Thursday, 1 September 2016

Kindred of the Gods

<< < Chapter Thirteen > >>

There was a sudden heavy groaning and screeching sound as the timeship span through the vortex, and the entire console room began to shudder violently.
  "What's going on?!" screamed Anise, gripping the edge of the console.
  "Oh, drat!" said the Duke stumbling as he twisted a dial on the console. As he did, the three occupants were thrown from their feet, and the ship landed with a great THUMP! and a scraping sound. The time rotor continued to groan and wheeze idly until the Duke got back to his feet and restored the ignition lever.
"I do apologize," said the Duke sheepishly, straightening his leather coat. "Left the handbrake on."
  “The handbrake?” said Edison getting to his feet. “Why would a spaceship have a handbrake?”
  “To avoid spatial drift after landing, of course,” said the Duke. “Our flight through the vortex was interrupted, so I applied the brake, but I forgot to deactivate it, so we span out of the vortex and crash-landed, I just need to find out where we are.”
  “We’re in the wrong place?” said Edison. A holographic representation of Earth appeared over the console as the Duke flipped a switch.
  “Ah . . . it would seem not. Right place, wrong time. We were on the right track, just derailed a little early,” said the Duke. “However, the sensors are still detecting naquadah. The wormhole generator must not have been moved for many years, it’s in the same place, just . . . now, that is interesting.”
  “What is it?” asked Anise.
  “The frequency is different. I’m not sure why . . . perhaps we should find out for ourselves.”
The Duke lead the way to the door and it opened automatically. He stepped into the Lift lobby and pressed the button to open the door, as he did, sand spilled in around his feet. “Drat . . .”
Anise and Edison walked past him to get outside, where it was late in the afternoon. They were on a beach, but the ship’s landing had carved a five metre long, one metre deep gouge along the sand.
  “Oh my goodness,” said Anise. “You really crashed it this time, didn’t you?”
  “The ship is fine,” said the Duke dismissively as he locked the doors. “It’ll need a sweep, but otherwise it’s all functional. I’ve landed worse than this before.”
  “You’ve landed worse?” said Anise, walking around the Lift.
  “Can we just locate the wormhole generator?” said the Duke, but he stopped still at the sight of the afternoon sky over the seascape blending into the horizon. “My word, that is marvellous to behold, isn’t it?”
  “Yeah, it’s pretty,” said Edison.
The Duke gazed at the water for a moment before snapping himself out of it.
  “Naquadah! Follow me, it’s this direction,” said the Duke, and he headed away from the shore, towards the treeline.
They found a dirt track through the trees and began to follow it, the Duke leading the way and occasionally checking his laser spanner for guidance.
  “So, this is the Bermuda triangle?” said Edison. “Does that mean we’re on Bermuda Island?”
  “No, we’re in the Caribbean,” said Anise. “Y’know, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, that kind of thing.”
  “How do you know that?” asked Edison.
  “Because I looked at the map,” said Anise. “We’re in Northern Haiti, to be precise.”
  “But, I’m usually better at picking where we are than you. I don’t know this place, yet you do.”
  “Because you don’t have a Spanish mother. My mammy made me learn all about La Historia de España. Spain was one of many that tried to take Caribe for its own, but the slaves killed them and took over. This is a dangerous place.”
  “Because the slaves took over?” said Edison. “Sounds like a successful revolution to me.”
  “It’s not slaves that made it dangerous,” said Anise. “It’s the mess the whites left behind when they ran away.”
As they continued, the sound of drumming could be heard in the distance.
  “Now that sounds ominous,” said Edison. “I suggest we avoid the tribal war-drums.”
  “I advise that we don’t,” said the Duke, looking at the spanner in his hand. “The wormhole generator is over there. But don’t be afraid, Edison, those aren’t the drums of war.”
  “How can you tell?”
  “The rhythm is all wrong,” said the Duke, miming a drumbeat with the laser spanner. “Tap-a-dah dah-dada . . . could you imagine marching to that? You’d need five legs to step to that beat. That sounds like revelation, to me.”
