This is the tenth chapter of my novel, “Ainadamar, or The Fountain of Tears: The First Flight of the Madrugada.” It details the adventures of a spaceship called the Madrugada, crewed by a Bulgarian space vampire, a lady barbarian, a 17th century French mountebank, a shape-shifting chef, a giant kitty, an empath, Morgan La Fey, an octopus surgeon, a cowboy, and the early 20th century Spanish Republican poet and martyr, Federico Garcia Lorca. I publish a new chapter each week. To read other chapters, click on the category Ainadamar.
José Maria Ormaetxea-Ametxazurra, erstwhile captain of the GDI ship Tu Madre, the most feared space bandito in eight superclusters, paced his makeshift prison like a lion in a cage. His crewmates had huddled up in one corner to allow the great man room. They were used to his musk, so none of them evinced any nausea, but an occasional retching sound came from the alcove that contained the Crown Prince.
They heard an extravagant creaking followed by a great boom and light flooded the hold from the upside hatch. Two sets of halting footsteps sounded on the metal ladder as the patched up members of Tu Madre’s crew struggled down, followed by Dr. Ddededd Ll. Dded held a flat-plasm in his third tentacle as he climbed down behind the crewman, utilizing the hand rails as often as the steps.
One crewman had silvery bandages wrapped around her midsection and a striated burn pad around one cheek and the back of her neck. The other had a translucent cast on one arm, which was bound tight against his chest.
“Welcome back Sofia and Snooshbangtrough,” cried Ormaetxea, throwing open his arms. “I’m glad to see you well. Thank you for your tender ministrations, Doctor.”
“The pleasure was all mine, I assure you,” said the doctor with as much of a bow as his bulbo-tentacular nature would allow. “Now, everyone into the left corner please. Divinity! What is that smell? Now, please,” he said, gesturing with the gun.
They slowly moved away from where the aluminized webbing was fastened to the bulkhead by a series of rings. Dded waved his fifth tentacle over an actuator in the wall and the pins blew out in rapid succession from top to bottom, freeing the rings and allowing a section of the webbing to curl forward. Dded flicked the flat-plasm to the opening and his patients-turned-prisoners slipped into the cell.
“Doctor, what is happening out there?” asked the captain, stepping forward to greet his crew mates. He smiled. “We are men of action, you and I. Imagine how I feel cooped up here.”
“No further,” said the doctor. He flattened himself against the bulkhead and began to click the rings back into their brackets.
“Doctor, I’m begging you. Put us to work. Or at least let us know what’s going on.”
“Back or I’ll shoot!” he cried, his voice going up in pitch as it always did in a stressful situation, the barrel of the gun turning little wobbly circles in the air. The captain raised his hands and stepped back a pace.
“Alright, doctor. No need to panic.”
Addled, Dded reached for another ring, this time neglecting to flatten himself against the wall. Sofia was standing at the front of the cell and she lunged, grabbed through the webbing at two of his tentacles and pulled back hard. The doctor’s third tentacle snapped like a whip. His gun tentacle hit the bulkhead and his piece went flying. Ormaetxea stepped forward and let fly with a head blow from his cantaloupe-sized fist that would have killed a normal man. But Dded was an Echelld and his head was a particularly resilient cartilaginous whatchamajigger. Ormaetxea’s fist was rocketed back and he punched himself in his own face, splitting his lip open.
At that point, Dr. Ll went stark raving super cuckoo bananas. He shrieked like a radio dropped into a bathtub, struck out with all eight tentacles at once and launched himself through the remaining opening to clamp himself desperately around the entire grinning head of Captain Ormaetxea.
Spilf, a broad, wiry Hyrtussian member of Tu Madre’s crew, popped out of the cell, grabbed the doctor’s flat-plasm and jammed the barrel against Dded’s head.
He unrolled a tentacle. “Give me the gun,” he said. “The only way you’ll get me off your captain’s head with that is by taking your captain’s head off with it.” To his credit, he could not imagine anyone doing such a thing.
Spilf though a moment. Then aimed.
“Hold on there a second.” He clacked his beak. He raised his first and fourth tentacles up, like he had seen others of a more vertical build do. “I surrender.” He raised two more tentacles slowly, then two more, then the final two, one at a time, until he sat on top of Ormaetxea’s squashed sombrero. The process revealed a man so furious he could not find the worlds to speak.
Dded squealed like a Pavo-Indusian fish-monkey being fed into a wood chipper, flailed his tentacles, snapping Ormaetxea in the right eye, thumping Sofia on the head and knocking the gun out of Spilf’s hand as he tore out of the cell and up the ladder to the hatch.
Spilf fired after him, sending a swarm of yellow charges ricocheting off the walls of the hold. The hatch boomed shut as Ormaetxea bellowed.
“Stop! Stop! Stop firing! You’ll kill us all.” As the noise died down they heard the upside hatches hydraulic locks driving home. They were locked in. Then they heard another sound.
Boom. Boom. Boom.
Someone was banging on the main hatch. The one that led outside. They crew of Tu Madre stood stock still.
“Well answer the door you useless scum!” bellowed Ormaetxea. He smiled. “We have company!”
Slim trotted back from La Colonia, crouching low. They moved off together, threading their way between the olive trees. They had all heard, and understood, what Slim had overheard. The crier, Lorca, was within, weeping into his thin mattress, the schoolteacher and two bullfighters trying to comfort him, telling him they had been pressed into a work detail, nothing more, although they probably knew better.
They walked in the deeper shadow of an aqueduct that cut across a loop in the road and another mile further they came upon the “fountain of tears.” Ainadamar, also known as the Fuente Grande, the big fountain, was a large cistern, surrounded by a low wall, in the shape of a great tear. A column of water shot up occasionally into the air as much as a man’s height. Even in the meager starlight they could see the bubbles in the mineral-laden waters. Stratsimir cupped his hand and tasted the water, cold and curiously mingled of sweet and bitter.
They back-tracked the road until they found a trampled place where it widened. Slim knelt down and soured the ground. His father, a hunter of reputation, had taught him the basics of how to track and he had sharpened those skills into an art during his time living and trading with a band of White Mountain Apache.
They unload them down there, he thought, pointing, and march them up here. He stood again and searched around, caressing the bark of the surrounding trees with his fingers until he found the holes. They shoot them here.
The smell of death is stronger in this direction, thought the captain, looking up the hillside. He walked up the grade a few paces. They bury the bodies in shallow troughs here and up higher into the trees.
A cowardly way to kill, thought Weekiebye, offended. I would like to kill challenge these butchers, man by man, on principal. They completely lack the slightest trace of moral style. Stratsimir could sense the others begin to feel and share Weekiebye’s disgust.
We cannot do that, he reminded them. We are only saving the crier because we are somewhat confident we can do so without it being detected and without materially altering the Divine narrative. And because it is worth the risk, considering the alternative. He could feel them relaxing their grip on their weapons. Remember, those we face make these villains seem like children, albeit cruel and brutal ones.
Kindred spirits to those we face, thought Nimue sadly to herself.
Mona and Slim paced over the killing grounds as the others stood guard, considering various patterns for placement of the pylons. They needed to slow time around the shooters, guards and other prisoners, while leaving the area around the crier in normal time. After half an hour they settled on a pattern they believed would accomplish this.
Slim unpacked the pylons, laying them out on the ground side by side. They were just over two-and-a-half feet tall, cylindrical and about as wide as a human wrist at the base. They were supported by a wide tripod of legs and their bodies, matte graphite, tapered to a torpedo-shaped cap. Their graphite skin made them neutral and, if placed carefully, difficult to see in most environments.
They placed them among stands of young pine, agave and prickly pear. Even uncharged, they were nearly invisible. Stratsimir, whose eyesight was preternatural acute, could only pick them out because he knew where they were.
Mona, thought Slim, walk across the field, please. She walked in the area described by the pylons. As she did so, Slim charged the pylons with the remote actuator, then made the field live. Mona appeared to freeze in mid-stride. Stan, walk up to Mona, would you? Stanislaus hesitated a moment, then breathed deeply and strode forward to meet her. His body was washed with a dim green light as he crossed the threshold, then he too froze. He shut off the field and they resumed their movement.
It didn’t work? asked Mona.
Worked like a charm, grinned Slim.
Stratsimir looked up to the eastern horizon. It would get light soon.
We need to find…a body now, and be quick about it, he said, pulling a shovel from one of the packs. Slim and Stanislaus hid further along the road in a thick groves of olives that looked out from a short rise, keeping an eye on the killing ground and on the road from La Colonia.
Stratsimir, Nimue and Mona walked a short way up the slope into a stand of pine “The earth has been disturbed here, recently,” said Nimue. Stratsimir sniffed. Death all around, but strongest here. He dug, shallowly, so as not to disturb the corpse. A man lay there, under average height, just under middle age. They unearthed him and laid him out. Nimue and Mona prepared the body, as though for obsequies, brushing away the dirt, washing his face and hands with water from a canteen, combing out the tangled hair and removing his clothing. Stratsimir replaced the clothing in the cursory grave and turned the soil over it and the unfortunates who lay there.
Stratsimir moved to take the body, but Mona waved him off. She and Nimue carried it, slight as it was, between them on a sling fashioned out of Nimue’s cloak. They walked over the rocky ground and quickly across the road to another stand of olives where they would wait for the dawn, and for the next executions to begin. As they walked, Nimue and Mona sang very quietly, Scythian in Mona’s case and Brythonic in Nimue’s, both songs somehow harmonizing in a slow melody of profound sadness. The song blessed the unknown man, and the singing blessed the singers, despite the unholy death that surrounded them.
Few of our deaths will mean so much, whispered the captain as he turned the cloak over the man’s face to await the dawn.
The hold was locked off from the rest of the ship. But Ormaetxea told his crew to find any cord, chain or wiring they could and make the hatch fast from this side as well. It opened upward and he didn’t want the Madrugada’s crew to be able to get at them.
“Find some weapons too, in addition to the…octodoctor’s flat-plasm,” he told them.
The banging again: boom, boom, boom! Ormaetxea gestured and Spilf walked to the hatch and depressed the outside monitor control. It flickered to life in the middle of the wide main hatch. Four men stood outside, all with hair so black it looked as if the night itself had been cut away in their shape to reveal the more ancient dark behind it.
Spilf turned on the outside flood. Their leader, who disdained to even blink in the harsh beam, was short, but regal looking and dark as coffee. He wore a patterned shirt and pointed black shoes, his hair curling at the collar and his goatee pointed. He carried a short staff, wrapped tightly in one long strip of maroon leather and fastened with gold tacks. It was the staff he had used to bang on the hull.
To his right stood a taller man in a black leather jacket with a Roman profile. A faint scar traced the edge of his jaw. To his left stood a shorter, stockier man, somewhat lighter in coloring, wearing heavy-heeled boots. Last of all a somewhat younger man, who resembled the stocky one, but was lithe and worried, and wore red shoes.
Ormaetxea thought for a minute, almost audibly. Thinking was not his strong suit, though he could do it when he had to. He punched the red button-shaped latch in the middle of the hatch, which hissed and began descending outward on cables, forming a ramp to the ground. It would be inaccurate to say the visitors scrambled out of the way. One got the feeling even the younger one would not yield to the temptation to do anything that would impinge on his dignity.
The hatch rested on the ground outside with a sigh and the hydraulics disengaged. The dim light of the hold spilled out to where the visitors stood, regrouped. Ormaetxea led his crew down the ramp in a wedge formation, stopping only when he drew even with the leader. He stood up straight to emphasize his superior height and greater mass, his sombrero casting a shadow as wide as two of the visitors. He had hoped to intimidate them. He was a little disappointed that it didn’t seem to work, though all four did flare their nostrils before they mastered their dismayed expressions.
The younger man stifled a yell when Spilf walked into the light. Spilf possessed a majestic set of whiskers that writhed a bit, testing the taste of the night air. He faltered again when Heino came into view, carrying several titanium rods, the doctor’s flat-plasm, two old Groombridge 34 light rifles and two Vegan slot-shots he’d found in a storage locker. Heino had a human father but a Cetusi mother. It was from the latter he got his extraordinary height and antlers. And his second pair of arms, naturally. The leader silenced the younger man with a look.
