Avalon 8.12 Abomination, part 4 of 5

Metal skinned warriors though they were, the cyborgs took advantage of the rocks and boulders strewn on their side of the field.  What few trees there were also got utilized along with the trees on the hillside where the super soldiers hunkered down and returned fire.  Curiously, the super soldiers were not caught unprepared.  The power beams from their rifles split the trees and shattered the corners of the stone.

Sung Ao watched as one cyborg got blasted dead center.  It went down, but after a second, it started to get up again.  It got blasted a second time, and this time it stayed down.  Several super soldiers got struck and they tended to stay down.

Jai came up to Sung Ao’s shoulder and commented on the fight.  “This could go on for a while.”

“Maybe not,” Sung Ao said and pointed.  The cyborgs brought up their machine, or whatever it was.  It floated on a gravity bubble and Sung Ao tried to remember where he saw such a machine before.  He watched as the cyborgs kept the machine behind some rocks.  It appeared to be protected by screens of some sort, but they were not about to expose it until they were ready.  It came to him.  Of course, Kirstie only saw it after Sukki and Elder Stow melted it, but it looked like the photon cannon the Flesh Eaters used in Norway back then…  He wondered who Kirstie was, but then he had to concentrate on what the cyborgs were doing.  The battle was going about even, but there were more super soldiers on the hill than cyborgs down below.  That meant the super soldiers could lose half their men and still be victorious.  Sung Ao wondered if the photon canon might be used to sweep the hillside.

Jai tapped his shoulder and pointed to the wide cave up the side of the hill.  “A docking bay for their ship,” he said.  “The Sevarese used to park in the same way when they came to earth.”

“Of course,” Sung Ao shouted, and quickly looked back from where he hid behind a boulder.  The men in his camp all looked like they were drunk on something.  The bandits across the way looked the same, or even worse.  “The big bad is in the cave,” he concluded.

“That would be my guess,” Jai agreed.

Sung Ao heard a soft whine over the sound of battle. His eyes went to the photon canon.  The cyborgs pushed it out from the rocks.  He heard an answering whine come from the cave. Several cyborgs stood in front of the machine, like willing sacrifices.  They got cut down with two or three shots, but the photon canon fired before the ship in the cave had a chance to return fire.

Sung Ao saw the screens in the cave turn red and rapidly climb the color scale to purple before they blacked out.  Sung Ao ducked, and Jai ducked with him.  The cave exploded.  It was a massive explosion, but fortunately, mostly absorbed by the hill and mountain that contained it. The front of the cave completely collapsed.  Perhaps the whole cave collapsed.  The ground shook, and a few more good-sized rocks fell from the cliff.  Then only little wisps of smoke came out the cracks left in the cave entrance, and Sung Ao had to say something.

“Thanks.  I have to clean that up.”

Jai laughed.

The super soldiers collapsed.  The five remaining cyborgs checked them briefly before their feet fired up, their legs stiffened, and they sped away at a good clip about two feet off the ground.  They left the photon cannon where it was.  Sung Ao had to run out and turn it off.  Then he looked at his people and at the bandits.  They all appeared to be unconscious.

Hardly two hours later, Sung Ao and Jai saw a ship take off for the outer atmosphere.  “The cyborg ship, I presume,” Jai said.

Sung Ao nodded before he said, “God, I hope so.”

After another five minutes, the super soldiers woke up along with Sung Ao’s people and the bandits.  roughly a third of the super soldiers went to join the bandits.  They forgot their rifles but took their handguns with them.  The men returned to their positions to fight.  The bandits dismounted and prepared to do battle.  Sung Ao and Jai both looked at the collapsed cave.  They saw something slithering through the trees and Sung Ao swore.  He turned the photon canon back on, but it would need a minute to warm up.