The trio followed the path further where a small trail lead them away from the main path up to a strange building that was full of the sound of drumming, singing, people and light. The building was a ruin, the grey stone remnants of an ancient structure burdened by time and nature. But the building had been repurposed, a new, straw roof had been built and sheltered the remaining walls, and pieces of wood and corrugated iron were used to patch the larger gaps in the walls. But there was a stone archway welcoming them inside, so the three of them made their way in.
Inside the place they saw several locals dancing. Some of them were seated around the edges, but in the middle there were two women, dressed in black and red, dancing wildly around a central pole which held up the new straw roof.
One of the women was holding a lit candle in one hand, and a bottle of liquor in the other.
  “Some kind of dance?” Edison said, confused.
  “No,” said the Duke solemnly, “this is a church.” He nodded to the far end of the room, where there was some kind of shelf set up, one metre tall, and on top of it was placed candles, a bowl of water, a skull wearing a top-hat, cigars, candy, a pair of round sunglasses, a metal box, a bowl of coins, white gloves, and several other items of clothing, and on the wall behind it was beautifully painted in black a large detailed symbol on a white cloth.
  “So, where is the portal thing?” asked Anise.
  “I’m detecting naquadah from that shrine over there,” said the Duke.
  “Do you want to head over?” asked Edison.
  “No, we should watch and wait,” said the Duke. “Last time I interrupted a church service, they made me their pope.”
The three of them found some spare seats by the doorway and sat down, Edison electing to sit on the floor. The dancing continued, till one woman took a swig from her bottle of liquor, swallowed half the mouthful, then spat the rest at the torch, with a sudden fireball that made many of the dancers stop.
  “Papi Legba, open the gate; Papi Legba, your chil’ren await,” she commanded. She repeated, and the other patrons joined her chant, “Papi Legba, open the gate; Papi Legba, your children await.
They spoke the rhyme a third time, but as they did, the woman closed her eyes, inhaled deeply and arched her back, rolling her shoulders as though dancing in slow motion. As the chant stopped, she stood up straight and opened her eyes, and the whites of her eyes were bloodshot. As the others saw her, they stopped dancing and drumming, leaving pure silence.
  “Goddamn,” said the woman, in a hoarse airy voice, she blew out the small candle, dropping it by the sand as she leant on the centre pole. “Can someone, fetch me my cane, please?”
The other woman in red and black went to the shrine, and took a bamboo cane that was resting beside it.
  “Now that’s not right,” muttered the Duke, as he saw the woman blink, her eyes almost seeming to glow crimson.
  “Thank you, sugar,” said the red-eyed woman as she took the cane and leant forward, supporting herself on the walking stick. She looked at her other hand, with the bottle of liquor, shook her head and placed it on the ground. “Could I get a cup of coffee?”
One of the patrons went to the shrine, and he took a thermos from the top, unscrewed it and poured black coffee into the lid, as he did the woman limped over and took the steaming cup from him.
  “Is this normal?” asked Edison, leaning back to the Duke and Anise. “This isn’t like church when I was a kid.”
  “This is voodoo,” said Anise. “They pray to many gods, that come down and ‘ride’ believers, to heal and do magic.”
  “This isn’t normal,” said the Duke. “Gods don’t exist.”
  “It’s just mumbo-jumbo, Duke. It’s not real,” said Anise.
  “That’s what I mean. Religion is just a means to satiate the spiritual needs of the people. Just smoke and mirrors, but this . . .” he nodded at the red-eyed woman who was drinking coffee. “This isn’t fake, that’s a remote psychical projection. That woman is possessed.”
The others waited patiently as she sipped and sighed with relief.
  “That is good. My children, you have suffered for good coffee,” she seemed to become wistful as she stared into the middle distance, staring up at the symbol behind the shrine. “I had to wait millennia, travel between stars, to even touch a cup . . . and all of you have bled, bred generations of slaves picking the fruits, roasting morning seed for the white man. And fought, rising up, to earn the right to a cup of coffee. You make me proud, my children, praise be to Bond’ye.”
  “Amen,” said the man holding the thermos, and the others followed suit. The woman finished the cup and handed it back.
  “Thank you, my son,” she said, and she took a corncob pipe from the shrine, as well as tobacco and a box of matches, and she lit the match, in silence. As she did, the other woman approached her.
