“You can see for yourself.” Captain Esteban pointed behind him where the travelers waited. “I have not damaged them. I have treated them well. They even have all their equipment. I figured we will need their help to drive out whatever landed here in the west. Do you think?”
“Spiders,” Captain Hawk said, confirming Lincoln’s word.
“As I feared,” Captain Esteban responded.
“We will begin by moving the travelers and their horses to the Golden Hawk. Then we will discuss what we can do about the spiders.”
Nanette and Suki left off tending the Spanish wounded. The Spanish were grateful for the help. Tony had Ghost and the horses and found a dozen human looking men come to help him transfer the horses to the frigate. They looked human enough, but Tony suspected they were not, given the way the horses readily responded to them.
“Sukki,” Captain Hawk called her and hugged her. Lincoln had to ask.
“Peter van Dyke?”
“Captain Hawk,” Katie called him.
“It is all in the profile,” Captain Hawk said, and he lifted his eyes and showed the side of his face. With his aquiline nose, he did look a bit like a bird of prey.
Captain Esteban let his hostages go without trouble. He had no choice. His crew had been damaged. His ship shredded. His company of soldiers remained intact, but they would all be needed if they indeed faced spiders from the stars. Besides that, he would need the guns of the Dutchman and his soldiers, and the Dutchman’s ship if retreat became the only option. If giving up his hostages ensured cooperation, he would do that.
“But look,” Captain Esteban said. “Neither you nor the Masters want an invasion of alien spiders at this time. You see my good faith in bringing the Travelers from Avalon to you unharmed. Perhaps we can make a temporary truce until these spiders are taken care of. You know, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
“The enemy of my enemy is still my enemy,” Captain Hawk countered. “I do not trust you, but I will use you and your men in this circumstance as I am sure you will use me and my men.”
Captain Esteban grinned before he nodded. “I was told you are no fool.”
“But maybe I am. Eh Inaros?” Captain Hawk grinned at his mate. “General Diego has crossed through the mountains with three thousand men. They are not all soldiers from Spain, but they all know how to fire a matchlock and can use spears and knives. LeBlanc has brought around three thousand Buccaneers down from the north. He has some English pirates with him as well.”
“I was not aware there were that many Buccaneers,” Captain Esteban interrupted with a pull on his beard.
Captain Hawk nodded. “Then in the south, the Taino and Carib have made a temporary truce, like us, and they have come up with some three thousand more. My spies tell me the circle is about closed. The spiders have nowhere to go except this direction, or back to their ship. Let us hope they retreat to their ship.”
“You are mad,” Captain Esteban said.
It did not take long for Ghost and the horses to be loaded on the Golden Hawk. Captain Hawk gathered two hundred soldiers and sailors, leaving plenty of men to guard the ship. He had a company of fifty well-disciplined Dutch regulars. The rest were from the Netherlands, Holland, England, and some from Brittany, or they were little ones, at least a few, disguised as men. Captain Esteban gathered two hundred and fifty soldiers and sailors still able to fight. He left the wounded on the shore and smiled to think he had the numbers to pull a double-cross until a hundred more natives and pirates appeared in the woods. Captain Esteban frowned at the turning of the odds. The travelers guessed that these were all native little ones come to lend the Kairos a hand. Katie guessed in their natural appearance they might look something between gnomes, elves, and dwarfs with a couple of ogre-trolls and maybe a few flyers, if not exactly fairies in the mix.
“Off to see the wizard,” Captain Hawk announced, and the men began to move in among the trees as quietly as they could. “The wizardess,” Captain Hawk corrected himself. “The chief spider is a female.”
Lockhart stood close and his old police instincts flared. “Are you afraid Captain Esteban might make a deal of some sort with the spiders?”
Captain Hawk shook his head. “He might have with some other species, but spiders do not deal. They might let someone live a while if they are useful, but they will eventually be eaten. Spiders don’t bargain.”
“But you said the female was especially intelligent.”
