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Food for Thought

Written by Carl Frederick

Hypnotized by the motion, Mergoyn watched as the array of vibroneedles traveled inexorably toward Wosbel's skull. As the hundreds of tiny hypodermics made contact, Mergoyn winced.


"First time at a transfer?"

Startled, Mergoyn broke his gaze from his old friend on the other side of the glass and turned to the technician. "I had no idea it would be like this." He looked again through the window into the cleanroom. Wosbel sat in a surgical chair, his head held motionless in a metal harness, while the needles, looking like silver hairs on his otherwise-bald head, bored into his brain. Mergoyn shuddered, knowing that in twenty-four hours, he'd be sitting in that same harness.

"Textbook simple," said the technician. "This content expert's done it nine or ten times before, and the vibros don't even have to drill new channels anymore. Do you know him?"

"What? Yes. Wosbel. We've been friends since we were kids. He's a mathematics master."

"Ah," said the technician, swiveling his chair to face Mergoyn. "That's what I guessed from the clustering of the needles. J-4 sector of the cerebral cortex. It could hardly be anything else."

"You know," said Mergoyn, "it doesn't seem fair, somehow. Wos spends years learning advanced math just so some prince of the blood can pop a couple of pills and be more learned than his vassals."

"Our society values learning." The technician shrugged. "And it's not just popping pills. It takes two solid days of round-the-clock study for the knowledge to stick."

"I know. I'm an enlightener myself."

The technician raised his eyebrows, then put on his glasses and peered at Mergoyn. "I'm sorry. I didn't notice your amber badge. I thought you were here as a friend of Lord Endred."


"The content receiver." The technician looked closer at the badge. "Ah. Crimson chevron. You're not in the Guild yet?"

"No. I'm scheduled for tomorrow. First transfer."

"What's your content? Are you a mathematics master also?"

"No, a fencing master."

"Ah. I know about you." The technician paused. "Mergoyn, isn't it?"

Mergoyn nodded.

"You're enlightening Prince Kelvacorinin. It's pretty brave of the prince to attempt this."

Mergoyn didn't like the sound of that. "Brave?"

"Well, yeah. Motor-skill enlightenment is still sort of new."

"What about me? I'm the one who'll lose those skills." Mergoyn gave a nervous laugh. "I don't even know if I'll be able to walk after the transfer. I'm not sure the prince is the adventurous one here."

"You're getting paid, aren't you?"

Mergoyn couldn't argue with that. Enlighteners were paid very well indeed. "Yes. I guess you're right. I got into this with my eyes open. No one to blame but myself."

Looking though the window at Wosbel, he thought back to his invitation into the Guild of Enlighteners. A high honor, they'd said. And whenever his receiver, Lord Kelvacorinin, Prince of the Blood, showed off his skills, they'd be Mergoyn's skills. Mergoyn would almost be royalty himself.

Vanity. Ego and vanity. Mergoyn shook his head. Yes, he'd been intrigued with the idea of advancing the art of enlightenment into the realm of sports and motor skills. The princes would pay plenty to be great swordsmen and riders without having to endure years of work and sweat. But despite the money, he had to concede his true motivation was vanity.

He gazed at the vibros and wondered how he'd feel with almost a thousand needles in his skull. And Wos only has two hundred.

"To be honest," said Mergoyn, turning back to the technician, "I'm worried that other knowledge besides fencing might be transferred. Maybe even personality."

"We don't think there'll be personality transfer."

"You don't think?"

"What do I know? I'm just a technician."

The control console emitted a soft chime, and the technician swiveled back to his work. "Your friend's done." With a flourish, he tapped a few buttons. "Now we'll just empty the needles into the electrolyte, and they can make the pills. Tastes like mint, I've been told."

Movement in the knowledge-transfer chamber drew Mergoyn's attention. As the needles pulled free of his friend's skull, two orderlies entered the chamber. While one rolled a gurney up to the surgical chair, the other applied an ointment to Wosbel's head, then covered the baldness with an amber-colored skullcap.

"A disinfectant," the technician explained, "and the amber cap of honor."

Mergoyn watched as the orderlies freed Wosbel from the harness and lifted him onto the gurney.

"They're taking him to the recovery center," said the technician. "You can go there if you wish."

Mergoyn stood and hurried to the control room door. "Thanks."

