When Amy Wong got the invitation to race her hoverboard against Leela on her home planet of the cyclopes, she couldn’t say no; she had vowed to race her anywhere in the galaxy, so she had to make good on her brag. Leela knew she had a tough opponent on her hands, as Amy had won several competitions. Amy knew the sport, but Leela knew this part of Cyclon like the back of her hand; in the many trips that she’d made here she had become quite familiar with her homeworld, even though she hadn’t grown up here. In the heat of the noonday sun, Leela pulled her goggle down over her eyes as she hovered a few feet above the ground. She glanced over at Amy in her expensive racing suit and glasses.
“Okay, sister-girl,” Leela told her, “we fly a round-robin out to Devil’s Butte, over to the temple ruins, back over to Dragon Tooth Butte, and then back to here. 300 meters AGL, no cheating and no funny stuff. And I’ll see you if you cut through the pass, so don’t try that trick again.”
“What are we racing for?” asked Amy.
“Uh…lunch. The burger joint at the space port.”
“You’re on!” said Amy with a toothy grin.
Fry inched his board in between the other two…he knew that he couldn’t keep up with the girls, so he got the task of starting the race. They crouched down into position and waited for Fry’s signal. As soon as Fry dropped his hand, the two went streaking past him across the red landscape. Fry then climbed up to 400 meters so he could keep an eye on them.
Leela watched the altitude numbers climb in her goggle display until she got to 300 meters. As they neared the buttes, she felt a shuddering of the board under the soles of her boots. The board’s tail then began to yaw out to the left, and she knew she had a problem. She flashed a hand sign to Amy to get her attention, and began to notice her altitude drop. “Guys,” she said, “I’ve got real problems here.”
“Fry,” Amy said, “Leela’s in trouble…”
“Is she high enough to use her chute?” Fry asked.
“Just…” answered Amy.
By this time Leela had slowed down considerably and her board was beginning to fish-tail. She had tried to gain altitude to use her glide-chute, but the board wasn’t climbing. The engine suddenly stopped. Without warning, the board rolled over and Leela was dropped off. She tumbled madly in the air above the plateau, groping wildly for the chute release button on the left side of her belt.
“Tian ah,” shouted Amy into her microphone. “Hit the chute…hit the chute…hit the chute!!” Amy didn’t breathe for what seemed like an eternity, and then spotted Leela’s glide-chute. “She’s okay! She’s going to land on that smaller butte…let’s circle around and meet up with her.”
Leela touched down on the smallest of the Finger Buttes. As she wiped the dust off of her pants, she cursed herself for wasting one of Amy’s good boards. She knew her two friends would be along momentarily, so she wasn’t afraid of being stranded.
“Mon heshda, Leela of House Turanga.” Leela spun around to see an elderly Cyclops woman standing behind her. Her jaw dropped open when she saw who it was.
“Matron Zursa?” She got a lump in her throat. “But how could you be here…now? You’ve been dead for over 700 years…”
A smile came to her wrinkled face. “It’s been nearly a thousand years, my child.” She pointed her finger at Leela. “You are the one. You are the one who will lead your people through the next dark time. You have been chosen. You are the bridge between the two worlds. You are the perfect choice.”
“What are you talking about? What time? Who am I supposed to lead? And how?”
“Who are you talking to, sis?” asked Amy as she walked up to Leela.
“Amy…this is amazing – you’re never going to believe…” Leela turned back around and the woman was gone.
“Believe what? Hey…do you want me to take you back to your place, or straight to the spaceport so you can buy me that burger you owe me? I would have beaten your butt anyway.”
“Amy…she was just here…I spoke with her…”
As evening approached, it was time for Fry and Amy to head back to Earth.
“Are you sure you don’t want to come back with us? At least get checked out at the medical center here at the port – it’ll be three weeks before we get back here to pick you up,” said Amy.
“I’ve got things to do here…and, for the last time, I did not bump my head when I landed on the butte. I saw her, Amy…I really spoke with her. And I’m sorry I fragged your board…”
“Oh, don’t worry about it. Daddy buys so many of those things for me that I can’t keep track of them. But when I get back here, I want another opportunity to race for that burger.”
“Oh, you’ll get that opportunity…and you’ll be the one buying lunch.” Leela then gave Fry a long hug. “Give my love to the kids…I’ll see you in three weeks.”
Leela watched as Fry and Amy went back on board the PE ship. She knew she had a lot of work to do on her family’s land before the first of the sandstorms came in.
On the red plains of the Utopia Plateau on Mars stands the magnificent Basilica of St. Octavia, which as every believer knows is the center of the universe of the Omniversalist Church. A young man from France named Louis had scrimped and saved for years to finally get here. Being a lover of architecture, he couldn’t resist slipping away from his tour group to wander around the halls on the upper floors. When he finally reached the 7th floor, he began to see signs on the doors marked “The Anointed Ones.” He’d been a believer all of his life, but he’d never heard of such a group of people. Overcome with curiosity, he poked his head into one of the rooms. He was met face to face with the tall, daunting figure of Archcardinal Zarabeth, who glared down at him like a scorpion preparing to sting. “These are private cloisters,” she barked, “you don’t belong in here!” She promptly slammed the door in his face. Minutes later there was a knock at the door. Zarabeth angrily opened it. “I thought I told you…oh, it’s you, Brother Jaco. ”
“Here is the computer file you asked for on the religious beliefs of Cyclon.”
