XENA : GODDESS OF WAR
By Phantom Bard (J. Nakamura)
Disclaimer: This is a work of fan fiction, and is offered for non-profit entertainment. It may not be sold, may be downloaded for personal use only, and must contain this statement. The characters from the TV series Xena: Warrior Princess, including Xena, Gabrielle, Eve/Livia, Callisto, Joxer, Tegason, Virgilius, and the portrayals of Ares, Sisyphus, Aphrodite, and the archangel Michael are the creations and property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No malice is intended to these characters or concepts. I would like to express my thanks to their creators for sharing them with us. This story is my own, and if other authors feel the desire to create sequels, it's ok, but it can't be for profit. Feedback can be sent to me at the address above.
This story contains violence that may be disturbing to some readers. There is no intent to offend, however if you feel that this topic will make you feel uncomfortable, please read something else. This story takes place after the 5th season episodes, but is based on events of the 2nd season episode "Ten Little Warlords", and the 3rd season episode "Furies". After that this tale starts to deviate from the show in some ways. I hope you enjoy this story.
I've been around a long time, and I thought I should write this all down. It really is history, and I've started to feel obligated to preserve it. There isn't anyone who knows the whole story except me. Maybe someday someone will need to know. So much has been lost in the passage of time, and often, I hear things that make me want to scream, "No, no, no, it didn't happen that way". While I still have the chance I'd like to get my own story right. It's more than taking names and kicking ass.
This is a big step for me. It's really out of character. I guess writing was never my thing, but things change I've changed the world changed. (Now that was really deep, wasn't it). I knew someone once who could have done this right, so I just keep asking myself, what would she have done? How would she have told this story? What words would she have chosen to make it come alive? (By the gods, I still miss her). I guess I'd be satisfied if you didn't throw this scroll down in boredom and disgust. What makes it difficult for me is that I've never loved hearing stories about my adventures. Writing about them myself well, I never even considered that. Still, maybe in time, the people who want to know what I have to say will find this story, and their questions will be answered. I hope they read it in time. I really do, because I know some things they don't. Something is going to happen sooner or later, and every year that passes increases the odds that it will be soon. Just like a town waiting for the siege to begin, we need to prepare. We will be facing a new enemy, with our lives at stake, and we won't know how they play the game of war .
How It All Began
Well it was just like I thought; Sisyphus had hidden Ares' sword in plain sight. That old warlord, the one who tried to sneak up on me, he had it all along and he never knew it. Sisyphus had changed its appearance. I buried my dagger in his guts without even looking at him. Ironically, Ares had tucked his own sword into that dead warlord's hands, after we laid his corpse on the table. I only knew where it was for sure, when I leaped up on that table, while I was fighting Tegason. The first time I reached down to take it from the corpse, he nearly cut my arm off. Actually, he nearly cut Callisto's arm off, but I was trapped in her body, and I needed that arm for a while. Eventually I grabbed it, and used it to parry Tegason's sword, and disembowel him. Then I raised Ares' sword as if in salute, and I felt a power course through my body. It was as though I'd been struck by lightning. Though I didn't know it then, I was already half way to being a goddess because I was Ares' daughter. (The Furies later led me to discover that). Just holding Ares' sword, and knowing what it was, finished the job. The old bloodlust I knew so well blossomed, like Greek fire, in my heart it became almost too much to resist. I saw strategies within strategies, and countless options fanning out before me. I could almost sense the future, and I quickly made some hard choices. For a few moments I wanted the mantle of the Goddess of War. The power was intoxicating, and I was a better warrior than Ares, even in Callisto's body. Meanwhile, he was still fighting.
After taking a beating, Ares finally gutted Virgilius with a dagger. It had taken him long enough. That left the two of us, with Sisyphus trying to convince me to kill Ares. Then Joxer and Gabrielle burst in, still acting flaky. Well, you know I'd had my differences with Ares, but I understood him, and I'd trust him long before I'd trust Sisyphus. Sisyphus had made a deal with Hades, and if I'd killed Ares, he would have become the new God of War in spite of me, for Hades had the greater power. That scenario just wasn't an option so I saved Ares' hide when Virgilius started to get up behind him with that ridiculous axe.
A Little Later
"Now if I can just survive the boat ride with Joxer, I'll be fine", Gabrielle said as we walked beside the surf. Ares had been restored as God of War, and Sisyphus went back to pushing his rock. Joxer was running on ahead, with his loud mindless giggle
"Trust me, you'll be fine and so will I", I said, as I shifted bodies. The surprise on my bard's face was simply priceless.
I didn't need Ares to help me recover my body from Callisto, any more than I needed his sword to remain a goddess. In the time my favorite mortal took to speak a sentence, I could go and seize my body back from Hades' realm. Hades looked at me, more shocked than Gabrielle. Ares had just given him a tongue lashing for his deal with Sisyphus, and when I showed up, he didn't know what to think. All he knew was that I had godlike powers. I didn't tell him anything either. I liked letting him live in suspense. Better still, Callisto always thought Ares had switched us back. The less "sick girl" knew the better.
"Xena? It's you, right? Not Callisto?", (Gabrielle's so cute when she's perplexed).
"It's me. Go on, test me", I answered, as I touched her arm.
"Whose body is worse to be trapped in than Callisto's?" she asked.
"A snake haired Gorgon's but not by much", I replied with a grin.
"It really is you .", she exclaimed with relief, and she hugged me.
Meanwhile and Afterwards
I decided I could never tell Gabrielle about my godhood. I didn't want it to come between us. I let her think Ares had kept his promise, and restored me to my body. I thought telling her I was now a goddess would have turned her friendship into worship. That would have felt too much like of the days of "Xena the Conqueror", and her army. Years later, when I saw how she acted with Aphrodite, I had some second thoughts, but by then it was too late. I wouldn't have gone through another rift for anything, and this was kind of a big secret I'd kept from her. Made my lie about killing Ming T'ien seem like little dinars.
I learned to control my powers, like I'd learned to control my reflexes. I found that my ability to make plans was greatly enhanced. With my divine sense of strategy and tactics, I didn't often resort to raw power. When I did use my new abilities, I always made sure to explain them in some other way. I used my powers in Chin, to escape, and then destroy Ming T'ien, and later to turn Khan's army into stone. Without my powers, Gabrielle and I would have been killed in that fall down the cliff, back when we convinced the Olympians of our deaths. Most of the time I used my powers to appear mortal.
I think the hardest thing I ever did was staying in that ice tomb for 25 years. Long enough for Eve to grow up without me. I knew there was no way I could keep her safe from the gods all that time. So I watched her become a warrior, and I preserved Gabrielle. Strategy takes on a whole new dimension when you're immortal. I even let Ares play his part. I had to wait until the time was right, but by then I had strong allies. Michael, and his God, told me Eve had an important role to play in the world. They'd arranged her birth for a reason. Eventually they persuaded me to wait, and their plan was so subtle I couldn't refuse. Talk about the greater good hmm, they had it all figured out, and I just had to be in on it. They were out to change everything taking down those Olympians was just a sideshow, and in the end it actually worked. Michael's God sent his son into the world, and he caused a major shift in mankind's beliefs. Instead of living in a world ruled by the whims and cruelty of many gods, people could believe they were the objects of their god's love. A god who valued every one of them, good or bad. A god who would forgive them. A god who asked only that they confess their failings and seek redemption through faith.
For me, it started with a few hundred of Eli's followers, but in time billions would kneel before this god. At first, Eli was out to teach a way of living based on love. He wanted to be a healer. It wasn't really about god. He wanted to find a true way to peace. Then the Olympians got worried because he gave people an option to worshipping them. People stopped believing they had no choice but to accept the pettiness of the gods. So the Olympians, Ares and Athena in particular, tried to intimidate Eli and his followers. Around that time, Eli started having visions when he'd pray for guidance. In seeking, he found someone who could give answers. The ancient One God of the Israelites took Eli under His wing, and used him to perform miracles curing the sick, and even raising the dead. I wasn't sure if God had inspired Eli, or Eli stumbled on God by chance. In the end, Eli was martyred and the One God inherited all his followers. But Eli's teachings were the groundwork of the movement.