"No need to rush. He won't come out of it for about a half hour."

* * *

The Palace of Enlightenment was a large facility: knowledge-transfer chambers, cafeteria, classrooms, garden courtyards, a gymnasium, fencing salle, and a dormitory-and-guestroom complex.

Mergoyn took his time walking to Wosbel's recovery room. How do I talk to someone who's just lost an important part of his being? I cannot understand Wosbel. The man is the most ardent mathematician imaginable, always seeking to learn more, always thrilled by the quest. And yet all that knowledge is gone now. And he's gone through this many times. Why? By now, Wos certainly doesn't need the money. Too bad that Guild rules prevent Wos from talking about it.

Mergoyn found the recovery room, knocked, and went in.

From the door, Mergoyn saw Wosbel sleeping in a hospital bed, his amber skullcap looking like close-cropped hair. A nurse sat by the bedside, reading. As Mergoyn approached, she put down the book and stood.

"Ah," said the nurse, indicating the chair she'd just vacated. "He's just about to wake up. Are you family?"

"Just a good friend." Mergoyn sat. "When can he go home?"

"As soon as he wants to. He'll just need someone to talk to for a while." The nurse gathered up her book and some snack-food boxes. She scurried to the door, talking as she went. "He'll need to overcome a little disorientation. But since you're here, I won't be needed. His clothes are in the closet."

When the door had closed behind the nurse, Mergoyn rested his chin on his folded hands and stared at his friend's face.

Wosbel's eyes fluttered open.

Mergoyn leaned in over the bed. "How do you feel?"

Wosbel stared vacantly, and after a few seconds said, "You're Mergoyn, Mergy. Yes?"

"Yes. Don't you remember?"

Wosbel sat up. "Yes, yes, of course. The memories are rushing in." He laughed. "I always enjoy this. It's rebirth." He flopped back on the bed. "Except, of course, I'm not particularly proficient in math anymore. It's great."

"Great? Doesn't it sadden you that your math knowledge is lost?"

"It's not lost. Lord Endred has it."

"You know what I mean."

Wosbel sat up again and swiveled his feet to the floor. "I'm looking forward to studying mathematics again. I remember how thrilled I was when I first really understood the Central Limit Theorem. It'll be great to feel that thrill again."

"I'm surprised you even remember the name—the Central Limit Theorem."

"Gee, thanks." Wosbel laughed. "I'm still a better mathematician than you are. It's just that I'm a little fuzzy on some stuff." He hopped out of bed, minimally clad in a thin hospital gown.

"Your clothes are—"

"—in the closet." Wosbel strode toward the wardrobe. "Yes, I know. I've done this many times. Just let me get dressed, and we'll get out of here. I love this feeling of rebirth. Hey, how about we go fence a little? The salle here's terrific." Wosbel fetched his clothes and began to get dressed.

"Wos, I've got to talk to you."

Wosbel tucked in his shirt. "Yeah, go ahead."

"I'm going to commit suicide."

Wosbel spun around. "What?" Then he sat on the bed. "Mergy. What are you talking about?"

"I can't bear it, Wos. Fencing's been my life. I can't bear the thought of being an absolute beginner again. And—"

"You won't be. You don't lose everything."

"And what if it doesn't work? Motor-skill transfer is still experimental."

"Not experimental, just new."

"Still, if something goes wrong, I could end up spending the rest of my life assembling good-luck charms in a dumb-factory."

"This isn't you speaking." Wosbel stepped into his shoes. "It's just nervousness. I was scared the first time also."

"It's me all right." Mergoyn shook his head. "But the worst of it is Prince Kelvacorinin, the guy I'm supposed to enlighten. The more I read about him, the more I detest him. He's always gotten things handed to him on a silver platter. No effort. He doesn't deserve to be a master fencer."

"Doesn't deserve?" Wosbel barked a guttural chuckle. "Welcome to the real world." He furrowed his brow and looked intently at Mergoyn. "But suicide? No. You can't be serious."

"Oh?" Mergoyn reached into his tunic and brought out a corked vial. " Innocuous-looking, isn't it? A standard, off-the-shelf, number five potion vial, but filled with tincture of mordroot dissolved in wine."

Wosbel got to his feet. "But how did you—"

"Don't even ask." He shook the vial and held it up to the light; little bubbles floated upward through the pink liquid. "Pretty, isn't it? A pleasant way to die, I've been told."