Zarabeth got an evil grin as she thumbed the reader pad to life. “It’s all here…even the prophecies.”
“What could we possibly want with a planet of one-eyed freaks?” he asked.
“Brother Jaco, just keep me supplied with information.”
“Yes, Eminence,” said Brother Jaco. Zarabeth closed the door again.
The clouds of dust darkened the afternoon skies and blotted out the sun. The sandstorms on Cyclon were nothing to play around with, and this was a particularly nasty one. Turanga Leela got used to venturing out in them, and her veng beast Ona didn’t seem to mind them a bit. She could have spent an extra day at her cabin, but she had business to attend to back at the main house; a little sand wasn’t going to stop her. She rode on through the storm.
Leela was nearly out of the desert basin when she spotted figures in the distance. The group was too big to be a bunch of freebooters, so she left her sharan-jii spear back in its leather case. She rode up to the riders, and dismounted; the group was on foot. She patted Ona on the neck. “Easy girl…stay put,” she told her.
She walked up to the leader of the group, opened up her face cover and put up her goggle. “Hata Leela Turanga das,” she said, announcing her name. “You are on the lands belonging to House Turanga. Please state your business.”
The leader uncovered his face. Leela was surprised to see two eyes instead of one.
“Hoo-mani,” she whispered.
“Miss Leela of House Turanga…greetings,” he said. He placed his hands to his forehead, in the traditional Cyclops manner. “I am Owed. All we ask is a little water for our veng beasts and then we will be past your lands.”
This couldn’t possibly be. The Mutana were little more than a legend…the two eyed mutations of Cyclon. Rejects of Leela’s race, they were forced to wander the wilderness as nomads. But here they were. She never expected to actually meet them. Leela put her hand on her heart out of respect. “Owed,” she told him, “you may come up to the main house and use our property for as long as you need to.” She then stooped down to look into the face of a child in the group; she smiled at him. “Cheebas…you’ve got children. Let’s get you out of the storm. Follow me – it’s just over the ridge.”
“Thank you, Miss Leela…we’ll do some work on the lands if you need us to.”
Leela turned. “I am short-handed right now…I’d like to take you up on that.”
The truth was that Leela really did need the help. While her name carried a lot of weight in the High Council, she could barely keep a manor going on this planet. It was hard to run things from Earth, only able to stop by for a few weeks at a time. With the few animals and crops that she had, she was just able to keep things going. Leela was thankful that she had a few loyal retainers that worked on the property in exchange for food and a place to stay. Unlike the other major houses that could muster warriors at a moment’s notice, Leela’s house only had a few hands; she was acutely aware that she was known to some as the “dragoness without teeth.” That sort of talk pierced her heart. She did have enemies in the region that considered her to be an outsider from Earth, and there were places that she had to be careful going.
When Leela came up to the door brushing the dust off of herself, her friend Tizima met her. Leela could smell that a pot of bhathagg was cooking; this was a traditional Cyclon meal similar to an Earth beef stew. “Miss Leela,” Tizima asked, “you’ve got company?”
“Tizima, make them welcome…tend to the children.”
“Understood, Miss.” As Tizima looked in on the nomad children, Leela enjoyed the smell of the food, and poured herself some hot sweetroot tea in a cup. Tizima was more than a little surprised that her visitors had two eyes instead of one, but she felt more at ease when she found that they spoke fluent Cyclon; she was still very awkward at speaking English, but she would sometimes manage it around Leela. Human visitors were not often received in a friendly manner lately, and relations between the two worlds were only getting worse. The natives often batted around a racist comment – Ta ota, ta kala, which meant “Two eyes, two faces.” Tizima had a deep friendship with Leela, and refused to believe the talk that all Earth people were untrustworthy. Unfortunately, the Mutana looked a little too much like humans, and didn't get much respect from their cyclopean neighbors.
The leader of the Mutana came over to speak with Leela, who was holding one of the younger children on her lap. “Miss Turanga,” he said, “I’m grateful for the food…we haven’t had a real meal in days.”
“Don’t mention it…if you’re willing to do a few chores, we need your help badly. The few hands we have here are barely keeping us afloat.”
“Miss Turanga, my colleagues and I have come a long way to talk with you about a matter of some importance.”
Leela stopped clowning with the child and listened. “This sounds serious…”
“Miss Turanga,” he said, “we have a prophetess among us who has been seeing visions…”
“Please call me Leela…you’re not one of my hired hands. Go on…”
“This concerns the prophecy of the Fire Priestess.”
“Hatoka Ashanavan? That’s just a tale to scare little ones like this.” She gently pinched the cheek of the child she was holding, making her chuckle. “You can’t be serious…the Desoxo Corporation has been spreading around that mumbo-jumbo for years about me being a ‘warrior priestess’ – if you believe that garbage, you’d think I was the Wicked Witch of the West.”
Owed gave her a funny look.
“It’s from an old Earth story…anyway, are you serious?” Leela put the child down so she could play with the other children.
“Leela, what if I told you that my friends and I believe that you could be the next Fire Priestess?”
“In order for there to be a Fire Priestess, that would mean that a terrible time is approaching,” Leela said. “What exactly did your seer tell you? I’ve seen what you might call a ‘vision’…what were you told?”
