by Gary Inbinder
Table of Contents|
Chapter 20, part 4
Chapter 21, part 1; part 2
appeared in issue 249.
part 3 of 4
The Federation of New Earth is waging a foreign war with Algol 1 and is beset by corruption and strife within. Consul Finn, maneuvering against Consul Cato in a bid to make himself emperor, sends Aurelia to win over Republican Guard hero Ludwig, more familiarly known as “Luddy.”
Luddy and Aurelia come to realize that they are pawns in a power struggle. Luddy discovers Aurelia’s true nature and the secret of his own origins. Armed with the mysterious Aureus coin and the Spear of Fate, Luddy and Aurelia envision a new galactic Imperium that has a place for humans, androids and Algolians alike.
Backing away from the forty-year old virgin, Ludwig bumped his head on an arch. Rubbing his sore scalp, he stammered, “Uh, that... that was a swell story, Reverend Mother, I really need to catch up on my old earth history.”
Her red lips parted in a seductive smile, Livia replied, “I’d be pleased to give you private instruction, my lord... any time.”
Folding the map and placing it in his pants pocket, Ludwig changed the subject. “How do I use the ring to open the vault?”
“There’s a group of marble figures carved onto Rhea’s tomb; she’s the central figure, and you can’t miss her. Press the ring against her lips and the vault containing the spear will open.”
“Okay, Reverend Mother, I think I’ve got it. You’ve been very helpful; I look forward to seeing you at the wedding and coronation, and don’t forget to invite Aurelia and me for a weekend at your new retreat.”
“Of course, my lord, I just want to say...” As Livia reached out to embrace Ludwig, he vanished, leaving her hugging air. “Damn,” she muttered and returned to her cell.
Ludwig transported to the crypt. The dark, damp, musty cobwebbed atmosphere reminded him of a wine cellar in an old villa; however, the omnipresence of death gave him the creeps. He had difficulty seeing in the dank chamber and he used the power of the Aureus to enhance his night-vision as though he were using infrared binoculars. He walked over paving stones slick with moss and slime, carefully passing through an archway containing the white marble tombs and somber statues of numerous dead virgins.
Rhea Sylvia’s sepulcher stood in the center of the chamber, two stories below and directly beneath the Temple altar. Approaching the tomb, he recognized the figure of Rhea Sylvia, a beautifully carved antique marble high relief. She stood beneath a myrtle, her slender arms folded demurely, her eyes closed and head facing downward.
Ludwig took the signet ring from his pocket and placed it against the statue’s lips. Instantly, there was a flash of light enveloping the marble tomb in a golden aura. Startled, Ludwig backed away a few paces as Rhea Sylvia’s likeness transformed into a simulacrum of life. Her open arms stretched outward as if beckoning him; her cold white marble lips reddened, curling upward in a smile; closed eyelids suddenly widened, revealing lapis lazuli eyes flashing like blue sparks in the dark.
Ludwig shivered as cold sweat poured from his armpits, running down his sides in clammy rivulets. The floor in front of him rumbled as a section of pavement moved aside, disclosing a vault. Suddenly, the light vanished, and the animated statue returned to its cold, dead marble state.
Staring into the breach in the crypt’s flooring, Ludwig saw a bronze lid with a golden device: the head of Ludovicus and the symbol of the Aureus. Only then did he look at the signet ring, realizing that it, too, bore the same sign. The vault lid slid open, revealing the Spear of Fate lying in a golden case.
Ludwig removed the spear; taking his recent copy from its container, he placed it in the vault. He then put the Spear of Fate next to its companion, Finn’s Spear of Science. The lid shut, and the gap in the floor closed.
Holding the spears in his right hand, Ludwig telekinetically transported to Algol II, materializing in the forest adjacent to Finn’s new estate.
Ludwig landed on Algol II at 0300 in the midst of a tall stand of old oak and pine. Carrying his spears on his shoulder, he walked along a dark, narrow dirt trail to the crest of a hill on the forest’s edge. Stopping for a moment, he sat on a rock in a clearing, gazing upward into the deep purple, starry Algolian sky.
