Childehood’s End

Childehood’s End
A Dorsai Story

An Archetale in the Assembling Terrania Cycle

Craig Chalquist

 

Stories have their own life independent of what the author may intend. When Gordon R. Dickson died in 2001, he left the unfinished Childe Cycle stopped in the same place as “Child Roland to the Dark Tower Came,” a poem written in 1855 by Robert Browning. The poem that had influenced Dickson and his Cycle so deeply ends with the hero coming at last to the Dark Tower. The Child Cycle ends with Hal Mayne learning the path to his own. In neither case does the reader learn what happens to the hero once he enters the looming tower.

As with many fans of the Cycle, my younger self had been influenced by it. Not only did the characters take on the full colors of their imaginal liveliness (for the creatures of imagination ARE real in their own way, within their own framework), the idea of humanity evolving as a single organism introduced me to a new kind of specieswide idealism. As Dickson saw it, the hero’s purpose in such a universe was to serve this organism through creative, constructive effort. In large part the Childe Cycle shows the unfolding of the man once known as Donal Graeme as he learns through three lifetimes what it means to be fully human alongside humanity evolving from the Childe position of naive squire into a knighthood—”knight” means “to serve”—of higher maturity and responsibility.

After lamenting that the death of Dickson had deprived us of the Cycle’s finale—he was planning a final volume to wrap it all up—I wondered now and again how the story might have ended. One day I finally asked myself: Why don’t I finish it in the way I would want to see it finished? Why not take a small dip into the Creative Universe and write my own ending? My style would be different, inevitably, but there were Childe Cycle stories told by various voices–Corunna El Man, Amanda Morgan, Tomas Velt. Why not include mine?

In terms of the Assembling Terrania Cycle, events in this story unfold within the Dreamvale, the world of imagination; specifically, within the Dorsai Vale. Cempa, the Power of heroes and champions, manifests through Hal and Bleys and their respective organizations as a split archetype. How will it heal? And how will its healing help move humanity along in its quest to mature?

 

In the six months since Hal had returned from Harmony, the Other assault against Earth had firmed up from defense-testing sorties into deeper strategic forays: massing squadrons of warships phasing in above the planet surface.

Far-flung Dorsai spotters along the phase-shield perimeter relayed news of the incursions to waiting battle groups primed for microjumps into englobement positions. So far the Dorsai had lost only one ship to every eight of the enemy, but it was only a matter of time until the Others brought overwhelming numbers to bear.

“How is our defense holding up?” asked Ajela the Exotic, Chief Executive of Earth. Her question was for the Dorsai commander whose rugged face appeared above her desk at the Final Encyclopedia.

“It’s Thermopylae, but without the secret back road.” Di Facino spoke brisky while keeping his eye on whatever holoprojections showed him the maneuvering squadrons. “We’re holding them off, but barely, and they have plenty in reserve. We’re using decoys on the ground to steer them away from the most vulnerable planetary targets. My scout ships are seeding the inside of the shield wall with magnetized matter to stop some of the jumpers from ever coming back into phase. We’re also assembling a squadron of robot ships on the far side of the Moon to hit them as they enter the Solar System, but that will take more time.”

“I know you have your hands full. Keep me apprised as needed.”

She turned to the room’s three other occupants: Amanda Morgan, fair, blond, and slim; Rukh Tamani, her cross-shaped pendant of stone a contrast to her dark bronze skin; and Hal Mayne, green-eyed, black-haired, and Dorsai large-boned.

What a change in him since Kultis, she thought. He had gone in such uncertainty, but returned with the inner light of a man who had seen his way through great obscurity. Yet now she sensed something else: a touch of sadness in his eyes.

“The Dorsais are stretched to the breaking point,” she told him.

“They won’t have to hold on much longer. If all goes well, their job will soon be finished.”

A haiku poem by the old samurai Basho ran through his mind then as he looked out the window at the great green-blue curve of Earth beyond:

Summer grass:
of stalwart warriors’ splendid dream
the aftermath.

So true, thought Hal. The transitoriness of the soldier’s life: here one day in the flesh, the next visible only as grass growing on a grave. How had Shakespeare’s Henry V put it on the eve of battle? Now, if these men do not die well/It will be a black matter for the king who led them to it…

Was any war death truly a dying well? Hal could not say despite all his experience; but he did know that the Dorsais, and the Earthmen under their command, had purchased all of them valuable time while Hal sought a direct physical entry into the Creative Universe he had made use of but never visited consciously until walking through the Encyclopedia phase-door.

With the well-honed tools of poetry, with the Final Encyclopedia left to his care by Tam Olyn, and with courage, philosophy, and faith developed over three lifetimes of determined effort, he had finally entered that timeless realm and approached the tall Tower awaiting him there: the site of a final reckoning with an ancient enemy wearing a familiar face.

“It is time to announce our intentions,” he told the other three. “Is our special communications linkage warmed up and ready?”

“It is,” intoned Rukh, eyes burning on him. He looked at her and saw Faith incarnate. Ajela stared at him with eyes Exotic-deep. Amanda’s gray gaze flowed into him with love. He felt his lifetimes-old resolve grow even stronger. He nodded.

He stood and faced the viewer pickup, taking a deep breath as the others stood back out of range.

A single tone told him he was on:

“I am Hal Mayne.

“This communique is being broadcast to all the worlds, including Old Earth. The magnitude of its import will soon become apparent.

“For the past few years, the propagandists of Bleys Ahrens have spread the lie that the Final Encyclopedia was committed to developing a new weapon with which to wipe out the Younger Worlds—and this while those who call themselves the Other Kind drained those worlds dry to build the fleet now outside our planetary phase-shield, the sole line of defense protecting Earth from deadly attack.

