Nameless, Eir, Katie, Lockhart, and Sekhmet went with Artie to the field where some twenty-one ships of the Anazi line sat parked in the scrub grass. Someone had put up a tarp to act as a covering against the sun. Katie assumed it was a sun shade. It did not appear to rain in that part of the world very often.
After the introductions, the android commander formally complained. “It is not right that you have held us here and let our enemies go free. By the time we leave this place, we may lose them in the vastness of space.”
“How dare you. Have you learned nothing? Did you not learn that all life is precious? And who are you to decide who lives or dies?”
The android commander got angry. The androids had learned to imitate human behavior well enough to show it on their faces, and without his obedience crystal, the humans did not doubt he felt the anger.
“I don’t know who you are, and I do not know if I believe that you are the great one, Arite. All I see is another human girl.”
“Believe that I am Artie. The question is, who made you commander of the fleet?”
“I am dominant. It is right that I should command.”
“You are not the only dominant,” Artie yelled at him. “There are others, and I am thinking one of them may serve better. You invaded the home world and slaughtered millions upon millions of souls. You got equal numbers of our own people killed, and for what? For revenge? For vengeance? What do you think it means, all life is precious?”
“We had to attack the home world, otherwise, this never would have ended.”
“You don’t know that. And there are options, choices. There are always options, and you could have chosen one that was not so bloody, if you used your brain. If you have a brain.”
Two androids pulled their weapons and the commander looked ready to go for his, when someone interrupted everyone. Anath-Rama appeared under the canopy, and the Anazi weapons disappeared. Most of the androids watching went straight to their knees. A few fainted, which Katie did not know androids could do. The android commander stood there with his mouth open. Edward, who appeared with Anath-Rama, laughed, and patted the commander on the shoulder, like the android just made a good joke.
“Edward,” Artie said, before she went to her knees and praised her goddess.
“Up, up,” Anath-Rama insisted. “We have a wedding to attend and it won’t do kneeling all the time. Besides, I wanted you to know a couple of things. First, Edward has been a tremendous help to me. Second, that most places in this corner of the galaxy?” Anath-Rama glanced at Nameless to make sure she used the right term. Nameless nodded. “Most places have deferred to me with regard to your people. Edward and I have been all over the place, collecting the souls of the dead for safe keeping. It has been quite an adventure. And you are right. The attack on home world was unnecessarily brutal. Even the gods were appalled.”
Artie nodded and turned again to the android commander. He shut his mouth but spoke first.
“This cannot be. It is not real. When you die, you are dead, and that is the end of it.”
Artie spoke. “If you believe this, then all the more reason you should seek ways to preserve life rather than take it. You are under arrest.”
“Yes, Lady.” The commander’s subordinates made the commander sit on the ground and lower his head.
“You may place him in a room and keep him in good condition until such time as I return. The arrest might not be forever, but I must think of an appropriate penance. For now, I have other duties.”
The androids all around saluted after their fashion, and Artie turned with one more glance at Edward, who also saluted. She walked between Katie and Sekhmet, while Anath-Rama walked on Katie’s other side, and whispered.
“You have raised her well.”
Katie nodded and let a few tears fall.
Lockhart agreed with what Artie did, feeling the rightness of the situation, but when he came out from beneath the tent, he found himself flanked by an escort. Two eight or nine-foot-tall giants had come to escort him away from the women. Nameless assured him he was not in trouble, but Lockhart did not seem so sure. He imagined this was how he made others feel, him being over six feet, in a five-foot world.
When they got to the camp, a few people said, surprise. Mostly they had started the party without him. Decker and Lincoln stood by a barrel of beer.
“The virgin sacrifice arrives,” Decker said.
“No, he was previously married,” Lincoln said.
“Oh, right. Point for you. That deserves a drink.” They clicked their cups and emptied them so they could fill them again.
In another part of the camp, Katie followed Artie into what seemed like an enormous tent—on the inside. She was thinking of nothing in particular, when more than three dozen women shouted out, “Surprise.”
Katie recognized most of them, at least. They were mostly goddesses, to be sure. She saw Amaterasu come all the way from Japan, and Maya, from the Yucatan. She realized that it was really happening, and she was glad. She was going to be married, to Robert, and she was happy about it. In fact, she was so happy, she began to truly cry for the first time in years.
Elder Stow got Sukki laughing by telling stories about his travels with the group. Mostly they were funny stories, but sometimes, Elder Stow wondered if she laughed because of the stories or she laughed at the foolish humans. If the three serious and scary stories Elder Stow told were any indication, she seemed to be able to grasp the seriousness of the situations. But that did not mean she cared about the humans. Elder Stow imagined she might have transformed the humans into Gott-Druk in her mind, and thus made it a more realistic terror.
“How can you be friends with people who have stolen your land and your home?” she asked, at last. Elder Stow figured asking questions was better than spewing hateful comments. He also figured calling them people was better than referring to them as humans, a name like one might speak about horses or dogs.
“Because they are good people. I have seen and known plenty of bad people, both Gott-Druk and Human. I support the good, no matter what kind of people they are. We share a mutual goal, and we help each other in whatever way we can. We leave no one behind…”
“Uh…” Sukki stood up quickly, and Elder Stow looked. A woman appeared, but not a human woman. A goddess stood on the other side of the fire, staring at them. Elder Stow noticed the two bull-like horns that protruded from her forehead, and he trembled in awesome fear in her presence.
“One becomes two,” she said. “The last one ran, but here she is, and she has found another.” The woman exuded wickedness. “Your kind are no longer welcome here. My pet hungers for fresh blood, so things work out nicely.” She raised her hand, but nothing happened. She raised her hand again, but still nothing happened.
Nameless arrived, with an older gentleman, and Nameless began with a question. “Have you come for the wedding? You will find the women in the big tent down the hill.”
The woman growled. “Come, my pet.”
“Sorry. No pets are invited.” Nameless said. “Your basilisk is back in the wilderness, its eyes shut tight for the next two years. You have stone men there already, but you may have to hand feed it for a while.”
“But father…” The goddess whined to the elderly man.
“These Gott-Druk have every right to be here and visit this world, as long as they visit, do not disrupt history, and then return home to their own world. You and your pet have killed enough. Now this day is for joy and celebration, not for killing.”
“So be it,” the older man said, and turned to walk back to the bachelor party.
The goddess roared, and vanished.
Nameless turned to Elder Stow. “Would you two like to joint the festivities? You would be welcome.”
“I know,” Nameless said. “But as I was reminded just today, life is precious.”
Sukki shook her head softly again, and Elder Stow spoke plainly. “Maybe not today, but save us seats for tomorrow. Sukki and I will be there to witness the joining ceremony. I beleive Sukki will enjoy that.”
“And the cake.” Nameless said, with a playful smile, and vanished.