One thing I have come to understand is that the Olympians differed greatly from the One God. They were tied to the world, and so they experienced a flow of time. For this reason, they consulted the Fates for their prophecies. Not so the One God for Him, time does not flow, it simply is. He could see ahead as easily as He could see back into the past. He made the Fates read what He willed into their strands, or as we say now, He used them to disseminate disinformation. Everyone from Zeus on down bought into that "Twilight of the Gods" routine. Ares almost saw through it when he told Livia that for 25 years, while her identity was a secret, nothing happened, and all they had to fear was fear. Thankfully he was only trying to convince her to kill me he didn't believe his own words. As I said, there were tactics within tactics.
Then I came to Olympus to offer Athena a deal; she would heal Gabrielle and Eve, and I would leave them in peace. But on the way to the great hall, Ares appeared with a deal of his own.
"I'm here to make you an offer", he said as he came towards us. I was losing patience and time was running out. I wanted to shoot him dead for old times' sake.
"We'll make you a god." (Good one Ares what you don't know will get you killed).
"And what about Eve and Gabrielle?" I asked, knowing what his answer would be.
"Gabrielle we can negotiate, but Eve she is our death warrant. She has to die."
Then he came forward and lowered the crossbow I held, from his chest. He had guts, I'll give him that.
"You know, this is the second time we've faced off one on one, since you became Xena Slayer of Gods, and you still haven't been able to pull the trigger."
I shot him in the thigh by reflex. I'd intended to re-aim and shoot higher, but I twitched. So I bound him in Hephaestus' chain, and brought him along to my confrontation with Athena. He was shocked, blustering, and indignant. Guess he'd forgotten about being wounded by Diomedes at Troy, when Athena had driven the chariot against him. In the end I was glad he survived. When all appeared lost, he brought Gabrielle and Eve back to life, allowing me to impale Athena for a second time. (Could a mortal have done that?). For that one act I was forever in his debt, and I finally did feel something for him. Gratitude. I protected him for the rest of his mortal life.
Athena, Goddess of War and Wisdom was dead, and Ares, God of War was mortal. But Xena, Goddess of War and Strategy survived. Wars still happened, and people didn't act violently insane, as they had when Ares lost his sword to Sisyphus all those years ago. But did anyone wonder why? Noooo! Not even Gabrielle, who had been through that, realized what wasn't happening. She was preoccupied with our happy ending. Her bard's sensibilities for a plot line blinded her. In all the years that followed, she never caught on.
For as long as she lived she was my favorite. Once she chose to accept the necessity of fighting, I strengthened her, and increased her prowess. Nothing unbelievable, but she always vanquished her foes, and she never fell prey to hubris. She never lost her heart, or her hope for a better world. She has repaid me a hundred to one. Whenever I have felt like giving up, her memory strengthened me, and increased my prowess. Over the centuries she has done more good, through me, than she could ever have imagined. I hope she forgives me.
The First Crusade
Time went by fast after Gabrielle left the world. At many times and in many places I fought to protect the civilized nations I knew. I tried to preserve peoples' freedom, and the knowledge of ancient times. It was a long, slow defeat. I spent years watching the Roman Empire, as it grew too large to manage, and eventually rotted from within. The leadership went to hell, and without it the territories fell prey to invaders and insurgents. Finally the known world was reduced to petty kingdoms and city-states. I was tired of it all. Been there, done that.
The followers of Eli had become a dominant power, with all the corruption and politics that go along with it. Just like the Roman Empire, the church rotted from within. The leadership was cynical and worldly. The rank and file was fanatical. What a great legacy to Eli's memory hatred for all non-Christians, and constant suspicion for each other. It really hit the fan when the Arabs took over the Holy Lands, and tried to expand into Europe. By then, Christendom had split into the Western Roman, and the Eastern Byzantine churches. There was plenty of animosity between them, (and in fact their prelates had excommunicated each other), but when faced with a common enemy, they got together to "crush the infidels".
In 1095, on November 27th, Pope Urban II begged the faithful of Clermont, in central France, to bring military aid to the Byzantine Emperor, Alexis 1 Comnenus. His capitol of Constantinople was threatened by the expansion of the Turks and Arabs. Well, Urban II managed to rouse the rabble. Soon zealots were screaming, "Dieu li volt!" (God wills it!), and in the best traditions of the church, they marched off ready to kill. As a measure of the fanaticism of the times, thousands of peasants joined the crusade, following Peter the Hermit. He rode heroically from Amiens on a donkey, at the head of his troops, on March 10, 1096. Much to their credit, or the discredit of the nobles and militaries, Peter's "People's Crusade" reached Constantinople in August, about half a year ahead of the soldiers. They having been sidetracked in Mainz, slaughtering the Jewish population.
When Peter the Hermit, and his rabble, arrived in Constantinople, Alexis 1 tried to persuade him to await the Crusader armies. Well, after riding all that way on a donkey, he wasn't going to let a silly thing like common sense stop him. Peter the Hermit, besotted by his status and following, convinced the Byzantine Emperor to take him and his peasants across the Bosphorus Strait. When I spoke to Alexis 1, he told me he just wanted to be rid of them all, and would do anything to get them out of Constantinople. I could see this was a disaster in the making even real soldiers would have had a hard time with the Turks in Anatolia. Sure enough, after crossing the Bosphorus, the "People's Crusade" was massacred by the Turks at Civetot. As someone I once knew had said, 'What could you possibly have been thinking?' This wasn't a war. It was a stupid, wasteful slaughter. I saw the effect of religion on the feebleminded masses. Frenzy, hysteria, and loss of life followed the charisma of faith run amok.
In the following years, the Crusader armies were militarily successful, but the bloodshed on both sides, in the name of God, was a bitter embarrassment. When the Christians finally took Jerusalem in 1099, they killed almost everyone inside. Mutilated dead lay hip deep in the al-Aksa Mosque, and the smoke of the bodies, from the great synagogue as it burned to the ground, screamed to heaven. In that time, I turned my back on the One God.
The Inventor of Milan
He had recently arrived from Florence, and he was the most unlikely military engineer I had ever seen. I don't think he ever wielded a weapon in battle. His first love was sketching plants, and landscapes, and he'd apprenticed as a painter. He was a vegetarian when I met him at the court of Duke Lodovico Sforza, the warlord of Milan. I heard he was accomplished as a sculptor too, but my interest was in his military inventiveness. In hopes of safeguarding the civilized lands from barbarian invasion, I had become obsessed with developing better weapons. I came to his studio as the day was fading. I had some ideas I wanted to discuss with him.
He was sitting before an easel, which held a smallish wood panel. The partially finished painting he'd been applying colors to was a portrait of a woman, seated before a craggy landscape. Though her clothing was dark, there was a light reflected in her face, and her expression suggested patience, touched by amusement. It looked like it needed work, yet the space and light he depicted appeared very real. I thought it would be a nice painting when he finished it. To either side of the easel was a clutter of sketches, books, partially finished scale models of sculptures and machinery. It spoke of a mind, distracted by too many interests competing for attention, and too little time. It also made me think of lack of focus, or discipline.
An apprentice announced my presence, "Master, you have a visitor, Xena di Amphipolis she wishes to consult on engines of war."
With a sigh he turned to face me, and I registered the intensity of his eyes.
"Xena di Amphipolis, you are far from your home engines of war you would discuss. I am so tired of war, and death, and fighting. There are so many wonders in God's Creation, yet so much energy is spent in conflict and destruction."
