Putting Out The Fire With Gasoline



Next I suppose I ought to record some of the events of 'Earth versus the Flying Saucers'. Of course, my only true eyewitness was Qualopec, sending me sound and vision by the only method not blanked out by the electromagnetic storm that followed the Avatar of the Lord of The Daylight sky, namely, a portable aetheroscope attached to his helmet. Of course, the forces of Earth were less fortunate. Every vehicle, every computerised system, battlefield communications, even mobile phones ceased to function as soon as the Avatar came within line of sight. Fighter planes that didn't fall out of the sky on approach found themselves mobbed by clouds of suicide mutants, flapping into their flight paths. The Atlantean Army progressed on a slightly meandering route through New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina and finally Maryland, massacring people at Fort Worth, Fort Smith, Jackson, Knoxville, Winston-Salem, Lexington and finally Remington. They were in no hurry, as this was merely Year Zero of the eternal reign of the Sun God.

On the ground, attempts by police, civil defence and eventually the Army to attack using conventional weapons were repulsed by Olympeans Warriors and Atlantean centaurs – not the half human centaurs that I had created and which I loved, but the horse-headed monstrosities created by Tihocan, shielded and fire-throwing and devoid of pity.

"Have you heard of the Second Amendment?" said Qualopec's voice. "I have the text - A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

"What about it?" I said.

"I realise that I'm a newcomer here, but that reads to me as saying that the right to bear arms is dependent on the gun owner's duty to fight for their country."

"Most of the fat blowhards who own fancy gun collections think merely of their manliness, their bragging rights and their right to shoot burglars."

"Shouldn't all of these men, with their weapons and their powerful vehicles, be attacking us continually in defence of the United States?"

"I expect they loaded up their humvees with as much tinned food as they could carry and then headed for the Mexican and Canadian borders as fast as they could. Most of them don't even believe in the Federal Government, and they certainly don't care about their neighbours when push comes to shove."

Qualopec made a disgusted sound. "This isn't a nation of men," he said. "They have less honour than the worst Atlantean."

We'd discussed the whole plan before he'd left.

"I don't know where the Lord of the Daylight Sky has been all of these centuries, but he'll need an advisor. Fortunately he's leaving everybody else who might provide him with intelligence on humans behind," I'd said.

"I am the Trojan horse."

There were two potential pitfalls to any Olympean who fancied conquering the earth The first was the Pacific. "The President is on Hawaii. Tell the Lord of the Daylight Sky that he will never win the hearts of the people without killing the President," I said.

"And what of ur-Earth?" said Qualopec, sombrely. Ur-Earth, the malignant copy of Earth on the direct opposite side of the sun, discovered by Lara Croft, and possessed by an insane and vengeful planet-wide intelligence. I wasn't sure which side the Lord of the Daylight Sky had been in the war between Diwo and Diwija, but I suspected it wouldn't matter if he led his army to ur-Earth.

"Just tell him that the being of ur-Earth is a rival god. And just … try not to land, or, failing that, have a fast ship ready," I'd said, anxiously.

"I lead the fleet between the clashing rocks?"

"A last resort, maybe." We'd embraced for a moment and I confess that I shivered at the thought of that dark place, worse than Tartarus, the realm of madness. "I have this for you."

I'd draped a silver pendant, a bullet-shaped object, around his neck.

"What is it?"

"Only you can open it," I'd said, beginning to put things into a rucksack for him to take with him. "There is a pill inside; you'll know when to take it."

"Suicide?" said Qualopec, with a frown. "I would rather die fighting."

"Not suicide," I'd said. "Now let's make sure that you have everything you need when you depart …"

Of course, eventually the Americans had to try out their 5000 plus nuclear warheads, although I expect none of them anticipated that they would be used on US soil. Nuclear missiles were for foreign places well out of sight of the Bible belt, preferably well to the east of Jerusalem or to the south of Key Largo.

Qualopec described how a scatter of ICBMs, retasked to be intracontinental, swooped down on the Army near Nashville. As the nukes approached, a crowd of Astarte's priests - possessing still some of the magic that Astarte had renounced along with her Goddesshood – began to chant, and the spell, or whatever it was, was amplified towards the speeding threat. I only have hearsay as to what happened next, but the rumour was that the missiles de-evolved in midflight, turning from the LGM-30 Minuteman III to the LGM-118A Peacekeeper to the SM-65 Atlas to the Vergeltungswaffe2 to the Vergeltungswaffe1 to a 800mm Schwerer Gustav HE shell to a 200mm Schneider shell to a 32-pound Brooke naval shell to Palliser Shot, then to Royal Artillery Elongated Shot followed by iron-tipped broadhead arrows. By the end nothing but a handful of thighbone clubs fell at the feet of the Army.

I was astonished, quite frankly. I didn't believe in magic. Maybe the actual truth was that the missile electronics malfunctioned as they approached our very own humanoid solar flare. It was a good story, however, and the Americans gave up on nuclear weapons. Now all that remained were chemical and biological weapons, or hand to hand fighting, and I couldn't see the President authorising the use of the former on American soil.

The first part of the campaign ended as the Lord of the Daylight Sky flattened Washington DC. It was then that Qualopec whispered into the ear of the Interpreter that the President was probably in Hawaii and that America would not bow down until the President was dead.

* * * * *

It was all very well for His Godness to tell us not to ring the death knell over each other's graves, but may as well put some puppies together in a box and tell them not to nip. There just had to come a day when somebody started a fight.