“Leela, what do you know of the prophecy?”
“Well, it’s a little like what they say in England back home…that whenever things get really terrible, a warrior will rise to the occasion. Owed, what are you not telling me?”
“Leela, a great evil is headed this way…that is why I’m here.
You will be the one chosen to combat it. You are the next Hatoka Ashanavan.”
Leela took a minute to ponder those words. She glanced up and could swear that she saw Matron Zursa standing in the back of the room; as she looked around the room, she couldn’t find her. It gave her a case of the jitters, as if she wasn’t nervous enough.
In the late afternoon Tizima found Leela in the center room of her house; this was always reserved as a place of meditation. Leela was never known to be a religious person until she arrived here on Cyclon…the newfound spirituality of her people often put her at odds with the standard Omniversalist beliefs of many of her friends back home. If she had time, she would often retire to a place like this to study the scrolls of the Lawgiver or read sayings from the prophet Kaleepa. On the far wall of the room hung a wooden engraving of Mt. Xyranthia, the holy mountain of her people, which was a common thing found in a cyclops household. Tizima waited a short while before speaking. “Miss Leela,” she said in a soft voice, “I made you some more tea.”
“Thank you…you can just leave it here for me.”
“I’ll leave you alone, miss…”
Leela reached out and gently grabbed her arm. “Tizi, please stay a minute.”
“Yes, miss.” Another quiet minute passed. “May I share your thoughts?”
Leela turned to speak with her. “Tizi, my mind and soul are like a whirlwind storm right now…I’ve just been told…they told me…”
“What did Owed tell you, miss?”
“He told me that I was to be the next Hatoka Ashanavan.”
Tizima suddenly got a joyful smile on her face. “Blessings be upon you, Miss Leela!”
“Don’t you understand? This means that a really terrible time is coming…I’m not the greatest on our people’s history, but the last mention I know of a Hatoka was during the Great Conflagration. By the hosts of heaven, are we really headed for something like that again?”
“Miss Leela, the scrolls tell us that we have to walk the path, and walk it with courage. Whatever comes, I feel more courageous just knowing that you will lead us.”
“Tizi, I don’t really know what I’m doing here. Not long ago I was just a pilot for a delivery company with a nice little apartment in New New York…now I’m being called to be a leader through a dark era on another planet?”
“Well, you told me that you were a captain of a ship…you’re already a leader. I have confidence in you – the hands here will have confidence in you as well.” Tizima moved in closer to look into Leela’s eye. “Leela, you have lived a life that few of us here have even dreamed of. Whatever you face, heaven will fit you for it. I’m not losing faith, so don’t you lose faith. You’ve studied well from the scrolls…you’ve just got to believe in what you’ve read.”
“My God, Tizi…I’m scared to death…”
Tizima got up to leave. “You rest up in here,” she said, “but I’ll be expecting you for dinner Miss Leela.” She smiled, and silently left the room.
Leela awoke the next morning after a restless sleep filled with uneasy dreams. She dreamt about her mother and father, and her brothers, and the terrible clan battle many years ago that took her family away from her. When she got up she actually had thoughts of leaving the whole thing behind and going back to New New York to be with her family again…she missed Phil and the kids terribly. After she got dressed, she went outside to find that Owed and his people were busy at work. She got Ona out of her stable and got ready to ride off. Owed caught her. “Leela,” he asked, “where are you going?”
“I need to check some fencing on the southeast corner of the property.”
“Let me send one of my men with you.”
Leela cocked her head to one side. “Owed, I’ve ridden half of this planet in the last few months. Thanks, but I won’t need an escort. I know you mean well.”
“But it’s not safe…you being the one…”
“Owed, I appreciate the offer. The truth is that I had a lousy night sleep, and I really want to be alone for a while. I really love what your people are doing here, and I’ll be back soon to help you with the work. You can understand that, can’t you?”
“I know that you’ve got a lot of weight on your shoulders…be careful, little sister.”
Leela smiled and climbed onto Ona. “I’ll be back in time for lunch - I want to play with those kids some more when I get back.”
“Heaven will make a way for the Hatoka,” Owed told her with a smile. With that she rode off. How would she ever get used to being called a Hatoka? How could she possibly be one? What a huge thing to live up to…the savior of your people.
Leela had only made it half way out to the southeast corner when she spotted a person standing on the dusty plains. She slowed down to take a look at who it was, and wasn’t even shocked when she saw that it was Matron Zursa. She walked Ona up to her.
“Matron,” she told her, “why am I not surprised to see you?”
The elderly woman had a look of concern on her face this time. “My child, your time has come.”
“Time for what? What do I need to know?” Leela was starting to get frustrated. “How am I going to pull this off?”
Zursa’s eye drilled into Leela. “You will survive to pass along the title of Hatoka to the next generation, but you will grapple with a great foe. Now is the time for you to become the Hatoka.”
“With all due respect, I’m getting tired of these word games…just tell me what I need…” Leela looked up to see a ship circling around a butte. She again turned to see that Matron Zursa had vanished into the air.
The ship wasn’t large, but it was black and menacing looking. Nuts…it was turning toward her. She didn’t have any real weaponry to defend herself with, so she decided to make a beeline back to the main house. Ona was a fast animal, but there was no way a veng beast could outrun a courier ship ripping across the red sands. Vanáge! Vanáge Pok! Why didn’t I listen to Owed? It was such a simple thing for the sleek black ship to come up behind her. When it got close, it fired a stunner beam. Leela fell to the ground, and Ona ran off in a panic.
