Blind Man's Bluff - By Peter David



M’k’n’zy of Calhoun was alone, which prompted him to wonder, Where the hell are they?

M’k’n’zy kept his back against the rocky wall of the mountain behind him. His breathing was light and shallow, and anyone listening in—and he was certain there was no one around—would have been hard-pressed to hear any manner of stress or strain in it. Furthermore, if any observers had happened to have biological sensors with them and been monitoring his heartbeat from a distance, they would have discovered that his pulse was slow and steady. Had he been lying out on a towel at some comfortable beach resort, he would have displayed about the same level of readings.

In short, anyone who was studying M’k’n’zy’s current situation would never have guessed that he was fighting for his life.

One might have surmised it was because M’k’n’zy had been fighting for his life for as long as he could remember, and had simply grown beyond both the fear and the adrenaline rush that others had when they were in similar situations. This, however, would have been an underestimation of the man. It had nothing to do with repetition. Instead it stemmed entirely from the way he had trained himself since the beginning of his career as the warlord of Xenex.

It hadn’t been that way in the beginning. When, at the tender age of fourteen, he had killed his first enemy, his breath had come in ragged gasps, and excitement had pounded through his body. It had taken long minutes for him to calm down as he stared at the corpse of his enemy and both savored and feared the fact that it had been his hand that had struck the lethal blow.

But he had learned in short order that such unfocused concepts as fright or excitement reduced his efficiency as a killer. That’s what a warlord was, after all: A killer who was very, very good at his job. So good, in fact, that others were willing to follow him through the gates of hell if it meant conquering an enemy.

So M’k’n’zy had ruthlessly trained himself to get a solid grip on his own biology. To him, his reactions (or lack thereof) were simply another tool or skill set to be honed, along with aim and swordsmanship. He would observe the men he led into battle, and he would see the fire in their eyes and the fury in their movements, and he wished he could impart some of his own cold-bloodedness to them. But he knew that ultimately everyone had their limits and they did the best they could with whatever the gods had given them. It was simply one of M’k’n’zy’s gifts—along with an ability to sense danger that bordered on the supernatural—that he was able to go into battle with such dispassion that he might as well have been a passive witness instead of a participant.

As a result, some who watched M’k’n’zy in action came to the conclusion that he was indifferent to the outcome of his battles. Some even whispered to each other, when they were sure he wasn’t around, that he had some manner of death wish.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. M’k’n’zy had no desire to die. This was the reason he had developed the technique of disconnect that had served him so well. Too many people perished in skirmishes because they allowed the heat of the battle to overwhelm them, and thus either made mistakes or got themselves in so deep that they froze in fear, suddenly believing that they would not get out of the situation alive. To allow for the possibility of your own death was to see it in your mind’s eye, and mental visualizations could lead to real-world consequences. Imagining what would happen if an opponent succeeded in splitting your skull open with an axe or blowing it off with a blaster was exactly the thing that could lead to your decapitation.

He who hesitates is lost. A worthwhile and salient human saying, and one with which M’k’n’zy readily agreed.

So removing oneself emotionally from the fray was the best way to survive it. This was the philosophy under which M’k’n’zy had lived his life and, as a result, he had continued to live.

It was uncertain, however, just how much longer he was going to be able to claim that status.

Where the hell are they? M’k’n’zy wondered yet again. He did not allow fear for his followers to cloud his concerns. It was more irritation that they were not