Tihocan and Astarte had gone to work on their divinely sponsored tasks with, respectively, gusto and weariness … only being Tihocan and Astarte, they did it their way. I watched with some bemusement for it seemed as if they had exchanged parts of their personalities.

Astarte's Temple to the Lord of the Daylight Sky resembled in no way her previous triumphs of religiosity, namely, the Temple of the Chariot of the Gods at Tinnos and the Temple of Demeter in ancient Atlantis. The new Temple was … minimalist. To my eye its white interior, devoid of decoration or mural, icon or mosaic, statue or photograph, resembled nothing more than a large sterile laboratory.

We strolled around the site arm in arm, me supporting the slightly tottery Astarte.

"So what's the thinking behind this one?" I asked.

"It's simple weally," said Astarte. "We have the Living God among us. We do not need visual cues to turn our minds to paradise or to wemind us of the history of the divine deeds on earth. Any depiction would seem like a mere cawicature, blasphemous even, when God himself sits at his altar to wecieve our adulations." She halted to cough, the birdlike cough of an old lady.

"Well I like. It's very … clean."

"All imperfections burned away by the ways of the Sun."

"You mean 'rays'".

"Do I?"

We sat beneath a parasol as the servants brought us cool ambrosia and nectar cakes.

"What of the Avatar of the God and the Interpreter of the God?" I asked. "Will the people worship a God whose true face, if they looked into it, would destroy them?"

Astarte smiled. "It's been done before. Even Medusa had her cult, and the Zowoastrians have gazed into the flame for centuries."

"Do they accept the Lord of the Daylight Sky as Mazda?"

"Indeed they do. In fact they are the only weligion that I have heard of via my networks that does not oppose Him."

"Speaking of which - have you seen how the plans of Tihocan are progressing?"

Astarte glanced at me sharply. "No," she said. "Should I?"

I was nonplussed. "I … I'd assumed it was some sort of collaboration between you both."

Astarte laughed. "I think Tihocan has dismissed me as some sort of batty old Cassandra," she said.

"Well, I love and revere you even if the foolish Tihocan does not, my Royal Sister," I said, and we embraced.

Tihocan's nouveau versions of the Atlantean War Machine – the Colossi – squatted in the desert like perverted Transformers. They were about as subtle and elegant as Las Vegas.

Astarte and I drove up in our beach buggy and peered up at the scaffolding on a blowsy metal giantess where Tihocan and his technicians were fiddling around with the mechanism embedded in a gargantuan nipple.

I picked up a walkie-talkie.

"Haven't you read, my Royal Brother, that those who ignore history had better be damned sure of themselves?"

Tihocan pushed his welding glasses onto his forehead and peered down at us. After a word to his minions he embarked on an elevator bringing him down to the desert floor. "History is over, my Royal Sister," came back his crackly voice. "We all exist in the Divine Now."

He approached and all three of us began the ritual bowing we were accustomed to, more pointless today that it had ever been in Atlantis.

"I greet my Royal Sister Astarte," said Tihocan with an elegant flourish, "whose wisdom has kept the Atlantean dream alive throughout the centuries whilst the rest of us … dreamed."

"Far be it from me to contradict my learned and revered brother," said Astarte, "but I was but midwife to the children of Atlantis, not the preserver of the parent. A god frozen in amber is no living god. I cherished the new religions not their progenitors."

"Did you not have Temples built to yourself, my religious sister?"

"For which I do penance daily," said Astarte grimly. "There's no fool like a holy fool."

"Thank goodness the real Lord of the Daylight Sky has come to wash all holy foolishness away."

I put a hand on Astarte's arm to calm her.

"So explain, oh gifted Royal Engineer. What are this contraptions and what is their purpose?"

Tihocan took an orator's stance, one hand raised.

"As you know, despite the military victory that has engulfed the planet …"

"… some of the planet …"

"Despite that, there are still the adherents of the old forms of worship who daily drive car bombs into our Army, or who usher themselves into the Presence of Our Prince only to detonate themselves in a futile effort to kill their Master. Only the other day some howling fundamentalist crashed a passenger plane full of innocents into a night camp of the Aean Regiment, killing many of our brave soldiers as they slept."

"Maybe the Lord of the Daylight Sky, peace be upon Him, has not revealed enough of his holiness to capture their hearts," I said.

Tihocan took up his rhetorician's pose again. "I, as a loyal servant of the God, have come to a solution that will strike at the heart of the insurgency. Behold …" he waved his hand at the metal giantess above us "… the Whore of Babylon."

"The what of what …?" I began, but Astarte had stepped forward.

"If you please …" she said in a quiet voice "… can you explain precisely the role of these colossal Abominations?" and she placed her hands with palms together. This gesture must have tapped into her role of old, for some kind of pulse or wave in the shape of her steepled fingers spread into the air.

A voice called down from above and Tihocan signalled to the mechanics. A moment later, the scaffolding began to back away from the body of the Whore.

"Firstly," said Tihocan, turning to face her, "these instruments are built by the order of the Lord of the Daylight Sky, so unless you plan to wrestle with him personally, please do not try to threaten me with that old black magic of yours."

The light around Astarte bristled a little less, but she still looked strained and flushed from the effort.

"As to the function of these Holy Colossi, the Whore here will fly to Rome, to the so-called Holy City, where she will level the Cathedral of St. Peter and stamp on the temporal center of the Catholic faith."

Astarte glared at him rheumily. "You cannot do this," she croaked.

The Whore of Babylon bent forward and gazed down at us. There was a screech of metal on metal as its painted lips parted in a ghastly leer.

