Tuesday, December 25, 2012


“Human life—that appeared to him the one thing worth investigating. Compared to it there was nothing else of any value. It was true that as one watched life in its curious crucible of pain and pleasure, once could not wear over one’s face a mask of glass, nor keep the sulphurous fumes from troubling the brain, and making the imagination turbid with monstrous fancies and misshapen dreams. There were poisons so subtle that to know their properties one had to sicken of them. There were maladies so strange that one had to pass through them if one sought to understand their nature. And, yet, what a great reward one received! How wonderful the whole world became to one! To note the curious hard logic of passion, and the emotional coloured life of the intellect—to observe where they met, and where they separated, at what point the were in unison, and at what point they were at discord—there was a delight in that! What matter what the cost was? One could never pay too high a price for any sensation.”
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Monday, December 17, 2012


“But in the meantime all the life you have or ever will have is today, tonight, tomorrow, today, tonight, tomorrow, over and over again (I hope), and so you had better take what time there is and be very thankful for it.”
Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls (Robert Jordan)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Myth of Human Races by Alain F. Corcos

If there’s any one paragraph that summarizes the thesis of this book, it is probably this:

Today, efforts to classify humanity have for the most part ceased. Scientists have finally realized that they were no more successful using blood groups, or other genetic markers, than they had been in the past when they were using skulls or skin color. They have finally realized that categorizing human beings into “races” requires such a distortion of the facts that its usefulness as a tool disappears. Simultaneously, the term “race” is disappearing from scientific writing because scientists no longer accept the clear cut division of humanity into white, black, yellow and red that is still present in most college curricula and textbooks. From a biological viewpoint, human races do not exist. This is a conclusion that most anthropologists and geneticists have accepted. Now they understand their task differently: to study human variability without the concept of race. It is also time for the rest of us to abandon this obsolete, destructive and false notion of race.

I don’t know how you’re going to react to this idea. I’m personally sympathetic to the concept. Indeed, I picked up this book because I already thought that races were sociological rather than biological in origin. Now, having read the book, I’m more convinced of it than ever. Biologically speaking, races only exist when populations live in isolation from one another long enough to develop genetically unique expressions, while retaining the ability to procreate with members of the other races of the same species. Despite thousands of years of folklore and pseudoscience to the contrary, this has never been the case for human populations. Our diversity is far greater on an individual basis than it has ever been on a group basis.

But I know some people won’t accept it. They’ll claim it is contrary to their common sense, which ultimately holds sway over us all, and they’ll reject any kind of evidence that goes against it. But if they dig a little more deeply into their understanding of biology and inheritance, they may find that much of their common sense on the subject is built on a bunch of false notions.

Like what? Well, how about the idea that blood plays a role in heredity. It’s a common expression—he’s got Irish blood flowing in his veins, for example—and it leads to the inexact concept that we somehow have the blood of our forebears in our bodies. But it has absolutely no basis in fact. Blood isn’t the mechanism of heredity, genes are. Every person’s body manufacturers its own blood, which is comprised of cells that are more-or-less identical to every other body’s blood cells, and there is no such thing as “Irish blood” or “African blood” or “Chinese blood.”

Unfortunately, this idea about blood being the medium for heredity is more than just word play.

However, one of the most disheartening and cruel consequences of the belief that blood was the carrier of heredity was the “one-drop” rule which was used for centuries in determining people’s ancestry. According to the blood theory of inheritance, as I mentioned previously, the blood of the parents was blended together to form the child; therefore, there was always a little of the blood of any ancestor flowing in one’s veins. If the ancestor were considered to be inferior in any respect, it was thought that his or her blood had tainted all of his or her descendants. For example, in Medieval Europe, people considered a person to be a Jew if he or she had a Jewish ancestor as far as six generations back. In the United States, people consider a person to be black, regardless of skin color, if he or she had a single black ancestor, no matter how far back that ancestor may have been. The “one-drop” rule persisted throughout  World War II. It was this rule that the Nazis used to exterminate the Jews. To them, having one Jewish grandparent was enough to classify someone as Jewish and have him or her exterminated. It made no difference what the religions of the other grandparents were or what the religion of the individual was; the Nazis believed the blood of a Jewish ancestor tainted the victim. It was this idea that also led German authorities to prevent blood transfusion from Jews to non-Jews. Jewish physicians were reported to have been sent to concentration camps for having committed such a “crime.” In the mind of the Nazis, the physicians who did this had obviously tainted the blood of “Aryan” people.

That’s just one false idea that has had horrifying consequences. Another is the again false idea that we carry some piece of the genetic heritage of all of our ancestors. In fact, the only guarantee you have is that you carry on the genetic material of your two parents in some randomly selected quantity. You probably have something from your grandparents—but not necessarily—and as for your great-grandparents, the reality is much slimmer than you may imagine.

The reason why this is so is the same as the one which we gave for the fact that we are unique: the process of meiosis that occurs during the formation of sex cells. Though you can be sure you inherited twenty three chromosomes from each of your parents, you cannot know how many chromosomes you indirectly received from your grandparents. As you remember from our previous discussion of meiosis, your father had received from his own father twenty-three chromosomes that we have called paternal chromosomes and from his mother twenty-three chromosomes that we have called maternal chromosomes. However, because his sperm contains only one chromosome of each pair (which one is determined at random), any one of them can contain any combination of paternal and maternal chromosomes; any one of them could have received either fifteen paternal chromosomes and eight maternal chromosomes or thirteen maternal chromosomes and ten paternal chromosomes, to name just a couple of possibilities. It could happen that the sperm of your father which fertilized the egg of your mother that produced you had only one chromosome or no chromosome at all from your paternal grandfather. It is highly improbable, but it is possible. In the same way it could happen that the egg that produced you had one or no chromosome from your maternal grandmother. Nevertheless, we can assume that, on average, we received eleven or twelve chromosomes from each of our grandparents, that an average of fix or six came from our great grandparents, and average of two or three from our great-great-grandparents. With each generation further back, the average number of chromosomes we may have received from any ancestor is diminished by half. Consider now an important fact: Six generations back we have more ancestors than chromosomes (sixty-four versus forty-six). Hence, it is clear that the more remote our ancestor is, the greater the odds become that we did not received even a single one of his or her chromosomes.

It’s a bit complicated, but it all clearly derives from biological mechanisms and mathematics. Once you realize that the genetic material that gives you your biological identity can only be from as many as six generations back, you begin to realize how utterly impossible the idea of human races is outside of anything but a sociological perspective. No one, for example, can be half-white and half-black, because there is no such thing as black genes and white genes, black chromosomes and white chromosomes. It may be culturally important to someone that their great-great grandfather was a Cherokee Indian, but it is extraordinarily unlikely that it is biologically so.

But don’t take me or the book to mean that the concept of human races is culturally insignificant. Indeed, one of the most fascinating chapters of the book deals with the racial classifications determined and perpetuated by the U.S. government. There is no biological underpinning to the concept of race, but that hasn’t stopped humans from discriminating of the basis of skin color for hundreds if not thousands of years. The government’s racial classification system is essentially a tracking mechanism that is meant to give it the ability to respond to and correct instances of institutionalized “racial” discrimination. And that mission lends some credibility to its efforts.

