(also published as Among the Powers)
As Denner's Wreck
- Avon Books, April 1988, ISBN 0-380-75250-6
- Science Fiction Book Club, 1988, Catalog No. 13539
- Fictionwise, November 2005, eBook 27164
- All cover art by Ron Walotsky.
As Among the Powers
As both simultaneously
Copyright 1988, 2008, 2023 by Lawrence Watt Evans. All rights reserved.
To start with, I'd been reading a lot of Zelazny, and decided that I wanted to write something where high-tech humans are taken for gods by their low-tech fellows -- something with a trickster character in a lead role. I put together the list of twenty-eight Powers, more or less trying to come up with characters who would look and sound cool, and worthy of being treated as gods, but who would be believable as human beings, too.
Two of them were ringers, though. Shadowdark and his son Thaddeus had been recurring characters in a series of unfinished, unpublished stories about a family of immortals that I'd been writing off and on since high school. I already knew their history in some detail, including why they would have been with this group. None of the others were natural immortals, but those two were; that's why they're so big, as the nature of the mutation that made them effectively immortal is that they never really mature, never stop growing. The growth slows down to almost nothing, but by the time of the story -- well, they're huge.
I had once outlined a novel, The Rise and Fall of the Second Imperium, in which Thaddeus fails at an attempt at empire-building. I only ever wrote the first couple of chapters, but I knew it would end with Thaddeus aboard a starship, flying off in disgrace to look for Shadowdark. I decided that he found him, and a few centuries later the two of them were among the Powers of Denner's Wreck.
Then I designed their world -- or at least the inhabited portion.
Then I needed some human characters, to provide a look at the Powers from outside, and the first chapter got written. The obvious (to me, anyway) next step was Bredon's interest in Lady Sunlight, and the obvious plot complication was for Thaddeus to be giving empire-building another shot, and from there everything followed naturally.
The first draft was too short, though, and I noticed the coincidence that I had twenty-eight chapters and twenty-eight Powers, and decided to fill out the word-count by adding the little folk-tale excerpts at the start of each chapter.
People have told me that those are the best part of the book, and I had fun writing them, but originally their purpose was simply to add wordage.
And that's it. That was all there was to it. I'd produced a sequel to a novel that I'd never written.
- The code phrase "Ka nama kaa lajerama!" is from one of Robert E. Howard's stories about King Kull of Atlantis; serpent men can be detected by their inability to say these words.
- The name "Walren," which appears in the tale of Lord Carlov, is from Walren Vanse, a pen name I sometimes used when writing for my high school's underground newspaper.
Denner's Wreck was originally going to be a planet of Lambda Aurigae, a star that just happens to have a spectrum very similar to our own sun, but younger. I decided, though, that Lambda Aurigae was too close -- a colony there wouldn't have been lost for a thousand years. So I relocated it to the third planet of 246-Aurigae. I have no idea whether such a star exists or is possible; for all intents and purposes I was still using Lambda Aurigae, but calling it by another name.
The book notes that the planet was designed with the help of a program called "World Builder," created by Stephen Kimmel and Dean R. Lambe. It was. However, I no longer have a copy of the program, and I don't remember much about it. It was a DOS program, not especially fancy, but it came in handy. It was that program that suggested to me that moonless Denner's Wreck would probably have much shorter days than Earth, which led me to come up with the "firstlight"/"secondlight" daily cycle, where the planet's inhabitants have a two-day sleep cycle instead of Earth's one-day cycle.
Denner's Wreck is about the size of Earth but slightly less dense, resulting in marginally lower gravity. It's lacking in heavy metals, which is why the survivors of the original wreck couldn't maintain a technological culture.
Yes, I do know that a young, moonless planet probably wouldn't have a breathable atmosphere. Tough. I cheated. I did give the planet its own native life, though, as a partial justification.
The native life forms called "watersheets" are based on the idea that life had happened, and had reached the level of multicellular organisms, but not all of it had yet developed the tube shape that eventually became the gut, the vein, and the basis of virtually all life on Earth. Watersheets are just one or two cells thick, but can grow indefinitely in the other two dimensions.
The native life had definitely not yet emerged onto land, which is why all land life is completely terrestrial.
Among the Powers
by Lawrence Watt-Evans
The sun was high in the heavens at mid-secondlight, shining fiercely down on the shadeless plain. Bredon could feel its light clearly, bright and warm on his back, pouring over him like honey as he crouched in the tall grass.