“In actuality, our research, always geared for peaceful uses, has provided a long-anticipated breakthrough which we are finally ready to make public. We do this because the results should be shared with human beings everywhere and because we will hope that once the implications are grasped, our discovery will make plain why the campaign against us is futile and must end immediately. When it does, we will take down our phase-shield and allow full access to Earth and to the Final Encyclopedia as well.” He could almost sense the gasps and widened eyes of his interplanetary audience.

“When Mark Torre first envisioned the Encyclopedia, he understood that all humans have partial access to a realm that has gone by many names: Supramental, Collective Unconscious, Mundus Imaginalis, Land of Youth, Harqalya, Faerie, Magic Theater… Creative acts have always drawn on this realm by accessing it through the gateway of the imagination, for it is accessed by symbols and metaphors. Some of these release the extraordinary energies operating under what the forerunners of the Exotics referred to as the Alternate Laws.

“But for most of human history, this access has remained largely unconscious, involuntary, intuitive, and sporadic. Artists have tapped it, as have poets; geniuses have made their discoveries with its help. But no one has been able to consciously and deliberately enter this realm—which we call the Creative Universe—physically…until now.

“Ordinarily, contact with a phase-screen like that defending Earth results in the universal dispersion of whatever touches it. We have discovered, however, that an individual possessing certain abilities and disciplines can walk through such a screen into the Creative Universe itself, build things there, and return to this reality to tell of it. I myself have done this twice, and I propose to do it again in full public view under conditions designed to eliminate any doubts about trickery or fakery.

“Bleys Ahrens does not believe in such a Creative Universe. The crux of our differences really comes down to this matter of faith. The Others seek not only personal power, but the confinement of all human beings to one planet because of a fundamental disbelief that we are ready for the stars. Bleys has told me this outright. Ask him if he hasn’t. We, on the other hand, believe that after centuries of struggle and achievement, of initiation into responsibility, we are coming of age. However, further exploration and growth requires sustained and conscious access to the long-sought realm of symbolic, subjective reality, the realm from which every dream, poem, and painting originates.

“This realm exists, and we can all learn to access it. Which means that the campaign now being waged against Earth must be seen for what it is, as lacking any substance or foundation at all, even when considered from the standpoint of the Others who command it. You Crossbreeds have been told by your leaders that this realm is mere make-believe; that humans aren’t mature enough to look farther than our own horizons; that non-Others are incapable of managing their own lives; that you must remain alone and apart, a different Other Kind from the rest of your own species. But the open door to the Creative Universe disproves every one of these beliefs. It is there for you, for me, for everyone.

“Furthermore, no one trained to reach the Creative Universe need be enslaved by fear, ignorance, or oppression ever again. Those not able to reach it on their own can be taken there by those who can. We all go together, with no one left behind.

“I therefore propose an immediate suspension of hostilities, during which Bleys Ahrens and a small party of his designation will visit the Final Encyclopedia, inspect our equipment as closely as they like, and participate in this history-making demonstration. As part of that demonstration, I will take Bleys into the Creative Universe myself.” He paused.

“We await word from our opponents. To the people of Earth: be patient just a little while more. The outcome is finally in sight.”

* * * * *

The invitation did not wait long before being accepted. Amanda’s eyes scanned a tablet brought by a communications technician. Bleys, two others, and a technical team would approach the phase-wall for admission within the hour. Orders went out to Earth Defense Command to open the phase-shield to allow them in.

She found Hal at his desk gazing at a realtime scene of the Rocky Mountains. It was winter in Colorado, and the sunset painted snowy peaks in hues of orange and mauve. From this angle he almost seemed part of the rugged landscape.

As was her wont, she came straight to the point:

“Why has he agreed to go with you?”

He turned to face her. “To settle accounts.”

Her gaze was Dorsai level. “But you said before that either of you killing the other wouldn’t solve anything. The historical forces would remain in motion.”

“They have been all along, and this is the final battle they’ve been pushing all of us into: Ragnarok. Armageddon: the end of the cycle that opened just before the Renaissance. With the end in view and the wave of history now breaking, Bleys can safely kill me and bolster his cause and his image by claiming a personal victory over his opponent. I can do the same with him. It’s between us now, and it comes to a head today, when Childe Harold to the dark tower comes.”

Hal looked back through Amanda’s eyes into generations of Dorsai women seeing their mates go off into battle, or saying goodbye as they went off themselves, boarding transport ships to risk precious Dorsai blood to preserve the sovereignty of their people and their resource-poor planet. The times were at a crossroads never faced in all of human history, but in some ways today was no different than yesterday.

“Bleys will come,” she said, reading the communique, “but he rejects the cease-fire until his people can verify that our offer is not a trick.”

Hal nodded. “He wants to keep the pressure on. He knows he has the military advantage.”

“So it comes down to this.”

“It always had to.”

Amanda bent over his chair from behind and put her arms around his neck. “Are you certain you can win, love?”

“Nothing is certain in the Creative Universe, but I have more experience with it than he does.”

“A time must come,” she sighed, “when history is finished with you and you can be fully mine.”

“That time is coming for both of us. The forces of history are cresting now. Soon they will break and a new path forward will open for everyone. I can still remember the biblical prophecy even though Obadiah taught it to me long before I understood it to be the ancient dream of humanity: ‘Ye shall be as gods.'”

“Just take care when you’re over there with him”—she shuddered—”so the dream won’t turn into a nightmare.”

* * * * *

Bleys Ahrens too was looking at Earth, but from an orbital perspective. The holowall of the flagship lounge offered a large simulation of the ever-turning world.

From a hundred small indicators he had guessed at something large going on at the Final Encyclopedia. The message from Hal was therefore no surprise, but its content troubled him nonetheless.

Would his opponent gamble everything on a foolish trick? Hoping perhaps to create an opening through which to escape the tightening vice? Hal knew as well as he did that the Others could resort to suicide runs if all else failed: ships primed to overload their phase drives while crashing into Earth, the blasts clearing entire populated areas of everything living.