But like all racial classification systems, theirs is equally flawed and subject to the widest interpretations. Plenty of people don’t fit neatly into one of the current five categories (White, Black, Hispanic, Asian or Pacific Islander, American Indian or Alaska Native), and many decisions based on demographic data based on those categories make little objective sense. It may surprise some, but creating a label for something that apparently exists, does not in fact bring that thing into actual existence. As a culture, we’ve understood this for a long time. It was the French naturalist Buffon who observed as early as 1750:

Genera, orders, classes exist only in our imagination … There are only individuals. Nature does not arrange her words in bunches, nor living beings in genera.

It is an observable fact. But, like human races, it runs counter to both common sense and generations of tradition. Few facts can withstand such a withering attack.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Chapter Twenty-Nine


Speculative Fiction
Approximately 69,000 words
Copyright © Eric Lanke, 1991. All rights reserved.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

My mother realized the necessity of a father-figure in my life—a good, positive role model for her son to emulate and to learn from. Otis seemed to be the perfect choice. A man of Grecolus, he ran a good business and had enough education to impart to a young boy the moral, ethical, and religious training needed to rise above the rabble of the world. Amanda made her decision early in her pregnancy and did everything in her power to make herself available and attractive to Otis. She still loved my father, and would never stop loving him, but the responsibility of their son demanded such actions. Otis Parkinson was wise enough to see what she was doing, but took things slowly and bit by bit worked his unassuming way into my life and my mother’s heart. When I was three years old, the wedding was held in the local temple, and my mother took the name of a man more than ten years older than she.

+   +   +

When morning came, Smurch was removed from the cage by a group of groggy orks and put immediately to work around the settlement. Brisbane would not see him again until that night, but his day was filled with enough activity to keep him from missing the half-ork.

After he had returned the night before, Brisbane had shaken off Smurch’s questions about the importance of one sword and concentrated instead on getting Smurch to promise not to tell his superiors about Brisbane’s magic and his little midnight trip. It wasn’t easy, but he eventually got his wish when he reminded the half-ork that Ternosh would supposedly discover his true power the next day anyway.

Before they had finally gone to sleep for the night, Smurch reconsidered his duty to report Brisbane’s power to the clan in the light that Brisbane was, in fact, a Grumak of considerable power. The half-ork decided he would do as Brisbane wished for that reason if for no other. As he had said before, Gruumsh One-Eye must have sent a human Grumak here for a reason, and Smurch decided it was wise to steer clear of whatever that reason might be. He was, after all, just half an ork, and he didn’t know if he even had a place in the eternal army of He-Who-Watches.

The sun had only been up for an hour or two when a determined group of orks, led by Vrak, made their way over to Brisbane’s cage. Vrak opened the door with his key and sent four very large orks into the wagon to tie and gag Brisbane. He did not put up a fight, letting the orks secure his hands behind his back and place another awful-tasting gag in his mouth. Soon he was ready for transport and the orks led him out of the wagon.
Vrak stood there at the exit and when Brisbane reached the ground he snapped a few hostile-sounding words to his prisoner in his harsh language.

Brisbane burned the ork with an angry stare. Your name may be Vrak, but your teeth are no less twisted, you ugly bastard. Did you know I can open that lock without your key? Did you, Vrak?

Vrak pushed Brisbane ahead and he took control of the bonds connecting his wrists. The ork quickly began walking Brisbane toward the entrance of the cave.

Vrak. How many syllables does your name have, Vrak? Can you count that high? You’re just a flunkie, aren’t you, Vrak? A whipping boy with someone to whip.

They entered the cave and Brisbane’s vision suddenly failed him. Vrak kept pushing him forward. It was noticeably colder inside the cave and Brisbane could feel his steps descending into the earth. As they went along, his eyes began to adjust to the darkness and Brisbane could begin to make out the walls and floor of a tunnel. There were many turns and side passages. Some of them he was pushed past, some of them he was pushed into. Even if he could see his surroundings perfectly well, the many twists and turns he had taken would have left him utterly lost in what had to be a confusing maze of corridors.

Eventually, Brisbane was forced through an open portal and into a chamber that would have been unusual in the dark tunnels for no other reason than it was lighted by bright torches. But there was plenty else about the room that made it unusual. It was circular, about thirty feet in diameter, with smoothly polished walls unlike the rough stone found in the tunnels. The torches hung in wall sconces around the chamber, lighting the unusual contents of the room. In the very center, painted on the floor, was a red circled pentagram about three feet in diameter. On one side of the pentagram was a large chair, ornately carved with thousands of tiny ork faces, mouths open in screams of pain or pleasure. Seated in this chair, dressed in the red robes he had worn the day before, was Ternosh the Grumak.

Ternosh said something to Vrak in orkish and the ork pushed Brisbane into the room and onto a small chair in front of the Grumak, on the opposite side of the pentagram. While Vrak fastened a chain to Brisbane’s wrists that would keep them connected to the floor behind him, Brisbane looked around at the rest of the room. A small shelf ran nearly all the way around the wall at about neck level. This shelf was stuffed with all kinds of books and papers and boxes bulging over with miscellaneous items. The cluttered paraphernalia reminded Brisbane of all the things he had carried into a house owned by a man named Roy Stonerow so many years ago. There was a workbench of sorts behind Brisbane, but he did not have much of a chance to see what was on it, apart from a vague impression of some glassware and some rubber tubing.

Ternosh said something else in orkish to Vrak and the ork grudgingly removed Brisbane’s gag and slowly left the chamber. When he was gone, Ternosh fixed his single red eye on Brisbane.

“Well now,” the Grumak said in the common speech of humans, roughly spoken but understandable. “The time has come for our little talk. Let’s start at the beginning. What were you doing in the mountains?”

Brisbane did not see any reason not to answer the Grumak’s questions. Smurch’s opinion had been that his only chance was to cooperate and prove himself to be a human Grumak. If Ternosh discovered him to be a fake, Brisbane was sure he would quickly be killed for the sacrilege of wearing what was, in effect, an orkish holy symbol.

But what was this question about his presence in the mountains? Brisbane thought he had been brought here so the Grumak could somehow test him for magical powers. Why the interrogation? Brisbane was not sure what he should do.

Ternosh rose to his feet. He brought out a slim glass rod that had been concealed in the folds of his red robes. It was about a foot long and had a round glass ball about the size of a tangerine on the end of it.

He held the rod up for Brisbane to see. “Do you know what this is? My people call it the drom-kesh. A loose translation into your tongue renders it ‘the wand of pain.’”

Brisbane still said nothing.

Ternosh went on. “With it, I can channel the power given to me by He-Who-Watches from my mind into your flesh. The raw power, unfocused and unshaped as it is, can then dance across your nerves in a way that I’ve heard can be most painful. If you don’t answer my questions, and answer them now, I will use the drom-kesh on you.”