The super soldiers in the field fired on the men behind the wall and boulders.  Some men died.  The super soldiers that joined Sung Ao’s people returned fire, and some men in the field fell.  A rain of arrows fell on the boulders.  More died or were wounded.  The men behind the boulders fired back and a few in the field got stuck, including a couple of super soldiers.  Then came the charge and more arrows from the boulders.  Super soldiers were firing in both directions, and Sung Ao saw Niccolo, Maffeo, and Marco pick up swords and run to get in the middle of it.

“No!” Sung Ao yelled, and curiously, everyone stopped, and all eyes turned on Sung Ao and Jai.  Sung Ao vaguely remembered this happening before, maybe more than once.

The nearest men yelled at Sung Ao.  “Why can’t I possess you?”

Jai put his hand to his head, but there was no way an abomination could possess a nature spirit, even in manifest form.  It might give Jai a headache, though.  Jai turned insubstantial so the abomination had nothing to latch on to.  “Forgive me,” Jai said to Sung Ao.

“Quite all right,” Sung Ao responded before he shouted to the trees.  “Even the gods of this world were not allowed inside my mind.”

“I am a god,” the abomination said through the nearest man, and it echoed among many men, bandits and super soldiers included.  “I am the god.”

He no sooner finished speaking and Boston and Sukki came from the trees, followed by Lockhart and Katie, Lincoln and Alexis, Decker and Elder Stow.  The wagon stayed in the woods with Nanette and Tony riding shotgun and Gan Ao driving the mule.  Nanette complained, if only she had her magic back.

Everyone got down right away and pulled their weapons.  Nanette and Tony whistled and got the horses back in among the trees.  People raced to get behind the rocks and boulders in the field.  Alexis pulled her wand and sent a great wind that scattered the bandits’ horses.  Boston laid down a line of fire to keep everyone back.  And Sung Ao yelled.

“Lockhart.  Go for the trees on the hill.”

Elder Stow got confused.  There had been a battle.  They were in a battle.  He thought to put the screens up against the people turning on them.  He thought to pull his weapon to rake the enemy with fire, or maybe his sonic device.

Katie and Decker figured it out right away.  They opened fire on the trees, and the bandits, Sung Ao’s men, and the super soldiers turned on the travelers, heedless of the wind or fire.  They heard screams coming from the people but did not know if it was screams of anger or pain.  They assumed it was the abomination verbalizing its pain.  Bullets were a new thing.

Lockhart turned with his shotgun and started blasting the men and super soldiers that got too close.  Those men forgot all about their bows, spears, and guns, and acted like animals that would only be satisfied with ripping the travelers apart with their bare hands.  Lincoln and Tony came up to join in the melee, shooting men at random when they came close.  Sukki finally reacted and threw out her hands.  The whole front row of oncoming men became like charcoal.  Sung Ao had one brief fear to lose the Polos, but by then, Elder Stow just about decided.  Sung Ao fired the photon canon, and the trees lit up, showing exactly where the abomination was located.  The abomination, however, figured out how to mentally project screens of its own, and they were strong enough to protect it from the photon cannon, at least for a bit.

“No!” Sung Ao yelled again and turned the canon back on.  He held the switch against the abomination turning it off again.  The abomination started to strain, and in a last effort, it ripped a boulder from the ground and heaved it at the machine.  The people scattered when the photon canon got crushed, but by then, Elder Stow figured it out.  He fired his weapon full blast at the thing in the trees.  It tore through whatever flimsy screen the abomination could project and fried the thing.  The men and few remaining super soldiers in the field collapsed again as the abomination rapidly burned to a crisp.  The trees there also burned and would soon be charcoal themselves.  It fell to the ground and appeared to shrivel up before it liquified, and Sung Ao pronounced it dead.

“Dead as a doornail,” Gan Ao said.  Sung Ao hugged the old man with a word.  “You should not be here.”

