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Death God Dancing

(By Lee Garrett ) Tawa, the sun, was at the end of the bright path, settling into his distant kiva, making a red haze of the western sky. Two-feathers sat on his blanket, sunning himself like an old crow. His body was streaked with black and white. The bands were the sign of his people, the snake clan. Colored sand sifted through his copper fist as he painting a ponya on the ground, an altar to Masauwuh, God of Death.

Two-feathers lay his pahos on the sand. The eagle-feather sticks would carry his prayers to the far-below. The old gods had long been silent in the face of the White God, but Two-feathers was a shaman, One-Who-Knows; he knew they would answer.

He heard the camp guards laughing, joking that if he wanted to die, he didn't have to pray for it, they'd be happy to oblige. They made light of what they did not understand; it was the white-eye's way. Were their hearts as open as the sky, they would have known Coyote was there as well, they could have seen him on the blanket.

Two-Feathers chanted, shaking his ceremonial gourd, letting the dried beans rattles inside. The nehu hanging on a cord around his neck was warm, heavy. It's angry glow pulsed in time to his heart, while high and thin under the turquoise bowl of sky, the shrill scream of a red hawk fell in benediction.

A stiff wind kicked up the dust beyond the blanket, weaving several small capricious devils.

"Masauwuh dances," the old man commented.

It is so, Coyote answered, his long tongue lolling casually past his jaw as if he laughed at a private joke. Eyes full of mischief, he sat on his furred haunches, waiting.

The old man grinned along with the Trickster, laying a small doll made of corn husks on the ponya. It had once been his grand-daughter's doll. Now, he used it as a kachina, having blessed it for ceremonial use. His grand-daughter had no more use for it now that she was dead, murdered by this evil place, with captive spaces and barb-wire to cripple the spirit.

He painted a sign on the ponya representing the new commander, and placed the doll over it. The doll began to swirl. In a moment, the kachina sank from sight into the colored sand, causing Two-Feathers to smile without warmth.

A mischievous gleam played across Coyote's onyx eyes. Won't be long now.

* * *

Commander Nevar left his office, striding briskly across the arid courtyard. His lean frame, fierce scowl, and loping stride lent him a hungry, wolfen aspect. He was sheathed in the crisp, black uniform of the Space Guard though it made no sense to wear black through the heat of the day. As camp commander, he could have relaxed the dress code, but he believed a little suffering was good for the soul so he spread it around.

He knew about suffering. The awkwardness in his stride was the result of Xathin particle beams having chewed through the hull of the U.N.S.F. Southern Cross, his former command, in the Battle for Mars. The beams had torn the bridge apart and taken his leg in passing. Modern, flexible prosthesis had returned him to uniform, but not to space. The Powers-That-Be had decided that he was of greater use running a planet side freak show.

He reached the Containment Center gate. The security station there took a scan of his hand and voice. He cleared and the door cycled open to allow him entrance. Nevar left the Arizona heat outside, walking into a wall of cool, processed air. In the hall, beyond the airlock, two guards came to attention as he passed, brandishing laser-sight assault rifles.

This was where the pretense fell apart. In the rest of the camp, they could pretend that they were simply watching over quarantined survivors of the mutagenic plague, victims of the Xathin death-torp virus. But here, truth was strident-- unmuzzled; this was a prison where the most extreme mutations were kept under lock and key for the crime of existing.

The commander took a lift to the next floor where he passed another security station. It scanned his retinal pattern against existing files and admitted him to the monitor room. Only here, were military protocols relaxed. No one sprang to attention or saluted. The duty officer simply acknowledged the commander with an offer of assistance.

"Yes, Sir. Can I help you?"

"Anything interesting going on?"

"The usual mischief, mostly accidental phenomenon, but the scanners are charting a rising curve of telekinetic levels. It's a little too soon to pin down the epicenter. The containment
cells in the sub-basements are quiet, almost too quiet, but I've been too glad of small favors to worry about it."

"I thought something was up; I've had this peculiar, nagging feeling in the back of my brain-pan all day long."

One of the techs spoke up. "Sir, we've got a lock on the TK build-up. Bringing it on camera now."

Nevar peered intently at the screen as a remote pick-up showed him an isolated scene near the back fence. An old, painted Indian sat on a blanket, shaking a gourd, chanting. Never stared, unable to believe his eyes. He saw a ghostly shape on the blanket--some kinda dog. And the Indian, his chest seemed to pulse with a weird red glow, as if embedded with a fallen star.

