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Truenight on Haven, three hundred and fifty years after Dol Guldur fell, three hundred and fifty years since the rise of the Sauron Dominion.

Truenight, beneath a vault of stars that had grown beyond the reach of any man on Haven, even were he soldier and Cyborg. Truenight, but the earth blazed with light. Campfires spread far across the steppe, and figures leaped and capered around them, singing a song of victory.

"Turn around and go back down,
Back the way you came—
Don't you see the flash of fire
Ten times brighter than the day? and—
Oh, Lord, the pride of man,
broken in the dust again!"

Oh, there was pride, raised up on pikes for Haven's cattle to leer and spit at. Fifty-six light-skinned, blade-nosed heads hacked from their bodies—near two fighting Groups of Sauron soldiers, dead at the hands of common stinking human men.

"Turn around and go back down,
Back the way you came—
Terror is on every side,
And your leaders are dismayed
The mighty men we've beaten down,
Your kings we scatter in the waste:
Oh, Lord, the pride of man, broken in the dust again!"

No soldier would ever stoop to call himself a king, but any one of them had strength to put human kings to shame. There was Atanamir, commander from the Citadel, staring blind into the leaping light. A hundred of the cattle had fallen before his assault rifle, half a hundred more to his naked hands, before the sheer mass of them overwhelmed him and a shrieking mob of Bandari warriors tore him limb from limb. There was Hurin whose brother Turin had been a Cyborg, experiment in twinned offspring, one superaugmented, one simple soldier; but the Cyborg had died of lethal recessives before he reached maturity, and the soldier was dead of a Frystaater hammer in the skull. There was Odo, there was Isengrim, there was Grima with his jaw hacked away and an expression of perfect astonishment on what was left of his face. The cattle had killed them all. And would kill every soldier on Haven, if this war achieved its object.

"Turn around and go back down,
Back the way you came—
Take a warning to your peoples
That the sword of God is raised!
Oh, Lord, the pride of man,
broken in the dust again!"

They fancied themselves the very sword of God, this horde of many tens of thousands strong. They accreted like a dung-beetle's ball of filth, rolling eastward across Haven. They aimed themselves at a Citadel that, they prayed their manifold gods, was emptied, its defenders lured away to quell a false rebellion at the farthest end of the Shangri-La Valley.

They dared what no herd of cattle had ever dared. They had taken a miserable outpost manned by boys and a worn-out old soldier, and plumed themselves on a victory won by a trick as old as Nineveh. A wagonload of Finnegan's fig brandy and muskylope oil, a judicious quantity of gunpowder, a spark—and death to the Saurons. They had fought a vicious skirmish with a herd of loyal cattle and two assault groups of ordinary soldiers, not even a Cyborg cub to give them distinction, and they believed, some of them honestly believed, that they could conquer the heart of Sauron on Haven.

"Turn around and go back down,
Back the way you came—
See Babylon, the mighty city,
Rich in treasure, wide in fame:
We have brought her towers down,
Made of her a pyre of flame,
Oh, Lord, the pride of man,
broken in the dust again!"

Sigrid sat in the flicker of the firelight, with the shadows of the pikes falling long across her lifted face. Her eyes, she knew, gleamed red when the light struck them. She would have concealed them if she had cared. There was a blanket wrapped about her—she did not remember how she had come by it, nor did she need its warmth. But it was comfort, the comfort of something to hold onto in a world run out of control. Under it she clasped arms about her pregnant belly, and nudged feet against the warm breathing weight of dogs who persisted in leaning against her.

"One down," said a voice too joyous to gloat, "Twenty-nine to go."

Her eyes darted to the speaker, a blocky little Bandari meid with a rat's nest of black hair and a face that seemed set in a permanent sulk. The blue eyes were smoky with pleasure. "You should listen," the little bitch said. "Babylon is fallen. And so is Old Sauron, and there's a curse on her seed. Where are our enemies, Pharaoh, Romans, Germans, Philistines, time out of mind? Ashes on the wind—as the Citadel will be."

