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In the desert the Leader waited. He followed the laws of Allah, but he had seen the power of the desert spirits. Once more he was there to ask their aid. This made him very uncomfortable, but he had no choice. His nation was destitute. Worse than their overwhelming debt to the Americans and Japanese was the disgrace of being unable to pay back the monies borrowed from his fellow followers of Islam. The recent, unsuccessful war with their eastern neighbor had been costly. He controlled what was still unquestionably the greatest military power in their part of the world, but this would soon mean nothing. His creditors, other nations, also were meeting secretly on plans to impound the oil that was his nation's only wealth. With his people starving and no replacement parts, his magnificent military machine would collapse.

If the cost of war had caused his dilemma, then he would use another war to solve it. There was another nation, small but rich. His well-trained forces could overrun it within hours. No one would care about such a tiny land and the loot would sustain his government for a decade.

But to attack, he wanted the aid of the desert demons. They had saved his army once when the waves of fanatics had almost broken his lines. Even before they had promised him glory, rule over all of the Desert lands. He wanted their reassurance before attacking. With their support he would reign supreme.

The first impression was what the Leader expected. A wall of blowing sand drifted toward him. As it neared, a small part of the wall detached itself and flew to where the uniformed Leader waited. Bits of grit blew painfully against his face and fouled his moustache, but the Leader stood patiently. Seconds later a giant whirlwind appeared and a face formed within.

"You seek our aid?" the voice sounded of distant thunder.

"If I do not make war on a neighbor, my rule will end," the Leader explained quickly. He had learned before that there was no benefit from bluster when dealing with the Djinn.

"If the new god does not destroy you, the desert will give you victory," was the ambiguous answer.

"Then I should attack?"

"The cunning one has a plan. Act quickly, before your real enemy is prepared."

The Leader bowed his agreement. The real enemy was obviously the Americans. If the Djinn were aiding him, their desert would swallow up their armor and helicopters. This would be his most glorious victory. All history would remember him as the man who ended the Capitalists' reign. Fired with visions of eternal fame, he hurried to order the attack.

Tek woke slowly, reluctant to give up the security that more than a decade of oblivion had provided. He rose, aching, from the sand and glanced at the bunker which he had formed. Instinctively he knew it was obsolete. His bombs would be greater now and his ingenious followers would have found new ways to hide from the holocaust they threatened.

His shoulder ached where the safety straps had bitten into them just before the crash. As he moved his shoulders to free sore muscles, both hands tightened into painful claws. Those hands had been clutching the controls when his fighter had slammed into the sands of the Gaza. It was only by using a bolt of his precious mana that Tek was able to move them freely again. "You can't kill a god," which he instinctively knew, "but you can make him wish you had."

With a gesture the bunker became a mile deep shelter, appropriately mimicking the mass of concrete and thick steel doors that now formed the core of Cheyenne Mountain for the sole purpose of protecting the SAC computer. The ethereal matter was almost effortless to manipulate. Just for esthetic purposes he added the entire antennae array from the USS Anzio. The garage-door-sized radar dishes began instantly emitting a microwave chorus soothing to Tek. On the horizon were the blurry images of the guards walking the perimeter and SAM 9 sights. These guardians were more for show than effect, but they were becoming more effective as Tek's power grew.

Next, the still sleep-muddled young god summoned a mirror, changed it to a closed circuit HDTV set-up and viewed himself. Somehow the image fell short of representing his full nature. He wondered how the other gods did it. In his short bursts of activity Tek had never even spoken with another god. He could sense their presence, from powerful beings and whimpering, forgotten images near to fading away. But caution learned from two traumatic defeats had imbued in Tek a high degree of prudence.

A few moments of scanning his memory banks and Tek decided that his form was also outdated. He searched some more, unsatisfied with any of the images and impatient to discover what had summoned him from his sleep. The form itself was acceptable and Tek was quite pleased with the feel of it. There was just the right mix of logic and very little contaminating emotion, the pointed ears and rising eyebrows were a bit unusual. But then, he was a god and could look any way he wanted.

"Hokey," the voice said, "and not really effective."

The voice came from just behind Tek, a dangerous thing to do to a god of war. Tek spun. Lightning blazed from one hand and an Uzi chattered from the other.

"Hey, take it easy!" The voice came from overhead this time.

