Crow: The Destroyer
Jorgis hefted his heavy backpack as he walked casually across the stony plain under the pyramids. A massive Cooperative destroyer hovering overhead kept the crowds of tourists subdued and the popular destination was nearly devoid of visitors. Every once and awhile a brilliant flash would erupt from under the destroyer and Jorgis would see a cloud of smoke waft up from within Cairo. Moments later he would hear a loud crack, then rolling thunder.
Sighing, he continued his lonely trek, approaching the tomb of Queen Khentkawes. Without hesitation, he ducked inside and walked down the sloped passageway. As he entered the burial chamber, he pulled something that looked like brass knuckles from his pocket.
The walls in the chamber were comprised of solid granite. He approached one of the walls as he put the brass knuckle device on, then placed his hand on the wall. A whine abruptly filled the air, causing dust to fall from the ceiling, then in an instant, Jorgis found himself in another chamber in complete blackness.
He closed his eyes as he sensed the room around him. Nodding, he felt satisfied that the room had not been breached. Taking a deep breath, he began walking, stepping out of the room into a long passage. Even in the blackness, the way was apparent to him. The sounds of his footsteps reverberating from the walls seemed to light the way for him.
After another long trek, Jorgis entered into another chamber. This one was vast. As he walked in, parts of the room glowed dim red, exposing an alien interior. Jorgis smiled and ran his hand along the walls. The walls quivered under his touch, with some sending out exploratory tentacles that briefly touched him, then retracted.
Within the expansive chamber was his destination. A collection of large transports that had been sequestered there for three thousand years. Jorgis adjusted his backpack and approached the nearest transport. When he touched the hull, part of it seemed to melt away, revealing an entrance. He entered the transport and looked at the occupants.
All the passengers were ensconced in pods. He looked through the viewport of one of the pods to inspect it. Within, a humanoid creature rested, its bony plates and scales glistening in the illumination. In spite of the thousands of years it had rested in the pod, it appeared to have not aged in the slightest.
Jorgis smiled and walked to a wall and pulled a small cylinder out of the backpack. It was no larger than a small battery and served the same purpose, but on an infinitely grander scale. Part of the wall seemed to open like a mouth, and he placed the cylinder in it, then stepped back.
The ship around him shuddered, and the lighting within became much brighter. The seams on the pods hissed with steam as the seals broke. Jorgis placed his hand on one of the lids, feeling the energy that was returning to the pods. The lid abruptly retracted, uncovering the creature within.
Jorgis stepped back, then sensed a presence. He looked over his shoulder then immediately dropped to the ground, prostrate. A powerful-looking man knelt down beside him and placed a hand on the back of his neck. Without warning, Jorgis found himself hanging in the air, then set back onto his feet.
“My lord…” Jorgis looked down at the floor. “The Cooperative has not left yet.”
The man cocked his head as he played with Jorgis’s hair. “They are of no consequence.”
Jorgis nodded. He looked around and watched the creatures stirring. “They all made it.”
“Naturally.” The man pulled Jorgis’s backpack off. “Your mission here is complete. Your brethren will finish the wakening.”
“The Blessed One has not returned.”
“He will. You must return to Seattle.”
“Lord.” Jorgis nodded. Without a word he turned and left the transport. Several of the creatures exited with him, each carrying several of the batteries. They split up and went to the rest of the transports. One followed Jorgis.
They silently entered the passage and retraced Jorgis’s footsteps back to the dark chamber. Jorgis put his hand on the wall again, and the two of them found themselves in the burial chamber.
Jorgis turned and faced the creature, examining its armor. He adjusted part of it, then sighed as he ran his hand down the creature’s arm. “I miss my old body.”
“You got to meet the Blessed One,” the creature replied. He put a clawed hand on Jorgis’s arm and squeezed its tender, human flesh. “This is a worthy sacrifice.”
Jorgis smiled sadly. “Yes. Yes it is.” He put his hand on a device attached to the creature’s armor. The creature seemed to shimmer, then it vanished from view. Jorgis grinned, then stepped casually out of the tomb, not paying attention to the extra set of footsteps that followed him.
~ ~ ~
Aradia appeared out of thin air within the sealed bunker far below the White House. She stood patiently as the Secret Service’s weapons abruptly vanished. The agents converged on her, attempting to tackle, punch, and kick her. With every contact, one by one they slumped, stunned. She bent over and carefully laid the last one onto the carpeted floor, then looked up at the last person standing.
President Seibert stood behind the desk, frozen. Aradia smiled, keeping her canines hidden, as she absentmindedly picked at her black robe. She held her arms out and the robe wafted away into a vapor that seemed to pull back into her glistening, white skin. Stepping over the guards, she casually sauntered over to a chair in front of the President’s desk and sat down.
Seibert fidgeted, then sat down too. “You’re going to tell me that resistance is futile?”
“It would be counterproductive,” Aradia responded matter-of-factly.
“You promised that you would not invade.”
“We have not,” Aradia said shortly.
“Your…giant spaceships are hovering over every major city around the globe!” Seibert waved a hand angrily at a computer display. “Shooting at the cities even. I’ve been stuck down here for a week!”