Cant, thought Sigrid. Cattle boasting. A hundred thousand of them had just managed to deal with two units of soldiers. Units that, if not taken by surprise—otherwise they would not have been accompanied by an alliance of loyal tribes—certainly had not expected to find such opposition as they had found.

But there were only fifty-six pikes, and fifty-six heads. Sigrid could account for two more in soldiers blown to chopped meat and bonemeal by the explosive bombs the Bandari had, surprisingly, possessed. That left two—and she had found sign of soldiers running light, faster than a horse could gallop, eastward—running to the Citadel.

"Thy holy mountain be restored—
Thy favor on Thy people, Lord!"

Yes, thought Sigrid. Whose favor, and whose people? This was an army to give even a soldier pause, but it had done nothing yet. It would break on the rock of the Citadel, break and fall. She had no faith, not she who was soldier and Cyborg and Breedmaster's daughter, but she believed in clean reason—and reason said that the Citadel would win.

The Bandari woman was gone. She knew what Sigrid was: she babbled it all over the army. No one believed her. That was Sigrid's protection. And maybe Sigrid was arrogant and should die as these soldiers had died, fighting to the last drop of the blood and the last molecule of breath. But being female and Cyborg both, and pregnant by no less than a Bandari of the Founder's line, she had other—and perhaps greater—priorities.

She would endure. And so, she swore to herself in the smoke and the firelight and the near-sexual reek of blood and battle, would the Race and the Citadel in which it was bred.


Battlemaster Carcharoth stood in the doorway, waiting for Titus to notice him. The Breedmaster took a few seconds to finish scribbling a note before he looked up.

Among Cyborgs, that was studied rudeness. Carcharoth felt his body chemistry surge toward anger, suppressed it without conscious thought. He could allow himself no weaknesses, not when facing one of his own kind. Titus' voice was friendly enough when he deigned to speak: "Here, sit down. Will you take tea?" At Carcharoth's nod, the Breedmaster poured from an elegant silver samovar: tribute from the New Soviet Men in the distant west of the Shangri-La Valley. Carcharoth sipped the tea with care, not because it was hot but to see if he could taste any lurking wrongness. Poison had its occasional place in the power games the elite of the Citadel played among themselves. He tasted nothing out of the ordinary, nor did his stomach twist when he swallowed. Sometimes tea is just tea, he thought.

Titus poured himself a glass, too, then returned to his own seat. When Carcharoth looked at him, he saw his daughter Sigrid. She had the looks too: pale hair; ice-blue eyes; long, narrow-chinned face with thrusting cheekbones. Sigrid was . . . a problem. Carcharoth didn't care to be reminded of problems that weren't immediately urgent. He had enough that were. The samovar set off uneasy association patterns in his brain: it called to mind the rebellion the New Soviet Men had raised against the Citadel along with their usual rivals, the Sons of Liberty.

Which led to business: "The Threat Analysis Computer did not predict an outbreak of revolt in the West for some time to come."

"I know that only too well," Titus answered. "Our technicians are examining the TAC for programming glitches, data retrieval failures, and even hardware problems. Should the latter prove to be the case—"

He spread his hands. The Threat Analysis Computer had come from Old Sauron, the murdered Homeworld, aboard the Dol Guldur three hundred and fifty T-years before. Technicians might be able to spot what had gone wrong with it, but the technology for repairs simply didn't exist on Haven; one of the smaller models from the outlying Bases wouldn't have the database to be useful. Titus seemed calm enough contemplating the breakdown of the TAC, but then Titus was Breedmaster, used to working with the statistical uncertainties of genetics. For a Cyborg, he had an unusually flexible mind.

Carcharoth's ran in more familiar Cyborg channels. When he eliminated data from consideration, he eliminated them completely. When he was right, as he was most of the time, that was an asset: it let him concentrate unhindered on the optimum solutions for threats. When he was wrong—being wrong had cost Glorund, the Battlemaster before Carcharoth, his life. He'd reckoned the woman with Juchi the Accursed just a nomad and paid for it when legend proved true and she proved to share the soldier genes of her father/brother. Oh, Juchi's quartered corpse hung on pikes outside the city of Nûrnen, but even Juchi's life for that of a Cyborg was the worst of bargains.

