The Wicked Witch Of The West
* * * * *
I lay with my cheeks on the taut white sheet and my tears dampened the cotton shrouding Aþkðn Tanrıça's shrunken thighs. Her frail hand stroked my hair. She was only 35 but she looked ancient. The ironic opposite of me, the grotesque image to my ideal. I choked back my rage.
"Darling," I whispered in her ear.
Aþkðn was already showing periods of Cheynes-Stokes breathing. The cancer – uterine cancer – had come on six months ago. She had tried - very briefly - some chemo, but it was pointless and cruel. Now she had fixed to die in her own bedroom at Parajito Mesa.
"Darling," I repeated.
"This could all be over," I said.
""I shall die naturally in my time."
"But think of it. A whole new you. A whole new body. I have it ready. We could live together forever."
"I love you," she gasped, trying to clear the saliva from her throat and failing. Her finger stabbed at the morphine dispenser. "But it would be wrong."
"This is wrong!" I wept. "At least let me freeze you."
"My thoughts would be frozen too. When I awoke I'd feel the same way." She collapsed, exhausted, unable to muster any more words.
"Maybe I'll do it anyway, you stupid woman."
Aþkðn opened her eyes wide and looked at me. I could see the reflection of a golden young girl on a beach, naked in the sunshine. She smiled faintly.
"Send the boys in," she whispered. "Bossy boots."
We waited and waited and waited and still Aþkðn lived on, comatose and pointless. Eventually I was at cracking point and even Das and Nas were steering clear of me. I rode the boundaries of my ranch, shooting at anything that even resembled vermin. I wore out my stallions, Luno and Bartleby, and they were very nearly ill.
I was rather guiltily feeding some warm oat mash to poor, sulky Bartleby when the long longed-for distraction came along, something I couldn't really ignore.
Magnesian refused to use the modern phone – he had some theory about it being monitored by "them" – but he had sent me a film made on digital video. He was almost as cranky as me.
"Greetings, your Imperious Beneficence," he said, not quite looking into the lens. "I am sending you this communication in the form of a recording as I deduced that your Mightiness might need to see what we have found for yourself."
The camera pointed first at the ground, then at the rock ceiling, went black for a few seconds and finally we found ourselves in a lava cave deep in the base of the Golden Pyramid of Atlantis.
We had not been able to enter every place within the Pyramid for fear of booby traps or other snares left by Royal Brother Tihocan during his tenure. I tended only to go to rooms and corridors that I recognised. Magnesian, who somehow had evaded Tihocan's purges, was under no such inhibition. However even he was pleased to avoid the more obvious laboratories and foundries left by the engineers and scientists of my sibling, for fear of being poisoned or blown to pieces.
One of my mining geologists took up the commentary. "As you can see this cavern is the reservoir for the lava mud that spews from the vent in the centre of the floor. For much of the time the lava fills the chambers to the roof, but now and again the level falls, exposing the lower part of the cavern. I have determined from the lava rings this is the seventh time that this chamber has emptied. We date the earliest and least complete emptying to circa three thousand B.C."
The camera was walked across the rocky floor, lit by the baleful russet light cast by the laval mud.
"However the most remarkable thing is the artefact," said the geologist. The film showed a platform containing what looked like seven coffins. The platform had been tilted through ninety degrees to the horizontal so that the open mouths of the coffins pointed at the room. I say "open mouths". I was shocked to the core of my being to see that although six of the coffins were open ... .
One was still sealed.
"My Lord," I said under my breath. "The seven Chloes."
And so within the hour my private jet had whisked me away from New Mexico, and soon I was aboard Concorde and speeding across the Atlantic.
* * * * *
Less than a day later I was entering said cavern, clad in a hard hat and proceeding rather gingerly.
"I'm kinda hoping that I'm not going to be attacked by some giant antediluvian mummy beast," I said to Magnesian.
"Impossible," he replied. "They would bow down before you like the lion and the lamb, Your Divinity."
"Well if they show as much respect for me as you do, old friend, I'm not entirely reassured."
We walked across the cave floor, skirting the dry ominous heat of the lava pool.
"Do the geologists know when the cavern is due to refill?"
"I believe they predict that it will coincide with the next tectonic activity, Your Majesty."
"And when will that be?"
"They don't know."
"We'd better be quick then." I halted in front of the coffins. I found myself awestruck. I had fashioned the coffins with my own hands and put in my spare daughters myself, but those ancient events had seemed a little like a dream until this moment. "Who would have thought it, after all these millennia?" I remarked.
"Very much my own thoughts when I rise from my bed in the morning and begin another day in your service, Your Majesty.
"I am the archaeologist of my own life."
"And I am one of your dusty relics, Your Highness."
"So. What have you discovered? And what of the unopened capsule?"
The first time – Magnesian had a clip board – only one coffin, the highest one had been exposed. The second time, in about 760B.C. according to geologists, the laval mud had sunk a little more and the second coffin had been temporarily exposed. And so on. The third, in about 10 A.D., the fourth, in 540, the fifth, in about 1230 and the sixth in about 1770.
It seemed that there had been Chloes born throughout human history.
"Each of your Royal Daughters was educated in utero by the mind of the Golden Pyramid. The Pyramid in turn gathered suitable facts by monitoring the civilisation around it, as best as it was able. Each Princess was born as a fully integrated twenty year old girl, speaking the local language and able immediately to bled in," said Magnesian, handing me an Atlantean animated script tablet. "Each chose her own name, Your Majesty. None chose the name Natla, somewhat surprisingly".
I scanned the list of names – Neithhotep, Tatia of Cures, Ioanna of Magdela, Chloe of Macedonia, Shajar al-Dur and Miranda Denman.
My voice was choked with my emotion. "Did ... did any of them manage to find their appropriate level ... to become Royal?"
"Most of them managed to integrate themselves with the ruling class of their period in one way or another."
"And now we have one last daughter, ready to hatch at the press of a lever, if my readings are correct."
And so we arranged the birthing chamber with as much care as the arrangers of the Porphyry Room no doubt had prepared for the birth to the purple of an Byzantine Princess. Lighting and heating were brought in, and furniture, and food and drink, and a wardrobe of clothing.
At length, I seated myself on a chair and taking a large swig of particularly alcoholic Atlantean ambrosia indicated that the Royal Induction should proceed.
As the mechanism was activated there was a fanfare from deep within the Pyramid. The stasis field that had surrounded the newborn like an indestructible green eggshell began to shimmer and fade. I could heard the thudding of a giant heartbeat and blood appeared to flow capillaries embedded in the rock beneath our feet. This continued for a few minutes, the last coffin itself giving off a shimmer of warmth. I smelt yeast and milk and the metallic whiff of haemoglobin.
Finally there was a moment's silence. Magnesian and the other Atlanteans bowed their foreheads to the ground and I stood up from my chair, dressed as a Royal Queen of Atlantis, and a smile as enigmatic as the Buddha's fixed on my face.
Metallic claws reached forward as the lid of the seventh coffin was wound open with a sound of clockwork gears. A naked form was deposited on her feet only to stumble onto one knee, her fringe of blonde hair covering her face.
"Daughter?" I said, gently, taking one step forward.
A pale hand pulled aside the hair, and I found myself gazing into a pair of extremely intense blue eyes, their intensity increased by the blackness of the sockets surrounding them. The eyes narrowed and a slightly twisted smile played for a second over the full lips. She was the spitting image of Chloe, my first daughter, only more gaunt and more ... ? I found it hard to think of the right word. Gothic?
"Mother," she said, evenly, as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
I took her hand and helped her to her feet, gesturing to my servants to enrobe her.
"I am Natla of Atlantis, formerly Ruler of the Territories of the West of the Empire of Atlantis," I said, is as calm and kind a voice as I could manage. I wanted to embrace her, but I held back. "And you are?"
The girl looked at me, still smiling faintly, but searching my face with those hard eyes of hers.
"Amanda," she said, after a moment. "My name is Amanda Evert."
"Welcome to life, my beautiful daughter," I said and then, finally, we embraced.
* * * * *
For someone who was supposed to be born readymade to blend into the background, Amanda took a bit of house training. She had a tendency to act as if the ranch was under siege and all my servants were potential assassins. She snarled at Nas and Das; Nas laughed and Das cried. When I introduced her to the comatose Aþkðn she asked why I didn't switch off the life support. I guess the Pyramid's view of life was still dictated by a more brutal world view.
After a few weeks I had taught her to smile and to inflect her voice with a softer modulation.
""Watch the T.V., and practice being an American teen if you want to survive," I advised her. "You will only survive if you hide your strength."
"You want me to learn to simper and develop and interest in shopping?"
"My darling daughter, it's entirely up to you."
"You don't simper."
"I used to when I first arrived. But now I am one of the premier citizens of this society and no longer have to. Compared to me, you are a nobody. Even your brothers have an advantage due to their gender."
"But I am your daughter!" blazed Amanda, kicking over some furniture.
"It means nothing, my sweet," I said. "If you want to take your true rank amongst the rulers of the planet you will have to insinuate yourself there, like your seven sisters before you."
So Amanda developed two wardrobes. For public consumption she dressed and behaved a little like Princess Diana Spencer. Privately she dressed in leather, wore long studded frock coats and Goth-ed herself up with kohl, piercings and tattoos. She'd stride about our private land in long black boots shooting at random wildlife with a ebony handled revolver.
"I want to fuck you like an animal!" she'd say to herself in the mirror when she thought I wasn't watching.
She was ever so cute.
For polite society she have a fluffy bouffant cloud of blonde hair and lip gloss and a Cherryade smile, and generally looked as if she was a Homecoming Queen. Off duty she'd crash about the ranch trying to master a motorbike or a convertible, blasting out White Zombie or Nine Inch Nails whilst yelling and screaming at the top of her voice. She was the classic dichotomous Young American, sugared-coated venom, hypocrisy in designer gear.
She was very easy to love.
I wondered at her sisters and their blood line. Was there this nihilistic rage present in all of their gene-pool? I set Magnesian to research the biographies of the other "Chloes" and to report to me as soon as possible.
One day I sat the family down "for a talk".
"After a good deal of thought I've decided which parts of the planet you shall each help to govern when I take over."
Amanda snorted, Nas jumped about and Das became pensive. Looking at them I could help but reflect how similar they were to Tihocan, Qualopec and myself.
"Amanda – I want you to be in charge of the Southern Hemisphere. South America, Africa, Australasia and Antarctica."
"In other words the crap bits," said Amanda.
I ignored this. 'That includes the Atzlan Confederacy, Tiwanaku and the City of Tinnos - which are all very important. Any economic disadvantage that the Southern Hemisphere suffers from under the present regime will soon disappear. You are being given a plum posting, my dear."
"Nas, you take China and Japan, and Das, you take India and Russia. I shall remain in charge of my old region, the Territory of the West - a responsibility given to me by the Gods themselves, I might remind you - and which will consist mainly of Europe and North America."
"In other words the best bits," said Amanda. I gave her a long imperial look. "But that's cool. I get it."
"I am flooded with relief," I said, unblinking.
"It's like a real life game of 'Risk'," exclaimed Nas. "I shall learn Chinese and martial arts at once."
"Is Australia in 'Risk'?" said Amanda, fiddling with her hair.
"I shall be in charge of the region that our lost aunt Astarte used to inhabit," said Das, thoughtfully.
"And if you find her I expect you to be nice to her," I said. God forbid, I thought.
"What if you should ever die, Mama Jackie? What if you were to be assassinated?
Das was looking at me with a very anxious face, and I felt a strange sensation crawling up and down my spine. I went and put my arms around him.
"Then I expect you to avenge me," I whispered. I straightened up. "Now who's for some popcorn and watching a movie?"
* * * * *
Text of my speech given early in 1996 to selected employees of Natla Technologies;
"Ladies and gentlemen, members of the newly formed Natla Zeitgeist Initiative, I'd like to welcome you all to my fiftieth anniversary and to take the opportunity to lay out my own personal philosophy for the management of the planet and of the human race.
As you all know, fifty years ago today I was free from my imprisonment by the fortuitous detonation of the Trinity nuclear device in New Mexico. Who knows? – may the Gods decreed that I remain in stasis until humanity once again had the capability to create such a weapon, so that my imperial experience could once more be put at your service. At any rate, thanks to the success of Natla Technologies and to the various networks of powerful friends that I have made in this new world, we are now in a position to put into motion the recovery of human civilisation and its return to the Golden Age of Atlantis.
Most of you have been given a portfolio – law and order, the environment, eugenics – and I hope you have been stimulated by the challenge of adapting the various fragmentary approaches and styles of the multifarious world governments to the proposed worldwide theocracy, with myself as the Head of State.
Let me give you a few examples of how things will improve under my Directorship.
The entire planet will be run on logical and scientific lines. Resources will be managed. Pollution will be managed. Population growth will be managed. It will be impossible for one region to be obese whilst another starves. All citizens will be equal unless allotted a new role by the Atlantean State. The only family tree that will count will be my Royal Family. All property and wealth will belong to the State. Citizens will be able to vote for local representatives, who will represent them at the Atlantean Court and who will be ritually punished in cases of insurrection by their constituents. Representatives will be assigned annually by density of population within a given area, and therefore the more over-populated areas will have more of a say. The status of previously important areas, such as the United States or of the Middle East will be adjusted accordingly. We will have the equivalent of a Year Zero for the Pax Atlantica, and all past hatreds, claims, land grabs, histories, ownerships, wars, religions and rights to control the means of production will become irrelevant.
What of religion? Much of the warfare on the planet is caused by the members of the various Judeo-Christian sects, whether they be Muslim, Catholic or Jewish. It seems incomprehensible to me that the worshipers of the same God should spend so much time killing each other, both incomprehensible and a considerable waste of resources. It's not that I despise their religion – either there really was some sort of early Arameaic deity whose popularity has extended to present times, or else these people are worshipping a folk memory of the events in Atlantis all those millennia ago. Whatever the origins, it doesn't matter. Under my rule people will be able worship whomever they like, provided they render unto Caesar, Caesar in this case being myself. Let me be plain - I will not have intracommunal bickering. Holy war will be met by divine vengeance, my divine vengeance, the divine vengeance of the state. Nothing will be allowed to disturb the Pax Atlantica.
What of science? Science will be restrained only by the cost in resources and by the logic of experts. No dubious moral philosophy, ancient superstition or hallowed religion will stand in science's way. Reproduction and genetics will be controlled by the state. Diseases and the causes of disease – sloth, poverty, inappropriate life-styles – will be ruthlessly eliminated. Genetic control of one's own body - within the parameters set by the State - will be available and free to all. If you are an 80-year-old transgender lesbian, you will have as much right to breed as anybody else, provided that your genetic resources are suitable. The interchangeability of sexuality, gender, racial characteristics, intelligence, beauty and athleticism offered by my scientists will abolish envy, jealousy and fear of the unknown. Wars will only arise out of boredom or due to mental illness.
Now ... I'm human. I know that it will be hard to unite the planet without the planet attempting to commit suicide in the process. Let me assure you – everything I have ever done, from when I was a small child – has been dictated by my love for my fellow humans and by my sense of duty. I love the world. I love you all. I want only the best of all possible worlds. Surely if I have the means to achieve this – the desire of the human race throughout the ages – it would be remiss of me not to act?
I know my rule will seem harsh at first. Why so authoritarian, I hear you protest? Put simply, the human race is incapable of regulating itself. The human race cannot even tell the truth about itself. The human race redefines basic thoughts and concepts to avoid self-assessment. Selfishness is renamed freedom. Oligarchy is renamed democracy. War is renamed peace. The novel "1984" is not a satire – it's a documentary. I, as a loving mother to the human race, will set the boundaries and mop up the tears. I will teach us all to be our best. As one hand spanks, the other will stroke, both with affection. Mine will be the ultimate nanny state. Matriarchy – the secret government of the world – will be brought out into the light of the sun once and for all, for all of us to see.
The greatest empires – Rome, Russia, Germany – have needed a ruler, a strong ruler. People want to be ruled, to told what to do and how to behave. The only people who do not want to be ruled are aspiring rulers, sheltered academics and the insane. I will rule. I was born to rule. It is my destiny to rule.
Previous attempts to unite the planet have failed, either due to a lack of will, a lack of power, or a lack of resources. I have the will. I have the power. I have the resources.
This is a beautiful life in a beautiful place. One only has to watch the sun setting over a warm sea to become ecstatic. Join me in that ecstasy. Join me in that dream. Join me in utopia."
* * * * *
Then, on a beautiful spring day, the terrible and long-awaited tragedy occurred. Aþkðn, despite having been an empty husk and hanging on for many months longer that she ought to have done, died.
I sat alone with her in her shuttered room, staring at her. Her skin had turned to hard black leather and her features had shrunken onto the bone. She looked like an unwrapped mummy long lost - a Hapsetshut or a Nefertiti - and for me she was every inch the Royal Queen.
I sang for her all of our favourite songs.
"High time we made a stand and shook up the views of the common man
And the love train rides from coast to coast
DJ's the man we love the most
Could you be, could you be squeaky clean
And smash any hope of democracy ?
As the headline says you're free to choose
There's egg on your face and mud on your shoes
One of these days they're gonna call it the blues
And anything is possible when you're sowing the seeds of love."
I'd loved her. We'd sown the seeds of love. Sometimes I wondered if the infants that I had artificially sown in her womb had lead indirectly to her cancer. It w s too late for questions, and Nas and Das had been the pride and joy of her life. If I'd killed her she'd helped to hold the knife, for love of me.
We had a very tiny funeral – even Amanda wept – and soon there was a small cedar plaque planted under an imported olive tree.
Something in me died with her. She had been my governor, the governor of my conscience. She had saved me from madness and paranoia, and grounded me, grounded my lightning, channelling away my anger and alienation into the cool earth.
Now my life was colder and clearer.
"When I was a child ..." I said to myself "... but now I am a Queen."
And so, to master my loneliness and my grief, and to maintain perspective, I hired a private secretary and began to dictate my autobiography.
* * * * *
Pierre Dupont had finished restoring the Saint Francis Folly; it as ready to be opened to the public. Only one door - deep in the bowels of the complex and sealed with sliding, studded copper bars - offered access to the real reason for the re-development. He awaited my command.
Amanda had been poking about in Bolivia and Peru. The archaeologists in my employ had identified the possible site for Qualopec's tomb, a lost Peruvian site called Vilcabamba. Now all I needed was some foolhardy champion to go inside and test the defences.
In the Golden Pyramid of Aea, a vast army had been implanted and grown – centaurs and harpies, smilodonta and chalicotheria – all waiting for me to power up their hatcheries and enbirth a new model Aean Regiment.
Finally, deep in Sudan on a fast flowing tributary of the Nile - the Tekezé River, which forged between high rock cliffs, and which was situated not far from the Red Sea and the ancient kingdoms of Kush and Nubia - there was an indication that the tomb of Chloe had been identified. No doubt - deep underground – there squatted the giant Sphinx that Tihocan had built over her grave, guarded by who knew what.
The world had come full circle and the Age of the Seventh "Chloe" was upon us.
One mystery remained, one which surfaced in the files that Magnesian had supplied me with, the mystery of the sixth "Chloe", Miranda Denman.