"My Royal Brother," I said, putting an arm around Astarte's frail shoulders, "this is a bold move indeed. Do you intent to issue a warning so that the innocent Roman populace may stand aside and be safe?"

"Of course," said Tihocan. "We're not barbarians. However, there will be a useful winnowing."

"How so?"

"We expect Catholics from across the globe to flock to the site, to protest, to gather. We will allow a week between the announcement and the deed."

Astarte turned to me and whispered in my ear. "Is this weal, sister? Am I being punished?

"Yes, it is real, but I doubt it is holy."

"It is nefas! Nefas!"

"Surely it is merely a sacrifice to the Lord of the Daylight Sky? Even thousands would not match your holy offerings over the centuries."

Astarte's face underwent an un-nerving transformation. She seemed to age, and her eyes sank in their sockets. The tears spilled down her gaunt cheeks.

"Tell me it isn't so," she said. She fell to her knees and I with her. I was afraid that her bones would crack.

"Tell you what, My Beloved and Best-Loved Sister, Royal Sibling, Princess of my heart?" I murmured, holding her as tightly as I dare, and stroking her straw-dry hair. "Many have died at your hand and I, for one, thought it necessary and beautiful. A state religion without shed blood is a pointless as a war without brutality. We needed – still need – to enforce our will. Terror must last forever."

Astarte's eyes had become wild. "I murdered every one of my boys," she whispered.

I maintained a calm expression. Standing, I addressed Tihocan. "Thousands will be killed."

"Merely the infidel."

"And the other eight Colossi?"

"Jerusalem and Ayres Rock, Mecca and CERN, the Shaolin Temple and Wall Street, the Halema'uma'u Crater and Meenakshi Amman …"

But at that moment, with a cry like Rochester's first wife, Astarte had twisted from my grasp. She ran at Tihocan, who merely gaped at her, his face high-eyebrowed.

"ιερόσυλη σκατά!" sang out Astarte, first scratching at his eyes and then fastening her frail fingers around his throat. I could see blood from beneath one of his ruined eyelids and he stumbled back, off guard, bloodied, choking.

I hurried forward, crying "Sister! Brother!" but Tihocan had prized Astarte loose and thrown her to the ground where she, after falling awkwardly, lay motionless. There was a cracking and a crackling as her ancient body subsided into shapelessness.

I ran to cradle her head in my lap, but I could see that her skull was loosened from her vertebrae.

"Natla," she mimed, grasping at the front of my clothing and then dying.

"Shh," I said. "My good Astarte."

For the first time in millennia a member of our Ruling Quadrumvirate was dead. The deaths of all other rulers in recorded history were as nothing, ersatz, meaningless, trivial. A Goddess had died – a Goddess - and there was no precedent. Can you even begin to appreciate the loss? The loss for you, the loss for Atlantis, the loss for the whole history of the Western World. Forget the sack of Constantinople, the destruction of the Library at Alexandria, the religicides of Christianity and Islam. Astarte the Goddess, as cruel as she was wayward, she of so many names – Ishtar, Aphrodite, Atargatis - worshiped so widely and for so long, thrown aside in the New Mexico dust like a sack of insignificance. What accursed creature had the right to carry out such a blasphemy?

I, Natla of Atlantis, had had but one sister, and now I had none. I stuffed my fist into my mouth and battered my forehead against the ground.

* * * * *

Tihocan, half-blinded, was unaware of his transgression. He held one hand to his eyes, and the walkie talkie pushed tightly to his ear, as if to balance one pain against another. As he grovelled, the ground started to rattle and roll. The Nine Colossi, walking in step, began to move.

Members of the Olympean Army were running up as I was unfurling my wings.

"The Divine Astarte is dead," I said. "Bear her body away and prepare it to rest in state."

Tihocan was weeping blood and trying to raise a response from base when I swooped down and grabbed him under the arms.

"Natla!" said Tihocan, turning his blind face to and fro. "Thank Helios."

"Sororicide!" I hissed in his ear. I was flapping vigorously and we were already thirty feel up.

Tihocan began to hyperventilate. "What?" he said.

"You killed Astarte!"

"No. I only threw her off. She blinded me."

"And now, blind unclean king, having murdered your father and your sister, I've come to bury you. Justice demands it."

"I … I did not murder my father!"

"Which 'Vulcan' brought an end to Atlantis by meddling with volcanoes? Which smith to the Gods hammered our civilisation into the ground? Which 'Hephaestus' engineered the Atlantean War Machine?"

I was catching up with and then beginning to overtake the striding Colossi. In the back of my mind I expect I thought I'd get Tihocan to stop them in their tracks.

"Natla! Stop talking and start listening. We have to talk!"

"You εἶδος κίναιδος! Have you forgotten locking me away to rot for an eternity?"

"Please Sister …!"

"Enough of your forked tongue and honeyed words. You will stop your Automata."

Tihocan wriggled. "Impossible!"

"Forget your God. It's me you need to fear."

I landed us several hundred yards in front of the foremost of the Colossi, a stunningly beautiful woman, fifty foot high, proudly naked, with golden wings. I later learned it's name was Manāt, the Arabic Goddess of Fate - a tribal version of Astarte.

"Was she meant as some sort of tribute?" I said with grim humour. "Your tribute is about to squash you like an orange."

At each footfall of the Manāt, we staggered.

"Oh my God," said Tihocan, sobbing.

"Call them off, then. How do you stop them?"

Tihocan scrabbled desperately inside his tunic and produced a box.

The Manāt was only four footsteps away, and the dust flew around us like a haboob.

