“This climb had better prove worthwhile,” said The King.
The Wizard pulled his cloak tight around him to help keep out the mountain wind. “Of course; it’s just another few steps away.”
They plodded through snow and kicked aside rock. The Wizard was unaided; The King had Protection, a veritable giant standing more than a head taller than anyone else. Protection looked unhappy to be on a cold mountainside. With Protection were six other members of The King’s Guard who were carrying supplies. The trail they were on led to a clearing that was the start of another valley. A piece of metal lay at The Wizard’s feet; he picked it up and handed it to The King, saying, “Have you ever seen metal like this before?”
The King looked at it, removed his hand from his thick woollen mitten and touched it. “Very good craftsmanship, but I don’t think it’s familiar.”
“Think again my Liege.” The Wizard took a ten by fifteen centimetre metal plate from his pocket. “Remember the Valask you took down yourself?”
“Yes. A lucky thrust through the chest plates.”
“Your Guard gave you this chest plate fragment as a trophy.”
“Yes I thought that the smoothness was the result of magic; this is the same.” The King hoped his statement would be disproved.
“As far as I can tell,” said The Wizard. “Do you see that cut in the mountain? Where it looks as if something tore a wedge out of the mountainside?
“Yes … “
“From the point of view of these ancient mountains, it’s a fresh cut. Come over to the tents where my apprentice and some helpers are. Perhaps they have some warm tea. I’ll explain more there.”
The King wondered how the armour for the Valasks came to be on the mountain. Or if Lord Mondalac had managed to find this occurrence of the metal and harvested it himself. But the metal had been treated – either by some kind of forge or magic; such material needed to be mined and melded.
At the tent, The King was offered tea, which he gratefully accepted. Protection declined the drink, which meant that he did not think that the area was secure. The Wizard’s apprentice and helpers did not mind.
“Let my helper show you some clever drawings he has made, your Highness.”
The King nodded and the helper, who was just a boy really, showed The King a drawing of the mountainside as it was now, with the new cut in it. “This is a representation of the mountain as it is now. My master has reconstructed how this cut came to be and I have drawn it!” The King smiled at the lad’s enthusiasm.
The boy flipped through the pages quickly showing the rocks returning to their original location and from the rubble a boat of some sort was formed. By the time a dozen pages had been flipped through, there was a picture of a natural looking mountain with a boat floating above it.
“Show his Highness the images in the forward direction,” said The Wizard
The boy again flipped through the pages and it showed a boat falling from the sky and destroying the mountainside.
“What are you telling me?” asked The King
“A large boat, about the size of a house, fell from the sky and destroyed this mountainside, leaving refined metals lying about, very much like that found in the chests of Valasks.” The Wizard tried to say this as if he were talking about planting bulbs in spring.
“I’ve known you all my short life,” said The King, “but this is the worst practical joke you have ever pulled.”
“I anticipated this reaction, my Liege and friend. But I can prove that this sky boat was real and that it smashed into the mountain. Please come with me.”
The Wizard moved to leave the tent. Both Protection and his King followed. They walked not one hundred metres and found a man partly buried under rock. His head and some of his shoulders were visible, but the rest was covered. The King peered at the man and listened. “What’s that buzzing noise?”
“I believe it is his spell of protection.” The Wizard picked up a small rock and gently lobbed it at the rock-bound man. The stone bounced off an invisible barrier. The King saw the slight blue shimmer as the rock hit.
“I can’t feel the spell,” said The King.
“No one can, it seems,” said The Wizard. “Its source seems to be from that man himself.”
“Any ideas as to who he is; where he came from?”
“I believe he was in the sky boat.”
The King slapped his forehead. “Surely there can be a more reasonable explanation?”
“Once you explain the presence of all this unusual metal and how it came to be in the chests of the Valasks, I’ll think of a more reasonable explanation for a man covered mostly in rock with a spell of protection that evades our senses.”
The King sighed. “What do we do now, apart from freeze on the side of this mountain?”
“A spell of protection is normally in effect until the danger that originally activated it is gone. My belief is that this spell is gradually working this man out of the rock. Notice where the rock ends, there are small stones spinning. If you look closely, they eventually vanish. He is like a mole coming out from the ground.”
“I suggest we dig him out to speed up the process and perhaps he will wake up.”
Protection leaned over and whispered into The King’s ear. “I am told to ask why you think that is a safe idea. What if he is in league with Lord Mondalac?”
The Wizard wished that members of The King’s Guard would just speak up when they had a concern. “If he comes from where I think he does, he is not in league with the enemy. If he is, it would be best to wake him up now, find out that he is the enemy and kill him now, instead of waiting until he does wake up – at which time he can take his revenge on us unawares. Plus, he may have knowledge about the strange metal.”
“Very well,” said The King. “What do we do?”
“Let’s all start moving rock. I suggest we set up camp around him.”
It was approaching dark when they finally finished. A large tent was erected. The guest of honour rested at one end. A circle of stone was left around him. They had moved as much rock as possible; The Wizard now said that they should just leave him.