  “Papa, we wish to speak to the-”
  “Be quiet, girl!” barked the woman without turning around, stamping the sand with the cane to make her silent. “I know why you summon me. I merely ask for patience, I’m an old man, it can take me time . . . please, child, gift me with your patience.”
The woman, a little shaken, nodded and stepped back as the red-eyed woman lit the pipe and grabbed several peanuts from a bowl on the shrine, then turned to the crowd. She took three long puffs, limping towards the centre pole and exhaled heavily. “Alright . . . my children, how can I serve you this day?”
  “Papa,” said the woman in black and red, “we beg your protection. Politics, it’s made everybody crazy. Leaders planning coups, people rioting and then the Macoute, they’re still hunting around, killing and raping.”
  “These, I know,” said the possessed woman, she dropped a peanut shell and popped the nut in her mouth. “I can’t stop the free will of them boys; politics is politics, pray to Bond’ye for mercy. Do you need the future, sugar? Do you need to see the path of Ayiti?”
  “No, Papa Legba,” said the other woman, “We need strength, we need protection. The Macoute terrify us. They are hurting our women, killing our men.”
The possessed woman’s red eyes seemed genuinely sad as she nodded. She husked another peanut and popped it in her mouth.
  “You need Erzulie . . . she will heal your girls, and protect them. But do you want to fight the Gunnysack boys?  You need to get good mojo, protection, get your mind clear; but if you want to be safe, that’s a fight you must battle with both hands. Do you understand?”
  “Yes, Papa.”
  “Then bring ‘em down . . . To fight criminals, you will need a criminal . . . Amen.”
  “Amen,” said the woman, and the possessed woman closed her eyes.  “Bring ‘em down.”
The drums began to beat again, and the patrons started to dance once more. As they did, the woman opened her eyes, but the red was gone, she looked a little confused as she dropped the bamboo cane, coughed and took the pipe from her mouth.
  “What’s going on, Duke?” said Anise, sounding worried.
  “Remain here,” said the Duke, getting to his feet. “I’m going to have a look behind the curtain.”
The Duke pushed past patrons who danced with their hands on their hips and approached the dazed woman. Despite being a head taller and wearing black leather on a Caribbean beach, the other patrons seemed too concerned with their dancing to pay him any notice. Taking the laser spanner from his coat, the Duke subtly scanned her with the red laser.
  “Are you alright?” the Duke asked. “How do you feel?”
  “I am good, my child,” said the woman. “Praise be to the spirits.”
  “You were possessed by an alien entity,” said the Duke. “Do you remember what happened?”
  “Like a dream,” she said, and the Duke placed a hand on her cheek. “Did he come?”
  “He certainly did . . .” said the Duke. “You don’t seem hurt. He said he was going to ‘bring them down’. What does that mean?”
  “Legba opens the gate, for the loa to come down,” she says. “Do you believe, brother? If you do, they may come to you.”
  “No, but I respect . . . ” muttered the Duke idly, but then he looked at the shrine covered in clothes and offerings, and quickly knelt down, lifting up the edge of the white cloth to reveal brown metal underneath. “Where did you get this support from?”
The Duke rapped it with his knuckles, then placed his hand against the surface. The woman had no time to respond as the Duke jumped up to his feet and marched swiftly for the doorway.
  “Duke, can-?” started Anise.
  “-wait here,” interrupted the Duke, heading right past them.
  “Where the hell is he going?” said Edison.
  “Chess, do you remember Olivia?” asked Anise, turning to the Inspector.
  “Olivia? Was she at the party?”
  “No, Livia, that girl who kept coming back to life.”
  “Yeah . . .” said Edison, frowning.
  “And that ape-man with the French accent, who had red eyes?”
  “Red eyes . . .” said Edison, his jaw dropping as it dawned on him. “And the Duke said it was a ‘powerful psychic force’!”
  “Yes. Livia said she was into voodoo too. This must be related.”
As they spoke, one of the dancing women began moaning and shaking violently as she danced, lolling her head around her neck as though on drugs.
  “So, that ‘psychic force’ was her being controlled by a voodoo god?”