I looked at Tihocan's controller. It had a retinal scanner.

"This is the only way?"

"I told you. It's impossible! Only my eyes can stop them, and my eyes are gone! Natla? Natla!"

I'd thrown the box away and was walking away without looking back. I could hear Tihocan screaming for help - promising the world, promising to be good - as he ran helplessly around in circles.

"Upon a pillory - that all the world may see, a just desert for such impiety," I said softly, as the giant footsteps got closer.

There was a final shriek and a hideous crunch as the avatar of Astarte accidently trod on him.

* * * * *

Of course, I was immediately under arrest, and by "arrest" I mean like from the original French. Amanda – now "Queen" Amanda – took command of everything Olympean and Atlantean in the absence of "God" and ordered me frozen in a stasis field from which I could hear and see but within which I was immobilised.

Amanda had "blinged it up something rotten" in celebration of her Royal Succession. She resembled a cross between Ornella Muti's Princess Aura and Dejah Thoris of Mars, and strode about flinging her arms about and shouting.

"Yet again the evil Natla of Atlantis has turned on us all," declaimed Amanda from her throne, "and murdered her brother, the Royal and Much Beloved Tihocan and her sister, the Holy and Much Feared Astarte." She stood in a twinkle of golden trinkets and boldly pointed a bejewelled and be-gloved finger at me.

A wailing of sorrow started up from the assembled armies, a paean of pain. They, like me, were genuinely heart-broken at the loss.

Amanda, who appeared to suddenly remember that Tihocan was dead, burst into a jag of weeping painted in primary colours.

"Daddy!" she cried throatily, falling to her diamonded knees.

I could observe all of this, despite the fact that my body was ambered in time. I guess they left my head unfrozen (or something that I didn't quite grasp). Needless to say I could neither smile nor frown nor yell deaths threats at my bejazzled daughter. It was relaxing, and the world was distanced from me by a pleasant rose tint. If truth be told I was glad that I wasn't giving away the sneaking admiration that I was developing for Amanda.

'Unscrupulous, unsentimental and unpredictable,' I thought to myself. 'She looks good, she sounds in command and she hasn't hit the bottle. You go, girl.'

I wondered if, after I'd been executed, people would remember me through her.

Speaking of which, my Execution was set for a week's time, the time set aside for a "Sanctified And Ancient Festival Of Mission Accomplished". Various apparatchiks were assembling a giant viewing screen inside of Astarte's new Temple to the Lord of the Daylight Sky so that we of the court could all join in the fun. I wasn't sure if Astarte would have approved or not, but I know she was keen on religious murder in general, so maybe she wasn't spinning on her catafalque.

The program included;

The Return Of The Lord of the Daylight Sky

The Attack Of The Colossi (
live, in 3D)

The Funerals Of The Beatified Tihocan and Astarte

The Burning At The Stake Of The Blasphemous Traitor Natla

I just hoped there'd be popcorn.

* * * * *

The visitor to the Temple to the Lord of the Daylight Sky (as I have mentioned elsewhere) might first have been struck by its austerity. Standing inside it giant white interior with the white New Mexican sun streaming through the un-stained-glass windows, one was infused with light, the white light of what astronomers used to call a Yellow Dwarf now inhabited by a Golden Olympian.

In previous temples to Sol or Helios a giant electrum statue with flashing eyes of gold, crowned with an emperor's radiate crown - a crown of silver rays, a crown of thorns turned inside out - would have stood on the altar, sandals whitewashed and head hidden in the eaves in wreaths of incense. Indeed an example of such a statue of Sol, the Colossus of Rhodes bestrode the harbour defending the city of the Cult of Helios and had shone light across the sea like a Grecian Statue Of Liberty, only with naked loins instead of Lady Liberty's chaste robes. None of this iconography was apparent in my sister's Temple. Maybe, in the same way that the tactful French covered up the bare breasts of Marianne for a puritanical America, Astarte had sensed that stupendous statues smacked too much of totalitarianism. After all, Ozymandias wasn't lying forgotten in the sand for nothing.

They'd allowed me my house arrest whilst I waited for my death. No doubt Amanda figured that she could appear merciful whilst being crueller by giving me time to brood. Maybe she should have left me locked up, for I'd made the most of it.

I'd been put in my place at the left hand of the God, shackled to a throne atop my unlit pyre, which from a viewer's point-of-view was the hottest seat in the house. They hadn't shackled me very tightly, and so I was able to sit with one leg nonchalantly folded over the other and a glass of wine dangling from my fingertips, the nearest a Ruler of Atlantis can come to a comfortable slouch. I wasn't overly bothered about being burnt alive not only because of the suicide capsule that I'd secreted in my mouth, but also because my main last creation – the seed of destruction – was already germinating.

I peered down at the faggots of wood beneath me. At first the kind executioners had used dry quick burning timber for a quick burning death, but then – whispered to be at the personal command of "Queen" Amanda – they'd put some green wood amongst the dry.

'Idiot,' I thought. 'You mean me to die for longer above the wet bundles, but the smoke will now choke me before the flames reach my feet.'

Not that smoke was a problem in the Temple to the Lord of the Daylight Sky, for the roof above the altar could be slid open to the sky, no doubt all the better for Mr. Sunshine to drop in on his fiery chariot.

'I just hope that they have thought through the health and safety implications,' I said to myself.