"That's horrible."

"What, the blotches? They don't appear until after death. And anyway, I'm not concerned with being a pretty corpse."

Wosbel made a quick grab at the vial. "Give me that."

Mergoyn was faster. He closed his fist around the vial. "I obsess about this little vial, Wos. Whenever I hold it, it takes a real act of will not to drink it." He returned the vial to his tunic. "My plan is to drink the stuff right before going in for the transfer."

"You can't do this."

"Sure I can. There's no law against suicide. In any case, I'm realm champion now. I've nothing left to prove."

Wosbel took hold of Mergoyn by the shoulders. "Mergy. Please. I could get thrown out of the Guild for telling you this, but I promise you. Your transfer will be like a rebirth. It's almost a religious experience. You'll see."

"I'm not too keen on reincarnation, Wos. I'll be history soon. It's for the best."

"Don't talk nonsense." Wosbel finished getting dressed. "If you feel this way, why on earth did you agree to do it?"

"To advance the art of enlightenment." Mergoyn sighed. "But I assumed the transfer would be to someone worthy."

"You know your problem, Mergy? Inactivity. You always brood when you're not getting enough exercise." Wosbel sprung to the door. "Come on. Let's go to the salle and fence for a few hours. Get those crazy thoughts out of your head."

Mergoyn stood, but made no motion toward the door.

"I said, come on. You have no option. We are going to fence."

Mergoyn sighed. "Who knows? Maybe you're right." He followed Wosbel out the door.

* * *

Mergoyn executed a perfect beat-disengage-lunge, touching Wosbel on the wrist directly under the guard. He recovered from the lunge, took off his mask, and went forward to shake hands. Though he'd just won the bout 5-1, he didn't care.

"That last touch was terrific," said Wosbel.

"Years of practice," said Mergoyn. "And just think, after an enlightenment and two days of instruction with a fencing master, Prince Kelvacorinin could do just as well."

"Don't think about it. How about another bout?"

"Sure. Fine."

Although the Palace of Enlightenment boasted the realm's most prestigious fencing salle, the large hall stood mostly empty that afternoon. The salle manager, feet up on a table, browsed a copy of The Daily Herald while a half dozen or so white-clad fencers bouted for fun during their extended lunch hours.

Mergoyn and Wosbel were midway through another bout when the door of the salle flew open, and a retinue marched in, led by a tall man in fencing whites. He held a mask in one hand and an épée in the other.

"Speak of the devil," said Mergoyn, halting the bout and taking off his mask.

"Who are they?" Wosbel took off his mask and mopped his face with the sleeve of his fencing jacket.

"The guy swaggering in front is Prince Kelvacorinin."

"Yeah. I should have recognized the crest on the mask."

The man directly behind the prince walked forward and held up his hands for silence. "May I have your attention."

"As if we have any choice," Mergoyn muttered under his breath.

"Your attention, please. Lord Kelvacorinin, Prince of the Blood, is scheduled for enlightenment tomorrow morning. He will absorb the knowledge as well as the skill of a fine fencing master. As you doubtless know, Prince Kelvacorinin is already an accomplished fencer. So that he may gauge his improvement after the enlightenment, he honors you by offering to fence with all present here, regardless of station."

Mergoyn and Wosbel exchanged glances.

"Go for it, Wos," said Mergoyn, softly.

"Thanks, I will. I'll be able to say I've fenced a prince of the blood."

Wosbel unhooked his épée cord from the automatic scoring machine, then walked forward, bowed, and accepted Kelvacorinin's offer.

Mergoyn unhooked as well and made way as Lord Kelvacorinin stepped onto the piste.

As Wosbel started to hook up for the bout, Kelvacorinin said, "I'd rather not use the machine. I'm sure we can both acknowledge our touches. Yes?"

Wosbel bowed his agreement, and they fenced the bout without benefit of the scoring machine. Wosbel lost five to four.

Not bothering to shake hands, the prince went off to fence someone else.

"He's not that good," said Wosbel as Mergoyn walked over. "I should have won that bout."

"You did win it." Mergoyn looked contemptuously over at Lord Kelvacorinin. "Our gracious prince cheats, I'm afraid. There were at least three touches that landed solidly that he didn't acknowledge."