"Master, it has been so in all the days I have known," I spoke, in the Latin of Byzantium, "Mankind seems destined for conflict, with the world, and other men. I believe it comes as the result of our spirits being each alone in our bodies, striving against the elements."
His eyes brightened, and he pondered my words. My belief that all conflict was an outgrowth of our struggles to survive, as individual beings, in an indifferent world, had excited his mind. I knew what conclusion he would reach.
"Xena, speak not of this beyond this room. The priests would see in it a heresy, for it negates the omnipotence of God's design for us in the world. They would demand your penitence with torture."
"This I know well, and to you alone I will say that God is not as men would believe Him to be. The world is driven by a will, blind and ruthless, and being of the world, man can be blind and ruthless as well. Civilization is threatened by barbaric tribes in the north, and the east. In the south the Arabs spread their influence. Your own lord is threatened by the French. I would wish for new weapons to confound our enemies, and save our lives."
"I have given much attention to the development of weapons. It is a part of my duties to the Duke. But perhaps you have some ideas of your own," he said, "and I must ask you to accept my apologies. I thought you merely a mercenary, enamoured of violence for the glory it confers, and now I see you are a thinker as well as a beautiful woman."
"Beauty lives in the beholder's eye, and what wisdom I have is from experience," I replied, "as for the engines of war, I have some ideas would you like to hear them?"
"Yes, of course. I seek always after knowledge, and I thirst for discourse with those who have it."
So we spoke a long time that evening, and many evenings after. I told him of my thoughts on a rapid firing weapon using the small canon that could be handheld. I spoke of an armored mobile platform for canon, to allow them to move on the battlefield. I shared my vision for ways to allow soldiers to attack from under the water, and from the air above. He devoured my information, sketching constantly. He had a sense of how such inspirations could become real machines could be built, and deployed on the battlefield. My respect for his abilities increased greatly. I had great hopes for the construction of the designs he sketched in those meetings. And I indulged him in his true love. I posed for him. He sketched me standing, looking down and to my right, my arms embracing a column for reference. He said he was inspired to paint a subject from the old mythology. Another project to contest for his time.
The years passed, and none of the wonderful machines he designed were built. For one reason or another they never became real weapons until hundreds of years later, and then they were deadly. The machine gun, the tank, the helicopter, scuba gear, and others were eventually developed. I can't imagine how history would have been changed if they had been built in 1485. I will tell you this. The small portrait he was working on when we first met hangs in the Louvre in Paris, revered by art lovers the world over, though the colors have darkened. Her smile has captivated millions of viewers over the centuries it is perhaps his best known work. And the sketches he made of me? He actually did finish that project. In his painting I stand embracing a swan, with cherubs to my right, as Leda.
He was a peaceful, intelligent, and inquisitive soul, forced by his times to serve corrupt and violent men. Men whose memory has faded, while his lives on as the model of a Renaissance Man. Five hundred years later, people still speak the name of Leonardo, from the country village of Vinci.
A New Hope
A few years after I spoke with Leonardo in Milan, a Genoese sea captain, Cristoforo Colombo, won patronage from the monarchs of Spain, and led three small ships on a voyage of discovery into the west. In time, I learned he had discovered the Caribbean and parts of South America. Soon there were trade, colonies, and slavery, just what you'd expect of the avaricious, immoral, hypocritical movers and shakers of those times. Gold, God, and Glory, but also Slavery, Small Pox, and Self-Righteousness the colonization of the New World started as an extension of the worst the Old World had to offer. Thankfully, the natives eventually became restless. It seemed to take forever from 1492 to 1776.
In the meantime I had begun to formulate a strategy which was based on "arming all quarters". The aim was to make the approaches by land, air, and sea impossible for an invader to overcome. Since the dawn of warfare, land passage had been the preoccupation of generals, warlords, and kings. Sea power had been proved in the Mediterranean for two millennia. After my talks with Leonardo, I realized that underwater and airborne warfare would someday be of strategic importance as well.
Both were centuries away, so I concentrated on ships. The voyages of discovery led to trade routes which needed protection. The Spanish and English built formidable navies to enforce their interests around the world. I felt the development of naval power was better undertaken by an island nation, and so I worked with the English. I fed inspirations for tactical and engineering advances to their admiralty, and on October 21, 1805 they were victorious at the Battle of Trafalgar. There the English navy smashed the navies of the France and Spain. They had saved themselves from the impending invasion by Napoleon, and established themselves as the supreme naval power of their time. Another act that turned my favor to the English, was their abolition, in 1800, of the ancient evil of slavery. Yet, they impressed tradesmen, prisoners, and even foreign sailors into service on their ships. For this reason, in the last years of the 1700's, I traveled to the fledgling republic of the United States of America. At the time they had no navy, but they had guts, and they had raw materials. And unlike the Europeans, they had a much looser social structure that I found refreshing. It allowed them a willingness to try new things, and this was a characteristic I needed for my plans.
Like I had with Leonardo so long before, I went to meet with the leading military designer of that time. He was a Philadelphia shipbuilder named Joshua Humphreys, who was a master shipwright, and had been commissioned by Congress to design frigates for the nation's navy. After a few minutes, he realized that I knew the specifications of all the British naval vessels. Because I had recently come from England, he assumed I was a spy, and this suited me. His budgets didn't allow him to build battleships, called "ships of the line". Instead, I convinced him to build enlarged versions of intermediate sized warships. We created a concept for these ships, that what they could not outgun, they would be able to outrun.
The three sister ships, United States, Constitution, and President would carry up to 50 long guns, which fired 24 pound shot. They also carried 20 shorter carronades, which fired shot as heavy as 42 pounds. By contrast, a British frigate might carry an equal number of lighter guns, firing 18 pound shot. Physically, our frigates were about a third longer, at 204 feet in length, and slightly wider. These proportions created a swift hull, and a long gun platform. Humphreys designed tall masts to carry huge sails, giving these ships more speed than any similar frigates. Finally, to protect them from damage by enemy fire, the hulls were live oak, and white oak, 15 to 25 inches thick. In battle trim, they carried crews of about 450, and displaced about 2,200 tons. USS Unites States and USS Constitution were completed in 1797. USS President was launched in 1800.
On June 12, 1812 the United States went to war with the greatest navy then in existence. There were 860 ships in the British navy in 1812. Of these, 191 were ships of the line carrying 74 to 130 guns. Another 245 were frigates, armed with 50 or more guns. The United States navy had 50 ships, the largest being Humphreys' three new frigates. It had been seven years since the British navy had lost a battle at sea. In 200 engagements, they had lost only five battles in the last twenty years. It was of vital importance to me that this new country prevailed. My plans for the future of warfare hinged on its development into a world power. There was no alternative to being prepared .none.
In the first battle, August 19, 1812, it took the USS Constitution less than three hours to render the British frigate HMS Guerriere a dismasted wreck, so badly damaged she was sunk, rather than taken as a prize. She fired more than 950 rounds at her enemy. Sailors saw 18 pound British cannonballs bouncing off Constitution's oak hull. Battle casualties; 101 British, 14 American. Next, the USS United States defeated the HMS Macedon, forcing her to surrender, and killing a third of her crew. Finally as the year ended, USS Constitution again destroyed a British frigate, the HMS Java, a faster ship. The British Admiralty forbade its frigates to engage the American ships one on one. Then, as the war came to an end in 1815, USS Constitution fought and defeated HMS Cyane and HMS Levant, both ships of the line, in a two against one engagement.
The war ended with the young United States a respected power abroad, and a confident nation at home. It foreshadowed the eventual might and influence this country would one day hold. In the development of arms, no country has ever succeeded so well. From those ships built in the first twenty years of their country, to the intimidation of the high tech weapons of the 21st century, the American military always managed to hold an edge. Their only defeats came from political constraints on the exercise of force.