Brisbane did not know if this was possible, but he didn’t want to test it. He really didn’t see any point in hiding things from the Grumak, anyway. Smurch seemed to believe Ternosh would discover everything in the end, with or without Brisbane’s compliance. If he answered, he was not sure what was going to happen to him. If he did not answer, evidently he was to be tortured.

“So,” Ternosh said. “I shall ask you one more time. What were you doing in the mountains?”

“I was traveling,” Brisbane said.

Ternosh sat back down. He placed the drom-kesh in his lap. “Very good. You were traveling. What was your destination?”

“I was searching for a temple rumored to exist at the source of the Mystic River.” Brisbane did not see any harm in this line of questioning. What would Ternosh care about his expedition?

Ternosh’s brow ridge went up. “A temple? Devoted to which god?”


Ternosh nodded. “I know of this temple. It lies quite a bit farther up the Mystic than the place where you were found. Were you traveling alone?”

“No,” Brisbane said absent-mindedly. The orks knew about the lost temple? They lived in the hills and obviously patrolled the mountains. Brisbane supposed their knowledge of the temple was not that unusual. How long had the Clan of the Red Eye been here? Were they here when, say, the temple was a living part of the religious life of Grecolus? Perhaps they had attacked the temple and killed all the priests in their conquest of other races? It could explain a lot.

“Where are your companions?” Ternosh asked.

Now the questions were getting dangerous, Brisbane judged.

Ternosh held up the drom-kesh.

Brisbane told the ork how he had become separated from his friends. He did not say who his friends were or any of the events that had led up to his fall from the mountain top.

Ternosh stood up and began to pace in a slow, small circle around his carved chair. He tapped the drom-kesh against his chin with contemplative regularity.

“What is your name?” Ternosh asked.

Brisbane again so no reason to lie. “My name is Brisbane.” To most strangers he gave the name Parkinson. It usually avoided a lot of tiresome questions. With Ternosh, Brisbane did not think that would be necessary.

“You must forgive me, Brisbane,” the Grumak said. “I admit I have been delaying the inevitable. The scouting party that found you on the river bank also discovered the massacre of the kroganes in their lair. I believe your race calls them ettins.”

Brisbane said nothing.

“And just this morning,” the Grumak went on, “another party returned from the west with news of a slaughtered group of eight grugan. Orks, as you would call them, from this clan. I am very curious as to who could be responsible for all these deaths. Was it you? Your friends?”

Brisbane lowered his eyes and still said nothing. He fought uselessly against the chain that held him to the floor. They’re going to kill me, he thought. For killing their friends. Ettins and orks. They’re going to kill me.

Ternosh stopped pacing behind his chair. He waited until Brisbane stopped fighting the chain and looked back up at him.

“No matter, really,” the Grumak said. “You see, we grugan take a different look on combat than you humans do. It is a way of life to us and, when a man dies in combat, we believe it is just and that he deserved his death. In this way only the strongest survive.”

Brisbane still did not say anything.

“So,” Ternosh said. “You need have no concern for your own life because you may have killed some of our number. Even Kras, the man you strangled to death when you were taken captive, will not condemn you. If you are to be killed, I will do it, and it will be because you bear the symbol of that which you cannot be.”

With that, Ternosh went quickly over to the shelf that nearly circled the chamber, put the drom-kesh away and took down what appeared to be a large, golden incense burner. Ternosh brought it over and set it down in the middle of the pentagram at Brisbane’s feet. It had a five-pointed base, each point stretching out into one of the arms of the star. The bowl was about the size of a large cooking pot, and it too had five sides to it, set askew to the points of the base. The curving lid rested on a flat lip that ran all the way around the edge of the bowl and was pierced with five star-shaped holes to allow the incense smoke to escape.

Ternosh then went back to the shelf and took down a heavy, folded-up curtain, which he hung from some hooks above the open portal of the chamber. Lastly, from the shelf, he obtained a small golden bowl and a short silver knife. The Grumak returned to his carved chair.

“Now,” Ternosh said. “We shall hear the truth of the matter.” He took the lid off the golden vessel at their feet and Brisbane could see the bottom was filled with a fine red powder. Ternosh said an orkish word and a spark jumped off one of his fingers and fell into the powder. He replaced the lid as dark gray smoke began to trail out of the bowl, and then he stood up and went over to Brisbane.

“I will require some of your blood for the process,” the Grumak said as he brought the silver knife up and cut it into the side of Brisbane’s neck.

The pain was hot and immediate, but Brisbane did not flinch away as Ternosh held the small golden bowl up to catch some of the human’s blood. When he had collected enough for his purposes, the ork brought a sticky bandage out from one of the folds in his robe and pressed it against Brisbane’s wound. It held itself there and the Grumak said it would stop the bleeding.

Ternosh returned to his chair with the bowl of Brisbane’s blood. By now, smoke was pouring out of the vents in the golden burner. It had the smell of sharp oranges and was already beginning to make Brisbane’s eyes water. With the way the smoke was coming out of the vents and the curtain hung in the doorway, it would not be long before the room was thick with it.

“What are you doing?” Brisbane asked, his voice sounding far away from his ears.

“I am summoning my Demosk,” Ternosh said, his voice sounding more inside Brisbane’s head than outside. “He will sample your blood and tell me whether or not He-Who-Watches has infused it with power.”

With that, the Grumak began a low guttural chant in the tongue of magic Brisbane could almost understand. The orange-scented smoke was so thick now as to obscure Ternosh’s form across from Brisbane. He could only see glimpses of the red robes through the haze. His eyes were crying tears in reaction to the smoke, but it was not painful, and his head was swimming in a dizzy sea of pleasant feelings. Brisbane could no longer feel the chain that bound him or the chair he sat upon. He felt like he was floating free in the vapor, and he didn’t care where he might float to. Still, the Grumak’s chanting went on.

Brisbane’s rational mind, small and sheltered deep within his head, whispered that the incense was some kind of drug, and both he and Ternosh were flying on it. But Brisbane did not care about that, and did not care that his defenses were down and he was susceptible to suggestion and delusion. All he cared about was feeling good, and in a room full of this smoke, that was not much of a care at all.

As Ternosh continued to chant, an eerie light began to pour out of the incense burner, five tiny beams that widened and focused together at a spot in the smoky air about five feet

or was it five miles?

off the floor. Smoke poured through this light, making it appear as if it moved along without changing position.

Suddenly, Ternosh’s chanting shifted its timbre and the spot of ghostly white began to take shape. Its sphere elongated into the small head and torso of a humanoid figure. Slender arms broke away from the body and darker features began to deepen into it. The figure developed the pig-ears and snout of an ork, but under the heavy brow ridge, there was no trace of any eyes whatsoever. The figure floated in the air before Brisbane, but it only seemed to exist where the smoke was. As the vapor moved across it, where it was thinner, the figure was dimmer, and where it was absent, the figure was transparent.

Ternosh stopped chanting and stood up.

The floating figure opened its mouth and spoke. Brisbane heard it as the common tongue, but if he had had Ternosh’s ears, he would have heard orkish. “Why have you summoned me from the battlefield, Grumak Ternosh?”

