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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Asprin Robert
 

«The Bug Wars», Robert Asprin

 

"REMINDER" by Buck Coulson

The stardrive was discovered on a planet in Centaurus,

By a race that built their cities when the Earth was burning gas.

They swept across the starlanes in the dawning of creation,

And a million years of empire came to pass.

Their successors were a swarm of mighty insects from Orion.

They did not have the stardrive, but they did not ever die.

They smashed a dying empire and then settled down to rule it,

And another million years or so went by.

The Insects were supplanted when the drive was rediscovered.

They could not stop rebellion when they could not catch their foes.

And the Tzen became the rulers. They were reptiles from Arcturus,

And they worshipped the dark swamps from which they rose.

But the Tzen were few in number and the universe is mighty,

And they felt their domination slip away between their claws.

Others fought for domination and the universe was chaos,

While on Earth a creature shaped flint with its paws.

Now the first ones are forgotten and the Insects but a memory,

And the creature called Man stands upon the threshold of his fame.

But remember, puny Earthlings, there were others here before you,

And still others who will follow in your flame.

 

BOOK ONE

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

I became awake. Reflexively, with the return of consciousness, I looked to my weapons. I felt them there in the darkness, strapped to my body and attached to the panel close over my head. I felt them, and relaxed slightly, moving on to other levels of consciousness. I have my weapons, I am alive, I am a Tzen, I am dutybound, I am Rahm.

Having recalled I am a Tzen, it did not surprise me that I thought of my duty before even thinking of my name. It is part of the character of the Tzen to always think of the species and the Empire before thinking of themselves, particularly the Warrior caste, of which I was one. It has occasionally been suggested, privately of course, that some of the other castes, particularly the Scientists, think of the individual before they think of the species, but I do not believe this. A Tzen is a Tzen.

I flexed my talons. Yes, my body was functioning efficiently. I was ready to venture forth. There had been no sound of alarm or noises of battle, but I still was cautious as I pressed the release lever of my shelf with my tail. The door slid down a fraction of an inch and stopped as I scanned the chamber through the slit.

The chamber was dimly lit, closely approximating moonlight. The air was warm-not hot, but warm and humid, the temperature of night in the Black Swamps. We were not being awakened for relaxation and food replenishment. We were being awakened to hunt. We were preparing for combat.

Without further meditation, I slid the door the rest of the way open and started to slide from my shelf, then paused. Another Tzen was moving along the walkway I was about to step out on. I waited for him to pass before standing forth and securing my weapons.

The fact that I outranked him, in fact was his immediate superior on this mission, was irrelevant. My waiting was not even a matter of courtesy, it was logical. The walkway was too narrow for two to pass, and he was moving on it first.

We exchanged neither salutes nor nods of recognition as he passed, his tail rasping briefly on the walkway. His ten-foot bulk, large even for a Tzen, was easy to recognize in the semidarkness. He was Zur, my second-in-command for this mission. I respected him for his abilities, as he respected me for mine. I felt no desire to wish him luck or a need to give him last-minute instructions. He was a Tzen.

He, like the rest of my flight team, had performed efficiently in practice, and I had no reason to expect they would perform otherwise in actual combat. If he or any of the others seemed lax or panicky in battle, and if that shortcoming endangered me or the mission, I would kill them.

The walkway was clear now, and I moved along it to the junction between the shelf-wall and the engineward flex-well. For a moment, I was thankful for my rank. As flight team Commander, my flyer was positioned closest to the floor, which spared me climbing up the curved wall. Not that I would mind the climb, but since flyer training began, I had discovered I was mildly acrophobic. It didn't bother me once I was flying, but I disliked hanging suspended in midair.

I didn't spend a great deal of time checking over the flyer. That was the Technicians' job. I knew enough about the flyers to pilot them and effect minor repairs, but machines were the Technicians' field of expertise as weapons are mine, and anything they missed on their check would be too subtle for me to detect.

Instead, I occupied my time securing my personal weapons in the flyer, a job no Technician could do. I do not mean to imply by this that the Technicians are lacking in fighting skill. They are Tzen, and I would willingly match any Tzen of any caste on a one-for-one basis against any other intelligent being in the universe. But I am of the Warrior caste, the fighting elite of a species of fighters, and I secure my own weapons.


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