And finally the dreams of the inventor of Milan began to come into existence. 1862, Richard Jordan Gatling created the first machine gun. 1864, the CSA H.L. Hunley became the first submarine to sink a warship, the USS Housatonic. 1903, Wilber and Orville Wright made the first controlled airplane flight.
A Time of Testing
Now came the time of testing, and may the Gods forgive me. The human capacity to find conflict is endless. There are hatreds simmering all over the world, ancient and recent. At any time, they can come to the surface; just a spark can start fires that scorch their way across the world. In the 20th century it happened twice, and both times I let it burn. I needed to assess what level of warfare mankind could unleash. I needed to see if we could meet the challenge I knew was coming. By 1918 I knew we weren't ready. I reached the same conclusion in 1945.
In June of 1914, a minor nobleman was assassinated in Sarajevo. Within four months most of Europe was involved. Leonardo's inventions were deployed for the first time on a large scale. Submarines, tanks, automatic weapons, and aircraft, as well as chemical weapons all made their major league debuts. By the time it ended, 8.7 million had died. For me it was depressing. Any enemy capable of invading us would have run over us in weeks.
In the late thirties, Germany began a series of invasions in Europe which shattered the post World War 1 peace. In the Pacific, Japan expanded too. Industrial development had given nations deadlier weapons, in greater numbers, and the death tolls reflected this. 36 million lives were lost, mostly between 1939 and 1945 over 5 million a year. There were two new weapons. The Germans had developed truly destructive rockets. But only at the very end, when the United States detonated atomic bombs, did there seem to be any hope for our preparedness. We might have held out for a month.
Almost 45 million people died in those two great wars. As bad as that was, it must be kept in perspective. Twelve years of war resulted in about 3.75 million casualties per year. In 1918 an epidemic of influenza swept the world. 20 million died of infection in that one year. And though I was immune, I remember the horror when, from 1346 to 1350 the plague ruled in Europe, killing a third of the population. 20 to 30 million people died 4 to 6 million a year. Deaths from disease have no purpose. Death in war is for a cause, even if that cause is unworthy. As Goddess of War I can sense impending threats. I knew we were running out of time, and I knew we were far from ready.
A Warlord Again
My senses were making the hair stand up on my head. I was losing patience with the pace of mankind. I had to do something, fast. (Of course this is all relative, being immortal, fast gets measured in decades, as opposed to centuries). So I did what I knew how to do so well. I organized soldiers for war. For the first time in almost two thousand years I took up the mantle of leader. I became a warlord again.
In 1938 I had a taste of the possible invasion I had come to fear. On October 30, I was in my living room in New York City, reading news of the growing troubles in Europe. The radio spewed out a report of landing craft falling from the sky outside Grovers Mill, New Jersey. As I listened in horror, the reports spoke of the emergence of alien craft, armed with "death rays", making their way across the countryside. They were destroying anything in their path, and they seemed to be invincible. Local authorities and the National Guard were helpless to stop them. I made a gesture, and disappeared.
In a moment, I reappeared in the town of Grovers Mill, which is about 4 miles from Princeton University. There was panic in the streets, and no one noticed the flash as I materialized. I was ready to destroy anything alien, regardless of who saw it, but I sensed no non-human presence. Although everyone was reacting as if there was an invasion, there were no invaders. This was just like some trick of the Gods from the old days, but I didn't sense any of them either. For a while I sat on a bench in the town's park, trying to make sense out of what I was seeing. Nearby a radio was playing another report. The couple listening to the radio were young hipsters, sitting on their porch, the radio playing through the window. I approached them they were the only calm people I saw.
"What do you know about all this space invader stuff?" I asked, trying to appear relaxed.
"Isn't it hip? They've got the old cats jumpin'", the young man said with a big grin.
"It's so cooool !" his girlfriend giggled as she put an arm around his shoulder.
This was just too weird. I knew young people had different values, but this
"It's the Mercury Theater show", he said, almost in hysterics, " and it's got everyone in a panic."
"This is a radio show? And all these people are believing it? What in Tartarus?"
"They made an announcement right at the beginning," the girl was starting to heave with laughter, "but do you think people listen?"
"There're going to be seizures all night long .", the boy was leaning back laughing too.
"Of all the stupid .." I disappeared in a flash. Maybe those kids would be the ones having the seizures. I guess they were the only ones to see anything unexplainable that night.
Turned out to be a clever hoax, created in the studio by a young man of 23, named Orson Wells. His radio troop was giving a dramatic presentation based on the 1898 novel "War of the Worlds", by H. G. Wells, a failed science teacher. It was an early highlight in a stellar career in entertainment, and a lesson to me about the power of the media. I felt like a fool, but as I stewed about it, I realized that the threat was possible. Why couldn't there be creatures from other worlds that could become our enemies? Perhaps this was the source of the foreboding I'd felt growing inside me for so long. Was it an outgrowth of a warrior's paranoia? Was I becoming unhinged after so long? I had to know.
In the weeks that followed I wrote letters to scientists, and the results confirmed my suspicions. In learned circles, it was assumed that alien life existed. What temperament it had, no scientist could reasonably say. When or if it would come to Earth was anyone's guess. They claimed all that was the realm of fantasy and fiction. My own certainty grew stronger. I was a warrior with senses attuned to threat. I was the Goddess of War, and my senses were more attuned then any mortal's. So I followed my instincts, and I raised an army.
One thing about being an immortal is that you never want for material things. I had amassed a fortune equal to the worth of some nations, and it was untraceable. I began cashing in investments based on my knowledge of the fortunes of war. I was pretty sure the world was going to battle on a giant scale very soon. I barely got my money out of Europe before Hitler took everything for the Reich.
I watched and waited, hiring a few core agents to help me until the war ended. Some were politicians, some military, some scientists. They kept up with the status of weapons development, having contacts with allied governments. On several occasions we "helped out", providing military intelligence I had been able to obtain by superhuman means. We also concentrated on bringing scientists out of the war zones, and each of those scientists repaid us with information. By late 1943 we tested an atomic device in Antarctica, and no one knew. Unlike today, there was no worldwide radar network. The next year we had a primitive ICBM to deliver it. This we also tested, firing from a ship at 58' S x 130' W. The South Pole was taking a beating, but it was for the greater good.
After the war, my army grew. We concentrated on development of high tech weapons systems, and I could afford to hire the best minds. Men and women who would have been "persuaded" to work for various governments came to me instead. We were a shadow organization without a country, a rumor of hope to scientists behind the iron curtain, simply a rumor in the west. I had never intended my army as an invasion force. I didn't need great numbers of troops. Only half of my personnel were combat regulars. The remainder were technical or research oriented. We never numbered more than 5,000.
Throughout the cold war we managed to outstrip the weapons development programs on both sides of the iron curtain. We didn't have red tape to contend with, and we didn't have to mass produce our current weapons in the numbers the U.S. and U.S.S.R. did. We always concentrated on what was next. In 1978 we were working on high-energy projectile weapons. We soon had an electromagnetic launcher that could drive a 10-pound steel egg to a good fraction of the speed of light. On June 30, 1980 during a test, the egg passed through Mt. St. Helens, blowing the top off the mountain. The projectile then continued on its path, retaining enough energy to escape gravity, and fly into space. It moved too fast for conventional radar, outpacing their emitted waves no image could bounce back.
Another 80's program we developed was the x-ray laser. It had been rumored as a research topic in the Strategic Defense Initiative of President Reagan. The claims were circulated to disturb the Russians. They derived from a security breach at my facility. The only way we could test this weapon was to launch it, disguised as a communications satellite, in a rocket hired from the French. After achieving orbit, it had a "malfunction" which sent it around the far side of the moon. There, sensors detonated a hydrogen fusion device. The blast energized a pure carbon rod, causing it to lase for 1/ 10,000 of a second. The resulting beam was reflected onto 4 mirrors, and from there lanced out into space. The entire satellite ceased to exist in under 1/500 of a second. By then the beams were well on their way. We registered energy spikes on 4 asteroids that disintegrated. This was undetected, as no one is watching every obscure asteroid between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. We now had a second weapon I felt we could use against invaders.