  “I guess,” said Anise, staring intently at the violently dancing woman. “But, they’re loa, not gods. They’re god-like, but only powerful spirits, kinda like angels.”
With a sudden gasp, the woman seemed to snap out of her gyrations and stood up straight. All of the dancing stopped and people watched patiently and reverently as the new loa revealed itself. She opened her eyes to reveal deep, bloodshot red as she brought both hands up to her head to feel her hair. Now that she was standing still, people could see that she was a beautiful girl, with full lips and womanly curves. She clicked her tongue softly as she ran her hands through her hair, then down her chest, feeling the curves and sighed deeply.
She turned and swaggered towards the table of offerings, dipped two fingers in a bowl of white chalk and then wiped them across both of her cheeks in a slashing pattern, then she turned around, smiling devilishly, as blood trickled from the corners of her mouth.
  “This is way different from the church I know . . .” Edison whispered nervously to Anise.

The Duke walked around the repurposed ruins, striding swiftly but carefully through the long grass. There were several trees off to the side, a small cemetery and the sun was beginning to set, leaving a quiet ominence to the Haitian shore, but the as the Duke rounded the ruins and saw the back wall, he smiled.
  “That explains it,” said the Duke, stopping to stroke his beard. The rear of the ruins were open and crumbled away, but the sheet with the symbol had been raised up to cover the gap in the wall. The “table” they were using to support the offerings for their shrine, was the flat top of the support structure to an ancient stargate. From this side, the Duke could see the ramp which would otherwise lead up into the wormhole, jutting out the back. “But, where is the ring . . . ?”
The ruins were too short for the six-metre tall ring to fit inside, and there was no sign of it on the outside either, it had been removed from the mechanism. The Duke steps up onto the ramp, and looks at his spanner as he scanned around with the red laser.
  “If I could just search for another source . . . and the naquadah here is interfering with the probing laser,” the Duke said, annoyed. He put the laser spanner back in his pocket. “If I were a wormhole generator, which had been removed from my support mechanism, where would I be?”
  “What are you doin’ up zere, boy?” called a voice. The Duke glanced over to see a black man in a worn-out, old top hat standing by the small, crooked gate of the cemetery, leaning on a rusty shovel. The man had white powder rubbed on his weathered cheeks, nose and forehead; long, salt-and-pepper coloured dreadlocks around his shoulders and spoke with a French accent, and heavy alveolar trill.
  “I’m looking for something in particular,” said the Duke. “Large ring, covered in symbols?”
  “Mon ami, I see all kinds in ‘ere, eh? Silver teeth, weddin’ rings, lip piercings - and I ne pas mean ze ones in your mouth, eh.” said Top Hat with a smirk, glancing at the gravestones behind him. “Zey try to take zem all . . . I understand, we ‘ave fallen on ‘ard times; but, as ze warden of zis cour, I’m afraid I can’t let you disturb ze patrons restin’ ‘ere.”
  “I am not a graverobber,” said the Duke, approaching the churchyard. “It’s not jewellery, this ring is taller than me, with thirty-six sigils and lights around it. Very powerful.”
  “What would you want with a ring like zat?” asked Top Hat.
  “It’s the active component of this machine,” said the Duke. “If you have enough power, you can travel galaxies with such a device.”
  “If you do not know where it is, zen how do you know what it does?”
The Duke approached the man in the graveyard, glancing at him with intrigue.
  “I have seen it before,” said the Duke, “or, I should say, after. But you do not seem surprised, confused or even dismissive of such a technology. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that you seem to know more about it than I do.”
The Duke looked the old man in the eye, and saw that his eyes were bloodshot.
“What’s your name, gravedigger?” asked the Duke.
  “Baron Cimetiere, ‘umbly at your service” said Top Hat, with a tip of the ratty old brim atop his head, and a broad grin revealing yellow teeth.
  “Are you the Baron?” asked the Duke. As he spoke, he took a step back and instinctively placed his hand on his hip for the gun that was no longer there.
  “Non, zat fils de pute ‘as soiled ze name ‘Baron’,” said Cimetiere, spitting at the ground with disgust. “It is my title, but mon frère ze Crook, he takes zat name and poisoned it. I prefer Monsieur Graveyard.”
