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The One and the Many   By: (1928-2008)

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Only One Question Is Eternal What Lies Beyond the Ultimate?


By Milton Lesser

There are some who tell me it is a foolish war we fight. My brother told me that, for one, back in the Sunset Country. But then, my brother is lame and good for nothing but drawing pictures of the stars. He connects them with lines, like a child's puzzle, and so makes star pictures. He has fish stars, archer stars, hunter stars. That, I would say, is what is foolish.

Perhaps that is what started it all. I was looking at the stars, trying to see the pictures, when I should have been minding my sentry post. They took me like a baby, like a tot not yet given to the wearing of clothing. The hand came out of the darkness and clamped over my mouth, and I ceased my struggling when I felt a sharp blade pricking at the small of my back.

At first I feared that they would slay the entire camp as it slept and I cursed my brother for his star pictures, cursed our leader who had sent us here, twenty archers, against the Onist outpost on our country's border. But the Onists had other ideas. They took me away. I had to admire their vitality, because all night we ran through the silent woodlands, and they seemed tireless. I could maintain their pace, of course: but I'm a Pluralist.

I could see their village from a long way off, its night fires glowing in the dark. It was only then that we slowed our pace. Soon we entered the place, a roughly circular area within a stockade, and my captors thrust me within a hut. I couldn't do much worrying about tomorrow, not when I was so tired. I slept.

I dreamed a stupid dream about the Onist beliefs, the beliefs of an unimaginative people who could picture one Maker and one Maker only. I must have chuckled in my sleep.

"You're awake."

A brilliant statement, that because I had sat up, squinted into the bright sunlight streaming in through the doorway, yawned and stretched. The Onists, I tell you, lack imagination.

The girl who spoke was a pretty enough little thing for an Onist. She smiled, showing even white teeth. "Do you Pluralists eat?"

I nodded and rubbed my belly. I was to have had dinner after my turn as sentry the night before, and now I felt like I could do justice to my portion even at one of the orgies for which the Onists are so famous.

"Bring on your food and I'll show you," I told her, and she turned her back to walk outside. It was early and the village seemed silent surely they hadn't intended this one slim maid to guard me! Yet she seemed alone.

I leaped at her, circled her neck with my arm, prepared to make my exit. They would laugh around our fire when I told them of this fine example of the Onist lack of foresight....

Except that the girl yelped. Not loudly, but it was loud enough, and a big muscular Onist came striding in with his throwing spear. He backed me off into a corner, prodding my hungry belly with his weapon.

"Will you behave?"

I told him I would and he backed outside, but this time I could see his shadow across the doorway.

The girl brought food and partook of it with me. I was surprised, because we Pluralists will not eat with an Onist out of choice. Well, I have said they are a strange people. Soon the girl stood up, patting her mouth daintily with a square of cloth, and in that, of course, she was trying to mime our graceful Pluralist women. "I suppose you think we are going to kill you," she said. Just like that.

"To tell you the truth, I haven't given it much thought. There isn't much I can do about it."

"Well, we're not. We could have done that back at your camp. We could have killed all of you. No, we want to show you something."

I had a ridiculous thought that they made star pictures, too even those who are not lame like my brother. I said, "Well, what will happen to me after you show me?"

She smiled. "You still think we're going to kill you... Continue reading book >>

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