The Sun Machine is Coming Down

 

 




And so the invasion - or as the Olympeans described it "The Intervention" - began. I should tell you that I was acutely aware of the irony. I, Natla of Atlantis, had schemed and planned and plotted to save the human race from itself and to usher in a new Golden Age, and now it looked as if the Olympeans were going to beat me to the punch. And I was going to be on the opposing side. When I'd got over the shock of the approaching spacecraft I mixed myself a jug of mojito and laughed and laughed and laughed. It seemed my hubris was being punished by the Gods - literally.

"Oh well," I said to the sky. "I'm in good company."

For every second of the object approach there was continuous new coverage all over the world. It was Fox News that first used the word "alien".

It soon became apparent that the object was in fact three spacecraft, one a large globe that shone like the sun and cast shadows on the ground at night, and the other two shaped like giant horses – one on each side of the globe – sister ships no doubt to the Kastor whose wreck Lara and I had found under Astarte's Horn. It was a no-brainer for the media to pick up on the spacecraft's real name, for the iconography was obvious and deeply embedded in their cultural sub-conscious. Everybody started referring to it as the Chariot of the Gods. I began to wonder if maybe humanity was more receptive to the ideal of gods returning than I'd anticipated.

"The central sphere seems to be revolving around an axis linking the two outer propulsion units," said Bill Nye, Science Guy, "which would mean that inside there may be a equatorial gravity zone, which I calculate form the speed of rotation and diameter to be about one gee."

The anchor interviewing him yawned. "Strange how it turns like a golden chariot wheel. Between two silver horses," she said. "So beautiful, like a Bronze Age burial." She gazed at the Chariot like an expectant lover.

Every listening device and radio receiver was pointed at the approaching craft, but all that was heard was a hymn in High Atlantean.

Oh, say, can you see, by the sun's holy light,
What so proudly we hailed at Atlantis' last gleaming?
Whose azure sea and golden sun, as the perilous flood
O'er the ramparts descended, yet so gallantly streaming.
Oh, say, does that Atlantean banner yet wave
O'er the home of Apollo and the land of Poseidon?
And this be our motto: "In the Gods is our trust";
As the Olympean fleet in triumph shall fly down.


"I recognise the rhyming couplets of our Royal Sister Astarte, and the melodies of our Royal Brother Tihocan," said Qualopec, as we sat and listened.

"Maybe my tastes have changed since prehistoric times," I said, "but it isn't very good, is it?"

"It has a strange admixture of Atlantean and Olympean that I find disconcerting."

"Cheesy is my preferred descriptor, my Royal Husband. And the tune reminds me of Never going to give you up."

Despite my artistic reservations the strange alien hymn, whose words none of the modern humans could translate, became a worldwide hit. Anybody listening on board the Chariot could only have deduced that the arrival of the Olympeans would have us all running out onto the streets and welcoming them with open arms.

The Senate of the United States, however, had a different view. I wasn't personally allowed to attend, what with me being the 'Designated Survivor', but I was present via video link. Not that anybody asked my opinion, as they were totally unaware of my connection to the approaching threat.

The President of the United States made a very long speech. One bit that I do recall went something like; "My grandfather signed up for a war the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed and fought in the name of a larger freedom, part of that arsenal of democracy that triumphed over evil, and he did not fight in vain. And so, my fellow Americans, I ask you - what if this space convoy rather than bringing envoys of peace is the prelude to another Pearl Harbor or another 9/11?"

Needless to say the Senate hastily gave him carte blanche to do whatever he thought best. The American response to the mere mention of the World Trade Center was Pavlovian and only an unpatriotic person would have questioned the wisdom of pre-emptively preparing for a war. A trigger had been surgically implanted in the American psyche and now anybody could use it whenever they wanted, for whatever reason. If such a thing had happened in Atlantis I'd have wondered if it had been sponsored by the state pour encourager les autres, as the saying goes, but this was America, not Atlantis.

My mind shifted to the Atlantean War Machine and the muddy motivations of the people who had set it on a collision course with the Camarinal Dam. Maybe the Senate were right to be worried.

I was not privy to the war council of the President, but I can imagine the turmoil as they realised that they could only attack an approaching spacecraft when it was a mere hundred miles or so from the surface. I wonder if they realised that mere missiles would be turned aside like spears from the bronze boss of a shield? A more cunning, a more subtle tactic was needed, one that even the most advanced scanning device would not see coming.

I ordered that the African Queen and J for Jackie be at constant readiness. We could only hope that the Chariot would overfly our section of the sky.


* * * * *




One night as I lay next to Qualopec in our Royal Marital Bed at Mesa Parajito I had a dream.

We four children were playing around the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Poseidon.

Qualopec was sitting on Tihocan and trying to make him eat dirt.

"Get off!" shouted Astarte, hammering her tiny fists on Qualopec's back. We weren't supposed to form cliques, but Qualopec and I, first born of Atlas, tended to gang up on Tihocan and Astarte, children of Eumelus.

"You little weed," said Qualopec. "Your mother must have been one of Eumelus' servants." (I paraphrase as I translate.)

"I hate you!" said Tihocan, wriggling and crying.

"Maybe you get off," I said, trying not to laugh. I went over and laid a hand on Qualopec's shoulder.

Qualopec eased himself off and as soon as he was free, Tihocan kicked him in the face. The two boys started to cry and then Astarte joined in out of sympathy.

At that point we had as our nanny, Thyia, mother of my future servant Magnesian. She came bustling out of the portico at the noise.

"You!" she said to me, giving me a clip around the ear.

"What?" I said, my lip quivering. "I didn't do nothing."

"The correct phrase is 'I didn't do anything'," said Thyia, taking me by the hands and glaring directly into my face. "You're not in the gutter any more."

I drew myself up. "I didn't do anything," I said firmly. "And yes, now I'm a Royal Princess, so you'll show some respect."

"If you want respect, young Missy, earn it. I know you. You're always the agent provocateur in these fights."

"That's it," said Tihocan with a nasty smile. "She egged us on." Astarte said nothing.

"What rubbish," said Qualopec. "You little creep."

Tihocan began to wail histrionically. "He ... called ... me ... a ... CREEP!"

"By the immortal gods!" exploded Thyia. "Will you Royal Brats shut up?"

At that moment the Royal Eumelus sauntered into the garden. Tihocan immediately ran across the lawn, squeaking like a banshee, and threw himself into his father's arms. "Daddy!" he squealed.

Qualopec came and put an arm around my shoulder. "What a whiny little bitch," he said.

Astarte tottered up to Eumelus. "They were ... pwacticing," she said breathlessly. "Wrestling."

I felt a sudden warmth for my little sibling.

Later I went up to her and hugged her and kissed her.

"I love you, Astarte," I said.

"I wuv you too, Natla," said Astarte.

"Promise we'll always be friends."

"I pwomise."

Later we all took our annual visit to the tomb of our mother, Atlanta, brushed, dressed in mourning white and all vaguely bored.

"Do you think it's fun to be queen?" whispered Tihocan, gazing at the marble statue lying in state on the limestone sarcophagus.

"Yes!" said Astarte, excitedly.

"Why?"

"You get to wear jewels and boss people around."

"Tihocan couldn't boss his way out of a silk sack," said Qualopec.

"Enough," I said. "I'll get the blame again.

"Would you like to be queen, Natla?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"To do good," I said. "To help my people. It would be my duty. It would be great."

And so they teased me for the rest of the day by calling me "Natla the Great".

I awoke with a start.

"You were talking to the dead," said Qualopec, pulling my head onto his chest.

We lay listening to the noises of the night.

"Do you think I should step back and leave the human race to cope with Olympus alone?" I said.

Qualopec sighed. "If you still want to be queen, my Royal Sister-Wife, what does your conscience tell you? Can you throw away your heritage like a garment gone out of fashion?"

"You'll never know how much I'd rather have a new outfit," I said, but I smiled as I said it.


* * * * *




We already had a cover story as I was almost certain that there would be a mole at Natla Technologies. Das was going to pilot J for Jackie to launch a "military satellite" - top secret, hush hush - which prevented anybody regarding his flight as anything other than peaceful.

The supercomputers at Natla Tech had modelled and modelled, and produced over 9000 possible solutions to what was a conceptually simple but practically devilish problem in vectorial mathematics.

We hugged Das in his spacesuit before he climbed into the cockpit.

"Maybe the Goddess of the Wind guide you to you target, my Royal Nephew-Son," said Qualopec, grasping Das' forearm. "You are a brave man."

"I shall be below you in a high altitude aircraft in case of emergencies, darling," I said, but both Das and I knew that a rescue from above the atmosphere was impossible.

Das listened to his earphone. "Their trajectory is steady - they are approaching an orbit - but the numbers of attack solutions is diminishing. We will only have a minute or two at most to gauge when they are preparing to land. Do we still have a go?"

I hesitated.

"We know what is going to happen", said Nas. "We have to take the initiative. It might be our only opportunity."

"Your aunt and uncle are probably on that ship," I said.

Nas stepped back. spreading his hands. It was my decision.

"Who would you rather have rule; yourself or Tihocan?" said Qualopec, softly. "Last time he sat on a throne he was served by Egyptian slaves."

I drew myself up. "I regret it, but I see no other option. You have a go."

I went to the Eleos rescue plane as the African Queen piggybacking J for Jackie launched from Spaceport Atlαntico.

It was hard to tell exactly what the rest of the world was doing at that moment. The aether was so full that it was almost the electronic equivalent of white noise, whilst every television had the same pictures and the same baffled commentary. There was no military response and no political statements. The human race may as well have been a troupe of monkeys throwing their poop at an intruder. The human brain had paralysed itself.

I was watching the TV in the cabin when J for Jackie achieved orbit on its pre-calculated position roughly one hundred miles from the intruder. The latter - we can give it its correct nomenclature now, was clearer visible as two flanking ships - the Neberu and the Aethon - and the central globe, the Phoebus. Das' target was the Phoebus. Since the glow from the globe blanked out the moonlight, the fall ought to be visible all over the night time earth.

"Two minutes until launch of satellite," came Das' voice over the intercom.

We had figured that a direct attack would lead to J for Jackie being shot down before it even came into range of the Phoebus. Likewise, mere missiles would be deflected or destroyed. The only way to penetrate their defences was to be 'on them' before they realised what was happening, and to do that we had to make it look innocent.

I could see what Das could see through his HUD. Two vertical spikes were coming into line over the Neberu and the Aethon, whilst a graphic of a searchlight being bounced off the top of the atmosphere gave him an approximate altitude. One minute to go and all computer communication to the J for Jackie ceased and we only had Das' voice. He was practically flying in the dark, 'under their radar', just above the surface of the ecosphere. His course was set; he only had to choose the moment of release.

I was fixated on the display when I felt a tugging at my elbow.

"You better look at this," said Qualopec, indicating the TV screen.

A breaking news report was coming in form Rome, Italy. There was some shaky camera footage. "Robots emerging from Mundus" said the ticket tape subtitle. I dazedly recalled that the Mundus was an ancient cave under the Italian capital, thought by the ancients to be an entrance into the underworld but more recently discovered by Amanda to be the site of a Dais.

"That little bastard," I said, as it became clear that Olympean Warriors were spilling onto the streets of Rome. "She didn't switch them off." Reports began to flood in from all over the Western World.

"My beloved," said Qualopec, urgently. "Given this, surely it would be a mistake to attack?"

I gazed at him "Pointless and inflammatory," I said.

"Bombs away!" came Das' voice in my ear.


* * * * *




Those of you alive at the time or who have seen the movie Apollo 13 will know that if a powerless spacecraft approaches the atmosphere at too steep an angle it will burn up on re-entry and if it approaches the atmosphere at too shallow an angle it will bounce off back into space.

Das had deduced that any missile headed for the Olympeans in a straight line would be intercepted. A bomb, however, that skipped across the top of the atmosphere like a stone on a pond would catch them by surprise, especially if they were manoeuvring themselves for atmospheric re-entry at the same moment.

J for Jackie was travelling at about nine thousand miles per hour when she released her payload. The spheroidal bomb had about a minute - time for two shallow bounces - before slamming into the snout of one of the "space horses", the Neberu. Meanwhile Das had used his rockets to execute an unlikely 180 degree turn whilst simultaneously preparing to drop out of orbit.

The Neberu had most of its "snout" blown away and only the field around the Phoebus and the shielding that it provided for the Aethon saved the other two ships. Immediately the couplings holding the Neberu were cut loose causing it to spin majestically off course, venting flames and air.

I recalled what I had learned in the Temple of the Chariot of the Gods;

They put Kastor and Polydeukes
In the sky, a sun chariot
Phaeton at the wheel lost control
And Kastor fell down dazed


We had only found the wreck of the Kastor. The rest of the ship had presumably landed or flown away. The Phoebus and the Aethon continued their descent over the Americas as if nothing had happened.

For a long moment Qualopec and I were rooted to our chairs as we watched J for Jackie fleeing northward to New Mexico and the Olympean ship southward towards Peru.

"Good shot," murmured Qualopec, shaking himself from his stupor. "It seems we have another Apollo in the family."

"Nobody is ever going to believe we did the math right," I said. I picked up the cabin phone. "Get us down on the ground at Spaceport Atlαntico as quickly as possible."


* * * * *




The Olympean craft, once in the atmosphere, moved smoothly and eerily. Observers described it as seeming both light and heavy simultaneously, like a gas filled elephant hanging over a parade. It left no trails and made little noise as it apparently crab-scuttled through the air over the Peruvian coastline. It flew close over the town of Ica to the amazement of the citizens and then began to pick its way over the Nazca desert. Strange navigation lights came from the base of the Phoebus and the "hooves" of the Aethon, playing over the ancient lines on the ground. At the same time, ports opened on the side of the craft, and winged "things" and tiny "aircraft" spilled out, some flying alongside, some landing and some speeding off to all points of the compass. Viewed from nearby it seemed as if a rotting sun, buzzed by carrion flies, was setting into the sand. Eventually, unphased by the defacing tyre-marks left by the beach buggies of Californian alien hunters over the surface of the giant patterns, the craft turned itself through 68 degrees relative to the ground and then settled, with the curved base of the Phoebus positioned precisely at the centre of the spiral tail of a giant monkey drawing.

"At last one mystery is solved," said one of the Californians. "We've never been able to figure why the Nazca Lines could be a landing site for alien space craft whilst simultaneously so vulnerable to being blown away by strong winds. Now we know. No altitude jets, man. How cool is that?"

Of course like all the New Agers and the cultists flooding onto "social websites", there was an idea that the Olympeans were here to "take us away". It was Halle Boppe and Xenu, the Raelians and Close Encounters of the Third Kind all rolled into one.

If I had to hear the couplet ...


Would you like to ride in my beautiful balloon?
We could float among the stars together, you and I



... just one more time, I thought, I'd be killing something with fire.

I had more important things to do, however. Nas and Das had to make themselves scarce, and I had to at least try and advise the President about a safe place to hide.

"I don't know for certain," I said, "but I have a hunch that you'll be safe in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Another lore has its writ there, and not even Helios or Diwo or Zeus or whomever is in that spacecraft will be able to get to you."

"How should we get there?" said Das, who was suffering from delayed shock after his adventure. I was rubbing his back to try and get rid of his trembling.

"It probably isn't safe to take the Learjet or any other aircraft," said Nas. He seemed disappointed that he wasn't staying and fighting.

"I need you guys alive. When they figure out what happened in orbit, your mother could end up as nothing more than a pile of glowing embers in the sand."

"Surely they'd blame me, not you?" said Das, stammering. "I should stay and take one for the team."

"I'll say you were obeying my orders," I said, firmly. "They'll think twice before executing me, but you they'd kill just to make a point. Take one of the more nondescript pickups from the ranch and drive to Chief Elkhorn. He can arrange for you to be taken somewhere - whatever route you take, make sure you end up in Hawaii."

"Is that where you are advising the President to go?" said Nas.

"At least initially. They can head out further into the Pacific as necessary. You stick with them."

Das was blinking up at me. "Will we be safe in the Pacific?"

I kissed him. "Safer than here," I said, softly. "And take these."

I handed a small box to Nas.

"What are they?" he said, opening it to find two pale green tablets.

"If all else fails," I said, "take one each."

A flash of angry comprehension crossed Nas' face. "Surely not?" he said.

"Trust me," I said. "It's not what you think. Can you obey that last order from your Queen, soldier?"

Nas straightened up and saluted so firmly that his fingers almost bounced off his cap. "Yes, Your Majesty."

"Now get going before they arrive. I have to ring the White House."


* * * * *




Qualopec and I had dressed ourselves in the finery of Atlantean God-Kings and stood alone - I'd sent everybody else away - in the shade of the portico at Parajito Mesa, a jug of kefir in a cooler by our side. My finest and reddest wings were attached to my back, my fire proof skinsuit enclosed my body and on my forearm was my bio-organic fireball-generating mutant. I was wearing my Senatorial dress jacket and skirt, and my most powerful red Gucci stiletto boots. I'd kohl'ed my eyes and painted my lips and nails carmine. My hair was a plutonium blonde helmet and on my head was the crown that I had brought with me from the statis chamber. It had ceased to chatter and beep some years about, but lights still winked on it now and again.

Qualopec was bare-chested and wearing what he'd been wearing when he ruled Atlantis. We'd managed to reassemble his old crushed crown and imperial staff from the remains found at his tomb and the rest - his Royal Apron, his jewelled boots, his greaves, and so on, we had remade. His profile was as sharp and red as that of a Navajo warrior. Strapped to his waist was a simple sword, and the epaulettes resting on top of his naked powerful shoulders winked with electronica. His appearance dared you to meet him hand to hand, all modern contrivances and weapons thrown aside, and his demeanour was that of an all-powerful Emperor, born to rule men. He stood with one gauntleted hand on his hip and the other holding aside a fold of his imperial cloak.

"I am proud, my Imperial Sister and Wife, to stand beside you as your Prince Consort to greet these rude invaders who have visited our lands without so much as sending an Imperial Ambassador to announce their approach."

"If you are my Prince Consort, my Imperial Brother and Husband, then I am your Princess Consort, for we are equals, and the honor is mine. I only ask that I take responsibility for the attack on our visitors alone, for I need you to rule after me."

Qualopec kissed my hand. "I shall do as you ask," he said, "but if they should kill you I fear I shall not be long for this life myself, for my righteous rage will inspire me to avenge you. But remember I shall always love both in life and death, my dearest Natla."

Tears briefly filled my eyes. "Whatever you think best, my love," I said, and we embraced.

The, as we sipped reflectively on our iced drinks, the sky to the south began to shimmer.

"The storm approaches," said Qualopec.

"Bring it on," I murmured, and drew myself up to my full height.


* * * * *




The horizon was flat over the Jornada del Muerto, or was it? I was peering at the line and the heat shimmer seemed to be intensifying. I could see a black cloud forming from one side to the other and I deduced that it was a mirage of something still just belong the horizon edge but growing and approaching. The heat shimmer began to be sprinkled with black dots like distant birds, fading and re-appearing.

"Do you mind if I put some pop music on, my love?

"Please do, my Queen."

I was getting a glint of metal now and then and the black mass - which stretched from east to west – was solidifying into two, one on the earth and one in the sky.


Why does my heart go on beating
Why do these eyes of mine cry
Don't they know it's the end of the world
It ended when you said goodbye



From the distance carried on the breeze I could hear the top harmonic of something, maybe a high cornet or of the shriek of a falsetto voice.

From behind me I heard the clatter of a helicopter and the NM police suddenly shot over our heads towards the approaching phenomenon.

"Should be interesting," I murmured.

"Is that all there is?" said Qualopec. "Where is the airforce?"

"Defending the cities I expect. That or already taken down."

The police helicopter disappeared into the general black background and then there was a tiny distant flare of flame in the rough position that it had occupied.

"Poof!" I observed.

Qualopec knelt down and placed an ear to the ground.

"I can hear them."

As he said it I could feel them – a tickling sensation in the soles of my feet.

"Did they march all the way up here from Peru, though the Darien Gap?"

"Airships."

"I expect the Mexicans were pleased. Looks as if the Atzlan Confederacy is back to stay."

"Is there anything not firmly secured in the house?"

"You think the house will survive?"

The army was beginning to resolve itself as it came into sight across the alkali flat. Great squadrons of red Atlantean creatures or silver Olympean warriors could be imagined, all marching in step. In the air the sun would catch the bloody glint of a bat-like wing, or the sharp glint of metal. Above the ground forces were what looked like flying ships, end on to us and sharp against the white sky, with the raised blue lotus prows of Egyptian funerary barges.

Granules of sand at our feet began to jiggle and jump, and ripples like those from a Tyrannosaurus step spread in the jug of refreshment.

Qualopec planted his feet firmly and leaned on his Royal Staff, whilst I held onto the porch pillar with one hand and my drink with the other. Somewhere around the side of the house glass shattered and the alarm began to sound from a car in the drive.

I began to distinguish individual beings. There were dog-faced crimson warriors with piranha teeth, stalking forwards on their strange back legs with rear hinged knees. There were centaurs with the horse skull heads, marching in a strange diagonal fashion like Lipizzans at dressage, fireball launchers strapped to their forelimbs. Above them the winged things flew with a strange up and down motion - falling two feet, clawing back two feet, then falling two feet again, their leathery wings smacking the air like bat on ball. Next to them in perfect line and in perfect step the Olympean Warrior machines, blank faced, the half-remembered originators of racial nightmares that all humans had, of Apollonian-faced killing machines, of SS troops, of Cylons and Cybermen. The alien army was packed side to side with the stuff of bad dreams.

"Well I don't know about you," I said sotto voce, "but I definitely surrender."

"An empty cart makes most noise," murmured Qualopec.

Then, about half a mile away, the whole army stopped suddenly, the fliers landing heavily on the ground like winded pterodactyls. The sudden stop, in perfect unison, followed by total silence was much more un-nerving than the approach. Above, a fleet of funerary barges hovered, floating on the denseness of the desert air. As we watched, all but two settled down behind the ground troops, dwarfing them.

The pair of remaining sky barges glided forward, and with practiced strokes of their air oars turned sideways onto us. They were long and thin, with raised prow and stern, flat bottomed with no keel, made of planks lashed together with needle grass. The steersmen, each armed with a single rudder oar, somehow guided the two ships gently to the ground.

Not that Qualopec and I were focussed on that. We had simultaneously let out gasps, and now were trying not to gape with unregal surprise, for one of the boats contained only the crew. Row upon row of thrones was empty, and draped in black.

The other boat, however … .

I scanned the faces above me – Tihocan, Astarte, Maia of the Serene Countenance, someone who looked like Lara Croft - and last and definitely least, my foolish daughter Amanda, who appeared to be laughing down at us.

I might have launched into the air and slung a flaming fireball at her for her treachery, but it seemed the grand entrance of the Olympeans was not yet over.

The court – for it seemed obvious that it was a court – turned to face the empty space between the two ships. They knelt in unison and each produced a device to shade their eyes.

Qualopec activated the light attenuator on his helmet and handed me some nuclear test goggles.

"And now the King approaches," he said.

I smelt the King before I saw him – ozone. The sunlight all around the house and playing over the Olympean army began to brighten. The sand began to blaze like an Antarctic snowfield, and I could almost feel the pupils of my eyes shrinking, my irises bleaching.

There was a hum like a giant electrical transformer and within the hum, the sound of horses galloping in slow motion – clop clop, clip clop. I gritted my teeth.

A golden chariot was descending from the sky, wreathed in white hot flame. Four mechanical horses, glowing like a lime mantle, and a giant golden figure, a living statue of gold or a golden golem. The sand melted into glass as it landed, and at that same moment, the blast of golden trumpets from the army, and the open throated roar of a hymn.

"The Lord of the Daylight Sky," I said, and despite myself dropped to one knee in supplication. For all of my life, or at least for most of my life, all of my prayers had been directed to my grandfather, Poseidon, and to this being of a thousand names, three of them being Helios, Apollo or Diwo.

The God – or the avatar of the God, for the sun cannot touch the earth – stepped onto the melting ground and dismissed His chariot with a gauntleted hand. A second figure or apparition became apparent through the glare, a moving pillar of fire or maybe a shower of golden fragments. This Interpreter took station just ahead and to one side of the God and the chorus fell silent.

The Lord of the Daylight Sky pointed directly at me, and it was if I was suddenly trapped in a tanning booth.

"I, I, I have returned," came a voice from the shining Interpreter, vocalising for the God as He gestured in ancient Royal fashion. "I, I, I am the Lord of the Daylight Sky. You will bow down and worship Me, Me, Me."


* * * * *




I took a moment to compose myself. I looked at the weave of the cloth of my sleeve and the sand granules moving slightly under my breath. Slowly … I realised that I had an excellent card up that closely woven sleeve.

I raised myself and sat on my heels, placing my hands together in prayer and bowing my head slightly.

"My Lord God," I said, clearly. "I bow down to You as I have always done. Nearly every day of my life I have prayed to You, the Lord Of The Daylight Sky and Your Brother, the Lord of the Sea. As my God You will remember my daily prayers and Your keen eye pierces my heart to see my sincere love for You. Even my worst enemies cannot deny that I am one of the devoutest of Your servants. I bow down to You with great joy and I am Yours to command."

And I placed my forehead back on the ground.

"Raise yourself and look on Me,Me,Me."

I sat back on my heels, and pulled Qualopec up into a kneeling position.

"Do you see this?" said the God, and the Interpreter indicated the empty sky barge, with its throne shrouded in black.

"I see it, My Lord."

"These were My, My, My children who died in the Neberu."

"I ordered the attack, My Lord."

The God shouted and I could smell the singeing of my hair. "Why?" it roared. "Why?"

I kept my composure. "The craft approached unannounced refusing all communication. I, as the highest ranking Atlantean on the planet, struck, as was my duty, perceiving an invasion by strangers. I did not know that the craft belonged to God."

There was a very long silence. I was aware, out of the corner of my eye, of Tihocan and Amanda watching expectantly. It looked as if they'd finally cooked my goose.

I took a deep breathe. "I too lost a child," I said. "The brave soldier who single-handed attacked. A true hero, if misguided."

"Vengeance is Mine, Mine, Mine," said the God, eventually, the roaring of the flames diminishing somewhat. "Alone." The Giant Avatar and the Interpreter turned to the other sky barge where my family were watching, no doubt mildly disappointed that I hadn't been incinerated. "Do you hear Me, Me, Me?"

They all bowed, some no doubt doing the Atlantean equivalent of Muttley muttering.

"I, I, I will tour the planet," said the God. "I, I, I will announce My, My, My return to a cheering populace of worshippers, thanking Me, Me, Me for their liberation from false idols."

"Glory be to God," chorused the court.

"And you will not kill each other in My, My, My absence," roared the God, beating his fiery chest for emphasis.

"Amen."

"The Royal Tihocan! You will build My, My, My Collosi. You, the Royal Astarte, will raise My, My, My Basilikai."

They bowed.

"You, the Royal Natla, the Black Sheep, the Goat That Departs, the Paraiyar, you will abide until I, I, I return. Your consort, the Royal Qualopec, He Without Sorrow, Beloved of God, will accompany My, My, My Heavenly Army as Advisor, Ashoka, Ajax."

Qualopec and I bowed.

And with that Divine Audience appeared to be at an end. The sun chariot returned, and the God and His Interpreter rose back into the sky. What a show off, I thought.

When He was out of sight, I squeezed Qualopec's hand.

"It seems as if we have been saved by a Deus Ex Machina," I said.


* * * * *




And so it was time for the grand family re-union.

A huge number of servants appeared from nowhere and began to place platforms and thrones on planks on the sand – it was like a rapid scene change at the circus. By the time the various Atlantean dignitaries had begun to disembark from the solar barge, fanned and parasol led by a hoard of lackeys, their makeshift palace was already there, with canvas wall being hauled into the air by tiny flying machines, fastened in place to gas-filled balloons. A canvas roof not unlike the room of a Roman amphitheatre was whisked into place by red flying mutants.

I watched Tihocan and Amanda process to twin thrones and then be seated in a haughty fashion, not looking at anything in particular, and being served cold sherbet and dainty sweet-meats. What interested me much more was a figure who was being led like a dog, with a gold collar around her neck, her golden lead being held by an Olympean killer robot. She was dressed in a Princess Leia metal bikini and her expression was … hard to describe. Her jaw was clenched and her eyes were slightly too wide open, and blazing with fury. Her chains were attached to cleats at Tihocan's feet and she was seated like a pet beneath him. It was Lara Croft, transformed into a female slave that would not have looked out of place on the cover of a heavy metal album. There was going to be an interesting story to tell there, I thought to myself. I just hoped that the robot kept a good hold of that lead.

The first person that approached Qualopec and myself was the ever-diplomatic Maia Of The Serene Countenance. She bowed deeply.

"Oh what a joyful day that I should have the honour to genuflect to the Royal Siblings, the Eternally Beautiful Natla of Atlantis, Governor of the Former Territories of the West, and the Miraculously Restored and Virile Qualopec, Golden Commander of the Maian Regiment and King of the Atzlan Confederacy," she said in Atlantean, her sleeves twinkling with lights as she made the appropriate gestures of nuance.

"Greetings, Daughter of Atlas, Glorious Sister Of The Pleiades, Ever Wise Sage and Negotiator, Most Sagacious and Beautiful Of Women," replied Qualopec with an ornate bow.

"I don't suppose you speak English, do you?" I said, which rather punctured the atmosphere.

"Of course," said Maia, smoothly. "Do I address you as Jacqueline Natla in this abbreviated tongue?"

"And I shall call you Maia Pleiades and welcome you to the United States Of America," I said, embracing her, although I could sense she only returned the embrace out of etiquette.

"Alas I am the only one of my sisters to survive the trip."

"The Neberu?"

"Sadly," said Maia, with the blankest of expressions. "They perished, along with the priests of Astarte, the husband of Tihocan and various other innocents."

There was a bit of a silence.

"We are horrified at the losses," said Qualopec eventually, touching Maia on the shoulder.

"I … will you come inside my house, my bereaved sister?" I said. I was genuinely shocked by the news.

However at that point another figure approached.

"Gweetings, bwother and sister," said Astarte. (She had that rhotacism that sometimes afflicts Atlanteans speaking English.) She appeared to have lost all but two of her breasts, and she was dressed in the simplest of djellabas.

"Astarte!" said Qualopec, and whisked her off her feet, spinning her around.

"Careful," said Astarte. "My feet are less steady than yours these days."

I stepped forward tentatively and took her two hands in mine.

"Sister?" I said, and burst into tears.


* * * * *




The next scene would be kind of boring if it weren't for the fact that I tried to kill Amanda.

"He wants us to sit around and have a formal meeting," said Astarte.

"Who died and made him King?"

I think was in shock, because Qualopec had to thread his arm through mine to lead me. I reached out at one point and grabbed Astarte's arm.

"So … you don't hate me any more?" I said. "I killed your priests. Captain Attis. All that stuff."

Astarte sighed, and I could see the age in her face. "The pwiests … well, they were just pwiests. I get through a lot of them. As for the other … I'm just too old to care any more."

"But you're still religious and all that?"

"I've lost my enthusiasm. You know I was a goddess with weal powers for a while?"

"I didn't," I said.

"You met a version of me on a Cyprus beach. Do you not wemember?"

I was silent for a moment.

"Maybe we should go?" said Qualopec.

"Why didn't you contact me directly?"

Astarte shrugged. "I decided that you were better off out of … everything. While I was divine."

I allowed Qualopec to tug me into movement.

We sat in a big circle below the billowing canvas, Qualopec and I in twin thrones facing Tihocan and Amanda, and Astarte and Maia of the Serene Countenance to each side. I'm not sure if my descriptive powers are up to the occasion, but I did finally look Tihocan in the face over a distance of a few yards. At his feet a quietly smouldering Lara Croft was gripping her chain in both hands as if she meant to throttle him.

A livered major-domo of Tihocan's invention stepped forward, watched by the silent army. He began a formal Atlantean speech which didn't seem to get much beyond listing Tihocan's real and imagined titles – including "Pharaoh of Egypt" – but then I stood and silenced him with a raised hand, my wings bristling.

"Hello Tihocan," and I said, in a bored voice.

I could see Tihocan visibly trying to swallow his rage. "Does my Royal Sister no longer observe the rituals of Atlantis?" he said, in the snottiest form of High Atlantean.

I strolled into the center of the throne room. "We all have titles and former titles. I'm sure we can all brag. If you want titles, then I'm the representative of the present earth government, duly elected by the people."

"I am horrified at your lack of dignity, my Royal Sister."

"Well you would be. You always were a prissy little boy."

Tihocan leapt to his feet and made a fairly unimpressive stab at drawing his ceremonial weapon.

"If it wasn't for the orders of the god I would kill you where you stand," he said.

"Yeah, right," I said, in a very American drawl. "Why don't you put it away before you embarrass yourself in front of the ladies?"

Fortunately at that moment Qualopec chose to stand and bow. "I am happy to greet my Royal Brother after all these centuries."

Tihocan was forced to bow back, and to echo the sentiment.

"After all, are we not one big happy family?" I said. Astarte started to rub the palm of her hand over her eyes. "Come here, Royal Daughter, and greet your Royal Mother with a kiss." And I held my hands out to Amanda.

Amanda jumped nervously, and looked up at her father for guidance. Tihocan gestured towards me and then had to practically spur Amanda into action with the toe of his bejewelled shoe.

I embraced her hard so that she couldn't wriggle away and said "Welcome to the Royal Court of Atlantis," I said loudly, followed by a hiss for her ear only of "You're dead, you treacherous little worm."

"Daddy!" said Amanda, squirming. "She's threatening me."

I turned her around to face Tihocan, holding her neck in one hand and brought up my fireball mutant next to her head. There was a faint smell of scorched hair.

"I have the right of materfamilias under old Atlantean law do I not?" I said.

Tihocan had gone a bright red and everyone else looked as if they wanted to try and rush me.

"You already killed one of my daughters," he said. I had run Chloe of the Golden Hair through with a spear for much the same reasons that I now planned to burn Amanda.

"This one is just like her twin. Bad blood."

"The god forbad us to kill each other."

"I very much doubt that the god gives a stuff about darling Amanda here."

Amanda said; "I wasn't being treacherous. I just wanted to see my father."

"What a load of weaselly crap," I retorted. "You just wanted to bring me down and to get a nice shiny crown to wear. Now you've gone and sold out the whole planet just to satisfy your bratty angst."

Qualopec stepped forward. "To be fair, she is a Royal Princess of Atlantis," he observed, keeping his voice as neutral as he could manage.

"She's no worse than you at her age," said Tihocan.

I gaped at him. "No worse than me? … this girl hasn't done a day's work in her life. She has no honour, no dignity, no sense of duty. And she doesn't get any of that from her mother. Plus, she's an idiot. Maybe she spent too long asleep."

Maia of the Serene Countenance stood and said; "Is there nothing we can give you in exchange for the life of this foolish Princess?" At that moment I realised I'd have to postpone Amanda's richly deserved death. The crowd wasn't with me, as they say.

"Give me that slave," I said, gesturing towards Lara Croft.

Tihocan shrugged, and the army gave a polite murmur, no doubt relieved that the threat of familial homicide had been averted.

I took Lara's chain and, with a "come along my darling husband", stalked back inside my house, shutting the door on the whole scene.


* * * * *




"I saw you once, seated in your tomb," said Lara Croft, who had changed out of the fratboy slavegirl outfit into normal clothes.

"And I saw you just before the roof came down," said Qualopec.

"It's a funny old world."

"It is indeed, Lady Croft."

Lara snorted and produced a cigar that she had found. "None of that Lady Croft nonsense," she said, sunnily. "I'll leave the pompous titles to Atlanteans and Americans. You lot deserve each other."

"You are not smoking that in here," I said.

Lara lit up anyway. "By the way," she said, blowing smoke into my face. "I don't suppose you recall leaving me locked in a tomb at the South Pole. With a killer robot?"

"I'm sorry about that," I said.

"I beat the bloody thing in a fire fight, realise that I'm locked in, find out that there's a working Dais and then teleport myself straight onto Tihocan's space ship."

I bit my lip. It wasn't funny.

"I'm arrested, enslaved and then made to sit at the feet of His Royal Gayness for the rest of the voyage."

"Well at least you're alive," I said, fanning the cigar smoke away.

Lara rooted around in a fridge and discovered a bottle of expensive champagne. She knocked the top off (taking a chip out of one of my beautiful tables) and then (after allowing a lot of champagne to spill on my beautiful floor) drank straight from the jagged neck.

"That's the ticket," she said, after a moment. "I have to officially inform you that Atlantean cuisine is bloody awful, and I'm looking forward to a decent plateful of fish and chips."

I cleared my throat. "Are you still angry with me?"

"Nope," said Lara, with a bright smile. "No more than usual. You just can't help yourself, can you?"

"I guess not."

"Besides - I have a job to do, don't I?"

"You have to find something – what's the phrase – 'to kill a god'?"

Qualopec looked startled. "You're going to kill the god?"

Lara had put down the champagne and produced one of the house revolvers before he had finished speaking.

Qualopec laughed and stepped back, hands held in a placatory gesture.

Lara slowly put away the gun. "Medea gave Jason the ointment to withstand the breathe of the Hydra. One of the few things that survived the fire at my house. That and a suit made from the scales of the giant salamander. We'll see how your bright spark of a sun god reacts to a cold wet shower of me."

"Are you sure you know what will happen to the sun if you extinguish the,God?" I said.

Lara shrugged. "Who cares?" she said, stubbing the cigar out on the sole of her boot and replacing in it a cigar tube in her pocket.

"Absolutely."

"Hilarious," she said.

She sprinted across the room and dived through an open window at the back of Parajita Mesa. There was the smashing of glass followed by the roar of a car engine.

"Lady Croft could have just asked for a vehicle," said Qualopec.

"This is a woman who could buy up most of the world's archaeological treasures on the black market but still chooses to steal them instead." I said.

We watched the cloud of dust disappear into the distance, unpursued.

"Do you still love her?"

"Always," I said.

In my mind were some words of Hesiod;

"Would that I were not among the men of the fifth generation, but either had died before or been born afterwards. For now truly is a race of iron, and men never rest from labour and sorrow by day, and from perishing by night; and the gods shall lay sore trouble upon them.The father will not agree with his children, nor the children with their father, nor guest with his host, nor comrade with comrade; nor will brother be dear to brother as aforetime."

And I knew that nearly every living son and daughter of Atlantis, and even the most distant of her greatgreatgrandchildren, would soon be dying.



* * * * *