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The Dueling Machine

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Title: The Dueling Machine
Author: Benjamin William Bova, Myron R. Lewis
Summary: The trouble with great ideas is that someone is sure to expend enormous effort and ingenuity figuring out how to louse them up.

Word count:  21383
Public Domain Mark (PDM)

Image:  Analog Science Fact & Fiction May 1963

 

Dulaq rode the slide to the upper pedestrian level, stepped off and walked over to the railing. The city stretched out all around him—broad avenues thronged with busy people, pedestrian walks, vehicle thoroughfares, aircars gliding between the gleaming, towering buildings.

And somewhere in this vast city was the man he must kill. The man who would kill him, perhaps.

It all seemed so real! The noise of the streets, the odors of the perfumed trees lining the walks, even the warmth of the reddish sun on his back as he scanned the scene before him.

It is an illusion, Dulaq reminded himself, a clever man-made hallucination. A figment of my own imagination amplified by a machine.

But it seemed so very real.

Real or not, he had to find Odal before the sun set. Find him and kill him. Those were the terms of the duel. He fingered the stubby cylinderical stat-wind in his tunic pocket. That was the weapon he had chosen, his weapon, his own invention. And this was the environment he had picked: his city, busy, noisy, crowded, the metropolis Dulaq had known and loved since childhood.

Dulaq turned and glanced at the sun. It was halfway down toward the horizon, he judged. He had about three hours to find Odal. When he did—kill or be killed.

Of course no one is actually hurt. That is the beauty of the machine. It allows one to settle a score, to work out aggressive feelings, without either mental or physical harm.

Dulaq shrugged. He was a roundish figure, moon-faced, slightly stooped shoulders. He had work to do. Unpleasant work for a civilized man, but the future of the Acquataine Cluster and the entire alliance of neighboring star systems could well depend on the outcome of this electronically synthesized dream.

He turned and walked down the elevated avenue, marveling at the sharp sensation of hardness that met each footstep on the paving. Children dashed by and rushed up to a toyshop window. Men of commerce strode along purposefully, but without missing a chance to eye the girls sauntering by.

I must have a marvelous imagination, Dulaq thought smiling to himself.

Then he thought of Odal, the blond, icy professional he was pitted against. Odal was an expert at all the weapons, a man of strength and cool precision, an emotionless tool in the hands of a ruthless politician. But how expert could he be with a stat-wand, when the first time he saw one was the moment before the duel began? And how well acquainted could he be with the metropolis, when he had spent most of his life in the military camps on the dreary planets of Kerak, sixty light-years from Acquatainia?

No, Odal would be lost and helpless in this situation. He would attempt to hide among the throngs of people. All Dulaq had to do was to find him.

The terms of the duel restricted both men to the pedestrian walks of the commercial quarter of the city. Dulaq knew the area intimately, and he began a methodical hunt through the crowds for the tall, fair-haired, blue-eyed Odal.

And he saw him! After only a few minutes of walking down the major thoroughfare, he spotted his opponent, strolling calmly along a crosswalk, at the level below.

Dulaq hurried down the next ramp, worked his way through the crowd, and saw the man again. Tall and blond, unmistakable. Dulaq edged along behind him quietly, easily. No disturbance. No pushing. Plenty of time. They walked along the street for a quarter hour while the distance between them slowly shrank from fifty feet to five.

Finally Dulaq was directly behind him, within arm’s reach. He grasped the stat-wand and pulled it from his tunic. With one quick motion he touched it to the base of the man’s skull and started to thumb the button that would release the killing bolt of energy …

The man turned suddenly. It wasn’t Odal!

Dulaq jerked back in surprise. It couldn’t be. He had seen his face. It was Odal—and yet this man was definitely a stranger.

He stared at Dulaq as the duelist backed away a few steps, then turned and walked quickly from the place.

A mistake, Dulaq told himself. You were overanxious. A good thing this is an hallucination, or else the auto-police would be taking you in by now.

And yet … he had been so certain that it was Odal. A chill shuddered through him. He looked up, and there was his antagonist, on the thoroughfare above, at the precise spot where he himself had been a few minutes earlier. Their eyes met, and Odal’s lips parted in a cold smile.