He blinked away sweat, then cautiously raised himself up to peer over the waving blades.
The plain lay palely green before him, flat and even to the mountain- rimmed western horizon. Warm wind hissed and muttered around him, through grass already half-bleached by summer and well on its way to becoming golden hay.
His gray hunter's vest lay crumpled on the ground at his heel, dropped there when he had stopped to crouch. The thin leather garment had been designed for comfort and convenience and had served him well in the year he had worn it, but in the long wakes of pursuit it had begun to chafe him, to feel unbearably hot and confining by light and heavily clammy in the cool darks. He had removed it a couple of hours ago, just after the wake's second sunrise. He now wore only short bleached cotton breeches, but he had carefully dragged the vest along rather than risk losing it.
His companion crawled up, eerily silent in the tall grass, and lay beside him. The newcomer followed the first youth's gaze to where a magnificent grey mare stood quietly grazing, then whispered, "Give it up, Bredon. The horse is bewitched, probably a creature of one of the Powers -- no ordinary mare could have eluded us this long. You'll never catch her."
"Oh, yes, I will," Bredon hissed back. "I don't care if I have to chase her all summer, I'll keep after her until I catch her. Look at her! With a horse like that I'll have my pick of any girl in the village. Riding her I could be the greatest hunter in the grasslands. I'll be rich enough to be an Elder inside a year."
The other stifled a sigh. "Bredon," he said, "She's chewed through our ropes, dodged our traps, outrun us and outwitted us for six lights and five darks. What's left to try? How do you plan to catch her?"
"I'm not sure yet, but I'll do it somehow. If you want to give up you can go home without me."
The answer was quick and definite. "Walk back a hundred kilometers alone and unarmed? No, thank you!"
Bredon rolled over and looked at his comrade with mingled affection and annoyance. "Mardon, has anyone ever told you that you're a coward?" he asked politely.
Mardon shrugged. "No more often than you've been called a stubborn fool," he replied, plainly unoffended.
Bredon smiled. "That's probably true," he admitted. "Well, if I'm a fool, O Wise One, then why don't you devise some means for trapping that mare?"
Considering the challenge, Mardon peered dubiously about at the empty grassland and asked, "Have you ever been here before?"
Bredon glanced back over his shoulder at the mare. "I think so," he said. "I believe my father and I came near here hunting rabbits once. It's hard to be sure, out here, but I think this was the place."
"Rabbits?" Mardon was puzzled. "Why did you come so far?"
Bredon shrugged. "Why not?"
Mardon had no answer to that. He knew, but did not understand, that Bredon and other members of his family often acted on whim. He ignored the question and asked, "Did you get as far as those mountains?" He waved vaguely in the direction of the peaks that adorned the western horizon.
"No," Bredon answered, "I'm not really sure we even got this far, but I think we did. It looks familiar. And those mountains are further away than they look. My uncle said he rode for five full wakes once, lights and midwake darks both, and only got to the foothills."
Mardon wiped sweat from his cheek and waved a hand to dismiss any thought of traveling so far. "It's probably just as well," he said, "I don't think I'd care to meet the Powers of the mountains, Gold and Brenner and the rest. It's said they're an unfriendly lot."
Bredon snorted. "The mountain people probably say that the Powers of the plains are a nasty bunch."
"Well, it doesn't matter, anyway," Mardon said. "The mountains are too far away to do us any good."
It was Bredon's turn to look puzzled. "What use could mountains be?"
Cover of the Avon paperback
Art by Ron Walotsky.
Click on image for a larger view.
"In the mountains we could trap the horse in a canyon or a cave," Mardon explained patiently.
"I guess that's true," Bredon said, "We could trap it somewhere, couldn't we?" His expression turned thoughtful as he considered for a moment.
"That gives me an idea," he said. "If I remember correctly, if this is the place I think it is, there's a waterhole back that way a bit, with deep, sticky mud under about five centimeters of water. I got my hand stuck in it when I tried washing off the blood after I gutted a rabbit. If it's still there, and we can find it, maybe we can herd her into the mud. It won't stop her completely, but it should slow her down enough for us to get a rope on her that she can't chew off."
Mardon mulled that over for a moment, then admitted, "It sounds good."
"Good. It's northeast of here, I think. You circle around and we'll start the chase."
"Right." Mardon slithered back through the grass and vanished.
Bredon waited patiently for Mardon to reappear. Finally, just as he was beginning to grow uneasy, Mardon suddenly jumped up from the grass on the mare's far side, yelling and waving his arms wildly.
