Ibelam called his crew to a halt. Something up ahead appeared to be sneaking through the trees. Haniashtart cautioned him earlier and had her bow ready, with three arrows in her hand. Abdanath clutched his spear, having learned to trust Haniashtart’s intuition. He tried to look around the trees. Gerbaal slipped the copper soup-pot on his head, while Ahumm pulled a short sword for one hand and a long knife for the other. Gerbaal strung his bow. A good marksman, as the ship’s cook, Gerbaal had a real talent with a knife, but he learned it was best to keep the enemy as far away as possible.
Ibelam patted the sword at his side, but also had his bow out. “Spread out,” he said. “But stay close enough to see me. If they are Anazi or Androids, I will try to talk, so don’t fire. If they are Humanoids, you can fire when I fire.”
“But you said they look like us,” Abdanath said, trying to understand. “Are they not people, even if they are not human people?” He used the phrase Ibelam used often enough.
Ibelam shook his head. “Maybe if they talk, but I can’t expect that they will. They are flesh eaters, and they don’t care if it is a deer or your flesh. And they don’t bother to cook their food.” Ibelam shook his head. “Mostly, they do not belong here. This world is supposed to be off limits. They come here at their own risk.”
“But you will talk to the others.” Abdanath objected.
“But…” True enough. Abdanath could not think of a next question.
“Command decision,” Ibelam, the captain said. That ended the discussion. His crew spread out, and after a short way, Ibelam cursed, softly. The men in the forest looked human enough. They wore well-tanned leather uniforms, looking for all the world like medieval soldiers on the move. But they carried rifles; no doubt energy weapons of some sort, and that made them especially dangerous to his group of relative primitives.
Ibelam let one arrow fly. It went through the man’s neck and he fell without crying out. Haniashtart duplicated his work on another soldier, but Gerbaal’s arrow hit one in the chest, and he did shout, a high pitched, not-quite-human sound. It did not matter. Abdanath had to shove his spear into the belly of one, while Ahumm used both blades to practically take another one’s head off.
A humanoid further down the line fired his weapon and struck a tree. The tree started to smolder around the hole the weapon made. Someone shouted, and someone squealed high-pitched words. Ibelam guessed the soldiers were to hold their fire in the woods where they risked setting the whole forest on fire. All the same, Ibelam backed his group away, thinking they wandered too far into the line.
Ibelam lifted his head at a sound. He heard rapid-fire from rifles, pistol shot, and at one point, what had to be the thunder of Lockhart’s shotgun. Then he saw streaks of light come from the distance. He recognized the Anazi weapons, the same he saw used on the blobs in the ancient days. It looked hardly different from the weapon Artie carried around with her.
“You have my permission to shoot any who come this way,” Ibelam said. She did not look satisfied, but she got up on a boulder in the woods where she could have a better view and shoot at several angles. Gerbaal and Ahumm, with his own bow ready, slipped behind trees to watch. Abdanath still clutched his spear, that he yanked from the belly of the Humanoid he killed.
“In case one breaks through the arrow fire,” he said. He was one big, well-trained warrior who felt reluctant to kill, even alien flesh eaters. Ibelam imagined the humanoid appearance, looking so much like human beings, did not help.
The wind rose. Fair Wind appeared beside Ibelam and talked to him like an excited child might talk to her favorite uncle. “The Androids did not get fooled. They were waiting for them. Now the Hungdin are trapped on three sides. I don’t know who the people are on the other side, though. Their thoughts are clouded to my mind. It feels strange.”
Ibelam leaned over and kissed her forehead. “That’s okay. They are friends of mine.”
Fair Wind paused, grinned a big grin, touched the place Ibelam kissed her before she threw her arms around Ibelam for a big hug. She projected nothing but joy, before she thought again, and backed up.
“But the best part. The Hungdin are trying to back out of the trap, but the skeletons are there, behind them. They are still trying to attack Damascus.” She laughed.
“Skeletons?” Ibelam asked.
“Maybe I should not have said that,” Fair Wind looked down. “The servant of Ashtoreth brought them back to life, but they would not do what he commanded them. After all these years, they are still stuck on attacking Damascus.”
“Never. You are much too sweet and lovely for that. One day, you will be wise and know all things, enough to make your head hurt. But that doesn’t have to be today. Today, just be my Fair Wind, and that will be enough.”
“I will,” she nodded and faded from sight.
Abdanath stepped up. “News?” he asked. He knew better than to ask who Ibelam talked to.
“Yes. Good news. We have androids counterattacking. Plus, that cracking sound you hear in the distance is friends of mine.”
“You still have friends…Sir…Captain…?” Haniashtart slid off her rock to join the conversation.
“But the bad news is the skeletons are down that way.”
“Skeletons?” Ahumm groused as he walked up. “It figures.”
“They won’t last long against Hungdin energy weapons,” Ibelam admitted. “But they might take a few with them. But here is the thing. They were brought back to life by the servant of our old friend, Ashtoreth.”
“You don’t mean Miss Bull Horns.” Ahumm said, using his hands to show pretend horns growing out of his forehead. Haniashtart and Abdanath nodded. “It figures,” Ahumm repeated. “Why should something be bad when it can be worse?”
“Captain,” Gerbaal joined the group. “Can I take my helmet off?” He tapped the soup pot gently.
“Haven’t got a helmet,” Abdanath said.
“Near enough, for a cook,” Haniashtart grinned. Everyone grinned, and paused with the grin still on their faces.
Everyone dropped the grins, and Gerbaal chose to leave the helmet-pot on his head.
“Ibelam, Captain of the ship, Sinbad’s Folly,” Ibelam spoke up. “These are members of my crew. We mean you no harm. Who am I speaking with?”
One woman and two men stepped out from behind the trees. They wore simple uniforms and held handguns of a sort. It took a moment for the crew to realize these were not human people, because these looked even more human than the Humanoid soldiers. In fact, Ibelam thought the one in front looked remarkably like Alexis. She spoke.
“We are the people from the stars, brought down to the earth by a great enemy. We suggest you move out of this area, because a war may happen here, with weapons of such might and power that you cannot imagine.” She paused to fire at Haniashtart’s boulder. A big chunk of rock got sliced off with a great Crack! like a lightning strike. Ibelam’s crew jumped, but the Alexis imitator holstered her weapon. “It is for your own safety and protection we tell you to move out of the area.”
Ibelam merely smiled. “You sound like Lockhart, but you look a little like Alexis. I love the long black hair.” He watched the androids pause and look at one another. They knew those names, and even had the images of the travelers programmed into their minds.
“How do you know these people?”
Ibelam still smiled. He felt for once he did right. These people, androids though they be, deserved to live as a free people. “I have known the travelers since they began their journey through time. I was there when they saved Artie in the ancient days. But, you know this is a Genesis planet. You do not belong here, but neither do the Hungdin, your Humanoid enemies. I think you better take me to your leader. I may be able to help without any more people having to die.”
“Who are you?” one of the men asked.
The men and the Alexis-android all gasped after a fashion. The woman said, “This way. You will want to speak to General Redfern.”
“Artie has gone to collect the travelers,” one of the men said.
“General Redfern is going to want to speak to you,” the other man said at about the same time.
Abdanath stepped up beside Ibelam, and offered his thought as they walked. “I know you avoid unnecessary bloodshed wherever possible. That is why I don’t mind following your orders.”
Haniashtart, walking on his other side, sighed, but agreed.
Ahumm, one step behind, offered his two bits. “I see what you mean about people, even if they are not human people.”
Gerbaal interrupted. “What do they eat?”