Not Like an Angel
by Paul Lang
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
Fields relayed the message via shield-drum and the Footman responded. “Your weapons have been put under the guard of our captains. They are being kept safe from the Traquillo. This particular territory is highly subject to raids.”
“So you’re already taking them? Shouldn’t you kill me before you start pillaging? For all I know it could’ve been you guys who shot us down, couldn’t it?”
Dr. Hansen squealed behind me.
Fields hesitated, then carried my words to the black knight.
“Please forgive me if I am misunderstood.” Norgal turned his head down. “We have not seized them, but we had thought you might not be ready to protect them. Attempt to understand me. I ask for your help as a fellow enemy, but not only as a fellow enemy, as a fellow living thing. What the Tarquillo have done to my people is disgraceful and barbaric, and what they have done to you is also disgraceful and barbaric. In that sense I thought we might find unity. The enemy opposes all peace treaties, all concessions, and acts in ways unbefitting living beings. They have treated us as weeds are treated, not even as beasts.”
“And I’m sure you were all Mother Teresa’s messengers, right? I’m sure you haven’t killed any of them, not even when you started the war yourselves. Tell me, did you guys cry big chrome tears when you burned Gabbia? Did you rust yourselves when you chopped up Pecoran? Did you show your kind and gentle side to the men, women and children of Cahpra? Last time I checked, ‘sack’ means something along the lines of indiscriminate civilian slaughter, but maybe it means something different in killer robot language.”
Fields looked surprised at the terms I remembered. Once again, when it involved my line of work I was good with details.
“Now you really want me to step into a war over some outdated code of chivalry and let you kill people with my guns, guns that have an owner who hasn’t received them yet? I think that if you guys are going to fight each other over something stupid you can keep fighting with slingshots and clubs, maybe then it’ll take you a little longer to pulverize each other off the face of the planet; maybe it’ll even take so long that you’ll realize it isn’t worth fighting over. Anyway, I’ll be keeping my toys, and I won’t be letting you borrow them for a tribal war over which side of the toast the butter goes on.”
Once again Norgal was slow to answer, and I couldn’t blame him “Perhaps we should speak again later,” he said and stood to his feet. “You are free to wander the village outside and sight-see. You and your ship are under the protection of my soldiers.”
“Well don’t I feel safe?” I murmured under my breath.
The Footman spun his head around, and this time, in response I bowed forward in the normal human way. When I did it I heard a lot of rattling metal, so I guessed I had sufficiently offended them.
The village outside the barracks was barely even what I would call a village. It was more of an outpost. There were about a score of hut-like domes laid out in an orderly fashion; maybe that qualified as a village.
The rim of the town was lined by five-foot tall, jagged metal pikes. Soldiers marched — all of them looked like soldiers, every last one — back and forth between the domes and into claustrophobic trenches. In the center there was a hollow stone structure that looked like an altar or a well. There was a translucent, purple vine growing out and clinging to its edges.
“It’s warm here, like summer,” Dr. Hansen notified me once we were out by the well. “It must be uncomfortable being a Gurhan. That armor has to heat up.”
“For all we know this could be their winter. These guys and their planet don’t make a lick of sense.” I watched as a full-metal merchant traded what appeared to be three pieces of straw for a yellow watermelon with spider legs. Three shorter aliens — I guessed they were children — ran in circles around a three-eyed insect beast of burden. A faceless, rusted old man sat on a stool in front of his dome-shaped dwelling and stared at a tray of what I could only assume was food.
“How do these things even eat?” I looked up at the green-tinted sky and the two moons. The two were close to meeting now. I guessed they had two opposite moons that passed by each other at least once in the lunar cycle. It was actually fairly common in that part of the galaxy. It was obviously night, but it felt like the hottest morning.
“Seriously, Cynthia, what kind of monsters are these? These things are inhuman, nothing like us. How can we possibly hope to understand who could be right and who could be wrong?” I asked rhetorically.
“Don’t know...” Dr. Hansen was always good for stimulating conversation.