Ternosh spoke to his Demosk in the native tongue of the grugan. Brisbane could not understand these words but, again, they seemed to sound more in his head than in his ears.

“I see,” The Demosk said. “The test is a simple one. Give me the bowl.”

Ternosh handed the small bowl with Brisbane’s blood in it to the Demosk. Brisbane’s rational mind might have asked how a creature made of light and smoke could hold and support a golden bowl, but that part of his mind was growing smaller with every inhalation. The Demosk held the bowl in its small hands, raised it to its smoky lips, and drank down its contents.

When finished, the Demosk tossed the bowl back to Ternosh. There was no sign of Brisbane’s blood anywhere. It was indeed as if the apparition had imbibed it.

Ternosh spoke again to the figure in orkish.

“Grumak Ternosh, the taste is unmistakable. The blood does contain the bane of Gruumsh One-Eye.”

The bane of Gruumsh One-Eye? What does that mean? The smoke was beginning to make Brisbane sick to his stomach.

Ternosh stiffened and launched into an explosive tirade against the shimmering Demosk. The figure floated patiently before the Grumak, waiting blindly for the ork to run out of breath.

“The blood contains the bane of Gruumsh One-Eye,” the Demosk said when Ternosh had finished. “I was summoned and I have performed as demanded. Grumak Ternosh, do you require anything else?”

Ternosh waved his hand angrily at the Demosk and the figure vanished in the blink of an eye. Instantly, smoke stopped coming out of the incense burner and the smoke already present in the room quickly began to dissipate. Brisbane’s rationality began a long swim back up to the surface and he began to again sense his surroundings. The effect of the drug had left him with an upset stomach and a headache. He began to wonder just what it had been in that smoke that had made him feel so light-headed. He began to wonder what kind of spell Ternosh had used to summon up his Demosk. He began to wonder just where the Demosk had been summoned from. He began to wonder where his blood that had been in the bowl had really gone. And beneath all these wonders, Brisbane still was bothered by what the Demosk could have possibly meant by the bane of Gruumsh One-Eye.

Before long, all the smoke had disappeared from the chamber and Ternosh was returning his items to the shelf that ran around the room. Brisbane’s head was clear but he felt a little tired and his pain and hunger had returned to him in force, seemingly worse after his short reprieve from them.

Ternosh called out for Vrak and moments later the ork burst into the chamber. His eyes scanned the room, his sword in hand, indicating he had expected some kind of trouble, but he saw everything as he had left it.

Ternosh turned to Brisbane. “Well,” he said. “It seems your power has been verified. Personally, I cannot fathom why He-Who-Watches would grant the power on a member of such an inferior race, but evidently he has. I will need time to decide just what his purpose may be in this matter. Vrak will return you to your cage until I have need of you again.”

The Grumak turned to Vrak and repeated his order to him in orkish. Vrak came over to Brisbane, reaffixed the foul gag, and released him from the chain that had kept Brisbane connected to the floor. Roughly, the ork jerked Brisbane to his feet and moved him towards the chamber’s exit.

“Remember,” Ternosh said before Brisbane left, “my spell of anti-magic still protects the circus wagon. Within it, you cannot use any of the spells you might have learned.”

That’s what you think, Brisbane thought. My cantrip worked and it will be interesting to see what else will work. Your anti-magic spell is a joke, Ternosh. It’s a sham, and I think you know it. But I wonder if you know I know it?

Vrak pushed him roughly from the chamber. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Knowing-Doing Gap by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton

Two different people I respect recommended this book to me for two different reasons. And it turns out they were both right. It’s a gold mine of useful information about one of the most crippling afflictions facing organizations today—the inability to turn knowledge into action.

As with most business books I read, the lessons I take away are not always the ones the author intends. But in reading them, ideas will often strike me with a clarity they very infrequently have in the mile-a-minute, topsy-turvy world of expectations and performance I seem to find myself in. I’ll list just a sampling of the “a-ha” moments I had while reading this book.

There Are No Wrong Actions

Here’s a handy chart.

How to Drive Fear and Inaction Out of Organizations
1. Praise, pay and promote people who deliver bad news to their bosses.
2. Treat failure to act as the only true failure; punish inaction, not unsuccessful actions.
3. Encourage leaders to talk about their failures, especially what they have learned from them.
4. Encourage open communication.
5. Give people second (and third) chances.
6. Banish people—especially leaders—who humiliate others.
7. Learn from, and even celebrate, mistakes, particularly trying something new.
8. Don’t punish people for trying new things.

Guess which one jumps out at me the most. “Treat failure to act as the only true failure; punish inaction not unsuccessful actions.” If you needed one sentence to summarize a winning formula, I think this would be it. Increasingly, in my line a work at least, I’m beginning to realize that there are no wrong courses of action. Some courses are better than others, but no course of action, taken with forethought and good intentions, is actually bad, because they all help move the project or the conversation forward. If you accept this premise, then the only truly wrong course of action is to take no action at all—to allow opportunity for engagement and learning to slip by.

Measure Performance at the System Level

The model of behavior implicit in the measurement systems used by most firms is that individuals are atomistic and economic, rather than social, creatures. The atomistic view is captured by having measure for each individual. This procedure presumes that (1) individual results are the consequences of individual decisions and actions and that (2) individual outcomes and individual behaviors are under the control and discretion of these individuals, so that results and decisions can be reasonably reliably attributed to individuals.

There’s a lot of wisdom in that short paragraph. It stresses the need for system-based performance measures in any organization that behaves like an interconnected and interdependent network of actors (i.e., just about every organization on Planet Earth).

What you are able to accomplish, and indeed, what you choose to do and how you behave, is not solely under your individual control. Rather, your behavior and performance are influenced by the actions, attitudes, and behaviors of many others in the immediate environment.

Right on. Find ways to measure performance at a system level, and provide incentives for contributing to systemic, not individual, performance.

Measure the Productivity of the Relationship, Not Individual Performance

More good wisdom on the performance appraisal process, this time direct from the vice president of human resources at the software firm SAS Institute:

If there were a good performance appraisal process, everybody would be using it. … I don’t think you can really manage someone’s performance. I think you can observe the results. I think you can give them the tools. I think you can set short and long-term goals. And you can sit back and see if it happens or it doesn’t happen. … Our idea is to have performance management be based on conversation instead of documentation.

Three cheers for that. And from a 1998 Fast Company article:

Too many leaders confuse feedback with paperwork. “Filling out a form is inspection, not feedback,” says Kelly Allan … “History has taught us that relying on inspections is costly, improves nothing for very long, and makes the organization less competitive.”

What does matter, evidently, is a metric that is closely related to your core competitive advantage. For SAS, in the very competitive software industry, that was employee turnover. Managers were evaluated primarily on their ability to attract and retain people, and the company went to great lengths to ensure that it was a great place to work.

