The Alternate History Fiction of Lou Antonelli

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Damascus Interrupted

"Damascus Interrupted" was originally published in Phantasmororium, Sept. 2012.


Singh knocked on the door of the bedchamber of the High Priestess’s daughter.  “My honored Miss, we need to get underway.”
Mariam White finished combing her long blond hair.  She took a step back and looked at herself in the mirror. In a month she would be celebrating her 16th birthday; her presentation in the temple would be one of the year’s highlights in the small town.
She cinched the strap around her books, spun around and was out the door. Her personal valet, Mahendra Singh, had already stepped back and caught the door as it swung violently open. He had been a retainer of the family for 20 years and the personal attendant of the heiress for 15--he knew her habits well.
Mariam settled in her seat as the Sikh assumed his place behind the wheel and drove around the circular driveway and towards the nearby highway that led into Dallas.
Mariam waved to her mother, who stood with a cup of tea and waved back with one hand from the verandah.  As the SUV drove out of sight, the High Priestess of Cedar Valley walked back to the dining room, where her consort was reading the *Dallas Times-Herald* and enjoying an old-fashioned clove-scented cigarette.
"Well, she's off again," said Marguerite White.  "I hate it they have to leave so early each morning."
"Well, dearest," Reymond replied, "we are fortunate we can afford such a good school."
"I know.  I just hate that she goes so far away each day."
"Better to stay out of Cedar Valley, sometimes, if you know what I mean."
Marguerite did know what Reymond meant.  When she just a little older than Mariam, she nearly died when another family attempted to depose her mother and usurp the succession.  The dart only grazed her cheek, but she was bedridden for two weeks.  The servant who took the dart in the neck died instantly.
Marguerite felt the almost-invisible scar on her cheek and worried about her daughter.  "You don't think there is any serious danger right now, do you dear?"  She sat down across the dining room table from Reymond, who folded his paper and looked at her seriously.
"With the growth the city is having, our share of the offerings grows every day.  I'm sure someone's thinking of a strike against us.  That’s why we are always on our guard."
"The Wilsons have been trying to gain position ever since they moved here from the city," said Marguerite. "You know Marta Wilson wants to be High Priestess."
"Well, look at it from their perspective.  Their community changed and their temple lost its adherents.  This is a free country.  You can't tell people where to live."
"But why did she pick Cedar Valley?"
"Marta is a clever woman.  She probably realized the city was growing and holds the potential for great prosperity."
"Now you're sounding like a priest of Mammon," Marguerite snorted.
"Just being realistic.  Your mother suffered two coups, the second essentially successful.  And we have only one daughter."
She looked at him with concern as he continued.  "Don't worry, with my extensive network of stooges and spies, and the reliable servants we have in the household, I don't think we have anything to worry about."
"My mother didn't see it coming," Marguerite said with a frown.
"Your mother was the High Priestess in a tiny Tejas town of only 300 people.  She thought she knew everybody, and she was careless.  You need to thank Magna Mater in your shrine every night that she survived that second attempt until you came of age and assumed the mantle and robes.  You came within seven days of losing the succession."
Reymond rose and picked up his briefcase from beside the dining room table.  "These last few years we have seen a big improvement in security and surveillance technology."  He made a reassuring gesture as he turned to head out the door.  "Don't worry, we have a good position, and I don't intend to lose it.”
Marguerite rose to give him a kiss and straighten his lapel.  "You're a smart man. That's why we were matched."
"Flattery will get you somewhere.  We'll decide where tonight," he said with a smile.
Reymond's driver, an elderly Karaite, waited outside in a plum-colored Buick.  Marguerite shook her head as she closed the door and thought, "I'll never get used to that color."

Marguerite smoked a cigarette from the pack Reymond had left behind as she thought.  The suburban development in Cedar Valley was not an accident; Reymond was an imaginative real estate developer. He set it up so Mammon Mart built across the highway from the Magna Mater Temple Courtyard Mall.  And with Reymond at work and Mariam at school today, Marguerite was going to go shopping.
Her driver, Michael, was a Christian; like many of the temple leaders in the Cult of Magna Mater, the White Family used members of the small so-called "ethical" sects as household servants.
     They drove by the Christian eglesia on the way to the Temple Mall that morning.  Reymond's real estate skills had been extended even to the smaller sects when he helped bring in this Temple Court development, and he enticed them--Sikhs, Christians, and Karaites--to locate along the same stretch of frontage road.
