Approaching the castle...
 

FERGUS THE TEMPLAR  
(Part One:  The Museum of Horrors)

by Frederick Rustam
                                The Initiate  

 Grand Master Fulbak bon Jaldwin stood at the exact center of the 
 mother Temple on Terranova.  The dais on which he stood rotated 
 slowly so that none of his circular audience would be favored.  His 
 unamplified voice reverberated in a calculated, complex acoustic 
 pattern about the room as he spoke the ritual words. 

 "Does anyone present hold that any of these men and women should not 
 be admitted to the Order of Poor Fellows of the Temple of Solomon?  ... 
 If so, speak their names, now." 

 But silence reigned in the Centrum, the rotunda sancta sanctora of 
 Temple Jerusalem.  All movement of those present had ceased after the 
 question was asked....  Lighted only by candles, as of yore, the domed 
 Centrum resembled a planetarium without stars.  Against an inverted 
 bowl of marble were cast, instead, the shadows of the Priors, Knights, 
 Esquires, and Brothers who stood on concrete steps, ranked from the 
 outer wall to the initiation circle.  Some of those of the higher ranks 
 had traveled here from their outworld temples.  The ceremony was an 
 annual one-ring circus without horses, trapeze, or clowns. 

 "The initiates will step forth and kiss the cross, which symbolizes 
 our history and traditions -- and Baphomet, who symbolizes the wisdom 
 we have acquired from foreign lands and far worlds." 

 Fergus Sinclair was the last in the long line of initiates to step 
 forward, but he soon-enough kissed the engraved golden cross and the 
 jeweled skull.  Of whom the latter was the remains, he had not been 
 told.  He was curious, but he knew his place in the Order; he would 
 be told what he had to know.  More than that would come as a gift of 
 his own quiet resourcefulness....  He moved back into the line of 
 initiates. 

 The Grand Master outthrust his arms.  The ample sleeves of his symbol- 
 patterned white robe slid to his bony elbows.  The master of masters 
 looked like an ancient alchemist about to announce the successful 
 transmutation of base metals into gold.  He lacked only a conical hat 
 to impersonate Merlin, the fabled court sorcerer of Camelot. 

 "Welcome to the Order, novice Brothers and Sisters Templar." 

 These were the words Fergus had been waiting years to hear -- for 
 most of his youth, plus three hard years of study in the Templar 
 Academy.  He was now a full-fledged Templar, if not yet a Knight. 

 "Go forth and perform only good works.  Gather unto yourselves and to 
 your Temple the acclaim of humble accomplishment.  Never put aside 
 the wisdom of the ages for transitory popular belief.  Support your 
 Brothers and Sisters.  And, above all, protect those who have sought 
 our protection." 

 The Grand Master pressed his palms together and bowed respectfully 
 as the new Brothers and Sisters turned and strode from the Centrum, 
 two abreast.  This was the only time they would be the first allowed 
 to leave a room of ranked Templars. 

                           The Apprentice  

 Fergus's memory of the lofty atmosphere of the Centrum's initiation 
 ceremony and the following formal banquet in the Refectory were 
 somewhat deflated the next day when he was summoned to the office of 
 the Precentor to be assigned to an Esquire for his apprenticeship. 
 Sitting in one of the two chairs before the Precentor's desk was a 
 man he had heard gossiped about.  Fergus felt a keen disappointment. 

 "Brother Fergus, this is your journeyman, Esquire Yosi Minaker." 

 The Esquire remained seated, but offered his hand to Fergus.  "Glad to 
 meetcha, kid.  Welcome aboard.  You're on the first team, now." 

 This pompous greeting brought about an expression of disapproval on 
 the Precentor's aged, lined face.  Fergus maintained his accustomed 
 appearance of apprentice enthusiasm, and kept his own remarks to a 
 minimum. 

 "Thank you, sir.  It's a pleasure to serve with you." 

 "Esquire Yosi will explain the nature of your assignment, Brother. 
 Go forth and learn from him the craft of your duty.  I wish you a safe 
 journey and good luck." 