The mare shied and started toward Bredon. He, in his turn, jumped up and shouted.
The horse started, then turned and galloped northeast, in exactly the direction Bredon wanted her to take.
Grinning and yelling, he set out after her. Mardon followed less enthusiastically. By staying well apart and varying their noise they controlled the mare's direction fairly well; if she attempted to turn to either side the man on that flank would shout more loudly and pursue more closely.
Whenever she was actually galloping she would quickly gain on her tormentors, who would fall silent and lower their arms. Each time this happened she would slow and stop, thinking she was safe, only to be forced into a new burst of speed when the humans drew near again and resumed their noise.
There was little danger that the mare would flee further than her hunters could pursue. Bredon and Mardon both knew that men are far more persistent than horses.
During one slow amble toward the tiring mare Bredon paused, his vest hanging from one finger, and sniffed the air. "I smell water," he said. "We're getting close."
Mardon sniffed, and nodded agreement.
Cover of the Book Club edition
Art by Ron Walotsky.
Click on image for a larger view.
A few moments later, as Bredon scanned the plain, he noticed a break in the even green of the grass. "There," he said, pointing.
Again, Mardon nodded without comment, and circled out a little further, correcting the mare's intended course.
A moment later, at Bredon's signal, he began whooping. The mare shied and ran, straight toward the pool. She plunged heedlessly through the grass and into the water. The youths heard her hooves beat on the hard ground, and then a moment of tremendous splashing, which ended abruptly when, tripped by the mud, the horse fell and vanished from their sight behind the waves of green.
Ignoring everything but their prey, the two charged headlong across the plain and reached the waterhole within seconds of each other.
The mare had struggled to her feet, but was up to her fetlocks in muck, her whole hide soaked and dripping. She turned her head, staring at them with eyes wide with terror.
Bredon readied his only remaining rope, determined to keep it where she could not chew it this time. He was scarcely four meters away when the mare abruptly stopped her thrashing. Her great brown eyes went calm as she said, very distinctly, "I wouldn't do that if I were you."
Bredon's mouth literally dropped open, a reaction he had always before considered to be artistic license on the part of the village storytellers, rather than something that really happened. Mardon, in turn, was so shocked that he tripped over his own feet and fell flat on his face in the mire at the edge of the pool.
The air was suddenly full of roaring laughter. Following the sound, Bredon and Mardon both looked up at what should have been empty sky.
A glittering platform that looked one instant like crystal and the next like metal hung unsupported in mid-air, about three meters off the ground. Bredon estimated it at perhaps a meter wide and twice that in length. Upon it stood a small, brown-haired, spade- bearded man clad in gleaming violet plush, laughing uncontrollably. His laugh seemed far too big for his stature.
Mardon cowered, trying to compose a good final prayer, certain he was doomed. There could be no question that he was facing a Power. The stories he had heard since childhood rarely made the Powers out to be unthinkingly hostile, but always emphasized incredible supernatural abilities, short tempers, and a ferocious disregard for the sanctity of human life. Mardon could not imagine surviving an encounter with a Power. He was certain he would make some little error in protocol, or trip over his own feet again, or otherwise bungle, and that this Power would take offense and destroy him.
Bredon simply stared, unable to cope with what was happening. He had never entirely believed in the Powers. Despite the assurances of the tellers, he had secretly assumed the stories to be myths, or at least exaggerations. His view of the world was a pragmatic and logical one, and there was no place in it for whimsical demi-gods.
The man on the platform laughed heartily for several seconds, revelling in the youths' confusion, before allowing his mirth to trail off into a smile and the relative silence of the wind in the grass.
"My apologies, gentlemen," the little man said when he had finished his laugh. "I'm afraid I've been having my fun at your expense."
Bredon stared up at him, then as some of his scattered wits returned, and his priorities reasserted themselves, he threw a quick look at the mare. She was standing calmly motionless in the mud.
"You made the mare talk?" Bredon asked.
Cover of the FoxAcre edition
Art by George W. Todd.
Click on image for a larger view.
"Yes, I'm afraid I did," the violet-garbed stranger replied, grinning.
"Is she yours?" Bredon demanded.
"No," the stranger said, his smile growing broader in response to Bredon's single-mindedness, "But I brought her here, and I'm afraid you can't have her. She belongs to a friend of mine by the name of Grey; I merely borrowed her."
"Oh." Bredon's disappointment was so obvious that the man on the platform laughed again, somewhat more quietly this time.