My next problem was development of weapons platforms. I couldn't just deploy my weapons wherever I wanted, and I knew we would need to use them quickly. Mobile platforms seemed the only answer. I pondered solutions for many years. Finally I sent out spies, to check on rumors I'd heard, about a government installation in Tenopah, Nevada. When I got their reports, I led troops into a conflict for the first time in a thousand years. I chose 50 members of my Beta team, and trained them for a covert strike. I could transport myself anywhere by my will all Gods could. I could also bring whatever I held. On a night of the new moon, when the desert was dark, my troops entered a non-metallic troop carrier. I put my arms around it, and transported us to Area 51 at Nellis Test Range. The results were never reported. What happens inside an Air Force maximum-security installation is not reported in the media. It would have been an embarrassment. In a short battle, my troops took possession of two American flying saucers, products of 50 years of development based on the Roswell crashes in the late 40's. They flew themselves home, and I still beat them back to our headquarters. It probably took the Air Force weeks to repair the damage we did to their radar and security structures. My expectation is that they believe the aliens repossessed their hardware. We took pains to make it appear that way.
The Dark of Night
We have no past,
We won't reach back,
Keep with me forward,
All through the night.
And once we start,
The meter clicks,
And it goes running,
All through the night.
Until it ends, there is no end.
We had developed the flying saucers we took from the U.S. Air Force, making them larger, and improving their handling. My development team perfected and installed devices that directed electromagnetic pulses, converted to microwave emissions, strong enough to destroy any electronic device. By the turn of the millenium we had twelve ships, armed to the teeth. I named them for the Olympian Gods and Goddesses of ancient times a tribute, and a last chance for them to protect the people they had once ruled. They were housed in the mid-Pacific, one of the least known places left on Earth. At all times two were aloft, and they could come and go as they pleased, for they reflected nothing. No radar on Earth could detect them. Of course my flagship was the Ares. How fitting for a Goddess of War, to fight from her father's namesake. All the years of development and testing created, for the world and its people, an unknown shield against the enemy none could see. Just like a town waiting for the siege to begin, we were finally prepared. We would be facing a new enemy, with our lives at stake, and they won't know how we play the game of war
In 2006, as winter gave way to spring, my senses left me no doubt the attack was near. I put my forces on alert status, and ordered a third ship onto patrol. We listened to every voice from the sky, our sensors ceaselessly probing the heavens. On March 14th we detected a whisper. It came, soft as a caress, reflected off the Jovian moon Ganymede. The invaders sought to approach us by stealth from behind the giant planet. My hackers commandeered three spy satellites, and triangulated its position. Still beyond the orbit of Saturn, but closing on the Earth, and adjusting its approach to remain hidden. We left the satellites pointed at the invader, and returned control to their governments. Twenty-three minutes later my hackers reported the armed forces of the U.S., Russia, England, Germany, France, and China coming to DefCon 2 status. They were too slow. I already had eight ships beyond lunar orbit, and all our planetary systems were at DefStat 1. Still there was no communication from the alien.
Leaving Apollo and Zeus around the dark side of the moon, I formed six ships into two squadrons. Aboard Ares, with Hera, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Artemis, and Hades, we blocked all gravitational fields save one. With no sensation of movement, our ships fell towards Jupiter. We approached using the planet to hide us, just as the enemy did. At 228 million kilometers from the sun we lifted briefly from the system elliptic, dodging the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Aphrodite, Hephaestus, and Hades fell 1,000 miles behind my squadron, and began a course divergence. My plan called for a squadron to transit the giant planet on each side, to catch the enemy in a pincer maneuver. We would time our appearance to coincide with the increase in gravitational effects of the planet on the enemy ship. This would reduce their options to maneuver.
Transmissions from my base reported dozens of small ships lifting from the desert of Nevada the New Air Force. They were positioning themselves in a network over the hemisphere of the earth, facing the alien ship.
As my squadrons approached Jupiter, my base reported the alien was releasing dozens of smaller craft, each about a mile in diameter. Just to make sure, I vanished from the bridge of the Ares. And reappeared in the void of space, directly in front of the invader. It was a huge disc, with a spreading ring of smaller ships forming a perimeter around it. For a moment I was seduced by the cold, stark void the sensation of eternity the siren call of oblivion. Someday I would return here, I told myself. When the wars, and the fighting, the conflict, and the blood made my soul too weary. When to continue was more painful than to die, I would commit myself to the endless reaches of space. I would let myself fall into the heart of the sun, and allow my remains to burn in the pyre of the Gods. It was the Thanatose Desire that shadows the survival instinct. I shook it off, and in a flash I returned to my ship.
Just before beginning the transit of Jupiter, each of my ships launched two 20-pound projectiles at 27% of the speed of light. They would punch through the gaseous planet, exiting the far side to impact anything in their paths. With double the mass, they carried the square of the energy of the projectile we had tested at Mt. St. Helens, 26 years before. As a last action, each squadron spread out to provide fighting room for its ships. We would attack across 30 degrees of planetary latitude from each side. The pilots fine tuned the gravitational blinds, and the ships fell around the giant planet. Onboard sensors revealed 9 impacts on the far side of Jupiter; a 75% strike rate. Our enemy knew they were under attack.
As my squadrons passed the terminator into the dark side of Jupiter, the crews discharged electromagnetic pulses to disable the enemy's electronic systems. We broadcast a burst of pulses for five seconds. Though each pulse lasted only 1/100th of a second, the total energy expended would have powered everything on Earth for a year. We saw the cloud surface of Jupiter recoil as it ionized under the onslaught, and for a moment the planet was no longer round. No electrical device could have withstood such an attack, regardless of the shielding used to protect it.
Within two minutes we had transited sufficient planetary longitude to engage the enemy from both sides of the planet. There was wreckage, the fragments of nine smaller ships, still incandescent from the absorbed energy of our pulse attack. But the remaining small ships, and the giant mother-ship were gone. Our sensors probed the planet to see if the enemy had taken refuge below the clouds. There was nothing. Then, faint but clear, we heard what we had always hoped never to hear. Broadcast from my base on Earth, flung into space on a tight but powerful beam came the cry for help.
"Mayday. Mayday. Earth is under attack. Earth is under attack. Targets have entered the atmosphere. Landings expected on all landmasses. Mayday. Mayday."
Somehow, without our sensing it, all the undamaged alien craft had jumped. From the dark side of Jupiter, to a low orbit over Earth, they had jumped. And I had a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach. In my time, long ago, such a tactic could only have been achieved by a God.
The return fall to Earth would take my ships almost three hours. Too long. But I could return in a heartbeat. So I addressed my crews.
"Warriors, you have fought with courage and honor, but we have been taken by surprise. Our enemy has an unexpected capability. They have made a teleport, and now threaten Earth. I am returning to Earth with Ares. I order the remainder of you to make greatest speed and return to Earth. I do not know what you will find when you arrive, how the battle will stand. You are soldiers in a shadow force. No one knows of you. No one will thank you. But you are the best hope for our world, and for mankind. You are the guardians, the first and last defense. What you are going to see may not make any sense to you, but believe me when I say that you are the heirs to a tradition of honor that stretches back over 4,000 years. I know that I have been a question to you, as much as I have been a leader. I will tell you that I have expected and prepared for this battle for a very long time. To lose is not an option."
"Almost 2,500 years ago, King Leonidas heroically defended the pass at Thermopylae against an overwhelming force of Persian invaders. They fought to the last man. I expect nothing less of you. No one could ever expect anything more."