In a relationship-oriented business based primarily on intellectual talent, SAS encourages long-term relationship behavior through its measurements and through what it chooses not to measure and make public. In a place in which the attraction and retention of talent is key, turnover and factors related to the building of talent are what the firm measures. The emphasis, even in a geographically dispersed organization of 5,000 people, remains on interpersonal communication—and emphasis consistent with the relationship-oriented business model and philosophy. You have relationships with people, not with reports or numbers.

Lots of good lessons here for the association world—a place where the emphasis on people, talent and relationships is equally important.

Internal Competition Retards Organizational Succeess

The authors spend a lot of time talking about the value of competition in the workplace. They are, in fact, quite dismissive of it, feeling that it retards performance far more frequently than advances it. Here’s an interesting section, reminiscent of many of the lessons in Dan Pink’s Drive, published more than a decade later.

The confusion between what it takes to do well in routine tasks, especially physical tasks, versus novel intellectual tasks is another reason that people develop misguided beliefs about the positive effects of competition on performance. … Hundreds of studies show that intellectual tasks that require learning and inventing new ways of doing things are best performed under drastically different conditions than tasks that have been done over and over again in the past.

The authors argue, persuasively, I think, that…

People are better at learning new things, being creative, and doing intellectual tasks of all kinds when they don’t work under close scrutiny, they don’t feel as if they are constantly being assessed and evaluated, and they aren’t working in the presence of direct competitors.

Learning, creative, intellectual work is far more associated with the modern workplace that raw, repetitive tasks. Furthermore, this kind of work requires something the authors call interdependence—productivity, performance, and innovation that result from joint action, not just individual efforts and behavior. And the problem is that…

When even modest levels of learning are required and some interdependence exists, individual incentives and internal competition discourage needed knowledge sharing, cooperation and mutual assistance.

The Value of Core Assumptions

I’ve been reading and thinking about the value of values, lately. The clarity and focus that can come from a clearly identified and respected set of organizational values. But one firm profiled in this book takes things a set further. Their core values—fun, fairness, integrity and social responsibility—strike me as yet another meaningless list. But they have something in addition to that.

It also has a set of core assumptions about people that it tries to implement in its management approach: that people (1) are creative, thinking individuals, capable of learning; (2) are responsible and can be held accountable; (3) are fallible; (4) desire to make positive contributions to society and like a challenge; and (5) are unique individuals, deserving of respect, not numbers or machines.

Now that is something I can sink my teeth into. Imagine what managing people would be like if every day—especially when we were facing some kind of management difficulty—we reminded ourselves of these five simple facts.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Friend of the Earth by T. C. Boyle

This one has the juice. Reading A Friend of the Earth immediately after The Inner Circle is like stepping out of a funeral and directly onto a roller coaster.

But the New York Times review of the book panned it. I’m starting to read them after each book I read—curious what experts think after I have formed my own opinions. Oh, the juice is there all right. They agree. But, in the opinion of the reviewer, there is little else. No inner life of any of the characters, who are frequently dispatched with the seemingly wicked glee that Boyle brings to each hyperbolic turn of phrase.

I’m not so sure.

The protagonist is Tyrone Tierwater, an environmental activist, whose story is told in chapters that alternate time periods. Half the time we’re with him in the 1990s, when he is a middle-aged man with his second wife (Andrea), his daughter from his first marriage (Sierra), and an assembly of other “eco-warriors,” protesting and perpetrating acts of “eco-terrorism” against lumber companies in the Pacific Northwest. In one of those early scenes, they have dug a trench across one of the logging roads, filled it with wet cement, and dropped their feet into it. When the morning comes, the cement has hardened, and they have become human traffic barriers to the heavy equipment that was to be moved up the road to continue the deforestation. The lumber men, angry but undeterred, go to work with pick axes and sledge hammers to get them free.

It hurt. It hurt more than Tierwater could ever have imagined when he sank his sneakered feet into that yielding plastic medium, now hard as stone—stone, in fact—but he gritted his teeth and thought of the Mohawk. The hammers dropped again and again, the dull reverberative thump sucked up in the baffle of the trees. A crack would appear, and they’d go after it, beating a wedge loose here, levering up a section there. He tried to remain calm through all of this, tried to choke down the rage rising in his throat—passive resistance, that was the ticket, the strategy that brought the British Empire to its knees, stopped the war in Vietnam, humbled George Wallace and Bull Connor—but when his daughter let out a gasp, the smallest exhalation of pained surprise, the faintest whisper built round the thump of the hammer at her ankle, it went right to him.

This is the first clue that Sierra is something special to Tierwater and, indeed, she becomes a kind of polestar throughout the entire narrative.

The other half of the time, we’re still with Tierwater (oddly in the first person, whereas the chapters in the 1990s are told in the third person), but now it’s the 2020s, he’s a much older man, and much of the environmental apocalypse he feared in the 1990s has come to pass. Humanity trudges on, reduced from new plagues and hanging onto the edge of what was once modern society, and Tierwater is working as a kind of zookeeper for an eccentric pop star who keeps a menagerie of some of the earth’s now rarest creatures. Andrea returns after a long separation, bringing with her a writer who is working on a book about Sierra, who died years ago as a martyr to the environmental cause. We don’t know how that happened until it is revealed late in the book, and much of the chapters in the 2020s are of Tierwater remembering and reminiscing about his daughter and her special place in his movement and his heart.

Three times I went by the road I wanted and three times had to cut U-turns in a soup of mud, rock and streaming water, until finally I found the turnout where we’d parked that afternoon. It had been compacted dirt then, dusty even, but now it was like an automotive tar pit, a glowing head-lighted arena in which to race the engine and spin the tires until they stuck fast. I didn’t care. Sierra was up there on top of the ridge before me, up there in the thrashing wind, scared and lonely and for all I knew dangling from some limb a hundred an eighty feet in the air and fighting for her life. I had five beers in me, I was her father. I was going to save her.

This is from when Sierra decides to camp out on a platform high in a redwood tree, determined to stay there in protest for as long as it takes to stop the logging of those precious trees. She’s up there an unbelievable three years—while the logging goes on all around her—but it is in her airy sojourn, and Tierwater’s desperate quest for her on her first desperate night when a colossal storm hits, that we begin to see the symbolism that lies under Boyle’s high octane melodrama—the symbolism of man eternally longing for something meaningful in an indifferent world.

What was I wearing? Jeans, a sweater, an old pair of hiking boots, some kind of rain gear—I don’t remember. What I do remember is the sound of the wind in the trees, a screech of rending wood, the long crashing fall of shattered branches, the deep-throated roar of the rain as it combed the ridge and made the whole natural world bow down before it. I was ankle-deep in mud, fumbling with the switch of an uncooperative flashlight, inhaling rain and coughing it back up again, thinking of John Muir, the holy fool who was the proximate cause of all this. One foot followed the other and I climbed, not even sure if this was the right turnout or the right ridge—path? what path?—and I remembered Muir riding out a storm one night in the Sierras, thrashing to and fro in the highest branches of a tossing pine, just to see what it was like. He wasn’t trying to save anything or anybody—he just wanted to seize the moment, to experience what no one had experienced, to shout his hosannas to the god of the wind and the rain and the mad whirling rush of the spinning earth. He had joy, he had connection, he had vision and mystical reach. What he didn’t have was Black Cat malt liquor.