Avalon 8.12 Abomination, part 3 of 5

Sung Ao had his people camp up against a cliff face where it rose from a sparse grassland on the edge of the Taklimakan Desert.  Boulders sat here and there around the field, stones that fell from above at some time in the distant past, or perhaps got planted by glaciers long ago.  He made the men dig trenches between the boulders before dark.  They piled the dirt and added what fallen trees, branches, and rocks they could lift to make about a one- or two-foot wall.  It would give his men something to lay behind in case of bandit arrows.  And while horses could probably leap over the wall, any bandits on foot would have to pause and crawl over, making themselves targets for arrow fire in return

Sung Ao and the Polos camped in the corner beside where the cliff collapsed making the field full of stones and big rocks where no horses could go.  Sung Ao noticed a big and wide dark spot up that side of the hill, but he did not imagine anything would be there worse than a bear, and any bear would avoid such a large number of men.

They had a pleasant night.  The Polos argued.  Marco read and conversed haltingly with Chin Li after dark.  Jai the Mongol laughed with Sung Ao now and then.  The stars came out that night and the moon appeared nearly full.  Sung Ao expected no trouble in the night.  It was the morning he was worried about.

###

At dawn, Elder Stow’s alarm went off.  Lockhart, Elder Stow, with Katie and Decker who carried their rifles went to the edge of the screens Elder Stow set up.  It did not take long for three cyborgs to show up and face them.  One cyborg reached out to touch the screen.  He appeared to try several different energy pulses, but the screens barely registered that they had been touched.  The cyborgs had no way of getting through.

“You don’t belong here,” Lockhart said right away.  “This planet is off limits to space travelers.”

“We understand,” one cyborg responded in a relatively normal sounding voice.  At least Lockhart was surprised that it did not make a scratchy-metallic sound.  “We will not be here long.  The enemy has come here.  We will destroy the enemy and be gone.  Stay here until we have finished.  You will be safe.”

Elder Stow spoke.  “You know, there are limits on what a species can do with cybernetics.  You will not live forever, and the collective mind destroys things like creativity and initiative.”

“So we have discovered.  Our kind will not last, but first we must end the abomination.”

“Abomination?” Katie asked.

“The enemy.  They abused themselves in unnatural ways making horrors as evil as the Acca that we drove from our world.  They created the great abomination that ruled our world with its thoughts.  The poor souls have become no more, but our collective being found a way to block the thoughts of the evil one.  We destroyed it, and the lesser abominations it made, but one escaped.  It came here.  When we destroy it now, our work will be done.”

The three cyborgs turned and lifting slightly from the ground, they flew away.

The others turned back toward the camp but looked at Elder Stow for an explanation.  He had his own database out to read before he spoke.  “The Acca are Flesh Eaters.  The Flesh Eaters invaded their world and they drove them off by making super soldiers in one place and cyborgs in another.  The cyborgs have learned that there are limits on their ability to adapt and grow.  They will cease soon enough.  The super soldiers, however, continued to experiment until they altered their genetic code to create a massive world-mind that took over the planet.  The normal, original people on that planet got wiped out.  The super soldiers became its slaves, but the cyborgs, with their collective mind, resisted, maybe because some of them were off world using space technology made by the Flesh Eaters.  They discovered a way to better block the mind of the abomination, and the weapon to kill it.  The cyborgs then invaded their own planet and, at great loss, killed the super soldiers, the abomination, and the lesser abominations the first one made.”

“Thank God for that,” Katie said.  “Telepathic control?” she asked.

“Essentially,” Elder Stow nodded.  “It can project itself into the mind, memories, feelings, everything, and take complete control so the person is no more than a puppet.  Complete possession, though it is unclear in my record when the person dies.  One theory suggests they die instantly when possessed in that way, but most believe the consciousness continues for a time.”

“That must be horrible,” Decker said.

“Indeed,” Elder Stow agreed.  “Fortunately, this lesser abomination can only take over and control an area of several hundred miles radius.  It can’t take over the whole world.”

“I wouldn’t call several hundred miles fortunate,” Lockhart said.

Katie asked.  “When you say control, you are talking about possessing people?”

“People.  Animals.  Plants.  As far as I can tell from my record, the whole landscape and environment can be reshaped.”