From what she knew of the Christians, their leader had been an executed political prisoner.  But their symbol--and the statue that graced the lawn of their small colonnaded temple--was of a shepherd carrying a lamb across his shoulders.
At the corner of the service road entrance to the mall, a statue of a bare-breasted woman in tight orange shorts held up a platter of barbecued chicken wings in one hand and a large foaming mug of beer in the other.  A bit unseemly, through Marguerite, but Harlott’s Hot Wings was one of Reymond's more creative joint ventures--to get the cults of Epicurus, Dionysus and Isis under one roof; food, drink and sex all served up together.  Something for everybody.
They pulled into the parking lot.  "I have a lot of shopping to do today, Michael, so I will be a while.  If you would like, you can go over to your 'eglesia' and I'll call you.”
"Thank you, ma'am."  The burly man smiled and touched his cap.
Although small by Dallas standards, the Cedar Valley Temple Courtyard Mall had two long wings bisected by a pool. She entered Penelope's Odyssey, the fashion store that anchored one of the wings.
It was two hours later when, laden with bags and boxes, she emerged and walked past the fountain in the center of the mall.  A small ceremonial Temple of Mammon sat in the center of the fountain.  As at most Temple Courts, there was no priest on duty, but an acolyte sat with his small rake and bucket and collected the coins occasionally.  Marguerite tossed a large silver thaler directly into the boy’s bucket.  He nodded appreciatively.
She realized how large and clumsy her load was when she reached outside, and she reached into her handbag for her cell phone to call Michael.  She cursed when she realized there were two inside. Michael didn’t have his own phone and she had forgotten to give him one before he left
She called the office of the eglesia, but there was no answer, which didn't surprise her.  A small sect such as the Christians couldn't afford a full-time staff.
A security monk came up and asked if she needed help.  "It's no trouble at all ma'am.  We can get someone to take you to the eglesia in a golf cart."
"I’m very grateful," said Marguerite.
The monk smiled graciously. "Just consider it a small courtesy from Mammon to Magna Mater.”
A novice monk helped load up the shopping and drove Marguerite across the parking to the back of the eglesia.  After a few knocks a handsome young man, who said he was the sexton, answered and then helped carry her bags and packages inside.  Yes, he knew Michael, he said; Michael was praying in the sanctuary.
The young man apologized for there being no one to answer the phone, but the office was only staffed sporadically.  "I hope you don't mind if we don't disturb Michael until he's done praying," said the young man.  "I think he's doing the Stations of the Cross."
"I wouldn't think of it.  Just let him know I'm here when he finishes."  And indeed, she was happy to sit down in a plush chair in the foyer, out of the hot Texas summer sun.
     Good breeding decreed she would not disturb anyone at prayer--even a member of such an insignificant sect as the Christians.
She flipped through a small brochure she found on the table beside her; one of those slick little trifolds that pass for mass media in such small groups.
She was always confused how the Christians considered themselves worshippers of only one God when the sect's founder, Yeshua ben Jossi, claimed to be the Son of God.  "Doesn't that make at least two gods?" she wondered.
The main scenes of Yeshua's life were depicted in the brochure, including his ignominious death as a Roman prisoner. The Christians took their name from an old Greek word meaning "The Anointed One," because they felt Yeshua was anointed to redeem humanity.
Marguerite was nonplussed to read that the Christians claimed Yeshua rose from the dead, and he would return again.  That was almost 2,000 years ago.
     “And still no Yeshua,” she thought.  "He is certainly in no rush."
For five generations, the White Family had borne the honor of yielding the incense to Magna Mater at the Temple of the Earth Mother Goddess in Cedar Valley, ever since the first European settlers had come to Tejas.
Marguerite almost felt a pang of pity at the thought of a good but simple man such as Michael being misled by such unworldly mumbo-jumbo.
The brochure depicted the later history of the cult itself, after Yeshua "rose into heaven" on a cloud.  Marguerite read this part carefully because she knew nothing about how they had survived to the modern day.
She knew 2,000 years ago there had been a time of great religious agitation in the Roman Empire, but she didn't realize how confused it had been.  The Gnostics, the Essenes, the Samaritans, the Karaites, the followers of John the Baptist and the Christians all splintered from the ancient Hebrew religion as the Romans suppressed the Hebrews while consolidating their hold on the Middle East.