“I am Ratón,” he said, in a richly accented Spanish. “These are my men, Gabriel,” indicating the tall one,” Antonio and Manolín,” indicating the young one. “We are Gypsies of the Sacromonte.” He indicated a half circle with his staff. “You are on our land. You have crashed your…airplane in an olive grove that our families have used by right for over a century. We demand you remove yourselves and pay for the damage you have done.”
“I am Captain José Maria Ormaetxea-Ametxazurra of the sp… of the GDI ship Tu Madre.” In a fluid movement born of long practice, the tall Gypsy pulled his knife from underneath his belt, behind his back and flicked the blade out of the curved horn handle bound in silver. It clicked ominously.
Ormaetxea held up his palm and roared with laughter. His men took their hands off their weapons. “That is the name of my ship. Or at least it was until the pirates inside this ship destroyed it. I am pleased to meet you and your men. And I apologize for this damage. We did not do it, but we will see you are paid for it.” He turned and looked up at the windows of the ready room. Three figures looked out of the lit windows at them.
“Those people,” he said, indicating the windows, “boarded our ship and took us captive. We have only just now escaped from our imprisonment.” He indicated his crew. “This is Spilf, my first officer,” he said, clapping his great hand on the Hyrtussian’s shoulder. “This is Sofia, my tactical officer, and this is Heino, my pilot. The remainder of my crew is inside the hold.”
Ratón stepped forward, peering at Spilf and Heino.
He crossed himself. “Some might call these two monsters.”
“Those are the real monsters,” he said, pointing to the window again. “These are just…sailors. You know the sea and the kind of men, and women, it attracts. The air is even more so. I assure you, my men are firmly under my command.”
“These ‘pirates’ took you off your airplane, and put you in their airplane?” asked Ratón, skeptically.
“Let me out! Let me out, damn you all!” Shouting and banging came from within the hold.
“We are not this ship’s only prisoners,” Ormaetxea said. He made a gesture and several of the men disappeared inside, to return dragging the Crown Prince out, a crewman at each arm. The Crown Prince was perhaps even odder to the Gypsies’ eyes than were Heino and Spilf. He wore a gigantic turban of checkered cloth wound around a conical metal cap and a prismatic linen bliaut over a blue leather body suit, fastened by a belt of enamel plates. Below the belt a skirt of salmon-colored fur belled out, its hem studded with black fire opals and on his feet he wore hot orange and lemon yellow zebra striped boots with knee-protectors and a four-inch high-hooved heel made of polished steel.
“A Turk!” cried Manolín.
Ratón shook his head. “An actor.”
“A Crown Prince, actually,” said Ormaetxea. “Allow me to introduce Zbiss Tel Eridane, Crown Prince of Heiro Eridanus and presumptive heir to the Archonate. Crown Prince, meet the Gypsies of the Sacromonte.” Without another word, the Crown Prince fainted to the ground.
“Royalty,” shrugged Ormaetxea.
“Royalty,” agreed Ratón.
Patches and Dem were pressed to the ready room window, watching Ormaetxea and his crew talking with Ratón.
“What are they doing? What are they doing!” asked the doctor, fluttering around behind them and clacking his beak nervously.
“He’s talking to some visitors,” spat Patches. “visitors from here.”
“This is unbelievably bad, Dded,” said Dem, annoyed. Adding to Patches, “I told you we should have handled it.”
“Ah, give him a break,” said Patches. “Alright. Let’s saddle up.”
Dded squeaked and clacked his beak again. “Shouldn’t we wait for the captain?” No one answered him. They followed Patches out of the ready room, through the bridge and out to the landing. He threw open the doors of the arms locker with a bang and strode in. He passed back two plasm-edged long knives, a laser scramasax, two autonomous magplasm pistols and a photic spear for Dded. He bristled like a metal hedgehog.
Dem took two flat-plasms, which he tucked into his belt behind him, and two charge-gonnes with looped stocks which he fitted into the crook of each arm. Patches strung a single bandolier of light grenades around his chest and shoved a falcata through his sash, then he flexed his claws.
“Right. These gentlemen have trod on my last good nerve,” said Patches. “No more sporting chances.”
