Avalon 6.2 Sudden Encounter, part 5 of 6

The travelers made a wide berth around the skeleton army that moved slowly through the wilderness.  When they came to the forest, they turned in. Boston said the Kairos should be among the trees, even if they got off track for the next time gate.  When they came to a meadow, they thought to stop for lunch.  They hardly dismounted, however, when an advanced troop of humanoids caught up to them.

The humanoid soldiers pulled long knives, which they clearly knew how to use.  No one talked.  No one debated.  The humanoids just attacked, and the travelers nearly got caught. Fortunately, Boston and Katie both sensed the approaching soldiers, even if they did not realize how close they were.

Katie and Decker flipped their rifles to automatic.  Boston and Lincoln had their handguns.  Elder Stow, Sukki and Alexis rounded up the horses, while Lockhart turned his shotgun on one that seemed to appear suddenly, and very close.  The travelers mounted and rushed off, even as one humanoid began to shout orders.  A couple of shots from humanoid rifles pierced the woods, but by the time that happened, the travelers were lost among the trees.

The travelers soon broke free of the trees and found a sheltered dip in the landscape to keep the horses.  Then, while the others held the horses, Lockhart, Katie, Decker, and Boston went to the tree line, to make sure none of the soldiers followed them.

“They probably had orders not to use their heat rays among the trees,” Lockhart said.  He lumped all alien weapons under the generic, “heat rays”.

‘Fire is not a good weapon,” Decker admitted.  Lockhart looked at Katie to explain.

“A sudden turn in the wind, and you risk getting your own men trapped by the flames.  Plus, when the air fills with smoke, it isn’t easy telling friend from foe.”

“Plus, there is no way to control it,” Decker added.  “A forest like this; a fire would run wild.  It might burn down half the countryside.

“I’m not sensing any soldiers following us,” Boston said, with a shake of her head.  “I should have known sooner, but they don’t feel like human beings, even if they look like us.”

“Hey, Lockhart.”  Lincoln walked up to join the crew.  “Have you seen Muhamed?”

No one had.

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After getting around the skeletons, Muhamed simple waited for the chance to slip away.  He might have gone for firewood and not come back, if they planned to prepare some lunch.  Instead, the attack of the soldiers proved the perfect opportunity to leave unnoticed. Indeed, he hurried.

Muhamed stayed unaware of the larger events going on around him.  He imagined the army as local men, since they looked like ordinary enough soldiers, in their leather, and they used no weapons of power.  He imagined they were headed to attack one of the cities nearer the coast, so he did not think twice about them.  And he did not imagine there might be another army coming from the other direction.

He heard a voice.  He saw a person in a different sort of uniform.  He saw three of them.  He just started to wonder what he stumbled into, when he vanished.

Muhamed reappeared a hundred miles away, directly in front of the time gate.  Ashtoreth stood there, hands on hips, looking cross.  Muhamed fell to his face and trembled for his life, while the goddess spoke.

“You’re an idiot.  You almost walked right into the Android front line.  I don’t know whatever made me think you might be useful.”  She tapped her foot and demanded, “Say something.”

Muhamed spouted his thoughts, and proved unable to hold them in.  “The skeletons would not follow my commands.  I found your enemies.  They should be ripe for the taking.”

“Silence.”  Ashtoreth shouted, and Muhamed turned ashen white and spit up some bile.  The anger of such a goddess would have killed many.  “They are mere flies—annoying insects to be squashed without a second thought.  But they are being watched by many in the heavens.  I will not be a fool, like you.”

“But the skeletons would not follow my commands.”

Ashtoreth appeared to take a deep breath. “The elixir gives life.  It does not give you mind control.  Fool.  You must catch them in the swamp before you make the hungry swamp creatures live.”

Muhamed said nothing, but he thought, what about my life?  How could he bring the swamp creatures to life and get away before they ate him?

“I am not concerned about your life,” Ashtoreth said, knowing exactly what he was thinking.  “Unless you fail to kill the travelers.  I am tempted right now to torture you for the next thousand years, to start.”