When Leela opened her eye, she caught sight of a tall, large framed older woman staring down at her. Mom? Could this be Robot Oil Mom? But how…she’s been dead for several years now. The woman examined her like a captured animal.
“By all the saints assembled, they are homely with that single eye. The scriptures were right - they really must be the cursed ones.” The woman turned her anger to a nearby associate. “I told you gorillas that she wasn’t to be injured…she looks half dead. I need her alive. If she dies, I‘ll have you shunned.”
Leela’s eye was now better able to focus. She caught sight of the familiar golden emblem on the woman’s tunic, the symbol of the Omniversalist Church, with its measuring scales against a 7-pointed star. She now realized that the woman’s outfit belonged to a high official in the church, maybe even of the elect in the main temple on Mars. The woman got back up to her feet. A daunting figure, she dwarfed the men around her. “Tell the company we finally have her,” she told one of the men. “It’s hard to believe that this thing is the fulfilled prophecy we keep hearing about. She looks like little more than a ragamuffin bum.” The group of them left the room and the door was locked behind them. Vanáge, Leela thought, I should have stayed at the house…
A little while later the door opened again, and a young man wearing an Omniversalist church uniform came in with a tray of food. Leela opened her eye, and noticed him looking at her. “Did you come in to see the one-eyed circus freak? Do I satisfy your curiosity?” she asked.
The man put the food tray down in front of her. She looked at the tray cover, which had writing on it. “Chicken meal, standard navy issue, 6739/24B,” she read. “How original…a navy instameal. At least I'm fairly certain that you're not going to poison me.”
“Mistress,” the man said, “I also brought this for you.” He pulled out a nice looking melon pear from the local groves and handed it to her. Again, he looked at her.
“Why did you bring me this? What is your name?”
“I’m Brother Jaco…actually it’s Jakko here on Cyclon.” It suddenly hit her – he wasn’t a human, but one of the Mutana. He made the two-handed gesture to his forehead that every cyclops respected. “Mistress, may heaven put up walls of protection around you until your mission is fulfilled.” He then quickly got up to leave.
“No wait…don’t go…let me out…”
He bowed before leaving. “A way must be made for the Hatoka.” The door was again closed and locked. Not knowing what else to do, Leela tore into her melon pear…she didn’t know when the next meal might come around. The coffee packet in the navy meal wasn’t too terribly bad either.
“Owed! Owed! Look,” yelled one of the young men. Owed turned around to see Ona galloping back to the main house. Leela wasn’t with her…
Leela had examined her new prison cell from top to bottom, but found no way to escape. She didn’t do anything rash, but found it wise to conserve her strength. She had some tools in her wrist-thingee, but was still unsure of where she was – was she being held in a military barracks? Was she far out into space? If she escaped, where could she escape to? She was being treated fairly decently, but for how long? Leela suddenly noticed music being piped into the room…it was a hymn sung by a large choral group.
From the depths of deep space my soul is warmed,
The light of the universe protects me from harm.
She always hated that hymn because some self-righteous old hag at the Orphanarium used to sing it. The words of those songs always sickened her anyway because they were so vague about who the “Light of the Universe” really was. Maybe this music was the torture part of the experience here. The door opened again, and the tall woman entered with a guard in tow. “You’re awake my dear,” she said with a warm smile. Leela turned to confront her.
“Don’t bullshit me woman…you talked about me as if I was a piece of luggage earlier.”
“Miss Leela, such vile language…I know this must be a lot to process right now.”
Leela focused an angry cycloptic eye at the woman…she herself stood six feet tall, but the woman looked down on her. “You know who I am…I want to know who you are,” Leela demanded.
“That’s fair enough. I am Archcardinal Zarabeth, one of the 800 anointed ones.”
“Who are you really? Before you became ‘an anointed one?’”
The sweetness went out of the woman’s face. “I was born Noreen Singletary, of Idaho, if that means anything to you. That was my former life before I went through the cleansing ceremonies at the St. Rae Temple in Boise. I am now one of the 800 gods and goddesses that will rule the Celestial Empire long after the final cataclysm.”
“Excuse me…did you just say gods and goddesses? Did you get some sort of invite to Olympus?”
“I know it’s hard for an unclean one to fathom, but that is our current status.”
Leela came in closer to the woman’s face. “Let’s just cut to the chase. The only reason you’re even here at Cyclon is to convert my people to your special little brand of Omniversalism, isn’t it?”
The smile returned to Zarabeth’s face. “You are very observant, my dear. Your planet is ripe for the harvesting of new souls. That’s why I’m here.”
In a lighter voice, Leela asked, “Harvesting souls…sounds wonderful. So tell me, what do my people and I get if we join you in your sacred quest for oneness with the light of the universe?”
“Why, you’ll be our servants in the Celestial Temple. You will serve us for all of eternity as we replenish the fallen worlds. Cyclopes are one of the fallen races mentioned in the Codex Giganticus.”
“What do you mean…we are a fallen race? I don’t remember reading that in the Codex.”
“In the 3rd Book of Heroes it tells us, ‘A people of one eye shall toil for the rest.’ You people were created to serve our needs. You are one of the servant races.”