Dded followed. His eyes narrowed.
“First, do nothing but harm.”
“Great Mscisłau’s Paw!” exclaimed Patches, looking at the monitor. “There are more of them, and they’ve lit a bonfire!” It had taken half an hour for them to force the hatch up enough that Dded could slip in a tentacle and get at the cables the Madre crew had used to tie it shut with one of his nastier-looking bone saws.
“Instruments and dancing,” noted Dem. “Looks like fun.” Patches growled. “Well, we can hardly wade into them, can we?”
“Why not? Considering the alternative,” said Patches. Dem looked shock. “You people are entirely too precious.” Dem’s look hardened. “Fine, we’ll ‘talk.’ Oh, joy.”
Dded sawed through the last strand of the last cable and lifted the hatch to the hold.
“Stand back from the hatch and stay in the shadows,” Dem whispered. “We don’t want the inhabitants doing the Poisoned Jerky dance on us.” (Dem referred to an incident a couple of years before, when a group of traders on Bootes Secundus had gorged themselves on tainted lemur jerky and gone on a hallucinogenic rampage while the Madrugada was trying to fuel. No one there at the time was likely to forget it.)
Dem trod lightly on the metal stairs as Dded scrambled soundlessly down the railing and the engineer leapt in one velvet arc to the deck of the Madrugada’s main hold. Dem and Patches flattened themselves to the wall on either side of the hatch as only a cat and a chameleon can, while the doctor clung upside down from a joist.
“Captain Ormaetxea? Oh, Captain, dear, may we speak to you?” said Dded.
The music stopped and the dancers faltered. A number of Gypsies, as well as the bulk of Tu Madre’s crew, reached for haft and butt but Ormaetxea shook his head and they relaxed. Ormaetxea rose from where he had been sitting watching the dancers and the music started up again. He walked out of earshot of the party but not close enough to be seized. Two of his men had slipped into the shadows around the bonfire.
“Gentlemen!” smiled the captain opening his arms. He gestured around him. “A lovely night, no? Care to join the zambra?”
“It’s very tempting, Captain,” replied Patches with a low growl. “But for now, we just wanted to take this opportunity to let you know that what you are doing, or might do, runs the very real risk of not just altering time in a cataclysmic fashion, but, if you get in our way, of ending the life of the universe altogether.”
Ormaetxea’s savoir faire was momentarily interrupted.
“Well,” said the captain, shrugging, “you must understand. I am a space bandito. Speaking frankly, I do not care.” He put his hands together and spoke with the forced jollity of a Bruxtonian ham smuggler. “I like you, doctor, I really do, and you, engineer. I find the crew of the Madrugada offends me less than most would after having destroyed my ship. I have, for instance, no interest in feeding you, one after another, into a supersonic chicken chipper. Well, excepting your captain, of course. All I ask is that you surrender the Madrugada to me. It’s only fair. You are even welcome to join my crew. We had a few deserters, including your pilot’s friend, Shal Sinto. If you don’t agree to this very reasonable, request, however, I must warn you. I will beat you to death with your own arms. Tentacles. Whatever.”
There was silence.
“Promise me you’ll think about it anyway. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a party to get back to. We are celebrating with our new friends. Come out and join us when you’re ready. You really don’t want us to come in and join you.” Ormaetxea turned and began to walk back to the bonfire. He stopped.
“It has occurred to you, I think, that we stand between you and most of your crew mates.”
On the road above La Colonia, the eastern sky turned the pale green of a melon rind, then deepened into a poisonous chartreuse before the chapped fingers of the washerwoman dawn crept up over the world’s sill. A military truck rumbled up the road and pulled over onto the shoulder. Two soldiers hopped out of the cab and two more emerged from the canvass-enclosed bed, tying back the flaps. The two from the cab dropped the gate with a bang and pulled their prisoners out.
The first two were defiant, tough men with long hair, hands tied behind their backs. One wore a torn jacket from the traje de luces that bullfighters wear in the ring. A third man struggled down, favoring his right leg but with his hands tied in front. The last man was their man, visibly shaken and on the verge of tears. Considering the puffiness of his eyes, he had crossed that verge before. The four prisoners were herded the 30 yards up the road to the oval of gravel before the stand of pine that had served as a killing field. The first two were stood up against the trees and with a disturbing matter-of-factness, three of the soldiers unslung their carbines from their shoulders and took aim.