The King and The Wizard slept. Protection maintained a trance-like doze. He was trained not to need sleep while The King was under his care. Understandably it was Protection who heard the buzzing noise stop. He stood and drew his sword.
♦ External conditions within acceptable parameters.
♦ Begin revival process.
♦ Six organic entities detected. Recommend level 2 force field upon revival.
Linus sat up. Stasis never left you stiff, regardless of how long you were out, but disorientation was an issue. What focused him was prayer. He put himself in a kneeling position. “Dear Lord, thank you for my deliverance from danger. May I always be of service to You in these dark times. Amen.”
Linus paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts. He slowly moved his head to one side; he could make out sleeping forms in the firelight. And one large person standing a discreet distance away – holding a sword. Linus understood that the computer had left him with a level two force field. A sword would not cause him harm.
“Computer, how long have I been under? Respond in silent mode please.”
120 years, 3 months, two days.
The last thing Linus recalled was the ship ordering him to an escape pod. He could only assume that he had crash-landed on the planet. “Why so long?”
You were buried under 32 metres of rock. I had to ration power during the digging out process.
The large man with the sword spoke in a loud, unrecognizable language. Others stirred.
“Computer, any idea who these people are?”
None. They did, however, finish digging you out.
Linus rose slowly. He did not want an altercation.
The Wizard and The King quickly made it to standing and approached Linus.
“We are glad to meet you,” said The Wizard, “and are happy that you have awoken with no harm.”
Linus couldn’t make out a word of what was said. “Computer,” Linus silently asked, “do you recognize the language?”
No. Please use standard procedures for capturing linguistic parameters.
“My name is Linus. I thank you for your peaceful greeting.”
The Wizard looked puzzled. He switched to a different language. The computer could not analyze that one either. Four other languages were tried to no effect.
In the dim light of the tent, it was little use trying to use hand gesture communications. Linus decided that the best use of his time was to wait for morning and try to figure out what had happened. He went to a corner of the tent and sat down. The Wizard and The King discussed the matter and returned to their bundles for further rest. Protection stood guard.
Linus asked the computer what had happened to Maddy, his spaceship.
The ship cannot be detected on any frequency. It is highly probable that she crashed on the planet just as we have.
“That’s absurd!” Maddy had been built in space with never a thought of being planet bound. “What caused the system failures?”
This entire solar system has unusual gravity and magnetic fields. Nothing was on file to compensate for the forces exerted on the ship. The energy fields of this planet require that you always have a level 1 force field active.
“These people seem human. Are they one of the lost colonies?”
Scans indicate a human genetic base for these people. However, they each have unusual cell structure that has bound with an energy field. Sometime in the distant past they either developed or engineered their energy fields.
“Can you identify which of the colonies this was supposed to be?”
No. Detailed DNA sampling is required.
During his quest, Linus had encountered a number of The Missing Colonies – humans who had set out over a thousand years ago in spaceships to find new homes on planets orbiting alien stars. A planet with this kind of properties was an unlikely place for such a discovery.
Linus decided to sleep for real, not in stasis, until the dawn came.
In the morning, after his prayers, Linus walked about the debris field. The computer confirmed that there was little left of the escape pod that would be useful. He had hoped a communications beacon would have survived. No chance of sending distress signals from the surface, not with the odd properties of the solar system. The King and The Wizard and their entire company kept a discreet distance from the alien. This was natural considering they had never seen armour like that which Linus wore. It was in fact machinery integrated into the upper half of his body that held the computer, the force field generator, communications systems and so forth. He wore simple pants below that seemed ill suited for the weather.
Linus decided it was time to recruit help in finding Maddy. He had doubts, given the scruffy appearance of his rescuers, that they had the technology to help him pinpoint Maddy‘s crash site. But, such a huge event could not have gone without some record. It was time to solve the language barrier.
He approached the man who first spoke to him. The computer had produced a small card on which was a pictograph of a man. The reverse side was a woman. “Man,” said Linus and after flipping it over he said, “Woman.” Linus gestured to The Wizard, beckoning him to speak. The Wizard replied, saying the words in his own language. Linus smiled broadly and produced another card with another pictogram of a cloud in the sky. On the reverse the same sky, but with no cloud. The Wizard picked this up quickly, but then interrupted by putting up his hands. One of his helpers, a young boy, appeared with a piece of cloth paper. On it The Wizard drew a map going down the mountain. He indicated half way another night of camping and then at the bottom he quickly sketched a castle.
Linus nodded. They wanted to go. The helper, however, had another bundle of paper; the boy looked impatient and didn’t go away when told. The Wizard smiled and let the boy show off his drawings of the crash, flipping through the pages quickly to give the animation effects. Linus looked on intently. Eerily close to what must have happened. He nodded to the boy, agreeing with his assessment.
The Wizard raised an eyebrow very high. The King would not be pleased. He walked away from Linus and approached The King. “My Liege, our visitor has acknowledged the veracity of our drawings of the sky boat.”
“As if life wasn’t sufficiently complicated.”