"If we prevail, mankind will see a new dawn. Our race can continue to find its way in the sun. But if we fail, we shall be lost in the dark of night."
"You and I are warriors. It is all we have, and it is all that we can be. We have no past. We can't reach back. Keep with me, forward all through the night. Until it ends, there is no end."
On five ships the blinds opened, and 500 warriors started the fall back to Earth. And as they watched there was a flash, and the Ares with 101 warriors aboard vanished.
Return of the War God
We reappeared only 5 miles above the Earth's surface, and our coming was greeted with lightning. For a moment my crew panicked, but admirably they recovered quickly, though they never looked at me the same again. I knew I had shocked them, but what they thought I didn't find out until later. Most assumed my flagship employed a new technology. I don't think anyone suspected something divine.
Our sensors picked up a wealth of information. The New Air Force was engaging the smaller alien ships in the atmosphere, while the mother-ship remained in low orbit. They seemed to be holding their own, but they had to team up against the enemy ships, and they were too few. They were also sustaining major casualties. Already they were down to 60% strength. The older weapons, the nuclear arsenals, simply had no effect. After the first couple of detonations caused degradation of communications they ceased. Several of the aliens had made landfall. Once down, they disgorged hovering killers, which seemed to be armed with particle beam weapons. They were highly destructive, and virtually unstoppable. Of my remaining six ships, Apollo, and Zeus, reinforced by Athena, were battling in the skies. They had managed to destroy five enemy ships with their electromagnetic launchers. Hermes, Poseidon, and Hestia were unaccounted for. U.S. military communications were confused. They were reporting aerial actions by unknown friendly forces, (ours), and friendly fire from unknown ground based weapons, type undetermined, (also ours). The President was in his command bunker under the White House, directing the New Air Force, with his generals. The populace was in a general state of panic, except for the survivalist paramilitaries. They were being slaughtered while trying to fight the hovering killers. (Gods bless their useless heroics).
The enemy battle plan seemed to concentrate on landing killers to take control of the capitols and major cities of the world powers. This was predictable. There was one thing that didn't make sense. A number of the smaller ships were in the process of landing near Athens. Greece had been a second rate power, at best, for centuries. It should have been a secondary objective. I sensed it was a clue to a riddle that I didn't understand. It captured my attention. In battle, an anomaly can hold the key to victory. I ordered the Ares to Athens.
We flew, east to west and crossed the terminator over Viet Nam, passing into the dawn of March 15th. Our sensors reported two alien ships ahead, on a course to make landfall on the mainland behind Hong Kong. A squadron of the New Air Force was engaging them. As the air battle raged, we saw first one, then another of the New Air Force saucers vaporized by the alien's beam weapon. They were hopelessly outclassed. We had to do something fast, in a few minutes they would have been destroyed. I ordered the Ares' ExO, Lieutenant Adam McClellan, to hail the New Air Force ships.
"New Air Force fighters, this is the Ares. Break off your attack. We are targeting the alien ships. On my mark, you will have three seconds to clear a five-mile radius. I repeat, break off your attack. For your safety, clear a five-mile radius from the alien ships. You will have three seconds from my mark."
"This is the New Air Force Epsilon squadron leader to the Ares. Who are you? This is a war zone. Transmit your identification codes."
"This is the Ares. I repeat, on my mark you will have three seconds to clear a five-mile radius from the alien ships." Lt. McClellan was getting tired of military procedure.
"We are elements of the United States Air Force. This is a war zone. Transmit your identification codes, now."
I could tell Lt. McClellan didn't like that demanding tone. They wanted to get into a macho pissing contest. We were closing on the alien ship too quickly to indulge this squadron leader. As we spoke, another New Air Force saucer was hit by an alien beam weapon. It tumbled towards the sea. I looked at my ExO with one eyebrow raised, and the hint of a grin at the corners of my mouth. He understood that look.
"Mark. One one-thousand "
Three of the fighters broke off their attack on the aliens, and sped away. The two remaining fighters, (probably the squadron leader, and his wingman), flew directly at us.
"Two one-thousand "
Within the Ares, huge capacitors built up a charge, from the special fusion reactors, of 1.5 x 10__ joules. The ship began to glow and shed gamma radiation. The two approaching New Air Force fighters were roasted, and spun out of control. They fell towards the sea.
There was no visible beam, but two bolts from the x-ray laser jumped from the Ares towards the alien ships. The clouds jerked, recoiling from the air expansion around the beams. Then there was a flash, and the enemy ships exploded. The Ares changed course to avoid the wreckage.
"Direct hits Mr. McClellan, well done." I praised my ExO and the crew, "Resume course, and make all possible speed to Athens."
"Xena, the remaining New Air Force fighters are pursuing us. They are hailing us."
"Audio on," I ordered.
"Ares, this is the New Air Force Epsilon squadron. We are ordered to demand that you accompany us to our base. Military Intelligence is requiring you for a debriefing. Please comply "
"Audio off," I ordered with a sigh, "Mr. McClellan, we don't have time for this. What is our ETA for Athens?"
"Eleven minutes and thirty seven seconds, Xena."
"Continue heading and speed. I will rejoin you as soon as I can. It appears I have some business with the new Air Force." I vanished from the bridge of the Ares.
I reappeared with a flash in the war bunker six stories under the White House. There was no use dickering with the M. I. agents. I decided to talk to the boss. At first the whole room was stunned into silence, and no one moved. I could have killed most of them. Then they realized they had an intruder. A detail of Marines surrounded me, with carbines leveled. A group of Secret Service agents hustled the President out of the room. I gave them time to clear the doorway. The officer in charge of the Marine detail was puffing himself up, to demand my identification, or some such nonsense. I vanished, and reappeared in the hallway, in front of the elevator the president was being led to.
"Mr. President. I am here to help. My forces are also fighting the aliens. I only need a few moments of your time," I said, as I spread my arms to show I had no weapons. The hail of pistol fire from the Secret Service agents struck me at point blank range. Bullets ricocheted, others struck the walls and the elevator doors. I waited for them to empty their magazines. It was obvious they required a demonstration of power. They had started to reload when I formed a fireball, and flung it at the nearest agent. Flames enveloped his body, flaring, then dying away. The other agents were paralyzed. I seized the initiative.
"Mr. President, your Air Force is being decimated. On the ground your forces cannot withstand the hover killers." I decided there was no gain in sparing his feelings, "You will lose this war in a day because you are not prepared. You cannot lead this fight. You cannot match my forces. I demand that you keep out of our way. My warriors will defeat these invaders. You have no talent for war, and this battle is worthy of the God of War."
As the Marine detail crowded into the hallway, and the Secret Service agents pulled the President behind them, I vanished with a flash. I had spent three precious minutes on a flabby ex-lawyer, and his cowboy wannabe guards. It felt like a waste of my time.
I reappeared on the bridge of the Ares the dozens of bullet wounds were already healing, but my uniform remained tattered. There was no blood. Gods don't bleed. Again, I had shocked my crew into silence. They stared at me. They must have had a thousand questions. Now was not the time. Lt. McClellan was the first to regain his composure.
"Commander on the bridge," he announced, as if anyone needed to be told, then he gulped, and added, "Xena, course and speed are stable. ETA to Athens is now seven minutes and eighteen seconds."
"Very good Mr. McClellan." I said as I left to get a new uniform, "I believe the New Air Force will not bother us anymore I've just had a chat with the President."
