Atraxes the Bold
The throne room rumbled and shook, annoying the Queen immensely. With every tremor she was forced to endure being dusted like a frosted teacake. Around her, the courtiers and lackeys awaited her decision. The shaking had only just begun, but it was getting worse. With every thud more cracks appeared on the high ceilings and walls, and with every crack the citizens became more worried.
The queen finally spoke. "Where is the Prime Minister? Bring him here immediately."
As she gazed down at her subjects, satisfied that she had acted in a satisfactorily "royal" manner, a voice was heard from the doorway.
"I am here, your majesty."
The crowd parted gracefully allowing the venerable frame of Prime Minister Osko to enter. Even though his legs were old, he still walked with his back straight and his head held high. He exuded confidence, but on the inside his mind was racing. Osko had served this Queen and the Queen before her, and in all honesty was getting tired of being the 'Royal problem solver'.
She’s the Queen. Let her deal with it. I have a good mind to...
The impatient monarch rudely interrupted his thoughts.
"Well, Osko, I see you have finally decided to grace us with your presence. Again the Leviathan plagues us, and again we call upon your wealth of experience to see us through. What is your plan of action?"
Standing before the Queen, Osko could feel the eyes of the whole room upon him.
"Umm, this is an issue, that I have been considering for awhile now. A conundrum well worth a think, I should say." He paused, swallowed and continued.
"After long deliberation, I have concluded that the army should be sent out immediately to deal with this new attack, and furthermore..."
Again the Queen interrupted.
"General Pitik, what say you of this plan?"
Pitik, Commander in Chief of the Royal Army, Defender of the Realm, was at a loss for words. The Leviathan was unstoppable and everybody knew it. To send out more troops to unnecessarily sacrifice their lives was unthinkable. But then again, to say such a thing was sure to displease the Queen. This was even more unthinkable.
"Your majesty, if I may speak openly --." Pitik gave Osko a hateful look as he approached his ruler.
"I would agree at this time, that action is called for. But what kind of action? Should we resort to war before even attempting the avenue of peace?"
Murmurs and nods of approval arose from the crowd. Even the Queen seemed intrigued.
Well said, you bloated parasite, thought Osko, but he smiled and nodded all the same.
"Do continue," commanded the monarch.
"Have we ever tried, your majesty, to reason with the Leviathan?"
More murmurs erupted but now confusion and doubt had replaced the earlier tone of approval.
Pitik quickly pushed the point.
"Perhaps if we were to send someone with a talent for speaking, the gift of gab if you will, he or she could persuade the Leviathan to just -- go away."
Osko felt his body go rigid. He knew where this was going, and had to act quickly to avert personal disaster.
"Your majesty," the Prime Minister cut in, "General Pitik's plan is not without merit, but in all honesty, we have seen no evidence that the Leviathan is capable of logic and re...."
Again the room shook, covering everyone in it with dust. Unfortunately the Queen seemed to attract more than anybody else.
"Enough! Enough squabbling. If nobody comes up with a plan soon, I will send both my General and my Prime Minister to the Leviathan to offer themselves in exchange for the rest of us!"
The room fell silent. Osko and Pitik exchanged more hateful glances and planned what their next moves would be.
"Your majesty -- If I may -- I have an idea," a nervous voice spoke from the crowd.
The Queen looked up and pointed.
"You! Well, out with it!"
The crowd parted to show the thin, wiry frame of Rufo the inventor. Eccentric by any standard, Rufo was not exactly the first individual to turn to in times of need. His "creations" were usually useless, but from time to time one would come out that was just down right dangerous. Rufo looked meekly about and moving slowly approached the Queen's dais.
"I have something that may be of use, your majesty."
Rufo could feel the skepticism of the crowd but continued regardless.
"While trying to invent a chemical substance to dissolve spider webbing, I believe I have inadvertently stumbled upon a neurotoxin that could possibly paralyze the Leviathan!"
Again murmurs of approval filled the room. Osko and Pitik began to breathe a little easier. The Queen smiled down at Rufo and nodded.
"This seems like a sound plan. What are we waiting for? Take your toxin and administer it to the Leviathan immediately! I have grown filthy enough as it is."
Rufo shuffled about, unsure of what to say next.
"There is only one problem, my Queen. The toxin must be injected into the Leviathan. Someone must climb on top of its massive body and inject the poison into his blood stream --"
"Then go. Our hopes and our gratitude go with you."
The crowd cringed as the monarch was cut short by the feeble minded scientist.
"But I can't, your majesty..." Rufo lowered his eyes in shame, and speaking in a tone much too quiet for any but the Queen to hear, he murmured, "I'm afraid."
The Queen looked at him in disgust, but realized that forcing him to go would be no use. He would get himself killed and lose the toxin in the bargain.
Looking around, her eyes again fell on her first target.
"Osko, will you show your loyalty to the crown by taking up this dangerous quest?"
Quelling the urge to scream, Osko took a minute to compose himself.
"Your majesty, I am old and unable. This is clearly a job for the army. In fact, I would suggest that a mission as important as this can be entrusted to no other that the commander of our forces --"
Pitik propelled his large frame closer to the Queen, and coincidentally in front of the Prime minister.
"We soldiers are not trained to work in this way. This is a task for a lone operator, a specially trained individual! In the Army, all work as a team, bravely meeting force with force. We cannot be expected to creep up on the Leviathan undetected. Going back to my first idea, perhaps Osko could lull the creature into a false sense of security by attempting to reason with it and then when the time is right, stick it --"
"You cowardly turd!" Osko erupted. He could not take it anymore. He was set to retire soon! A whole life of service to end like this? Not if he could help it.