“You’re such a cultist that you’ve perverted your own bible! That verse talks about an alien species that has been extinct for years. Omniversalism embraces everyone in the galaxy – how can you be such a bigot towards my people? Your church has never treated us that way.”
“You are one of the cursed races…you can’t deny that.”
“So, let me get this straight…if we give up our sacred beliefs, we get to serve you food and change your bed sheets in the next life?”
A scowl crossed Zarabeth’s face. “I should have known you were toying with me. I will be quite blunt with you…the company gets your filthy little planet, and I get your souls. Business is business. Either way, when it’s all over, you will be in service to me.”
As the two left the room, Leela got one more shout in. “My people are a sacred people! We won’t do your damned laundry in the afterlife!” Her head slumped down as the door closed and locked. “I should be doing my own laundry in New New York right now…how did I get myself into this?” A tear ran down her cheek.
Zarabeth went down into the lower cargo bay of the ship to inspect a large wooden crate. The only thing revealing any clue as to what was inside was a series of numbers and letters written on the wood. With Leela’s unwillingness to co-operate, what was inside the box would now be used. Her wrist communicator chimed, which startled her. The face of a Desoxo company executive filled the tiny screen. “Hello, Zarabeth…did you receive our little package?”
“Finkbeiner, you imbecile…this isn’t a secured channel. I ought to have you excommunicated for this.”
“Yeah…like that means something to me. Anyway, you got the crate? I had to twist a lot of arms to get it.”
“Yes, I received it, you buffoon. I’m looking at it right now.”
“Well, don’t get too cozy with it. And make sure you’re not on the planet surface when you use it – or you’ll be playing a golden harp with your deceased friends.”
She hit the disconnect button. “Idiot,” she murmured.
“It’s a small battlecruiser,” Owed told his men as he peered through his binoculars, “probably a Tonga class ship. If she’s on there, we’ll have little chance of a rescue.”
“Why is it parked here?” asked a younger man.
“I happen to know that Leela is the exact reason that it’s here.” He looked at his two companions. “She’s the Hatoka…don’t write her off yet. We’ve never been let down in a time of need by a fire priestess. If there is a way to be found, our Hatoka will find that way.” He looked back at the younger man. “And it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a brother-in-law onboard that ship…”
Zarabeth caught Brother Jaco looking at Leela through the peephole on the outside of her door. He nervously spun around.
“They are truly dreadful looking creatures, aren’t they?”
“They’re horrible looking,” responded Jaco. “My mother used to tell me that ‘ne’er by the grace of God go I.’ If things had been different, I might have looked like that.”
Zarabeth gave him a warm smile, which was unusual. “You are a caring sort of person, aren’t you? You must focus on our ultimate goal…when this is all over, Leela and her friends will be living with us in paradise forever. For now, take good care of her and make sure she doesn’t harm herself or anyone else. At this point in the game, you need to think about her as little more than just a poker chip that we might need.” She squeezed his shoulder with her hand as she walked on past. Zarabeth had no way of knowing how much he despised her race; the longer he could pretend that he was one of them, the longer he could carry out his mission. As a Mutana, he would have given his right arm to have a cycloptic eye just like Leela’s. And, if there was anything he could do about it, a way would be made for the Hatoka.
After being bored out of her mind during her incarceration, Leela decided to recite her daily prayers; cyclopean prayers are said in a series of couplets, which rhyme and can actually be sung. Having no set of prayer beads with her, she began to use her fingers to keep track of the number of prayer couplets said…this is what every Cyclops child is taught to do at an early age. When she went through the whole lot of them, she just started at the top and went through them again. She enjoyed this, but found that her mind kept wandering…she couldn’t get around the fact that she was still being held prisoner. Thoughts of sadness and fear became thoughts of anger. Thoughts of anger became rage. Thoughts of rage became fury. Finally she burst out into swearing.
“Bogo-Sh’bollotha!!” She covered her mouth and looked around the room…she was genuinely embarrassed at the filthy statement she’d just made, and was hopeful that no one had heard her blurt it out. She looked down at the table where her right hand had been, and was shocked at what she saw. It was a scorch mark from an open flame.
“No way,” she whispered. She looked around and decided to try another obscenity. “Gullomathos T’bogo nas!!” A large burst of flame leapt from her left hand and shot across the room. She instinctively tried to put her hand out on her pant leg. She burst into tears. “My hand is burnt!!” She sheepishly opened her eye to find that her hand was unharmed, and was further surprised that she felt no pain from the event. “Oh my God,” she sobbed, “I really am the Hatoka!”
Behind the peephole on the other side of the door, Brother Jaco smiled from ear to ear. “The way will be made,” he whispered to himself.
Tizima wept when Owed and the men brought her the news of Leela’s capture. Owed gently lifted up her chin and wiped a tear from her eye. “Little one,” he told her, “your friend Leela is not alone. My brother-in-law Jakko is on that ship with her. He sent a message to me as we rode back.” He held up his wrist communicator so she could read it.
“Oota aa, it’s written in English,” she said. “Does it say that she is the one?”
“Yes it does, Tizima, yes it does.”
Leela looked up as the door opened again. Brother Jaco came in with a cup for her. “Would you like some tea, Miss Leela?” He set the cup down and smiled at her. “It might be a bit cold, but I don’t think you’ll have any trouble heating it up.”