                              *  *  * 

 Yosi Minaker was an overage Esquire.  He felt he would never gain 
 a promotion to Knight, and he had ceased caring.  His record in the 
 field was well-known among the members of the Order; it wasn't exactly 
 exemplary. Minaker was smart, shrewd -- but self-centered.  His record 
 of early accomplishments had quickly changed to a pattern of survival 
 skills which kept him on the margin of good odor with his bosses. 

 Minaker was a large man, who smoked cigars when he could get away 
 with it.  He seemed perpetually rumpled, even in his formal uniform: 
 a plain, dark-gray suit of heavy military fabric, which consisted 
 of trousers and a jacket with a choke-collar.  Even his rank-marking 
 Templar breast pin -- a white shield with a large red cross below his 
 Esquire's symbol -- seemed to be pinned off-center, almost as if he 
 were showing disdain for the Order to which he belonged. 

 His homely, oft-scowling face made him seem more like a suspicious 
 policeman than a private security consultant.  It often intimidated 
 those clients who had contracted for Templar services, and gave them 
 a false assurance that Minaker's recommendations for security upgrade 
 would make them and their property safe. 

 Most apprentice-Brothers griped about their experiences with Yosi 
 Minaker.  But even those gained from their apprenticeship, and became 
 skilled in their work. They often received promotion quickly to and 
 beyond the rank of their journeyman instructor, who was never able 
 to sacrifice opportunism and self-aggrandizement to the general good 
 of the Order. 

 Fergus had heard his journeyman's attitude characterized as "don't- 
 give-a-damn," but he decided to keep an open mind during his own 
 apprenticeship because he'd been told by a wise older Brother that 
 much of Minaker's outward attitude was a put-on by a disappointed man 
 seeking a persona appropriate to his years of experience and lack of 
 knighthood. 

                              *  *  * 

 Fergus and Minaker sat on a stone bench in the lovely Garden of 
 Contemplation, which surrounded the golden-domed Centrum and separated 
 it from the rest of Temple Jerusalem's foursquare mass.  Only a few 
 late-summer flowers lingered on under the cloudy sky and cool air, 
 Fergus awaited the facts of his new situation from the man who was 
 now in charge of him. 

 Minaker took a used cigar from his jacket pocket.  It was rolled up 
 in a sheet of paper that looked to Fergus like an official memorandum 
 of some kind.  ("How typical,") he thought.  Minaker stuffed the paper 
 back into his pocket and lit the cigar with a butane lighter. 

 Flourishing the lighter, he remarked enigmatically to Fergus, "Also 
 good for setting fires, if you have to."  He puffed and blew a big, 
 blue smoke-ring which was noticed with distaste by an elderly Knight 
 sitting on a nearby bench. 

 "Okay.  We're being sent to Tristia.  Whadda ya know about it, kid?" 

 "Well ..."  Fergus tried to recall his galactography.  There were so 
 many inhabited worlds that most could carry knowledge of only a few. 
 "Uh..."  He couldn't remember anything about the planet.  "I can look 
 it up; I got good marks in Information Retrieval at the Academy." 
 He smiled wanly at the hulking journeyman, who made a wry gesture 
 with his mouth. 

 "Yeah, sure ...  How did you get into this chicken outfit, anyway?" 

 The question seemed irrelevant to Fergus, but he spoke frankly of his 
 personal history. 

 "I had an advantage, I guess.  My ancient terran ancestors assisted 
 the Templars who escaped from the French persecution to Scotland in 
 the fourteenth century.  The St. Clairs were liege to Robert the Bruce. 
 The King of the Scots had been excommunicated by the Pope, so he was 
 able to use the Templar Knights in his war with the English, even 
 though Rome had dissolved and banned the Order ..." 

 "I know the history....  So you got into the Order by favoritism. 
 Is that about the size of it?" 

 "Well, not exactly, but I guess my ancestry didn't hurt my chances." 