Here is the indifferent world in all of its primordial power—oblivious to both fools like John Muir and fools like Tyrone Tierwater.

I spat to clear my throat, hunched my shoulders and hovered over the last can. I was halfway up the ridge at that point, sure that at any moment a dislodged branch would come crashing out of the sky and pin me to the ground like a toad, and when I threw my head back to drink, the rain neat at my clenched eyelids with a steady unceasing pressure. Three long swallows and my last comfort was gone. I crushed the can and stuffed it into the pocket of the rain slicker and went on, feeling my way, the feeble beam of the flashlight all but useless in the hovering black immensity of the night. I must have been out there for hours, reading the bark like Braille, and the sad thing is I never did find Sierra’s tree. Or not that I know of. Three times that night I found myself at the foot of a redwood that might have been hers, the bark red-orange and friable in the glow of the flashlight, a slash of charred cambium that looked vaguely familiar, the base of the thing alone as wide around as the municipal wading pool in Peterskill where Sierra used to frolic with all the other four-year-olds while I sat in a row of benches with a squad of vigilant mothers and tried to read the paper with one eye. This was her tree, I told myself. It had to be.

And against that force Tierwater struggles, desperate to find the thing that will give him meaning.

Sierra!” I shouted, and the rain gave it back it back to me. “Sierra! Are you up there?”

Sadly, for Tierwater, and for the searching souls that he represents, Sierra is gone and can never return.

Friday, November 9, 2012


“As for a spoiled life, no life is spoiled but one whose growth is arrested.”
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (Lord Henry Wotton)

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Chapter Twenty-Eight


Speculative Fiction
Approximately 69,000 words
Copyright © Eric Lanke, 1991. All rights reserved.

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Near the end of Farchrist Year Eighty-Six, my mother gave birth to me in the small room where she slept in the back of The Quarter Pony. She had been working there for nearly eight months, saving her earnings so she would have enough money to care for her newborn son. When the fact of her pregnancy became apparent, some rumors circulated around town about Otis being the father. He denied these accusations out of hand, but in all other ways, he treated the expectant Amanda as if she was his responsibility. He cared for her, watched over what and how much she ate, and when the time for delivery was near, he hired a part-time replacement waitress while still continuing to pay Amanda her salary. Indeed, when the labor pains struck, it was Otis who ran to fetch the midwife. Two minutes after I was born, I was placed in the arms of my loving mother. Two minutes after that, Amanda allowed Otis to hold me.

+   +   +

Smurch and Brisbane talked long into the night, long after the last of the orks had fallen asleep around the campfire outside the circus wagon. As they talked, they began to fashion the semblance of a friendship between them, each finding likable traits present in the other.

Smurch told Brisbane many things about the orkish clan he had found himself in the middle of, and Brisbane told Smurch much about himself and many of the rumors he had heard growing up about orks. When Smurch heard these rumors, he sometimes had to clamp both hands over his large mouth to stifle the laughs that erupted.

Smurch said this clan called themselves the Clan of the Red Eye, as could be seen by the decoration on their shields, after the reputed color of Gruumsh’s one eye. The structure of the clan’s society was very rigid, with clearly defined upper and lower classes. The lower class were those who lived on the surface, outside the cave, and it included all the women and children and most of the men. The upper class lived in the cave that bored into one of the Windcrest Hills. It included the Sumak, the Grumak, and their bodyguards and henchmen. The easiest way to tell a lower class ork from an upper class one was to listen to his name. The lower class all had one-syllable names, except for the women who had no names at all, and the upper class all had two-syllable names. The Sumak had a three-syllable name. Therefore, Vrak and Plog, which Smurch said was Floppy’s real name, were members of the lower class and Ternosh was a member of the upper. The Sumak at this time was an ork named Tornestor, who happened to be Ternosh’s brother.

Brisbane found it very unusual that the female orks had no names. He questioned Smurch about it, and the half-ork revealed that, to the grugan, a name was tied to one’s skill in combat. The orkish women were not warriors, so they deserved no names. The way it worked was that upon the age of maturity, sixteen, a young male could choose a one-syllable name for himself, usually starting it with the same letter of his father’s name, out of respect. If his skill in armed combat increased enough in the coming years, the Sumak could choose him to join his personal guard, or the upper class. The ork would then be allowed to choose a second syllable for his name. There were constant challenges of combat amongst members of the upper class and, through such a process, the ork could theoretically rise to the position of Sumak itself. The third syllable was then added and he reigned until he was struck down from below.

It was a very efficient system for keeping the best warriors in the ruling class and it had been done that way for centuries. As far as Smurch knew, there had never been a woman who had taken a name and tried to compete in the tests of combat, but there wasn’t any law he knew of that said one couldn’t. It just had never been done before.

The position of Grumak was handled a bit differently than the chain of command that led up to the clan chief. Smurch did not know as much about it, but about once in every generation, an ork would be born with the mark of Gruumsh One-Eye—red eyes. These orks were immediately taken in by the existing Grumak, to be trained in his ways, and were given two-syllable names. Smurch did not know how the Grumak’s powers worked, but he did know that when an elder Grumak died, and one of his apprentices had to take his place, the apprentice had to pluck out his own left eye to emulate the appearance of their orkish god. To his knowledge, no female ork had ever been born with red eyes.

Smurch affirmed for Brisbane that the powers of a Grumak were very real, and that if Ternosh had said he had cast an anti-magic spell on the circus wagon, Brisbane could just bet that was what had been done.

Brisbane reflected on all he had been told about orkish—or grugan, as Smurch had said—society. He could see some parallels in it with human society, especially in the class system, but it seemed brutal in the extreme. When the measure of a man was his skill in mortal combat, death had to be as commonplace as arguments. The self-mutilation of their religious leaders shocked Brisbane and he wondered what kind of god would demand such a sacrifice on behalf of himself. Although he had yet to see how the males treated their females, the fact that the women hadn’t even the right to a name did quite a bit to illustrate the conditions. And he had first-hand experience as to how the orks treated their prisoners and those, like Smurch, who were in the least bit different.

Smurch told him something else that night about orkish society and life in the Clan of the Red Eye, and perhaps this told Brisbane more about what he had gotten himself into than anything Smurch has said so far. At Brisbane’s urging, Smurch told him the orkish story of creation.

In the beginning, when the gods came to the earth to populate it with races of their creation, there were six of them. Grecolus was the god of the humans, Corellon Larethian the god of the elves, Moradin the god of the dwarves, Garl Glittergold the god of the gnomes, Yondalla the god of the halflings, and Gruumsh One-Eye the god of the grugan.

Brisbane had heard mention of all these races, but had almost no exposure to most of them. He had lived among humans all his life. Stargazer had elven blood in her veins, but he did not know if and where any full-blooded elves still lived. Shortwhiskers was the only dwarf he had ever gotten to know, although he had seen a few of them in his life, and there was a sizable dwarven nation living north of Farchrist Castle in the Crimson Mountains. Brisbane had never seen either a gnome or a halfling, but it was said they flourished in other parts of the world, and he was now being held captive by a clan of orks. Again, his teachings had taught him Grecolus had created all of these races along with the world, but apparently the other races disagreed with this belief.