Looking northward across a broad valley, he saw Finn’s villa about four clicks distant on the ridge of the next hill. Wind rustled leaves in the nearby trees and in the distance surf broke on the shoreline of a large inland sea. A bracing autumn wind blew landward, licking his face like a playful dog. Ludwig pulled up his hood, set down his spears, and waited.
Light still shone from the villa’s windows. Sitting on his rock, Ludwig watched for almost an hour until the house grew dark; then, spears in hand, he transported to the balcony outside Finn’s bedroom. Using his Aureus enhanced vision, Ludwig peered through white lace curtained French doors and scanned the elaborately decorated room. Red silk moiré paper covered twelve foot high walls hung with gold framed paintings of classical erotica. Here and there, bronze nudes stood on marble pedestals; above, on the high ceiling, a vivid fresco depicted drunken Bacchus reveling with his bacchantes.
In the center of the room, near the eastern wall, a snoring Finn sprawled naked on silk sheets, his hairy arms wrapped around two comely female companions. Ludwig smiled at the sight and then passed through the door and floated into the bedchamber, where he hovered over the sleeping Finn. He put his hand on the ex-Consul’s mouth and watched as Finn awoke with a start and stared into dark space with terrified eyes. Ludwig placed his lips next to Finn’s ear and whispered, “It’s me. Get up quietly and dress; we’re going for a little walk.”
Careful not to disturb his companions, Finn got out of bed and walked to his clothes closet. One of the pleasure ‘droids mumbled and rolled over, spreading an arm across her partner’s bare back. The other sleeping android made a soft, contented humming noise; adjusting her head on the pillow, she drifted back into oblivion.
Finn dressed in a short jacket, trousers and boots and then returned to the center of the room. He whispered, “Will you do me the courtesy of showing yourself?”
Ludwig partially materialized, a spectral figure in cloak and hood, floating a foot above the floor and carrying a long cylindrical sheath.
“How melodramatic,” Finn remarked. “I’m getting too old for this, Luddy. Have you decided to execute me by heart attack?”
“Does the master scold the pupil for learning his lessons too well?”
“Okay, Luddy, so now I know how God and Frankenstein felt when they beheld their creatures; you’ve made your point. What do you want?”
“First, let’s walk down to the seashore and watch a lurid Algolian sunrise.”
“Fine, I need the exercise, but you’ll have to follow me downstairs. Since you stripped me of my powers, I don’t float through the air, walk on water, etc.”
Ludwig dematerialized and followed Finn down a long, carpeted hallway to the main stairway, a gaudy, gilt and marble red-carpeted monstrosity. As he floated down the staircase and through the colonnaded vestibule, Ludwig noticed and admired the classical paintings on the pastel colored walls and the large, crystal chandeliers suspended from the forty-foot high vaulted ceiling. Just like a Gold class Capital City Cathouse, he thought.
Two guards greeted Finn as he exited the front door. “Is everything alright, sir?”
Finn smiled, replying, “I’m just out for a little air, boys.” The guards saluted and returned to making their rounds.
An ethereal white, pre-dawn mist overhung the dew-damp grass. As they strolled across the broad, green, well-manicured lawn, Ludwig casually observed, “Nice grounds you have.”
“Yes, Luddy, if you’d made a proper visit, I’d have been happy to give you a tour.”
Approaching the edge of a misty bluff, they heard the whooshing of surf on the shore below, the crashing of breakers on the rocks, and the cry of seabirds circling overhead. At the bluff’s threshold, the mist cleared as crimson Algol ascended the horizon and revealed a sparkling burgundy sea
They walked to the grassy rim of the precipice. Ludwig materialized and stood next to Finn. Gazing out to sea, at the sunrise, Ludwig observed, “It looks like a bright smear of blood on a rhinestone studded purple velvet dress.”
Turning his head toward Ludwig, Finn said, “You’ve developed a knack for tawdry imagery.” Noticing the spear-case, he added, “Are you going to tell me why you’ve come, or are we going to stand here playing guessing games?”
