began to detect subtle differences in technique and execution. The reds were the most creative, using tiny flakes of slate to put the gray in his hair. The white idol seemed young and mischievous to him, while the face shaped by the blacks-although virtually the same, line for line-struck him as wise and benevolent. The orange sandkings, as usual, were last and least. The wars had not gone well for them, and their castle was sad compared to those of the others. The image they carved was

crude and cartoonish, and they seemed to intend to leave it this way. When they stopped work on the face, Kress grew quite piqued with them, but there really was nothing he could do.

When all of the sandkings had finished their Kress faces, he turned off the projector and decided that it was time to have a party. His friends would be impressed. He could even stage a war for them, he thought. Humming happily to himself, he began drawing up a guest list.

The party was a wild success.

Kress invited thirty people: a handful of close friends who shared his amusements, a few former lovers, and a collection of business and social rivals who could not afford to ignore his summons. He knew some of them would be discomfited and even offended by his sandkings. He counted on it. He customarily considered his parties a failure unless at least one guest walked out in high dudgeon.

On impulse he added Jala Wo's name to his list. 'Bring Shade if you like,' he added when he dictated the invitations to her.

Her acceptance surprised him just a bit: 'Shade, alas, will be unable to attend. He does not go to social functions. As for myself, I look forward to the chance to see how your sandkings are doing.'

Kress ordered a sumptuous meal. And when at last the conversation had died down and most of his guests had gotten silly on wine and joy sticks, he shocked them by personally

scraping their table leavings into a large bowl. 'Come, all of you,' he commanded. 'I want to introduce you to my newest pets.' Carrying the bowl, he conducted them into his living room.

The sandkings lived up to his fondest expectations. He had starved them for two days in preparation, and they were in a fighting mood. While the guests ringed the tank, looking through the magnifying glasses that Kress had thoughtfully provided, the sandkings waged a glorious battle over the scraps. He counted almost sixty dead mobiles when the struggle was over. The reds and whites, which had recently formed an alliance, came off with most of the food.

'Kress, you're disgusting,' Cath m'Lane told him. She had lived with him for a short time two years before, until her soppy sentimentality almost drove him mad. 'I was a fool to come back here. I thought perhaps you'd changed and wanted to apologize.' She had never forgiven him for the time his shambler had eaten an excessively cute puppy of which she had been fond. 'Don't ever invite me here again, Simon.' She strode out, accompanied by her current lover, to a chorus of laughter.

Kress's other guests were full of questions.

Where did the sandkings come from? they wanted to know. 'From Wo and Shade, Importers,' he replied, with a polite gesture toward Jala Wo, who had remained quiet and apart throughout most of the evening.

Why did they decorate their castles with his likeness? 'Because I am the source of all good things. Surely you know that?' This retort brought a round of chuckles.

Will they fight again? 'Of course, but not tonight. Don't worry. There will be other parties.'

Jad Rakkis, who was an amateur xenologist, began talking about other social insects and the wars they fought. 'These sandkings are amusing, but nothing really. You ought to read about Terran soldier ants, for instance.'

'Sandkings are not insects,' Jala Wo said sharply, but Jad was off and running, and no one paid her the slightest attention. Kress smiled at her and shrugged.

Malada Blane suggested they-have a betting pool the next time they got together to watch a war, and everyone was taken with the idea. An animated discussion about rules and odds ensued. It lasted for almost an hour. Finally the guests began to take their leave.

Jala Wo was the last to depart. 'So,' Kress said to her when they were alone, 'it appears my sandkings are a hit.'

'They are doing well,' Wo said. 'Already they are larger than my own.'

'Yes,' Kress said, 'except for the oranges.'

'I had noticed that,' Wo replied. 'They seem few in number, and their castle is shabby.'

'Well, someone must lose,' Kress said. 'The oranges were late to emerge and get established. They have suffered for it.'

'Pardon,' said Wo, 'but might I ask if you are feeding your sandking sufficiently?'

Kress shrugged. 'They diet from time to time. It makes them fiercer.'

She frowned. 'There is no need to starve them. Let them war in their own time, for their own reasons. It is their nature, and you will witness conflicts that are delightfully subtle and complex. The constant war brought on by hunger is artless and degrading.'

Kress repaid Wo's frown with interest. 'You are in my house, Wo, and here I am the judge of what is degrading. I fed the sandkings as you advised, and they did not fight.'

'You must have patience.'

'No,' Kress said. 'I am their master and their god, after all. Why should I wait on their impulses? They did not war often enough to suit me. I have corrected the situation.'

'I see,' said Wo. 'I will discuss the matter with Shade.'

'It is none of your concern, or his,' Kress _ snapped.

'I must bid you good-night, then.' Wo said with resignation. But as she slipped into her coat to leave, she fixed him with a final, disapproving stare. 'Look to your faces, Simon Kress,' she warned him. 'Look to your faces.' And she departed.

Puzzled, he wandered back to-the tank and stared at the castles. His faces were still there, as ever. Except-he snatched up his magnifying goggles and slipped them on. He studied the faces for long moments. Even then exactly what it was, was hard to make out. But it seemed to

him that the expression on the faces had changed slightly, that his smile was somehow twisted so that it seemed a touch malicious. But it was a very subtle change-if it was a change at all. Kress finally put it down to his suggestibility, and he resolved not to invite Jala Wo to any more of his gatherings. Over the next few months Kress and about a dozen of his favorites got together weekly for what he liked to call his 'war games.' Now that his initial fascination with the sandkings was past, Kress spent less time around his tank and more on his business affairs and his social life, but he still enjoyed having a few friends over for a war or two. He kept the combinations sharp on a constant edge of hunger. It had severe effects on the orange sandkings, which dwindled visibly until Kress began to

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