Most of the "Chloes" had been successes in Atlantean terms. Five had been lovers of royalty; Neithhotep with the Pharaoh Narmer, Titia with the King of the Sabines, Joanna with the King of the Jews, Chloe of Macedonia with the Empress Theodora of Byzantium and Shajar with the Sultan as-Salih Ayyub.
But then there was Miranda. In the 1790's she had married a non-entity from the British East India Company named "Sir Richard Croft, 6th Baronet." He seemed a worthy enough man from a worthy enough family, but ... quite honestly I was baffled. For example, according to Magnesian's notes; "The immediate ancestor of the late Baronet Bernard de Croft is recorded in Domesday book as having held the estate of Croft (afterwards Croft Castle in Hertfordshire) from the hands of the Conquerer. His descendant Sir Hugh de Croft was created a Knight of the Bath by Edward I and represented the county of Hertford in Parliament in 1315." At least those Crofts had actually known Kings. Sir Richard Croft had known nobody. He was a nobody.
"Maybe it was a love match," I said to myself. It didn't seem likely, though, not for someone from my family. Perhaps out of all the "Chloes", I reasoned, Miranda had been a genetic aberration. Maybe for some reason she had actually walked away from power and privilege? Weird, but just about possible.
I looked to see if there were any "Crofts" extant. I had an idea that maybe I could get a blood sample from the bloodline, to check the genes. Maybe I'd even grow myself a Croft clone for experimentation, I thought.
It was whilst I was thumbing through the ancestry that I not only realised that we once had a "Hensingley Croft" on the Natla Tech payroll, but – more importantly – I first became aware of Lara.
She had a degree in archaeology from Cambridge, so at least she wasn't some sort of moron. However she'd thrown all that aside to be the archaeological equivalent of a rock star. She hung out with mercenaries. She drove fast cars. She bedded the glitterati. She stole stuff. She'd even shot a Yeti. The tabloids predicted her demise daily whilst hanging on her every deed.
My God, I thought, looked at a press photo of her flicking a V-sign. She's ... she's ...
And my heart began to thud.
As the days went by, a sort of obsession began to take hold of me. She was related to me, I thought. Maybe ... maybe ...
I was looking for a new mate, a queen.
And she was fearless. She'd go anywhere, do anything. Except be bored.
I wondered if there was a method of killing two birds with one stone. Perhaps ... perhaps ...
I could hire her to go into Qualopec's tomb. If she succeeded, then who worthier to rule by my side, joint rulers of the new order?
She had the beauty and the ruthlessness and the unconventionality, I thought. I gazed at her photos, at her clear cold features, at her womanly curves and her masculine muscles. I began to have erotic dreams. Erotic dreams in which I was her slave, obeying every order, every demand, every gentle humiliation.
I contacted Mauro Nero and gave them two instructions; find her so that I could speak to her and get a blood sample in anyway they could, even if it meant provoking a fist fight.
* * * * *
Last Dictaphone recording made by Jacqueline Natla, CEO Natla Tech, 1996;
"So it happened at last. Sergeant Conway managed to get me in contact with Lara Croft. She was apparently hanging out in some dive in Calcutta, recovering from some mis-adventure in Afghanistan.
God, she was magnificent. She more or less told me to go fuck myself. I threw some money at her and she sneered. It was only when I mentioned Peru that I had her full attention.
Her face – so battered. She looked as if her life had been some sort of boxing match. I can see the Atlantean genes. She has the look of my brother Qualopec after a battle.
I must have this woman as my consort.
Only a few days to go now, and I hope to recover a piece of or all of the Scion. I shall power up the Golden Pyramid and the new Age will being.
Life is so good. All of my struggles over all of these years – and I have nearly clawed my way back from nothing to my rightful god-given position as Queen of the World.
Soon it will be an everlasting Golden Age with myself, my children and – dare I hope it – my new wife, all installed on the thrones of the planet Earth.
May the Lords of the Sea and the Sky look after my people. Now I must sleep."