“Wait.”  Decker stopped shy of the campfire, and everyone waited for him to speak.  “We have to be within the radius, unless Elder Stow’s screens are keeping the abomination out.”

Elder Stow shook his head.  “There is one screen set to block telepathic projections.  Yes, we have that, but it is not nearly strong enough to hold back anything as strong as an abomination.”

“My guess is it is hiding from the cyborgs,” Lockhart said.

###

“Bandits,” one man shouted, and soon there were many shouts.  The bandits appeared on horseback, about two hundred, but a few rode in front of the others and got down.  They waited, like they expected the merchants to come out and talk.  Sung Ao, Chin Li and Jai were willing.  They took the time to set the men in the best positions they could to fend off an attack, and they came dragging the two that normally rode on the point.  Sung Ao made sure the three Polos stayed in the camp and kept the fire going.

Sung Ao hardly had to get close before he recognized two of the bandits.  He shouted ahead.  “Lord Bozarius and Hakim the Berber.  Sorry you had to be killed, several times I imagine.  You must be about out of lives by now.”

The men growled at Sung Ao, and one even said, “Kairos,” but they let a third man do the talking.  He was a big and ugly one that appeared to enjoy looking down on his opponents.  Sung Ao heard from the Princess.  She said he appeared very Xitides-like, and she wondered if he was actually mean or if it was all bluff and bully like Xitides.

“I am Timur,” the big man said.  “You cannot cross my territory without tribute.  Bring out your gold and the three foreign men you have, and I may let you go unharmed.”

“You mean Niccolo, Maffeo and Marco?”  He saw that was exactly who Bozo and Hakim wanted.  Timur stood and thought about it.  It looked painful.

“I guess so,” Timur said.

“But what do the Masters have to say?” Sung Ao turned to stare at the two men he knew were repeats.  Lord Bozo spoke.

“The Polos will not finish their journey.  The gifts from the Pope will never reach the Great Khan.  Europe will remain in darkness for ages to come.”

“Yes,” Sung Ao understood.  “The Travels of Marco Polo is one of a dozen books that impacted the history of the whole world.  Sorry.  No Venetians. But I do have three strangers for you to meet.  Slymer, Dragos, and Cruncher,” he called.  Slymer was an imp from the Taklimakan Desert. Dragos was a dwarf and Cruncher was and ogre from the Kunlun Mountains.  Timur stood shocked by the imp and dwarf, but he screamed when he looked up at the eight-foot ogre.  He turned and ran screaming, ignoring his horse who backed away from the smell.  His men grabbed their horses and rode after him.  Lord Bozarius and Hakim were the last to leave, and not without another growl.

“Thank you,” Sung Ao said, and waved his hand.  The three little ones vanished and went back to where they came from.  He looked at Chin Li and his men and pointed at the big man running away.  “We should change his name from Timur to Timid.”

Jai laughed.

Sung Ao and his crew went back to the camp and adjusted the defensive position a little according to what they saw among the bandits.  The bandits would argue, perhaps for hours before they did anything.  The Polos all asked but got told they had to wait.  “Stand off for now,” Sung Ao told them.

In less than an hour, laser-like weapons got fired in the direction of the rock pile beside the cliff face and the long cave in the side of that hill.  Jai moved the Polos to the other side of the camp in case a stray shot came in their direction.  Sung Ao watched closely.

************************

MONDAY

The showdown. Don’t miss it.  Happy Reading

*

Avalon 8.12 Abomination, part 2 of 5

Sung Ao sat across the fire and laughed occasionally at the two Venetians.  Niccolo and Maffeo, two brothers, argued about everything from maps to lunch.  The hand gestures made it especially entertaining.  Chin Li, Sung Ao’s captain of the escort tried to ignore the two.  He usually ate fast and excused himself saying that he had to check on the men.  To be honest, he did not speak much Italian other than a few words like go, stop, and get down, so he couldn’t catch the humor.  Maffeo mastered comparing apples and oranges, and often made no sense whatsoever.  Niccolo mastered sarcasm as his standard response.