"I thought they landed, but—"

"They landed." Mergoyn pointed his epee at the prince. "There's no way I'll let that arrogant bastard have my fencing knowledge. No way. Look at that swagger."

Mergoyn and Wosbel watched as Kelvacorinin took on the next fencer. The prince won the bout. The loser took off his mask and stepped forward to shake the prince's hand, but Kelvacorinin merely gestured him away and went off to the next fencer. The prince won all his bouts.

"He's not a good winner, is he?" said Wosbel. "Looks like he's coming over here to fence you now."

Mergoyn nodded. Perhaps we'll see if he's a poor loser as well.

"I may as well fence you, too," said the prince.

Mergoyn bowed. "I'm honored."

"Quite," said the prince, turning his back and striding to the en garde line.

At the first engagement, the prince made a direct attack without preparation. Mergoyn executed a stop touch in time to the prince's elbow, but instead of acknowledging the touch, the prince pressed forward, touching Mergoyn on the shoulder.

"My point, I'm afraid," said the Prince. "Your touch arrived late and was much too light."

"Of course," said Mergoyn. There was no sense in arguing with a prince of the blood. All right. No more finesse.

Mergoyn wasted no time on subtlety. Using nothing but direct attacks, he scored the next five points, winning five to one. He removed his mask and went to shake hands, but the prince, masked, merely gave a curt nod. Then he removed his mask and glove, and handed them to a retainer. "I assume fencing is your profession," said the prince, looking down at his fingernails.

"Yes. I am a fencing master."

"I daresay you are almost in the class of my own fencing master."

"Thank you. I'm flattered. Who is your fencing master, if I may ask."

"Alton. And how are you called?"

"Mergoyn Tendreythin." What game is this guy playing? Alton is far from being God's gift to fencing. And the prince knows it.

The prince furrowed his brow. "Mergoyn. Mergoyn."

"I am to be your enlightener."

"Ah, yes." The prince laughed. "So, in a few days, I'll have your skills, and you'll be back in beginners' class."

Mergoyn forced a smile. "Yes. I'm sure it will make you more of a challenge for Alton."

The prince grew thoughtful. "It would be nice if you were better than Alton." He steepled his fingers. "Come to my palace tonight. Dinner. And then we'll go to my salle, and you can fence Alton. It's possible you actually might be a better fencer than he is. Come at six."

The prince turned and, followed by his retainers, sauntered out of the salle.

Wosbel, who'd been in earshot, walked over to Mergoyn. "Interesting."

"I tell you, Wos. I could kill that guy. Boy, I'd like to conduct a sharp-point drill with him. And Alton. I've seen him fence—years ago. It'll be fun taking him apart tonight."

"No. You will lose to him tonight."


"Listen." Wosbel guided Mergoyn over to a rest area with a table and a few chairs. "I've read about Lord Kelvacorinin. I understand him."

"What are you talking about?"

Wosbel leaned in close. "Kelvacorinin can't abide second-best." He spoke barely above a whisper. "You know what this means? If Alton beats you, then Kel-boy will use Alton instead of you for the enlightenment. All you have to do is lose the match."

"Come on."

"Believe me. I'm an enlightener. I know his type."

Mergoyn clasped his hands behind his neck and leaned back in his chair, raising the front chair legs off the ground. "But would Alton agree to a knowledge transfer?"

"He'd have no choice. I'm sure Kelvacorinin virtually owns him."

Mergoyn leaned forward, snapping the chair legs sharply to the ground. "It goes against my grain, Wos. I can't hold back when I fence. I can't throw a match."

"You have to."

* * *

Mergoyn, fencing bag slung over his shoulder, followed the retainer to the fencing room in Prince Kelvacorinin's palace.

"My lord prince will be along soon," said the retainer. "Please suit up." The retainer gave the barest hint of a bow, then turned and left, leaving Mergoyn alone in the well-appointed fencing salle.

Mergoyn set down his fencing bag and gazed in admiration: sleek metal strips on raised platforms, suits of armor and antique swords as decoration, good lighting, adjoining changing room, a mirrored wall, overhead reels, and scoring machines.

Scoring machines? The damned hypocrite.