 Minaker grunted.  His ancestry hadn't helped him into the Order.  He 
 had come to the attention of the Templars by virtue of his academic 
 record in the study of criminology, and for his thesis, "Building 
 Security: Monitoring Utility Connections and Sewers"....  He returned 
 to the subject of their assignment. 

 "Tristia is the personal property of the Autarch Kameroni.  He changed 
 the aboriginal name of the planet after he took it over and his wife 
 died there of some local disease....  Ever heard of him?" 

 "Oh yeah.  He's a ..."  Fergus paused to chose his words. 

 "He's a cruel tyrant and a bloody butcher of the first rank.  He's 
 hated by both the aboriginals and colonials of his benighted world. 
 I'd say his chances of living to old age and dying of natural causes 
 are almost nil," opined Minaker. 

 "I see," remarked Fergus.  "Quite a challenge for us, then." 

 Minaker snorted and took another puff on his smelly cigar.  He blasted 
 the smoke into the chill air, without artistry. 

 "That's why the Precentor assigned his contract to us." 

 Fergus knew that Minaker really meant, "to me."  But Minaker was quite 
 willing to share the predicament of this unfavorable assignment 
 equally with his apprentice. 

 "So pray that old Kameroni doesn't get assassinated 'til we write our 
 report and get the hell out of there." 

                         Arrival and Departure  

 Esquire Yosi and Brother Fergus trudged across the concrete of the 
 spaceport from the jumpliner "Excelsioris" to the passenger terminal, 
 as their luggage, previously unloaded, was being probed and sniffed 
 by the Autarch's customs men and security techs....  They were the 
 only passengers to leave the ship for this infamous world, and the 
 "Excelsioris" was being turned around for rejump as quickly as her 
 Captain could prod the ground crew. 

 The spaceport was located near the capital city of Inoremak in the 
 north temperate zone of Tristia.  The planet's GO-class sun benignly 
 warmed the morning air as it blushed spectrally through the greater 
 thickness at the horizon. 

 "I'm surprised.  I expected this world to be a dark, gloomy place -- 
 like something out of a horror video.  It's as nice here as the best 
 parts of Terranova.  This assignment may not be so bad after all." 

 Ignoring his apprentice's sanguine remarks, Minaker grumbled, "Did you 
 notice how they didn't extend a passenger tube to the jumpliner?  How 
 they're making us walk to the terminal? ...  Kameroni's sec-thugs don't 
 trust anyone.  They're watching us as we walk, and they're probing our 
 luggage now, before we can get there." 

 "That's diplomatic, in a way," remarked Fergus.  "I guess there are 
 precedents for the Autarch's mistrust of strangers -- don't you think? 
 Offworld assassins hired by locals to kill him?" 

 "Probably ...  And we shouldn't trust that damned tyrant, either." 

 Fergus had learned, by now, that Esquire Yosi was short on trust and 
 long on suspicion. 

                              *  *  * 

 The Tristian customs men were, nonetheless, quite accommodating to the 
 new visitors.  They ignored Minaker's purposely lighted cigar, despite 
 the many posted NO SMOKING signs.  They politely invited the Templars 
 into a VIP lounge for the formality of document clearance. 

 "I'll take care of the red tape, kid.  You stay here and check the 
 luggage."  Their bags and equipment boxes had been loaded onto an 
 electrocart.  A redcap driver awaited the order to move them to the 
 sleek, armored groundcar that was standing by to transport them along 
 the forest-girt guideway away from the capital to Castle Kameroni. 

 Fergus, glad to be free of documentary matters, began checking their 
 luggage against a list he kept in his personal pocketcomp.  He looked 
 at the electrocart's built-in scale to see if the total weight was 
 less than it should be....  The redcap driver took careful notice 
 of the visitor's inspection.  He would report it to the terminal's 
 security chief, and this report would rapidly work its way up the 
 line to the Autarch, who would be impressed with his new consultants' 
 personal security-consciousness. 

 "Well, well ... a Knight Templar -- as I live and breathe." 