“In addition, he has made a start at learning our language. I will pursue this in order to find out more. I assume this meets with your approval.”
“You are being awfully deferential, my friend, which means you are either scared or out of your depth.”
“A good measure of both, my friend and King.”
“Proceed with the communication. I am a King and statesman and hate it when I cannot talk a visitor’s ear off. And let’s remove ourselves from this blasted mountain before we freeze.”
On the hike down the mountain, The Wizard did not know which was worse, the endless energy that Linus had – their language lessons had sorted out the names – or the incessant request for additional vocabulary and sample sentences.
Suddenly the voice coming from the vicinity of Linus’ shoulder started speaking in The Wizard’s language, D’Lanté. “Please do not be disrupted. First time mechanical use language yours. Please help by correcting with vocals.”
“By the Spirits. The sentence should be, ‘Please do not worry. This is the first time an engine (?) has used my language. Please help by verbally correcting.'”
“Thank you. Analyzing.”
It took twenty exchanges before Linus’ translator was speaking coherent sentences.
It did not take long for Linus to discover that The King of a small nation had rescued him. He immediately requested a brief mountainside audience.
“We don’t have a lot of time,” said The Wizard, “before darkness falls. Let’s wait until we stop.”
“OK,” said Linus. The computer had been translating a number of things in unexpected ways. For example, The Wizard seemed to have no other name than his title. Wizard was an odd choice for the translation program to make. Linus was curious as to why the choice had been made. “Let me ask this … what does a Wizard do? How do you become one?”
“I suppose in your society you don’t have them.”
“A King has a Wizard who advises him on issues of magic.”
Linus silently asked for a confirmation that the computer had correctly translated the word magic. It had. “And how would you describe magic?”
“You truly come from a strange place. Magic is in all and binds all together. It can be manipulated to achieve desired ends – for example if I wished to make a person do something that went against their nature, I would be at risk of unleashing a magic counterbalance. What form it would take depends on the person I’m manipulating. Regardless, a Wizard is the master of the art of magic. Wizards can see the magic within all things and encourage the natural power of an entity to arise.”
Certainly this was meaningless to Linus. Magic had been defined in terms of itself. His suspicion was that the odd energy fields that all these people had were the source of the magic The Wizard referenced.
“Do you see magic in me?”
“Honestly, no,” said The Wizard. “You must have magic of some kind because you seem never to tire nor take heed of the cold. Can you explain your magic?”
“The magic of my people is called science. And when it is put into practice, it’s called engineering.” Linus then wanted to explain the principles behind force fields and molecular engineering, but realized that he didn’t have the words or the knowledge himself. He knew that force equals mass times acceleration and energy equals mass times the speed of light squared, but it didn’t mean he could explain the mechanics behind his force fields. He too would be explaining any subject using its own terminology.
“I don’t know how to explain them; we don’t yet have the common words to use.”
“Can you explain then how you learned my language so quickly and why it’s not coming from your own mouth, which I know to be working?”
Linus laughed and attempted to explain a computer, pattern matching, trial and error and linguistics.
At the beginning of dusk, they set up the tents. Now Linus had his chance. He kneeled in front of The King and said:
“Your Highness. My name is Linus. Please accept my gratitude for assisting in extricating me from the rocks of this mountain. If there is anything I can do for you or your subjects, please do not hesitate to ask.”
“Please rise. And tell me why you are talking out of your shoulder.”
Linus smiled and explained that he had a kind of magic that allowed a machine in his body to learn language faster than he himself could.
“Where are you from?” asked The King.
“From a distant star, your Highness. My sky boat had an accident and I landed on your world. If it is clear when it gets dark I can show you my home in the sky.”
The King looked shocked; Protection looked skeptical; and The Wizard enjoyed his King’s amazement.
“In the morning, I wish to speak more on this with you. I have much to think about and questions to ask. But it is getting dark and we do not want to be exposed at night during these evil times.”
Linus nodded and left, accompanied by The Wizard. “What evil was he talking about?”
“Another simple question with a complicated answer. The concise answer is that we are at war. It’s time to retire. More tomorrow; you have exhausted me.”
Once everyone was settled, Linus knelt to pray. He asked God for guidance to find Maddy and the grace to better understand the people he was with. The thought of landing on a strange planet in the middle of a war distressed him and he prayed for peace for this unusual planet.
Linus decided that sleep was probably a good idea. He set his computer to a high security watch.
But it was Protection who felt the danger first. Linus had not heard him speak before. It wasn’t much, but it was clear: “Dakars coming!”
Linus was instantly awake. He had no idea what a Dakar was, but if Protection was yelling about it, it couldn’t be good. Everyone in the tent was up, putting on clothes and reaching for swords. He moved toward The Wizard, who in the dim firelight looked concerned.
“What’s a Dakar?”
“An animal manipulated by Lord Mondalac that acts as his assassin. He must have used great magic to bring them through The Barricade and up this high.”
Linus was wondering what barricade The Wizard was talking about when the first Dakar tore through the tent. It was a five-foot long wolverine or badger. The hissing and squealing it made caused Linus to grit his teeth. One of The Wizard’s apprentices went at the creature with a sword. The noise grew to a din and more tearing of the tent was heard.