She made eye contact. “Oh, you saw my little display?”
“Yes I did,” he said. “Fortunately Zarabeth didn’t.”
“I have to ask…how in the world did you get here? You are obviously one of us…how did you get inside?”
“Through the missionaries that are here. It was dumb luck that I got tossed in as an aid to Zarabeth. I’ve been in touch with my brother-in-law, Owed.” He moved in closer. “I need to tell you what’s really going on here…the Archcardinal has a dreadful weapon down in the cargo hold of this ship; if she gets a chance to launch it from orbit, many people will die.”
Her hand began to shake as she drew it up to her mouth. “Oh, dear God…I had a feeling that she was up to something like that.”
“I think it’s time that we all sat down for a dinner,” he told her.
“What good will that do?”
“It might buy us a little time. Time that I can use.”
She grabbed his shirt sleeve. “You know that she’ll kill you if she finds out that we spoke…”
He looked down. “I know.”
“Jakko, what can I possibly do?”
“You are the Hatoka…you’ll think of something. I’ll just help to make a way.” He then quickly left.
The dinner in the galley of the ship was a fancy one. Leela was quiet and well behaved as Zarabeth gave grace…the woman was so deluded that she had no idea of the evil that she was involved with. Steak and potatoes were served, along with some green vegetable that Leela wasn’t familiar with. Zarabeth started the conversation by explaining the necessity of Leela’s people coming to embrace the true faith. She watched for signs of dissent in Leela’s face, but didn’t spot any. When she was finished, she waited for Leela’s reply.
“I agree,” Leela said.
“Absolutely. I think that this is a golden opportunity for the cyclops people to join the rest of the interstellar community and advance themselves.”
“You do?” asked Zarabeth.
“Yes. We shouldn’t be afraid of change…we should embrace it. It’s like my friend Amy always says…you either wax your board and get ready to surf, or get buried by the wave. We’ll do whatever you need us to do.”
Zarabeth was dumbfounded. This was a strange complication, but ultimately wouldn’t interfere with her mission. “Then you’ll join us willingly in the Celestial Temple?”
“I’d say being a servant in heaven beats being a warrior in hell any day of the week. You just need to give me some time to sway the council.” With that Leela wiped her mouth with her napkin and got up to leave.
Where are you going?” asked Zarabeth.
“I’m off to speak with the High Council, of course. I can’t do anything from here.”
“You’re not leaving the ship…”
“Yes I am. The meal was nice, really…but I must be going.”
Zarabeth looked over at the guard that was standing in the corner, and he moved to block her exit. “Look, lady…just sit back down…”
Leela angrily slapped his chest with the palm of her hand, and a ball of orange flame flared up on his shirt – as he moved to put out the smoldering fire on his uniform, she snatched the carbine from his hands. She used her hands to generate more fire, and cast the weapon aside as a useless heap of smoking metal with fried circuitry. The guard got up to stop her again.
She held up her hand as if it were a weapon. “Do you want more? Get back!” He glanced down at his burned uniform shirt, and backed off. She went off to the nearest exit from the ship, following the emergency exit signs.
“Get out and stop her, you idiot,” bellowed Zarabeth, “she’s going to pass the armory on the way out! She’ll kill us all!”
When the guard scrambled down the corridor after her, she turned to launch another enormous burst of flame; he flinched as the heat reached him. He stopped dead in his tracks when he saw what she was doing at the armory. Leela found an aluminum broom, and was using it to spot weld the door with her hand; flame and sparks shot out from her palms as she spread the molten metal around the doorframe. It wasn’t enough to permanently seal it, but it was enough to keep someone from shooting her in the back as she left. As the guard and another crew member struggled to open the armory door, Leela left the ship. As she had hoped, Owed and some of his men were waiting for her. Leela turned to see Jakko at the door. “You know what you must do,” she told him.
“A way will be made,” he told her back.
Leela climbed onto a veng beast that Owed and his men had with them and rode off. By the time that the guards had bounded off of the ship with their weapons, the group was far out of firing range.
“Damn it,” spat the sergeant of the guard, “pull down the hovercar.”
“You’re not seriously thinking of going after her?” asked one of the others.
“She has a prison chip on her…we can track her wherever she goes.”
Tempers flared within the council chambers in Leela’s village of Tazan’ka. Some of the family heads quarreled with each other. Crystima and the other heads of the High Council tried to officiate what was quickly turning into a rumble. Leela stood in the middle of them. Some of the members had problems with Owed being there because he closely resembled a human. “In his chest beats the same hearts as the rest of you here,” Leela told them. “He stays here in the chambers.” Heated discussions of what to do continued.
“We can muster nearly 80 strong men to defend the Hatoka,” announced the head of Family Marakaho. “We will destroy any who come near her!”
“We can add 20 warriors to your contingent,” added another family head.
“Wait a minute…how can we even be sure that she even is the Fire Priestess? She wasn’t even raised here,” added a skeptic. “She could be an alien plant.”
“She is the Hatoka,” said a shaman. “You’ve seen the signs…you’ve seen them!”
“Hold it…hold it…hold it!!” Leela put up her hands. She addressed the Marakaho family head. “You will not muster any men. You will stand down and let them enter the village. These men have real weapons…maser carbines, laser pistols….if your men get in the way, they will be cut to pieces. You will let them come – they are coming after me.” Leela held her hand up, which glowed with an orange flame. “When they come, I will be ready for them.”
