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In The Realm Of The Heart, In The World Of The Knife

Wayne Wightman


Obese and sweating, Errit Stattor strolled smiling through his outer office, reviewing those who served him. He tried to be humble. The archaic incandescent lighting made his aides look paper-yellow, hollow-eyed, and slack. When he entered those immense and weirdly anachronistic stained-glass doors, all voices ceased, all movement stopped, and in a single motion, everyone stood. They bowed, and as he passed by them, he smiled and nodded.

"Please," he said, "please sit—these formalities . . ." But they remained standing and bowing. Stattor sighed. "Your devotion impresses me," he said, "but . . . please . . ." No one sat, and he was impressed, but today, as he reviewed them, smiling, the fat of his cheeks pushed up in tight sweat-sheened balls beneath his eyes, he had more reason to appear pleased than they could know. Today, at 11:00 A.M., Usko Imani was going to be brought to him. She was the last woman who had voluntarily made love to him, and he had not seen her in twenty years, as of today. Seeing her, speaking to her, was to be a sort of anniversary gift to both of them. It was one of the several loose ends in his life that remained to be tied up.

As Stattor crossed through his office, sweat ran in crooked streams out of his scalp, and he smelled of deceased generations of sweat-loving bacteria. It was unfortunate, he knew; he did what he could about it, but nothing helped much. No one mentioned it.

With the yellow light hazing the air, Stattor's two dozen aides remained standing beside their desks, bowed and dead-faced, waiting for him to complete his passage among them.

Supervisor Stattor surveyed the nerve center of his domain, the place where he could order any action on any of twenty thousand worlds, and today he felt not only a peculiar sense of serenity beyond that which he normally experienced, but he also felt one of those increasingly frequent twinges of immortality. It seemed as though something grandly mysterious was about to happen to him. He suspected that it would not happen to him today—but then, it would happen, and it would be a surprise . . . . And it would be strange and wonderful, and this entire branch of humanity would know of it, because he was Errit Stattor, Supervisor of United Tarassis, and he had opened to mankind the treasures of alien technologies, and he was admired and respected on more worlds than he could comprehend. Without him, they knew and he knew that they would have become backward, a slave race, trashlife.

"Please," he said, "be comfortable. Treat me as anyone else."

No one moved, and Stattor appreciated their devotion.

He nodded and smiled at his personnel and left them in the yellow-aired room. The crystalline door of his private office sensed his presence, opened, and he passed grandly through it.

Alone, he folded forward and clasped his distended guts in his arms. His intestines felt like a tangle of fire, and waves of pain flowed up his legs and pooled in his thighs, reservoirs of agony. Being chain-whipped, he thought, would probably not hurt more. After so many organ replacements, so much reconstructive surgery, and with fifteen or twenty biomechs floating somewhere beneath his tides of fat, with all this, he could not walk far, or sleep well, or think as sharply as he once could. But he no longer needed to.

From a dozen light-years above the hub of the galaxy, in this space station that housed over 14,000 workers, he directed the ebb and flow of wealth and workers from world to world, eliminating obstacles and annoyances as this part of humanity moved in a swarming tide across the galaxy.

Stattor forced himself erect. The sight of his office usually soothed him. Standing just inside the doorway, on the carpeted area, where those who came to see him would stand, he relished the awesomeness of his design. The entry area was carpeted with the textured skin of some alien beast or other, but this was just a small part of his vast office, which was inside a transparent blister on one of the non-rotating rings of the station. To approach Stattor's gleaming desk, one had to step onto the thermoplast floor where underfoot, looking close enough to touch, stars and gasses defiled the purity of the void.

When one came to do business with Stattor, to ask his aid or intercession, one felt suspended in space, and Stattor would sit at his shining black desk, smiling, saying, "Please, allow me to help you. Ask what you need." And behind him, through the transparency, the frozen hub of the galaxy was smeared across half the sky. Just above his head and to the right was a globular cluster that looked too perfect to be real. Sitting there, like that, listening and smiling, Stattor listened and judged.

But now he hobbled to his specially designed chair, sank into it, and felt it adjust to him, caress him, comfort and hold him.

He rummaged through one of the desk drawers, pawing over his pharmaceuticals for help with his legs. They had been tingling since he had awakened. His right shoulder felt bruised for some unknown reason, and for three days now, his hands trembled. There were so many things in the drawer that he knocked it shut and leaned back and tried to breathe deeply. Phlegm rattled in his throat.

He thought of food. Sometimes that helped. He so loved to eat, to chew, and churn his tongue through the flavors and then to feel them slide down his throat and enter his body . . . .

He had eaten with Usko Imani many times, long ago, in other days. Her fingers were long, delicate, and had wrapped like flower vines around . . .

He thought of food. He knew it was a weakness. Aside from opening up a new world of technology, Stattor loved nothing more than feeling thick sweet creams slicking the insides of his cheeks—or the oily spiciness of rare meat flooding across his tongue and through his mouth. In the privacy of his opulent living quarters, he would sometimes hold in his hand a cluster of some exotic fruit and slowly crush it and drink the cool juices from the cup of his palm. He adored these moments.

His stomach rumbled and burned. He wondered if Usko Imani was as close to death as he was. She had been imprisoned for seventeen years now at a labor camp. Most inmates lived only half that long. Something tickled in Stattor's throat. As he coughed it up and reswallowed it, needles of pain arced from his chest down to his arms. From his tunic he took a beta-blocker and swallowed it dry. When the pain subsided, he reached, without looking, to touch the call button on the autovox. He wanted to call Zallon, his chief aide, to ask about Usko, but his fingers missed the call button completely and fell through empty air.

The autovox had been moved.

Zallon had rearranged the position of the autovox without asking him.

Stattor remembered mentioning two days previously that it sometimes hurt his arm to reach across the desk to it. So Zallon had taken it upon himself to move it to the corner of the desk nearest Stattor's right hand. And he hadn't asked. And, Stattor noticed, in its current position, it blocked his view through the curved plastic bubble of a particularly attractive nebula, the Stattor Nebula. From the comfort of his chair, he could only see the upper right corner of it.

What had Zallon been thinking?

Stattor fumbled his numbed fingers over the face of the autovox and depressed the call button. "Zallon," he said, "come to me."

The door to the outer office instantly irised open and the chief of staff entered, his flat eyes shrouded in the shadows of his eye-ridges. His eyelids were very thick, as though he had some exotic disease. "Yes sir?"

"The autovox . . ." Stattor said, raising his eyebrows and putting an apologetic smile on his face. "I reached for it, and . . . it had been moved. I know you must have gone to some trouble." He imagined that he looked like anyone's uncle.

Zallon's throat convulsed as he swallowed. "If it caused you any inconvenience, Supervisor, I deeply regret—"

"Is Usko Imani going to be here by eleven?"

"Yes, Supervisor." His shrouded eyes glittered with fear. "She's on the station now. They're cleaning her up." "Fine." Stattor smiled pleasantly at Zallon. "Bring me the dispersal list. I'll look at that before she gets here."

"Yes, Supervisor." Zallon nodded and quickly departed. The crystalline door irised shut behind him.

Again, Stattor glanced at the repositioned autovox. It completely blocked the lower left corner of his nebula. He deeply regretted that, and something would have to be done. There were few pleasures left in his life, and the view from his desk was one of them. Zallon should have consulted him. Something should be done.

He leaned back in his chair and it adjusted to him. Lately he had felt more comfortable alone, much unlike the old days. In his thoughts he saw the face of Usko Imani, twenty years ago, when he had last seen her, several years before he had ordered her arrest and imprisonment at an outer world mining camp where alien lowlife and criminal humans worked side by side, clawing chromium ore out of subterranean dirt. Now, today, he would see her again and have the chat he had planned for two decades.

Ghostly silent, Zallon returned and moved across the carpeted entryway onto the transparent floor. He laid the list precisely in front of Stattor.

"If my actions have displeased you, Supervisor—"

At the slightest motion of Stattor's head, Zallon left the office, silent as air, the door closing behind him.

Usko Imani had been beautiful. Once they had made love, and he remembered those moments more clearly than he remembered the day he made himself Supervisor of United Tarassis. He remembered her hands and her lips—he remembered the way she laughed and the way, that one time, her hands had touched him.

He fingered the dispersal list, not looking at it, and let his thoughts drift over the early years when she and Stattor and a handful of others had struggled in the corporate courts, suing for the right to borrow technology from alien cultures, and then maneuvering to set up United Tarassis. She had been undeviating in her loyalty and purpose and as idealistic as she had been beautiful. And, in the end, after the tired degenerate government had granted their petition, United Tarassis moved on hundreds of alien worlds, taking what was useful and selling the rest. Finally, United Tarassis had become the government.