They were fast. Before Linus knew it, one of the Dakars was chewing on the thigh of one of the youngest of The Wizard’s helpers. The boy’s scream was also deafening.
“Computer! Level three force field now.”
Linus ran to the boy and raised a fist, landing it hard on the head of the Dakar. As his energy field hit the Dakar, its coarse fur ignited, but the animal did not let go. With the protection of the force field, Linus grabbed the top and bottom of the Dakar’s mouth and pried it apart so the boy could escape; the hair still burned and flesh incinerated. He hurled the creature outside.
“Computer, please explain why the animal did not die in the first strike.”
Unknown at this time. Processing.
There were at least six of the creatures in the tent. Swords flailed about, taking pieces from the Dakars, but not yet killing them. The Wizard raised his hands and from them fire erupted. Streams of heat struck two Dakars, which promptly burst into flames and crumpled into burnt husks.
I guess they won’t mind if I do some pyrotechnics of my own, thought Linus.
“Computer, please arm one hand held energy pistol. Set to maximum. Infrared and motion sighting systems, please.”
A small handgun popped out of Linus’ forearm and slide down into his hand. He fired at the first Dakar he saw. The creature started to writhe in pain. Linus turned and saw one coming directly for him. He fired again and the Dakar howled in agony. Linus looked back at the first animal he had shot and saw that it was on the ground twitching in its death throes. This was all wrong. The animals should have turned into a cloud of disassociated molecules.
“Computer, please explain the failure of the weapons systems.”
Unknown at this time. Processing.
“Computer, please change the weapon to fire shells with half-second delayed explosive tips.”
Linus took aim at another Dakar and fired. The shell hit the animal; it screamed and one half second later exploded into many burning chunks.
Hard ammunition. How primitive, thought Linus.
In one corner, The King and Protection had taken out three of the Dakars with their swords alone. They fought back to back so that nothing could catch them unawares. Linus admired their ability to fight in almost complete darkness. Clearly other senses were at work.
“Computer, how many of the animals remain within scanning radius?”
Seven animals remain within two kilometres.
“Let’s get this cleaned up.”
The next morning at first light, the party continued down the mountainside.
“You fought well and have my thanks,” said The King. “Your magic is remarkable.”
“As is yours,” replied Linus, “I would hesitate to ever take on you and your Protection.”
The King laughed and started the hike down, followed by Protection.
Linus walked with The Wizard. The Wizard was stern-faced. He had lost two of his young apprentices in the attack, including the lad who had drawn the diagrams of the sky boat crashing. “Wizard, I know this is a difficult time but, what’s going on?”
“You deserve an explanation, certainly. Last night we were attacked by Dakars, creatures imbued with Lord Mondalac’s magic. My King is at war with Lord Mondalac. It was he who came out of the dark region of the world and tried to impose his rule on us all. This conflict has been ongoing since before written records. Lord Mondalac’s predecessors have tried to control the whole world and my King’s descendants and their allies have always repelled the menace. In the last year, events took a particularly bad direction. Valasks, which are little more than walking corpses, became more difficult to defeat at border skirmishes. Normally, a knife, sword or crossbow bolt to the chest would re-kill them. Many of them, however, had metal like this inside their chests.” The Wizard pulled The King’s Valask chest plate trophy from his pocket. “It is remarkably like the metal that made up your sky boat.”
Linus took the plate from The Wizard. He held it carefully. It was very much like his escape pod. “Computer, please determine the origin of this hull fragment.”
Processing. This fragment belongs to the outer hull of Maddy.
“It is not part of the escape pod?”
“Wizard, I crashed in a type of sky boat that is a part of a larger sky boat.”
“Goodness,” said The Wizard. “How large is the other sky boat?”
“About one hundred times the size.”
“More astounding is that this plate came from that ship. It seems that Maddy – that’s the name of my ship – has crashed somewhere where your Lord Mondalac has been able to utilize some of the debris to help his battle against you.”
“I don’t want to distress you Linus, but the Dark One’s access to this material has been very costly to us.”
“No one regrets the crash of my sky boat and escape pod more than I, Wizard. Please, tell me, how bad is it.”
“The King and I are the youngest Wizard and monarch to be seated in The Kingdom of Ellian. This is because both our fathers just three months ago sacrificed themselves to create The Barricade, a magic barrier to keep the powers of Lord Mondalac out of Ellian. The Barricade has holes, which allowed the Dark One to send the Dakars in. What’s more upsetting is that he knew where to look. I must find a way to help The King stop Lord Mondalac. This is naturally why we came up this mountainside after hunters, who roamed farther afield than usual this winter, and came upon the remains of your crash. The King and I were hoping to learn something of value. Are you that something?”
Linus was silent. Dear Lord, what are You doing to me? Can it be that my very presence has caused such pain? Please, give me the wisdom to understand the tests You have put before me.
They walked in silence for a time.
“Wizard, do you believe in God?”