Dulaq hurried up the ramp. Odal was gone by the time he reached the upper level. He could not have gotten far, Dulaq reasoned. Slowly, but very surely, Dulaq’s hallucination turned into a nightmare. He spotted Odal in the crowd, only to have him melt away. He saw him again, lolling in a small park, but when he got closer, the man turned out to be another stranger. He felt the chill of the duelist’s ice-blue eyes on him again and again, but when he turned to find his antagonist, no one was there but the impersonal crowd.

Odal’s face appeared again and again. Dulaq struggled through the throngs to find his opponent, only to have him vanish. The crowd seemed to be filled with tall, blond men crisscrossing before Dulaq’s dismayed eyes.

The shadows lengthened. The sun was setting. Dulaq could feel his heart pounding within him and perspiration pouring from every square inch of his skin.

There he is! Definitely, positively him! Dulaq pushed through the homeward-bound crowds toward the figure of a tall, blond man leaning against the safety railing of the city’s main thoroughfare. It was Odal, the damned smiling confident Odal.

Dulaq pulled the wand from his tunic and battled across the surging crowd to the spot where Odal stood motionless, hands in pockets, watching him.

Dulaq came within arm’s reach …

“TIME, GENTLEMEN. TIME IS UP, THE DUEL IS ENDED.”

High above the floor of the antiseptic-white chamber that housed the dueling machine was a narrow gallery. Before the machine had been installed, the chamber had been a lecture hall in Acquatainia’s largest university. Now the rows of students’ seats, the lecturer’s dais and rostrum were gone. The chamber held only the machine, the grotesque collection of consoles, control desks, power units, association circuits, and booths where the two antagonists sat.

In the gallery—empty during ordinary duels—sat a privileged handful of newsmen.

“Time limit is up,” one of them said. “Dulaq didn’t get him.”

“Yes, but he didn’t get Dulaq, either.”

The first one shrugged. “The important thing is that now Dulaq has to fight Odal on his terms. Dulaq couldn’t win with his own choice of weapons and situation, so—”

“Wait, they’re coming out.”

Down on the floor below, Dulaq and his opponent emerged from their enclosed booths.

One of the newsmen whistled softly. “Look at Dulaq’s face … it’s positively gray.”

“I’ve never seen the Prime Minister so shaken.”

“And take a look at Kanus’ hired assassin.” The newsmen turned toward Odal, who stood before his booth, quietly chatting with his seconds.

“Hm-m-m. There’s a bucket of frozen ammonia for you.”

“He’s enjoying this.”

One of the newsmen stood up. “I’ve got a deadline to meet. Save my seat.”

He made his way past the guarded door, down the rampway circling the outer walls of the building, to the portable tri-di transmitting unit that the Acquatainian government had permitted for the newsmen on the campus grounds outside the former lecture hall.

The newsman huddled with his technicians for a few minutes, then stepped before the transmitter.

“Emile Dulaq, Prime Minister of the Acquataine Cluster and acknowledged leader of the coalition against Chancellor Kanus of the Kerak Worlds, has failed in the first part of his psychonic duel against Major Par Odal of Kerak. The two antagonists are now undergoing the routine medical and psychological checks before renewing their duel.”

By the time the newsman returned to his gallery seat, the duel was almost ready to begin again.

Dulaq stood in the midst of a group of advisors before the looming impersonality of the machine.

“You need not go through with the next phase of the duel immediately,” his Minister of Defense was saying. “Wait until tomorrow. Rest and calm yourself.”

Dulaq’s round face puckered into a frown. He cocked an eye at the chief meditech, hovering at the edge of the little group.

The meditech, one of the staff that ran the dueling machine, pointed out, “The Prime Minister has passed the examinations. He is capable, within the agreed-upon rules of the contest, of resuming.”

“But he has the option of retiring for the day, does he not?”

“If Major Odal agrees.”

Dulaq shook his head impatiently. “No. I shall go through with it. Now.”

“But—”

The prime minister’s face suddenly hardened; his advisors lapsed into a respectful silence. The chief meditech ushered Dulaq back into his booth. On the other side of the room, Odal glanced at the Acquatainians, grinned humorlessly, and strode to his own booth.

Dulaq sat and tried to blank out his mind while the meditechs adjusted the neurocontacts to his head and torso. They finished at last and withdrew. He was alone in the booth now, looking at the dead-white walls, completely bare except for the viewscreen before his eyes. The screen finally began to glow slightly, then brightened into a series of shifting colors. The colors merged and changed, swirled across his field of view. Dulaq felt himself being drawn into them gradually, compellingly, completely immersed in them.