 Fergus turned to find himself facing someone he'd been briefed about 
 -- briefly -- Crown Prince Mollis.  He was a foppish dandy, standing 
 before his hefty bodyguards in an embroidered Nehru jacket and gold- 
 striped trousers.  A large medallion depicting a horned, flame-shrouded 
 diablo dangled from his neck.  He thus sought to be viewed as devilish 
 and nonconformist. 

 "I presume so by your shoulder patch: the white of purity and the red 
 of blood."  The soft voice contained a note of cynicism, as if its 
 owner were unconsciously declaring himself to be free of any such 
 subservience as that to an order of functionaries. 

 "Your Highness."  Fergus bowed.  "I'm Brother Fergus Sinclair. Esquire 
 Yosi Minaker is in document clearance.  We're here in the service of 
 His Majesty, the Autarch." 

 "Is there anything to those rumors about you Templar fellows.... 
 You know: that medallion depicting two men on one horse." 

 "In ancient times, perhaps, Your Highness.  Now, we have a commercial 
 image to maintain."  He smiled at the dandy.  Mollis closed his eyelids 
 and waved his hands in the air in a gesture of mute acceptance. 

 Fergus added, "The two-men-on-a-horse symbol has often been 
 misinterpreted, Your Highness.  It was about comradeship on the field 
 of battle.  Rescuing a fallen brother.  That sort of thing." 

 Prince Mollis shrugged, "Oh.  Too bad," then changed the subject to 
 something closer to his heart.  "So you're here to keep my father on 
 his throne for a bit longer -- to protect him from his many enemies? 
 ... A most unenviable assignment, I judge." 

 "We've been contracted to inspect the security at Castle Kameroni and 
 present a report of our recommendations.  We won't take an active role 
 in the Autarch's personal security, though." 

 Mollis considered this with half-lidded eyes, as if he really couldn't 
 care about his father's security. 

 "Well then, help to keep him alive until I graduate from the ghastly 
 Terranovan school he's sending me to."  He sniffed and waved a many- 
 ringed hand airily.  "It's supposed to make a man of me....  How droll. 
 Pater is so foolishly idealistic in some ways.  But he's not trying to 
 turn my sister into a lady....  Bah!" 

 Fergus kept his face a mask of serious purpose while listening to the 
 Crown Prince.  When the young man stopped his tirade, Fergus shook his 
 head affirmatively, in lieu of comment. 

 Mollis glanced at the loaded luggage cart.  "You have almost as many 
 bags as I have," he stated.  He returned his gaze to Fergus, who seemed 
 to be about the same age as he. 

 "Well then, good luck in your mission-impossible, Brother Templar," 
 he said, and turned toward a passenger tube, now extended to the 
 jumpliner "Excelsioris," which was being held for the Crown Prince's 
 unceremonious departure.  "Ta-ta." 

 As Fergus watched the Crown Prince depart, Yosi Minaker appeared at 
 his side.  His comment on the scene was unexpected, but prophetic. 

 "Sonny Boy should hang around for awhile.  I have a feeling that his 
 daddy might get offed while we're here." 

 Fergus reacted to his journeyman's pessimism with shock. 

 "Oh, yeah...  It won't be the first time that's happened to me," 
 Minaker growled.  "I point out unnoticed security failures, and then 
 -- before they get corrected -- one of those failures proves a handy 
 means for somebody to do his dirty work.  Our clients rarely keep our 
 recommendations secret, like they should." 

 Brother Fergus felt a lump in his throat.  "They didn't mention this 
 at the Academy," he declared, lamely.  He didn't want such a failure 
 as the assassination of a client during his first assignment. 

 "There're a lot of things you don't learn in the Academy, kid." 

                             The Redoubt  

 The groundcar rounded a curve in the guideway, and the forest that 
 had contained them for kilometers from the spaceport fell away to 
 reveal a vast, sunlit meadow.  In its center was a hill that seemed 
 too broad and flat to be natural. 