Sung Ao looked to the third man of the party.  Marco, sometimes called Il Milione, as his father, Niccolo sometimes got called Emilio.  Marco just turned twenty.  He had the good sense to let the older men argue without him.  He had the habit of reading and rereading the same three books they brought on the journey.  More importantly, he often wrote in his diary, what Sung Ao knew would one day be transformed into a book about his travels.  Sadly, Sung Ao had to avoid the young man to stay out of the book as much as possible.  He tended to talk to the older men and let Chin Li ride with Marco.  Both young men somehow had passable conversations in some combination of Turkic, Arabic, and Persian. They both knew some of each language.

Sung Ao knew enough Italian to communicate with the brothers.  He figured Alice of Avalon filled his mind with the language, and because of that, he also figured these three Venetians had to be important to history in some sense.  He got the word that he had to wait in Kashgar for Marco to arrive and escort him to the court of the Great Khan.  Kublai Khan sent him with the ambassadors to the court of Chagatai in Samarkand, but he had to let that mission go.  He had to wait and kept only the young commander Chin Li and his thirty men.

“Time to go,” Chin Li said as he finished his lunch and stood.  Marco also stood and put his book in his pouch.  This time, Niccolo got in the last word, and it was a doozy.  Sung Ao stood and laughed as men came to put out the fire.

The Polos and their hired men rode on horses, mostly Arabians.  The twenty men of mixed middle eastern heritage with them also brought a dozen pack animals to carry their supplies.  Chin Li’s men mostly rode on camels, which did not mix well with the horses.  But Li had seven on horseback as well, so they moved out in what was becoming a standard formation.  Two men rode out front to watch the road.  Sung Ao rode beside a third man, an old friend named Jia who claimed to be Mongolian, and who acted something like a sergeant to the men.  He also kindly spoke very little.  Niccolo and Maffeo came next, followed by Marco and Chin Li, and the four additional men of Chin Li on horseback.  Behind them were the men contracted by the Polos with their pack animals.  Twenty-two poor excuses for soldiers on camels brought up the rear dragging another ten camels that served as additional pack animals for Sung Ao and his men.

They hardly got started after lunch and Chin Li pushed up to talk to Sung Ao.  “I’m seeing men up in the rocks watching.  This is the second day I have seen them.  They appear to be marking our progress.”

“Yes,” Sung Ao said calmly.  “The bandits are watching and reporting back to their leader and his men.”

“This is not good,” Chin Li said.  “I have only thirty and the Polos have but twenty more.  If there are a hundred or more bandits in the mountains, we will be in big trouble.”

“Have you mentioned it to the men?”

“I don’t want to frighten them.”

Sung Ao shook his head.  “Your men are not cowards.  Better they be prepared if the bandits decide to try us.  Better they are not caught off-guard.”

Chin Li dropped back.  He would have to think about that.

About an hour later, Marco shouted.  He was the kind of man who noticed everything, and he looked around at the scenery all the time, though the desert and mountains never really changed.  “Up.  Overhead.  What is that?”

Sung Ao knew right away what it was.  A scout craft, and he heard from Alice that it was a craft of super soldiers.  When he hoped that there were no cyborgs around, Lady Alice promptly told him that they were, and the travelers were just over a day away right in the middle of them.  “Damn,” he said, probably in English.

“You know what it is?” Niccolo asked.  Maffeo, Chin Li, and Marco all wanted to know as well.  Jia, his Mongolian sergeant laughed.

“I hope not enemies,” Sung Ao said, and he began to look for a defensive position where they could camp for the night, even though it was still too early to stop.

###

The travelers found an oasis in the desert where they could stop for the night.  Lockhart went to Elder Stow and asked about the cyborgs.  Elder Stow anticipated the questions.