The mists slowly vanished, and Dulaq found himself standing on an immense and totally barren plain. Not a tree, not a blade of grass; nothing but bare, rocky ground stretching in all directions to the horizon and disturbingly harsh yellow sky. He looked down and at his feet saw the weapon that Odal had chosen.

A primitive club.

With a sense of dread, Dulaq picked up the club and hefted it in his hand. He scanned the plain. Nothing. No hills or trees or bushes to hide in. No place to run to.

And off on the horizon he could see a tall, lithe figure holding a similar club walking slowly and deliberately toward him.

The press gallery was practically empty. The duel had more than an hour to run, and most of the newsmen were outside, broadcasting their hastily-drawn guesses about Dulaq’s failure to win with his own choice of weapon and environment.

Then a curious thing happened.

On the master control panel of the dueling machine, a single light flashed red. The meditech blinked at it in surprise, then pressed a series of buttons on his board. More red lights appeared. The chief meditech rushed to the board and flipped a single switch.

One of the newsmen turned to his partner. “What’s going on down there?”

“I think it’s all over…. Yes, look, they’re opening up the booths. Somebody must’ve scored a victory.”

They watched intently while the other newsmen quickly filed back into the gallery.

“There’s Odal. He looks happy.”

“Guess that means—”

“Good Lord! Look at Dulaq!”

II

Dr. Leoh was lecturing at the Carinae Regional University when the news of Dulaq’s duel reached him. An assistant professor perpetrated the unthinkable breach of interrupting the lecture to whisper the news in his ear.

Leoh nodded grimly, hurriedly finished his lecture, and them accompanied the assistant professor to the University president’s office. They stood in silence as the slideway whisked them through the strolling students and blossoming greenery of the quietly-busy campus.

Leoh remained wrapped in his thoughts as they entered the administration building and rode the lift tube. Finally, as they stepped through the president’s doorway, Leoh asked the assistant professor:

“You say he was in a state of catatonic shock when they removed him from the machine?”

“He still is,” the president answered from his desk. “Completely withdrawn from the real world. Cannot speak, hear, or even see—a living vegetable.”

Leoh plopped down in the nearest chair and ran a hand across his fleshy face. He was balding and jowly, but his face was creased from a smile that was almost habitual, and his eyes were active and alert.

“I don’t understand it,” he admitted. “Nothing like this has ever happened in a dueling machine before.”

The university president shrugged. “I don’t understand it either. But, this is your business.” He put a slight emphasis on the last word, unconsciously perhaps.

“Well, at least this will not reflect on the university. That is why I formed Psychonics as a separate business enterprise.” Then he added, with a grin, “The money was, of course, only a secondary consideration.”

The president managed a smile. “Of course.”

“I suppose the Acquatainians want to see me?” Leoh asked academically.

“They’re on the tri-di now, waiting for you.”

“They’re holding a transmission frequency open over eight hundred parsecs?” Leoh looked impressed. “I must be an important man.”

“You’re the inventor of the dueling machine and the head of Psychonics, Inc. You’re the only man who can tell them what went wrong.”

“Well, I suppose I shouldn’t keep them waiting.”

“You can take the call here,” the president said, starting to get up from his chair.

“No, no, stay there at your desk,” Leoh insisted. “There’s no reason for you to leave. Or you either,” he said to the assistant professor.

The president touched a button on his desk communicator. The far wall of the office glowed momentarily, then seemed to dissolve. They were looking into another office, this one on Acquatainia. It was crowded with nervous-looking men in business clothes and military uniforms.

“Gentlemen,” Dr. Leoh said.

Several of the Acquatainians tried to answer him at once. After a few seconds of talking together, they all looked toward one of their members—a tall, purposeful, shrewd-faced civilian who bore a neatly-trimmed black beard.

“I am Fernd Massan, the Acting Prime Minister of Acquatainia. You realize, of course, the crisis that has been precipitated in my Government because of this duel?”

Leoh blinked. “I realize that apparently there has been some difficulty with the dueling machine installed on the governing planet of your star cluster. Political crises are not in my field.”

“But your dueling machine has incapacitated the Prime Minister,” one of the generals bellowed.

“And at this particular moment,” the defense minister added, “in the midst of our difficulties with the Kerak Worlds.”