Mardon, still lying in the mud, cringed at the mention of Lord Grey the Horseman. The stories about him were few, but they all described him as one of the least tolerant Powers. He favored his horses over all else, especially mortal men -- and they had trapped one of his mares!
Bredon was still confused. He had been so intent on the mare, had her so firmly fixed as the most important fact of his existence, that his mind was still refusing to function properly regarding anything else. He realized that he was facing a stranger, however, and as childhood training leaked to the surface he remembered his manners. "I'm Bredon the Hunter, son of Aredon the Hunter," he said. A glance showed him that Mardon was still speechless, and he added, "That's Mardon the Cornfarmer, son of Maldor the Cornfarmer."
The man on the platform burlesqued a bow. "Honor to both your families, Bredon the Hunter. I am known as Geste."
A dozen childhood tales came back, even to Bredon, at the mention of that famous -- or infamous -- name. Mardon's terror abated slightly -- or at any rate changed its form. Geste the Trickster was not reputed to kill on a whim, but he was dangerous in other ways.
Still, Mardon did not dare speak aloud to a Power.
Bredon was less reticent. "Geste the Trickster?" he asked, "The one who tamed the giants, and tricked Arn of the Ice into melting his own house?"
Geste smiled. "I see you've heard of me, but the tales seem to have grown in the telling. I don't recall that I've ever tamed any giants. And Arn only melted a part of the Ice House."
"And now you've tricked us?" Bredon was recovering himself, finally, and found himself filling with rage.
"Yes, I believe I have." The little man grinned infuriatingly.
"You led us on for three wakes for a stupid joke? And we can't even keep the horse?"
Geste stared for a moment, then burst out laughing again. Bredon stared back at him coldly, and when the hilarity showed signs of subsiding he said, with intense dignity, "I had always heard that you were one of the more compassionate Powers, that you weren't vicious or petty or vindictive, but I think that this trick of yours was... was..." Words failed him, and he simply stared accusingly.
"Oh, calm down, Bredon," Geste said, still smiling down from his platform, "Don't take it so seriously. I like you; you say what you think, don't you? There aren't many mortals who would dare talk to me like that any more. But really, Bredon, what's three wakes? Besides, you enjoyed every minute of the hunt. Don't claim you didn't!"
"But that was because I knew I'd catch her!" Bredon insisted.
Geste's smile faded. Struck by the young man's persistence and sincerity, he sobered. "Maybe you're right," he said, looking at Bredon thoughtfully. The smile was gone, or at least buried, as he said, "Listen, Bredon, I'm sorry. I didn't realize it would upset you so greatly. We sometimes forget how important these things can be to you mortals. Let me give you a gift to make it up to you. I can't give you this horse because, quite sincerely, she isn't mine to give, and we Powers don't break our promises, to mortals or to each other. I gave my word that I would return her unharmed, and so I must return her unharmed. I'm sure you understand that. However, instead, I will do you any other favor within my power -- which is considerable, as I'm sure you know." He waved a hand and drew a glowing rainbow through the air, which burst into a thousand golden sparkles and then vanished. "Ask, and it's yours." His smile returned, bright as ever.
"I want the mare," Bredon said.
"You can't have her," Geste replied immediately.
"I don't want anything else," Bredon insisted.
"I could fetch another horse, perhaps," Geste suggested.
"No." Bredon's answer was prompt and definite, his mouth set in a scowl.
Geste repressed a smile at Bredon's petulance. "All right, Bredon, have it your way. You can't have the horse, and if you won't take anything else, you won't. I won't argue about it. I like you, and I'll respect your decision. That's for now, though, and you may reconsider eventually. I owe you something, and if you won't take it now, maybe you will later. Take this." He plucked something from the air and tossed it to Bredon, who caught it automatically. "Break that when you've decided what you'll take instead of the horse."
Bredon looked down at what he held. It was a shiny, bright red disk perhaps five centimeters across, made of some completely unfamiliar material that seemed as hard as metal, but with an odd slick texture like nothing he had ever felt before. "What is it?" Bredon asked, turning it over in his hands.
Mardon, who had been huddled silently throughout the conversation, suddenly sat up in the mud at the sight of this gift and demanded, "What about me?"
No one answered either question. Bredon looked up, and discovered that Geste and his platform had vanished as suddenly as they had appeared.
What's more, the horse was gone, leaving only a gentle rippling on the surface of the muddy pool.
That's it; here's your list of handy exits: