Stranded! **Part 3**

A Tale from the History of Bethdish

Planet of Bethdish, Kingdom of Intile

Star League Year 2762 -- Local Date: Year 4921

If you have not read the begining of this story click here to read Part 1, click here to read Part 2.

"A ship!"

I can still feel the thrill that those words sent through me. To know for the first time since the crash that we weren't going to have to spend the next twenty to forty years waiting for a rescue ship. I couldn't have gotten better news. Now all we had to worry about was this war.

I floated through the next half hour or so without noticing. I only started paying attention when the enemy's Ambassador and retainers arrived. I couldn't help noticing, they were a piratical looking crew. Their clothing seemed to be a mix-and-match of several different periods and styles, few matching any too well- and even then never on the same individual. Bangles and medals adorned their uniforms, such as they were, and were worn more as spoils of war rather than military decorations. The six of them were somehow familiar, until I realized that I'd seen them on the battlefield several times.

"Why have you invoked the Rituals?" Their leader spoke abruptly, arrogantly.

"This battle is over," proclaimed the Reever. "You are directed by the Council of the Immortals to cease all conflict and withdraw your troops forthwith."

"Or?" The question was asked insolently. My friend the Baron looked at me expectantly, as if to say now you will see something.

"Or your women will bear no more children- ever," said the Reever in a voice cold as iron. "Your people would wither away and finally die out completely. A simple genetic change, engineered to affect only your tribe- That would be all that was necessary to put an end to you forever. The Council is aware of your recent alliance with the Black Snake and will scarcely be inclined to show you mercy. Whatever reward that evil woman promised you- from within the safety of her temple walls, I'm sure... Whatever treasures she offered will scarcely be worth the price you will pay if you continue this invasion. You will not be allowed to take Castle Urquare. Nor will you ever lay hands upon the castle's relics."

"And just who is going to stop us? You? One Immortal and these pathetic warriors I've been wading through for the past few days? I'm not afraid of some mythical revenge the Council might or might not be able to take in the future! Nor am I afraid of any of you here."

"This is an outrage-" began the Baron.

"It is his own rope," said the Reever to Baron Sachmon. "Let him measure out as much as he prefers to use to hang himself with, Baron."

"Point taken," replied the Baron.

"I grow weary of these posturings," declared the enemy's ambassador. "Were it not for the sacred honor of the Rituals, I'd slay each of you now. We go- now! And prepare yourselves for your last battle." With that, the group of negotiators stomped out of the tent and back to their encampment, under heavy guard.

Heavy silence hung in the air as we considered the failure of the attempt.

"I told the Council that they wouldn't respond to such a long term threat," said the Reever. "Something else will have to be done to hold them here."

"Would you really... well, kill them all off?" I asked.

"It has been done before. Yes, we would end their line, and may soon find ourselves having to do so. It is regretful- perhaps it can yet be avoided. I don't know," the Reever paused in thought.

"Well, we knew that there was a possibility that they would react this way," said the Baron. "I've had the watch doubled, and the men have been readying weapons and armor all day."

The Reever crossed over to where his staff was standing. Presumably, the staff had recorded the entire episode for the Immortal's Hall of Records. The Reever murmured commands to the staff as its inlaid jewels flashed lights in ever different patterns. As I moved closer I heard him more clearly.

"Initiate a detailed scan of the area. I want to know what weapons are out there and if there is anything we can use. Perhaps we can cobble something together out of battlefield wreckage." He looked at me and smiled faintly. "We are going to need some help on this one"

"So you meant it when you threatened them with genocide?" I asked the Reever.

"Yes, but it is too long-term a threat to be of any use, as you saw. The raiders live too much in the moment to worry over concerns of whether or not there'll be a future for them. If something doesn't kill them immediately, they actually think they'll overcome it, eventually. So that means we face them in battle. Defeat them here, drive them off now, and they will all be gone in the space of three generations. A mere sixty or seventy summers and the raiders will be a memory, and a fading one at that."

"You did it already? Whatever will cause them to die out, you've already done it?"

"No, but the Council now has the tissue sample that they would need to complete the artificial virus that will induce the change in their genetics. The staff collected it during the recording process," the Reever said, indicating the jeweled staff still standing nearby. "Remember, this will not sicken them or kill them, only make them unable to conceive children. When the decision is made, the Council will only have to use a single dart on a single raider to deliver their punishment. I might not even be told if it were to be done. It is out of my hands- indeed, it always was." The Reever looked sad, frustrated, and at that moment he looked far older than I had ever seen.

Unnoticed in the background, the Reever's staff hummed quietly to itself, following an unusual string of instructions. It was searching for weapons, using every instrument at its disposal. Since the staff was a highly complex piece of machinery, there was a vast array of tools available for it to search with. A long list of quickly recoverable and repairable weapons had already been generated. This was not surprising. Sometimes, if the staff located a particularly damage-free set of electronic weapons components, it sent a quick pulse of energy through them to test their functions. This was not surprising, nor were the regular electro-mechanical replies to these queries.

What did turn out to be surprising was during one routine query, the staff was queried in return. Unusual enough, but there were several computers scattered throughout the wreckage nearby that could have made similar replies. One unusual thing was the size of the weapon replying- huge, mountain-sized. Another was its location, hundreds of miles offshore and several hundred feet beneath the sea floor. Yet another was its age, it had been lying buried under the sea bed for several thousand years. The staff replied to the weapon's query. An update was requested. The staff filed the update using the requested out-of-date codes and countersigns. Somewhere on the sea floor near Tish-Ra-Net volcano, under tons of rock, mud, and seawater; a relay clicked over.

Within minutes, the sea floor was in violent upheaval. Within hours, a mountain of metal crawled fretfully across the ocean bottom- making a bee-line for the Reever's tent.

To be continued...

Go directly to part 4.

Copyright 1997 by Dan L. Hollifield

Author's Note:

Bethdish is a world circling a star, called Antuth by the natives (who named the star after the chief deity in their pantheon), presently some 65 lightyears from Earth. Rumor has it that the entire solar system had earlier been located in the Andromeda Galaxy, but was moved by some mysterious force to its new location in our own Milky Way Galaxy. The surviving written history of Bethdish covers some 12,000 years, (with the afore-mentioned displacement to the Milky Way occuring in their year 6055 -- circa 3140 AD, Terran Calendar) but the records of the Immortals reportedly go back roughly a billion years and relate the rise and fall of several civilized eras of non-immortal natives before the present recorded history begins.

The Immortals claim to have been directly created by the Gods of Bethdish, while the diverse non-immortal species are said to have evolved naturally. The several alien colonies now present are, of course, immigrants. One Xenoarcheologist of note, Professor Eustas Gray of the Emperor Norton University of San Francisco, has published several monographs on the subject of excavations on Bethdish that purport to uphold the Immortal's beliefs. Other experts in the field dispute his findings, but all the evidence is not yet in.

Further records of the history of Bethdish are forthcoming from this Author, while previous excerpts are available in your local information network.

Dan Hollifield (Aphelion Webzine's Editor, by the way) was born in 1957 at almost the same minute that Sputnik II was launched. This seems to have warped his point of view in the fact that he has always been rather a nut on the subject of spaceflight. He lives in Athens, Ga. USA. More biographical info can be found at The Mare Inebrium website- if you need that sort of thing. More of his work can be found at Aphelion Webzine.

If you like this story and you wish to tell Dan so you can e-mail him by clicking here.