He remembered the day of the court's final decision in their favor . . . they had celebrated, he and Usko alone, and without expecting it or knowing what it would lead to, they had made love—for the first and only time. He had been different then. The world had been new and wide and various, and in the unknown he saw beauty and richness and joy.

His eyes stopped on the repositioned autovox. He wondered what other action Zallon might be capable of without telling him.

He gazed at the list lying on the desk before him . . . the dispersal list . . . it consisted of the names of those who no longer functioned effectively in the workings of the corporation. It was a grim task, looking over the names—but he did it, sparing some nameless underling the guilt of passing the names on to the Action Committee. But Stattor was used to it. These were the names of the unreliable and the potentially unreliable who would be sedated and shot into the core of the space station where their component molecules would separate and give up their energies to power the station's lights for several evenings, provide heat and comfort and enable the work of probing distant worlds to go on. Here, nothing was wasted.

He usually gave the lists only a cursory glance and then forwarded them to the Action Committee. It was his prerogative, of course, to put a checkmark beside the name of any person he decided to exempt from execution.

Most of the names were unfamiliar. Blisson, E., . . . Lanyon, R., . . . Blodian, A.

Aros Blodian was on the list? Stattor remembered him from twenty or more years ago. He and Usko and a dozen others had worked for the same goals, for the advancement of humankind through the use of alien resources. But then . . . Stattor vaguely remembered ordering Blodian to be confined for some reason or other—but the recollection was unclear. And now one of the Division heads was asking for Blodian's dispersal.

Stattor turned his chair to face the galaxy-smeared void. Those old days always seemed warm and fragrant when Stattor thought of them, and for a few moments, the constriction in his chest loosened and he could breathe easier. Blodian had been one of the inner members of the movement until . . . until what?

Stattor gazed above the glow of the galaxy's hub into the emptiness and remembered one evening in particular, sitting with Aros beside a rippled lake, the purple sky paling to a cream color over the rounded mountains. They had been discussing the construction of probe stations like the one in which Stattor now sat and meditated on the loose ends of his life.

He and Aros were on a planet that had evolved only vegetation, and there, amid the tree-ferns and thick-leafed shrubs, beside the warm water of the lake, they had felt comfortable to sit without much talking and to listen to the water lap at the pebbled shore. The air had been rich with the smells of earth, and for the moment, everything was beauty, quiet, and pleasure.

And Usko had been there, he remembered suddenly. Yes, Usko had been there, and he remembered her laughing—she had come up from the shore, laughing and carrying a thick bouquet of colorful weeds. How strange that he should remember such details now, from so long ago and so far away, from such an ancient evening.

Stattor took up a pen and started to place a checkmark next to Blodian's name. For old times' sake. He had been a friend. And now he was probably old and gnarled and with none of the fire he had had in former days when he would take on the most dangerous of schemes, and through courage alone, force them to success. The autovox chirped.

Stattor reached for it, without looking, and his hand dropped through the air, touching nothing. He glared at the machine.

"What," he said, barely parting his teeth when he spoke.

Zallon's voice was restrained. "Usko Imani has arrived, Supervisor."

Stattor inhaled deeply. His stomach rumbled and his back ached. What would she think of him? Would she recoil at his fatness? He wanted her to like him. Would she be gray and old and unrecognizable?

Stattor tried to calm himself by gazing again into space. The churning hub of the galaxy lay frozen before him. It seemed as though it had paused for the period of his lifetime so he could look upon it, become familiar with it, and use it for humankind. Years ago, he could stare at those trailing billows of stars for hours, but, now, in truth, the part he most liked to look upon was the area above the galaxy, beyond the sprinkle of globular clusters, higher up, where there was darkness, emptiness, and only the occasional blemish of a distant smear of stars. The smoothness of the black, the absence of matter, of life, those were the things that now appealed to him. Something grand approached.

Stattor turned his chair back to face the door from the waiting room, positioned his feet beneath his weight, braced his hands on his desk, and stood.

In the instant before he spoke to the autovox, he thought of her lips and hands, of how once she had looked at him and how once she had touched him. . . .

"Send her in," he said.

In the several seconds before the door irised open, he started to feel oppressed by the heaviness of his body, and he felt the rolls of fat pressing against each other around his neck and around his stomach. A dozen pains sparkled in his ankles, and it was no wonder, he thought, that his body was trying so desperately to die.