“The only targets for those ships are golems. No Terran casualties have occurred.”
Seibert sat back. “Our nuclear missiles…”
“Launched by the Sadari. Some by a puppet of the Sadari.” Aradia leaned forward. “We intercepted and destroyed all the missiles that threatened large population areas, in case you did not notice.”
“I did.” Seibert frowned, crossing his arms. “This is the most peculiar invasion…ever.”
“When our task is complete, we will depart. We are not interested in you beyond eliminating a threat to both you and us.” Aradia sat back.
“You disabled our military.” Seibert wagged a finger at her. “None of it works. We’re utterly vulnerable.”
“That was for your safety. We have done likewise to all the militaries on this planet.”
“Your ability to kill each other and demolish each other’s cities will be returned to you once our mission is complete,” Aradia smirked.
“We sustained damage from the meteors…”
“That is regrettable. We intercepted as many as possible.” Aradia sighed. “Near-Earth orbit will be problematic as the ring develops.”
“Ring?” Seibert leaned forward.
“From the dust and debris of the asteroids.” Aradia shook her head. “You’re not aware of this?”
“It’s been a bit hectic these past few days.” Seibert frowned. “Our communications…”
“Your infrastructure will need to be restored. The battle destroyed most of your satellites.”
“How convenient,” Seibert said dryly.
Aradia sat back. “Not by design. As I said, we have no occupation interests with regards to this planet.”
“You keep saying that but somehow I feel quite…occupied.” Seibert rubbed his brow. “We have craters.”
“The Sadari had several subterranean chambers that had to be destroyed. We tried to ensure that innocents did not perish.”
“Innocents. Half a dozen large cities were…” Seibert nodded. “Innocents did perish.”
Aradia looked at him grimly. “There were no other choices, and no time. The alternative could have been utter devastation of your planet.” She leaned forward. “I trust your dignitaries brought back images and samples from Rholling?”
Seibert fidgeted again. Rholling was a dead world thanks to the golems Aradia was claiming to be mopping up here.
Aradia took that as confirmation. “We lost a world populated by several million…my mother included. Your world has several billion occupants. Please keep that in mind.”
Seibert looked at his guards as they started sitting up, looking dazed. “You didn’t hurt them.”
“Why would I do that?” Aradia looked shocked.
The President shook his head, then waved his hands, trying to not get distracted. “Listen. Okay. We understand you have a beef with these Sadari guys. But…do you really have to…invade us?”
“It’s over, right? You beat the bad guys. But you still disabled our military, you’re hovering over big cities and shooting…golems, you say. Our airlines are all grounded. From what I know, worldwide. Our ships and subs are just floating out there. From our perspective, that’s an invasion.”
“There is a cleanup operation underway to remove stragglers.” Aradia looked at Seibert coolly.
“And what, we’re supposed to just…sit at home and wait for you to finish?”
“We are coordinating with your air traffic controllers to get your aerial mass transit working around our mission. Travel may resume within a couple of days even.”
“How long was air travel grounded after a major terrorist attack a few years ago?” Aradia raised her eyebrows.
“You know about that?” Seibert blinked.
“To facilitate a smooth mission with minimal disruptions we have taken pains to learn as much about your cultures, history, and infrastructure as possible.” Aradia played with the armrest. “It has not been a pleasant endeavor.”
“Yeah, well you pulled our dirty laundry out. Not us.” Seibert scowled.
“We require nothing from you but non-interference.” Aradia leaned forward again. “And I mean, nothing.”
“So our sovereignty means nothing…”
“Your ignorance of the situation and inability to comprehend the magnitude of the threat that you face makes your sovereignty a moot issue.” Aradia stood up. “However, be comforted in knowing that we have no extended interests in your planet.”
“Comforted.” Seibert rolled his eyes.
“We will leave a liaison officer here to keep a line of communications open so there are no…misunderstandings. And for your peace of mind, we will keep you apprised of our operations and progress.” Aradia looked over her shoulder.
Seibert followed her gaze and visibly flinched when he saw a very pale man standing silently in a dark corner of the room, returning his look without expression.
“Well that’s just dandy. And a little creepy. You could have left one of your furry cat fellas, or a human.”
“Mer’lan is more resistant to…bad decisions.” Aradia grinned at him, revealing her canines this time. “Just in case.” She glanced back at Mer’lan. “He’s also a Gatekeeper.”
Seibert looked at her for a long moment, then stood up. “I want people with you.”
“You are hardly in a position to make demands, President.” Aradia leveled a chilly glare at him.
Seibert crossed his arms, indignant.
Aradia pursed her lips. “You are the one who insisted we leave because we refused to enter into trade agreements. And you see the result of that bad decision all around you.”
“Don’t put this on my shoulders. It’s not my war.”
“You were a pawn in this war. And we are trying to extract you from that entrapment.”
“I want people on your ships.”
Aradia looked at the guards who now stood at a more cautious distance from her. “There is an international coalition that came together to represent Terra to us and tour our worlds. Your dignitaries. We shall pull observers from their ranks.”