A door opened behind him. Without turning he could hear the balanced, confident stride of Antonina Lu. She approached from behind and put her arms around his waist.

“So you’ve decided to accept Hal’s offer.”

“Yes. If nothing else it will give us a look at the Final Encyclopedia and strengthen our public image should his invitation turn out to be a ruse.”

“You don’t think it is, though, do you?”

He shook his head.

“What are the chances he’s found something truly new?”

“I’m sure he’d like everyone to believe he’s pulled a rabbit from the hat, but it’s likelier he’s rigged up some kind of sophisticated, magical-seeming phase-shift transport system that will send us somewhere out of view for a final encounter.”

“But haven’t you said that such an encounter would be self-defeating for both of you?”

“That was true until now, but Hal is running out of options. Earth is building warships and staffing them with recruits, but we can win before their numbers approach ours. His Pyrrhic Dorsai are running ragged plugging leaks in the shield wall around Earth. If he steps through a phase door and comes back claiming victory, he might hope to turn the tide in his favor by ‘proving’ me wrong. On the other hand, if I come back instead, Earth will never recover from the blow to its morale. They will see that nothing truly transformative ever comes from the same old technical wizardry even when applied in new directions.”

Inwardly, he gave a silent nod to the founder of the old Chantry Guild. Walter Blunt had understood: “Destruct!” He should never have stepped aside….

“Either way,” she replied, hugging him tighter, “it’s a showdown for the two of you. Are you ready for it?”

“I have been for a long time.”

“Will you promise me you’ll come back safely?”

“I can’t, but I think Hal is finally desperate enough to try a foolish stratagem that is likely to fail. However, I can promise you this: only one of us is coming back through that phase-door.”

* * * * *

Two tall men stood facing a blind corridor at the Final Encyclopedia, one wearing a black cape lined in crimson, the other with a red and white cloak upon his shoulders.

“God be with you,” said Henry MacLean to Bleys.

“May the Lord’s face shine upon you,” said Rukh Tamani to Hal.

Toni squeezed the Other’s hand and stepped back, her face impassive.

Amanda kissed Hal firmly, said, “No goodbyes,” and took up a position near the phase-door, where Jeamus made a final adjustment.

Hal and Bleys turned to face the shimmering doorway. Beyond it waited the consummation of all Hal had struggled for throughout the longest campaign in human history.

Tam’s cloak rustled slightly about Hal’s shoulders as he and the Other Man stepped forward, phrases from a poem by Rupert Brooke ringing in Hal’s mind:

Blow out, you bugles, over the rich Dead!
There’s none of these so lonely and poor of old,
But, dying, has made us rarer gifts than gold.
These laid the world away; poured out the red
Sweet wine of youth; gave up the years to be
Of work and joy, and that unhoped serene,
That men call age; and those who would have been,
Their sons, they gave, their immortality.

Bleys was as good as his word. The attacks did not cease, they intensified.

Instead of returning to Earth for repair, a damaged Dorsai scout vessel made straight for a pocket of lumbering battlewagons. They tried to dodge, but the scout caught one near its phase grids and both flared instantly into plasma and glowing fragments. The seething mass washed over two nearby ships, destroying them as well. Another, badly damaged, limped uselessly away. Two ships withdrew from battle to escort it.

“Rule Number One,” said di Facino with grim satisfaction. “Never invade a planet while flying in close formation.”

“How are the satellite defenses holding up?”

“Lasting longer than expected. When one flying fort takes a bad beating, we exchange it via phase shift with one less damaged. They look so stationary that nobody expects them to fly anywhere. And they don’t: they jump. Sometimes we double them up for concerted action and jump them back into position.”

From one ponderous sphere darted a burst of tiny vessels. Some veered off like bees from a swarm and, flying in fantastic loops and dives, attached themselves to the hull of a nearby dreadnought. Which vanished. “Those are little more than automated high-speed rockets equipped with armored phase shift units,” di Facino told her. “Almost impossible to track or hit. When enough of them clamp onto the target, their phase motors ignite and take everything into jumpspace. Set to disperse without return.”

Ajela: “I didn’t know we had that use of phase technology.”

“Hal pulled it out of the Final Encyclopedia at my request. Here’s another application.”

The view shifted to show a squadron of heavy enemy ships approaching a cluster of Dorsai scouts. As they entered firing range, the scouts split into a wide circle. As the circle filled with what seemed like mist, the squadron entered it and disappeared.

“Phase shield generated by the scouts. Useful at close range…until they catch on.”

“What are they hitting us with that we didn’t expect?”

“Not much. They’re going for sheer numbers. Tyrants have never been known for innovation. Their fixation on power makes them overconfident in blitzes and overwhelms. We anticipated that.”

“Rourke, they ought to call you di Facino the Sharp.” She was remembering a lecture by Hal on a certain pre-Renaissance general who had crossed the Alps to win bloodless battles in Italy.

“If so, I’m glad for having brought our White Company here for this. Going over the hill beats being over it every time.”

* * * * *

Having traversed a volcanic plain, walked over Tam’s cloak to a chasm’s other side, and climbed a broken staircase of ancient stone, Hal and Bleys faced each other in the highest chamber inside the Tower.

From its windows they could see an endless, magma-darkened, boulder-strewn plain. Percival would have recognized this, Hal thought: the Wasteland. As a bloody sun set in the west, a massive gong from an invisible bell drifted upward to the men and echoed around the stone walls of the chamber. Hal moved his eyes back to the dragon in the room.

“An impressive illusion,” remarked Bleys as his eyes roved the chamber. “You must tell me some time how you managed it.”

“It’s no illusion. In fact, you should recognize it.” He recalled the newborn tentacle that had knocked down an earlier self. How Paul had wished he could finish it off then and there! He went on: “I carry within my imagination the total knowledge of the Final Encyclopedia. With that knowledge I have build this realm, plain, island, and tower so we could have it out. Behold what faith, courage, and vision can create once the laws of the ordinary universe are put aside.”