Oops, why did I say that. Sometimes the best thing to do is minimize a disturbing situation, not make it more bizarre. I didn't want my warriors' focus diverted from the battle ahead by speculation about my behavior. Making the ship jump from Jupiter to Earth might be explained by technology, but I had vanished and reappeared twice without explanation, the second time, reappearing full of bullet wounds. McClellan and a couple others had been close enough to see my flesh healing through the holes in my uniform. I hadn't been wearing body armor. The rumors would be flying. Oh well. As I changed into the fresh uniform, the silliest thought crossed my mind, and I laughed out loud. I should have appeared to the President as a snake-haired Gorgon. When I returned to the bridge, that thought kept playing in my mind, and it took heroic control to keep from giggling in front of my crew.
"Xena, we are crossing the Hellespont, forty seconds to Athens," Lt. McClellan reported, "sensors indicate two alien ships on the ground. There are hover killers roaming the city, and there is something going on at the Acropolis."
Something was going on at the Acropolis I could feel it in every fiber of my being. I had to see what it was.
"Target the alien ships, Mr. McClellan," I ordered, "from now on, they aren't going anywhere."
"Yes Commander," he said, then turning to the weapons officer he ordered, "prepare the x-ray laser for firing, target the alien ships, fire on my mark."
"Mr. McClellan, I am going to investigate the Acropolis. You will have command of the Ares." I said as I turned to go, "Attempt to destroy the hover killers if possible, but watch for alien ships appearing. Remember, they can jump."
He looked at me, and for once I couldn't read his expression.
"Xena, we will do all we can," he said gravely, then he added, "god speed, and good luck."
"Thank you, and may the Gods bless your efforts." I whispered, as I disappeared.
I watched my ship from the entrance to a cave on the north side of the Acropolis. The Ares was barrel-rolling and tumbling in an aerial ballet. As it wheeled over the city there was a resounding blast, and one of the alien ships exploded, sending fragments into the sky. The Ares turned and made a pass, buzzing the Acropolis right above me, then it soared vertically, and back-flipped, twisting as it hurtled towards the ground. It came into the city again so low I saw dust drawn up into its wake. It was able to hit the second alien as it lifted off. There was an electromagnetic pulse, just one, delivered at an up angle so it wouldn't hit the city. It caught the fleeing alien amidships, causing it to incandesce for a heartbeat before it exploded. The Ares passed unscathed through the fireball, and sped north, gaining altitude to continue its attack.
I entered the Acropolis through the ruins of the postern door in the north wall. I hugged the ruined wall, passing unseen into the courtyard of the House of the Arrephoroi. The marching feet of an army echoed in the plaza alongside the Parthenon. Moving from cover to cover in the rubble, I worked my way into the courtyard behind the Erchtheion, through a ruined portico, and onto the stairs.
I could see a procession of troops in black and silver. They were marching in companies with trumpets and drums. Others stood in ranks with their backs towards me. There were hundreds of them, armed with swords and spears. Banners and standards fluttered in the breeze. They were being reviewed from a canopy just out of sight, on the Altar of Athena. I moved closer, hidden in the ruins. I was suspicious, and my senses were ringing alarms in my head. Finally I had a straight line of sight. I could see clearly under the canopy.
I felt the blood in my veins turn to ice. For the first time, in so long I couldn't remember, fear jolted my heart. Across the millennia came forgotten feelings that grasped me like Hephaestus' chain. For a moment I was a young warrior again, with a freshly bloodied sword. There under the canopy, in the light of the sun, stood Ares, the God of War. Then the scene shifted. The troops and the banners, the canopy and the trumpeters, all shimmered and disappeared. We were alone among the ruins, on the high hill of Athens. He came towards me, smiling, until we stood face to face. He reached out and caressed my cheek with the back of his hand, gentle, and his smile was without guile.
Then he spoke to me, and his voice was still so familiar it tore my heart.
"Xena, I have returned from beyond death to win your heart and soul. Did you forget after all these years? I told you that I love you, and that someday nothing would stand between us. Remember? A God need never lie."
So many feelings ripped through me in that moment. I was a warrior, a Goddess, a leader, and an immortal. Before any of that, I was a human. But first and last, I was a woman. He was the one man who meant more to me than any other. He had been father, teacher, idol, enemy, and savior. I had worshipped him, waged war for him, rebelled against him, fought him, and saved him. He had given me my divinity and my heritage. He had always loved me, and in the depths of my heart I had always felt for him, even when I knew he was bad for me. After two thousand years, I could finally admit I had loved him. I realized tears were streaming down my face. It had been hundreds of years since I had cried. But, what was he like now? How could he be here? I was in the middle of a war. Could we possibly see an eternity together? In that moment, I admitted to myself that it was what I wanted.
"I know you're confused, and you have a million questions, but there's a war going on baby," he said with a grin, "and a world with two war gods should fear nothing. The aliens who have landed are doomed. In a few hours they will die."
I was suspicious it was starting to feel like old times.
"How can you know that Ares? We know nothing about these aliens. We haven't captured or interrogated even one of them."
"We don't need to Xena. You see, I've got the inside dope on them, straight from the boss. They don't know it yet, but they can't survive on Earth, trust me", he said with a big grin, and he rolled his eyes, making a point of looking at the sky.
"What do you mean, 'the inside dope', and who's this boss you're talking about," I asked, my suspicions rising. I was starting to suspect who he was referring to, but I had to hear it from him.
" I'm talking about the One God Xena, and I don't mean Dahak. He's the big guy now, and I work for Him. Hell, you're working for Him too, you just don't know it."
"Ares, I stopped working for Him 900 years ago, after that wretched First Crusade. And how is it that the God of War is working for the God of Love?"
"Well, love can be seen in severity as well as mercy. You know, spare the rod, and spoil the brat. Love without strength is a force out of balance. It can become a pathway to evil. I'm not the God of Blind and Pointless Conflict, Xena. I have become a God of Righteous Wrath and Holy Retribution. I have a place in the order of things."
He was making sense, and I felt my doubts weaken, "But what about me you said "
"You've been driving mankind forward in their ability to wage war, not trying to stamp it out. You have a natural feeling for the necessity of war, and you don't deny its worth. While I've been gone, you have been the spirit of battle. And believe me Xena, if you hadn't been needed, you would have found yourself stripped of your powers."
"So how come you're back now?" I asked, since he'd died as a mortal so many years ago.
"Do you know what today is?" he asked in return.
"Yeah, it's March 15th, 2006 the Ides of March."
"It is two thousand years to the day, since I died as a mortal man. As a mortal, my soul passed to judgement before the One God. I had to serve two thousand years for my old sins, before I could return to Earth. Well, I'm back and I like older women!"
I couldn't help but laugh. It was partly release of stress, partly rediscovering a close relationship that had changed for the better. The world was being invaded by aliens, but I was happy. (Gods, did that ever sound callous).
"All this feel-good stuff is great, but there's a war going on lets kick some ass."
I would swear he was reading my mind. And when he winked at me I was sure of it.
"Let's go see the mother-ship Xena, your guys are going to do fine with the ones here on Earth."
He put his arms around me, and I didn't resist. I felt his power as we vanished in flames. It was just like the old days.
Return of the Gods
We appeared inside the mother-ship, and it WAS just like the old days. We grabbed a guard in the hallway before he could react. I tried to put a nerve pinch on him, but it didn't work. Ares just grabbed him and lifted him off his feet.
"Tell me how to get to the bridge, or I'll rip your guts out," he snarled, an inch from the guard's face. He ended up showing us the way on a panel readout. Ares threw him against a wall so hard he slumped onto the floor.
We made our way to the bridge of the mother-ship through corridors and lifts. We punched out all the aliens we encountered along the way. They had great weapons, but they couldn't fight. They had lost that edge so long ago it was easy. Most of them only reacted with surprise when they saw us. They were technicians, not warriors. I'm sure they never believed their ship could be invaded. A deadly mistake.
"Xena, lets have some fun. When we get to their bridge, lets take them out the old fashioned way," Ares said with a wolfish grin.
"Ok," I agreed, "no god tricks".
Finally we came to the doors of their bridge, and we blasted them open.