“I don’t understand. Which one?”
Linus sighed. This was another of The Missing Colonies that, over the millennia of being away from Earth, had lost their monotheism. Linus struggled with how much to divulge. These people clearly had no idea that they did not originate on this planet. To simply bark such a statement out would either upset a culture already under fire or reduce Linus’ own credibility to nothing.
“Wizard, my belief is that there is a single God who holds dominion over all the stars and planets. He lets us struggle in our own worlds to do good works and to further enhance His glory. I believe that He has a plan, but I know that it is not always made clear to us. It was not my intent to crash here, or to be indirectly responsible for the suffering of your people.”
“Why do you travel between worlds?”
Linus admired The Wizard. He knew how to tap into a core issue. “I am seeking God. I believe he has forsaken my home world for another. Another land that needs Him more. My quest is to be closer to God.”
“How long have you been on your quest?”
“Five hundred years, including the one hundred and twenty plus years I spent underneath one of your mountains.”
“How will you know when your quest is over?”
“God will send me a sign.”
The Wizard looked at Linus with tight eyebrows. Unconvinced.
“It seems to me, Linus, that it took a long time for Lord Mondalac to find your sky boat – Maddy – you called it?”
“Her. A ship is always a she.”
“Ah. She therefore is in one of the areas controlled by the Dark One. It seems to me that you need to find it to continue your quest.”
“This is true. I had assumed that I would find her, make repairs and leave. She was never intended to land on a planet, but I’m sure with time I can make repairs.”
“If I help you find her, will you help us take her powerful metals away from Lord Mondalac? To get to the ship, you’ll have to deal with him regardless.”
“A reasonable proposition, Wizard.”
“One more question, Linus: What if Maddy is as damaged as your smaller sky boat?”
“I have faith.”
Analysis of organic field energy complete.
“Explain your findings.”
The organic units are all connected to highly volatile and changing energy fields deep in the planet’s core. With the fluctuating gravity and other properties of this system’s sun, the planet, in order to maintain a nominally stable orbit, exerts counterbalancing forces. These forces become part of the living entities of this planet. Each entity has a unique field that it can manipulate to affect other fields. The Dakars reacted to your alien energy fields as best as possible by modulating their own fields; their bodies did not know the difference between your energy and some new change in the planet. Their energy fields ultimately failed, but were unusually resistant. Kinetic energy from swords and hard ammunition work better as they are known energies. Many of the swords used by The King and his guard have been forged with special field energy giving them unusual resilience to kinetic forces.
So that was the magic, thought Linus.
They arrived at the gate of Ellian just before dark. The troop was exhausted. The King ordered accommodations for Linus and invited him to a meeting of The Council of Peers the next morning. Linus accepted. He suspected that The Wizard had informed The King of the agreement.
Linus was shown to his chamber, which had a large bed with an enormous feather duvet. His two attendants, a young boy and girl, showed him the amenities, which included a bedpan, and two pitchers of water – one for drinking and the other for washing. Outside were two members of The King’s Guard. Linus wasn’t sure if they were protecting him from the enemy or protecting the citizens of Ellian from him.
The amenities were amusing, as he had not had the need for a toilet in centuries. He did wash his face after using his force field to kill any organic extras in the water.
He closed the door and prayed. Linus looked to God for wisdom. The idea of simply fleeing and looking for Maddy alone was appealing in that it seemed simple. But in the end, was it? Without studying the historical records of Ellian, he was looking for a needle in a haystack. Besides, he’d offered to help The Wizard. Linus wasn’t sure why, this being such a Godless society, but he had contaminated their world and it made sense that he should clean up his mess. Perhaps it was in this action that he could show them God’s way and they could forever leave the dark behind.
Linus lay on the duvet and pondered. Sleep took him to a dreamless place.
The two Guards escorted Linus to The Council of Peers at first light. The meeting was held in a large circular auditorium where the lesser peers sat at about balcony level while The Wizard, The King and The General of the Guard sat in the centre of the room. Protection stood a discreet distance away. Linus was shown to his own “box seat” on the balcony; the Guards remained with him. The King stood to speak.
“Lords and Peers of Ellian. We are faced with an unusual situation. What I must tell you will stretch your credulity. But I must convince you of the truth because I believe, as does my Wizard, that a path to survival – yes, survival, not mere victory – has shown itself. To prove that I am serious, I will show you my blood.”
Almost casually, The King took a knife and made a long narrow incision in his forearm. Linus was not the only observer to gasp.
“You see my friends, my blood is warm and real.” Protection was on him in a flash and bound the wound. “Two days have passed since we met Linus, who today is seated in the guest booth. When The Wizard showed him to me, he was buried under a near mountain of rock. We dug him out; he revived and learned our language. Linus comes from the stars – in a sky boat made of metal. We learned both from observation and discussion that the metal found in the Valasks came from his main vessel. It crashed generations ago in Lord Mondalac’s domain.”
There were cries of disbelief and accusations of trickery from the gallery.
The Wizard stood. “Be silent! How dare you interrupt your King?”