The Hebrews were finally eradicated as part of the general housecleaning the Romans undertook when they smashed the Mohammedan heresy hundreds of years later.  A handful of Karaites, Baptists and Samaritans remained, along with the Christians, just happy to be alive.
The story of what the Christians see as the pivotal event in the early history of their group gave Marguerite some insight into why Christians such as Michael were so kindly and cheerful.
     It was a story she was completely unfamiliar with.
In the first decades after the "ascension" of their founder, a man named Saul of Tarsus took it upon himself to exterminate the Christians on behalf of the Hebrew hierarchy.  He roamed the Middle East leaving dead Christians in his wake.  The Christians cried to their god for relief, and one day, while traveling on the road to commit another bloodbath, Saul was whipped from the back of his donkey by a whirlwind.
The great persecutor of the Christian Church died of a broken neck in the dust on the road to Damascus, his latest persecution finally and fatally interrupted.
     Ever since that miraculous deliverance from their tormentor, Christians have been grateful for every new day, Marguerite realized.
     "The power of positive thinking," she noted to herself. "They think they can survive and so they have survived.  Thank the Great Mother we have never had to deal with any such persecution.”
She heard a small cry and looked up from the brochure to see Michael had come through the doors of the sanctuary.  He was startled and puzzled at the same time, and when Marguerite explained, he tried to take the blame: "I should have remembered to ask for the phone."
"Don't be silly," she said. "I told you to leave and you did.  It's not your fault."
After a few more moments of hand wringing, Michael gracefully gave in to her assertions, cheerfully loaded her bags and boxes into the trunk and quickly hugged the neck of the Armenian sexton before they left.
     To avoid traffic, he took a shortcut out the back of the Temple Courtyard Mall, and through a rather shabby street where some of the less desirable temples were located, including the beer and wine temple operated by the Cult of Bacchus, the cheap pornographic video store run by the upstart Cult of Lola Montez, and the medical 'clinic' for the Cult of Moloch.
Marguerite cringed as they passed the 'clinic.'  Human sacrifice had faded away from almost all Old World religions, but followers of Moloch had kept the practice alive.  Their modern version performed abortions and offered the unborn children as sacrifices on their altar.
When they arrived home, she sent Michael ahead to get Singh so the two of them could carry in the bags and boxes themselves.
Michael was gone a good ten minutes before impatience overtook Marguerite.  She got out of the car and started up the steps of the verandah.  She heard a shuffling sound from behind the door as she reached for the knob.  She pushed the door open to go inside, but then realized there was somebody behind it.
She stepped back and was shocked to see the door swing open and Michael stagger out.  His eyes were glazed and he made a gurgling sound as he clutched his throat with bloody fingers.  He wore a dark shirt, but she saw it was damp.  Then she realized it was soaked in blood.
His throat had been slit.  He fell to his knees and then fell over sideways on the porch at her feet. A thin spray of blood flew in a semicircle across the wooden verandah.
She would have screamed but the sound of the trumpet blast froze her in place.  She spun around and thought for a second to run, but the Druids were already in place to prevent her escape.  She heard the music getting louder and louder as cymbals, cornets, tubas and trombones all picked up the beat.
She leaned over to look around the corner of the house where the music was coming from.  The Druids shifted but did not move otherwise; they knew she could never get by them. She just wanted to see.
The procession came into view as they rounded the corner. As it passed behind bushes, she saw a silk parasol bobbing up and down.  Then the first person in that parade came into view around the corner, and she was assured she had been betrayed.
Leading the procession, the Black Magic Voudoun Priest wore a top hat and tails, a sash and a big smile as he sashayed along the gravel driveway.  He was a priest of a cult the Negroes had evolved when they were taken as servants to the New World, a religion that combined elements of their native religion with that of the white man.
     "His demeanor is joyful at the anticipation of your liberation from the toils of this world. He brings death," said the cult's sacred writings.
Cars stopped in the street as the occupants watched the spectacle.  Everyone enjoyed watching a ritual sacrifice.
Behind him, the jazz band played a high-stepping tune, and members of the Temple of Baron Samedi danced with a sprightly step.
She was relieved to see, as the dancers moved forward and parted, a stunned Reymond in silver chains.  He must have put up quite a fight; he was badly bruised, but she knew he had not betrayed her.  Behind Reymond and his captors walked a dark man she didn't recognize until he looked her in the eyes.  He was bareheaded now and shaven; quite a change from the way she last saw him.
