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Part One




Vision Quest

Trail-worn and half-starved, Mazeppa slipped through the undergrowth. His face, body, limbs, recently shaved head, all bore what was left of medicine paint. Its symbols were to help on his vision quest—a very unusual vision quest—and only incidentally served as camouflage.

He was pursued by the shrieks of a blue jay in a giant silver maple. "Man! Man! Man!" it shrieked. "Man! Man! Man!" Mazeppa ignored the racket, and settled onto his belly beside a growth of red osier on the riverbank. After a bit, when he failed to move again, the jay's clamor became erratic, confused, as if the bird had forgotten what it was shouting about. Finally the youth heard its departing wing beats. Somewhere on the terrace behind and above him, a nest of baby robins renewed their querulous cries for food. A parent began sharp, demanding chirps. A little later there was the sound of wings again—one mate returning to the nest, the other departing.

For a time, the only sound besides the peeping nestlings was the barely perceptible murmur of the Misasip: the soft drag of its current along the bank, the faint play of interweaving eddies and subcurrents. The youth's empty belly no longer distracted him as it had the first days, and at a subliminal level each sound registered. He heard it all, understood it all, ignored it all. Had there been a hint of anything worrisome, it would have caught his attention. Meanwhile he simply watched the great river.

Upstream on the far side, another sizeable river joined its waters to the Misasip. At the juncture was an area of many structures, a walled town, and rising within it on the high bank, a higher enclosure of stone, with towers. Mazeppa knew of the great town, and of the towered enclosure called Palace. When he was a little boy, a wandering storyteller had stopped among the people and told of it.

Briefly Mazeppa examined it. Then, on the Misasip itself, a great raft came into view, riding the current, a broad tent near its center. Men lay or moved languidly about. On the stern a man stood holding a long pole that trailed in the water, a very long paddle, Mazeppa realized, for steering. As the raft passed, some hundred yards out, a long canoe overtook it from behind, driven by twenty paddlers, their strokes slow and synchronized. As it overtook the raft, men shouted back and forth. Briefly the raft's steersman sculled as if to keep ahead, but after a few powerful strokes he stopped, his cheerful call belying the fist he shook.

Shortly both craft disappeared downstream. Soon another great canoe appeared, this one from the south, moving slowly upstream, its paddlers digging more quickly, but still synchronized. It too had a tent near the middle. It seemed to Mazeppa a great chief must lie in its shade, perhaps napping. He watched it approach and pass. After a bit, it landed below the enclosure's high stone walls, and men disembarked.

Leaving Mazeppa alone by the hypnotically murmuring river, sunlight dazzling on its water. After an indeterminate time of near-trance, a voice spoke to him, not in his ears but in his mind. He'd expected a voice, but this one? It was, he realized, the voice of Jesus. "Mazeppa," it told him, "someday you will rule all this, you and your people. All of it: the great river and the land along it. Including the great town, and Palace, and all they contain. It is what you were born for."

* * *

Then Mazeppa slept. When he awoke, the sun was behind him, low, missing the water entirely, glowing gold on the treetops along the distant bank. Where he lay, dusk was settling. Quietly he crept backward, away from the shore, quietly got to his feet, and quietly returned to his tethered pony, which had spent the day browsing the undergrowth within its reach.

Despite days of fasting, Mazeppa vaulted onto its back, ready to return home, no longer a boy, a man now, his vision quest completed. He'd ride west as he'd ridden east, following or paralleling the great trail the Sotans had beaten in the earth with their comings and goings.

And mostly he would ride by night, for in this land he was the enemy. Ride watchfully, listening, his nostrils reading the air, and not just for danger. Because now his fast was over, and it was time to kill and eat. There would be something: a porcupine feeding audibly in a treetop, the smell of its careless evacuations rank in the still night air; or a beaver taking advantage of the darkness, dragging a branch to a streambank. Then he would dismount, string his bow, nock an arrow and wait, letting his eyes find the target if they could. Wait till dawn if need be. And after he had killed, thanked his prey and eaten, he would lie up in a thicket well away from the Sotan trail, and sleep, to dream whatever after-dreams might follow Jesus's message. Lie up till sunset. The moon would be halfway up the eastern sky then, mostly full, and he could travel swiftly.