Nevar shook his head in denial, closing his eyes. Can't be, he decided, rejecting what he saw. He opened his eyes as the camera zoomed in. Nevar was glad to see that the glow was gone. Instead, there was just a stone necklace on a leather cord, foreboding and grim but hardly ignited. And the dog was gone as well.

"Who is that?" the commander asked.

The tech queried the monitor at his station. The computer scanned its records. Identification came in seconds. The tech read the report off a side monitor as it scrolled by.

"Two-Feathers, a Hopi medicine man. Medical records indicate he is a suppressed telekinetic. We have a report on him submitted earlier; apparently, every so often, he goes off to die. The attempt this time seems to be boosting his TK level beyond what's recorded as his normal level."

"What is a suppressed telekinetic?" Nevar demanded.

"Means he has the potential to be dangerous but isn't." The Duty Officer answered. "His power control is subconscious. He can't directly access it."

"That may have changed," Nevar said. "Get me an escort. I'm going out there."

"They'll meet you outside the lock. Be careful."

Nevar nodded and left the room. He took the lift to the ground floor. The security monitors' subcutaneous med-scanner checked his blood-stream for Xathin virus antibodies in the airlock. He came up negative (human) and was allowed to leave. Had he been a mutant shape-shifter or illusionist, the med-scanner would have flooded the lock with gas.

Outside, a squad of exo-suited soldiers waited with assault rifles. The Squad Leader handed Nevar a helmet with shielding against psionic influence. He put it on as the men fell in beside him, forming a phalanx. They crossed the administrative compound to the inner wall that divided the human half of the camp from the mutant.

There, the squad piled into a security lock that scanned them and passed them through. Nevar angled toward the outer fence, away from the housing, and came within sight of Two-Feathers. There were a couple of parameter guards smoking nearby, their psi-shielded helmets at their feet, neglected.

The commander pointed at the two guards. "Shoot them."

The squad-leader signaled to several of his men, and settled his rifle-butt into place against his shoulder. The two guards looked like frightened deer caught at night in the blinding glare of a hunter's spotlight. Red holes flowered in their foreheads and the backs of their skulls came off in a frothy spray.

The squad leader turned to Nevar. "I'll need to list the charges against them, Sir, for my report on their field execution by a superior officer."

"Failure to stand watch properly in time of war, being out of uniform, ignoring anti-mutant safeguards, endangered us all. And violation of the international ban on nicotine products--all of which are capital offenses."

The squad leader made a note on his hand-comp, and looked up again. "What about the Indian?"

Nevar crossed over to the old man, kneeling when he got there. The two men locked eyes. Understanding refused to come between them. Nevar turned his head to watch the dust-devils battle for dominion over a few pebbles and some sage. He smiled. He laughed. It was the white-eyes way.

"I don't think a little dust is that dangerous. Leave him be. Maybe he'll get lucky this time and finally kill himself. Lord knows I don't want to. You know how much paperwork has to be done each time a prisoner gets skragged?"

"Why so much concern for Muties?"

"The U.N. doesn't want war-crime charges to surface, after the emergency ends; wouldn't be politically correct."

"No, Sir."

"You know, It's said, 'species that don't change, die out,' But I can't believe that this is where the whole human race is headed. Can the universe have that perverse a sense of humor?"

"I don't know, Sir."

"C'mon," Nevar said. "let's get outta here."

They returned to the wall, and cycled through the lock. On the other side, Nevar dismissed the squad and headed for his air- conditioned quarters. He nearly made it, but savage winds snatched at all the loose soil in the area. A dirt-cloud formed with unnatural swiftness. The grit cut like a surgeon's scalpel, slicing his flesh.

A strange pressure wrapped around him, as if some giant hand were squeezing his ribs to powder. Nevar found breath enough for a brief, choked-off scream before the heavy silence of the desert claimed him.

In the wake of the dust storm, a flexible, prosthetic leg lay abandoned on a mound of dust. There was no other trace of the commander. It was as if the ground had opened up and swallowed him whole.

* * *

The angry glow of the nehu faded. Two- Feathers rolled his gear up in the blanket. His work was done, and the desert was growing cold. Food and fire waited elsewhere. This was no place for an old man.

He headed for the barracks as the night lights lit the barb-wire fences. The curfew warning howled and Coyote sang along.  
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Upload Date: 31/12/1969

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