“Whatever the nature of this ‘place,’ why here?” asked Bleys, obviously unwilling to trust his senses. “Surely the dramatic ambience of our final clash could have been managed with less trouble?”

“Over the years,” Hal said, “you have sought me out more than once to ask if I would change my mind. I now return the favor. I brought you here to show you that the Creative Universe is real; that it is accessible; and that anyone with the proper training can come here and engage with the primal creative forces of Being itself. Such a person doesn’t even need a phase-door.

“We are here because I’m giving you a last chance to put down your arms, disarm the Others, and return to the human fold. You need not feel separate from the rest of the species anymore. It’s not too late to do what you never thought possible in your cynicism and pain: to have a change of heart, and come home.” With that, Hal took a step forward and held out his hand to the tall Other man.

For a moment Bleys seemed to hesitate, even to ponder, like Ahab at the rail of the Pequod: “Why this strife of the chase? why weary, and palsy the arm at the oar, and the iron, and the lance? how the richer or better is Ahab now?”

But to Hal’s sadness, if not surprise, Bleys shook his head and smiled. “No good, my old enemy. I don’t know how you conjured all this, but I will not be fooled by it into surrendering my cause on the eve of winning it. When I return, you will be dead, and in your absence I will convey the victory message that our side is stronger than any delusional appeals to a nonexistent higher human nature.”

He bent to inspect two swords racked on one shadowy wall of the keep, then selected a katana. He balanced it in one hand and turned it over. “This blade came down through Toni’s family. I’ve only seen it once.” He sounded surprised.

Hal selected the other blade: a Scottish claymore handed down through Clan Graeme. Cletus had worn it at his wedding. Donal had worn it at his graduation from the Dorsai Academy. “It’s here now,” he said as the old sickness rose in him, “and it’s as real as death.” Hal’s sword was named Vindicator; Bleys’s was nameless.

“An altogether appropriate setting after all,” remarked Bleys, belting on the sword, “for finishing our business with each other.”

As Hal drew his sword he thought about handicaps. One was that Bleys seemed in superb condition and training, whereas he, while fit, had been worn down and stretched thin by the long struggle against the Others. Bleys could probably outlast him if nothing else. Another was that he did not want Bleys dead yet. To fight his best, however, he would have to give his Donal self full control; and Donal would quickly kill his opponent. This made it necessary to restrain Donal as well as Bleys.

At least he held a reliable sword. Neither katana nor claymore contained high amounts of carbon, but both weapons had been repaired and cared for down the centuries. The claymore was longer, but Bleys’ long arms negated some of this advantage.

Hal took a series of steadying breaths as he fell into what the Dorsai called battle naiveté, his mind uncluttered by worries and preconceptions. He raised his blade to a two-handed guard position.

“At last,” murmured Bleys as he pointed the tip of his blade at Hal’s left eye. His chudan no kamae stance left few openings. Hal raised a Western fencing guard and stepped forward.

As the two men circled each other, the clang of ringing metal filling the top of a tower now lit by flashes of lightning, Hal reflected that Bleys was as skilled a swordsmen as any he had faced. Japanese swords were not normally thrusting weapons, but Bleys’ sudden tsuki off a parried horizontal stroke almost caught Hal by surprise. He let it slide by his left ear, but Bleys reversed and the pommel of his sword grazed Hal’s cheek. A chasse savate kick to the Other’s right thigh opened enough space for Hal to keep from being boxed. He could see the judo training in how Bleys shuffled his feet and kept his center of gravity low, waiting to get inside for a lock or throw.

Although the Dorsai were masters of military hardware and field-expedient weapons, their training did not emphasize archaic arms like the broadsword. Donal had received some training in fencing, of course, and Hal advanced training because Malachi enjoyed using edged weapons, but Hal was no master. Neither was Bleys, but he obviously had been taught by one. Using the back of his blade to parry a lunge widely away to Hal’s left, he moved in swiftly and, planting his left foot inside Hal’s right, swept his left arm around Hal’s waist to deliver a hip throw. Donal would have countered instantly with a lethal right chop to Bleys’s windpipe; Hal’s thumb jabbed the nerve nexus under his opponent’s left ear, breaking the throw.

Quickly shifting his left arm upward to cover Hal’s right, Bleys levered it into an arm bar over his muscular left shoulder. Vindicator dropped to the stone floor.

For a moment an inner restraint went down and Hal became pure Donal. Stomping his right boot down on Bleys’s left instep, he saw Bleys instinctively shift his weight to his right foot. Going with the momentum, Hal body-blocked him into a wall, trapping the katana against it. Donal’s hard right punch to the kidney would have killed Bleys, but Hal regained control and softened the blow.

As Bleys bent sideways, Hal dropped to the ground and, rolling, scooped up Vindicator in time to parry a shomen-uchi cut to the top of his head. Bleys turned and came at him again, sword held high in migi jodan no kamae, right foot forward.

“Why are you holding back?” he asked. “Are you afraid of me after all, Hal Mayne? Are you after all the lesser man here? Can you feel my confidence?”

Hal let the silence build. When the fighting begins, let the talkers argue with themselves, Malachi had told him. They will turn themselves into their own worst enemy.

Hal was doing his best not to turn into his own. In the heat of battle, he realized, he was still thinking in linear, three-dimensional terms. Backed by the stored resources of the Final Encyclopedia, his connection to the Creative Universe had manifested the rocky plain, this tower, and even the two swords, but, try as he would, he could not get it to otherwise reshape itself. It held its form with a stubbornness like that of the crevice he could not pass over without Tam’s cloak.

To win the final victory, he sensed, required an approach not of logic but of symbol and metaphor. Nevertheless, the key to it still eluded him. The justice required here at the end of all things must be poetic, not practical or military. Until he found it he had little choice but to draw out the duel as long as he could against a supremely dangerous foe left with no reason to keep him alive.