I amused myself by watching the congregation as they began to troop in. They were as fair as Monday's child in their Sunday best, all creatures great and small, some silver, some scarlet and some black. They were relaxed enough to whisper and whinny, and aware enough of their relative status to form orderly blocks, cliques and herds, the Maian Regiment to God's Right and the administrators to His Left. The Royal Family, what was left of it, Maia Of The Serene Countenance among them, faced the temple with the God and stood should to shoulder like Justinian and Theodora at Ravenna, blank faced, mildly amused and powerfully implacable.

However I was distracted, even in the midst of this pomp and circumstance. In the back of my mind were Das' laboratory notebooks specifically those related to the research that I'd asked him to regarding the possible assassination of the President and specifically concerning the unique targetable allele that the Kenyan Luo family group possessed.

"If infection begins at t=0 hours," Das had written in his perfect goldplate hand, "there's a non-contagious latency period of 14 hours. After 14 it presents. After 20 the host is incapacitated. By 24 the host is dead. If the host initiates at a single location by the end of Day One there will be a couple of hundred cases. By the end of Day Two it could in the thousands but from there it's easier to talk about percent of population. By the end of the first week 9 percent of people possessing the target allele will be infected ... and those people will die within 24 hours of infection."

I craned my neck to see if we had any earthlings present and spotted a few timorous New Mexicans in the shadows behind a pillar, the only place not over-illuminated. They were ignored as if they were no more than plants. I fixed them with my gaze and smiled, but they looked merely fearful. I hoped that a glimpse of Helios would not prove fatal to them.

At that juncture my heart jumped, for appearing in the doorway and then marching smartly down the aisle was Qualopec, dressed to the nines. He strode up the steps and sat on his allotted sell in the Royal enclosure. Only then did he look at me perched on my bonfire.

I winked at him and the corner of his grim mouth twitched. I blew him a kiss, which started off a certain amount of muttering. Qualopec ground his teeth as if quelling some deep feeling and drew his sword. Various guards who until that moment had assumed they were merely ceremonial hastily aimed their weapons at him. Qualopec, eyes fixed on mine, kissed the blade of his sword and the, after a moment, re-sheathed it. I found myself simpering and blushing like a girl, overwhelmed with relief that he'd found reports of my guilt somewhat unconvincing.

Sadly our mutual eye feasting was interrupted for then, to the boom and thunder of a hydraulis, Amanda appeared like a person from Porlock and began to process down the aisle, a gold-plated sixth-time bride, her straw-coloured hair throwing off-yellow light to right and left.

The congregation began to sing and hoot;

Glory, glory, glory
To our glorious Queen
Glorious Amanda
Glory in the scene
Born from royal purple
On t'Atlantean plain
Born to bring us glory
Glorious is her reign

… or words very much to that effect belted out to a tune not entirely unlike Land Of Hope And … you guessed it … Glory. I suspect that Amanda had written it herself. I saw at few eyes flashing at the look of disbelief that I failed to stop crossing my face. Qualopec watched his niece with no visible reaction.

Then Amanda turned and addressed her fans. "Friends, Atlanteans, countrymen," she said in a passable imitation of Queen Elizabeth of England. "I do not have the heart of a weak and feeble woman and although I have been placed at your head by a coup de … tκte unplanned by myself but engineered by She Who Must No Longer Be Obeyed," she indicated me with a jerk of her heqa sceptre, "I will endeavour to serve yourself and the Lord Of The Daylight Sky with as much … verocity as my late, great father."

"Three cheers for the Queen," snapped a sergeant of the Maian, and three cheers issued from the troops in a very organised and clipped fashion, leaving a somewhat echoey silence in their wake.

"Yes, well, thank you," said Amanda, who seemed to have run out of speech. "I say to you – if you prick me, do I not bleed …?"

Fortunately at that moment a roaring sound began to sound from above.

"Oh … good," said Amanda, and hurried out of the way with a certain lack of savoir faire.

The chariot with the Avatar and the Interpreter of the God began to descend through the hole in the Temple roof. The Avatar was glaring at us all with a look of smelting steel and the Interpreter was leaning very slightly away from it as if in doubt of its own fire-proof-ness.

"Bow down to the Lord Of The Daylight Sky!" announced the Interpreter, and all of us, even myself, hastened to comply.

The chariot alighted on the stone floor with two quiet clinks and the Avatar stepped off with two deafening thuds.

"I, I, I am Your God!" roared the Lord via his Interpreter, his mask face as immobile as ever . "I, I, I am victory! Rejoice!"

"Hallelujah," replied the congregation, attempting to disguise the fact that they'd practiced beforehand.

"The Western Hemisphere is Mine, Mine, Mine!"

"And so say all of us."

"I, I, I have captured their bodies and now I, I, I shall capture their minds."

"So help me God."

"But first, I, I, I will execute the traitor Natla of Atlantis."

There was a gasp, and a rather uncouth swear word escaped from my lips as I sat bolt upright on my throne. The Lord Of The Daylight Sky pointed an incandescent digit at me and was no doubt a millisecond away from barbequing your humble author when Amanda and Qualopec stepped forward, protesting.

"My Lord!" said Qualopec. "Surely one of Your Royal subjects deserves to have the facts examined less partially?"

"This is the second time that your wife has been implicated in deaths within My, My, My Court. She must burn!"

"Your Highness is rightfully enraged, but Your Court is depleted. Can we afford to lose another Royal unless for the correct reason?"

"Besides," quavered Amanda, showing a piece of paper to the disinterested Interpreter, "there's a program. Surely you wouldn't want my evil evil mother to miss the Colossus…es?"

"Viper," said Qualopec to her, with deepest contempt.

"Pussy whipped," hissed back Amanda.