"I relied heavily on the accuracy of the TAC," Carcharoth said. "Ever since the Race came to Haven, we have relied on the accuracy of the TAC. So far as I know, it never failed us—till now."

He stopped there. He did not have a name for the unease that trickled through him, that skulked round the edges of his ordered thoughts and showed its leering face whenever he least expected it. Such emotions were not supposed to mar the genetically enhanced, biomechanically augmented stability and power of his mind. Superstitious dread was the province of the steppe nomads and Haven's other human cattle, not of the soldiers, most especially not of the Cyborg supermen who led the soldiers. No wonder Carcharoth failed to recognize it when it gripped him. Titus said, "We all relied on the TAC's accuracy, Battlemaster. But now its potential for inaccuracy is but one more factor that will have to enter into our calculations. We can still use it, but henceforward, at least until the anomaly is detected, it will be but one tool among many. Perhaps we have counted on it too heavily up to this point. We are accurate enough calculators ourselves, not so?"

His armor of Cyborg assurance—not to put too fine a point on it, Cyborg arrogance—remained undented and undaunted. Carcharoth wished the same could have been said of his own. He'd counted on the TAC to be right, and it had been wrong. Not only were its calculations inaccurate, his were, too. Along with nature's imperative to reproduce his kind, genetic engineering had imbued two chief drives into those of the soldiers who wore the Totenkopf on their collar tabs: to fight and to calculate. Having his calculations fail him was as alarming for Carcharoth as impotence or uncontrollable cowardice would have been, and argued for something badly wrong inside him.

Titus coughed. "I said, we are accurate enough calculators ourselves, not so?"

"Eh? Oh, certainly, Breedmaster." Again, an unaugmented man, even a non-Cyborg soldier, would have known anger or alarm. All Carcharoth felt was embarrassment at having been caught woolgathering. Titus was no fool—he could detect stress even in one of his own kind. And, sure enough, Titus also hesitated before continuing. Carcharoth recognized that hesitation: incorporating an evaluation of my revealed weakness into his own schema. He would have raged at that had he not recognized weakness in himself. He did his best to recover: "Aside from the uprising of the New Soviet Men and the Sons of Liberty, the most urgent matters before us appear to be the Bandari-led turmoil on the northern steppe and the disappearance of the Cyborg Sigrid, your daughter. I hope the TAC was also in error when it assigned the connection between those two events a probability of sixty-one percent, plus or minus 12."

There had been a lot of talk about Sigrid in the corridors of power in the Citadel. Sigrid herself, though, had proved more partial to action than talk—like any Cyborg worth the name. "When dealing with intermediate probabilities, the chance of separating error from mere randomness becomes vanishingly small," Titus answered.

"Perhaps I was in error myself when I permitted her gestation to go forward. As with the difficulties exhibited by the TAC, however, at present we can but deal with the datum as it exists; retroactive revision is not possible."

"True enough." Yes, Carcharoth envied the Breedmaster's shell of imperturbability. He'd been armored so himself, not long before, till doubt wormed its way in. And, just as the Shangri-La Valley west of the Citadel lay open because no danger could conceivably reach it, so doubt, once it had entered his thought processes, had no trouble spreading.

"One fortunate thing," Titus said. "The Council confirmed your judgment—and that of the TAC—that the difficulties on the steppe and in the distant west of the Valley are independent of each other. Our choices would have become more complex were it otherwise."

"Indeed," Carcharoth said. The whole western end of the Shangri-La had blown up, and there were rumblings of discontent in the eastern valley as well. The soldiers ruled as much by the terror of their reputation as actual physical might; rebellion had to be scotched, and at once.

That was what he had argued, and the Council and First Citizen had accepted it—as they almost always did. Now he was uncertain himself; a novel and alarming experience for a Cyborg. If the Breedmaster wanted to reassure him, he would accept that; at the moment, he would take all the reassurance he could find, the better to resist the worm that gnawed at him from within. If all went well—which is to say, as predicted—he might yet regain full operational capacity.

Without his quite willing it, his eyes slid to the silver samovar once more.