Still watching the sunrise, Ludwig replied, “I’ve come to check out your new home; it seems suitable. I’ve also come to make you an offer: something valuable in exchange for information.”
Keeping his eyes on Ludwig’s long, cylindrical sheath, Finn replied, “That looks like an extra-large fishing-rod case you’re carrying; however I doubt you came here to fish. Moreover, I think I can tell a spear from a fly rod, even when it’s encased like one.”
Ludwig laughed. “You’re a gambler, Finn. How would you like to play for the highest stakes in history? If you win, the intergalactic empire is yours; if you lose, you get an honorable death. The odds are fifty-fifty.” Turning to face Finn, Ludwig opened the case and showed him the two spears.
Finn’s eyes widened in surprise, and he exclaimed, “Well, I’ll be damned; you got them both. Does Cato know?”
“I don’t think so, but it doesn’t really matter whether he knows or not. The legend says that whoever possesses the spear, rules. I want to determine whether the legend is true or false, and I’m willing to stake my life and empire to learn the truth.”
Finn turned to watch Algol rising. “Yes, it is a bloody sunrise,” he sighed. “The gods and legends of old earth; our credulous ancestors destroyed their world and journeyed here to create another, the old world’s simulacrum.” Turning to face Ludwig, he added, “God and truth are dead, Luddy; we killed them, you and I.”
“You’re paraphrasing Nietzsche, Finn. Do you think he envisioned us when he wrote about the superman?”
Finn smirked and shook his head. “It’s fine to know the source of an old saying; it’s better to understand its meaning. Nietzsche’s been dead for millennia; we’re way beyond him.”
Staring at Finn for a moment, Ludwig replied, “Even with our superhuman powers we remain prisoners of the will. We’re mortal after all and can never go beyond good and evil or rise above our human weaknesses. I’ve one more question before we fight. Do you think Aurelia will remain true to me?”
“She betrayed me, Ludwig,” Finn declared bitterly, “and she’ll do the same to you when the time comes.”
Ludwig frowned, as though he believed Finn. Trying to persuade himself otherwise he replied, “Perhaps I know her better than you do?”
Gazing into Ludwig’s eyes, Finn smiled and replied with a rhetorical question, “Who can know a creature better than its creator?”
Ludwig glared at Finn and then held out his hands, a spear in each. “Choose your weapon.”
After contemplating his options, Finn reached out, grabbing the shaft in Ludwig’s left hand. Spear-points gleaming like cut diamonds in the fiery dawn, the two squared up to one another on the precipitous cliff-side.
As they stood facing each other at close quarters, their spears glowed and pulsated with energy. The atmosphere changed: storm clouds gathered, and the mild morning wind freshened. The air, saturated with moisture, burst out with pelting rain. Chinks of platinum yellow light and patches of incarnadine sky slashed through royal purple clouds. Flashes of forked lightning lit the horizon and exploded like phosphor bombs raining down on a dark battlefield. Thunder rumbled like the Republican Guard’s plasma cannon shattering an Algolian fortress.
“Hey, Finn,” Ludwig shouted, “I think it’s going to rain fire and brimstone, flaming our butts.”
“Shut up and die, you Algolian bastard,” Finn answered as he charged Ludwig with his spear. Ludwig parried Finn’s thrust; there was a deafening roar like a bursting rocket, and a blinding green-gold flash. The force emanating from their battle-crossed spears threw the adversaries backwards, flying fifty feet in either direction, where they fell, stunned, on the threshold of the windswept cliff.
Recovering first, Ludwig ran at his opponent; Finn met him with angry thrusts and parries. Instead of avoiding one another with feints and dodges, the two hammered away like gladiators playing to the bloodthirsty mob.
The wind became a gale. The rain turned to sleet, lashing them with frozen pellets as they flew across the valley and over the dark, tempest churned sea. Ludwig and Finn aimed and countered hundreds of deathblows amid the raging storm.
Copyright © 2007 by Gary Inbinder