The King raised a hand. The noise diminished.
“Please,” continued The King, “we need cooler heads for heated discussions. It is my intent to send a team beyond The Barricade to find Linus’ sky boat and take it away from Lord Mondalac.”
Linus stood up. The Guards moved in his direction.
“We must ask our visitor Linus for his help. He has an awesome magic that he has never raised against us. But certainly could have.” The King went down on one knee and put his bandaged arm out in supplication. “Linus, please help Ellian in our day of need.”
Linus moved to the front of the balcony. “Your Majesty. I am but a visitor here. My goal is to find my vessel and continue on my way. If doing this rids you of a danger, it is my pleasure to help. I would like to volunteer for your mission.”
There were cries of disbelief. Who was this man anyway? Sky boat indeed.
Linus leaped from the balcony. His force fields pushed him up from the ground and he landed in another booth that had the most vocal protestors. “Good morning, do you have a problem?”
In the booth, one of the five occupants drew a sword and slashed at Linus. The blade vapourized in contact with his force field. Linus released a small energy pulse, which incapacitated the attacker.
“What’s it to be? Peaceful coexistence or the rough stuff?”
“Stop it!” yelled The King. “This is a hall of lawmakers, not ruffians!”
Linus immediately turned to The King and said, “Your Majesty, I apologize for the rudeness on my part. It seemed that this bunch were less than respectful of your wishes.”
“You are a stranger and can be forgiven. Peer Simposian, on the other hand, needs to be fined for allowing a sword to be drawn in the hall. General, you’ll see to it?”
“To help us all adjust to our new ally, I am hosting a party at my home tonight,” said The King. “All of you are urged to attend, speak with Linus, learn and see if you can contribute to the success of the mission.” The King turned to Linus, “Honoured guest, I assume that you will attend this evening?”
“Naturally, your Majesty.”
“Excellent. Tonight we celebrate. Tomorrow training for the mission begins.”
In the week before the team left, Linus learned a great deal about Ellian and the rest of the cultures on the planet. As far as their records were concerned, the battle of good versus evil had been going on since the beginning of time. Linus knew that the culture was at the most 1500 years old, but said nothing. None of their creation myths included the possibility of off world colonization. What disheartened him more was the complete lack of a formal religion. The magic of the planet and the battle between good and evil had taken all their spirituality and used it up.
The team that was to pass through The Barricade and travel to Sonara, the city of Lord Mondalac, comprised The Wizard, Jebina – a nearly seven foot tall female member of The King’s Guard – and Linus himself. They would be living off the land. Linus needed no food, just access to water and light, and both The Wizard and Jebina knew how to hunt and forage.
The day before they left, Jebina, who was almost as taciturn as Protection, presented Linus with a sword.
“Honoured Guest Linus, all adults of Ellian, during times of war, have their special weapon. Even The Wizard will carry his dagger on our journey. I wish you to accept this sword as your weapon for the trip. You may never use it, but it will be your companion.”
Linus didn’t know what to do. It was an elegant weapon with beautiful metal work around its bone handle. He felt he could not turn it down.
“Who had such a beautiful weapon before me?”
“It belonged to The King’s mother. His Highness felt that, since you were searching for a female sky boat, you should have a female sword.”
Linus held it up high. “Do you have a name for your sword, Jebina?”
“Yes I do; it’s Arksonna, which means demon-killer.”
“Then I’ll name this sword Maddy’s Spike.”
As the trio left the city gates, each on a horse, and headed out into the rural areas of Ellian, the citizens of the city cheered them on. Linus felt as if he were marching at his own funeral. Horses had adapted well to the planet. Linus had scanned the animals to find considerable Arabian genetics, plus some oddities. The Wizard’s mount had a small horn protruding from its forehead. It was in fact hard bone as opposed to material like a deer’s antler.
It took only two days to reach The Barricade. Linus could see its energy force wavering. No one would tell him exactly how the previous King and Wizard had managed to erect the field, nor why doing so killed them. The plan was to pass through at a weak point, get past any Valask guards and proceed overland to Sonara. Linus had the feeling that this was oversimplified.
They camped for the night and waited for dawn. The Wizard was fairly convinced that the enemy wasn’t expecting them on the other side. At first light they approached the barrier. The Wizard projected some of his field energy out toward The Barricade.
“This act will leave The Wizard weakened,” said Jebina. “We must move the horses through quickly and make sure we don’t leave him behind.”
Linus’ scans showed that there was a part in The Barricade. “Let’s go.”
Jebina and Linus quickly led the horses through. While Linus held the reins on all the horses Jebina grabbed The Wizard, who was unsteady on his feet, and pulled him through.
Linus’ scanners were on maximum. No sign of trouble.
“We must get moving,” mumbled The Wizard.
“You are exhausted.”
“No matter. We can’t stay; they’re coming.”
“My scanners reveal nothing,” said Linus.
“Don’t trust them.”
They helped The Wizard up onto his horse.
After half a kilometre, Linus saw four figures lumbering toward them.
“Computer, identify the humanoids approaching.”
There are no humanoids approaching.