I had a sword in my hand when we invaded the bridge, and it sang a song of blood. The aliens looked like men, and they bled like men. They fought us with handheld beam weapons, powered down so as not to destroy their own ship. They were too slow. Ares moved as fast as lightning, always a step ahead of his enemies. In the end, the weapons didn't matter. Fighting hand to hand has always been a matter of speed and practiced ferocity. When it was done, we stood together on the empty bridge, surrounded by the bodies of the fallen.
In the space at the center of the bridge, the air shimmered, and with flames and flashes of lightning, six figures appeared. Four male and two female, dressed in armor and leather, like warriors of old. They were armed with swords. They spread out across the bridge to keep us at bay.
"The last of the renegades," said one of the males, "your sires fled from our world, and ruled the mortals here as Gods."
"It is our fortune to capture or kill you, for the bounty on your heads has grown great over the centuries," said one of the women, "your choice."
Ares and I just looked at each other, a glance passing between us.
"Glad to know somebody out there's heard of us," Ares quipped.
"Give it your best shot," I said, summoning all my menace, "I knew there were Gods involved with the aliens when their ships jumped away from Jupiter. I'm glad you finally worked up the guts to show yourselves."
"Brave words," the woman said, "Lets see how you do when you're not fighting mortals."
She leaped to attack Ares. He sidestepped, spinning away from her sword arm, and as he finished the spin, his sword sliced away her left arm and shoulder. As she staggered forward from the blow, he reversed his grip and impaled her. Her body vanished, as her sword clattered to the floor.
Two of the men charged at me from the front. I flipped over them and impaled one of the others who hung back blocking the doors. They hadn't seen that coming, and I began to wonder if they were complete pushovers.
"Two down, and four to go," Ares called to me from across the bridge.
Now I was trading blows with the other woman, and she was an outstanding fighter. Her sword moved with the assurance and grace of a natural born warrior. Ares was holding off two of the men, advancing and retreating it looked like a stalemate. The last man moved to join the woman I was fighting. This would be tough. I flipped over the woman's sword, and landed behind the man. I kicked him in the back, sending him sprawling onto the floor between the woman and I. It gave me a second. He flipped back onto his feet and joined the woman, to attack me from two sides. I rolled out from between them, and they came after me side by side. Across the bridge, Ares had smashed one of his attackers in the face with the pommel of his sword, stunning him. Then, with a crescent kick, he sent him head over heels onto the floor.
As the man and woman I was fighting pressed me, I gave way, parrying and blocking their blows. They advanced, slashing furiously, trying to force me to make an error. In the next moment, I let them think just that. I feigned a stumble, and to recover I had to roll over my left shoulder. The woman's sword slashed so close to my leg I could feel the blade nick my boot. Then I was rolling to my feet grasping the forgotten sword of the woman Ares had killed at the start of the fight. The next time they came at me, I spun, deflecting the man's sword with one blade, and slashing the woman across the chest. I continued the spin, moving to put her between the man and I, and when I came around again, I buried the borrowed sword in her neck, nearly taking her head off. It happened so fast that she was still swinging her sword at the place where I had been, when her body disappeared. The man attacking me looked shocked, and I pressed him with my sword. He was no match for me. It was just a matter of time.
Ares had forced one of his opponents into a corner, then kicked him in the stomach so hard he doubled over. His second opponent charged at his back, but he was too quick. He dodged the oncoming sword, and tripped the man, shoving him into the first. He impaled him. Ares was laughing at him as the other man's body disappeared. In a blind rage, the remaining enemy raised his sword, and charged at Ares. Ares dropped into a low front stance, and drove his sword into the attacker so hard he was lifted into the air, and flew over him.
At almost the same time, I backhanded the man I was fighting, whipping his head to his right. My right hand followed the left, like a swinging double punch, but my right hand held my sword. It crashed across his temple, opening his head, and separating his jaw from his skull. Ares' and then my opponent disappeared almost at the same time.
We looked at each other across the bloody bridge, and I gave my war cry, something I'd given up long ago. Then I went to him, and kissed him, as his arms came up to embrace me.
Now for the payoff of our battle. I found the navigation controls, and learned enough that I could send their ship on a jump into the sun. Not so long ago I had contemplated that same trip, yearning for the Pyre of the Gods. Now I wouldn't have let go of life for all the riches of ten worlds.
I set the controls to co-ordinates 000x000x000, and triggered the helm to execute the jump. Then we vanished together. We watched the jump from the stillness of space. (A God need never breath). I saw that the Hestia, Poseidon, and Hermes had been attacking the mother-ship, and they were suddenly engaging empty space. With the vision of Gods, we saw the flare on the sun's face, marking the passing of the alien ship.
When we reappeared on the Acropolis we could hear the sounds of the battle in the city. The Ares was spinning overhead, directing pulses at the hover killers in the city.
"Xena, that ship's one of yours isn't it," Ares asked, watching it with admiration, "you can order them all to stand down."
"What do you mean, Ares," I asked, for it was strange to hear the God of War advising a retreat.
"I told you, these aliens are doomed. They have only a few hours of life once they land," he replied, "there's no use jeopardizing your warriors, trust me."
I laughed, remembering all the times he'd said that. Times when I could count on him betraying every bargain we made. But now now I knew I could trust him.
"Ok," I said, smiling, "I'll trust you."
I took the com link from my belt, and hailed all of my forces. On twelve ships, at my base in the Pacific, and among all the land forces my voice was heard.
"Attention Attention. This is Xena of Amphipolis, ΑΩθ_ΣΦΔΨ, this is a direct order. All forces disengage and return to base. I repeat. All forces disengage and return to base. I will meet you there."
Overhead, the Ares spiraled up into the sky, then banked into the east, headed for the base in the mid-Pacific. Within the orbit of the moon, the five ships from my sortie to Jupiter joined the Hestia, Poseidon, and Hermes, and adjusted their courses for home. Over North and South America, the Zeus, Apollo, and Athena broke away from the alien ships they were attacking. In the Americas, and in Europe, my troops silenced their ground-based weapons, moved to their assembly points, and entered troop carriers. The aliens continued with their dispersal and occupation.
"I hope you know what you're doing," I said to Ares, "if something goes wrong, it will be almost impossible to beat them once they have control on the ground. There are too many of them for my forces to handle, and the old armies are almost useless."
"I know, I know," Ares said, "But have a little faith. It's God's world too, and He's been preparing for this longer than you have."
The Secret Weapon
In the air, the earth, and the sea there was a secret weapon hiding. This planet was protected against invaders from the very beginning. It was almost a case of reality imitating art, for the ending to this story had already been written. Back in 1898, a failed science teacher, who was a man of uncommon foresight, had written a novel about space invaders invaders from Mars rather than another solar system, but alien invaders none the less. They had succumbed in the end through no doing of man, for men had been powerless to stop them. When the invaders came to Earth in 2006, we could fight them, and we might have won, but again, it was unnecessary. The Earth was protected.
All across the globe, the hover killers ceased their attacks. The alien ships dropped from the skies, or lay dead where they had landed. In every nation, the invading soldiers slumped to the ground, dying horribly. They couldn't retreat; they couldn't go home. As Ares had said, they were doomed.
They were beaten, in the end, not by the weapons of man, or the strategy of a Goddess. They were defeated by the smallest of living things. Just as in H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds", the viruses, and the bacteria, to which we were immune, proved deadly to the aliens. They were the secret weapon which the One God had blessed the Earth with from the very beginning. Being the first living things, they set up a defense for all the life forms that came after. They have been mutating and evolving for over three billion years. They change within months, defeating our own antibiotics. No invader could have predicted or neutralized such a defense. Having no immunity, the aliens contracted myriad combinations of infections, of the most potent virulence. Truly, by the grace of God we were victorious.
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