Aphelion Issue 234, Volume 22
November 2018
 
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Betrayal

by John Powers




“I am not,” the woman said as she stared into the depths of her drink, “a particularly nice person.” She picked up the cut-crystal tumbler, looked at the amber fluid for a moment and then took a sip. Sighing softly, she put the glass back on the bar. “Damn good scotch, if I may say so myself.”

The old man behind the bar nodded once. “Thank you Miss. You asked for top shelf. Had some 21 year old single malt I thought a classy lady like you could appreciate.”

The woman finished the scotch and pushed the glass over to the bartender. “I’ll have another if you please.”

“Certainly Miss.” He poured her two fingers worth and put the glass in front of her. “But begging your pardon ma’am, I don’t see how a lady like you can’t be a nice person.” He waved his hand to include the whole bar, which besides himself and the lady held only 4 other patrons. “Place like this, it tends to only attract some pretty classy people.”

The woman looked around for a moment and nodded. It was a bar that prided itself on being high class. It was a quiet place, there were no wall-mounted TVs blaring the news or sports, no annoying jukebox or karaoke music. Just… she smiled just a second …quiet. There was a young couple in one corner, staring into each others eyes and oblivious to everyone else in the room. The fact that their trust funds put together could probably buy most third-world nations didn’t really matter to the two of them or to anyone else in the bar, they were smply in love and didn’t care if the rest of the world knew it.

On the other side of the room two businessmen talked quietly as they scribbled figures on scraps of paper and pushed them back and forth to each other. Every few minutes one of them would gather up the scraps, rip them into tiny pieces and put the shredded remains in a slot on the table. There would be a barely audible popping sound and flicker of blue light as the flash disposal turned the scraps into ashes. It might be a deal worth billions or just two men discussing baseball stats or fantasy football. But this was the kind of place that guaranteed them discretion to carry on their conversation without fear of being overheard.

It was close to the financial and high-end shopping districts but not really in either and the people it attracted craved anonymity above all else. If you were an attention-craving wanna-be actress or a spoiled publicity seeking club-hopping nouveau riche trying to show off, this was not the place for you. Actually most people couldn’t even find the place. It didn’t deliberately go out of its way to hide, it just was discrete.

The woman turned back to the bartender, who had the age-old trick of being able to watch her without being obvious about it down to a science. When he saw her turn to him, his smile turned back on full force. “Like I said, it’s a nice place and tends to attract nice people.”

“And I appreciate that to no end.” The woman took a sip of her drink. “But sometimes someone like me wanders in.” She put the glass down and shook her head slowly, tracing a pattern on the counter-top with one well-manicured finger. “Don’t let the looks fool you buddy. I can be as rude and crude as necessary if I feel the need.”

“Well,” he polished a martini glass as he thought for a moment, “I’m sure most of us could be Miss. It’s not like it’s a skill you’d need in place like this too often though.” He put the glass on the rack and picked up another one. “You’ve got to understand something though. In a place like this, rude and crude just labels you as common.” He frowned for the briefest moment, “we don’t tolerate common here.” He put the second martini glass on the rack beside the first one. “You did see the two,” he cleared his throat slightly, “gentlemen at the front door didn’t you?”

The woman raised an eyebrow. “Large, heavily muscled, armed to the teeth and dressed to the 9’s in tuxedos that probably cost as much as a decent used car?” A brief smile crossed her face. “Very discrete though. And neither raised a finger or said a word to me.”

“Oh they’ll let anyone in the door Miss.” He nodded towards the entrance to the bar, “but whether you leave under your own power or with the assistance of one or both of them is completely up to you.”

The woman looked over her shoulder for a moment. “And if you’ve had a few too many?” She raised her eyebrow again.

The bartender managed to look baffled. “Never, ever known that to happen here ma’am.” He polished another glass and set it on the rack. “Of course most of these people have got people that their job is pretty much making sure something like that doesn’t happen or else make sure they get taken someplace where a little sleep and a head-ache popper or two will take care of it.”

She finished her drink and pushed the glass towards him. “Another please?”

“Certainly ma’am.” He poured her some more scotch, replaced the napkin in front of her and put the glass down.

“This is my third one and you don’t seem too concerned about me getting a bit sloshed.”

The bartender nodded once. “You’re not even close to drunk yet Miss. Not sure why, but I can tell. Been in this business for going on 40 years now. I’ve seen tipsy and I’ve seen drunk. You’re not in either category.”

“Maybe I just hold my liquor well.” She took a drink as she stared at the man. “You know, a professional drunk.”

The bartender chuckled softly. “Ma’am, no offense but I know entire families of professional drunks, families where the kids started drinking while still in junior high and continued through-out their whole lives. Sometimes I’m convinced it’s an inherited trait, that the sober ones are the odd-balls.”

“Might be at that,” she admitted as she took another sip. “So tell me, how old do you think I am?”

The bartender looked at her for a few moments and then reached out for her hand. “May I ma’am?

Puzzled, she nodded and he picked up her left hand and examined it closely, taking almost a minute to do so. Then he did the same with her left. Then he shook his head slowly. “Your face, especially your eyes, they say you’re in your early 40’s.” He pointed to her hands. “But those…” he looked confused. “Those tell a different story. You’ve done manual labor before but not recently, decades maybe. Strong hands and both equally so. Either you’re ambidextrous or you’ve got some kind of job that requires you use both. But you don’t have the fingertip calluses of a professional secretary or keyboardist.” He touched the sleeve of her pale-cream blouse near her wrist. “And no secretary could really afford this.” He looked at her, “because I know this set you back at least $1,500, maybe more.”

The woman blinked and sat up straight. “You seem to be quite perceptive for a bartender.”

The old man shrugged. “Like I said Miss, 40 years come next month I’ve been doing this.”

She stared at him as he polished another glass and then seemed to make her mind up about something. “What if I told you I was 192?”

The bartender frowned and put the glass down. He looked into her face for a few seconds and his frown deepened. “I’d say you certainly seem to believe it.”

She seemed put off by his comment. “In the year of our Lord 1833 I was born in London England.”

“London?” The bartender shook his head. “Miss, I’ve had every nationality in the world walk through those doors. I’ve heard every tongue spoken on this good Lord’s green earth and most of the accents. Yours…” he paused for a moment and thought, “if anything there’s a faint trace of French and I mean real French, not French Canadian or something like that. Maybe… just maybe a touch of Italian but that might be a stretch.”

The woman frowned and finished her drink and pushed the tumbler back over to him. “I’ve not been back to England since…” she thought for a moment as he refilled her glass, “1903.” For a moment a look of sadness and loss cross her face. “There are reasons I can’t go back.” She accepted the scotch and took a sip. “So I have spent time in Italy. Almost 23 years until that idiot Mussolini took over.” Now she looked mad. “Mind you the country was a mess before he took over but it wasn’t like he was any kind of improvement.” She took another drink. “So I moved to France. Marseilles to be exact.”

The old man thought about it a moment. “Someplace in the south isn’t that?”

She nodded as she traced the same pattern on the counter-top that she had earlier. “Yes. It’s a very old city with roots back almost as far back as recorded history.” She sighed while still tracing the pattern on the bar. It seemed to be an unconscious reaction, she wasn’t even watching what she was doing. “Very civilized, very cultured.” She stopped tracing the pattern and her right hand tightened into a fist. “And then that moron Hitler…”

The bartender shook his head. “Wasn’t the southern part of France technically a free country...”

The woman’s glare could have melted a glacier with its intensity. “You weren’t THERE!” For a moment the two men in the corner looked up, startled but turned back to their quiet conversation after a few seconds. The woman managed to look abashed. “Sorry,” she muttered softly, “but you weren’t there. I was.” She took a shuddering breath. “Damn Nazis…” She trailed off and finished her scotch in a single gulp.

“Another ma’am?” The bartender held up the bottle and raised one eyebrow. She nodded and he silently poured and put the glass down in front of her.

“Thank you,” she said softly. “But it was a very difficult time. There were already those that had a suspicion as to what I was already, including the Germans. Starting in 1943 the Gestapo were hunting for me constantly.” She frowned. “And the damn Russians of all people! How in the hell the NKVD found out about me I never did find out!”

“And so you…”

“Barely escaped.” Her face was almost savage looking in her anger. “Used all the gold and silver I had accumulated over the years.” She ran her hand down the front of her blouse. “And traded my body more than once for forged passports, travel documents and passage, first to Lisbon and from there to New York.”

The bartender nodded. “An age old problem for women through-out history I’d have to guess.”

“Obviously,” she snapped sarcastically, “but I’d rather not have to make deals while on my damn back!” She gripped the tumbler so tightly her knuckles turned white. “There were times I'd wished I’d been born ugly or deformed!”

The bartender shrugged slightly. “Won’t that have made escaping problematic though?”

The woman looked at the old man intently. “You believe me?”

For a brief moment he glanced to the right and left, making sure his other patrons didn’t seem to be paying any attention. Then he leaned forward and lowered his voice. “I’m 316 years old ma’am.”

Her face turned white and she swayed back and forth for a few seconds. Then she looked to either side herself before she turned her attention back to the bartender. “What are you joking about you old fool!” Her left hand disappeared for a moment and reappeared with a small pistol in it, centered on the man’s chest. “What kind of idiot do you take me for?”

The bartender didn’t seem to be fazed by the gun pointed at him. If anything, he seemed to be mildly amused. “We can’t be killed lady.” He looked into her eyes. “Surely you’ve figured that out already?” When she didn’t say anything but tightened her grip on the gun he sighed and shook his head slightly, flashing a wry grin at the same time. “Come on now! You claim to be 192 and you’re trying to tell me that someone hasn’t tried to kill you but failed or you haven’t had some kind of accident that should have had you having a conversation with St Peter at the gates of heaven?”

The woman relaxed slightly but kept the pistol pointed at him. “Yeah…” she frowned as memories flooded over her, “yeah, a few times. Hurts like bloody hell every time though!” She rubbed her head with her right hand. “Been shot in the head twice. Second time, it was almost a month before I even remembered my name.”

The bartender nodded sagely. “Yep. You’ve got to watch out for things like that. Also I’m pretty sure that a really massive fire or something that destroyed the whole body would do one of us…” He stopped at her shocked expression and sharply in-drawn breath. “What, you thought you and me were the only ones in the world with the Methuselah gene?” His grimace made her flush and his disapproving tone clearly wasn’t what she was expecting. He leaned forward even more. “Oh come on now!” He thumped a finger on the counter. “You’re not stupid, otherwise you’d have been captured, chopped up, dissected and experimented on long ago. It’s happened to more than one of us! I was held in a dungeon by an asshole Turkish millionaire for almost 6 years before I escaped in 1893!” He held up his left hand. “He chopped this hand off 10 times!” The old man took a deep shuddering breath to try and drain some of his anger. “10 times!! Just so he could watch it regrow so his stupid doctors and scientists could try and figure out what made me immortal.” He looked away for a moment. “He didn’t survive his mistake,” the old man said softly but there was iron in his voice.

The woman shuddered. “There’s been attempts to kidnap but so far no one has succeeded.” As suddenly as it had appeared the gun disappeared. She picked up her drink and finished it in one gulp and pushed the empty tumbler over to him. “So why are you here?” She waved her hand to take in the bar. “I mean in this place, this bar?”

The bartender held out his hand. “Jack.” He extended it bit further. “Jacob Meijer actually, from the Zeeland area of the Netherlands.”

The woman stared at him for a few moments and then hesitantly extended her own hand. “Olivia, Olivia Wood.” She smiled a tiny bit. “From London.”

They shook hands and then the bartender took a step back. “As to your question Olivia, how did you happened to end up here?” He smiled. “Not in New York, but here in Kingwoods Bar?”

Olivia blinked and straightened up. “Uhhmmm….” She flushed again and looked away for a moment. “You promise not to laugh?” Jack nodded solemnly, poured her some more scotch and pushed it towards her. She smiled in gratitude and took a sip. “I felt…” she rocked her hand back and forth, “I felt lead to this place.” She rubbed her forehead. “Maybe drawn would be a better way of putting it?” Now she tapped her head. “Felt that way for years now.” She waved back towards the city outside. “I’ve been in New York since…” she thought for a few seconds, “spring of 1944.” She made a circle in the air. “Been in or around the city ever since, never traveled more than 50 or 60 miles away.” She frowned slightly. “And every time I did I couldn’t wait to get back here.”

Jack patted the counter. “You’ve been called here all right dearie.” He pointed towards the floor. “Actually, it’s underground that’s been calling you. A stone…” He grimaced. “You know the legend of the Sword in the Stone Olivia?” She nodded once, her eyes wary, “It’s not a legend.” Her disbelief was as plain as day. Jack sighed. “Yeah, I didn’t believe it at first either. There’s three stones actually. One of them is here, in the basement of this building. There’s one in England, buried under about 40 foot of dirt. If you’d gotten a chance to go back there, eventually it would have called you.”

Olivia shuddered. “I think it already was. For 30 or 40 days after I left England I was sick almost every day, I had the shakes, throwing up and unable to sleep for more than an hour or two. Slowly, so very slowly it got better but I had headaches for almost a year afterwards.”

“Aye, sounds about right.” Jack rubbed his own head. “I’ve had the same problem, twice now.”

“So where’s the third stone?”

“Mecca.”

Olivia’s face reddened. “SAUDI ARABIA??”

Jack shrugged. “Sure, makes sense actually when you think about it.”

Olivia started to snap back at him but then stopped. Her eyes closed for a moment and her forehead furrowed as she thought it through. Finally she nodded, albeit reluctantly. “Yeah, I guess so. Are the stones the source of our long lives?”

Jack frowned and shook his head. “No one knows for sure. Some of us have never come within 500 miles of one of the stones. They feel the call but they’re able to resist it for some reason. Others though,” he tapped himself on the chest and then her forearm, “we’re more closely attuned to the damn things, we bound to them.” He looked at her intently. “1903 was a long time ago, you sure you can’t go back to England now?”

Olivia hesitated, her face showing uncertainty. “I’m not sure. Probably would be fine. There was another one of …” she quirked a very brief smile, “another one of us there. He was… persistent in his pursuit of me, he knew what I was somehow and wanted to have children with me.”

Jack blinked and backed up a step. “The Right Honorable Charles Leslie Shuttleworth?”

Olivia’s mouth fell open. Jack’s hand shot to grip her shoulder as she swayed for a few moments. Then she blinked and straightened up, nodding her thanks. “You know him?”

“A right jack-ass that one is.” Jack nodded towards the couple. “She’s met him, to her sorrow. Charles held her captive for almost a year, trying to get her pregnant.”

Olivia frowned. “We can’t…” She stopped and shook her head, “Okay, to be precise, I’ve never been pregnant and God alone knows I’ve had enough unprotected sex that I should have been pregnant a few dozen times.”

Jack patted her hand a couple times. “No woman with the longevity gene has ever gotten pregnant Olivia.” He grinned. “But the males are unusually fertile. I’ve been a father 30 times over.”

“And are any of them…” Olivia raised one eye-brow.

“Nope, not a one.” Jack sighed and picked up the bottle and looked at her. She nodded and he poured her a double. “Three of my children are still alive. The youngest Tommy, he’s is 62, lives in Montana.”

“So the women can’t get pregnant and the men never produce a long-life child?”

Jack shrugged. “Seems to be.”

Olivia looked like she was ready to cry. “So where in the hell do we come from?”

Jack shook his head sadly. “Only the good Lord himself knows honey.” He picked up a glass and polished it slowly, not looking at her. “There’s some very smart people, some of them with money to burn that have researched this for a couple hundred years. There’s just no answers. Even with the advances in DNA research we’re no closer to knowing why.”

Olivia finished her drink in a single gulp, put the glass down and pushed it to the side. Then she leaned forward. “Where’s Charles now?”

Jack shook his head. “Still in England last I’d heard. Only he’s going by James Singleton now.”

“What?” She blinked even as she said that, “oh… if he didn’t leave the area he’d have to change his name every once in a while, wouldn’t he?”

“Aye, there’s that.” Jack sighed and shook his head. “Still a prick though, he’s still bound and determined to and breed a long-life female.”

Olivia slumped, putting her elbows on the bar. “I’d carve his balls off with dull butter knife except that I know they’d grow back.”

Jack grimaced. “Olivia, for a guy and I can speak to this personally unfortunately, is it hurts like a real bastard the entire time they’re growing back. Takes about 10 days of constant utter agony.”

“Oh…” there was a nasty gleam in Olivia’s eyes, “OH!!!!” She snickered and the hairs on the back of Jack’s neck stood straight up.

“I’m thinking it a good thing he’s in England and you’re here in New York.” He stared into her eyes and she glared back. He was the first one to look away. “Jesus lady…”

Olivia shrugged. “I’m not leaving town.” She seemed about to say something but then her eyes narrowed and she blinked a couple of times. “Wait a moment. You said the Sword in the Stone legend! There really IS a sword?”

Jack nodded. “Yep, I can show it to you if you’d like.”

Olivia’s face lit up. “Would you please?!” She was almost bouncing with eagerness, a movement that attracted Jack’s eyes.