The door opened.

Usko Imani had been a square-shouldered, strong-bodied woman with long, tight-curled blond hair, a woman whose footing on the earth had been as solid as her belief in Stattor and the blending of alien and human technologies. As long as Stattor had known her, all those years, he had never suspected that she ever felt any doubt about what she was doing or her purpose in the world. When it came to her belief in utilizing alien ways, she never hesitated, whatever it cost her.

But now she hesitated. She stood in the doorway, stooped and gray-skinned, her hair a thinning shag of frizz across parts of her scalp. Inside the person who stood on the carpeted entryway, staring at the transparent floor before her, Stattor could detect only the faintest ghost of who she had been.

She glanced to either side of the doorway, then across to Stattor, and then behind him at the shimmering hub of the galaxy.

"Come in," he said, gesturing at one of the chairs. "Please."

Tentatively, she moved into the room, placing her feet on the transparent floor, as though she might disturb the universe with her passage. She sat down very slowly, her black prison garb pulling tight at her bony joints. She allowed her gaze to meet his.

Stattor smiled. "It's been a long time," he said. "How many years?"

"Twenty, I guess," she said unsurely. Her voice was gravelly and low and the right side of her mouth drooped when she spoke. She folded her knobby hands on her lap. "A long time."

Stattor lowered his mass into his chair. The pain in his ankles was replaced by a tight compressed feeling in his spine. "A long time," he repeated, "Twenty years, exactly, as of today."

"I didn't know that," she said. "I didn't think I'd see you again."

"Life is mysterious, isn't it? I've been feeling the need to tie up some loose ends," he said. He paused and nodded his head backward at the stars. "Up here, apart from any world, it's easy to forget one's past. By the way, do you remember Aros Blodian? I was thinking of him today."

Her old face looked vaguely surprised. "Of course I remember him. Where is he? Is he here?"

"I was thinking of a time when the three of us were at a lake, it was evening, and you were coming up from the shore. You were laughing. It's kind of a mental snapshot."

She looked at him blankly. "I can't remember."

Stattor shifted in his chair. His stomach burned a little on one side. His hands ached again too. "You probably wonder why I sent you to prison. You hadn't done anything disloyal to United Tarassis."

She nodded. "I wondered," she said slowly, the one side of her mouth dead and unmoving, "but I always understood."

"You understood?"

"Sometimes things have to be done that seem unfair. The individual sometimes has to sacrifice himself in that way, for the benefit of others."

"You never grew bitter? You never cursed me for your years in prison?"

She glanced at the floor, seemed uncomfortable, and moved in her chair with a tired nervousness. "It's because of you that our race has advanced to its position. You led us in the exploration of alien cultures. If my imprisonment helped humankind—and it did, or you wouldn't have put me there—then I have lived my life just as I always wanted."

With one finger, Stattor wiped the sweat out of the fold of skin beside his mouth. "I had forgotten how devoted you were. Tell me what life in prison was like."

"In camp, we got news every week," she said, "so I know what you've accomplished in all these years." She cleared her throat and ran the back of one hand across her temple, as though she were pushing back her short bristly hair. "I was in a support camp on Perda, 37th Sector. It's a cold place." She held out her left hand for him to see the missing fingertips. "We had aliens working in the chromium mines nearby. In my camp, we sewed shirts and pants for them, and in the last six years, we made shoes once every two months. Since we got heaters in a year ago, I could cut out ninety-six pairs of soles a day." She reversed her folded hands. "I have friends there. . . . I haven't been lonely. But it is cold. The ground is frozen most of the year." Her face brightened momentarily. "There're birds there." She shook her head as though chastising herself. "They were insects, but they were so big we thought of them as birds. Two weeks a year, in the warm season, they migrate south, and they sing." She looked weakened, haggard and old, but she did not look unhappy. "In ways I don't understand, my imprisonment served the higher destiny of mankind. I'm not bitter."

"You suffered," Stattor said.

"Everyone suffers."

"Have I suffered?" Stattor said, spreading his arms at the stars.

"You guided us." Her voice was firm. "Without you, we would still be in our provincial human backwater, weak and struggling for any step of progress."

Stattor leaned forward on his desk. He was smiling. The desk creaked under his weight. "You no longer have to suffer, Usko. I've set up a physical rehabilitation program for you, and when you've recovered, you'll be given living quarters on the world of your choosing, transportation privileges wherever you want to go, and an allotment of 500,000 credits a year."