“No, please.  I will kill them, dead.  I will do this.  They are Kafir.  They do not deserve to live.  I will use the elixir to trap them in their worst nightmare.  You know I will do this.”

“I am not known for patience,” Ashtoreth said, and vanished.

Muhamed stayed where he was for a while, and breathed.  But eventually, he picked himself up, dusted himself off, and stepped through the time gate and into the next time zone.

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Artie cried when she hugged her adopted mother Katie.  Katie cried with her.  Dad-Lockhart put his big arms around both of his girls and nearly cried with them, but they were happy tears.  Boston’s eyes teared up, empathic elf that she was, and Lincoln and Alexis held each other and smiled to watch.  Decker and Elder Stow kept one eye and their ears on the receding battle, and one eye on the android troop that followed Artie.  Sukki did not know what to make of it all.  She stayed beside Elder Stow, being shy in front of so many people, even if the androids were not exactly human people.

Finally, the love-fest broke up and Artie called for a young man.  He looked mostly human, but he had some cyborg enhancements here and there. “David,” Artie called him.  “He is about seven or eight generations from my son. Apparently, when the Kairos made me an android again, he left my uterus alone, temporarily.  I was pregnant.”

“I didn’t know,” Katie said, and her face showed both joy and concern.

“I am fully android now, but I gave birth to a son, so I did have the full human experience after all.  I got to be a mom.”  Artie and Katie hugged again, and almost shared some more tears.

“David,” Lockhart put out his hand, and David knew to shake that hand, but he said nothing and kept looking at Artie to explain, even if he knew the stories.

“He calls me Grandma.”  Artie turned to David.  “These are your great-grandparents.”

Lockhart let go of the handshake and reached out to hug David instead.  “Welcome to the family.”

Katie looked at Artie.  “You make me sound so old,” she protested, before she also hugged David.  “You have your grandmother’s look about you,” she said, and turned again to Artie.  “Do I get to spoil him?”

Artie smiled at that thought.  “I spoil him enough,” she admitted.

Decker interrupted.  “You need to pull your troops back.  It sounds like the Humanoid troops have run into the skeletons.”

Elder Stow checked his scanner for confirmation.  “That appears to be the case.”

“Boston.”  Artie hugged the elf.  “And Sukki.  I remember you,” she said, as she hugged her.  “I was hoping you would go with the travelers.  Are you girls taking care of each other?”

Sukki looked at Boston and nodded.

“We leave no one behind,” Decker said.

“I remember,” Artie agreed and smiled for the marine.  “But come. We need help in scanner technology and in code breaking, if you can.  I wish the Kairos could be found.”  She began to walk, and the travelers and her escort followed.

“Artie.”  Katie came up to walk beside her and slipped her arm over Artie’s shoulder.  “Sweetheart. You should not be so stressed.  After more than four hundred years, you are still here.  You must be doing something right.”

Artie cried.  She let loose, and rivers flowed; and these were not happy tears. She did not stop until they got to the android camp.

They found several odd-looking humans in the camp, and only realized what they were seeing when one younger man opened his arms and shouted, “Boston.”

A red-headed streak raced into his hug. “Wow.”  Haniashtart raised her eyebrows at such speed, and a few androids looked equally impressed.

“Ibelam?”  Lincoln had to ask.

“I am,” Ibelam said.  “And these swarthy fellows are my associates. Haniashtart is an elect, like Katie, you know.”  The two women nodded to each other.  “Abdanath is my marine, or the equivalent in this age.”  Ibelam pointed to Decker who appeared to be in conversation with one of the android officers.  “Ahumm is my navigator, and knows the stars, though he has never gotten close to one. Gerbaal is my cook.  He can make anything taste almost good.”

“You mean he can make almost anything taste good?” Alexis said.

“I didn’t say that,” Ibelam said, flatly.

“The android people, maybe,” Ahumm said. “I see what you mean about them being people.  But who are these others?  They look like a strange crew.”  He gave Boston a double stare, having seen her run faster than any human ought to run

“Stranger than you know,” Ibelam said, with a grin.  He raised his hand, and the glamours around Boston, the elf, and Sukki, the Gott-Druk fell away.  He lowered his hand, and the glamours of humanity returned.

