Harley, Son of Davy,
the Eye of the Sun
©2009, Ben Yoder
This is a work of Fiction. It is based in part on the Alternate History World known as “Dies the Fire,” written and copyrighted by S.M. Stirling in 2004. The author agrees to abide by the Stirling Fan Fiction site disclaimer. This work is copyrighted by Ben Yoder in 2009, except for those parts derived from “Dies the Fire,” and its sequels, which are copyrighted by S. M. Stirling and used here by permission. All characters in this fiction are, in fact, fictional, and any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental.
Brown’s Hole was full that night, men from all over Des Moines, workers of glass, leather, cloth and brick; men from the forges washing the taste of coal smoke out of their mouths; dock workers, guardsmen from the walls and household servants, all with a hunger for a little talk, for a stein or two of beer with friends, for a little entertainment on a freezing winter night. All of them vakis. Brown’s Hole was pungent with the smell of beer and sawdust, working men and polished wood, pine logs snapping in the large hearth at one end of the room. The storyteller, a middle aged balding man with a curly brown beard turning to gray, sat down on a stool on a low dais along one side of the room, various pins and brooches picked out on the green vest that proclaimed his profession. He gathered his thoughts for a moment, and then leaned forward with his hands on his knees.
“I’ll tell you a story,” he began.
A chorus of “Right!” came back, a bit ragged because many were still in conversations.
“And every word is true.”
“Right!” Much stronger this time.
“But not everything happened.”
“Right!” Everyone was joining in now.
“A story, a story!” the storyteller called out.
“Let it come, let it go!” they boomed back.
The storyteller nodded his head, the ritual satisfied.
“Everyone it seems has a story of Harley son of Davy,” he began. “The folks over in Nebraska tell how Harley was born on the wrong side of the sheets to Davy Crocket, bossman of Tennzy, and was raised by his mother’s people, the Shawnee, where he learned all manner of warcraft and woodcraft. They tell how he met up with Jesse James and his band of Hells Angels.
“His birth forever denied him the name Crockett, leaving him just ‘son of Davy.’ So let’s hear it for Harley, the friend of the common man and backbone of the world, the laboring vaki—”
A raucous and profane cheer erupted, accompanied by dozens of raised steins.
“—‘cause those were his roots, highborn pa or no.
“The folks out in Boise tell of the day he strode into their city, six foot seven and 245 pounds of pure panther muscle, and before he left he had defeated the demon trolls of the Bitterroots, and won Wings, his greatsword.
“Folks over in the Ozarks say he tamed Rumble the boar down in Arkasah. The Lakota tell how he won his bow, Widowmaker, in a wager with White Buffalo Woman. The Bearkillers say he pillaged the Haida villages, then sailed the Pacific towed by a pod of killer whales until he came back wealthier than the Lord Protector.
“Everyone has a story about Harley, but the one I’m telling tonight comes from the Rovers of Nevada, and they tell one of when Harley was just starting out, when he wandered into the biggest pesthole, the greatest sinkhole of sin and perversion, the most infamous upholstered sewer the world had ever seen, the city of Lost Vegas.”
❀ ❁ ❀
There are no quiet nights there. On the Strip, in the gambling palaces, nothing ever sleeps and the lights are always feverishly lit. Off the Strip, there are the brothels, the opium dens, the bandit lairs, where any taste no matter how perverted or despicable could be sated, any crime arranged and paid for, any pact made or broken, all for a price. It is there that the thieves, the pimps, the crime lords, the addicts gather and shout and carouse all night in sleazy taverns and wine houses till the sun comes up. The high-toned folks that come to Lost Vegas for the gaming stay well away if they have any sense.
Into one pesthole, The Lusty Slut, Harley came, standing in the doorway for a moment, peering through the haze and stinking smoke, until he spotted the bartender. The tall young man stalked through the noisy and noisome crowd like a cougar wading a sewer ditch until he got close enough to shout out for beer. Once he had a stein he turned to look over the crowd while he sipped the thin brew. Behind a metal mesh barrier, a bard was thrashing away at a lektrik lute and caterwauling about something. The phrase the Eye of the Sun kept coming up, and that brought Harley’s full attention. He drifted closer to the barrier to hear more.