“If the Prime Minister is not—”

“Gentlemen!” Leoh objected. “I cannot make sense of your story if you all speak at once.”

Massan gestured them to silence.

“The dueling machine,” Leoh said, adopting a slightly professorial tone, “is nothing more than a psychonic device for alleviating human aggressions and hostilities. It allows for two men to share a dream world created by one of them. There is a nearly-complete feedback between the two. Within certain limits, two men can do anything they wish within their dream world. This allows men to settle grievances with violence—in the safety of their own imaginations. If the machine is operated properly, no physical or mental harm can be done to the participants. They can alleviate their tensions safely—without damage of any sort to anyone, and without hurting society.

“Your own Government tested one of the machines and approved its use on Acquatainia more than three years ago. I see several of you who were among those to whom I personally demonstrated the device. Duelling machines are in use through wide portions of the galaxy, and I am certain that many of you have used the machine. You have, general, I’m sure.”

The general blustered. “That has nothing to do with the matter at hand!”

“Admittedly,” Leoh conceded. “But I do not understand how a therapeutic machine can possibly become entangled in a political crisis.”

Massan said: “Allow me to explain. Our Government has been conducting extremely delicate negotiations with the stellar governments of our neighboring territories. These negotiations concern the rearmaments of the Kerak Worlds. You have heard of Kanus of Kerak?”

“I recall the name vaguely,” Leoh said. “He’s a political leader of some sort.”

“Of the worst sort. He has acquired complete dictatorship of the Kerak Worlds, and is now attempting to rearm them for war. This is in direct countervention of the Treaty of Acquatainia, signed only thirty Terran years ago.”

“I see. The treaty was signed at the end of the Acquataine-Kerak war, wasn’t it?”

“A war that we won,” the general pointed out.

“And now the Kerak Worlds want to rearm and try again,” Leoh said.

“Precisely.”

Leoh shrugged. “Why not call in the Star Watch? This is their type of police activity. And what has all this to do with the dueling machine?”

Massan explained patiently, “The Acquataine Cluster has never become a full-fledged member of the Terran Commonwealth. Our neighboring territories are likewise unaffiliated. Therefore the Star Watch can intervene only if all parties concerned agree to intervention. Unless, of course, there is an actual military emergency. The Kerak Worlds, of course, are completely isolationist—unbound by any laws except those of force.”

Leoh shook his head.

“As for the dueling machine,” Massan went on, “Kanus of Kerak has turned it into a political weapon—”

“But that’s impossible. Your government passed strict laws concerning the use of the machine; I recommended them and I was in your Council chambers when the laws were passed. The machine may be used only for personal grievances. It is strictly outside the realm of politics.”

Massan shook his head sadly. “Sir, laws are one thing—people are another. And politics consists of people, not words on paper.”

“I don’t understand,” Leoh said.

Massan explained, “A little more than one Terran year ago, Kanus picked a quarrel with a neighboring star-group—the Safad Federation. He wanted an especially favorable trade agreement with them. Their minister of trade objected most strenuously. One of the Kerak negotiators—a certain Major Odal—got into a personal argument with the minister. Before anyone knew what had happened, they had challenged each other to a duel. Odal won the duel, and the minister resigned his post. He said that he could no longer effectively fight against the will of Odal and his group … he was psychologically incapable of it. Two weeks later he was dead—apparently a suicide, although I have doubts.”

“That’s … extremely interesting,” Leoh said.

“Three days ago,” Massan continued, “the same Major Odal engaged Prime Minister Dulaq in a bitter personal argument. Odal is now a military attaché of the Kerak Embassy here. He accused the Prime Minister of cowardice, before a large group of an Embassy party. The Prime Minister had no alternative but to challenge him. And now—”

“And now Dulaq is in a state of shock, and your government is tottering.”

Massan’s back stiffened. “Our Government shall not fall, nor shall the Acquataine Cluster acquiesce to the rearmament of the Kerak Worlds. But”—his voice lowered—”without Dulaq, I fear that our neighboring governments will give in to Kanus’ demands and allow him to rearm. Alone, we are powerless to stop him.”

“Rearmament itself might not be so bad,” Leoh mused, “if you can keep the Kerak Worlds from using their weapons. Perhaps the Star Watch might—”

“Kanus could strike a blow and conquer a star system before the Star Watch could be summoned and arrive to stop him. Once Kerak is armed, this entire area of the galaxy is in peril. In fact, the entire galaxy is endangered.”