 On it was Castle Kameroni....  "Wow," exclaimed Fergus. 

 Even Minaker was impressed.  "Looks like it was transplanted intact 
 from your ancestors' cold and drizzly land.  It's a classic, I'll 
 admit, but a dumb idea....  I wonder how many slaves died piling up 
 that custom-built hill it's on?" 

 With its crenelated turrets, battlements, and embrasures, Castle 
 Kameroni was, indeed, a terran classic -- an ivy-splotched pile of 
 stone, which every Templar who had learned his Order's history could 
 appreciate. 

 "I'm gonna have to gig 'em for that ivy, though.  Look.  In some places, 
 a dwarf-ninja could use it to climb right up to the crest of the damn 
 wall." 

 The winding road up the hill circled the castle three times before 
 it reached the drawbridge over the moat.  Fergus searched his memory 
 for some significance, but could find none.  ("Superstition, perhaps.") 

 As the groundcar sat waiting for the wooden bridge to be lowered, 
 the loudspeaker of the driver's radio crackled, "Who goes there?" 

 As the man answered the challenge, Minaker commented, "Ancient. 
 Too ancient....  I have a feeling we'll have lots of sec-upgrade to 
 recommend here." 

 "That challenge was probably just ceremonial," said Fergus. 

 "In the security business, ceremony is crap," sneered Esquire Yosi. 

                              *  *  * 

 The groundcar moved across the drawbridge, under the raised 
 portcullis, through the outer yard, and into the interior bailey 
 of the castle -- where it was surrounded by armed, uniformed dogmen. 

 "Watch it, kid.  You're staring." 

 "I can't help it.  I've heard about them, but I've never met a human- 
 animal genetic mix." 

 "Way out here in the rimworlds, you'll see a lot of things that're 
 frowned on by the moralists and know-it-alls on Terranova." 

 The door to the groundcar's passenger compartment was opened, and a 
 bulldog-faced man stuck his head inside.  From the splendor of his 
 uniform, the Templars guessed he must be the Captain of the Guard. 
 His fourragere had a silver ultrasonic whistle at its tip. 

 "Welcome to Castle Kameroni, noble knights.  I'm Capt. Caneena.  I'll 
 escort you to your quarters.  The Autarch will meet you at supper, 
 tonight....  Are you armed?"  Like a bulldog, his lower fangs showed, 
 even when his mouth was closed. 

 "No, Captain.  We're unarmed," said Minaker.  ("You know we wouldn't 
 come in here armed, Cap'n Dogface....  More damn ceremony.") 

 As the Templars were led into the castle's keep by Caneena, Fergus 
 looked meaningfully at his journeyman.  Esquire Yosi knew what his 
 apprentice wanted to say. 

 He held up his hand in an unmistakable gesture.  "Never mind, kid," he 
 whispered.  "He doesn't need to know we haven't been knighted yet." 

 With his keen hearing, the Captain heard every word.  He made a mental 
 note to check the background report on these Templars for their actual 
 titles....  Even in his earliest days as a pupman in the kennels, he'd 
 learned the importance of rank and position. 

                     At the Table of the Autarch  

 "Have some more venison, son.  There's no shortage; my forests are 
 overrun with imported terranovan roe deer....  Try some of those 
 candied yams, too.  They're a delicacy out here in the rimworlds." 

 Autarch Kameroni had apparently eaten many a course set before him. 
 He was quite overweight, from a security point of view.  But he was 
 not a helpless flabbo.  Despite his age and poundage, he was still 
 capable of taking swift personal action against his enemies -- and 
 some of those who mistakenly believed themselves to be his friends. 

 The bearded baron of Castle Kameroni seemed a Falstaffian figure only 
 to those who hadn't yet felt the lash of his anger.  He was dressed in 
 a loose black robe that lacked the cowl that would have made him 
 resemble the abbot of a monastery.  He even had a large ring to be 
 kissed by his liege lords.  (Minaker guessed it probably contained 
 poison for the kind of extreme emergency he had never faced.)  The 
 Autarch Kameroni was nothing like a monk, though.  His appetites for 
 what life had to offer were legendary, as was the gossip about how 
 he satisfied them. 