“No problem. It’ll take a moment lock up though. Need to wait, can’t have anyone just wandering in off the street while we’re down there.”

Olivia sobered quickly, “no… that wouldn’t do at all I guess.” She looked at the few people in the bar. “Does anyone besides… you know…. Us long-lifers ever come in here?”

Jack nodded as he came out from behind the bar and headed towards the door. “Sure, some nights we’re out-numbered 10 to 1. But on a Tuesday night this early in the summer?” She heard the locks click and Jack came back to the bar. “This time of year this is about average.” He winked at her as he untied his apron. “It’s not like we have to make money doing this, most of us are quite rich and there’s a… I guess you’d call it a committee of sorts that makes sure that the bills get paid and the liquor stocks are kept topped up and are of adequate quality. Most of us are pretty fussy drinkers.” He chuckled. “Not like we haven’t had the time to develop some pretty peculiar tastes mind you.”

Olivia nodded as he motioned her behind the bar. She circled behind the bar and followed him into the backroom. There was a trapdoor in the floor that required two separate keys and then Jack flicked a switch on the wall beside the trapdoor. Bright lights lit the stairwell and a huge room at the bottom.

“Has the stone always been here?” Olivia was a bare step behind Jack, a fact he was well aware of and not protesting in the least. “I mean, did someone bring it here?”

“Nope, it’s been here as long as any man can remember. The local Native Americans, the Iroquois were the ones that told the white settlers about it. At that time there was nothing but a long dirt tunnel leading down here.”

They got to the bottom of the stairs, Jack moving off to one side to give Olivia an unobstructed view. He chuckled at the expression on her face. “Yeah, it’s a big sucker all right.”

She walked around the stone twice. It was taller than her by at least 2’ and about 10’ around at the base, tapering slightly towards the flat top. There was a set of sturdy wooden steps wrapped around the rock leading to the top. There was a platform there, solid wood with a rail about 3’ tall around the edges. A heavy black cloth covered whatever was stuck in the stone.

“Wow….” Olivia ran her hand over an exposed section of the rock. “What is it anyways?”

“Magnetic iron ore.” He held up his arms and slowly turned around. “Notice that I’m not wearing anything metal. The steps and platform are pure wood, held together with pegs, everything else within 5 or 6 foot of the rock is wooden.”

“I was wondering.” Olivia tugged at her blouse, “this damn under-wire felt kinda strange all the sudden.” She flushed slightly, turning away from Jack while trying to adjust her bra. “Sorry about that,” she muttered.

“No worries.” He motioned towards the steps. “I’m thinking you want to take a look?”

Olivia blinked, looked at the platform and then back at Jack. “That’s allowed?”

Jack chuckled and waved his hand towards the steps. “Of course it is. Why wouldn’t it?”

“Well…. I mean, there’s really a sword under that?” She looked as did Jack. “A real sword?”

Jack shrugged. “Only the handle and about 6” of the blade are visible to be honest. Everybody assumes the rest is stuck in that rock.”

Olivia looked around for a moment and then walked over to a small table by the foot of the stairs. She put her purse on it and then after a moment’s hesitation, pulled the slit in the side of her long skirt open. There was a holster attached to her upper thigh. She pulled her small automatic out and put it on the table beside the purse.

Then she fished inside the purse for a moment, taking out a necklace. “Pearls on silk string,” she said as fastened it around her neck, “and the clasp is brass.” She adjusted how it fell into her cleavage, “I picked it up in Rome in ’22. It’s kinda like my good luck charm.”

Jack dragged his eyes away from her chest and smiled. “Whatever gets you through the evening lady.” He walked to the bottom of the steps wrapped around the rock. “Only one rule ma’am.”

Olivia stopped with her hand on the railing. “And that would be?”

Jacks’ face turned serious. “You get a single chance to pull on the sword. You can pull as long as you want, but just one time.”

“What?” Olivia took her foot off the steps and turned to face the bartender. “Forever and ever, just one try?”

“No…” Jack frowned very slightly, “What I mean is you can’t stay up there for hours or days trying to pull it out. You get one good try. Most people give up after about five minutes. Anything past ten is considered excessive. Now mind you, here are some people come back every two or three years to take another run at it.” He shrugged and spread his hands, “We kinda look the other way as most of them don’t make a big deal out of it. They’re sure they come in when it just us folks, have a few drinks, wander downstairs for a few minutes, come back up and leave. It’s mostly those that don’t feel the pull of the stone too hard. One guy, he comes clear from Brazil like clockwork every 30 months to the day.”