It was Singh.
     She knew what was to come and went limp but the Druids on either side grabbed her roughly by the arms and held her up to watch the procession.
She could see dust two Druids holding a golden bowl, a receptacle for the sacrifice of her head and heart.  The High Druid of Dallas, who would perform the sacrifice, held a silver dagger horizontally in front of him.
Behind them was Wilson Family, Marta Wilson in the lead, smug in her seriousness, holding a second golden bowl in which already rested a bloody, blonde-haired scalp, next to Mariam’s still-warm heart.
Marguerite’s scream was literally cut short by a bright sliver flash.


All of Cedar Valley heard of the coup at the Earth Mother Goddess cult by the end of day, including the young Armenian sexton at the eglesia.  He knelt before an icon and prayed for the soul of the faithful Michael--and also for the souls of Marguerite and Mariam White.
"I know you are the one true God and love us, for you sent your son to die for our sins," he prayed as he concluded.  "The pagan Gods make their children die for them."
He put away his mop and broom, and locked the door as the darkness descended and the parking lot lights flickered on at the mall.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

"Barsoom Billy"

Originally published in Science Fiction Trails, No. 9 All Martian Spectacular Fall 2012


The gunfighter stuck a boot forward so as to block the stranger’s path.  “Where you from, son?” he snarled as he spat chewing tobacco juice at the stranger’s feet.
The stranger turned and tilted his head, and looked the gunfighter in the eye from under his brim.  “Barsoom,” he said evenly.
The gunfighter’s gaze froze.  The stranger’s skin was an even light brown--“high yaller” as you would say of Negroes--and his eyes were bright yellow, like a school-girl’s ribbon.
“Ne--Nev--Never heard of it.”  The desperado stammered, taken aback at the stranger’s appearance.
His henchman, who was turned away to watch their back, asked--in a much less aggressive tone, “So what’s your name, tenderfoot?”   When there was no immediate reply, he turned and then gasped.
“Billy,” said the stranger, rather plainly.
The henchman’s mouth hung open.  The gunfighter couldn’t break the gaze of the stranger, who finally turned his head away and looked down at the gunfighter’s boot blocking his progress.
The gunfighter snapped his boot back.  “We--we--we don’t want any trouble,” sputtered the henchman.
The stranger continued walking down the plank sidewalk.
“What was that?” asked the henchman.
“I don’t know, but I saw ‘kill’ in his eyes,” said the gunfighter.  “Let’s vamoose. Someone is fixin’ to get kilt here in Cedar Gulch, and I don’t want it to be us’ns.”
The two desperados quickly crossed the street.
Billy walked around the corner, having never looked back, and crossed the street on the next block to Cazale’s Cantina.   His head was lowered as he pulled open the heavy oaken door. There was a pile of well-thumbed dime novels stacked on a table near the door, close enough to be read by sunlight.
Billy walked over and looked over the garish covers.  A very thin smile appeared as he saw a pulp magazine that touted a tale about Buffalo Bill--his namesake, as it were.  He pulled up a chair and sat down, turning the pages with his thumb.  The bartender emerged from behind his palisade of a bar and walked over.
“Afternoon, stranger,” said the bartender as Billy looked up.  “What will it be?
“Do you have any good red wine?” asked Billy. 
“As a matter of fact, I do,” said the bartender.   “I have a barrel of the best Zinfandel just arrived from California.”
 “A large one, then,” said Billy, tossing a shiny silver dollar on the table.  “Keep the change.”.
The bartender returned with a large tin cup of red wine, which he set before Billy.  “Never seen you here before,” he said, with a fake smile.
“Just passing through,” said Billy, as he made eye contact.
The bartender saw his bright yellow eyes and gulped.  “Yep,” he said slowly.  “You’re not from ‘round here.”
Some of the Cedar Gulch “girls” were at a nearby table, playing cut throat poker.  A stunning brunette turned to look at Billy.  She saw from behind he was well-groomed and neatly dressed in new but simple clothes which had just begun to acquire Nevada dust.
“This fella looks interesting,” she said, getting up.
“He’s all yours,” said another, “he looks like a quadroon.”
Hepzibah walked over to the stranger.  “If you need someone to show you Cedar Gulch, cowboy, I can help you.”