“And he’s using the dueling machine to further his ambitions,” Leoh said. “Well, gentlemen, it seems I have no alternative but to travel to the Acquataine Cluster. The dueling machine is my responsibility, and if there is something wrong with it, or the use of it, I will do my best to correct the situation.”

“That is all we ask,” Massan said. “Thank you.”

The Acquatainian scene faded away, and the three men in the university president’s office found themselves looking at a solid wall once again.

“Well,” Dr. Leoh said, turning to the president, “it seems that I must request an indefinite leave of absence.”

The president frowned. “And it seems that I must grant your request—even though the year is only half-finished.”

“I regret the necessity,” Leoh said; then, with a broad grin, he added, “My assistant professor, here, can handle my courses for the remainder of the year very easily. Perhaps he will even be able to deliver his lectures without being interrupted.”

The assistant professor turned red.

“Now then,” Leoh muttered, mostly to himself, “who is this Kanus, and why is he trying to turn the Kerak Worlds into an arsenal?”

III

Chancellor Kanus, the supreme leader of the Kerak Worlds, stood at the edge of the balcony and looked across the wild, tumbling gorge to the rugged mountains beyond.

“These are the forces that mold men’s actions,” he said to his small audience of officials and advisors, “the howling winds, the mighty mountains, the open sky and the dark powers of the clouds.”

The men nodded and made murmurs of agreement.

“Just as the mountains thrust up from the pettiness of the lands below, so shall we rise above the common walk of men,” Kanus said. “Just as a thunderstorm terrifies them, we will make them bend to our will!”

“We will destroy the past,” said one of the ministers.

“And avenge the memory of defeat,” Kanus added. He turned and looked at the little group of men. Kanus was the smallest man on the balcony: short, spare, sallow-faced; but he possessed piercing dark eyes and a strong voice that commanded attention.

He walked through the knot of men and stopped before a tall, lean, blond youth in light-blue military uniform. “And you, Major Odal, will be a primary instrument in the first steps of conquest.”

Odal bowed stiffly. “I only hope to serve my leader and my worlds.”

“You shall. And you already have,” Kanus said, beaming. “Already the Acquatainians are thrashing about like a snake whose head has been cut off. Without Dulaq, they have no head, no brain to direct them. For your part in this triumph”—Kanus snapped his fingers, and one of his advisors quickly stepped to his side and handed him a small ebony box—”I present you with this token of the esteem of the Kerak Worlds, and of my personal high regard.”

He handed the box to Odal, who opened it and took out a small jeweled pin.

“The Star of Kerak,” Kanus announced. “This is the first time it has been awarded to anyone except a warrior on the battlefield. But then, we have turned their so-called civilized machine into our own battlefield, eh?”

Odal grinned. “Yes, sir, we have. Thank you very much sir. This is the supreme moment of my life.”

“To date, major. Only to date. There will be other moments, even higher ones. Come, let’s go inside. We have many plans to discuss … more duels … more triumphs.”

They all filed in to Kanus’ huge, elaborate office. The leader walked across the plushly ornate room and sat at the elevated desk, while his followers arranged themselves in the chairs and couches placed about the floor. Odal remained standing, near the doorway.

Kanus let his fingers flick across a small control board set into his desktop, and a tri-dimensional star map glowed into existence on the far wall. As its center were the eleven stars that harbored the Kerak Worlds. Around them stood neighboring stars, color-coded to show their political groupings. Off to one side of the map was the Acquataine Cluster, a rich mass of stars—wealthy, powerful, the most important political and economic power in the section of the galaxy. Until yesterday’s duel.

Kanus began one of his inevitable harangues. Objectives, political and military. Already the Kerak Worlds were unified under his dominant will. The people would follow wherever he led. Already the political alliances built up by the Acquatainian diplomacy since the last war were tottering, now that Dulaq was out of the picture. Now was the time to strike. A political blow here, at the Szarno Confederacy, to bring them and their armaments industries into line with Kerak. Then more political strikes to isolate the Acquataine Cluster from its allies, and to build up the subservient states for Kerak. Then, finally, the military blow—against the Acquatainians.

“A sudden strike, a quick, decisive series of blows, and the Acquatainians will collapse like a house of paper. Before the Star Watch can interfere, we will be masters of the Cluster. Then, with the resources of Acquatainia to draw on, we can challenge any force in the galaxy—even the Terran Commonwealth itself!”