“Oh…” Olivia started up the steps, moving slowly, her face a study in uncertainty and what might have been a twinge of fear. Jack stood there watching her, admiring the view as much as anything else. She was as good looking from behind as from the front.

To Jack someone coming down to see the rock was old hat, he couldn’t even reasonably estimate the number of people that had tried to pull the sword out of the stone. He leaned against the wall and folded his arms as Olivia disappeared around the curve of the rock.

Then she appeared at the top. “In the legend, Arthur Pendragon pulled out the sword and became king of England. What would that mean here? I mean I can’t exactly tell the President of the US to take a hike because I earned the job by virtue of a legend that’s been fodder for more bad movies than I can remember.” She laughed as she ran her hand over the cloth. “So what would be the Cracker Jack prize if someone pulls it out?”

Jack shrugged. “Couldn’t say seeing as no one’s ever pulled it out.”

Olivia tugged on the cloth and it slid off the sword handle. She folded it up carefully and put it on the platform. “So what’s the point?” She stared at the sword handle but looked up for a moment. “I mean besides bragging rights?” She put a hand on the handle but snatched it back immediately. “It’s cold!”

“Always is. We’ve measured it, using a mercury thermometer. It’s at a constant 50 degrees… Oh, that’s Fahrenheit, not sure Celsius is in case you use that.”

“I can manage.” Olivia put her hand back on the sword handle but didn’t exert any pressure on it. “I can say been there, done that to just about anything you care to mention.”

“Most of us can Olivia.” Jack slouched slightly and rubbed his back on the stone wall. “Especially the older ones.”

Olivia took her hand off the sword again. “Older ones? How old exactly?”

Jack straightened up slightly. “I’ve personally met a woman, she’s from Austria that’s 880 or so years old. And of course there’s Samuel, he’s here in the city, he’s either 920 or 930, even he’s not sure. Back then keeping track of your birthday wasn’t a high priority. He was common born to a farm family near what is now Berlin so there’s that.”

Olivia frowned. “Farm born? Christ on a rockin’ horse, he’s lucky he survived childhood! Childhood mortality around the 1100’s was astronomical!”

Jack nodded. “He’s got stories that would turn your hair white ma’am. And I mean that, quite literally.”

Olivia turned back to the sword. “Well, might as well try I guess.” She put one hand to her neck and fingered the pearl necklace, muttering something so quietly Jack couldn’t hear her. It didn’t matter to him, he’s seen all kinds of rituals, about a third of the people that tried to pull the sword had some kind of lucky charm or else what they thought was a magic chant they tried while pulling the sword.

Jack brushed back a couple of strands of hair that were blown into his…. He froze, his hand half-way to his face. A breeze? DOWN HERE?

He snapped a startled look at Olivia, who had one hand on the sword handle and her other hand wrapped around the pearl necklace. She was chanting louder now and there was a distinct wind through the chamber. Jack gaped at her for a few more moments and then sprinted for the rope that lead to an alarm bell upstairs. Due to the magnetic iron ore rock anything electrical frequently failed. It had taken years just to figure out how to route the wiring and where to place the light sockets to get the electrical lights to work properly.

He grabbed the rope just as something lifted him off his feet. He jerked frantically on the rope as a force pulled him away from it. He could dimly hear the bell upstairs ringing. “HELP!!! HELP!!! It’s the WITCH!! It’s MORGANNA!!” Then the force that had been holding him slammed him against the stone wall and he fell limply to the floor.

Olivia felt the power coursing through her. After all these centuries she was complete again! Her hair blew out in streamers around her head, once again the gorgeous honey-blonde it should be instead of the dull brunette she’d been forced to adopt for centuries.

And her clothes… she glanced down, gone was the dowdy human clothes she come into the bar wearing. Once again she was wearing her gown of spun-silk, as thin as a whisper, a garment that covered her yet concealed nothing. She put her head back and laughed at the heavens as she put her hand out and grasped the handle.

She pulled gently and her smile was terrible to behold as the handle trembled in her hand. And the part that amused her the most was the fact that it wasn’t a sword at all. To be sure it did vaguely resemble a sword that humans had used in ancient times but it really was a key. The key to her prison, to the power and the force that held her on this benighted primitive planet, that prevented her from leaving this hellhole existence and returning to her rightful place as the reigning queen of an empire that stretched for thousands of light-years

The handle trembled some more and rose up a hand-span. She grinned and exerted more of her mental energy. Then a stray fragment of another power pulsed through the air.