“Chingao rojos,” spat the fourth soldier, a toad of a man.
“Viva la anarquia!” shouted the one with the bullfighter’s jacket. The toad gestured and the others shot the two dead. The bullets folded one of the bullfighters up and he pitched forward. A shot caught the other in the head, which whined off the tree behind him. Lorca howled soundlessly, his legs starting to give out on him.
“Keep that faggot on his feet!” screamed the toad. Lorca’s eyes got hard as the soldiers approached. The other man with him, a schoolteacher with pencils poking out of his vest pocket, took him gently at the elbow.
“I’ve died a thousand times without the help of the likes of you!” Lorca sneered at the toad. He grabbed the schoolteacher’s hand in his and walked them both to the tree, then he spat at the toad.
“God watches. Viva la guitarra!” said Lorca quietly.
“Y alegría,” said his companion. The soldiers shouldered their weapons and fired.
Slim had engaged the temporal field just after the soldiers brought up their weapons. Everything in the field washed coral-pink and froze. One of the guns had discharged and the bullet hung motionless just in front of the barrel.
“Cut it a little close, did you not?” asked Weekiebye, looking at the frozen figures. The schoolteacher was completely inside the field when Slim lit the pylons. As for Lorca, only his back was free of it. Slim grabbed his collar and pulled him back hard. For whatever reason—his impending death or temporal shock—he fainted straight away, which, frankly, made things easier. Weekiebye and Stanislaus hauled him off to the olive grove and undressed him. Nimue and Mona took Stratsimir’s cloak off the corpse and wrapped Lorca up in it, dressing the corpse in Lorca’s clothing. Stratsimir and Slim looked down at the replacement.
“He doesn’t look a great deal like our friend,” said Slim, jerking his thumb in the direction of the grove. Stratsimir shrugged.
“They kill a man. He looks different after they shoot him. I doubt the possibility that time has stopped around them and their victim has been replaced by a corpse will occur to them,” he said.
They propped the double up between them and heaved. He entered the field and froze and they walked back to the grove. Stanislaus took the form of a mule and they tied the unconscious poet over his back and hoisted their packs. All but Slim walked down the valley to hide in the ruins of a stone farmhouse. Slim waited until they got out of sight to kill the field. Time caught up and the schoolteacher and faux-Lorca twitched as the bullets entered their bodies. The bitter reports died away and the toad walked up to the man who should have been Lorca. He took out his sidearm and shot him twice more.
“Twice in the ass for being a faggot!” he laughed. Even his men seemed to blanch a little.
“Jesus,” said Slim under his breath. He ducked behind the grove and hustled, low to the ground, to join the others. He slowed, then stopped and turned back. He looked down, adjusted the actuator and pressed it again. The charges attached to the pylons ignited and four flashes lit up the pines. Maybe he killed the toad, he thought. Well. A man can hope.
The jade warrior and the golden herald strode through the stars together, clasping hands. As they moved they built themselves a bridge that spanned the great chasm of space. The jade figure gleamed, holding his great malachite sabre in his armored left hand. To his right, the golden light of his companion whirled and effloresced. He bore a herald’s thrysos, wound in golden ivy.
Seen far away and long ago above a sacred grove the two would be a fiery chariot for some god or further forward to some weary scientist a mammoth comet streaking through the sky above a lonely observation dome. Either way they blazed through time, resolving larger languages.
This will be the end of our time, said the golden one.
Howsoever it turns out, agreed the jade.
Once we are no longer needed… began the gold.
Yes? asked the jade one expectantly.
When we diminish…
We should open a moped rental in Jamaica.
Excellent idea! enthused the martial figure of jade.
I wonder though. Is Jamaica perhaps a little tired? Would you consider…St. Kitts?
The laughter of the herald showered the millennia with brilliant molten-yellow anemones of gold that drifted into the DNA of 140 developing species. And the comet burned on across the vast interstellar night.
Photo via Pixabay