes for the superior man.
On a view screen, I observed a large silver ship approach.
The Priest-Kings neared.
It was almost time.
It was traditional in the ancient Earth culture of Japan for samurai, the Japanese Warriors, to compose haiku upon their imminent death. They might not have much time to compose that elegant poetry so technically it was often deficient. But it always mirrored the heart. Pure emotion, bereft of the worries of literary rules.
I am not a samurai. I am not a Warrior.
But I am fighting a War. And I shall soon die.
Thus, I feel it is appropriate to end my own life with a haiku.
“Life is so fleeting
Only love extends our time
Abandon not love.”
The silver ship observed my Kurii ship, idle on a patch of open grass, and instantly targeted it for destruction. There was no hesitation, no thought involved. It was seen and it had to be destroyed.
Two blinding beams torched through the sky.
One of those deadly beams lanced into my ship in an explosion of heat, smoke and pressure. Pieces of metal were instantly vaporized into ash.
Yet, there had been a second beam, a second burst of fiery energy. A darker beam, a fraction quicker than the first.
That darker beam struck the Priest-King vessel, damaging it and also adversely affecting its targeting.
Thus, when the Priest-King weapon struck my ship, it only blasted the rear half of the vessel. The entire vessel was supposed to have been destroyed but it was not. So very close.
Phaetor was grasping at straws, hoping to destroy the Priest-King ship before it could destroy me. I am sure he had tried to eradicate the silver ship before it had gotten off any of its beams. But a Kurii ship was no match for the technological prowess of the Priest-Kings.
Surprise was the only factor that might turn the tide for Phaetor. Phaetor had to pray that his initial strike was fatal. Otherwise, he would not survive the battle.
And I doubt he could outrun the silver ship.
As for me, the remains of my ship toppled over and I was thrown from the vessel through a ragged, gaping opening. I landed hard in the grass behind the ship, luckily concealed by the smoke and remnants of the space ship. I lay there for a few Ihn, coughing due to all the thick smoke.
I did not think Phaetor’s men would stay around for the fireworks. The blinding beams would have scared them off. I am also sure they felt I was dead once they saw my ship had been struck.
I glanced around me and noticed saw the bag of war plans had also been thrown free. I grabbed that important bag and crawled away into the forest behind the ship, praying I was not observed.
The Priest-King ship retaliated and multiple beams struck Phaetor’s vessel. His spaceship was quickly crippled, crashing to the ground and exploding in a fiery mess. The Priest-Kings then incinerated the remnants of both Kurii ships so that no one could recover any piece of them. Forbidden technology must be destroyed.
Then the silver ship landed and several men rapidly exited the vessel to do a quick search of the area. They were likely seeking any surviving Kurii or their agents.
I revealed myself to the men, told them who I was and was taken aboard the ship. We then journeyed back to the Sardar.
My debriefing at the Sardar went quite well. I gave them the scrolls and maps concerning the Kurii battle plans. After a careful analysis, it was accepted that the plans were legitimate. Preparations were enacted to handle such an invasion. The foreknowledge could be quite decisive if the invasion did occur.
I told the Priest-Kings everything that had happened to me. They asked many questions and I answered them to the best of my knowledge. They were obviously a bit leery about my presence, unsure if I had become a traitor or not. They needed to determine that I was not the bait for a trap.
Thus, they held me in the Sardar over the next few weeks. During this time, intelligence was received in the Sardar that the Kurii invasion was postponed indefinitely. Phaetor was wanted by the Kurii though I was sure that he died in the explosion of the Kurii ship. It also appeared that the power factions within the Steel Worlds had shifted. Those who had heavily favored the invasion lost favor and many of them were demoted or removed from power.
The Priest-Kings were finally satisfied that I was still on their side. I was now a hero yet few would ever know of my deeds. The Priest-Kings and a few of their agents would be the only ones to know. Maybe it was better that way. Angry agents of the Kurii might hunt me down if my story were more well known.
Yet, I did not need that adulation.
I had proven to myself the type of man that I was. I had been willing to sacrifice all for the world I loved. I had bravely faced my fate. I had persevered against incredible odds and emerged victorious. Nykus was my anthem. I had emerged from a crucible, forged with a new strength.
I was able to depart from the Sardar a little over a month since I had arrived. All was once again right in the world. A silver ship transported me near the city of Ar and I walked the rest of the way in the cool, night air.
It felt so refreshing to walk the Viktel Aria, to feel its stones beneath my sandals. I admired the brightly lit cylinders of Ar as I neared its great walls. I saw the beacon fires that marked the passage for tarnsmen at night.
I gained access through one of the night gates. I was headed home, to reunite with Neko.
I am sure she felt that I was dead. The ambiguity of my fate must have haunted her. She may have worried that Phaetor killed me and nervously watched the skies for the Kurii ships. She may have predicted my own actions, assuming I had sacrificed myself. It would be a pleasant shock to see me again.
And I would reveal everything to her. The entire story, in complete detail. I owed her that much.
And even though my actions were heroic, that would not matter as much to Neko. To her, I had always been a hero.
I will not bore you with details of our teary reunion. Or describe the intimate welcoming I would receive. Suffice to say that we were both ecstatic and we did not leave the house for an entire Hand. We had much to say and much to share. It was a time of healing and a time of growing. We had a new zest for life, realizing how fragile and precious it could be.
We were in love. Quite simple yet quite complex.
And once again, a haiku comes to mind.
“Desire in his eyes
Passion in her soft caress
Two meld into one.”