She stared at him, and it seemed that for a full half minute she did not register what he had said.

"How much did they pay you on Perda?" he asked. She swallowed heavily, her chin dipping as she did so. "They put 200 a year into an account for each of us."

"And how much have you earned so far?"

She shook her head helplessly. "I can't figure like that anymore."

"You may not know," Stattor said, "there's a severance tax of 28 percent. A prisoner who completes his sentence is required to pay for the food he has eaten." He smiled. "The severance tax was my idea."

"If it hadn't been necessary for our cause, you wouldn't have done it."

Stattor shook his head. This was the Usko Imani of his memories. When he had doubts, he had only to speak to her; her vision was intensely single-minded, sincere, and idealistic. She was unique. In part, that was why he had sent her to Perda.

"Would you like a drink?" Stattor asked suddenly.

"I haven't had a drink in—"

He pressed the call button and said to Zallon, "Bring Ms. Imani a gin and lemon." Stattor turned back to Usko and said, "That was your favorite drink. I remember. Perhaps you'll still have a taste for it." He leaned back in his chair. "No one was ever more dedicated to our cause than you. I admired you. I envied you for that. I remember a justice named Kudensa, a skinny, reactionary low-grade. . . . Do you remember him?"

She shook her head.

"You volunteered to bed him, to get information, although we all knew what he would put you through."

Still, she was shaking her head.

"I remember it took eight weeks for you to recover."

She looked blank. "Did I get the information?"

Stattor nodded. "You did." He thought he saw her face start to relax.

Zallon entered with a tray, from which he took the cloudy yellow drink and placed it in Usko's hands with a linen napkin. Without a sound, the aide left the office.

"It was very loyal of you to do that." Stattor said.

"I don't remember it. It couldn't have hurt me badly. The good of humankind is important. I've served that."

"You're the only person who could say that that I would believe. That's why I put you in prison."

She had her drink halfway to her lips—her gnarled hands stopped there.

"Because of your idealism," Stattor explained. "That's why you spent twenty years in prison."

"I don't understand."

Stattor shrugged and sipped his drink. "Let's talk about the old days for a minute. Do you remember the Setback? When we lost nearly all of our secret council?"

Her face went suddenly grim. "I remember. On Perda, every year, we have half a day off to remember and study the works of those we lost. And to read the story of Kenda Dean, the informer."

"You knew Kenda well, didn't you?"

"I never suspected he could do such a thing—or that the government had been paying him the whole time. I accept it now, but I never understood it."

"You never understood it because he didn't do it. I did it. I informed."

She looked at him as though he were still speaking. Then, suddenly, she laughed, and he remembered how, long ago, she had laughed. He remembered her lips as she had come up from the lakeside. He remembered her hands and he remembered the morning they had awakened in each other's arms.

"It's true," he said. "I informed on them all."

"You didn't. You couldn't have."

"The government police had been paying me for almost a year prior to that. I used the police to eliminate opposition to my chairmanship of the movement."

"You couldn't—"

"I did it for myself. I have always done everything for myself."

"This is some kind of test," she said. "You're testing me in some clever way. You could never do such a thing. You've led the human race to dominance in the galaxy. You've devoted your life to—"

"To the acquisition of power," he said. "I did it for myself."

"I won't believe this."

"Believe it. I did it because I wanted everything, and everything is mine now." He grinned. "Everything. You're mine."

"That isn't true. It's a lie, a test."

"It isn't wise, Usko, to tell Supervisor Stattor that he is lying. Normally, those who accuse me of lying are thrown into the core of the station." He smiled a bit more fiercely. "Then we can turn our thermostats up a few degrees."

"You couldn't have done that."

"If you don't tell me that you believe me, Usko, you'll be back cutting out your ninety-six pieces of shoe leather before the day is over. You'll do it till you die." He paused. "By the way, do you know where your 'leather' comes from?"

"Animals," she said tentatively.

"If you think your supervisor is incapable of betrayal and cruelty, I'll tell you where your shoe leather comes from." He waited for her response, but she said nothing. He leaned forward and the desk creaked under his weight. "Do you believe me?"

"Whatever you did, you did for the advancement of knowledge and for the security of the human race."

"I did it because I don't like competition, either from humans or trashlife. I had your friends butchered because they were in my way."