“Why do big world events always hinge on little people with little minds? Do these things really think that we’re going to join in and help with their stupid war? Do these Spartan morons think we care how many dumb Athenians they kill? I don’t think I’m a saint or anything like that, but I’m not devil enough to give a bully a popgun either, right?”
Behind me, she didn’t answer. She probably wasn’t even listening.
“These warmongering tin men think they can get the best of me by stroking my ego, calling me an angel. Well their flattery tactics are a bit outdated. I’m already more powerful than an angel, I’m a CEO, right?” I was joking, but she didn’t laugh. What was with her today? Knowing her, she was probably off asking one of them if she could take its kid home with her to study in the laboratory or something like that. This place was better than a toy store to Dr. Hansen.
“The sooner we can get out of here, the better. I’m not going to dirty my hands with any of this, and that’s final.”
I turned around to look her in the eye, but she wasn’t there. Instead, there were five or six knight suits standing and pointing toward the blue hill over at the edge of town.
“Hey... what are you guys...?” suddenly I got the message. Without hesitation I ran off after her. If she got herself lost on this dump of a planet it would only be trouble for me and the company. I had to find her now before this became an incident, and she was a friend of mine, too.
I climbed over the blue hill and waded through its tall, cotton-soft grass. The earth was spongy and sunk in under my heavy footsteps. White dust, probably some kind of spore from some plant, blew up into my eyes and I had to stumble blindly for half a minute. I kept heading forward until I found a familiar piece of equipment: Dr. Hansen’s cell phone. What had happened to her?
I heard a female scream in the distance. It had to be her. She was the only human female here, unless Fields screamed like that, which was a possibility that I wasn’t ready to rule out yet.
I ran now as fast as my legs could carry me. I reached into the bag on my back and drew out the storage cube that held my secret self-defense tool. I squeezed the cube and my Goliath-355 handgun emerged, fully loaded and ready to fire. Whatever it was that took Dr. Hansen was going to taste the vengeance of N.A.P.A.L.M, and hell hath no fury like a weapons dealer scorned.
I slid down another of this planet’s many lumps and landed in what seemed to be a small valley. Suddenly I found myself surrounded. About a dozen strange creatures popped up like Jack out of his box on the hills around me. Clever devils. Each of them was about the size and shape of a small human. It was hard to get a clear picture of them, because they had what seemed to be some kind of blue gas zooming around them in fast currents. To my vision, they were just blue gas monsters, like the ones on Leelip Three. Each one also hovered about three inches off the ground.
The Tarquillo, I guessed. I turned my head and saw Dr. Hansen sitting in a relaxed looking position between the two devils farthest from me. What was she doing?
I shouted, “Cynthia, run!” The blue gas around the two creatures next to her snapped and crackled.
“I can’t move,” she said with a look of terror in her eyes. What were they doing to her? She was my assistant. Mine!
Without batting an eye I fired my Goliath at the tallest enemy standing in line with my left shoulder. A pointed arrow of pure, neon energy zoomed out and gunned toward the monster.
The creature planted its feet and swung its hands to the left like an orchestra conductor with a sort of slapping motion, and the missile’s course was redirected. It burst harmlessly in the air above the creatures’ heads
“Okay, so these things can use ‘The Force’.”
In no time I was snapped down on my face, pushed over by what felt like something between a punch to the gut and a sea storm’s wind.
Once I was down I couldn’t move. A strong pressure around me kept me still. Only my head was left free. They wanted to let me breathe, which meant that they wanted me alive. This was good news and bad news.
The blue mist around the tall Tarquillo dissolved and its true shape was revealed. It was much more like a human than a Gurhan, but still not something you’d see walking down the streets of Queens. It was blue, a pale blue, and it had feathers on its knees, elbows and shoulders. Its triangular face had three eyes, and its head had a pair of horns sticking neatly out of its sharply trimmed hair. It had a slender build, and all in all I couldn’t tell if it was male or female.
The blue thing reached down its boney arm and picked up the Goliath-355 I had dropped. It fixed its three eyes on the weapon and ran its hand across the gauge. When I saw it hold the gun, I was resolved. “It’s a female,” I muttered. All women held big guns in the same, awkward way, like they were holding a baby; all women except Dr. Hansen, but she was special.