Mergoyn changed into fencing whites and limbered up. A half hour later, Prince Kelvacorinin walked into the room; he was followed by another man whom Mergoyn recognized as Alton. He was dressed in fencing whites and carried a mask and épée.

The Prince made introductions and suggested that Alton and Mergoyn fence a fifteen-point bout.

"And for a prize for the winner," said the prince, "let's see." The prince walked to the wall and removed an antique épée. "How about this?" He flourished the sharp-pointed weapon. "You may start now. And use the scoring machine, please."

"Your Excellency's prize will be a treasured addition to my collection," said Alton.

Looking longingly at the fine antique sword, Mergoyn stepped on the strip. It would be nice to win that weapon, but it was not to be. He had to lose to Alton. There was no alternative—other than suicide. And unfortunately, it had to be a decisive loss. Fifteen to seven should do it, I think. But then, who knows? Maybe Alton's a good fencer now.

After a few engagements, it became clear to Mergoyn that although flamboyant, Alton was less than a realm-class opponent. It would be a real embarrassment losing to him. Executing a feint and a slow disengage, Mergoyn allowed himself to be hit on the upper arm. Alton shouted in triumph and raised his unarmed hand in a fist. In the next exchange, Mergoyn allowed himself to be hit again.

Alton shouted again, then turned to Kelvacorinin. "After your enlightenment, I'll still have much to teach you."

The prince laughed. "So it seems, Alton. So it seems."

Sullen behind his mask, Mergoyn felt that by his dishonesty, he disgraced both himself and his sport. Still, he kept to his plan.

When the score stood at six to two, directly after scoring a point with a clumsy flèche, Alton whipped off his mask and pointed his épée at Mergoyn. "You know," he said, "perhaps after your transfer, I should take over your fencing-master duties. Your students might benefit from it."

Mergoyn bristled and, as he heard the prince laugh, felt his face flush. He was glad he was wearing a mask. Mergoyn knew then that not only did he disgrace himself by this charade, but also his students. And if I let Alton beat me, that bastard Kelvacorinin might even choose a double enlightenment, using Alton and me as well.

He detested Alton and, even more, he loathed Kelvacorinin for forcing him into this position, yet Mergoyn merely bowed and assumed the en garde position. But, deciding for death over dishonor, he abandoned Wosbel's plan.

Alton smiled at the prince, put on his mask, and immediately attacked with another flèche. Mergoyn sidestepped, disengaged to prime, and scored a hit to Alton's mask. Even through the dark of Alton's mask, Mergoyn saw the look of surprised disbelief.

Alton attacked again, more carefully this time, but with similar results. Mergoyn went on attack then, and scored a quick eleven points, winning the bout.

Taking off his mask, Mergoyn went forward to shake his opponent's hand, but Alton spurned the gesture. He threw down his épée, turned, and stalked from the room, disconnecting himself from the machine as he went. So that's where the prince gets his fencing manners.

Setting down his mask and épée on the piste, Mergoyn looked expectantly at Kelvacorinin.

"I guess the prize is yours," said the prince, handing over the antique épée. "Too bad, really, since as of tomorrow, you won't have the skill to use it."

Mergoyn couldn't help trembling at the prince's words. He had visions of the knowledge-transfer chamber and of a thousand vibros boring into his skull. He would not let that happen. Suicide was the way. A feeling of calm washed over him. And with it came a sense of total freedom. He had gone beyond social conventions, and above the law. He could do anything he wanted, without fear of reprisal. Holding the antique épée, he made a few tight circular parries with the point, to get the feel of the fine weapon. Then he looked at Prince Kelvacorinin, and was overwhelmed with loathing. Yes, he could even kill, and killing Kelvacorinin would make the realm a better place. It would be sweet to kill the swaggering aristocrat with his own sword. Mergoyn thought again of suicide. It would be comforting to take someone with him.

Mergoyn saluted Kelvacorinin with the sword, then slowly lowered the épée's point to throat level. The épée point wavered, and Mergoyn felt embarrassed. He was a fencing master, and his hand should be steady—rock steady. He forced his gaze away from the point and concentrated on the prince's chest—the area a fencer protects by a counter-sixth parry.

Mergoyn let out the breath he didn't realize he was holding and lowered the épée point to the floor. He couldn't do it.

"Are you feeling all right?" Prince Kelvacorinin seemed genuinely concerned.

"I'm just feeling a little ill."