The Avatar subsided and a look of comparative calm was visible through the flames.

"Proceed," it said.

* * * * *

And so the show of shows began. The canvas roof was pulled over the temple and its edge draped down behind the altar to mimic a movie screen. Each window was covered and flame extinguished except that of the Avatar which dimmed from incandescent to lambent.

An image of St. Peter's Square in Rome appeared, saints silhouetted against the burning sky and nuns packed habit to habit. The venerable Pope was propped up by prelates and leading the signing from his balcony.

The voice of Maia of the Serene Countenance echoed around the Temple and the world;

You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me.

A lascivious robotic laugh filled the air – an epitome of the female sexuality that the Catholic church so feared – and the Whore Of Babylon stepped up to St. Peter’s. Hitching up her scarlet skirt she humped the dome until it collapsed in ruins on the congregants beneath.

Then to Jerusalem –

It is even insufficient to reduce an idol to powder and scatter it to the winds, since it could fall to earth and become a fertilizer; but the image must be sunk, whence it can never emerge

- where a porcine shrieking filled the air and the thunder of trotters drowned out the thunder of weaponry and outrage and there appeared a Colossus of that most reviled creature - the Uncleansed Pig - which proceeded to roll flat the Dome Of The Rock and the Church Of The Holy Sepulchre and the Wailing Wall, and then grind the remains into a giant excremental wallow.

Then, Mecca. The golden statue of Manāt, goddess of fate banished centuries before by the fanatics of the Prophet in the very first act of Islamic iconoclasm, appeared above the white clad millions in all her insulting nakedness, unveiled, and with a single song of triumph vanished, leaving behind a desert scoured clean of all sign of man … except, with great irony, for a single lonely statue of Astarte, reassembled from fragments of the Black Stone of Kaaba.

Then, from the people of the book to the temples of those whose falsely profess and pretend to no faith whilst being as blind as any acolyte. A large monkey with the face of Darwin destroys CERN, Geneva, using missiles fashioned from its own dung, whilst a Soviet giantess levels Wall Street with her hammer and sickle yelling "Religion is the opium of the people!"

I, like everybody else, like the entire planet in fact, watched this performance with open mouth. There has always been a La Ronde of religious destruction - the Hindus at Babri Mosque and the Taliban at Bamyan, the Buddhists in Sri Lanka and Crusaders in Byzantium, Gratian versus the pagans and Stalin versus the Christians – but never have the world faiths been hit by a coordinated apocalypse.

I knew it wasn't strictly true but I found myself thinking "Game over". I glanced at the Lord Of The Daylight Sky. The Avatar was expressionless, no more engaged than if it had been watching a gardener weeding. There was only one Lord Our God and everything else must be torn up or dug under. Weeds have no champion.

Then, whilst we were watching the sixth and seventh Colossi at work in Asia – the Turbaned Termagant trashed the Tamil temple at Meenakshi Amman whilst the Dragon of Xian incinerated the Shoalin Temple at Song Shan – I saw a flunky approach and whisper in the ear of Amanda and Qualopec. I felt some relief, for the festival of destruction was secretly starting to bore me – once you've seen one faith center flattened, you've seen them all.

"It seems," came the voice of Maia of the Serene Countenance, "that one of our Colossi is missing. The Great White HunterChristian Evangelist …"

A more or less sincere cheer arose from the assembled Atlanteans, but I was still with apprehension. Hawaii was where I'd advised the boys to go, following the President.

Terrestrial pictures showed the fleet at Pearl Harbor assembled to bombard the approaching behemoth. The President, no doubt against all advice and gone stark fighting mad, stood on the golf course at the Pearl Country Club brandishing a moose rifle against the invader.

The Christian Evangelist was striding waist high though the Pacific, brandishing a Bible and singing from Ka'ahumanu's hymn book, when suddenly it stopped in midstride.

However I only found out what happened off the shores of Hawaii somewhat later, for at that moment Nemesis rode up to kick all our asses.

Lara Croft, dressed in archaic armour and with a crusader robe flying behind her, burst through the entrance astride her trusty Norton motorbike.

"Deus vult!" she yelled, lowering a jousting lance.

She must have snuck into the Temple as we were all watching the ceremonies for as she gave her battle cry, explosives detonated from every pillar down the sides of the building. As she sped forward she was narrowly missed by large chunks of masonry falling onto the assembled Maian Regiment and Olympean Warriors.

There was no roof above the altar so the Royals were spared the immediate destruction. I was blown bodily from the top of bonfire as it burst into flames, and with a backward somersault found myself lying slightly stunned in the remains of my wooden throne, freed from my chains.

Lara stood on the seat of her speeding bike as it crashed into the body of the Avatar, and – vaulting through the air - impaled the face of the Avatar with her spear tip.

The Avatar roared and fell flat on its back, and a huge ball of flame burst out in all directions. From my vantage point against the back wall, I could see Qualopec shielding the others as they lay on the floor just under the burning cloud.

Then I spotted Amanda, or at least Amanda's heel, for she was fleeing out of a well hidden door at the back of the altar. Ducking and running, I ran after her.

The Avatar got slowly to its feet, its "injuries" re-mending themselves and the jagged hole in its face knitting back together to re-make that perfect Apollonian mask.

"Who dares to lay hands on My, My, My Representative on Earth?" it roared at Lara, who had scrambled to her feet and drawn the Sword of Perseus. Her cloak and all other flammable material had been burnt away, but she herself was unharmed, coated as she was in the ointment that the witch Medea had made for Jason when he fought the fire-spitting Dragon.