His feint toward the Other’s leading leg brought yokomen-uchi sweeping downward toward the arteries in the right side of Hal’s neck. A one-hand parry in sixte, and Bleys shuffled his left foot forward and swung down a gyaku yokomen-uchi, again toward Hal’s neck but this time from the left.

Instead of parrying, Hal slid his right foot far forward, leaning to avoid the blow as his blade drifted to his right. Reversing, he brought the pommel around and solidly connected with Bleys’s chin. As the Other staggered back, twisting his body to absorb the shock, Hal caught the katana in a semicircular sweep, forcing the blade cross-body, clenched his left fist, and punched Bleys in the spleen. The blow did not seem to hurt him much, but it would wear on him if the fight lasted long enough.

Bleys recovered and advanced. Hal reached out for the final insight that had managed to evade him….

* * * * *

“Di Facino! The enemy are about to land in Paris, Tokyo, London, Manhattan—”

“Right where we decoyed them. Watch.”

The view shifted to a ground scene: immense troop ships dropping through the skies above the old United Nations building. Their shadows fell over a large dome opening clamshell doors. From inside the dome rose a platform bearing what looked like a circular rack of stubby, perforated cylinders.

When they swung to point at the descending squadron, tremendous flashes of what Ajela took to be a discharge effect danced from the nearby buildings. Trees and antennas bent over as if cuffed by an unseen hand. The squadron simply dissolved, sliced to small fragments that rained smoking all over Manhattan.

“Phase-shift cannons,” stated di Facino. “Improvised short-range railguns propelling clusters of projectiles fitted with small phase motors. The motors accelerate them to relativistic speeds just before they hit the target.

“Once they take care of the landing forces we’ll save them for the next wave: kamikazi ships with their phase drives set to explode on impact.”

* * * * *

“Pattern!” Hal called out as lightning flashed.

And with that he sheathed his sword. He could almost feel the shades of his three long-dead tutors standing behind him, watching.

There at the top of the Tower above the lava-covered plain, the two big men regarded one another. Bleys sheathed his blade as well.

“You’re quite right, Hal,” he said, advancing in a crouch. “Hand to hand is a better way to finish.”

“No,” said Hal, standing his ground. “Man to man is how it ends.”

“Meaning what?” and circling in dangerously close.

“I am the warrior who will not fight,” explained Hal patiently, “and cannot be defeated.”

At this Bleys backhanded him so viciously that Hal’s cheek bone nearly shattered. He was knocked to his knees, but, taking a breath, stood and faced his opponent once again.

“It’s done,” he said. “Blow, bugles, blow! They brought us, for our dearth / Holiness, lacked so long, and Love, and Pain….”

Bleys brought the edge of his right hand down in a vicious chop that broke Hal’s left collarbone. Again he staggered, paused, stood upright, and continued to recite: “Honour has come back, as a king, to earth, / And paid his subjects with a royal wage…”

“Why won’t you fight back?” Bleys spun into a kick that crashed into Hal’s jaw. A knee strike broke two of the younger man’s ribs. He fell but got painfully back to his feet, still facing Bleys.

“Don’t be afraid,” Hal rasped. “There’s nothing to be afraid of. Every real beginning requires a sacrifice.”

“FIGHT BACK!” roared Bleys. Grasping Hal’s left hand, he executed a circular aikido throw that broke Hal’s left wrist.

“It’s all right, my old enemy,” Hal panted, barely able to rise. “This time I will not tell you to suffer.”

Without warning, Bleys felt a rage surge into him like that at the spaceport on Newton when gunning down the riflemen who had shot Henry: a rage not only at his enemy, at all enemies, at anything that held him back and limited the exercise of his will, but ultimately at life itself, a life of perpetual isolation, guardedness, and exile: damned, as Captain Ahab had said of himself, in the very midst of Paradise.

“….And Nobleness walks in our ways again,” Hal gasped out; “And we have come into our heritage.”

Shouting “DESTRUCT!” as his kiai, Bleys drew the katana again and plunged it straight into Hal’s heart.

* * * * *

Amanda Morgan’s left hand flew to her chest, and for a moment she found herself unable to breathe. Surrounded by enemies, she recovered quickly and resumed an impassive expression; but inwardly, a blade of grief had cut her heart in two.

But she remembered the advice of Tam Olyn, former Director of the Final Encyclopedia. Just before he died, he had glimpsed a moment in which her seer’s gift would reveal something…how had he put it…that she would perceive accurately but nevertheless should not believe it.

Amanda clung to this as she waited to see who would emerge from the phase-door, even while certain now that it would not be Hal.

* * * * *

Several Other squadrons closed on what looked to Ajela like modified cargo transports fitted out with odd grids, tankage, and antennae. Tight beams of easily detectable energy linked them to the Final Encyclopedia, but she had no idea why. The transports hung over Earth’s poles and were stationed equidistantly over the face of the planet. The word “PROTOTYPE” ran in large red letters across their bows. Low in speed, they tried to dodge but were not difficult to intercept.

“What—”

“Everyone knows,” replied di Facino, “that you can’t board an enemy vessel in space. Too difficult to match velocities with a ship that does not want to be caught. But Donal Graeme taught us to beware of truisms. The obvious solution to boarding is to make your enemy want to match velocities with you.”

“What is the purpose of those transports? I’ve heard nothing about them.”

Di Facino chuckled. “The purpose is to make the Others think that the stories they’ve heard about Final Encyclopedia superweapons are true. We’re turning their own propaganda against them. No superweapons worth capturing there, though: just Dorsai assault teams in New Worlds Society spacesuits ready to board, storm, and capture those enemy squadrons. If the Others have gone to so much trouble to manufacture extra ships, we ought to at least make use of some.”