Artie stood quietly that whole time, her head lowered before the Kairos.  Ibelam obliged her by stepping up and giving her a big hug.  “I have spoken to Anath-Rama.  She is going to help me remove the humanoids from this world. Meanwhile, she says you have kept her very busy.  Tell me about it.”

Artie nodded.  She introduced General Redfern and his first officer, Captain Korman.  She got stools, a couple of chairs, and several big logs for seats, though some, particularly Ibelam’s crew, were happy to sit on the ground.  Then she spoke.

Avalon 5.12 Bad Wine, part 3 of 5

The travelers were not disappointed with the tantrum.  The ground began to shake, which Elder Stow said had to be below the screen.  He reminded them the screens formed a globe and projected below the ground as much as above the ground.  The travelers watched as the desert cracked.  Steam shot up from several cracks, like wild geysers.  Flame came up from others.  The Tornado slammed into the screens.  The whole landscape turned from the desert, to an image of Hell.

Boston saw one of the streams of fire waver, and curiosity made her go invisible.  She saw a big, vulture-like bird had fallen to the ground.  It smoked, like it had been burned, and it took a moment to get Alexis’ attention well enough to explain what she could see in the dark, lit up by the light of the flames.

“Of course,” Alexis said.  “It isn’t just us stuck between two worlds.  The whole area around us is shifted, like the real world and the sand world are being overlapped in our location.  We are mostly insubstantial to the real world, and the real world is mostly unsubstantial to us, but not entirely so.  We pass through the real world and the real world through us, but not entirely so.  We have substantial shadows, we might say.”

“Uh-huh,” Boston said, but it would take her some time thinking about it before she understood what Alexis understood.

The ground began to rise, beneath their feet, and while the rest of the people, and the horses, began to panic, Elder Stow smiled.

“Something like rock must be pushing us up from underneath,” Lincoln said.

“The ground won’t stay still,” Sukki complained.

“Why are you smiling?” Boston returned to visibility and asked Elder Stow. He played with the screens, and slowly let sand fall out of the screens from beneath the traveler’s feet as they rose.  The travelers began to sink in the globe or protection.  Elder Stow began to float so he, and his scanner and equipment, stayed in the center of the screen globe, even as the bottom half of the globe got pushed out of the ground from underneath.  Elder Stow left enough sand in the bottom part of the globe for the travelers and the horses to stand upon, but soon enough he floated well over their heads.  He seemed to know exactly when the screen globe broke free of the sand, and he moved without warning.

They flew.

The travelers, the horses, the sand beneath their feet, and Elder Stow overhead.  The whole screen globe flew toward the city, and the djin appeared stymied, like this was an option he had not considered.

“My little flotation device is not designed for all this weight,” Elder Stow shouted down.  “It may give out after a short way.  I do not know how we may hit the earth.  I hope we don’t roll.  I hope the horses are not damaged, or worse, roll on top of you and damage you, but for now, we might as well take advantage of the djin’s mistake.”

“He is flying,” Sukki gasped.

“It is how he got around at first, when he followed us,” Boston told her.  “He went invisible and flew after us.  Nothing we could do about that, until he decided of his own free will, that it was safer and better to join us on the journey, since we were headed in the same direction he was headed.”

They did not fly fast, but some time passed before the djin figured out to raise the wind and sand again and try to blow them back.  Too late.  They reached the city, and Elder Stow just had to figure out how to set them down, safely.  He found a market square, deserted in the night, but big enough if he trimmed the size of the screens.  He went for it, though it took some fast and delicate manipulation of the screen and floatation controlers.

As the screens sank back into the sand, and Elder Stow returned to set his feet again, on the ground with the travelers and the horses, he flipped the invisibility disc back on to show them where they were in relation to the town.  He imagined it was a market.  Katie knew better.