I bit my tongue. The Tarquillo had what they wanted. Now, whether I liked it or not, it would be used against the Gurhan.
“Buttheads!” was the best insult I could come up with at the moment, but I was ignored.
The lanky beast descended from its three-inch air-stool and seated itself cross-legged on the spongy ground. It spent the next ten minutes — seconds, hours, I don’t know — studying the gun. Its eyes looked stupid and barbaric, which I hadn’t expected, but as time went on it began to hold the gun in more of a masculine fashion. The skeleton began to understand what it was looking at.
Something over the horizon chirped. Mist rose up from valleys in the lofty hills that sat at the edge of the horizon. The green sky darkened.
Then I heard a creaking of metal. Was that what I thought it was? A twig snapped. The Tarquillo kept still. Did they have ears?
Hinges and joints roared and scraped. A silver point glinted up through the gaps in a purple shrub’s leaves.
The lead Tarquillo twitched.
Two more silver points stabbed their way into vision. The third got taller. The tip of a red tassel shook like a hand of hyperactive fingers in the soft breeze.
The Tarquillo shot up to its feet. A long, silver shaft penetrated its solar plexus. It had noticed too late. It had been too slow. It made a whistling sound with its nose and died.
The other eleven turned and faced the approaching enemy. Over the edge of the hill, I saw a piece of sapphire-colored metal. The light of the two moons glinted off the armor, and before my sight was clear again another two Tarquillo had fallen.
My heart rose with excitement. The home team had arrived! We were being rescued. I looked over at Dr. Hansen and she clapped her hands and cheered.
Two blue knights and two amber knights came up over the hill and planted their steel feet in the ground. From behind them came a giant knight in black armor. The Norgal -— had he come himself?
My guts laughed. If the Gurhan were a football team, then the Tarquillo were nothing but ugly cheerleaders, and they were dead.
As if in reaction to the intensity of the struggle, the mist in the mountains sped up its progression and blanketed the scene for dramatic affect, making the cold, cruel, Gurhan ghostly and terrible.
Three of the remaining Tarquillo lined up and put their hands together in front of their chests. The two amber knights rushed forward and planted their beautiful swords in the ground. They came against the enemy’s invisible fire but were unmoved.
Something clanged behind Dr. Hansen, and both she and I turned our heads simultaneously to see what it was. A second group of knights, two emerald-green and two diamond-white dashed up the flank hill and drew their own spears.
Now the Tarquillo were thrown into disorder. They moved about erratically and fired ineffectual shots left and right. One of them aimed and fired at Dr. Hansen. But I suddenly realized I was freed from the dark side of the Force, and I took the hit to my own gut. Something popped and blood and water mixed in my mouth.
All eight of the Gurhan knights drew their spears and aimed. The Footman himself revealed a tremendous slab of metal covered in shining gold. Dr. Hansen looked like she wanted to marry it.
The Tarquillo shook. The shafts were released. Slice — and all of the remaining enemies fell dead. They dropped to the ground like sacks of feathers. The battle was over. No, the slaughter was over.
Fields came up slowly behind the High Footman. The expression on his face when he saw the remains of what had transpired was one of disgust.
I looked up at the warriors who had rescued us. I looked down at the bodies of the despicable monsters who had kidnapped us. I gazed down at the bit of blood I’d shed to save the one who was precious to me. Then I looked up at her, the once terrified, now immensely pleased Dr. Cynthia Hansen.
“Praise be to Nar-O,” I whispered to myself. Then I stood up and approached the High Footman.
I dropped to my knees and leaned as far as I could backwards — think I snapped something actually — then I faced Fields. “Tell this guy that if it’s war the Tarquillo want, that’s what we’ll give them.” I clenched my fist until I could see the blue veins. I bit my tongue until it bled rose red blood.
The native carrion bird watched from its high perch. Tonight there would be a feast.
And he was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. Woe to the earth and sea, woe to the earth and sea, because he is full of fury.
Copyright © 2011 by Paul Lang