"Perhaps you should go now. Get a good night's sleep. Ill or not, you'll have to go through with it tomorrow. An enlightenment contract allows no delay." He led Mergoyn toward the changing room. "Perhaps we'll do dinner some other time."

In the changing room, Mergoyn showered, dressed, then played with his little vial. Tomorrow.

* * *

A nurse led Mergoyn into the preparation room adjoining the enlightenment chamber. She handed him a surgical gown and said a doctor would be in to see him in about fifteen minutes. After telling him where to store his street clothes, she left.

Mergoyn sat, took the vial from his shirt pocket, and held it up to the light. He never expected he'd have to go through with it and had been hoping that Wosbel could work some sort of miracle. But at this point, he had no choice.

He looked from the vial to the wall clock. Subtracting the action time of the poison from the scheduled time of the transfer, Mergoyn calculated he had a quarter hour before he'd have to drink the poison.

A quarter of an hour. He stared at the minute hand, measuring its motion between minute marks against the speed of his thoughts.

At length, Mergoyn uncorked the vial and noticed the wine's firm bouquet. He held the vial to his nose. This is a good vintage. He took a sip. A very good vintage. Mergoyn put his feet up and slowly drained the vial, savoring each sip. All in all, not a bad way to go.

When he'd disrobed and put on the surgical gown, a feeling of tranquillity descended upon him. He considered himself already dead. Nothing in this world could bother him anymore.

He scarcely paid attention when the physician came in and examined him. Nor did he object when an orderly shaved his head. Without objection, he let himself be led into the knowledge-transfer chamber, and secured into the chair. He saw the vibroneedles, a dense hemisphere of them, and felt no fear.

As he waited for the needles to descend, it occurred to him that he was still alive. The poison certainly should have killed him by now. He looked across at the wall clock. Twenty minutes remained until the transfer. Mergoyn felt fear now. He should be dead.

Five minutes later, Mergoyn still felt healthy, and he began to sweat. He heard the door of the chamber open, then footsteps, but because of the harness, he could not turn his head to see who had come in. Then he blinked in surprise as Prince Kelvacorinin entered his field of view.

"I imagine you're wondering why you're still alive," said the prince.

Constrained by the harness, Mergoyn could not answer.

The prince laughed. "You tried to cheat me out of your knowledge. No one gets away with cheating me." He pointed at Mergoyn's face, flourishing his finger like a sword. "It is very important to me that I be the best fencer in the realm."

Mergoyn stared, wide-eyed.

"Your friend, Wosbin or something. He said he couldn't let you commit suicide. He told me about the vial, and while you fenced Alton, I had it replaced. You should feel honored. Many regard it a high privilege to partake of my wine cellar." The prince laughed again. "You can kill yourself tomorrow for all I care—after I get your knowledge."

The prince walked out of Mergoyn's field of view. "I've enjoyed our chat very much indeed." Mergoyn heard more laughter and the slam of the door.

The door opened again. This time it was the anesthesiologist coming to render Mergoyn unconscious. As he drifted from the world, Mergoyn felt only rage and loathing, directed toward Prince Kelvacorinin.

* * *

Mergoyn opened his eyes and saw a man sitting beside his bed. The man looked worried, even pained.

"Mergy," said the man. "How do you feel?"

Memories flowed like a torrent into Mergoyn's consciousness. "Wos. You're Wosbel."

"Yes, my friend. Your memories should be coming back to you now."

"They are. Except there's a great void."


"Yes, I think so. I don't feel like a fencer."

"Look, I'm sorry," said Wosbel. "I just couldn't let you commit suicide."

"Suicide? What are you talking about?" Mergoyn worked to organize his memories. "Oh, my God. I can remember wanting to commit suicide, and I can even remember why, but it's ridiculous. I must have been out of my mind."

"I hated to, but I had to tell the prince." Wosbel stared down at his hands. "It was the only thing I could think of."

"Funny. I have no desire for suicide. None. That's strange since I was so obsessed with it."

"And I felt like I betrayed you."

"What?" Mergoyn sat up. "Wos. You're a great friend. And you were right. It is rebirth. I feel wonderful—"

"I thought you might."

"—like a kid. You know I've an odd urge to go to the zoo—and eat some caramel popcorn. Wait. Maybe now I'm out of my mind."