“Yes.  They are easy to trace carrying so much metal.  There are twenty that have moved out from their ship carrying what I would guess is a weapon of some sort on a gravity bubble.  They appear to have stopped, possibly for the night, but when we get back to the road in the morning, they will be ahead of us.  We will be between them and their ship.  Not generally a good position to be in, I would say.  I can set the screens for the night, and the scanner alarm in case they should be tempted to come and check us out.  After that, we will not know until morning what is what.”

Lockhart nodded as Katie came to fetch the two of them.  Supper was ready, and Boston was talking.  That was generally a good sign.  Boston had been quiet since the last time zone when all that business came up about Roland being in the future and her being stuck in the past, assuming Roland had not died.

“I bet those helmets are to protect the cyborgs from some mind-numbing thing, like the Vr energy,” Boston said.

“The Apes wore helmets against the Vr energy,” Sukki said in support of her sister.

“The super soldiers showed some signs of telepathic ability,” Decker said.

“Oh, yeah,” Tony remembered.  “They tried to get inside my head and gave me a headache.”

“We are hedged by the ancient gods against that,” Alexis said.  “To keep people from reading about the future in our minds.”

“Your father Mingus used his mind magic to totally confuse you,” Lincoln said.

“Just my memories,” Alexis said.  “I knew who I was, and I knew my father, but I did not remember much.  I had no choice but to believe what he told me.  But eventually it came back to me.”

“I think the gods later corrected that part,” Katie said.  “With your memory suppressed, you might have been fooled into revealing all sorts of things about the future that ears don’t need to hear.”

“We started with ghouls making us see and hear things that were not even there,” Decker said.

“I know for fact that got corrected,” Boston said.  “Tien himself helped to fix that one.” she explained for Nanette and Tony who were not there at the time.

“Then there was the genie,” Alexis said.  “The big bad genie got down deep in our personalities and messed with our self-perceptions.”  She explained like Boston because Tony and Nanette were not there, and Sukki.  “He had us all thinking we were Amazons and put us all in a position where we had to defend ourselves, and without our guns.”

“Zoe started the correction on that one,” Katie said.

“I am sure plenty of others contributed,” Lockhart added.

“I’ve thought about this a lot,” Lincoln said.  No one looked surprised.  Alexis smiled and said he worries about these sorts of things.  Lincoln returned Alexis’ smile and continued.  “I’m no expert, but I can’t imagine any other way someone can get into our heads.  We have memories, personalities, and illusions all covered.”

“Projected illusions,” Boston corrected.  “I can still put a glamour on myself, like now to appear Asian, and you see it too.  Plus, invisible.  You can’t see invisible.”

“Thanks,” Lincoln grumped.

“Even so,” Alexis said.  “I don’t see how those things could help someone get inside our heads.”

“I do,” Nanette said.  “Someone could disguise themselves as Boston and get me and Sukki to talk about things without realizing it.”

Sukki grasped the idea.  “Any one of us could be a pretend person and not the real person at all.”  People looked around the circle.

“Like the Were—shape shifters taking on the appearance of one of us,” Boston said.  “I could be back in Khotan under a spell and some alien may have taken my place.”

“No,” Katie said.  “I asked about that early on, and Danna herself explained it to me, and to Lincoln.”

Lincoln agreed.  “According to the database, the Were could become animals, like wolves or bears, but the gods made them unable to transform into other people for that very reason.”

Katie nodded.  “Danna said the hedge of the gods covered all that, knowing how sneaky some of the gods could be.  No squirrel, or someone invisible, or someone wearing a glamour will hear anything.  She said we were covered against hypnosis, or drugs, or anything like that.  All they will hear is garbled noise, so it won’t do them any good.”

“Good to know,” Lockhart said, and Decker nodded.

“Anyway…” Elder Stow interrupted and looked up from his scanner. “The cyborgs will certainly never fool anyone.  They have definitely stopped for the night.  I don’t know their sleep pattern, but maybe they are not inclined to move at night.  They might need light or some way of moving in the dark, and that might give them away.”

Lockhart stood.  “Standard watch,” he said, and he and Katie went into their tent.  The old man Gan Ao finished eating and said nothing.