She raised an eyebrow as she saw the startled look on the bartender’s face.  Billy was looking down at his wine and didn’t notice either expression.
She cocked her head and carried on with her next move.  “What’s your name, cowpoke?”
She laid a hand on his upper arm from behind.
The bartender stepped back in alarm as Hepzibah stiffened as if she was being electrocuted.  Billy turned around in his and threw her hand off.
Hepzibah relaxed into a normal posture and then focused her gaze on Billy.
“Barsoom sha kundala unos ta, Ka-nacht!”   She intoned.
“You have the gift of second sight,” said Billy
“I’m the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter,” said Hepzibah, slipping back into English.
Billy turned back around and drained his wine.  He stood up and extended his hand.  “You can show me the town now,” he said to Hepzibah.  She took his hand.
The pair walked out into the lengthening shadows.
“Damn!”  The bartender muttered as he slid the silver dollar into his cash box.  He walked to the door and propped it open with his boot to watch them as they walked away.
Just then, Billy and Hepzibah turned as they heard a commotion.  A small group of drunken cowboys who had just left the largest saloon in Cedar Gulch, Hell’s Half Acre, staggered around the end of the block, whooping it up and shooting into the air.
The man in the lead stopped and stared at Billy as he belched and wiped his mouth on the back of his hand.  “Look, fellows, we have us a tenderfoot.”
Billy turned to face the half dozen men.  “He looks like he wants a fight,” said another.
Billy took a step towards them.  “You gentlemen should go home and get a good night’s sleep. You will feel better in the morning.”
The hoots and catcalls exploded.  “Gentlemen!”
The leader smiled at Billy.  “We’s having too much fun.”
He waved his gun in the air.  “And we ain’t no gentlemen.”
“Be careful,” Hepzibah hissed in Billy’s ear as she clutched the back of his shoulder. “You can’t take on six men.”
Billy put his hands atop his holsters.  “I think you men need to dispose of your weapons, before you are hurt.”
“Is that a threat?” the leader snarled.
“No, sir, a warning.”
“Are you sassing me?”
Billy half turned his head and side mouthed to Hepzibah.  “What does that mean?”
The leader leveled his gun.
The people looking on from the sidewalks and windows heard a quick “BRAP-P-P-P-P-P!” sound, and the drunken cowboys all dropped to the ground in quick succession.
Billy put one gun back in its holster as he turned to Hepzibah.   “Let’s depart, there are supplies I need to assemble.”
“As you say, Ka-nacht.”
The couple walked off towards Billy’s horse tethered across the street.
The gunfighter and his henchman--Pete and Cisco--had watched the massacre from the shadows of an alley.  “My God!” muttered Cisco.
“I tol’ you I saw kill in his eyes,” said Pete.  “Now, let’s skedaddle outta town.”
They watched from the deep shadows as Billy, with Hepzibah clutching him from behind, rode past the alley and towards the outskirts of Cedar Gulch.
“He’s come a long way for a reason, I reckon,” said Pete. “And I aim to find out what that is. Nobody moves in this town without giving me a cut!”
They walked into the street, and Pete clutched Cisco.  “Tell Heintz I want a report when  he knows sumthing.”
Cisco nodded and went on across the street where the bartender stood in the door.  The bartender leaned over as he listened to Cisco, then looked across to Pete, and nodded.


Cisco drained his beer.  Pete looked at him crossly.
“Still nothing new?” he asked.
“No, Heintz says after they picked up the mining tools and tinned grub, they never came back to town,” said Cisco.  “Nobody has either of them for two weeks.”
Pete scratched the stubble on his chin.  “I don’t know where the yellow-eyed stranger was from, but I cain’t believe Hepzibah just up and left like that.”
The doors of Hell’s Half Acre swung and Heintz looked around quickly.  Some of the denizens commented on his being out of place.
The large Dutchman saw Pete and Cisco and walked over rapidly.  “News, finally!” he gasped.  “Joe at the mercantile said Hepzibah just left, with a supply of rope and other supplies.”
He plunked himself down in an empty seat.   “He said it looks like they plan to travel.  He asked Hepzibah where she had been, and she said holed up a mine in Eagle Pass.”
Pete slapped the table.  “The old Foster Mine!”
Pete looked hard at Heintz.  “Are you sure?   That mine played out years ago”
“Joe said it there no doubt it, she said they stayed at the old superintendents shack.”