Seibert opened his mouth but Aradia gave him a stern look. “This is not a national issue, President Seibert. It is a global one. Therefore we will concede to observers from a global pool of representatives.”
“And if things go sideways?”
Aradia grinned. “Steven Crow would recommend that you put a paper sack on your head and lay down.”
Seibert gaped. “Seriously? You guys are quoting…seriously?”
Aradia shrugged. “I still do not get the reference.” She got serious. “I would recommend a press release to calm your people. Our ships have temporary communications up for you.” She looked at Mer’lan and nodded.
“Who’s going to calm me?” Seibert mumbled as Aradia vanished.
~ ~ ~
“What?” Steven grumbled as he kept his attention on his plate.
The other Elves at the table looked at each other, confused.
“We need your…assistance.”
Everyone but Steven turned to look at a brilliantly white woman who casually strolled into the common room. The last wisps of her black cloak were vaporizing and pulling into her skin as she plucked at her spartan under-garments.
Steven sighed as he poked his food. “Why me? I’m nobody.”
“You have command of a sizable army of golems.”
Steven shrugged. “They’re not doing anything. Just keeping their cover and being people.”
“What they’re doing or not doing is not what we need help with, Steven.”
“It’s not my fault. Aliya put them on me.” Steven rubbed his eyes. “A distraction. That’s all they were.”
Steven sat up straight and turned around. “Aradia, how can I possibly be of any help? I was going to destroy them but you told me not to. I was going to stick them all on the Moon, but you said leave them where they are. So…apparently I don’t have your wisdom and I really don’t care anymore.”
Aradia glanced at Penipe as she walked in carrying a bucket of fruit. “Did I arrive at a bad time?”
“His dreamscapes are getting to him.”
“My inability to do anything about them is getting to me,” Steven grumbled, turning back around and staring at his plate. He really wasn’t hungry. “Why are you so concerned about my golems? Tomorrow this all could just go poof.”
“Life does not stop, even with the expectation of doom,” Aradia said calmly.
Steven gave her a sideways look.
“Were we to give in to this threat of imminent demise, and it not happen, how much worse off would we be?” Aradia sat down next to Steven. “We cannot just give up.”
“I don’t have anything. Nothing at all.” Steven said sullenly.
Aradia grabbed his chin and turned his head to face her. “You look awful.”
“He’s not sleeping. He dreamscapes every night and wakes up…badly.” Penipe said quietly.
“You’re not getting rest either.” Aradia scowled at Penipe. “Steven, this has got to stop.”
“I can’t help it,” Steven said glumly. “It’s always the same. I can’t talk to her like I need to because she’s hiding.” He rubbed his face. “I can’t taste space through her. I have no idea where she is. What sort of…how she’s being kept.”
“Making yourself ill is not going to help her,” Aradia said. She looked at Penipe. “Or you.”
Steven sighed, pushing Aradia’s hand away. “They are hoping she tells me something useful.”
“As are you.”
“What, you’re the Elf now?” Steven snapped. Aradia sat back and gave him a stern look. Steven slumped. “She’s retreated to her youth for a reason. Perhaps it’s the only way she can resist Aliya.”
“Her sleep pattern matches yours. Perhaps to get rest you need to change…”
“Doesn’t matter. No matter when I sleep, she is there.” Steven said, waving a hand. “It’s like she’s waiting for me. I get drawn in every time.” He rubbed his nose. “And I can’t do a thing to help her.”
“Then she is trying to tell you something.”
“Or just reaching out to me.” Steven took in a shuddering breath. “What if she simply does not know?” He wiped his eyes. “Heck, she may not even know she’s pulling me in like this.”
“Then she must know you are never giving up,” Aradia said. She leaned forward. “We certainly are not giving up.”
“What are you even doing? Playing on Terra as if that even matters?” Steven poked at his food.
“It does matter.” Aradia put a piece of fruit on Steven’s plate. “That’s why I came to discuss your golems with you.”
“They don’t know anything.” Steven shrugged. “Trust me, I’ve looked through their memories.” He sighed. “It’s like…”
“Aliya cleansed them before giving them to you.” Aradia finished his sentence. Steven looked at her. Aradia shook her head. “She may have intended them to be a distraction to you. But I don’t think she can comprehend just how adaptable you are.”
“Sure. That’s helping a lot,” Steven mumbled.
“It is. I want you to assign your golems to our task force.” Aradia smiled. “Golems hunting golems.”
“And that helps, how?”
“Once again, doing nothing in the face of doom is worse, especially if that doom never comes,” Aradia said. “But more importantly, the golems that are not on your network may not have been so thoroughly cleansed.”
Steven sat up a little straighter. “They might have information. About Axis.”
Aradia smiled. “There’s the old Steven.”
“If I could force my way onto their network, perhaps I can get them to divulge where Asherah is. Where my parents are.” Steven looked at Penipe. “I can see them. The other golems. I can see them through my golems.”
“I know,” Penipe said quietly. “I see them too. It’s just…they’re golems.”
Steven nodded. “Mine are as much me as this.” He poked his arms. “You can depend on that.” He looked at Aradia. “When do we start?”
Aradia looked at his plate. “When you empty that.”