The bard was tall, fat, unwashed, with greasy yellow hair to his waist, and the best you could say for his voice was it was loud. He bellowed the chorus:
The Eye, the Eye, the Eye of the Sun!
It lights up the night for the world to see
Shining from the tip of the Black Pyramid
Shining by Imhotep’s tek-no-lo-gy.
The song came to a merciful end, celebrated by the patrons with a rain of bottles and trash thrown against the barrier. The bard ignored their disdain and took a long pull on a stein he’d kept at his elbow.
“Bard!” Harley growled. “Come closer!”
The bard warily eyed the towering figure with his broad shoulders and powerful arms, black leather garments and heavy boots, his burning gaze and shaven head, the sword at his waist. He approached the mesh barrier.
“What do you want?”
”What else can you tell me about the Eye?”
The bard gaped at him. “You don’t know about the Eye of the Sun? What backwoods dungheap are you from, anyway? Any fool knows it’s an enormous jewel that drinks the sun by day and lights up all of Lost Vegas by night with a pillar of brilliance shot straight up from the tip of Lord Imhotep’s own Black Pyramid! Folks say—”
“I know this, bard. I seek to know—” Harley’s voice dropped—“how well it is guarded.”
The bard sprayed beer in a harsh bray of laughter. “Don’t even think about it! You don’t think half the thieves in Lost Vegas aren’t scheming to get at it? You think it hasn’t been tried? Every month Lord Imhotep’s men skewer some idiot on one of those pointy obelisks you see ringing the Pyramid. Most don’t even make it through the guards in the Pleasure Gardens, much less through the Sphinx Gate and into the Pyramid itself. And those that do make it inside, the few ones you see, have been burned or — or even chewed on. Or so folks say. There’s something in that Pyramid that finds us real tasty, something that shouldn’t be walking this earth. Or so folks say. You get my meaning?”
The bard narrowed his watery blue eyes and his voice lowered until it was just barely audible above the crowd. “Folks say that everything that makes Lost Vegas lost is centered in that pyramid. You following me? It’s just the heart of everything here, and the heart of it beats inside Doctor Imhotep’s lab coat. You mess with the Lord of Lost Vegas, and you’re messing with something old, something dark, something steeped in ancient tek mojo. And you know all that Jipchen jazz the guards and servants dress in? Folks say that’s ‘cause Imhotep is one, was the Fay-ro himself, a few thousand years ago. So if you’re thinking you can just sashay on in there right under the nose the Deathless himself, you are out of your ever loving mind!”
Harley gave the bard a long, hard stare.
“I’m just telling you what folks say!”
Harley drained his stein and made his way to the door.
❀ ❁ ❀
The next evening near sundown, the young man strode down a narrow winding street, thinking long and hard. The Eye would give him wealth beyond counting. Wouldn’t that just stick in Lizzy’s craw? The bastard of her man Davy— showing up better than any of the high-toned idjits she had borne him! And then there were the words Ma had always taught him: When great good fortune enters your life, there’s a great duty to right the wrongs on the earth. The Eye would balance out a lot of things that were wrong in the world, of that there was no doubt. And that bard’s wild eyed talk—nothing to it but a cartload of steaming dung most like. Something in that pyramid found people tasty? Well, he’d hunted down many a man eating tiger and grizzly who felt the same way, and lived to tell the tale. In any case, opportunity only came to those with the guts to grab it around the neck with both hands and choke it.
He turned a corner and emerged onto the Strip. The night that had been quickly cloaking the streets behind him vanished in the glare of millions of glittering, blinking rainbow lights. People from every nation on earth, Hawaiians in sarongs, Frenchmen in frock coats, Africans in white robes, and many, many more, mixed in profusion, all headed to the gambling palaces, all chattering and celebrating in a hundred tongues. The river of people eddied around each immense establishment on the Strip and then pooled around the gates to the one larger than all the rest. The gaming palaces in the Pleasure Gardens were concealed behind walls, but nothing could conceal the Black Pyramid at the center, composed of a single glittering ebony crystal, that soared into the night sky. The heads of tall granite statues of ancient Jipchen gods and fay-ros could be seen poking up, and twelve ten-story high obelisks carved with symbols and coming to sharp needle points, ringed the Pyramid. Just barely the eye could make out dark stains on those needles, and one had the shriveled remains of a corpse still impaled on it, as tiny as an insect at this distance. The crowd gave a collective ooh when a titanic pillar of blue-white light erupted straight up from the apex of the Pyramid, signaling the night’s gaming to begin. Everyone lined up to have their ID’s checked by the guards dressed in Jipchen linen tunics and striped headdresses.