The men in the room nodded their assent.

They’ve heard this story many, many times, Odal thought to himself. This was the first time he had been privileged to listen to it. If you closed your eyes, or looked only at the star map, the plan sounded bizarre, extreme, even impossible. But, if you watched Kanus, and let those piercing, almost hypnotic eyes fasten on yours, then the leader’s wildest dreams sounded not only exciting, but inevitable.

Odal leaned a shoulder against the paneled wall and scanned the other men in the room.

There was fat Greber, the vice chancellor, fighting desperately to stay awake after drinking too much wine during the luncheon and afterward. And Modal, sitting on the couch next to him, was bright-eyed and alert, thinking only of how much money and power would come to him as Chief of Industries once the rearmament program began in earnest.

Sitting alone on another couch was Kor, the quiet one, the head of Intelligence, and—technically—Odal’s superior. Silent Kor, whose few words were usually charged with terror for those whom he spoke against.

Marshal Lugal looked bored when Kanus spoke of politics, but his face changed when military matters came up. The marshal lived for only one purpose: to avenge his army’s humiliating defeat in the war against the Acquatainians, thirty Terran years ago. What he didn’t realize, Odal thought, smiling to himself, was that as soon as he had reorganized the army and re-equipped it, Kanus planned to retire him and place younger men in charge. Men whose only loyalty was not to the army, not even to the Kerak Worlds and their people, but to the chancellor himself.

Eagerly following every syllable, every gesture of the leader was little Tinth. Born to the nobility, trained in the arts, a student of philosophy, Tinth had deserted his heritage and joined the forces of Kanus. His reward had been the Ministry of Education; many teachers had suffered under him.

And finally there was Romis, the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. A professional diplomat, and one of the few men in government before Kanus’ sweep to power to survive this long. It was clear that Romis hated the chancellor. But he served the Kerak Worlds well. The diplomatic corps was flawless in their handling of intergovernmental affairs. It was only a matter of time, Odal knew, before one of them—Romis or Kanus—killed the other.

The rest of Kanus’ audience consisted of political hacks, roughnecks-turned-bodyguards, and a few other hangers-on who had been with Kanus since the days when he held his political monologues in cellars, and haunted the alleys to avoid the police. Kanus had come a long way: from the blackness of oblivion to the dazzling heights of the chancellor’s rural estate.

Money, power, glory, revenge, patriotism: each man in the room, listening to Kanus, had his reasons for following the chancellor.

And my reasons? Odal asked himself. Why do I follow him? Can I see into my own mind as easily as I see into theirs?

There was duty, of course. Odal was a soldier, and Kanus was the duly-elected leader of the government. Once elected, though, he had dissolved the government and solidified his powers as absolute dictator of the Kerak Worlds.

There was gain to be had by performing well under Kanus. Regardless of his political ambitions and personal tyrannies, Kanus rewarded well when he was pleased. The medal—the Star of Kerak—carried with it an annual pension that would nicely accommodate a family. If I had one, Odal thought, sardonically.

There was power, of sorts, also. Working the dueling machine in his special way, hammering a man into nothingness, finding the weaknesses in his personality and exploiting them, pitting his mind against others, turning sneering towers of pride like Dulaq into helpless whipped dogs—that was power. And it was a power that did not go unnoticed in the cities of the Kerak Worlds. Already Odal was easily recognized on the streets; women especially seemed to be attracted to him now.

“The most important factor,” Kanus was saying, “and I cannot stress it overmuch, is to build up an aura of invincibility. This is why your work is so important, Major Odal. You must be invincible! Because today you represent the collective will of the Kerak Worlds. To-day you are the instrument of my own will—and you must triumph at every turn. The fate of your people, of your government, of your chancellor rests squarely on your shoulders each time you step into a dueling machine. You have borne that responsibility well, major. Can you carry it even further?”

“I can, sir,” Odal answered crisply, “and I will.”

Kanus beamed at him. “Good! Because your next duel—and those that follow it—will be to the death.”

IV

It took the starship two weeks to make the journey from Carinae to the Acquataine Cluster. Dr. Leoh spent the time checking over the Acquatainian dueling machine, by direct tri-di beam; the Acquatainian government gave him all the technicians, time and money he needed for the task.

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