Last Week: Our travelers found themselves in the Andes where they saved an alien Agdaline from the serpentine alien Balok whose purpose is to wipe out all intelligent life but its own. They arrive in Qito’s native village to find Agdaline all around and the word that the Balok have sent out a ground force to attack the village, and it will be there soon…
They did not have long to wait, but it did not take long for Captain Decker to get a real surprise. He was scanning the skies, looking for another Balok aircraft, thinking if it was his operation he would send in two or three to soften up the opposition before sending in the ground troops. What he saw was an eagle, a real American bald eagle, and it was headed toward them with some speed. He watched it dance on the wind, and swallowed once when he imagined how high it was in the sky and how little he liked heights. Still, he could not look away as it came closer and closer.
When the eagle was overhead, Captain Decker paused to look at the others. They were dutifully staring out over the ridge, waiting for the Balok. He had gotten behind them all to where he could get up on a rocky hump in the ridge and fire down on the Balok without fear of hitting his own. When he looked again for the eagle, he jumped. The bird had landed a few feet away and was preening its wings, waiting to get his attention. Decker had to stifle his shock to avoid making a sound as the bird turned one great eye to stare at him and spoke.
“Warrior. Why do you fear the heights?”
A hundred things passed through the mind of the marine, all of the excuses and denial, but in the end there was only one thing to say. “I deal with it when I have to.” Captain Decker thought the eagle smiled at him, which was very odd. He felt sure he must have fallen asleep and this must be a dream, but he paid close attention when the eagle spoke again.
“You should see it through my eyes. It is glorious.” Captain Decker did not move, but found himself leave the ground and felt the wind lift him quickly until he was high in the air. The air alone kept him up and he smelled things on the wind he never imagined. One thing was the serpents, and he saw them slithering along down below. Even from that great height he looked and was not afraid. Captain Decker heard the cry of the Balok and saw them spread out to cover the ridge. He estimated forty and wheeled around twice to be sure.
Back on the ridge, he saw Qito with her arm sticking straight up in the air like a school girl waiting for the teacher to call on her. She was exposed in that position but he saw she was wearing some kind of armor and had blades at her back which he was sure were not typically Neolithic. It was amazing what he could see from that height, and the clarity of detail he could pick out even at a great distance.
He wheeled around again and realized he could look straight ahead or up or down without turning his head. What is more, he could look to both sides at once, though those images were hard for his mind to process and he soon quit for fear that it would make him dizzy.
On the center of the ridge, he saw his party of travelers, ready and waiting. To either side of them there were Qito’s North African looking people. The ridge itself was littered with worked stones, some of which had to weigh several tons. Captain Decker was not sure what Qito’s people meant to do with those stones, but he imagined he would see soon enough as the Balok reached the half-way point and all of them appeared to be committed.
Captain Decker did not think much of the Balok tactics. They sent out no scouts. It seemed they did not care what opposition they might face. He chalked it up to egotism, the kind of overconfidence that tended to get men killed on the battlefield. Then he imagined it was inexperience, like these Balok were not used to ground operations.
“Perhaps they are not used to any reasonable opposition,” the eagle said, and Captain Decker drew in his breath. He might have panicked if Qito did not drop that hand to start the action. At once, the Agdaline on the flanks began to fire. It was withering energy beams and the grass on the ridge was quickly aflame. Captain Decker was not sure they hit any Balok, though he supposed they could not help but hit a couple, but it did have the effect of driving the Balok toward the center of the ridge.
Then he saw what Qito’s Shemsu people intended with those stones, and he gasped again. One man stood over the stone and it lifted off the ground. It did not seem to matter if the stone was one or several tons. Two other men stood behind the stone, one to each side of the stone lifter, and in a coordinated effort, they shoved. None of the men appeared to actually touch the stone, but the stone jolted forward and then gravity took over. With Balok being crushed under these rolling wonders they moved even more to the center.
Captain Decker quickly calculated. From his vantage point and with those eagle eyes he could see all of the action perfectly. The Balok bunched up in a couple of groups like green troops gathering around their sergeant, wondering what to do.
“I believe these are yours,” the eagle spoke again, and Captain Decker found a grenade in each hand.
“I was saving these for an emergency,” he said. The eagle said nothing, he just wheeled them around for another pass. Captain Decker shrugged, and with the eagle’s eyes and swooping down he had no trouble dropping the grenades directly on the two largest groups of Balok. With that, he cut their numbers by a third.
Then the fifteen or so uninjured Balok began to return fire. It was belated, but Captain Decker soon saw why. In order to free their hands to grasp their weapons and fire, the Balok had to rise up and become targets. When his group opened fire at the Balok who were now directly below them, it looked a little like a whack-a-mole game.
The Captain saw two things then that did not make him happy. First, the Teschkul warriors could not contain themselves at the back and went charging over the top of the ridge. He saw Qito yell at her young man and saw the young man respond with a shrug. Then he saw two of the Balok back off and slip into a pit area full of bushes, brambles and trees. One of the Balok looked injured, but the other looked untouched.
“Put me down,” the Captain complained. “I have to go back down.” The eagle did not argue and at once the Captain opened his eyes.
“Lockhart. Roland.” Captain Decker could be heard because the group had ceased firing. They were pulling out their pistols and preparing to follow the Teschkul warriors down the hill. Qito had already run after Tec’huanu. The man and the elf looked back and the Captain spoke again. “There are two that will escape unless we go after them.”
“How do you know this?” Roland wondered.
Captain Decker frowned at his thoughts. “You are just going to have to trust me on this.”
The trip down the ridge was not easy. There were several Balok unaffected by the defenders of the ridge and a number of wounded serpents that still posed a threat. Since the Teschkul were in the first line of attack, they bore the brunt of the Balok fire and lost six warriors, but they also put most of the Balok out of business. Boston shot one, Lincoln two and Katie got four, but the rest were among the dead and dying when they arrived.
Captain Decker, Roland and Lockhart cut through the action slowly and carefully, though Captain Decker said later he doubted the Balok knew how to play possum. When they got to the dip in the land, the Captain stopped and pointed.
“They came down here,” he whispered. “One looked wounded but the other looked whole.” He had Roland move along the edge of the pit while he and Lockhart headed toward the middle. He remarked to himself that the pit looked smaller from above.
Twenty feet in and the wounded Balok made a lunge for Lockhart. His pistol and Roland’s arrow ended the threat, but Captain Decker watched before he realized how stupid that was. Sure enough, he turned just in time to see the other Balok rear up and pull its weapon. He was going to be toast, but there was a loud “Scree!” and the eagle grazed the Balok’s face. That gave Captain Decker time to bring his rifle to bear and a quick burst of three followed by three more bullets finished the job.
The Captain looked where Lockhart and Roland were looking, but the eagle was already high in the sky and headed for the distant mountain.
“Fortuitous,” Roland said.
“My totem,” Captain Decker responded.