Harley stayed at the rear and filtered through the edges of the crowd till he reached the narrow road that skirted the walls. He followed it until he was alone, then choosing his target carefully, he ran swiftly and leaped. His fingers caught the edge of the wall, and he hung for just a moment before a surge of the massive muscles in his back and arms brought him to the top. He dropped to the grass below an instant later, and paused to scan his surroundings. Easier than sneaking into Dad’s fortress, he thought. Shrubbery and trees were on all sides with lights and laughter leaking from more distant pavilions and halls.
His eyes immediately spotted a foot protruding from beneath a bush. A quick look revealed an unconscious guard, stripped naked, with no visible wound.
“I gotta hand it to you—”
Harley whirled to look in the direction of the voice and drew his sword in the same motion.
A guard stepped from behind a large tree, a crossbow in hand, but unspanned and pointed up.
“—you’ve got an extra helping of boldness, but you still won’t get past the outer guards.”
Harley peered closely. There was something familiar about the man. He was tall, thin and wiry. A few locks of dark hair showed at the edges of his headdress. Then it hit him.
“You’re the bard.”
The man gave a toothy grin and bowed slightly.
“You’ve got a sharp eye. It takes most folks longer.”
“Who are you?”
“I don’t confine myself to a single name, but, for now, Simon Shadow will do.”
Harley lowered his sword and frowned at the man. “Simon Shadow — the prince of thieves?”
“And master of disguise.” The grin grew even wider. “Or so most folks say. And your name?”
“Harley son of Davy.”
“Son of Davy? So you are bastard born?”
“My father is Davy Crocket, bossman of Tennzy, and my mother is Cyclone Woman, High Shamaness of the Shawnee Nation.”
“Oh ho, now there’s a story coiled up right there. And if I know anything about bastards, you’ve got an itch to prove yourself and perhaps settle a few disputes into the bargain.”
Harley held his tongue and fixed him with his baleful stare.
“Well, Harley son of Davy, it doesn’t take the intellect of Dr. Imhotep to figure out why you’re here. And if my reputation has preceded me, you’d have to be pretty dim to not figure out why I’m here. Perhaps I should turn you in and eliminate a rival.” Harley tensed his grip on his sword. “But I have a better idea. You have boldness. I have guile. You have strength. I have a plan. Together we can be stronger than each alone. If you’re willing, we can join forces and take this prize together.”
One prize, and two thieves. Not a great combination, Harley thought. But ‘eliminating rivals’ is a two-way road, and an answer for any treachery he might be hiding. For now, he has a point.
He extended his hand. “I’m willing.”
They each spat into their palms and clenched the other’s hand strongly.
“Now what about your plan?”
“That starts inside, so for now it’s more guile than plan. It involves me escorting you in as my prisoner.”
Harley fixed him again with a hard stare. “You ask a lot.”
“Do you have a better idea? A frontal assault on the guards with you waving that toad sticker of yours over your head while the alarms wail? I know the passwords for today. I can get us both in quick as whisper. Believe me, I’ll need your sword if the barriers are what folks say they are.”
Harley wasn’t rid of all his misgivings, but he went along when Simon produced manacles and showed him how to wear them unlocked. Faster than he would have liked, he and Simon were marching across the Pleasure Gardens toward the Sphinx Gate, Simon in the rear with the crossbow aimed between Harley’s shoulder blades. The building shaped like a lion with the head of a man was larger than his father’s entire palace, but it was still dwarfed by the pyramid looming behind it. The only way inside led between the Sphinx’s outstretched front legs and the gatehouse that guarded it. Guards with crossed spears blocked them.
“Amun!” an unseen voice boomed at them.
“Thoth!” Simon replied.
“Advance and be recognized.”
Simon stood where he was.
“Advance and be recognized!”
Still no movement. Harley began to wonder.
“You’ve passed. Step up to the gate.”
This time Simon prodded Harley forward. “Captain Billy Jack with a prisoner for interrogation, cell OPA1171.”
“Proceed.” The guards uncrossed their spears.
The interior of the Sphinx was a single, main hallway with smaller ones branching off, ordinary and unadorned.
What they came to at the end was anything but ordinary.
Towering out of sight was the largest assembly of tek either man had ever seen. Everything was fashioned of something like white enamel. There were machines bigger than houses and machines the size of horses and machines smaller than mice. Machines that whirred and blinked and swiveled and clicked. Machines with a dozen segments in ceaseless motion and machines of smooth inert globes or cubes or cylinders. Machines that shot out red lightning bolts and machines that gurgled colored liquids in tubes and bulbs. Bundles of antennas twitched and pointed in a dozen directions. Little machines on wheels scurried by. Little flyers like enameled dragonflies darted through the air. Picture screens were studded everywhere, flickering with images of everything from geometric shapes to planets. Snapping, glass voices filled the air with rivers of sound. The smells of hot metal and ozone and cinnamon prickled the nose.
“Intruders! Intruders! Intruders!” a voice squawked.
From the interior of the assembly emerged three figures clad in white enamel cap-a-pied armor. They moved with a precise, high speed motion reminiscent of insects. They carried crossbows that spat crackling red pulses.
“Run!” Simon shouted as he tossed Harley’s sword to him.
Harley shucked his manacles, caught his sword and dove to one side. “Was this part of the plan?”
“In a manner of speaking!”
Several red pulses buzzed over their shoulders. They wove their way into the assemblage with the three close behind. The pair turned a corner and found themselves boxed in by tall machines on all sides. They clambered up the side of a one shaped of linked cubes and stood on top. The pursuers stopped, and then began to float upwards into the air. Simon reached into the bag at his waist and pulled out a tangle of wires and metal balls, plus one small box.
“What the hell?” Harley snarled.
Simon didn’t reply but shook out the wires into three bolas that hung between thumb and forefinger.
“Get down!” he shouted. Harley crouched.
Simon whirled the bolas twice and quick as thought released first one, then another, then the third, each one aimed at a different pursuer. The bolas wrapped themselves around each creature’s torso. Simon pressed a small button on the box in his other hand, and small blue lightning bolts crawled up the length of each figure. With a dying noise they plummeted to the ground below and crashed.
The two men looked down and then at each other.
“You remember back at the bar, Harley, I told you a bunch of mumbo-jumbo about Imhotep’s tek mojo? I was testing you, and I liked what I saw. Nothing I said seemed to faze you a bit.”
“Nothing like that does.”
“That’s good because that attitude will get us out of here. It also means you won’t be bothered if I use a little tek mojo of my own. And now let’s get down and take a look at those things.”
They climbed down to the remains of their pursuers. Simon bent over one, retrieving his bolas and searching down the side of their torsos until he found a catch. With a satisfied grunt, he opened the thing’s chest plate to reveal no man inside like Harley half suspected but instead a set of complicated machines and devices. After a short search, he removed from a niche a small object the size of a coin and handed it to Harley. He did the same thing to the next one and kept this one for himself.
“I spent several months setting up my plan. I learned the tek in here is much like an ant colony or beehive, but a lot more complicated. The way the parts identify each other is one of these. Carry it with you at all times and the tek will think you’re one of them. It’s how Imhotep and his servants move through here. There are probably more of these metal men moving toward us, but now we’re not a threat. Well, time for one more thing.”
He pulled a thick grease pencil out of a belt pouch and went to the third guardian. On the thing’s front torso plate he sketched a simple figure:
Harley gave him a questioning look.
“It’s my calling card.”
Harley’s only response was a dubious shrug. They moved deeper into the assembly.
❀ ❁ ❀
“What does your plan call for now?”
The two men stood in a large archway. Behind them was a ramp leading up from the tek assembly they had spent the last hour traversing. Before them was the upper half of the pyramid’s interior, a single open expanse filled with lush jungle vegetation. The light came from a circular aperture in the distant ceiling. The air was humid and filled with the thick green smell of luxuriant plants. Except for the low buzz of insects, there was silence.
“To be perfectly honest, the plan is a little vague at this point.”
“It took me more than you can imagine just to get what I do know. There wasn’t much I could learn about what’s up here.” He shrugged. “And what I learned doesn’t make much sense. So—the plan is to avoid whatever’s here and get the hell out and up to the chamber—” he pointed up—“where the Eye is kept.”
“And how do we get up there?”
“If my eyes are any good, there’s a pillar of some sort on the other side of this. I don’t have a clue what it is, but I’m thinking it’s our way up.”
Harley drew his sword. “Great. Let’s get on with it.”
They advanced into the jungle and were soon enveloped by the trees and understory vegetation. Within minutes Harley had a prickly feeling, like he was being watched. He stopped.
“What is it?”
Harley waved him to silence and let the sounds and smells and sights of his surroundings flow into him, like how he had been taught to hunt growing up among the Shawnee. It bubbled up inside him that something was causing nearby shrubbery to bulge—
With a hissing scream something exploded out of hiding. In an instinctive lunge that went deeper than thought, Harley stabbed out. The thing crashed into him at full speed and they went down in a tangle of limbs.
Simon drew a short stabbing sword he kept at his waist. “Harley, are you all right, man?”
Harley shoved the thing off of him and stood. “The blood is its, not mine.”
They could now see the thing was a reptile, but grown to slightly less than man size. Its head was crocodilian and filled with slicing teeth. It walked upright and had large three fingered paws tipped with talons, while each foot carried folded up a horribly savage sickle-like claw. A long straight tail was held upright. Harley’s sword had sliced directly from the base of the throat into the thing’s heart.
“What nightmare did this thing spring from?” Harley asked as he cleaned his blade and himself with handfuls of leaves.
“The only thing I was told is whatever’s up here was bred from mosquitoes.”
“That sure as hell doesn’t look like a mosquito.”
“Like I said, it didn’t make much sense.”
“Did your sources say whether it was a solo or pack hunter?”
“Nope, not a word.”
From the distant edge of the jungle, several more of the hissing screams could be heard faintly.
“I’m getting the feeling they’re pack,” Harley said.
“Let’s not waste time talking about it.”
The two men ran toward the pillar.
❀ ❁ ❀
Thirty minutes later they stood at the base. It was as large as a small tower and went straight up to the barely discernible ceiling overhead. There was the outline of a doorway in the surface of the rock, but no indicator of how to open it was visible, aside from a few suspicious looking lumps that protruded beside it.
“I’m thinking something here will activate it if we can figure out—” Simon didn’t finish.
Three of the reptiles stepped out of the jungle and fanned out around the two men, heads down and tails erect, hissing and peeling back lips to reveal rows of fangs. Without warning, one launched an attack, leaping forward with its large slashing foot claw extended to rend its prey in two.
Harley leaned to the right and pivoted with the grace of a tiger, delivering a smashing overhand strike with his broadsword that severed the thing’s leg with a single blow. The beast crashed to the ground and thrashed out its life in a few seconds.
The other two reptiles weren’t waiting. The one closest to Simon attacked with the same move. The thief leaped to one side and delivered a long shallow cut on the thing’s side with his shortsword, but was unable to avoid the reptile’s long tail, which was swung like a war hammer. Simon was flattened, out cold and on the ground, and the beast came to a stop over him, screaming its victory over its prey.
Harley threw himself at the beast just as it was preparing to bite into its victim, his sword cleaving between its ribs, slicing deep into its heart, but there the blade stuck. The creature writhed, snapping at Harley even as it died. Unable to retrieve his sword, Harley flung himself to one side to avoid the third creature’s attack, rolling into the corpse of the first beast. The third creature screamed its frustration and reared back to deliver a deadly bite. Harley snatched up the only thing at hand, the severed leg of the first creature. He sprang to his feet and put every muscle he had into a roundhouse smash with the leg to the side of the attacker’s head. It stumbled and struck the side of the pillar at the site of one of the protrusions. There was an audible click, a light came on in the side of the rock, and an artificial voice coolly stated, “Elevator door opening.”
Harley frantically wrenched his sword free, grabbing Simon’s unconscious form with his other hand, and hurled himself through the opening. The third reptile had recovered and thrust its head inside. Harley, from a prone position, stabbed upward but only managed to pierce the loose skin at the base of its jaw, pinning the creature to the side of the white enamel wall. The artificial voice, as unperturbed as ever, asked, “Emergency closure requested?”
“Yes! Now! Do it!” Harley roared.
The doors closed on the reptile’s neck. It attempted to rear back and extricate itself. The sword and the door held it fast. The elevator shot upward, severing the thing’s head with a tight snick. It gave one last convulsive snap of its jaws as its blood sprayed the wall.
❀ ❁ ❀
“Elevator door opening.”
Harley had come to his feet on the three-minute ride up. He emerged slowly and with every sense alert, a bloody sword in one hand and Simon slung over his shoulder. The space he emerged into was the smallest Harley had seen in the pyramid, but was still immense, large enough to shelter a castle or three with room to spare. In the center of it rose a low white enamel stepped pyramid, with a staircase ascending one side. At the top sat a glowing oval shape, with an eye searing pillar of white-hot light erupting straight up from it and then out an aperture far above. Just to one side of the pyramid, Harley could see a large pool of liquid in a round, glass encasement. The liquid was pale green, thick, almost gelatinous, and stirred by rhythmic pulsations and ripples. Its container was linked to other similar shapes, also filled with liquids, but more distant and harder to make out. Between and above them moved the small wheeled and flying tek he had seen before. The farthest limits of the space were glass walls giving a vista of the Strip and the surrounding city. Just to the left of the pyramid’s stairs was a wall sized screen that flicked into life. The face that filled it froze Harley into place. It wasn’t a human one.
“Who is there? Are you a new servant of Imhotep come to wring something more from me? I have nothing to give though you slash me a thousand times!”
The face was dominated by two great golden eyes. A large crest of feathers, white tipped with black, came erect as it spoke. The remainder of the face was more that of the blunt muzzle of a beast of prey than a bird, with oddly delicate purple lips drawn back to reveal a carnivore’s fangs. The small part of its body that was visible was covered in amber and bronze plumage.
“I am Harley, son of Davy. I have not come to harm you. I am a thief.” He slid Simon, who was groaning and beginning to recover, to the ground behind him and gripped his broadsword with both hands. “Who are you?”
The golden eyes blinked. “I am… nameless. Once long ago I was Kahree choch Tanaiarok of the sky-clan Thunder Rain. But now I am a wing clipped slave and have no name. What are you seeking, thief?”
“I have come for the Eye.”
“The Eye? Then you have come for me.”
“Explain your meaning.”
“I am in the Eye. Eons ago, thief Harley son of Davy, my home was not on this Earth. My people are hunters and explorers, a winged race, riding the updrafts of our world, swooping wherever we pleased. I could fly. Ai! I could fly! In time we left our world to fly the winds between the stars and learn as much as our hearts could grip. I came to this world in a ship, the structure which you have been ascending. I was intrigued by your race and stayed long, but my body, as long lived as my race is, began to wear out. I — printed is the best word you have for it — myself, my soul if you will, into the crystal you call the Eye, and from it I would embody myself as I had need. I lived in many lands as I fared among you, traveling in my ship, learning and giving judicious aid. Many are the names your people came to call me, Garuda, Lei Gong, the Ziz, Seraphim, Quetzalcoatl, Thunderbird, and finally Thoth. They neglected to give me one more: the Great Fool. For it was among the people of the Nile I found my greatest pupil and to my utter woe my greatest betrayer. Imhotep was so eager to learn everything I had to teach him, so thirsty, until the day he turned on me and trapped me in this diamond prison, transforming me into a wing clipped slave, commanding my tek in his own behalf and for his own black ends. When I refused to cooperate, he lashed me with agony until I could take no more. All that you have experienced below is his perversion of what my ship and tek can do, and all I can do is watch. Until now! You can free me, Harley son of Davy. You can tear me loose from this cage and allow me to fly once more. Will you do it, son of Davy? Will you let me fly free and take my vengeance, so long delayed?”
“Do it, Harley.” Simon had fully come to and now stood behind him. “Imhotep is as rotten as they come.”
Harley looked at the creature. “I came here for great wealth, and I’m sure there would be even more buyers eager to snatch up the Eye if they knew something lived within it.”
The winged being gave a great cry, like the sound of winter winds tearing at a frozen sea.
“But I was taught that when great good fortune enters your life, there’s a great duty to right the wrongs on the earth. I have something to propose. I will free you, and in return I’ll call upon your help when I have need.”
“I will not trade one slave master for another!”
Harley sheathed his sword. “Who’s talking slaves? I don’t want any slave! I’m thinking of a partnership. You help me, I help you. You come and go as you wish. I do the same.”
“Done!” the creature cried. “Quickly! I sense Imhotep stirring. Take the Eye from off its base and throw it into the pool of green liquid next to it. Don’t wait!”
The image on the screen winked out as Harley ran up the steps, shielding his eyes from the intense light. Surprisingly, the Eye was only slightly warm to the touch when Harley lifted it from the ring of sensors and conduits it was nested in. The pillar of light snapped off, setting off the wail of alarms and mechanical voices.
“Warning! All systems danger imminent! Warning!”
The huge diamond made a fine geyser when it hit the green liquid and sank out of sight. The entire pool began to seethe and roil.
“You fools! You stupid lowborn vaki fools!” From the far side of the area strode a tall figure, olive complexioned, clean shaven and completely bald, thin to the point of emaciation, wearing a white lab coat and walking with a long staff in his hand. He pointed at Harley and Simon. “Get them!”
Several of the white enameled metal men scuttled from behind him and pointed their crossbow weapons.
“Warning! All systems — danger imminent! Warning!”
A cluster of red pulses crackled over Simon and Harley’s heads. They ran for cover among the tanks and other tek just barely ahead of the metal men, but this time there were more waiting for them. Surrounded, the two men dropped their weapons, put their hands in the air and turned to face the enraged doctor.
“Do you think you are the first vaki vermin to infest my work here? Do you think I will hesitate to cleanse my home and laboratory of lowborn scum like you? But first I have to take care of the bungling chaos you have created.”
Dr. Imhotep raised his staff horizontally over his head and called out, “Initiate emergency shutdown and re-initialization sequence Hamtat Yassat Sutay!”
There was complete silence in the space.
With a great crash, the encasement of the pool of green liquid shattered, spraying the fluid in all directions and revealing an immense bald eagle with a wingspan of over twenty feet, feathers dripping as the creature lurched to its feet.
With a voice of a hurricane it shouted, “Khrach-kek tarochar sookfar!”
The warning voice redoubled its efforts, but this time in an unknown language, while sirens and warning bells of every kind began to sound.
“Shoot it! Shoot it now!” Imhotep demanded.
The metal men began firing red pulses at the eagle, staggering it. With a desperate heave it leaped to the apex of the low white pyramid on which the Eye had rested. It took to the air, but several more pulses slammed into it, causing the eagle to veer out of control and crash into the glass windows, shattering them. With a great cry, it tumbled out of sight.
Amid the din of wailing alarms, Imhotep was practically electric with glee. “I should have done that millennia ago. I had wrung everything I wanted from it and at last I am rid of it. Now, vaki animals, prepare to pay for your profaning my home!”
Imhotep pointed his staff at the two men. With a rending crash, the glass window opposite of where the eagle had fallen shattered inward and the great bird shot through at top speed, shouting “Revenge!” as it grasped Imhotep in its talons and swooped out of the building. It climbed rapidly and then released Imhotep. With a thin wail, he fell, until with a wet sound he was impaled on one of the obelisks.
The eagle swept in with a buffeting whoosh of wind from its wings and perched at the shattered window. “Quickly, son of Davy and your companion! On my back!”
The two men made a run and flying leap onto the eagle’s back and clung tightly as the creature’s muscles bunched and coiled beneath them. It left the building and was only able to rise a few hundred feet when the Black Pyramid exploded into a million shards. A giant’s hand shoved them savagely into the black sky.