From Galactics 202
Studies in Cosmology


Parallel universes are not generated randomly or regularly. They result when a sophont chooses, knowingly or not, between alternative actions of sufficiently effective differences.

Like a stone thrown into a pond, the results of choice propagate outward in what can be likened to a ripple effect. But unless the matric location is suitably unstable and the initiating decision suits the circumstances, the difference will not maintain itself against the tendency toward the conservation of established universes. The separation does not perpetuate, and only one of the two alternatives continues.

But if the changes are potent enough, "parallel" universes result, or "divergent" universes, if you prefer. (We deal in metaphor here.) Neither universe has any material trace of the other. However, the causal complex persists for a considerable period as shadow events. Thus adepts, by focusing on the divergence zone, can discern and penetrate the event cloud. And with sufficient knowledge of pre-event conditions, can give those perceptions context, and to a degree, identity. In fact, it is by recording the deep-questioning of adepts that the following reconstruction has been assembled.

* * *

In year 1983 of the Terran Common Era, in what we can call the stem universe, a sequence of political events and posturing led to an American naval task force holding exercises in the vicinity of Korea. Within weeks, the government of the Soviet Union replied with a large-scale demonstration of naval power within five hundred miles of the Hawaiian Islands.

Given the experience of 1941, the American Pacific Fleet was sent out to confront it: a response sufficiently threatening, it was misread as an impending attack. Ordered by Soviet Pacific Fleet Command, the Soviet force commander ordered a single tactical nuclear missile launched to destroy the American flagship. However, the order was incorrectly transmitted, and all his missile ships fired.

The Soviet admiral, appalled by the error, immediately notified Moscow. At the same time, an American satellite monitoring the confrontation reported this multi-missile launch, and the U.S. responded immediately with a launch not only against the Soviet task force, but against naval shore targets in the Soviet Far East.

The Soviet chief executive, Yuri V. Andropov, had acted almost as quickly. Assuming the Americans would launch a wider-ranging nuclear response than they actually did, he ordered an ICBM attack on numerous strategic American targets. This massive launch was reported promptly, and the Americans raised the ante "while they still could."

The critical mistransmission of the Soviet admiral's firing order resulted from a choice made by the admiral's signalman—to covertly drink ethanol on watch. It was the kind of choice made innumerable times at every moment in every universe, but this one occurred at a time and place of extreme pregnancy. The result was a space-time bifurcation, and two resultant universes. In one, the drink was taken, in the other it wasn't.

In each, choices made during the next few minutes created a veritable spray of incipient new universes. This seems to be characteristic in the violent decline of sapient life forms. In the universe of interest here, which we will call Universe Terra One, hundreds of fusion warheads exploded in the atmosphere and on the surface. The possibility of such a war had been foreseen. Scientists had predicted not only extensive shock wave and radiation damage, but extensive urban, forest and grass fires; a resulting major increase in albedo that would take years to decline to pre-war normal; the effective destruction of planetary technical infrastructures, including food production and transportation; enormous direct and indirect human fatalities; and the collapse of law and order.

Their predictions, however, were not met. Instead, an unforeseen effect resulted which still is not understood: a major imbalance in the local sector of the underlying creativity matrix. Which was promptly adjusted by the effective erasure of the still localized universe of the cataclysm, that is, its morphing into one in which Terra differed from its precursor in some but by no means all respects. In it, many effects of then-recent Terran history disappeared, remaining only as more or less vague memories in the surviving, ethnically redistributed sophonts. Sophonts confused not only by the new and unexplainable world they found themselves in, but by vague images of horrors in the spray of stillborn universes, horrors that never quite happened.

This is the only known case of a reality matrix rebalancing itself in that manner. Its study gave rise to whole new areas of research, and in time to the cosmology that today we take for granted.



The Book of Renewal, Chapter 1


1 The second millennium had passed since the birth of the Redeemer, and the Lord GOD looked at what man had wrought upon the Earth.

2 HE saw the waters and the air fouled, greed rewarded and virtue scorned.

3 Liars were empowered, their voices entering every home, and their pictures which moved with the semblance of life.

4 And the cities of man were beset with murderers and thieves, tempters and corrupters.

5 Great armies there were, and fleets of warships that fared upon the sea and beneath it, and there were other fleets that flew swiftly in the air.

6 Still other fleets flew above the air, and these were the most terrible, for they had in them such power that a single one of them could destroy a great city and all its people, and poison whole regions of the Earth.

7 And even as HE watched, GOD saw the armies of man move and clash upon the Earth; the fleets on and under the seas destroyed each other; and the fleets that flew in the air wrought havoc upon all they flew over.

8 Then those other fleets took flight which flew above the air.

9 And when they came to earth, the walls of the cities fell as less than rubble; fire and great winds reaped the people like mighty scythes; the sun was masked with blood and the moon hid its face; days became like nights; myriad were the dead, and loud the cries and lamentations.

10 And the Earth in its sorrow was cold beneath the pall of Death, so that the corn did not grow; hay rotted in the windrows and potatoes in the ground.

11 And the armies of man were without rule, sacking and killing, and the children of man were without bread.

12 Pestilence and famine spread across the face of the Earth, even pestilence that was sent not by GOD but by the hand of man, so that few remained of man's multitudes.

13 And bands of the wicked wandered the waste place the Earth had become, murdering with knife and gun, bow and club, stealing bread from the widow and blankets from her children, making slaves of them, and violating them.

14 And many men raised their faces to GOD, crying aloud for mercy, but only a few there were who fell upon their knees, calling out to GOD that they repented, and saying that all which had befallen them was just.

15 And among the Host of Heaven were those who spoke to GOD saying that man was too iniquitous, that the time had come for the final judgment and that the Earth should be cleared of man and all his works.

16 GOD listened to the hosts, but also HE listened to the supplications of those men who were righteous.

17 And in His infinite mercy and His infinite justice, GOD stopped for a space the passing of night and day on Earth.

18 HE made the suffering and dying and life itself to pause and wait, while HE renewed the Earth, recreating it.

19 And on the renewed Earth HE left few works of man; simple tools whereby man could have shelter and bread by the sweat of his brow.

20 For GOD did not return man to the paradise of Eden and the innocence of the beginning.

21 Instead HE took the remnants of the nations of man and divided them into small portions separate from one another in distant places, mingling them, and caused them to forget their pride and their shame, and much else.

22 And charged the Church to teach man to love GOD and his fellow men.




from "Catechism for Cadets"
Commentary on Force and the Order,
Based on Certain Axioms of Saint Higuchi


As Saint Higuchi put it, "the Tao ensouled a suitable primate species here on Earth to evolve out of barbarism in the direction of the angels." But "given the nature and range of human variation, it is often necessary to apply force." Which, acting with the authority of the Church, is the function of our Order. The trick is to choose actions that offer high long-term benefit-to-harm ratios for humankind.

With the corollary that we "wield no more force than necessary, drawing no more notice than need be," while being "as honest and truthful as the circumstances permit." Because "to deceive and defeat in a good cause can be pleasurable and addictive."

That is an explicit part of the rationale behind our vows of temperance in all things—including temperance in righteousness, and in temperance itself.

For "what is called 'righteousness,' " he wrote, "is too often self-righteousness, which poisons decisions while providing a spurious sense of superiority." Furthermore, humans can seldom comprehend true righteousness, only suppositional righteousness, which the Saint, in his 11th Axiom, calls "a snare and a pitfall. Suppositional righteousness," he went on, "was a serious contributor to Armageddon, and no doubt to most of the earlier debacles in human history."

So said the Saint, whom Senior Operations Director Eskonsami Tahmm has called a truly enlightened being by standards anywhere in the Commonwealth of Homid Worlds. Higuchi-sama's 11th Axiom caused the Cultural Oversight Bureau to adopt and support the Order, and the External Security Secretariat to approve the establishment of the Sangre de Cristo Academy. . . .

* * *

In theory this is a straightforward partnership, and the best we're likely to have on Terra until we've grown a lot, spiritually and philosophically, which means for quite a while. Meanwhile we in the Order do the best we can, which, based on performance, is rather good. Perfection is unavailable to human beings (Axiom 5), or to any ensouled life form in the physical universes. Except of course in the most basic sense, in which perfection is unavoidable.

Certainly our principal weakness seems unavoidable, given the free-will character that accompanies sapience in the known and implied universes. For sapience (again according to the Saint) carries with it goals and principles which differ among individuals, and cultures, and societies. And looking beyond humankind, among life forms. Goals and principles which inspire and empower conflicts as minor as what to serve for supper, and as major as whether to destroy a world.

Love and compassion are our saving graces, but (again according to Tahmm) they are not known to manifest sufficiently, in the physical universes, to eliminate conflict. Nor are love and compassion enforceable. Let me repeat that: Nor are they enforceable. Control is often necessary, but it is at best a mechanism for coping, not for healing. Spiritual evolution—with the consequent enlightenment—is the mechanism for healing.

—Kabibi Christian



The Vicinity of Sol 9
GPV 1219-28-99206


The ship had begun as an express package carrier in the Borgith Sector. After forty-seven years it was put up for sale, and through an intermediary was bought by a Fohannid chaos cult that called itself "the Helverti."

The Helverti had the vessel modified as a yacht, and renamed it what best translates as Satan's Delight, or The Delight of Chaos. For in Fohannid mythology, the Evil Principle is personified as the Lord of Chaos.

Now, nearly four long hyperspace years from their home world, her skipper watched the shuttle emerge from the Delight's shuttle lock. For a few seconds the shuttle's navcomp read and analyzed the gravitic plexus, then she disappeared into warp space with seven cult members.

With that, the Delight's skipper activated his gravdrive and took his ship down to the dead, frozen surface of what, in a different universe, was known as Charon. There, he and his crew—all but one—would take to their stasis lockers. At the end of every shipsweek, the crewman on duty would waken his or her replacement to stand watch, to monitor the automated systems checks, as required by the owners and by prudence.

In not too many years, with a bit of luck, the owners would lift shuttle and beam a signal to the ship, which would read it and waken the entire crew. If there was no signal, eventually the ship would waken them without one, and they'd be free to leave. For the Commonwealth's Cultural Oversight Bureau would have monitors on Sol 3, and no one could guarantee a successful mission. In fact, risk was an important part of the charm that had drawn the Helverti so many parsecs from r'Fohann.

Another part of the charm was the indigenes. From all the Helverti could learn—and they'd studied everything available and seemingly pertinent—the indigenes themselves presented risks. Opportunities and risks.



A Message from God


Helverti Chief had scratched politely on the tipi flap. Mazeppa Tall Man's junior wife, Trains Horses, had unfastened the flap and let him in. Mazeppa gestured Helverti Chief to sit beside him, on a buffalo robe near the fire. Trains Horses quickly refastened the flap, for autumn was well advanced, and the day raw and windy. And cloudy, and the fire had burned down to little more than embers. Much of what light there was in the tipi entered through the smoke hole overhead.

When both men were seated, Mazeppa's senior wife added small pieces of dry aspen to the fire.

Mazeppa was an imposing man, his wide shoulders muscular, arms long and sinewy, hands large. His hair was sun-bleached, pale as straw on top, his large mustache red-gold, and his eyes chestnut brown. From a rack he took a pipe, not his long-stemmed ceremonial pipe, but of redstone nonetheless, inviting serious talk. Filling its carved bowl with tobacco, he tamped it, and using a wooden-handled trade spoon, lifted an ember from the fire. Holding it to the bowl, he inhaled, a series of short kiss-like inhalations. The resulting smoke was fragrant, even amidst the pungence of burnt buffalo dung.

He held the pipe upward, offering it first to God, then to Helverti Chief, who called himself Jorval. As always, Jorval took a single mouthful of smoke and released it without inhaling. He'd learned earlier that his lungs and throat did not tolerate such concentrated fumes; they'd nearly strangled him.