Everything got quiet as Owed and Tizima came in with the sacred hooded cloak of the Hatoka. A beautiful thing, it was covered with native pictographs which boldly announced who its wearer was. Leela spread her arms out as they put it on her. Some in the back of the chambers began to voice a chant and pray in unison. Leela silenced them and addressed the council again. “Before we go further,” she asked, “is there anyone here that has any doubt of who I am or what my mission is?” After her hand lit up with flame again, even the toughest skeptics were silent.
Illustration by Mike Jessen (kaspired)
“Get this ship up into a high orbit,” Zarabeth told the pilot.
“High orbit? And then do what?”
“Follow your orders…open the cargo doors when instructed to do so. Just what you were contracted to do. You do want to get paid, don’t you?” The pilot shook his head as he went back up to the cockpit.
As the hovercar entered the village of Tazan’ka, every armed cyclops that the four encountered stood out of the way and just watched. “See what I told you,” the sergeant remarked, “nothing but a bunch of savages with spears and crossbows. This’ll be easier than I thought.”
“Are you nuts, Erik?” asked the man next to him. “We’re walking into a trap. We’re not even going to make it out of here alive.”
“Secure that kind of talk. Look at our weapons. Anybody tries anything and we’ll put some smoke on them.” He admired his carbine. “It’s what we call a little ‘reach out and touch someone.’”
Sergeant Erik was so busy looking at his weapon that he didn’t notice their ship’s running lights rising high into the sky behind them.
When the hovercar pulled into the town square at Tazan’ka in the dark of night, the men found Leela painting pictographs in a circle on the pavement stones. She didn’t even bother to look up as they walked up to her. A crowd of cyclopes began to gather around the group of them, but they kept their distance. When the sergeant and his men got close to her, Leela stood up and began a low chant.
“C’mon, lady,” the sergeant said, “you’re not even armed. Just hop in the car with us and we won’t hurt anyone.”
A young cyclops man yelled to Leela in her native tongue. “Bring the fire!”
Leela finished her chant, and began to move her hand in a circular motion all around her; as she did, flames began to engulf the pictographs that she’d painted.
“That’s very impressive lady. Look – I haven’t got all day, so let’s get going.”
“Erik,” the young soldier blurted out, “can’t you see? This lady can make fire with her hand. She could probably roast us all right here.”
Sergeant Erik’s face flushed with rage. “Big deal…I could do some of the same thing with incendiary gel. You signed on to be a soldier…this is the job. Now do what you’re told!”
“And do what…go into a village and kill an unarmed civilian? I didn’t sign on for this.”
“You’d better listen to him,” Leela said.
“Shut up, you!”
“Look at his young face,” Leela added, “he’s just out of naval infantry school, isn’t he? These people here don’t want to hurt you anymore than you want to hurt them.”
Sergeant Erik angrily raised his weapon into firing position. “Lady, I’m losing my patience with you…now get into the car!”
“Haven’t you wondered what your real mission here is? Right now your ship is up in orbit, where your Sunday school teacher is preparing to drop a thermonuclear bomb right here in this very spot. When she came here to harvest souls, she wasn’t playing around. That one event will trigger war and chaos across the galaxy. And I’m here to shut her down.”
“You liar…you expect us to buy that?” said Sergeant Erik. “The ship is back over in the field where we left it.”
“Try calling the ship. See if I’m lying.”
The young man left the other soldiers and walked over behind Leela. “What do you think you’re doing Jimmy?” spat Erik.
“I’ve got a family. I don’t want to die…not here, and not for this. I’m willing to listen to what this woman has to say.”
Archcardinal Zarabeth grabbed a crowbar and hastily tore open the wood crate that the weapon sat in. She popped open a small panel on the white painted hull of the beast, and began pushing several buttons. Finally her mission would be achieved…this was to be the first of several worlds that would begin the final cataclysm that her group believed in. She glanced up to see Brother Jaco staring at her in the cargo bay. “You insolent bastard – how long have you been down here?”
“I can’t let you do this to my people.”
“Your people? What do you mean, your people?”
“You can’t do this...I won’t let you.”
“I’m sorry that you feel that way, Brother Jaco. You are in the way of my mission here.” She pulled out a gauss dart pistol from her belt and shot him point blank in the heart. Jaco collapsed in a heap near the bulkhead. Without pausing, Zarabeth continued pushing buttons on the panel on the weapon. “What a disappointment,” she told herself, “you could have been so much more. You turned native on me.”
Now the bloodbath would begin…nothing would stop it. There was no one left to interfere.
“Jimmy, get your ass back over here…now!”
“Let’s just listen to what she has to tell us…what have we got to lose?”
“Then the both of you will die.”
“Erik, I don’t want to die. But if I’ve got to die as a soldier, shouldn’t it be while protecting an unarmed civilian? Isn’t that what we do…protect the weak?”
“Jimmy, you’ve got to the count of five to get back over here. One, two…”
Jaco came back over to Zarabeth, who turned and gave him a frightened look. Blood was flowing down his shirt like a river, but he was still alive. She turned white.
“Zarabeth, shut off the weapon.”
In a broken voice, Zarabeth asked, “How…how are you still alive? I shot you in the heart!”