 Fergus couldn't eat any more of the rich food on the trencherman's 
 banquet table in the commonroom of the castle keep below the hanging 
 banners of the planet's noble houses, but he took some more meat and 
 potatoes, anyway.  Minaker didn't need any urging to partake of the 
 Autarch's larder.  Templars weren't fed like this in their regional 
 temple refectories, where discipline and self-control were expected. 

 "Thank you, Your Majesty," said Fergus.  He decided to divert the 
 Autarch's culinary benevolence with a new table subject.  "I was 
 graciously greeted today at the spaceport terminal by Crown Prince 
 Mollis before he left for school." 

 The Autarch rolled his eyes heavenward.  "I hope he didn't give you his 
 idiot interpretation of our security here.  He's never had to lift a 
 finger in the defense of his family....  He probably won't crack a 
 bookchip at that fancy school, either....  It's so disappointing to 
 have a son turn out bad.  I hope you'll have better luck with your 
 children than I did." 

 "Thank you father!"  A brittle voice rang out from the second-floor 
 loggia which surrounded the commonroom.  "Your confidence is so 
 touching!" 

 Fergus and Minaker stared upward at the young woman in black leather 
 who leaned over the railing.  Her pretty face was contrasted by her 
 unfashionably short blonde hair and the long dagger at her waist. 
 Although it was pleasantly warm, she wore black action-gloves, the 
 kind favored by sportswomen and combatants.  The blood-red ruby pin 
 at her neck seemed the one out-of-place touch of feminine decoration 
 in an otherwise dark and ominous configuration. 

 "This is my daughter, the Princess Enola.  I invited her to our table, 
 but she disrespectfully declined," grumbled the Autarch. 

 "I was busy....  Welcome to our house, Templars.  I feel safer now," 
 she snarled sweetly, as she turned and strode from their sight. 

 "Enola lacks the social graces of her sainted mother, but I'll say 
 this for her: she can handle herself in a tricky situation almost as 
 well as I can," double-boasted the Autarch. 

 ("I'll bet she can,") thought Minaker.  ("I'd like to see how she 
 handles herself in a clinch with me.  Maybe ...")  The Esquire began 
 planning a sexual conquest -- far-fetched though this might seem at 
 first consideration. 

 "She's quite attractive, sir," remarked Fergus, diplomatically. 

 "Yes, quite attractive," added Minaker, hastily.  ("But not as 'pretty' 
 as that brother of hers....  Yech.") 

                              *  *  * 

 "I think we've got good security here, Esquire Yosi.  It's the result 
 of many years of experience....  Of course, I'm receptive to any 
 improvements you may suggest." 

 The feast had reached the brandy-and-cigars stage.  Fergus had politely 
 declined to light up, but Minaker and the Autarch were engaged in a 
 puffing contest that enveloped the area around the table in a blue 
 haze.  Refilled brandy snifters had added to the negative situation of 
 the Templars.  They were in no condition, right then, to contribute 
 much to the improved security of Castle Kameroni.  This was obvious 
 to its sly master, whose wolfish smile betokened a forthcoming ploy 
 he'd used before on other visitors. 

 "I'd like to show you gentlemen what I've already accomplished in my 
 many years of security consciousness....  Would you like to visit my 
 museum?" 

 The Templars stared at each other through the haze.  ("He's up to 
 something,") both suspected -- something they dared not reject for 
 fear of offending their client. 

 "Yes, Your Majesty," replied Minaker.  "We would." 

 The Autarch leaped to his feet, thrusting his chair backward noisily. 
 The harsh scraping sound against the stone floor echoed throughout the 
 huge room and jarred the stuffed, logy visitors to attention. 

 "Come along, then." 