* * * * *

When the tall man stepped through the phase door, Amanda heard Rukh gasp in disbelief. Jeamus covered his face with his hands.

“Yes. It’s finally over,” said the deep, resonant voice. The brown eyes remained expressionless. Long muscular fingers handed Tam’s darkened cloak to Rukh, who accepted it speechlessly.

Amanda stared as the dark eyes of Bleys Ahrens moved over her, then past her to the communications console. “Put me in contact with our combined forces.” Her gaze moved down to his left hip, where he wore a familiar-looking claymore. She had seen it displayed on the dining room wall of Graemehouse.

“Command only or all the Others?” asked Toni.

“All the Others.” The screen went on. The red-lined black cloak moved slightly as the Other Man shifted his grip on the katana to make both swords clearly visible.

“This is Bleys Ahrens. I am ordering an immediate cease-fire by New Worlds Society forces in light of what I have just seen.

“The Creative Universe is real. I have been there myself.” This time it was Toni and Henry who gasped.

“The body of Hal Mayne remains there, having fallen when we finally settled our differences. I genuinely regret that, but as has been apparent to all of us for many years now, each of us represented one pole of an irreconcilable clash of visions. Mine has won.

“I wish to state for the record, however, that Hal fought bravely and died a warrior committed to his belief in a better future. I hope he will be remembered for what he was: an honorable man who went down fighting for a lost cause.” Amanda said nothing.

“I also hope his memory will be honored for serving as an instrument of revelation. A revelation for which Hal bravely chose to sacrifice himself.” A pause to let this point sink in. He continued:

“When fighting for one’s beliefs, positions almost inevitably become polarized. As a result, vision narrows as loss of mental flexibility hardens the imagination. I mention this because, having seen the Creative Universe through the doorway Hal Mayne opened for me, I have come to appreciate a raw gem of truth buried within his side of the argument. Hal thought of this gem as the ultimate perfectibility of humankind. So, in our own way, do we. The goal is similar; the means is where we disagreed.

“Like Hal Mayne and his group, we recognize that the time of Splinter Culture dominance has come to an end. We Others are one result of their latter-day fruits and flowerings. Our conclusion, however, has been that the Promethean madness of outward expansion and adventuring must halt for a time. This would allow us to develop and consolidate inward gains while recombining with original full-spectrum Earth stock to give birth to a new kind of human being. In contrast, their conclusion was that exploration outward must continue in pursuit of futuristic dreams.

“What I realized in the Creative Universe is that the only viable human future must combine the sturdiest aspects of both visions. Historically, psychologically, and philosophically, the answer to the dilemma of an apparently unbreakable duality has always been to synthesize some third possibility. We Others have staunchly defended the need to protect the roots of the human enterprise; those who oppose us have been on the side of its branches and buds. This more than any other reason is why we have failed to make common cause.

“And so our positions have rigidified, with us insisting on returning to Earth and staying there, and our opponents insisting with equal force that humanity belongs among the stars. Taken to extremes, our vision might have resulted in permanent stasis, theirs in the ineffectual scattering of human powers. Both roads ultimately converge in extinction and the end of the great human experiment.

“Because we now have no choice but to shift our design to include the demonstrated reality of a Creative Universe, a Universe into which everyone can enter, I order that the military campaign cease, that the planetary shield be taken down, and that we Others be given access to Earth, not as conquerors living apart but as co-learners in community with our fellow humans.

“Why co-learners? I could not get to the Creative Universe on my own; Hal had to take me there himself, not because I lack intelligence or ability, but because access only comes with a certain mode of perception that sacrifices preconceptions about the nature of reality’s laws. That mode can be taught. Witness,” and the Other stepped into the phase door, vanished, and reappeared.

“I will train the first of you, and they will train the rest. We will strengthen our roots in this new creative soil. Meanwhile, the Dorsai, Exotic, and Friendly worlds await the return of any natives who desire to finish their part of the species experiment in the arms of tradition in familiar settings. What happens on those worlds no longer concerns us.”

He turned to Amanda and Rukh. “Will you agree to take down the shield if I give you my word that we will not attack you or occupy Earth by force? The details of how and when we land can be worked out later, and the same for the governance structure.”

“Yes,” they agreed together. The milky translucence beyond the window snapped off. Rukh continued: “I will notify the people of Earth of these developments and tell them to offer you no violence.”

Calm brown eyes returned to the screen through which thousands of fellow Others watched this history-making speech. “I have often felt proud of you, but never more than at this moment. Today you have gained a great victory and avoided bloodshed on an interplanetary scale. Earth has been opened to you, and soon the Final Encyclopedia will be as well, just as it is to me now. There is none left to threaten or stifle you as you proceed with your inner growth as individuals and the honing of your talents as Others.

“To you, the outcome of centuries of unconscious historical experimentation, now belongs the future. Walk to it responsibly. You will hear from me again shortly.” The screen went dark.

“Praise be to God,” stated Henry MacLean with a trembling voice, “for saving the soul of my nephew from Satan’s grasp.” His eyes shone with a strange light as he shook the Other’s hand firmly and left the room. The Other technicians followed him out as Toni stepped forward and smiled.

“You won, Bleys, as only you could win.”

He smiled in acknowledgment. “I’ll be with you momentarily,” he said, returning her hug. She bowed briefly and turned away to her right.

Some among the samurai had been masters of iaijutsu, the art of simultaneously drawing the katana and cutting with it. In a blurred iai draw, her left hand took the sword from the scabbard on the Other Man’s hip and aimed for his exposed throat. She would have his head before his phase-jolted reflexes could respond. The Dorsai standing next to him could be a problem, but she was unarmed, and Toni had a lifetime of kenjutsu training behind her natural quickness.

Amanda had instinctively positioned herself on the side of the Other where the claymore hung from his hip. Executing a Highland technique ancient before the Dorsai Academy had been dreamed of, Amanda’s callused left palm slapped the katana’s blade near its hilt. As the blade swung harmlessly overhead, Amada’s fists drew Vindicator reversed, point down, in a slashing counterclockwise arc almost too fast to see.