Captain Hawk nodded. “They may have come here in an old Agdaline transport as Elder Stow has suggested. There may be ten thousand spiders aboard the ship, but most are likely still in suspension. There is one female in charge and perhaps not a single fully adult male. When the female’s eggs hatch, the females tend to eat the males. You have to understand. On their world everything has been eaten. They might eventually die out and leave a barren world if people would stop landing explorer craft.”
“Okay,” Katie interrupted, catching up with the conversation. “But why would they land here on an underpopulated island in the Caribbean?”
“To secure their foothold. There is plenty to eat here, and not just humans. Meanwhile, the female lays several hundred eggs at one time. They hatch in six months, and by a year old, the babies are eating everything in sight. It only takes three to five years before the females are mature enough to begin laying their own eggs. By the time they invade Cuba, ten thousand might be a million, and by the time they invade Mexico, or maybe Florida or Venezuela, a million might be a billion, and they will increase exponentially. Once they cross over to Africa, that will be the end of life on Earth other than spider life.”
“How long do you figure that will take?” Lockhart asked.
“A hundred years before Africa, maybe two hundred at most, but I don’t see the human race coming up with anything other than brute force to stop them, and frankly, if we can’t stop them here at the start, there may be no stopping them.”
“Hold up,” Katie whispered. She was paying attention to where they were going.
They had not gone far, but they reached an open field, and the hundred natives and pirates that joined them at the last minute became agitated. Most climbed the trees at the edge of the woods and the word spread among the men to get ready. The Spanish and Dutch soldiers pushed to the front on either side of the natives. They each formed two lines facing the field and waited. The travelers, guns ready, crowded in the middle ground with the ship captains and their officers. The natives in the trees pulled out bows and grasped their arrows in anticipation. The sailors gathered behind the soldiers, matchlocks ready, though many held only pikes and swords of some sort. They waited, but not for long.
Spiders came racing across the field, each one looking the size of a man. The Spanish military captain panicked and yelled too soon. “Fuego!” Some of the shot fell short, but most hit something. As long as the soldiers fired at ground level, it would have been impossible not to hit something, the way the spiders were massed together.
A few seconds later, the Dutch fired. Spiders went down, but it hardly made a difference. There were too many of them. Most of the Spanish and Dutch soldiers got their matchlocks loaded for a second shot, but it was not a second volley. The spiders came on as fast as a cavalry charge. Lockhart admired the courage of the soldiers as many of the sailors already abandoned the fight and were racing back to the beach. The soldiers put down their matchlocks and grabbed whatever pikes, swords, or knives they had or could find.
By far, the travelers took the biggest toll in the center. The little ones overhead could fire a half-dozen arrows in the time it took a soldier to load and fire his matchlock once. Decker and Katie had their military rifles set to automatic and fired hundreds of rounds in a short time. The rest had handguns, including Nanette, who had Boston’s old Beretta. The handguns brought down plenty, but the spiders seemed endless.
Everything stopped when the spiders crashed into an invisible wall and could go no further. Elder Stow held on through the crash, then he picked up his screen device, floated up about six feet in the air, and shouted to the travelers. “It is a wall. They will find a way around the edge. I recommend retreat.”
Sukki floated up next to Elder Stow and she let her power pour from her hands. The front row of spiders burned, but Sukki knew her strength would give out before the spiders stopped coming.
Men began to run back to the beach, and as predicted, the spiders soon found their way around the wall. The spiders had to rush toward the center to get at the men, and some men got taken. Elder Stow had to turn off the wall, race a couple hundred yards into the woods, and turn the wall on again. This again stopped the spiders completely, if only temporarily. He did this several times between the field and the beach, and most of the men made it to the shore.
What they found was hundreds of spiders crawling all over the shore. The wounded Spaniards that Captain Esteban left there were all dead. Some were partially eaten, but several canisters of Mustard gas had been opened. It was suicide for the Spanish to do that, but the spiders shriveled under the gas. Everyone avoided that end of the shoreline.
The spiders ignored the oncoming men at first. They appeared to be scurrying about, looking for a way to cross the water and get to the Golden Hawk. Captain Hawk had a thought. “To the ship,” he yelled, but few heard him as the men had to fight their way to the water.