He coughed before he spoke. His body was shattered. “I told you that they were my people. I am a cyclops…I only look like a human being. We have two separate hearts…the second one won’t keep me alive long, but long enough to stop you.” He had his own gauss pistol, and he shot her in the stomach. She fell into a heap on the floor of the cargo bay, and Jaco went over to the panel. He coughed again, and nearly fell on the way. As he pressed several buttons, he told her, “Doomsday has been postponed; a way has been made for the Hatoka, and I made it.” She had a look of horror in her eyes as he pressed the final button…
“Sarge,” one of the other men yelled, “you gotta see this!” Erik turned to see a bright ball of light in the night sky; it flared up, and then faded out. He let the weapon drop to his side in disbelief. He looked back at Leela.
“It’s over,” Leela told him. “That was your ride home. Now, will you please just let Jimmy here get back to his family?”
Suddenly a cyclops blurted out from the crowd. “Hoo-mani Kazeeris! Kill the humans!” The onlookers began to creep in closer with their weapons in hand.
Leela addressed the crowd in Cyclon. “Stop! No one is going to kill anyone tonight!” As several cyclopes kept advancing in, Leela let loose with a huge blast of fire. The soldiers could feel the heat as a small wooden building went up in flames. The cyclopes backed off.
“Look what they were going to do to us!” said the head of Family Marakaho.
Leela pointed up to the sky in anger. “We are not like them,” she shouted. “We will not behave like them! They call us ‘savages’ – if we cut these men down here, then we’re just proving them right! Then we will be savages!” She reached out and grabbed Jimmy by the shirt. “Look at him…look at him! Krellta, you have a son this boy’s age. He doesn’t want to die a hundred light years from home. Look at what he did tonight - he made the first step to end this madness.” Jimmy was in terror, as he didn’t understand a word she was saying. “Do you think the Lawgiver would approve of killing these men?”
Marakaho Krellta lowered his spear and began to relax a bit. “Hatoka, what do we do now?”
“You will treat these men decently and feed them until the next transport comes along. And you will not harm them. I’ll put them in the charge of the shaman here.” Leela then translated for the benefit of the men. “I’m going to need you guys to surrender your weapons; in return, you will not be harmed.” One by one the three men put their weapons down in a pile.
“Like hell…I’m not surrendering my weapon!” Erik said.
“And then do what?” asked Leela. “Shoot us all? Kill everyone here? Maybe make it to the Starport, provided you can find it. And then what…wait until the next mob finds you and kills you? Your men are tired and just want to get home. Follow their example, or none of you will make it out of here alive.” After what seemed like ages, Sergeant Erik finally walked over and dropped his rifle in the pile with the other weapons. Leela turned to Jimmy again. “Kid,” she told him, “you are wise beyond your years. You will live to see your family.”
As soon as the rifle hit the rest of the weapons with a loud clunk, the fire that Leela had lit on the pictographs suddenly went out. Leela, physically exhausted, collapsed to the ground. The Fire Priestess had done her job. The time of this Hatoka had come and gone.
The journey to the starport was a difficult one; Leela was still physically and emotionally drained from her ordeal the night before. Owed and Tizima made the trip with her, if for nothing else to make sure she didn’t fall off of her veng beast. As she tied Ona up to a post outside of the main terminal building, a young teenage girl sheepishly approached her. Without warning, the youth got down on one knee and began to worship her. Leela shook her head.
“No, no, no!” Leela gently lifted the girl back up to her feet. “Do not worship me. I am a cyclops just like you.” She could see a look of confusion on the girl’s face; her act was one of sincerity, and she meant well by it. Leela showed the girl her right hand, and tapped it with the fingers of the left. “Look…see? No more fire. I’m no longer the Hatoka.”
As Leela smiled at her, the girl began to smile back.
“Someday, maybe you will be the next Hatoka,” Leela told her, “and you will look back and wonder how you got through it.” With that she embraced her. Leela saw Fry and Amy coming over. “Come…meet my husband and our friend.” The youth walked over with her.
“Leels!” Fry blurted out. The two hugged. “Have you been keeping up with the news?”
“What news?” Leela asked.
“Good grief…it’s all over the wire. A ship went missing from a navy yard. And then there was some sort of big raid on Mars of the Omniversalist church…some big company hotshot was arrested. Somehow the three things are supposed to be tied to each other, but I don’t know how. Hey – you’ve got to see what Amy here did to her hair.”
She had noticed that Amy was wearing a hat. When she pulled it off, Leela had to stifle a deep laugh. After all the seriousness that she had been through, it felt good to be a part of the old small talk from home.
“Well,” asked Amy, “what do you think?”
Not knowing what to say, Leela simply told her, “I’m happy that you’re happy with it.” She then introduced Owed, Tizima, and the young girl to the two.
“Is her hair supposed to be damaged like that?” asked Tizima in Cyclon.
“Hey,” Fry went on, “you didn’t tell us how your three weeks went – you look like you’ve been drug behind a horse.”
Owed chuckled. Leela got a weird smile on her face. “Well, it was anything but boring…I’ll explain it all to you on the trip back to Earth.”
“Hey, Leela,” said Amy, “we’re stopping by the Gobi Desert on the way home. You still up for a race for that burger?”
In spite of being deeply tired and emotionally drained, Leela got that evil smile back on her face. “You’re on, Amy.”