❀ ❁ ❀
“Do you still have no name?”
The three of them had alighted on the desert a few miles away from the remnants of the city. Dawn was just a few minutes away.
“I am no longer a slave, son of Davy. It is time I chose a new name. It will celebrate my release from bondage. I won’t bore you with what it would be in my own language because it would be long and complex, but in your tongue I will keep it simple: my name is Glory.”
The great eagle began to glow brighter and brighter, with a white hot center the size of the Eye throbbing from deep inside, until he became incandescent and Harley and Simon had to shield their eyes. When the brilliance ebbed, standing in the eagle’s place was an elderly man dressed in simple garments, with long white hair and beard and a walking stick in his hand.
“The Eye allows me to take many forms. The immense eagle is occasionally of great use, but a taxing one to maintain for any length. This form allows me to come and go among your kind with greater ease and anonymity. I don’t think I will ever assume the form I had on my home world. It would be a thing of fear and distrust here. But I may take other forms from time to time, and choose names to fit each form as I have need. I’m inclined to let this form be called Grandpa Sam, but that may change.”
“What are you going to do now?”
“Do? Do what I have always done! Explore. Learn. Discover. And in time, cautiously and where appropriate, teach.”
“Will we meet again?”
“Oh, most assuredly. I owe you a great debt. From time to time, as you have need, you may call and I will answer. Here. Take this.”
The old man pulled from a pocket an amulet on a fine chain and handed it to him.
“Wear this next to your skin. When you wish to converse, touch it and think intensely of me. We can then talk or I can come as soon as I can. Now, just before you released me, you spoke of a partnership.”
“Yes, I did. I still wish that.”
“Good, because there may be times when I will need your help with my tasks. If so, the amulet may become warm or buzz lightly. Touch it and we’ll talk. One more piece of instructions.”
“Don’t abuse our partnership.”
Harley fixed his eyes on him. “I abuse nothing.”
“Good, because you don’t need my help to rescue you from every difficult place you find yourself in. You will need to cultivate independence and resourcefulness, or your life’s flight won’t clear the treetops.”
“Then it is time for me to take wing. I need to cover a lot of ground and walking can get so dull.”
Again there was a moment of brilliant incandescence and then an eagle, a normal sized one, was perched on a cactus.
“May you ride the winds with strength and return to an eyrie safe and high, son of Davy.” And with that he leaped into air and was gone in a flurry of wings.
The two men stood there for a time, watching the form dwindle into the distance. Finally, Harley turned to look at the other man.
“What about you, Simon? Where are you headed?”
“I’m going where the pickings are good, wherever men of corruption have piled up wealth through crime and exploitation of others. I’ve heard there’s a bossman in Nawlins that could be in need of trimming. Care to come with me?”
“More disguises? More painstakingly crafted plans? More guile? Not my methods. No, I’ve heard of trouble brewing in the Bitterroots. Perhaps they have need of a strong sword arm.”
“Then the best of luck to you, my friend. Perhaps we’ll meet again.”
“Oh, and Harley?”
“Folks say a lot of things. I suspect by the time we meet up again what they’ll be saying will be about you.”
Harley gave him a thoughtful look, and then they shook hands.
“You did okay, Harley, real good in fact for a lowborn —
❀ ❁ ❀
“— vaki scum,” the storyteller concluded.
There was a roar of approval from the crowd, with more upraised steins.
“And with that Harley turned north and Simon south. I’ll tell you a story.”
“Right!” This time the crowd’s response was loud and on cue.
“And every word is a lie.”
“But not everything’s false.”
“A story, a story!”
“Let it come, let it go!”
“If you enjoyed the tale, pass it along and put a coin in the hat when it comes by. If you didn’t enjoy it, pretend you didn’t hear it — and put a coin in the hat when it comes by. Or perhaps you have a Harley tale I haven’t heard yet and care to let me learn it. I would consider that a fine reward.”
The storyteller leaned back on his stool and took a sip from his stein. It always gave him a buzz to tell a good tale to the folks.
❀ ❁ ❀ finis ❀ ❁ ❀