"Listen, old chap," she said. "You may be able to impress our country cousins across the water here with flashy PR and tacky graphics," she gestured at the Avatar, the screens and the remains of the Temple, "but we in England require rather more substance before we pledge our allegiance."

* * * * *

I knew all of this because, perhaps unfortunately, the whole scene was still being broadcast worldwide, even onto the giant screens set up in the desert around the Temple site … not that there was anybody left to watch it.

I could run faster than Amanda. I have longer legs and the only exercise she ever got was trying on clothes. I caught up with her and rugby tackled her to the ground.

"Got you, you little bastard!" I said, pinning her arms with my knees and grabbing her face with my hands.

"Get off me, Mother!" spluttered Amanda. "I'm a Queen now."

"As am I, you stupid child, but it didn't stop you trying to fricassιe in my own boiling blood."

"You're hurting me!"

Above us on a screen, the Colossus known as the Evangelical Christian appeared to be being dragged beneath the waves by some unseen monster, a tentacle wrapped around its despairing face and giant metal fingers grasping at the sky as it sank into the thrashing foam.

I burst into vicious laughter. "I'm hurting you? I'm hurting you? You're about to be murdered and all you can thing of to do is whine?"

I ran my infected nail down her cheek, drawing blood. Amanda squealed. Then I stood with as much distain as I could manage, and brushed the dust from my robes.

Amanda had scrambled to her feet, her crown askew, examining the blood on her skin. Reaching down her bejewelled hip, she produced a tiny gold-handled pistol.

"What did you do?" she said, horror mingling with the blood.

"Well now," I said. "You'll be pleased to know that Atlantis is dead, even that ray of overgrown sunshine that Lara is bashing up."

Amanda just stared at me. "Poison?" she said, after a pause.

"Kinda." I said, silkily. "You can thank your clever brother Das for the groundwork. I just fiddled about with it a bit."

"Give me the antidote!"

"Oh, that old thing. "I laughed. "Well, let's see … Nas and Das have it. Qualopec has it. I have it …"

"Give it to me!" said Amanda.

"Don't you want to hear what the virus does?"

"No, you fucking bitch." Amanda cocked her pistol and aimed it at my head. "Give me the antidote, now!"

"Well I'll tell you anyway," I purred, picking a fleck of dust from my sleeve. "You know that gene that allows you to work the Daises? The allele that allowed you to skip around the planet setting up this disastrous invasion?"

"What about it?"

"I've targeted it with a weaponised virus."

Amanda's hand flew to her throat.

"Don't worry," I said. "The symptoms can take up for a week or two, although since you've just received a massive dose you might die a bit quicker."

Amanda began to blink. I watched her closely as the implications began to set in.

"You used the Royal Gene? So … every living Atlantean … they all have it?" she said. "You cannot be serious."

"I'm afraid so, dearest. The entire civilisation, including its Gods, is doomed. It's War Of The Worlds, only this time I engineered the killer bacteria."

"How come everyone else in the family gets it except me?" I could see that behind her histrionics, Amanda was thinking very hard. "Hang on a second," she said. "You say that Nas and Das have an antidote. When exactly did you give it to them?"

"Before they left, obviously."

"So you know in advance … you had this weapon in place before the Olympeans even arrived?"

"Yes." I could see that I was going to have to tell her. "The Olympeans that I encouraged you to bring to Earth. The whole bunch. All at the same time."

"You helped me …?" Amanda's voice tailed off into silence.

"I put you personally in charge of shutting down the Dias network." I looked her in the eye, and I could not help a wry smile. "What did you think? I was having some sort of senior moment, trusting you with such an important task?"

Amanda started to swear, and I could see her mentally kicking herself.

I tried very hard to keep the amusement out of my voice. "And your next question is; why didn't I release this virus earlier?"

"Yes! Why didn't you? You could have avoided the war, the destruction of Earth's forces …"

"I was hardly going to be able to rule the world without subduing it first, surely?"

Our gazes locked and I could see an expression, admiration mixed with disgust, creeping over her face.

"You provoked them!" she spluttered, eventually. "You deliberately shot them down! You started the war!"

"Admittedly I didn't know about the Colossi and I never thought Astarte was still alive, but …"

"You killed your own brother!"

"There was no point in becoming World Leader with Tihocan still out there," I explained, gently. "When I saw his silhouette trying to step through the Dias of Gemini in the Temple Of The Chariot Of The Gods, I just knew it would only be a matter of time. "

Amanda's face flushed bright red. "You fucking traitor!" she said. "I should kill you on the spot!" She raised her little pistol, pointing it at me with a shaky hand.

I shrugged. "Take your best shot," I said. "You still won't get the cure."

She probably would have shot me right then, but at that moment something very odd began to happen. Above us in the sky the sun began to flicker like a faulty neon tube.

I gazed up at the star, at first needing to shield my eyes and then not needing to. It resembled a tadpole egg, with something twitching for a moment inside it

I spun on my heel and looked up at the scene from inside the ruins of the Temple. A very battered Lara Croft, naked feet planted firmly on the Avatar's burning chest, was methodically sawing its head off.

I looked back at the sun, and still it flickered. "No," I said, hollowly. I'd known that the Avatar represented Helios, but it had never occurred to me that there was a literal, physical link between Helios and the sun.

Suddenly a great fear came over me and I fell to my knees. 'What have I done?' I said to myself. I had a vision of a planet without a star, a frozen block of ice, all squabbles forgotten. I could feel all my childhood faith flooding back again.