These six gods gathered together and drew lots to see in which parts of the world their respective races would dwell. Grecolus drew the lot which allowed humans to dwell wherever they pleased, in any environment. Corellon Larethian drew the lot of green forests. Moradin drew the one for the high mountains, Garl Glittergold picked the lot for the rocky, sunlit hills, and Yondalla was left with the fields and meadows. Then the assembled gods turned to Gruumsh and they laughed, mocking him.

“All the lots are taken,” they taunted. “Where will your people dwell, One-Eye? There is no place left!”

There was silence upon the world then as Gruumsh One-Eye lifted his great iron spear and stretched it over the world. The shaft blotted out of the sun over a great part of the lands as he spoke, “No! You lie! You have rigged the drawing of the lots, hoping to cheat me and my followers. But One-Eye never sleeps. One-Eye sees all. There is a place for the grugan to dwell…here!” he bellowed, and his spear pierced the mountains, opening mighty rifts and chasms. “And here!” and the spearhead split the hills and made them shake and covered them in dust. “And here!” and the black spear gouged the meadows and made them bare.

“There!” roared He-Who-Watches triumphantly, and his voice carried to the ends of the world. “There is where the grugan shall dwell! There they will survive, and multiply, and grow stronger, and a day will come when they will cover the world, and they shall slay all of your collected peoples. The grugan shall inherit the world you sought to cheat me of!”

Brisbane listened carefully to the entire story and then repeated it to Smurch to make sure he had it right. Brisbane was privately shocked by the tale. Here was a mythology, an entire culture, based on vengeance and the promise of victory over life-long enemies. Brisbane had felt the current leaders of Grecolus’ religion had twisted it into something similar—the promise of victory over the enemies of your beliefs in the afterlife and the vindication that comes with knowing that although you suffered, you were right all along—but at least that sentiment was a human corruption and not the law set down by a god. It appeared, however, that orks had that law, set down by Gruumsh One-Eye himself at the beginning of time when he lost in the fixed game of the other deities, a law to wage unending war against those who wronged them in the name of their rightful place in society and in the name of their god.

Hate, murder, and revenge were the cardinal virtues of the orks and Brisbane realized he would have to somehow adapt to them or he was going to have a very short future indeed. He asked Smurch exactly what was going to happen to him tomorrow, just how Ternosh was going to test his magic powers, but Smurch could tell him nothing, being wholly unfamiliar with the ways of the Grumak. Brisbane did not like it, but it appeared he would have to wait and see.

When Smurch had talked himself out, Brisbane returned the favor and told the half-ork a little about himself, where he was from, and how he had gotten there. He told him about the friends he had been separated from and about the journey they had made into the Crimson Mountains. He told him about the temple they had found at the source of the Mystic and about the shrine located farther down the river. He told him about the mission to rescue Roundtower and the decision to do the same for Dantrius. He told him about Stargazer’s powers and the meeting of Ellahannah deep in the Shadowhorn. He told him about his life in Scalt and being raised by his mother and Otis.

There was a lot to tell, more than Brisbane had thought there would be. Smurch listened patiently to him as Brisbane had to the half-ork and, at times, even seemed engrossed. Brisbane tried to tell Smurch some of the ways in which the religion of Grecolus differed from that of Gruumsh One-Eye, but the half-ork did not seem interested in this information. What Smurch seemed really interested in was the experiences Brisbane had with magic.

Smurch’s experience and teaching both agreed that only the Grumak of a clan could have the gift of He-Who-Watches, the ability to work magic. Brisbane told him of another world entirely, a world in which anyone could have this gift, for in that world, it was not a gift at all. It was a talent everyone had, in varying degrees, that could be nurtured and tended until it bloomed into proliferation. Smurch said he found this hard to believe, but in all honesty, he could tell Brisbane thought it was true.

Brisbane was frankly amazed at how easily Smurch listened to his claims that differed so drastically from what the half-ork had been taught and believed. Brisbane was used to dealing with people who were bound to shout out blasphemy at the drop of a hat and run screaming away from alternative ideas. Brisbane supposed it was because of the multi-theistic universe that seemed to exist for all the other races except humans. To humans, there was only one true god, and belief, worship, and discussion of other gods was forbidden. To the orks, their god was only one of many, a number of an elite group that reigned in dominion over the world. There were other gods, and therefore other religions, and therefore other beliefs. Brisbane had noticed each race thought their god was the strongest of the group—just look at the humans, who made their god so powerful, no other deities could even share the universe with him. This loyalty was understandable to Brisbane, but he wondered where it would fall in the case of half-breeds. Stargazer was a half-elf and she worshipped the human god Grecolus. Smurch was a half-ork and he worshipped the orkish god Gruumsh One-Eye. But how did each of them make their decision? Being of two races, did they not have two gods?

Just who were these gods in which thousands put so much faith? Were they real beings, different from Brisbane and all powerful? Were they just ideals? Were they separate or were they all the same with different names?

Eventually, Brisbane and Smurch bedded down for the night amidst the dirty straw of the cage and the loud snores of the orks around the dying campfire. Before falling asleep, Brisbane felt the need to relieve his bladder, for the first time since he had been taken captive by the orks. He winced when he realized just how little liquid was passing through his system. He went over to the bars facing away from the sleeping orks, dropped his pants and pointed his spray out through the bars. The process hurt a little and that bothered him. It could mean all the abuse he had taken had not just been external. Something inside of him could be seriously damaged after the treatment Vrak had given his gut with his fist. Luckily, his urine was clear and free of blood, otherwise Brisbane might have sat up all night worrying, quaking at every tremor of discomfort he felt in his midsection. What he wouldn’t give to have Stargazer here to ply her craft on his injuries.

Brisbane shook his head.

As long as he was wishing, what he wouldn’t give to be where Stargazer was so she could ply her craft on his injuries.

Brisbane finished his job and pulled up his trousers. He turned around and saw Smurch laying quietly in the straw at his feet. He looked up and saw the sleeping forms of the orks around the remains of the campfire. Besides their snores, there was not a sound to be heard in the settlement. The cave mouth yawned blackly in the darkness and no one had come out of it since the sun had gone down.

Brisbane crept over to the door of his cage. The time had come. He was going to see just how much power this Ternosh had and how far he could run before his disappearance could be discovered. He reached the door and snaked one of his arms through the bars, reaching down in an attempt to grasp the padlock that secured the door. He found he could do it. He could hold the lock in his hand. If his magic opened it, he could reach down and take it off the door latch. He could get free.

But what of Ternosh’s anti-magic spell? The Grumak had said no magic would work in his cage, but how could that be? How could you prevent another person’s magic from working? In all he had learned from Roystnof, Brisbane could not recall any spell, power, or process that would make this possible. Of course, Roystnof’s magic was not all the magic there was, as Dantrius had illustrated. Ternosh could have this power even if Roystnof did not.