Toni’s headless body toppled in death.

The tall, dark man regarded it somberly.

“History will remember this,” stated Rukh Tamani from across the room, “as the final action of the Battle of Terra.”

Amanda’s palm bled where the katana had cut it. She wiped it on her pants and, cleaning Vindicator with a fold of Toni’s kimono, resheathed it gently.

“Even after all this time,” said the Other at last, “I still tend to expect the best from people.”

“I know,” said Amanda softly. “It’s one of many reasons that I love you. But I’m not sure I can get used to”—she gestured at him—”this.”

“Is it truly Hal?” asked Jeamus, eyes popping. Ajela and Ruhk nodded, having sensed it along with Amanda.

“Hal with a difference,” Hal explained with the voice of Bleys when they had adjourned to his office. “In addition to taking over the body, I had to incorporate Bleys’s mind into my own.”

“How could one brain hold two minds?” asked Jeamus.

“Because the transient and the eternal are the same,” replied Amanda, looking up at Hal.

“The Creative Universe,” explained Hal, “and the knowledge core of the Final Encyclopedia allowed me to turn what Bleys was into a sub-personality of myself. Long ago, centuries ago, that was how he started, or rather how the conservative racial force he represented started when I split it off from myself. Now, three lifetimes later, I have welcomed it home.”

“Tell us,” said Rukh. “Tell us the tale of what happened to thee over there”….

* * * * *

….At the moment the blade entered his chest, even while consumed with agony, Hal felt a burst of attainment. This was what he had sorrowed, fought, and striven for since before he was consciously aware of the need to strive. And now here he stood, dying as an undefeated warrior true to himself and to his heritage. His legs crumpled under him.

Bleys followed him to the floor. With the full force of his rage uncaged at last from decades of rigorous self-control, he pressed even harder, focus narrowing, face grimacing in battle frenzy, body leaning forward.

Hal’s uninjured right hand snaked upward, grasped the back of his opponent’s neck, and pulled him close until their foreheads touched. Too late, Bleys reached back to unlock Hal’s hand.

“Shai Hal!” —Malachi.

“By bending you overcome.” —Walter.

“From death emerges new life.” —Obadiah.

With the energies of what the Chantry Guild had called the Alternate Laws; with the forces that had sent his persona back in time; with the powers that had turned a walking stick into a bat, made a stone lion howl, and regressed an adult body into a baby orphan alone in a ship drifting near Earth; with all of this consciously arranged in phase latices of poetic justice computed by the Final Encyclopedia, the enduring consciousness of Donal/Paul/Hal shifted out of his dying body and plunged into the swirling dark pool of passions, memories, plans and fears that inhabited the coal-black mind of Bleys Ahrens.

Donal had inhabited a dead body when Paul’s mind moved into a corpse; Hal would take over a live one.

The beautiful face of an ambitious mother; years of labor on Henry MacLean’s farm; terrible stabs of boyhood loneliness; calculating Dahno’s casual cruelty; Toni’s strong arms and soft lips…all of it filtered through Hal’s dominant mind as the black-caped body trembled helplessly. As though alive, Tam’s cloak filled the room with cascading rainbows of light.

“Welcome home,” whispered Hal, “my dragon, my enemy, my brother—myself.”

“NO!” Bleys shouted, physically or mentally Hal could not be sure.

Forging the networks of Others…practice sessions with Toni…ambivalent love for Henry…outmaneuvering heads of worlds…and through it all, an abiding fear of change if humanity moved too far too quickly…

Bleys mustered every ounce of will to resist absorption, but Hal was backed by centuries of experience, and his was the wider and more mature personality. And it was backed by the Encyclopedia’s knowledge, the dynamics of the Creative Universe, and faith, courage, and vision.

Who are you?? Bleys gasped within his mind.

Once, Hal replied a little sadly, I was a professional soldier…

As Bleys shrank to become a shadowy part of Hal’s inner self, long feared but finally accepted, an earthquake began to shake the chamber. Through Bleys’ eyes Hal could see rocks starting to roll cross the trembling plain.

He rose on the feet of his new body, slung both swords over one brawny shoulder, and picked up the corpse of his former body in a fireman’s carry.

Exiting the Tower, he lowered the body to the barren ground and bent to heft rock after rock, each of which he placed carefully into the form of a cairn once seen here through the eyes of Paul Formain.

As he fitted the final stones, a massive shudder made the ground buckle. With the ancient Tower coming apart behind him in a massive clashing of broken stone, he stepped back through the phase wall…

* * * * *

….”What was the last thing he felt?” asked Rukh. The question that might have come from Ajela instead. We have enriched and strengthened each other, Hal thought, just as the Splinter Culture worlds will continue to do now that we have saved them.

“Relief. The relief of the vampire redeemed. His long exile was finally over and the old wound closed at last. In the end, he was right to pursue me, even if for the wrong conscious reasons.”

“And Toni attacked you because she recognized you,” mused Jeamus.

“I’m sure she did. I could wear the Bleys persona well enough to fool her from a distance, for a few moments, but not up close.”

Amanda hugged him tight and kissed him. Her eyes narrowed impishly.

“You know, I could get used to this handsome new you. The dark eyes, the chiseled features….”

“Don’t start.”

She laughed, then sobered. “Seriously, Hal, you can change yourself back, can’t you?”

“Not right away. I’ll need this body while I train the Others, drawing on my Bleys side when I need to. Eventually I’ll go back to dealing with everyone the way Bleys did: primarily through video and other methods of mass communication. Intuitive logic will allow me to make a number of pre-recordings for probable future developments. By the time I turn this body back into my own, the Others will have been reeducated to the point where they can handle it.”