                         Unforgettable Exhibits  

 The Templars followed in the wake of the Autarch down a gray granite 
 corridor lined with exhibits of body armor, from the elaborate suits 
 of ancient times to the sleek partial-polyarmor of the present.  The 
 corridor was straight and, in the visitors' opinion, too long and 
 narrow. 

 "When I built the museum, I connected it to the keep by this corridor. 
 With these armor displays added, it's become an exhibit-hall annex." 

 The Templars kept their opinions to themselves as they hastened 
 somewhat unsteadily after their client.  They would have to deal with 
 this place in their final report.  No guards were stationed here, and 
 apparently there were no intrusion sensors.  It was a natural trap. 

 Finally, they passed through the arched entrance to the museum.... 
 Before them lay a modern complex of plastiglass exhibit cases above 
 a terrazzo floor.  Spotlights artfully illuminated the exhibits within 
 the darkened hall. 

 The Templars were stopped in their tracks by the first exhibit, 
 free-standing and centered just beyond the entrance. 

 It was a plastiglass man-container, shaped to fit its occupant.  On 
 the side, electrodes were mounted.  At the bottom were a tube and 
 valve.  These were connected to an apparatus with controls and dials 
 on top and casters below, like some garage's automotive diagnostic 
 machine. 

 In the container was a mummy.  Its mouth was frozen open in a scream. 

 The Autarch detected their cessation and turned back to begin his 
 lecture-tour with the prime exhibit which had captivated his visitors 
 -- as he knew it would.  It always did. 

 "Not bad, eh?  I waited years to capture that fellow, a famous rebel 
 leader....  I've forgotten his name -- some colonial who didn't know 
 his place." 

 Minaker's screwed-up expression told his reaction, before he quickly 
 changed it to a wan smile.  "It's quite a ... unique ... exhibit, Your 
 Majesty....  What do you think, Brother?" he inquired mischievously. 

 "Yes.  Quite unique, sir," echoed Brother Fergus as he stared in horror 
 at the container and its contents. 

 The Autarch began pointing out the exhibit's details.  "Minnigerode--- 
 that was his name."  He chuckled.  "On Terranova that's some kind of 
 pudding, I understand....  Well, I made a pudding out of him, I'll tell 
 you.  I connected his extremities to the neural generator.  Then I sat 
 down and jumped the current around on his body at random.  The fellow 
 went mad guessing what would hurt next. 

 "But, of course, all good things must come to an end.  So I activated 
 all the electrodes to a more-or-less tolerable level, and while he 
 screamed, I slowly pumped the air from his container -- his coffin. 

 "He's remarkably preserved, don't you think? ...  It must be the high 
 vacuum he ended up in." 

 "Remarkable," mumbled Minaker, who removed his cigar to gape at the 
 erstwhile rebel in the container.  "Excellent preservation, sir," 
 seconded Fergus, who suddenly wanted to return to his guest room. 

 "Right.  Now, come this way."  He turned and proceeded farther into 
 the museum.  "Down this aisle is my historical exhibit of torture 
 devices.  Some of them are millennia-old -- but still useful.  There's 
 really no such thing as an obsolete method for extracting information, 
 you know." 

 The Templars hesitated....  The Autarch turned to face them. 

 "Or would you prefer to see the exhibit of body parts taken from my 
 enemies?  I've used some rather innovative preservation techniques 
 for them, too." 

 Minaker was temporarily speechless.  It was Fergus who replied to the 
 Autarch's invitation in a respectful and hopeful manner. 

 "Uh...  Do you have any stuffed animals, or anything like that?" 

 "No animals, but I've got some stuffed traitors....  Follow me." 

 As the Templars reluctantly followed their guide, Minaker recovered 
 his poise long enough to inform his younger colleague, sotto voce, 
 "He's testing us.  He wants to see how tough we are." 

 "You don't say?" replied Fergus, grimly. 

                           (Continued on next page)   
 

Story copyright ©1998 by Frederick Rustam <frustam@CapAccess.org>  

Illustration copyright ©1998 by Romeo Esparrago <romedome@aol.com>   

 
 

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