I'm rid of the Saurons, Temujin thought bitterly. I'm supposed to be free.

Temujin son of Toktai had been getting a lot of grief from the Atagha tngri, the spirits who ruled the world, just lately.

First he'd met Sigrid the Cyborg in a Nûrnenite dive. That had been bad luck. Getting drunk had been stupid, and had broken the Yasa of Chingiz Khan as well; if he hadn't been drunk he wouldn't have told her of the secret valley of the women warriors, and the breed of horses they kept, horses who could foal on the high steppe. She'd tortured him to get the information, but the first slip had been his.

Becoming besotted with the narrow-faced bitch was worse than bad luck and stupidity—it was the malice of some wind demon, without a doubt. He should have paid a shaman to take the curse off him with a ceremony and a sacrifice.

Going back to Nûrnen to look for her had been stupidity twice confounded. Getting drunk again in the same bar and blurting out his knowledge had been beyond all stupidity, and Temujin had been acquiring a healthy respect for that quality over the last T-year. That had earned him a trip to the Red Room, the interrogation chamber of the Citadel—where he learned Sigrid was the daughter of Cyborg Titus, the Breedmaster of the Saurons. It had also gotten him a position as very unwilling guide to the Sauron search party sent out to bring her back.

I was lucky, he thought with bitter sarcasm. Lucky that the party turned aside to deal with the advancing nomad horde; Sauron fighting skills were matched only by Sauron arrogance, and by some special favor of the tngri he'd lived through the battle and final slaughter of the Saurons. Then that same wind-spirit had snatched away his chance of escape and made him a prisoner once more, of the horde. Who were not charitably inclined to a plainsman found associating with Saurons and wearing a pair of their boots and carrying a purse full of Citadel-minted coins.

Unfair! he thought. He'd robbed the purse from a corpse not twenty minutes before the horde scouts caught him,

Now he was worse off than when he was in the hands of the men from the Citadel. They'd trusted their own bodies and senses too well to bother binding him. His present captors, being like him merely human, had roped him up like a sack bound onto a baggage cart, ever since he woke up after a high-speed trip at the end of a lariat looped to a saddle horn.

He wasn't gagged, but when he opened his mouth to speak, one of his captors backhanded him across the face. "Be still, Sauron's dog," the fellow snarled. "You will speak when we ask you questions. Oh yes, you will speak then." He laughed in gloating anticipation.

The Saurons were subtle. They'd tortured his mind with the implied torture of his body. He knew his own plainsfolk too well: subtlety was not their long suit. They'd just start slicing and crushing and burning to get what they wanted from him.

Careless of another wallop, he exclaimed, "Allah and the spirits"—unlike most nomads on the Great Northern steppe, Temujin's folk worshipped the Eternal Blue sky, but there was no need to emphasize the point—"you don't need to torture me! The Saurons forced me along with them. I'll tell you everything you want to know, down to the stink of the Assault Leader's farts. Just ask!"

The nomad who'd belted him drew back his hand for another blow, but a sharp command—"Halt!"—made him pause. It wasn't Turkic, it wasn't a word in the Americ dialect Temujin knew, but its meaning was unmistakable. Even so, Temujin was surprised his captor would obey a woman.

No, a girl, he thought, when she heeled her horse to the side of the cart where he could see her. Perhaps seventeen or a little older. And when he could see her well, his heart sank and his testicles crawled up into his belly. "Tngri deliver me," he muttered. "Another warrior maid!"

And a high-ranking one, too, he thought. She bore precious spoil, a slung Sauron assault rifle, and had more magazines stuffed under her belt. She studied Temujin as if he were a louse she was about to crack between her fingernails. Normally he didn't mind women looking at him; he was a khan's son, and handsome—although the bruises and scabs probably didn't help. This woman's eyes had flaying knives and boiling oil in mind.