He chuckled briefly. “They have no idea what kind of retraining they’re getting themselves into. One day they will have evolved enough to be more comfortable with Hal than Bleys. A requirement of entering the Creative Universe might be stated as, ‘Abandon all hierarchy, all ye who enter here.’ Now that the war’s over we must abandon it too.” The beginning of a poem by William Stafford rolled through his mind: It is time for all the heroes to go home…

“What about the holdouts? The Others who disagree with the new approach?”

“Henry and his Hounds will keep track of them. As a handful against billions, not to mention their own people, they no longer pose a significant problem.”

Ajela appeared in the doorway, stared in horror at Hal, then smiled as her Exotic sensibilities clued her in. “Hal! The battle’s over! You won!”

* * * * *

The man was unique, but no longer odd.

Hal Mayne, Director of the Final Encyclopedia, watched in satisfaction one year after the Battle of Terra as Rukh Tamani was sworn in as Coordinator for Earth, the best its diverse and willful peoples could do by way of a chief executive position. She would have a busy time of it now that the New Worlds flourished once again and postwar commerce and diplomacy were picking up. Hal’s only regret was that he could not attend the ceremony in person; his face would have shocked the public, and the Others in particular. Most of them still believed Bleys Ahrens to be in charge. They would learn differently soon enough.

As head of the new Chantry Guild, Amid the Exotic was already learning differently. He had called Hal earlier to congratulate him on his victory and to report something previously unheard of among Exotics: a fistfight.

“How is Cee?” Hal asked him.

“Healing well and on her way to becoming the bright and powerful young lady we expected. She has taken to walking the Circle.”

“Already an interest in the spiritual?”

“Well, perhaps not just yet. Walking the Circle was an imposed consequence. She was the one who started the fistfight.”

Hal laughed. It had been a long time since he had allowed himself completely uninhibited laughter. Amid smiled.

“And what do your ontogenetic calculations show about the future?”

Uncharacteristically, the Exotic pursed his lips. “They continue to show you as a pivotal Isolate of significant influence.”

“You need a better word than ‘Isolate.’ I no longer feel isolated from the rest of humanity.”

“You make an interesting point. I’ll mention it to my fellow researchers. But what I’m leading up to is this: You will recall the mistake we made with Donal.”

Hal nodded, remembering. “‘Only intuition…'”

“We are determined not to make that mistake again. Would you be willing to participate in further studies? We are particularly interested in why, despite repeated early traumas, you did not become a Bleys psychologically.”

“You’ll have to come to the Dorsai to study me. After all this time, I’m finally going home. ‘Home’: there’s an important word long missing from the vocabulary of the Others. Exiles among their own people and places. No wonder they tried to remake the worlds into a haven of control for themselves.”

“Indeed. There’s a long precedent of the displaced becoming displacers unless the necessary healing and insight occur.”

“I’m still wondering what ontogenetics has to say not just about me, but about the future of humanity.”

“The way seems clear now, but if the past crisis taught us anything, it’s not to succumb to blind faith in our theories. Just think of it, Hal: we have sixteen small worlds among millions upon millions in our galaxy alone. Who can really say what awaits us out there?”

“Whatever it is, perhaps now we’ll stand a chance of being ready for it.”

As for Ajela, she was facing and managing plenty of challenges in her position as InterWorld Secretary for Education. He glanced at the numbers provided by her office that morning. Emigration between New Worlds had reached a peak, with interchange between the old Splinter Cultures at an all-time high now that their post-conflict economies were picking up. In a generation this cross-fertilization would make the label “Other” meaningless. The race-animal never rested in its attempts to evolve beyond its limitations.

Amanda came into Hal’s office just as Rukh’s swearing-in ceremony ended.

“Rourke sends you his regards,” she said, taking his hand.

“How is he?”

“Happily busy as chief of the InterWorld Constabulary. He and the Grey Captains had been worried about the Dorsai’s prospects given the usual lack of interest in peacetime military employment, but keeping that peace on sixteen worlds provides stabler income than ever. And our people don’t have to end up on opposite sides anymore.”

“Good. How are the Others adapting to the new situation?”

“For the most part realistically and sensibly. They seem to have finally accepted that the universe needs no more Napoleons. Many are making fine leaders. The rest are being watched by Henry and his Hounds. Ajela has them marked down as reeducational priorities.”

Hal chuckled. “Kids in the candy store.”

“Pardon?”

“‘Be careful of what you wish for,’ as the old saying goes. According to Ajela, most of the as-yet unawakened Others now believe their advanced training under ‘Bleys’ will provide them with an even better weapon than crossbred charisma: namely, the Creative Universe itself. ‘Now we will be truly unbeatable!’ Not realizing until too late that training has a way of changing the trainee—in this case into the ethical-responsible individual, for only such may enter the magic kingdom on their own. Ajela says that more and more of them look back at their former power-hungry selves and marvel at their immaturity.”

“Is that how you see your past selves?”

“Sometimes. Like Bleys, they are parts of me, but parts the rest of me has outgrown, even if it took me three lifetimes to do it. The heroic aspiration in particular. We need more stories about the post-heroic. What happens when we outgrow the sword and shield? Another lesson for humanity, or at any rate, for me.”

“So now that you’re not a tool of history anymore, when do we take off for Foralie?”—biting his ear.

“Amanda, I still have so much to do here—”

“—Most of which can be done from a distance or via the Creative Universe. The doorway you’ve opened deprives you of such excuses.”

“Then there’s oversight of what’s left of the Others—”

“Ajela has that well in hand, and your video recordings will take care of the rest.”

“We will have to set things up so the Dorsais will keep quiet about my immigration there…”

“Graemes!” she breathed. “Fast in a fight, but ever slow in love.”

“What do you mean?”

She shook her head. “Don’t you see it yet, genius? Look how many generations it has taken for a Graeme to finally homestead with a Morgan!”

t h e      e n d

 

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