"Lords of the Sea and of the Daylight Sky," I prayed, my hands clasped to my chest like a little girl. "Do not desert us. We will do anything …"

Amanda was not taking the dying of the light very well

"You fucking idiot!" she screamed hysterically. "You arrange for the release of your fucking attack dog Lara Croft and you just knew she'd do something postal like this! You and your fucking master plans that never fucking work."

"If you had any dignity as an Atlantean you'd join me in prayer," I said. I was serene but there were tears welling in my eyes.

Amanda's voice had become very calm in the way that a very angry person's voice does. "So, Mother. What use are your clever plans to you now?"

And with that, she shot me in the back.

* * * * *

I lay alone in the sand, vaguely watching the giant screen.

The Avatar's head had fallen off.

"And let that be a stern lesson to all Gods everywhere," said Lara.

I moved my eyes to the sky expecting the sun to wink out, but instead – after a while - it brightened again. It seemed that the sun (or Helios or whatever it was) had merely been distracted. Moments later – and I'm not sure if I hallucinated it – a pillar of fie came down from heaven and remade the Avatar anew.

'Poor old Lara,' I thought. Yet again she had failed to kill a God

I turned my fading eyes to the screen again, expecting to see a dead Lara … but the Lord Of The Daylight Sky seemed to be too flustered to kill her.

"I saw another earth," he was saying, in quite a normal voice, "one I never saw before. An evil doppelganger upon I have never turned my face. My light faltered for an instant and in that instant something … terrible … awoke."

"My Lord?" said Qualopec, stepping forward. He could have laid a hand on the giant arm of the Avatar who for the first time that we'd seen it was not a-flame.

"ur-Earth," said Lara, adjusting to her new reality with Lara-esque rapidity. Maybe she, like me, realised that the best way to get rid of one Big Bad was to pit it against another. "Everything with you people involves a twin."


"Maybe we should investigate, my Lord," said Qualopec. "It would be a tragedy if at the height of your triumph we were attacked from an unexpected quarter."

'Good man!' I thought.

I couldn't see that well, but I could have sworn that I saw the Avatar's shoulders slump and its lower lip quiver slightly. What does a God have to do, I could see it wondering? Slowly it straightened up again and the flames began to lick over its flesh.

"Let it be as you suggest, Lord Qualopec," it said, its voice regaining some of its stentorian volume. "Gather my armies and … My, My, My skyships. I, I, I will conquer this abomination."

"Yes, my Lord," said Qualopec with a bow.

Two birds with one stone. The Avatar and his Army would be defeated, or at least trapped in an eternal battle with their equal and opposite. Only Qualopec would survive as the virus kicked in … I hoped.

And whilst they were away …

I had calculated that not just Atlantis, but every descendent of ours that possessed the allele or even a bad copy of the allele, would be vulnerable to my virus. Lara didn't have enough of a Royal Gene to be able to open the door to the Temple Of The Chariot Of The Gods in Antarctica, but she did have enough to fall ill. I had once tried to do a calculation. Any individual human would, over 30 generations, have a billion ancestors.

I had a vision of a planet in chaos, no rule of law left and a new Black Death rampaging across the West. 'Who knows? Maybe fresh meat will incite territorial rages again, will strengthen and advance us.'

"That's the spirit," Lara was saying to the Avatar, returned to her usual cheerful and imperturbable self. "You head off and do some biffing."

"And You will guide us," replied the Avatar.

Lara froze. She began to protest and then to struggle, but she was trapped. It appeared that, as an added bonus, my one real opponent was being carried off to an ignominious death on a distant planet, a planet where once she had very nearly died at the hands of her own Doppelganger.

I sighed and rested the back of my head on the cold, soft sand.

"I love you, my husband," I whispered.

And then it seemed that all I could see was the blue of the daylight sky. Somewhere a small bird was tweeting and a slight breeze was playing over my feverish skin.

'Look after my people,' I thought, thinking of the boys.

And so, at last, I slept.

* * * * *

That should have been it, of course, and I should have died bleeding out into the sand of my beloved Atzlan.

I was lapsing in and out of consciousness when I began to be aware of the ringing sound and a vibrating on my leg. It took me a very long time to release that it was a mobile phone. I'd put it in the pocket of my Royal Raiment weeks ago and forgotten it.

I could barely find it out and fumble it up to my ear.

"Hello?" I croaked.

"Is that Jacqueline Natla, Governor of New Mexico?" came a clipped military voice.


"Thank God you are still alive, Ma'am."

"Just," I whispered. "I'm afraid I've been shot. Again."

I could hear a slight intake of breathe. "Are you still a prisoner of the invaders, Ma'am?"

"I think most of them have just flown off."

"That is our assessment also. If you could hold on, Ma'am, the National Guard is heading towards you from the nearest base. We have you on satellite."

"Hi!" I said weakly to the sky, waving my fingers.

"In the meantime, Ma'am, it is my sad duty to inform you that POTUS is dead."


"The President, Ma'am. A giant tsunami stirred up by the monsters fighting in the ocean off Hawaii swept ashore and the Commander in Chief was tragically drowned."

"I'm … very sorry to hear that," I said, thinking of the idiot gesticulating on the golf course.

"And so it is my solemn duty to inform you," said the officer, "the rest of the Cabinet being dead and you, Jacqueline Natla, being the official Designated Survivor of the US Government …

If I'd had the energy I'd have sat bolt upright. "You're kidding," I said.

"… that the power of the Executive has now been passed to you …,"

I began to laugh.

"… Madam President."

The End.