He looked at her, too. She was closer to pure Caucasoid than was common on the steppe: closer by blood to the Saurons than he, as a matter of fact. But she was no soldier, or she'd have heard him muttering. Just a woman, then. Sitting a big horse as if she'd grown there; it was a good horse, too, and iron-shod. Wearing a sheepskin jacket and leather pants and boots, standard garb but cut differently from most he'd seen and of high quality. Two knives on her belt, a saber at her hip, a cased bow at her knee. She was stocky, broad in the shoulders and hips and deep-bosomed for her age, with a weathered, beak-nosed face and bright blue eyes under braided black hair. A silver chain around her neck held an ornament, peeking out from behind the assault rifle's sling: a six-point star.

"HaBandari!" Temujin exclaimed.

"You know me for what I am, eh, Saurons' slave?" she jeered in accented Turkic. Her blue eyes—unnervingly close to Sauron gray—blazed at him. "Well, you're right, by Yeweh—Shulamit bat Miriam fan Gimbutas, at your service." Her laugh told him (as if he hadn't known) that was mockery, not promise. "And I know you for what you are: another one who licks the Citadel's arse. If you weren't a waste of a good round, I'd put a bullet in your guts to watch you die."

"Knife thrusts are cheap," the driver remarked hopefully, drawing his own and touching it to the side of the cart. A shaving of wood curled away from the curved edge.

"No!" Temujin wailed. He'd done altogether too much groveling for a chief's son lately. "They would have killed me if I hadn't guided them here—"

"Against us?" Shulamit asked softly.

Temujin knew that death walked very close. "Allah and the spirits, no!" he shouted. "Will you listen to me, you mad, vicious bitch? If you murder me before I tell you what you need to know, where is the profit you Bandari are mad for?"

"I ought to murder you just for that crack," Shulamit said. But then, to his vast relief, she started to laugh. "All right, hotnot, you got a point. Go ahead an' sing—but you better sing your head off."

Temujin sang and sang; he might have been a tribal bard. And from the bards, he had learned to compress a story, to say a lot in but few words. He told of leaking the secret of Katlinsvale to the Saurons—

"How'd you go and do a stupid thing like that?" Shulamit broke in.

"I was drunk," he answered shamefacedly.

"You damnfool Muslims aren't supposed to drink, so you make twice the jackasses of yourselves when you do get shikkered up," she observed. Since he wasn't about to tell the listening driver he was what Muslims called an idolater, he didn't argue. Besides, she was more or less right.

—and then how, drunk again, he'd made his second mistake in Nûrnen. Shulamit rolled her eyes in eloquent disgust when he admitted that. Through it all, he managed to keep to himself that the Sauron he kept diving into the boiling stewpot for was female. The heartless Bandari whore would only mock him the worse if he admitted that.

The omission left holes in his story: Shulamit, however heartless a whore she might be, spotted them fast enough to prove herself no fool. "Hold on there," she snapped, lifting up a hand palm-out. "You say this first Sauron you blabbed to was supposed to have gone and headed for the Katlinsvale place you were talking about?"

"That's what the two in the Red Room said." Temujin remembered everything in the Red Room most exactly. Fear will do that to a man. He had the feeling he was going to remember this conversation with Shulamit bat Miriam fan Gimbutas forever, too.

"How'd he think he was going to get away with it?" she demanded. "From what you say, those folk won't have men about. Sounds sensible of them," she added in a bitter murmur. "Dumbkopfs."

"Well—" Temujin knew he shouldn't pause. Pausing would make her suspicious. More suspicious, he amended. "The Sauron wasn't—exactly a man. Her name was Sigrid."

He didn't know what sort of reaction he'd expected from Shulamit. Surprise, yes, and he got that; her eyes widened till white showed all around the irises. But then she jumped from the saddle into the cart. She took his face in her hands, stared deep into his eyes. He thought she was going to break his neck; he could feel the trained strength in those fingers.

Instead she kissed him as a lover would, long and deep, her tongue probing, penetrating, almost raping his mouth. He was so shocked, he nearly forgot to breathe. She pulled away for a moment. Now her eyelids were half-fallen; she might have been on the point of coming. She leaned forward, kissed him again.

"What's going on?" he asked plaintively when she leaped into the saddle and galloped away. "What's going on?"

The driver guffawed. "First rape, then torture!" He guffawed again.

"What's going on?" Temujin said again. He got no answer. He didn't even get untied.

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