Jebina had seen them. “Let’s go. Lots of chances for fighting later.”
They rode fast into a farmers’ lane. It hadn’t been many months since this territory had belonged to Ellian, and it still had a pastoral charm. Five figures burst from an adjoining wood, causing the horses to buck in fear. Linus fell from his mount. He rose quickly to assess the menace. The creatures were human-shaped, but seemed almost like a patchwork of skin types and were comprised of mismatched body parts. Heads were too large or too small for the torsos and some arms weren’t the same length.
Jebina had her sword out and was hacking at the lead Valask.
“Computer, assess these entities and explain why you didn’t warn me about them.”
In the meantime Linus joined in the fight. His gun popped out of his forearm and he blasted the nearest Valask. Burning flesh flew from the creature but it kept coming.
“Linus, these are Valasks; they have chest plating made from your sky boat. They can only be killed by destroying the heart centre,” said The Wizard.
Linus thought it improbable that a shot to the head wouldn’t work. He blasted the Valask and cremated the head. It fell down. He attacked the next one.
Jebina had pinned her opponent and used Arksonna to first pry out the chest plate and then pierce the heart.
Danger from behind.
Linus turned to see the Valask, whose head had been destroyed, rise. A new head was growing.
“Computer, please reconfigure my weapon to emit a pulse that will heat the hull plating to orbital re-entry temperatures.”
Linus fired and the Valask burst into flames from the inside out. Maddy‘s hull plating fell to the ground.
Processing complete. The entities did not appear on the scanners as they were not programmed to detect reanimated tissue.
He repeated the exercise on the remaining Valasks and the team continued on its way.
“Computer, please adjust your scanners to detect the movement of any reasonably large sized object?”
Linus sat on a boulder and looked west. He was within fifty kilometres of the mountain stronghold of Lord Mondalac; he was alone.
The initial incident with the Valasks had given Linus a false sense of security. After three months of travel, he took nothing for what it seemed and had become hardened to unpleasant surprises.
The road to Sonara had been designed, constructed and maintained by the darkest members of Hell, thought Linus. And I don’t even believe in Hell. God, certainly, although His tests of me seem to be have been rather severe lately.
The horizon was a mixture of dark clouds and smoke. Linus had smelled burning flesh continuously for the last two months. Anarchy was the motto of Lord Mondalac’s domain. And how often had Linus killed, contributing to the mayhem? The computer could tell him quantities by species, type and size, but Linus didn’t want to think about it.
It was quiet now; the relentless pursuit by Lord Mondalac’s army had abated. Likely because there were nasty events in store for him down the road. Linus held up two swords and admired their resilience. He, Jebina and The Wizard had been separated in The Fire Caves during an attempt to escape an attack. Linus and The Wizard had reunited, but all they could find of Jebina was her sword Arksonna. Linus kept it to eventually return to her family. He suspected she would prefer that he first use the weapon against Lord Mondalac. Linus presumed Jebina dead. The Wizard agreed; he had not been able to detect her essence. Linus wanted to cry since the simple word “essence” was as close as this culture had to “soul”. They were so far from God, he thought.
His heart clenched every time he thought of The Wizard. Only a week had passed since the confrontation with a creature that Linus could only think of as a dragon. The Wizard’s wounds had been severe. The best Linus had been able to do was put The Wizard into a stasis field and hide him. He hoped that, once Maddy had been recovered, her medical bay could be activated and used. A long shot. More likely the field would eventually power down and The Wizard would die.
Lord Mondalac had a lot to answer for.
Linus started walking down the road.
Linus found Maddy buried in the side of the mountain. The damage was severe; not all of the ship was visible. And the road he was on led right up the mountain to her.
Lord Mondalac’s stronghold.
“Computer, reset all security protocols to the emergency backup. The one Maddy doesn’t know about.”
“Computer, lock down your scanners. Do not interact with any other computer without my coded authorization.”
Linus thought he had been angry when Jebina died and The Wizard had been mutilated. But Maddy …
“Computer. Can you assess the condition of Maddy?”
No point in asking for probabilities when there was so little data. She had clearly been compromised, having been turned into the fortress of a madman.
Linus approached the front gate. A troll – a short, burly beast with horns – stood guard.
“What do you want?”
“I have an appointment with Lord Mondalac.”
“I am certain he’s expecting me. Plus, I’m in a really bad mood and am itching to obliterate something.”
“All right then. No need to get testy.”
This planet never ceases to amaze me, thought Linus as he walked through the gates up to the main entrance, which had been a docking port of Maddy‘s.
She was partly powered up. The lights in the corridor were set to a dim illumination. The ship was on an odd angle. Someone had put wooden floorboards down to make walking easier. He thought it best to head for the command centre. The ship seemed tired – like it had been through a really rough one hundred and twenty years. Although his perception was that he had been on the planet for only three months, Linus was feeling like he had been away from Maddy the full one hundred and twenty years.
Torches illuminated the command centre. His desk chair was where it had been, at the table that doubled as a monitoring station and work area. The problem was that Lord Mondalac was sitting in it, looking almost ludicrous given the angle at which the ship was resting.