“We must be in Rabbah, and this is the temple complex.”  Katie pointed toward the three-story tall bronze looking statue of a man with a bull head which took up one whole side of the square.  “That is the altar of Moloch.  He eats the sacrifice of human children.”

“Ashtaroth land,” Lincoln read, before he explained the Sukki.  “The one with the basilisk, who ate your entire expedition.”

“No,” Sukki whispered, and hid her face in her hands.  Boston and Alexis comforted her, while Lockhart kept Katie from getting closer, to examine the altar.

Something swirled in the square.  It became a little tornado before it began to form, outside the screen.  The travelers feared the djin, but it turned out to be a woman.  She came dressed in a plain, pull-over dress that fell around her like a shapeless tent.  She did not appear a bad looking woman, though it would have stretched the truth to call her pretty.  Mostly, she looked haggard, or cruel, or broken in some way; and angry, which did nothing for her looks—that, and the two big horns, like bull’s horns, that grew out or her forehead.  Still, she looked human-like despite the horns, but from the way the travelers trembled, they knew she had to be the goddess.

“Let me see you,” she demanded, and Elder Stow wisely turned off his screens.  It seemed better than her breaking them. The woman squinted, growled, and waved her hands.  The travelers felt themselves drawn back into the real world.  The only thing missing was the thump! when they landed.  They watched as Ashteroth grinned a wicked grin.  “The two ancient ones from the before time,” she said.  “And six ohers that do not belong here.  How nice.  What fun we will have.”  She looked up at the black cloud that appeared to hover in the sky and defy the wind.  No one had to guess who that black cloud represented.  “I might even let you live for bringing them to me,” she spoke to the sky.

“Who should we call?” Lockhart whispered.

Katie shook her head.  “In this place, only Moloch, her husband.”  Katie pointed at the altar, the big, bronze bull-headed man.

“Yes,” Ashtaroth said.  “And my husband will be very pleased with your sacrifices.  We have seven chambers in image.  We will cook you, and eat you, and I will relish your spirits.  One, two, three, four, five, six, seven…” she stopped when she pointed at Boston.

“Eight,” Boston prompted, in case the goddess forgot what came next.

Ashtaroth shrugged.  “I have no need for a spirit one.”

“Moloch,” Boston called.  “Moloch…”

“No,” Ashtaroth said, but it was too late.  The god appeared, eight feet tall, muscular, naked, bull head and all.

“You have trespassed on my place,” he said.  “I claim your children.”

“We have no children,” Katie responded.

The bull head looked up at the black cloud and yelled.  “I said no.”  He clenched his fist and the cloud disappeared, leaving a night sky full of stars.  “I claim you,” he said, and Ashtaroth smiled.

“We are hedged by the gods,” Boston said.  “By Enlil, Enki, Marduk, Ishtar, Hebat, Arinna, Hannahannah and Astarte.”

Katie found courage in the names and added to the list.  “By Odin, Zeus, Amon Ra, Tien Shang-Di, by Ameratsu, Leto, Artemis, Apollo and Ares.”

“By Hathor and Horus,” Boston continued.  “By Varuna and Brahma.”

“By Maya, and the Great Spirit over the sea.  By Poseidon, Feya, Bast and Anubis, Sekhmet and the Kairos, and many others.”

“Are you prepared to bring the wrath of the gods down upon you?” Boston asked.

“Harm us at the risk of your life,” Lockhart added.

“The gods will send you to the other side,” Lincoln said, using the words the gods used for death.

“You will be cast into the outer darkness,” Alexis added.

“Even into the lake of fire,” Boston said with a shiver, her head lowered that whole time.

Moloch did not appear to be a bright person.  He held his unclenched hand out to the travelers, like he felt for something.  He seemed to sense something.  He roared loud enough to shake the nearby buildings.  Then he spoke.

“You should not be here.  You should go to the other side.”

Moloch unclenched his fist even as Ashtaroth shouted, “No.”  The travelers vanished from that place.

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MONDAY

Go to the other side…of what?

Be sure to return for the second half of episode 5.12, and the end of Season Five

Until then… Happy Reading

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