The only thing to do was to try it and if it worked, it worked, and if it didn’t, it didn’t. Brisbane’s mind did offer him one glimmer of hope on the subject. The lock was outside his cage, and maybe it would not be affected by the anti-magic. It was a slim hope to have, but perhaps it would be enough. Brisbane held his hand outside the wagon, twisted his fingers into the proper position, and began to concentrate on turning the tumblers in the lock.

“What are you doing?”

Brisbane’s concentration broke. He pulled his hand back inside the wagon and turned around to face Smurch. The half-ork was standing there in the darkness, his hands on his hips and his feet placed shoulder-width apart.

Brisbane was not sure what he should say. “Nothing,” he eventually decided on.

“What do you mean, nothing? You were doing something.”

Brisbane decided, that in their short time together, he had fashioned enough of a friendship with Smurch to be honest with him now. Besides, he couldn’t very well carry through with his plan now without Smurch figuring it out.

“I was trying to open the lock,” Brisbane said. “I’m getting out of here if I can.”

“Without the key?” Smurch said. “You’re not strong enough to break that lock with your bare hands. I doubt if anyone is.”

“I wasn’t going to break it open, Jack.”

“Well, then, what were you doing?”

“I was trying to spell it open,” Brisbane said. “I know a spell that will open it if Ternosh’s magic will allow it.” Brisbane was not sure how Smurch was going to react.

“It won’t,” Smurch said. “The Grumak has the power to do what he says. But please, don’t let that stop you. Go right ahead.”

Brisbane’s brow wrinkled. “What?”

“Go ahead,” Smurch said. “I’m not going to stop you. I must admit, part of me wants to see you do it. A human Grumak is something unheard of, and if you are genuine, you’re going to set the grugan world on its ear.”

“What if I open it, Jack?” Brisbane asked suddenly. “What if I do have some magic powers? What if I am a human Grumak and I do open this door?”

Smurch looked dumbly at Brisbane. “What if you do, Gil?”

“Will you raise some sort of alarm? Wake those orks up?”

Smurch smiled. “How could I do that if I’m sleeping?”

Brisbane smiled back. He turned again to the door, stretched his arm out the barred window, and began the simple little spell that would open the padlock.

Tumble, his mind commanded the tumblers and, helplessly, they did as they were told. Brisbane heard them click into place and the lock fell open. He picked it off the door and brought it inside with his arm. He turned around and held it up in front of Smurch.

“I did it,” Brisbane said, remembering to keep his voice low. “It worked, Jack.”

Smurch took the lock from Brisbane’s hand and examined it. “So it has, Gil. I can’t believe it even with the proof in my hands. You are a Grumak.”

“It was a simple spell, Jack. Roystnof, my friend and teacher, calls it a cantrip. My power is not that great.”

“Your power is very great indeed if it can overcome Ternosh’s magic,” Smurch said almost reverently. “The spell may have been minor, but your power cannot be.”

Brisbane did not want to argue the point. He wanted to get out of there. He extended a hand to Smurch and the half-ork numbly shook it.

“Glad we met, Jack, but I hope you understand when I say I never want to meet you again. At least not under these circumstances.”

Smurch looked at him oddly. “You’re going? You’re really a Grumak. You can’t leave. He-Who-Watches must have sent you here for a reason.”

Brisbane shook his head. “My power does not come from your god, Jack. I may be a sorcerer of sorts, but I am not a Grumak. I do not worship Gruumsh One-Eye.”

“But your power is real…” Smurch said, trailing off, obviously having trouble with the contradiction.

Brisbane cut to the heart of the matter. “Jack, I now have no time for this. Grumak or not, you promised not to raise a fuss if I escaped. Are you going to be true to your word?”

Smurch straightened up. “Grugan are men of their words, Gil. I now regret making the promise, but I will not break it.” He handed the lock back to Brisbane. “Here. Lock me in when you leave. It will add to the mystery.”

Brisbane took the lock. “Goodbye, Jack.”

“Farewell, Gil.”

Brisbane then went to the door and quietly pushed it open. He stepped out into the night, shut and relocked the door behind him, and began to creep away from the prison that had once held him. Brisbane knew he was far from free. He had the entire ork settlement to steal through unnoticed and, although it was a dark night, it would be foolish to think everyone was asleep and dreaming of vengeance against other races. He trotted along, low to the ground, and tried not to make any noise.

Soon he was entirely away from the circus wagons and the cluster of orks sleeping by the cave mouth, and into the body of the settlement itself. The open ground seemed deserted and Brisbane hoped all the nameless ork women had all their noisy children inside the tents or the ramshackle buildings, sleeping quietly and nestled against their big breasts. One tiny insomniac or one questing for a drink of midnight water could spell death for him.

Things went well as he bounded as quickly as he dared across the scrubland. Brisbane began to believe he might be able to make it out when he remembered the Dogmaster and his animal he had met on his way into the camp. Surely the perimeter would be guarded at night, probably more so than it was during the day. Brisbane remembered the large kennel he had heard and seen and imagined all those trained dogs ready to chase him down and rip out his throat. One of them had already smelled him. One of them already knew his scent. He knew it was foolish to think he could outrun trained dogs, even if he got lucky and made it through the perimeter guards. If only he had some kind of weapon to protect himself. If only he had—

Brisbane stopped in his tracks just like the flow of his thoughts. A chill swept through him and rattled around in his vertebrae for as many as five full seconds. Just what in the hells did he think he was doing? Even if he could kill the Dogmasters and their dogs just by looking at them, he couldn’t escape from the encampment yet. If he did, he would be leaving Angelika behind.
The thought seemed utterly foreign to Brisbane and for a moment he questioned if it could possibly be his. But of course it was. It was in his own head. Angelika was the greatest weapon in the world and with her, Brisbane had already overcome impossible odds and defeated monstrous evil. What could he do without her? He had to go back. She had promised him they would have their revenge on these orks if he was just patient and strong, and here he was running out at the first opportunity like a coward. He had to go back and wait for his chance to reclaim her.

I have to go back. I have to go back for Angelika. What am I without her?

And so Brisbane turned and silently made his way back through the settlement to the circus wagon where he had been caged. His reasons for doing so made quite a bit of sense to him at the time, although they might seem strange to the uninformed observer. The truth of the matter, a truth Brisbane would not discover for quite some time, was not that Brisbane refused to leave Angelika, but that Angelika refused to let Brisbane leave her. That was the kind of power she had. Angelika always managed to stay in the hands of the best warrior in the area and, right now, that warrior was Gildegarde Brisbane III.

Brisbane arrived back at the door of the circus wagon, the decision to stay now firmly planted in his brain. He turned the tumblers of the padlock with his little spell, climbed back into the wagon, and locked himself in again.

Smurch scrambled out of the straw. “What’s going on?”

“I can’t leave, Jack,” Brisbane said. “They’ve still got my sword.”

“Your sword?” Smurch said. “You came back for your sword?”

Brisbane nodded. “I came back for my sword.”