"You can't make me believe this," she said firmly. She sat up straighter and reached forward to put her drink on the edge of his desk. "We all sacrificed for our people, not for ourselves. I knew you well."

"You never knew me," he said. He leaned back and laced his fingers over his rolled stomach. For a moment, he seemed to be chewing something. "You're overburdened with misinformation. Let me clarify your situation. You have a choice. You can tell me that you believe me—that I informed on your friends and as a result they were sliced. Then you can walk out of here, have a warm place to live, and 500,000 credits a year. Or you can believe that this is a test, that Supervisor Stattor is lying to you, and that, Usko, is treason. For treason, you will spend the rest of your life dying on Perda, cutting shoe soles out of 'leather'."

Whatever small thing Stattor had sucked out of his teeth, he swallowed. "Well?" he asked.

Her age, her fear, and her dread pushed her deeper into her chair. She had lowered her head and Stattor could see the dry frizzy hair that grew there in erratic patches.

She looked up. Above the mouth that was twisted by paralysis, her eyes sparkled as though they were filled with chips of silver. "You brought me here to offer me comfort and disgrace or a slow death for a wasted life. Why?"

"I'm an insecure man. I sleep better when I know that others operate from self-interest. Your idealism makes me . . . uneasy." Stattor smiled. "When you accept my offer of generosity, you'll be as corrupt as the rest of us. There's no reason for you to go back to prison now, because the ideal you sacrificed for was an illusion."

"You're taking the one thing . . ."

Stattor smiled even harder. "And we used to think human nature was so damned mysterious." He pressed the call button on the autovox and Zallon entered immediately. "See that Ms. Imani has priority transportation to the rehabilitation center. Her welfare is of special importance to me."

"I understand."

"That's gratifying," Stattor said.

As Zallon helped her out of her chair, she said, "If I were strong enough to use these hands—"

"We mustn't let our lives be spoiled with regrets," Stattor said pleasantly.

As Zallon helped Usko through the door, she looked back once, it was just a glimpse, and Stattor was reminded of the other reason he had sent her to prison. It happened so many years ago, when they had awakened in each other's arms. She had slept so beautifully, her smooth, translucent eyelids closed over her quiet eyes—and then she had awakened and her eyes had opened suddenly and she had looked at him. There, wrapped in the sheets, with the morning sun streaming across the room, she had looked at him with that same expression—a kind of horrified surprise.

The door irised shut behind them, and Stattor nodded to himself. Yes, it was probably at that moment, with the sun filling the room—and he remembered there was a bowl of oranges on a table, radiant with sunlight—it was at that moment that he decided that some way, somehow, he would do this to her, and not long after that he began giving information to the government police.

So now it had all worked out. The loose end was tied to everything else.

He swept his hand across the lower part of his stomach. He did not feel so bad now. Neither his arms nor his legs ached, and his stomach did not seem filled with bile.

Stattor turned in his chair and gazed out the transparent bubble at the churning hub of the galaxy and then at his globular cluster. But beyond those stars, in the textureless black, there was what drew his eyes. When he looked into it, he almost felt his soul drawn out of his bloated and diseased body and sent into a place where there was neither light nor matter nor decay nor care. The autovox chirped.

"Supervisor," Zallon's voice said gently, "there is the matter of the dispersal list."

Stattor grunted and spun his chair to face the desk again. The list lay there, face up, awaiting his final decision whether or not to exempt any of the condemned. He thought of Aros waiting in some detention cell, old, haggard, half dead, and then he thought of himself and Usko, there beside the lake, so long ago. She had brought a bouquet of colored weeds up from the shoreline, and Aros had stood up, laughing, his arms wide to receive her—

His eyes stopped on the autovox.

Zallon had overstepped his limits. Stattor could barely see the green blossom of his nebula behind it. His emotionless aide, that sunken-eyed reptile, never revealed his feelings about anything, so how could he be trusted? He was an unknown.

Excepting no one from execution, Stattor pushed the list away from him. He had never liked Aros. Nor Zallon. With his fatted hand, Stattor retrieved the list and entered Zallon's name at the bottom. One way or another, so many people tried to stand in his way, to annoy him, or to prevent the grand and mysterious thing that was about to happen to him. It was very close. He could feel it come nearer every hour.

For a moment, his stomach did not burn and the beta-blocker made his life easier. He leaned back in his chair and again turned to face the absorbing blackness beyond the galaxy, and he was content to know that soon, so very soon, his flesh would turn to myth.

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