Pete reached into a pocket and pulled out a gold Eagle. He dropped it into Heintz’ chubby palm.  “That’s what I needed to know,” said Pete.  “Now, git!”
Heintz rose and sped off with surprising speed for someone of his girth.
Pete turned to Cisco.  “I knew someone who’d come to town and look like he’d kill the first man he meets must have some serious business,” he said, “and I want to learn what it is.”
Cisco shrank back a bit.  “Those eyes!”
“The sumbitch is a furriner, that’s all,” said Pete.  “He caught us unawares.”
Cisco brightened a bit.  “You always said, men only want two things, women and money, and he’s got a woman.”
Pete tapped Cisco on the side of his head with a forefinger.  “Now you’re thinking. He must know where there’s a lost lode.”
“We fixin’ to go to Eagle Pass?”
Pete squinted at the setting sun.   “First thing in the morning.”


Pete and Cisco crouched behind a low rise that overlooked the entrance to the old Foster Mine.  Smoke rose from the tin smokestack of the old superintendent’s cabin.
“That’s queer, they ain’t stirred all morning,” said Cisco.
“I suppose they’re packing,” said Pete.  “The wagon looks like it is all ready.”
They heard the cabin door creak open, and Hepzibah came our wearing a gingham dress and bonnet.  
“They are ready to hitch up and leave,” said Pete.
She walked around the cabin to the rain barrel.  She flipped open the lid and dipped in a large pitcher.
She turned as she slammed down the lid, and sniffed the air--like a hound.  She frowned and ran quickly back into the cabin.
Cisco looked at Pete, who had a puzzled look.  “I think we’re made,” said Cisco.
“But how?” asked Pete.
The cabin door slammed twice; after the second time, Billy walked around the corner.
He cupped his hands and shouted at the ridge.   “Gentlemen!  Come out, I know you’re there!”
Hepzibah walked up behind Billy.  “Sharing one body with you has given me some of your Martian craft,” she said.  “I smelled them out.”
“Please don’t use the Earth name,” whispered Billy, “for my sake.”
Pete stood up, both guns drawn, and began to advance.   “We don’t want no trouble from you!  We want what you’ve mined.” Cisco followed.
Billy looked at the pair of outlaws impassively.  “You’re welcome to take as much of my mineral as you want, for what good it is to you,” he said.
Pete walked in an arc around Billy and Hepzibah, towards the loaded wagon, with his guns pointed at them.  Finally, as he reached the wagon, Pete waved a six gun towards Cisco. “Git over here and see what’s in the boxes.”
Cisco nodded and went over to the wagon.  He pulled off the canvas, and saw the boxes were nailed shut.
“There’s a crowbar on the floorboard,” said Billy.
“You’re being very cooperative,” said Pete sarcastically.
“There’s no silver in the boxes,” said Billy.
“Looks like he’s right,” said Cisco, peering into a box.  “Nothing here but crumbly black clay.”
Billy began to walk towards Pete.  “It’s called pitchblende.”
“You stay right there, you devil or demon or whatever you is,” said Pete, sticking out his six-shooters.
“I’m just as human as you are, just from a very different and distant land,” said Billy.  “I need that ore for, how would you put it, my steamship’s boiler.”
Cisco was pawing through another box.  He turned toward Billy.  “Huh?”
“I was on a long voyage when I was starwashed....”
“Shipwrecked!” blurted Hepzibah.
“Yes, shipwrecked, and my steamship, as it is, needs a particular kind of ‘coal’.  I can refine this ore to make more of the fuel I need,” said Billy.  It’s called uranium.”
“There’s no silver left in the mine,” said Hepzibah.  “Only this ore.  And it’s no good to you.”
Pete looked at Billy.  “If it’s worth something to you, it’s worth something to someone else, and I’m still taking it.”
“You mean to commit theft?” asked Billy. There was just a hint of a rise in tone at the end of the question.
“And shoot the pair of you.  I saw you quick draw in town, but you made your last mistake, stepping out without your shooting irons,” said Pete.  He began to squeeze the trigger.
It appeared as if a handful of dust had been thrown in the air.  Cisco blinked, and then looked down as the dust settled to see Pete, his neck obviously broken.
Billy walked to each side of the twitching corpse and kicked the guns from its hands.
