Dis was a harsh, inhospitable, dangerous place and the Magter made it worse. They might have been human once – but they were something else now. The Magter had only one desire – to kill everything, themselves, their planet, the universe if they could. Brion Brandd was sent in at the eleventh hour. His mission was to save Dis, but it looked as though he was going to preside over its annihilation. Originally published in Analog Science Fact-Science Fiction as “Sense of Obligation” and Hugo nominated in 1962.
Sweat covered Brion’s body, trickling into the tight loincloth that was the only garment he wore. The light fencing foil in his hand felt as heavy as a bar of lead to his exhausted muscles, worn out by a month of continual exercise. These things were of no importance. The cut on his chest, still dripping blood, the ache of his overstrained eyes—even the soaring arena around him with the thousands of spectators—were trivialities not worth thinking about. There was only one thing in his universe: the button–tipped length of shining steel that hovered before him, engaging his own weapon. He felt the quiver and scrape of its life, knew when it moved and moved himself to counteract it. And when he attacked, it was always there to beat him aside.
A sudden motion. He reacted—but his blade just met air. His instant of panic was followed by a small sharp blow high on his chest.
“Touch!” A world–shaking voice bellowed the word to a million waiting loudspeakers, and the applause of the audience echoed back in a wave of sound.
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