Again the room fell silent. The Queen, livid with rage, decided to also go back to her original plan. She never liked Osko or Pitik much anyway.
The words wafted through the room quietly, settling on the gathering like the dust from the tremors. At first nobody could tell who spoke them, but as they looked around they noticed that one of the Queen's guards, stoically silent up till now, had now stepped forward.
"And you are?" The Queen asked, just a little annoyed.
"I am Atraxes, my Queen. Your faithful servant." he bowed a little clumsily.
"Atraxes the bold," Osko interjected, seizing the opportunity.
"Yes, yes," added Pitik and Rufo, also seeing an avenue for escape.
The room was again filled with approving murmurs and nods. From there, events moved quickly. Rufo ran and retrieved the toxin from his laboratory, Atraxes was kitted out and brought again before the queen.
"You are brave. Should you be successful you will be rewarded."
"The only reward I desire is to know that I am serving my fellows. Up till now I have been invisible, a veritable unknown, one soldier among thousands. I feared that from my birth until my death, my life would pass as if nothing had happened. Nobody would remember me and nobody would care. But I hope with this deed to become something. To be respected and loved by my peers, and at the same time to help them. I do not require riches your majesty, just to be remembered."
The Queen, wiping the dusty residue from her head, nodded her approval. She was quickly losing patience with the whole situation.
"Yes, Yes, I could not have said it better. Now be off with you. Perhaps we can finally get a little peace around here."
With that, escorted by Pitiks' soldiers, Atraxes the bold made his way out of the confines of the Queens abode and into the outer city. It was dark out he thought, and as he looked around him he didn't notice his escorts' escape back into the city. He looked up and noticed that though the city was bathed in darkness, the area beyond it was in sunlight.
Turning around, Atraxes saw the enormous figure of the creature, its massive frame blocking out the sun.
I must move quickly, the lone warrior thought as he moved forward.
The creatures hide seemed tough and cratered. It was so high that Atraxes could not see its visage clearly. It did not seem to be moving however, so running swiftly and keeping in the shadows, Atraxes approached the Leviathan.
Must make this count! He readied the toxin-filled lance and charged. Luck was with him, and he reached the Leviathan unnoticed. Climbing onto the creature's appendage, walking now on its clammy, dirt covered skin, Atraxes plunged the toxin deep into the Leviathan's hide.
The creature screamed and convulsed, throwing its assailant high into the air.
Atraxes was thrown to the ground and rolled uncontrollably. Fear filled him as he managed to right himself.
"I must get back inside -- pray that the toxin works -- I must --"
Atraxes turned his back on the creature and fled. In his scramble to get back to safety, he only vaguely felt movement behind him and did not notice the area around him grow darker and darker still.
When Pitik and his soldiers finally emerged, all was calm. The tremors had stopped and the Queen was finally clean. It did not take them long to discover the crushed and broken body of Atraxes. He was only a short distance away from the city but that small distance now stretched into eternity. He would never make those final few steps. The troops lifted his body and carried him inside. His body was covered and laid out for people to pay their respects. Even Osko spoke to the gathered mourners,
"Atraxes gave his very life, so we could be rid of an evil that has beset us for as long as this old mind can remember! We must remember Atraxes the bold as he was! Selfless and kind. Much beloved by his peers, and a loyal subject of the Queen..."
At the end of his speech the Prime Minister left the room quickly. He had an appointment to see someone about some property. If the price was right, it would make a wonderful place for his retirement.
"Mommy!" Billy's eyes were filled with tears.
Joan Guirguis sighed. She had missed her son when he started kindergarten, and had been thrilled when summer had arrived and they could have the whole day together again. But Billy's first summer vacation from school had quickly turned into slow torture. Every few minutes, "I'm bored," or "I'm hungry," or "why" this, "what's that?"; new disasters occurring faster than she could clean them up. Finally, to get him out of her hair, she had sent him into the back yard until lunch. The yard wasn’t too large but was so over grown with scrub, weeds and bushes that to a child it might have seemed a jungle.
"What is it Billy?" Joan's annoyance melted into concern. Billy sounded like he was in genuine distress. "What happened?"
"Mom, something bit me! It hurts!"
Joan looked down at her sons tear stained face and the dirty foot he held up for her to inspect. He had his mother's blue eyes but his father's dark hair. When he bawled he sometimes reminded Joan of her husband. He was safe at work now though, leaving his son in the loving (if impatient) hands of his better half.
"Look! It's all hot and itchy!"
Joan snorted. A bug bite. The way he's carrying on, I thought he'd stepped on a rattlesnake. Grabbing her son's arm, she pulled him back toward the house.
"Didn't I tell you not to go out barefoot?" Joan pushed back a blond strand the breeze had blown out of place.
"I saw another ant hill, I didn’t know I'd get stung!" Billy sniffed
Joan held the screen door for her son and watched him walk in. His footprints would be all over the kitchen. The eggshell tiles were pretty, but they did a bad job hiding dirty tracks.
"Don't you know they don't like being bothered?"
"I got one of 'em though, squished him good!" Billy smiled and then sniffed again.
Joan shook her head and closed the door behind them. She sat down on a stool by the counter and let out a sigh.
"You go wash your feet and come back here and I'll put something on that bite. Are you sure it was just an ant? Never saw an ant bite swell up like that before."
© 2005 by Sohrab Koohpaima
Sohrab Koohpaima lives in Dubai with his wife (and no kids), and spends his spare time reading, playing football (soccer to us North American types), and writing music and short stories. This is his second appearance in Aphelion; his story Exile appeared in March, 2005.
E-mail: Sohrab Koohpaima
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