Billy looked at Cisco, who realized the dust was thrown up because Billy had advanced on Pete so quickly he threw up a dust trail.
“Please!” Cisco begged as Billy looked at him.
“Where I come from, any public declaration of an intent to commit a crime allows the instant application of the death penalty,” said Billy.
“You had better git, Cisco, right quick,” snarled Hepzibah.
Billy raised a hand. “Wait, don’t be so hasty.  He is obviously an inborn servant.”
Billy walked over to where Cisco leaned on the wagon.  “If you help us get this wagonload safely to Texas, I will reward you.”
Billy turned to Hepzibah.  “It’s a long journey.  We could use help.”
Cisco was almost in tears.  “Whatever you want Mister Barsoom!”
“See, he’s not sub-intelligent, simply subservient,” said Billy to Hepzibah.   “He remembers Barsoom.  He may be of service.”
“As you say, Ka-nacht,” said Hepzibah.
“You can ride in the back and protect the boxes,” said Billy to Cisco.
“I’ll go gab the bags and finish filling the canteen like we planned,” said Hepzibah, as she turned and walked back to the cabin.
Billy looked at Cisco. “Have you ever been to Texas?”
“Yes, I was reared there!  I grew up in Mineral Wells.  I came out years ago for the Comstock Strike.”
“We will go to Texas, and spend at least the winter while I refine my ore. Then I can retrieve my ship and set sail back to my home. I t is called Barsoom.”
“Never heard of it, but I ain’t got no education.”
“My people settled a faraway colony many, many years ago, just like your people have come to Nevada.  The weather and land were much the same, except that over time, the rain stopped entirely,” said Billy. “Over many years, we have drifted back to Earth, but it is a long voyage, and takes many months.”
“I came to set up a homestead for my family here in the United States,” he continued, “but as I said, I was shipwrecked.   I need to return to Barsoom and bring my family back with me.”
“Is Barsoom farther than India or China?”
“Much farther.”
“I always thought it would be good to go back to Texas.  Can you take me to Barsoom? I’ll earn my keep and go straight once and for all!”
“Sounds like a grand plan,” said Billy as stuck out his hand.
The pair shook.  “You won’t be sorry, Mister Barsoom Billy.  You’ll know Cisco Burroughs will always ride shotgun for you!”
Billy looked through a spy glass towards the Indian encampment.
“I had thought your government had cleared away the aborigines to make way for settlers,” he said to Cisco.
“There ain’t no settlers way out here, the nearest city is over 200 miles back towards Mexico,” said Cisco.
Hepzibath squinted.  “It looks like they’ve made an altar in front of your craft.”
“They have,” said Billy.  “Even as primitive as they are, they are still the long-lost children of the Aztlans, who were friends of my people, also, before the great war and deluge.  They probably recognize some of the insignia and markings.”
“How do you plan to get your craft back?” asked Hepzibah.
Billy turned to Cisco.  “Go back in the wagon and get me a stave, some twine, a burlap sack and some of that boot blacking.”
Cisco set off as he was told.
“What do you plan, Ka-nacht?”
“You will see in a moment.”
Cisco returned with the materials, and kept watch at the edge of the cliff as Billy retreated under the shade of a rock and began whittling.
Hepzibah spoke up after a few minutes.  “You’re making a doll?”
“A ka-cheen of my ka-nacht,” said Billy. “A symbol of my people. I believe they will recognize it.”
When he was through, he advanced to Cisco. “I will go down unarmed, so as not to alarm them,” he said. He started down and after checking the layout of the encampment from behind a boulder, stepped out and uttered a strange cry.
The Apaches turned and started to whoop, but all stopped when they saw the Thunderbird Kachina doll he held at arm’s length. Billy raised his right arm and pointed to the sky, uttering a peaceful greeting in Old High Aztlan.
The Indians all prostrated themselves, face buried in the red desert sand. Billy could tell from their postures and body paint which one was the chief. He stepped over to him.
“Do you have any English?”
The man shook his face back and forth in the sand.
A brave spoke, face still buried. “I speak English.”
“Rise, then, I need a translator.”
When the brave saw Billy’s complexion and eyes, his eyes grew wide. “You are one of the Anasazi gods!”
“My people were the Anasazi, although I am not a god. It is good to know the children of our allies the Aztlans still remember our alliance.”
Billy called out to Cisco and Hepzibah, and they emerged from the rocks at the base of the cliff. “These people are also my allies,” said Billy.