For a long minute the chief smoked thoughtfully, seeming to ignore his guest, who had thoughts of his own. Before leaving r'Fohann, Jorval had viewed all the publicly available cubes that long ago survey scouts had covertly recorded among the buffalo peoples. Solitary scouts, Fohanni like himself because of their resemblance to humans. Faces depilated, they'd posed as holy wanderers, staying a few days or perhaps weeks at a camp, their physical oddities adding to their acceptance as holy.

The first Xiox survey team had arrived in post-Armageddon Year 14, discovered the totally unexpected Shuffling, and created rough and ready policies and procedures for anthropological studies. Since then, new, better-prepared expeditions had been sent, first at thirty-year intervals. Recorded on cube, the raw data, with commentaries and analyses, was voluminous.

Jorval had begun by reading the written summaries, then formed a basic project concept centered on the buffalo peoples of what once had been called North America. Next, using illicit language cubes, he'd invested two weeks on "forced learning" and drilling the Merkan language. Afterward he reviewed the publicly available survey cubes on the buffalo people. Their oral traditions were not particularly rich, and less perceptive than those of the tribes who'd dwelt there before Armageddon. The indigenous tribal survivors, more at home, and less traumatized and confused, had been leaders in the recovery. This, along with the nature of the environment, had inevitably caused the emerging new tribes to assume certain features. But the "inshuffled" elements had been much more numerous, and arrived with their own cultural inclinations. Thus, while the cultural similarities between the traditional Dakotah and post-Armageddon Dkota were conspicuous, the differences were significant.

Based on maps, Jorval had chosen the Dkota to work with; they'd seemed the most suitably located. During the weeks since his first visit, he'd enlarged and refined his knowledge, while carefully nurturing Mazeppa's trust and friendship.

He had not, however, foreseen the tipi's smoky reek. It had bothered him from the beginning, even though the tipi had not been buttoned shut on his previous visits. And immunological wizardry, so important in interplanetary commerce, didn't cover every allergy, every idio-sensitivity. So he minimized his exposure by minimizing the time spent inside.

With a sharpened and feathered stick, Mazeppa dug the dottle from his pipe and looked again at his guest. "The time of ponds freezing will soon be upon us," he said, "and soon after that, winter. Then some of our bands will move into soddies until the time of mud. Which will be a long time from now."

"I have never experienced a Dkota winter," Jorval replied. "Perhaps you will advise me."

"You will need warm clothes."

"We brought some with us. All we will need."

Mazeppa wondered what those warm clothes would look like. Not, he supposed, like his own. Nothing about the sky people was like the Dkota, except their basic human appearance, and even that was peculiar. "What do you eat in winter?" he asked.

"We have brought food with us, food we are used to, but to ensure we have enough, I hope to trade with your people for meat."

Mazeppa nodded gravely. "We have smoked much buffalo, and soon, when it is colder, we will kill more, freezing it."

Again they sat briefly without talking. It was polite to talk about lesser topics before discussing what was on one's mind. Mazeppa knew too little about the sky people for easy small talk, but after a minute or two he spoke again.

"Before, when you visited, you came in a smaller sky canoe. Today you came in a large one. Why is that?"

"With your agreement, this time I would like to stay for several days. The larger sky boat will be more comfortable, and has room for more of us to stay in. So I have brought my nephew, Ench, son of my sister. Also Lorness and Harmu, whom you have already met. And others. But we are a shy people. Those of us who do not need to be among your people will keep largely to themselves. That is why we landed a little distance away."

Mazeppa nodded thoughtfully. "Did Helverti Chief come to my lodge to speak about something in particular?"

"I did. It has been waiting to be said since I came here the first time, but it was too important to speak of so soon. Now the time has come. That is, if Mazeppa Tall Man feels ready to talk about something greatly important."

Again the stolid nod. "I am interested in hearing what the Helverti chief, my friend Jorval, has to tell me."

Even now Jorval was not quick to speak, as if considering how best to start. When he began, it was with a story already part of Dkota lore, recorded early by survey scouts. In fact, it had been recorded among the other buffalo tribes as well.