“NO!!!” she screamed at the top of her lungs as she desperately pulled on the handle, “YOU CAN’T! NOT NOW!!”

There was a tremendous spike of mental energy and brilliant red and green flashes of light filled the chamber. Then there was dead silence for a brief moment and then furious sound of air rushing in to fill a sudden void.

“MORGANNA!!” It was a man’s voice, or at least a masculine one.

Olivia/Morganna spun around, throwing out her hand as a blast of energy surged out of her.

The pale lavender beam splattered less than a foot from the figure standing at the foot of the basement stairs. “Going for the dramatic as always Morganna.”

“YOU PIECE OF SHIT!!” Morganna made to leap from the platform to the floor but the man waved one hand almost casually and she found herself rooted to the spot. “ARTHUR!!”

The man shook his head. “My human name, just as Morganna is yours.” He bowed and sneered at the same time. “Your majesty.”

Morganna shuddered as she strove desperately to move. “You dare! I am your QUEEN!”

“In exile.” He made a show of glancing at his wrist, a perfectly human gesture that he knew would annoy her. “In exile for another 982 cycles of this planet around its sun.”

Morganna threw back her head and screamed in fury, her neck corded with the strain. A shudder ran through her body as she felt another burst of energy. “NO!!” she screamed again, “NO!!”

There was a woman standing beside Arthur. She bowed slightly but from her it wasn’t sarcastic but neither was it subservient. “Your majesty.”

Morganna flushed bright red and her entire body trembled like a thin branch in a high wind. “Guinevere…” The sound of her grinding teeth could be plainly heard as she glared at the woman.

“It is amusing,” Arthur said as he knelt to examine the unconscious Jack, “that human legends and history have made Guinevere, who is your chief jailer, as the queen of their tales.” He shook his head, dusting off his hands as he stood up. “The human will be fine. His recovery will be painful, Morganna fractured his skull but like all of those cursed with our longevity he will recover.”

“That is good,” Guinevere walked up to the base of the stone and laid a hand on it. She muttered under her breath and suddenly all of the power drained from the room. Morganna collapsed in a heap, sobbing as she did so. Guinevere took a step back. “Once before Morganna, you tricked Arthur into removing the first key himself. We had to invent the Lady of the Lake legend to explain how it was returned to its rightful place” Guinevere shot Arthur a withering look. His eyes dropped and he looked away, finding something of such interest on the stone wall that demanded his full attention.

Morganna stood up slowly. “So close…” she muttered, finding herself back in her Olivia guise. Her power, carefully husbanded and concealed for hundreds of years was gone, a vague memory, an ache in her breast and a dull throb in her head. “You idiot,” she hissed venomously, “you arrogant stupid idiot!” She stalked down the steps towards Guinevere. “There will be a reckoning for this…” she worked up a creditable sneer, “my lady in waiting!”

Guinevere shrugged, supremely unconcerned. “I am sure of that your majesty. But first you must deal with the ruling council that has been running the empire since you were sent here.” She waved her hand towards the ceiling. “They may be a bit…” she frowned as she puzzled through her human expressions, “reluctant I believe is the right term, yes, reluctant to release the power they’ve held since your exile.”

“So what?” Olivia straightened her clothing, slipped her gun back into its thigh holster and picked up her purse. “I will return as queen…”

Arthur turned back to the conversation. “Actually no you won’t.” He held up a hand as Olivia started to cloud up. “Hear me out your majesty. Perhaps you have conveniently forgotten but part of your exile was that you had to stand in front of the council and prove your worthiness.” He looked over at Guinevere for a moment and then back at Olivia. “And I have to think that as long as it took you to build up your power to this level your exile will be over long before you can try to escape again.”

Olivia whirled around, her face wild with rage. “ANOTHER 1000 YEARS WITH THESE IGNORANT APES!!??”

Guinevere’s face was as hard as a block of stone. “You brought this on yourself Morganna.” She waved her hand, “And we are all leaving this place right now. These apes, as you call them, will one day rule the galaxy and I for one don’t want you damaging any more of them…”



THE END


2018 John Powers

Bio: John Powers is a retired computer tech with a deep interest in science fiction, science fantasy, military science fiction and almost anything related to AD&D type stories.

Email: John Powers

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