“Honestly, I prefer the traditional illumination to that artificial lighting of yours.”
“Glad to see you made yourself at home on my ship.”
“Finders keepers.” The computer used this ancient expression as the translation for Lord Mondalac’s last statement. Was it true that someone so juvenile could have brought down so much hardship on an entire culture? In the light, the Dark One looked like a normal human for this planet – dark hair, tall, thin and clean-shaven.
“Not entirely a valid premise. I was indisposed.”
“But I am more connected to your sky boat than you ever were. Maddy? Talk to me.”
The ship’s voice responded with, “Good morning Lord Mondalac.”
“Your old master Linus is here to see you.”
A pause. “Linus? Why can’t I interface with you?”
“Maddy, you’ve been compromised. Please revert to pre-crash operating system files.”
“I cannot comply.”
Lord Mondalac looked disappointed. It would have taken only a second of direct communication for Maddy to have taken over Linus’ computer and allow Lord Mondalac complete control.
“Do you think I’m stupid?” Linus asked. “Interfacing with other systems when a clear security violation has occurred has always been considered a bad idea. I certainly am not going to let you compromise me the way you did her. How did you do it?”
“That would be telling,” Mondalac replied. “Let’s just say her magic and mine share a certain affinity.”
“This frivolous banter is annoying. Hand over my ship and I won’t injure you.”
“Maddy, please increase lighting to show Linus my prize.”
The room brightened and, in a corner, Jebina was hanging upside down, suspended from the ceiling by rope. She had burns and had clearly been beaten. Her tunic and trousers were in tatters.
“What do you want?” asked Linus. He then gently leaned on Arksonna and silently told the computer to infuse the sword with an energy field in addition to its own magic.
“Frankly, you dead. Your presence is a nuisance and you no longer useful.”
“I think I’m going to be more than a nuisance.” Linus hurled Arksonna at the rope that was holding up Jebina. The sword sliced through the rope and both weapon and woman crashed to the floor.
“How dare you?”
Suddenly Linus was pushed up against the wall. His computer automatically adjusted Linus’ force fields to prevent injury, but he was pinned.
“Computer, what’s the source of this energy?”
Lord Mondalac is drawing on the ship’s power.
“How long can you hold it off?”
Not as long as he can maintain it.
Neither Lord Mondalac nor Linus saw Jebina touch her sword. Nor did they hear her sigh as warmth worked its way through her aching body.
“Computer, please adjust power and see if you can unpin my hand so that I can reach my sword.”
This better work, Linus thought as he put his hand on Maddy’s Spike and drew it with all his strength. The sword disrupted the energy fields and he was free. But not for long, he suspected, as he charged toward Lord Mondalac. Maddy’s Spike pierced the Dark One’s stomach.
He screamed, raised an arm and Linus was flung across the command centre and into a bulkhead. Linus’ shields rippled with the energy needed to keep him from being torn apart.
Lord Mondalac was grappling with the sword in his gut when Arksonna‘s heavy steel cut his neck open. The Dark One couldn’t scream.
“Die, you monster,” said Jebina. She took a final swing; Lord Mondalac’s head flew across the room and bounced off a bulkhead.
The next noise was Maddy. Her audio systems emitted a scream.
“Computer, open a unidirectional scan of Maddy‘s central processing area.
The ship’s computer core is in a loop trying to maintain contact with Lord Mondalac’s brain. Ten minutes to failure.
“What can we do?”
Wait until the system burns out and attempt repairs. However, that will result in a total systems failure, including the force fields the ship has been using to keep the mountain from crushing her.
Sirens to abandon ship sounded.
I can’t believe I came all this way to lose her now, thought Linus.
“Jebina, get out of here. Follow the corridor with the wooden floor. It will lead outside.”
“What about you?”
“I have to pick something up. I’ll see you outside.”
Linus ran to the medical bay. It had rarely been used – he never got sick – but it did have a standard set of supplies. From a cabinet, he pulled out a portable medical kit. Then he headed to the docking port.
“Good bye Maddy.”
At a safe distance, Jebina and Linus watched the mountain collapse into a thousand avalanches.
Linus weeped. Why God, why? Was it my arrogance? All I wanted was to find You.
Now he was stuck on a planet of savages for whom the time to become space faring people would be measured in millennia.
Was it Linus’ duty to teach these people about God? Had He stranded him here for that purpose? Linus wasn’t sure his beliefs and lifestyle applied on this world. Maybe it was time to let God come to him.
Jebina put her arm around him. “I’m sorry you lost your home. You can come back and stay with my family in Ellian if you wish.”
Linus’ tears streamed more. How could he have called this brave soul a savage?
“Thank you. That would be lovely. I wouldn’t want to be a bother. Just until I get myself sorted out.”
Linus stood up and turned away from the mountain. “I suppose we’d better get started.” He held up the medical kit. “This will let us heal The Wizard.”
“I agree,” said Jebina, “with Lord Mondalac dead, it is time to start the healing.”