"The story began a long time before Armageddon and the Shuffling," Jorval said. "Buffalo people dwelt on these same grasslands, living as you live. And then as now, dirt-eaters lived in the country east of the grassland. Over time, the dirt-eaters became more and more numerous, and decided they wanted the grassland for themselves. So they chose to behave against the way of the Great Spirit. They invented new and more deadly weapons that enabled them to kill many at once, from a distance. Then, because the dirt-eaters were not brave, they attacked the buffalo instead of the people of the buffalo, killing them in great numbers and leaving them to rot, until none were left. When the buffalo were gone, the buffalo people grew weak with hunger, and the dirt-eaters attacked them in force. They killed most of the buffalo people, and the rest they turned into two-legged dogs who had to do what the dirt-eaters told them to do."

He shrugged with both shoulders and hands, in the manner of the Dkota. "Afterward the dirt-eaters fought each other, until they destroyed the world."

Mazeppa had heard all this before. His people had told it through the generations. But he didn't say "yes yes" as if to hurry Helverti Chief. He simply, stolidly listened.

Jorval continued: "Then the Great Spirit remade the world, and the people who were left, He scattered. He renewed the buffalo people, along with the buffalo, the wolf, the yellow bear and all the rest. And the dirt-eaters. And He told all those who walked on their hind legs that if they destroyed the world again, they would receive no further chance. They would dwell forever in the place of fire.

"These things you know without my telling them."

Only now did Mazeppa nod, still waiting. Helverti Chief's gaze remained on the small flames dancing on the shrunken branchwood. Mazeppa wondered what he saw there besides the fire. "But there is more to the story. You Dkota have not heard it all. Along the Misasip, the dirt-eaters have once more begun to look at the grassland. In their greed, they have begun to think again that they would like to have it for themselves. Some of their chiefs have begun to talk about destroying the buffalo, and once more turning the buffalo people into dogs. So the Great Spirit has sent us, the Helverti, to warn you: you must not let them do this evil. You must attack them first, defeat them in war, burn their villages and towns, kill their cattle. And let them know the buffalo people are not theirs to rule."

A chill ran through Mazeppa. It had been one thing to hear Helverti Chief repeat what his own people already knew. That had been only a story. But this? This was prophecy!

Jorval got to his feet. "That is why I have come to Mazeppa Tall Man. The Great Spirit has chosen the Dkota to carry out His wishes, and He has chosen Mazeppa Tall Man to lead the Dkota.

"Now I will return to the large sky canoe, and give you time to contemplate my words. I have not come to command you, only to tell you that the Great Spirit has appointed the Dkota and Mazeppa Tall Man to carry out his wishes. To do it or not is up to you. But if you decide not to, He will not turn elsewhere. He will let the dirt-eaters do as they please, and when they have destroyed the world again, He will not put it back. Instead, all the beings who walk on their hind legs will dwell in the sea of fire forever. Except for His servants, the Helverti."

* * *

Trains Horses had heard all of it. She unfastened the door for Helverti Chief, whom she thought of as Sky Chief, and refastened it when he'd left. She and Mazeppa's senior wife did not look openly at their husband, but sat on their robes, their bone needles, teeth, and sinew threads busy. Neither entirely trusted Sky Chief, and wondered if his words could possibly be true.

Mazeppa, however, did not wonder. Remembering his vision quest, and what Jesus had whispered to him, he believed with certainty. For years he'd been preparing for this day without ever wondering why Jesus had told him what he had. He'd even succeeded in allying the Ulster people with the Dkota. And contemplated doing more, but had delayed, for it seemed to him his people would not yet agree to it.

Now he knew what to do. Not do it now, for winter would soon arrive, but after the snow had melted and the willow buds were opening.



Memorandum of Transmittal
dated GPV 1211-27-931130



You should already have seen the official report on the Helverti incursion. Now I'm sending a detailed, verikal-assisted debrief of the mission leader, filled in with sections of verikal debriefs of others involved. No one was coerced to talk.

I have filled minor gaps with my—ahem!—own judicious conjectures.

Precautions were taken to safeguard technical security, an interesting exercise in misdirection.

It's been quite a project. Enjoy!




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