"No. Not to worry. Everyone feels like a kid after a transfer. You can see why I like it."

Mergoyn flexed his arm. "My fencing arm seems healthy. I was afraid I might be paralyzed." He jumped out of the bed and did a few deep knee bends. "Hey. I'm okay. Thank God."

Wosbel walked to the wardrobe and brought out Mergoyn's clothes. "Here. Get dressed, and let's get the hell out of here."

"Great," said Mergoyn as he slipped out of his hospital gown. "Today, I'm just going to enjoy being alive, but tomorrow, I want you to meet me in the salle and teach me how to fence again."

"Me? Teach you?"

"You can teach me all the fencing skills I taught you over the years."

"Wouldn't another fencing master be better?"

"You know my style."

At the door, Mergoyn glanced back at the bed. "And I'm not ready to face fencers, yet."

"Gee, thanks."

Mergoyn laughed. "Except you, of course. To me, you're more a friend than a fencer." He closed the door firmly behind him. "I was a master once, and I will be again—the best."

"You're still the same Mergy. I was worried."

"So was I. I really thought my personality would be altered."

Wosbel laughed. "No such luck."

* * *

In the fencing salle of the Palace of Enlightenment, Wosbel began Mergoyn's reeducation. Except for the two of them, the room was empty.

"You know, Mergy, your en garde stance is perfect. It took me months to get a good stance. You've lost a lot less of your knowledge than you should have." Wosbel's voice echoed in the near-empty salle.

Mergoyn returned to the standing position, heels touching and feet at ninety degrees. "More likely that my anatomy has that knowledge. My musculature is trained for fencing."

"Yeah. That must be it. Okay, let's go on to the simple-advance."

Just then, the salle manager burst through the door. Flourishing a copy of The Herald, he stumbled as he ran in and steadied himself against a scoring table. "Will you just look at this," he said, throwing the paper down on the table. "Prince Kelvacorinin is dead. He keeled over right after beating his fencing master in a bout."

"What?" Mergoyn dropped his épée, rushed to the table, and picked up the paper. Wosbel, still holding his weapon, followed.

"Oh my God," said Mergoyn, staring down at the front-page photo.

The color photograph showed the prince, dressed in fencing whites, stretched out on an examining table. His face was covered with purple blotches, and he was clearly dead.

"Not a pretty sight, is he?" said Mergoyn.

Wosbel, looking over Mergoyn's shoulder, read the story. "Suicide. He left a note. It said he was obsessed with the idea of suicide and consumed by a feeling of loathing for the name, Kelvacorinin."

"Loathing? Oh my God, Wos," said Mergoyn, softly. "Those were my thoughts in his head. I've killed him—murdered him."

"That's scarcely murder." Wosbel paused, then said, "It was an accident: death by involuntary suicide."

"I was mad as hell during the transfer. I killed him."

"No," said Wosbel. "A fencing transfer's never been done before. There's no way you could have known that emotions would be transferred."

They stared at the photograph in silence.

Finally, Wosbel stepped back from the table. "Come on," he said, gesturing with his épée. "Let's go work on your simple-advance."

Mergoyn kept staring at the photo. "We were a lot alike, Wos. In not good ways."

"Oh?" Wosbel returned to the table, sat, and set his épée down beside his chair.

"It wasn't to advance the art. I agreed to the transfer out of vanity. Vanity and arrogance."

"Come on. I don't think—"

"Let me finish. Pride, vanity, and arrogance. That's not what I want to be. I want to be better than that. I'm going to use this rebirth."

Wosbel looked down at the table and smiled.

"The joy's not in being, is it?" said Mergoyn. "It's in becoming."

Wosbel nodded, softly.

Mergoyn slapped down the paper and stood. "How 'bout we go around the corner to Fitzbilly's. I'll buy you a beer and we can drink to the memory of the prince."

"You really think the prince deserves to have beers raised to his memory?" Wosbel followed Mergoyn to the weapons rack.

"Probably not, but it seems the thing to do."

Wosbel paused for a moment, then laughed. "Sure. Why not? Nihil nisi bonum and all that. Okay. Let's go."

"You know," said Mergoyn, as he replaced his épée in the rack, "after I regain my fencing skills, I might actually decide to be an enlightener again."

Wosbel laughed again. "Welcome to the Guild."

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