He spoke to the brave. “Tell the others to rise.”
When all the braves were upright, Billy spoke to the translator. “Tell your people I am grateful for the protection of my star craft. I plan to return to the stars with it.”
There were loud gasps. “I need to prepare my fuel, and I must camp here for some months,” Billy continued. “I will reward your people if they serve me.”
There were nods all around. Billy turned and intoned the ancient Aztlan/Anasazi Oath of Fealty. “Hul laorra ballo, ka-necht!”
Somehow, they all knew the response and shouted back, “Ka-necht!”
Billy turned to Cisco, and nodded towards the translator.  “You two get acquainted, and get the wagon unloaded so we can set up camp.”


“We couldn’t have done it without the help of your Indian friends,” said Cisco.
Hepzibah smiled and looked up from her knitting.  “I can’t believe they found enough wood to keep those kettles boiling all winter.  I think some of them went halfway to Panama to get good wood for you.”
“I thought you were crazy when you bought those big kettles in El Paso,” said Cisco.
“Desperate, perhaps, but not crazy as you say,” said Billy.  “It’s taken months, but I think I have enough fissionable material to ignite the drive of my craft.” He faced the translator. “Once I get up high enough, I can kick on the inertial drive and fly off the Earth’s rotation like a skipping stone.”
The Indian puzzled and then raised his eyebrows. “Then you plan to return to the Gods!”
Billy smiled.  “Yes, Winnetou, but I will return with members of my tribe, and then I hope we all may live together.”
Billy put his hand on Winnetou’s shoulder.  “Go tell your brothers, we prepare for my rise to the stars!”
Winnetou whooped, turned and ran off.
Hepzibah smiled and continued to knit. “You really should give them something in return for their aid all winter.”
“I will give them my son, as a hostage,” said Billy.
Cisco gasped. “You ain’t taking Hepzibah!?”
“We talked about this, Cis, I’m too far along to travel,” said Hepzibah. “Billy and I are in agreement.”
“I will return in two Earth years in a larger craft with other family members and my other wives,” said Billy.
“Damn, I didn’t know Mars people wuz Mormons!” said Cisco.
Billy and Hepzibah laughed.
Billy reached over into a kettle and drew out a black wooden spoon.  “I will give them a real gift, the light of the ‘gods’.” He leaned over into the shadows where the spoon glowed.  “The residue of Element 88 will impress them for some time to come.”
“But what am I supposed to do while you’re gone, boss?” asked Cisco.
“Stay with Hepzibah and after the child is born, wait a year and then rendezvous with me. I expect you and Winnetou to take them to where I will arrive, where I intended to alight all along.”
“Yes, I remember, you were only 300 miles short when your ship broke down,” said Cisco.  “Must have been frusterating.”
“Yes, but then again, that is where my clan’s old land grant is located, the land grant my ancestor received for service to the Aztlans in the war. It was valueless then because of the Raman occupiers, but they are long gone.”
He looked out across the desert valley.  “And I doubt the Americans care about settlers in such a desolate location.”
Hepzibah smiled at Billy. “You have a very terran sentimental streak, ka-nacht, to want to return to the old homestead.”
Cisco nodded. “Billy’s right, though, there’s lots of nuthin’ in East New Mexico.”
Hepzibah rose and walked over to Billy. She rubbed her big belly against his side. “What did your clan call the place, so many years ago?”
“It was a beautiful and green plain, with fruit trees and gardens,” said Billy, “before the fire storms flew.”
He grimaced. “It was called ‘varadasartesia’”
“What does that mean?” asked Cisco.
“It’s what you call a beautiful garden of roses with a deep well at the center,” said Billy.
“I will wait for you there, and we will make the desert bloom again,” said Hepzibah.
“I’ll meet you there, too, boss, and I’ll help you build up a ranch,” said Cisco.
Billy smiled. “Thank you, my wife and my servant, you have been good to me. With the gods’ forbearance, we will all meet together and start a new home.”
“We will put up a sign when we arrive, as we wait for you,” said Hepzibah, “and restore its name again.”
Billy snorted.  “Not what he said, better translate it.”
Hepzibah clasped Billy. “We’ll call it Rose Well, then.”
Cisco clapped and rubbed his hands.  “Rose Well, New Mexico! I already like the sound of it!”

[The End}