Kneeling, Tek aimed upwards, but did not fire. Overhead floated the figure of an unarmed man, his arms spread and hands empty. The man was dressed in the uniform of a field grade officer, and his badges labeled him an instructor from Sandhurst.

"I'm on your side," the figure assured floating down to land a few feet in front of the young god. "I'm just the Mentor. It's my job to help you."

There was a pause as the Mentor studied Tek's reaction. The barrel of the Israeli submachine gun never wavered. The smile became a bit more forced.

"It's not like you've done so well so far," the Mentor added showing more bravado in his words than in his eyes.

"Help, how?" Tek demanded, but let his aim waver.

Mentor 's smile grew wider and more sincere. "Why, so far you are trying very hard to be a god, but obviously have no idea now to do it."

"And you do?" Tek tried to not sound belligerent. So what if he had made a few miscalculations. He hadn't had time to create a complete probability curb on most actions.

"Actually, yes," the Mentor explained apologetically. "But as a Muse I have the power to bring you the images that can teach you how to use your powers to the fullest."

"At what price?"

"Oh, I'm not in it for profit. I'm a Muse and we have no need for more than our art." With this the man's robes changed to a more comfortable shirt and slacks. He was also suddenly gangly, wore glasses, and was smoking a pipe. He now looked very much like a university professor.

"How is your art going to help me? Not to say that I need help," Tek demanded. "And how did you know to come here?"

"Well." Mentor spread his hands and then clasped them in what was obviously a familiar pose. "Some of the old war gods are not too happy about your appearance. On the other hand, there are a lot of other gods that would be happy to see those blowhards shown up a bit."

At the mention of the other war gods Tek scanned the horizon. His system was nearly impossible to pass through without setting off the alarms. Every inch of the sky was scanned and the results analyzed every half-second.

"Since some of them sensed you had reawakened, the word went out to assist you. Now most of the gods are busy with their own causes. They haven't any time for a newcomer until he proves himself. This means that someone else has to take on the role of welcomer and teacher. As a Muse the duty is mine. That is all we muses do any more, but we do it well . . . despite TV. Hence my appearance here."

"So what do I need to learn?" Tek was less belligerent this time. Something of an accomplishment since he was, after all, a war god.

"Well, to begin, let's look at your form." The Mentor 's voice had taken on the slightly distracted tones of an artist at work. "I don't think that image is for you. Most humans get nervous when their gods appear in the form of aliens."

"Aliens?" Tek questioned. Had his followers progressed so quickly that they now traveled the stars?

"Yes, as in beings from another planet," the Mentor explained. "There really aren't any on the Earth. At least none I'm aware of. You have taken the likeness of a non-human, fictional character."

"And if I am a god of the humans, I should use a human form?"

"It is more traditional, though some of the oriental gods would dispute that," the Mentor agreed.

"So what do YOU suggest?" Tek's tone implied he was going to be very critical. He studied the Mentor, his Muse. Forms are mutable in the ethereal plane, but just for this reason, he calculated that the form chosen would tell him much of those he would meet.

"Here, if you want to do an alien," the Mentor continued smoothly, "let's use one that looks human. Not only that, but one that conjures up images of great power . . . more godlike and all that."

In the air above the two gods a series of clips from the last three Superman movies scrolled past. At first Tek was critical, but the form was pleasing. When he caught himself smiling, the young god was forced to admit the Mentor was probably right. Humans who saw him in this form would be impressed. His desire to maintain control of the situation meant Tek also had to add his own changes.

"The countenance is pleasing and the sense of power appealing, but that red suit with a big 'S' on it has to go," he insisted. "I'll stick to my flight suit for a while yet."

"You're the war god," the Mentor agreed with a shrug. "This may take a while, and I must have your attention. For that, you will know what it is to be a god. Some of the old gods will come. Now that you are powerful enough to be noticed, the curious or the jealous will come here."

Tek scanned his defenses. Watching the gesture, the Mentor shrugged. "Those can protect you from the lesser beings of this plane. The full-powered gods such as yourself, once you understand your place and power, will pass through them as they will."

"So what should I learn first?" It was half question and half challenge.


"Heroes?" Tek questioned. "What need have I of those?"

"You want to learn about war? They are the heart of war."

"Or were," Tek observed with a satisfied smile.

"Someone has to plug in the computer," the Mentor commented without inflection. "I am here to bring you the tales that teach you to use the power that will soon be yours. Do we begin?"

Tek nodded, wondering for just an instant what had awakened him.

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