  “But you’re one of them?”
  “Oui, I am Loa,” said Cimetiere.
  “I’ve been warned about you.”
  “Warned?  Dare I ask, by who?”
  “A demon.”
  “Yet you trust ‘im?”
  “I don’t know who to trust. The last time I met one of you, he was experimenting on an innocent girl, as punishment for some immaterial slight. They tortured and killed her.”
  “And ‘is name was ze Baron?”
  “Yes,” said the Duke coldly.
  “Well, zat would be Kriminel. Baron Kriminel is a cruel loa, And for as long as I ‘ave known him, he seeks power greater zan ‘e owns. In my ‘umble opinion, a disgrace to ze name Baron.”
  “A disgrace, yet you called him your brother?”
  “Oui, I and my three brez’rin, we are Lwa D’Morte, Loa of ze Dead.”
  “Four loa of the dead? Why four?”
  “Because zere are so many sides to it. Ze Loa of Deadlines, watches you travel to your life’s end. I am Loa of Dying, I watch as zey pass from one side to ze hereafter. Loa of Death, he walks alongside ze spirits. But Kriminel, he is Loa of Decay, lauds over corruption, rot and murder.”
  “If he is so evil, and you think him a disgrace, then why do you tolerate him?”
  “We must,” said Cimetiere, “It is ze will of god, Bon’dieu. But Kriminel is not evil. Cruel? Yes. Dangerous? Yes. But a loyal, faithful man ‘e is. I hate him, but I respect his couilles.
  “I think I understand,” said the Duke. “So, do you know where the wormhole generator is?”
  “Oui,” said Cimetiere.
  “Where is it?” said the Duke.
  “Somewhere safe,” said Cimetiere.
The Duke glanced behind the man into the graveyard.
  “May I see it?”
  “You don’t need it,” said Cimetiere, “You made it zis far, you can leave ze way you came.”
  “I need to ensure that it is safe,” said the Duke.
  “Do you not trust, mon ami?” said Cimetiere with another wicked smile.
  “It is not that I don’t trust you,” said the Duke sincerely, “But I do trust time, and I know that in a time to come - many decades from now - it will be taken by a dangerous organization known as the Eighty-Eight.”
  “Zis is my cour,” said Cimetiere sounding almost insulted, “I control all zat steps foot on my sacred ground, none can take ze portail from my grasp.”
  “You have a machine that can send someone through space,” said the Duke. “But I have a machine that can send someone through time. I have been to the future, I have stood within it, and in that future this wormhole generator will be in the hands of the Eighty-Eight.”
  “Have you come to stop zem?” asked Cimetiere.
  “Perhaps . . . if I have to,” said the Duke.
  “I promise you, nul can walk amongst my ‘eadstones, unless I allow it. If it is in ze future, zen it is fate. As La Croix would say, ‘zat is ze path we choose to walk’. But perhaps, when zese . . . “Huit-et-Huit” come, zen you will see.”
  “If it’s alright by you, I probably will . . .” said the Duke. “But I have one question.”
  “Oui, mon ami?”
  “You are hiding the wormhole generator. But you clearly didn’t expect me to come looking for it. Who are you hiding it from? The humans?”
  “Imbécile . . .” said Cimetiere, “Humanité is free to use zis portail, I am not ‘iding anyzing! It does not belong to ze Loa; but zis portail is antique, ze oldest I ‘ave seen in ze universe, and it ‘as no télécommande.” The old gravedigger looked up at the star-studded sky above, and spoke as he gazed off. “ I dial ze co-ordinates for any terrien zat wish to step beyond l’monde, and watch all zat pass, come or go. But if you want to use humanité’s gate, first get zeir permission.”
  “Perhaps I will,” said the Duke turning toward the church, “thank you.”
  “Il ñ'y a pas de quoi,” said Cimetiere quietly, as he leant down to dig, “. . . Duc d’Rathea.”

The Duke walked around to the entrance of the church, but as he did, Inspector Edison grabbed his arm and pulled him to the side.
  “Duke, we need to go,” said Edison, under his breath, leading him to a quiet corner where Anise was huddled..
  “What do you mean?” asked the Duke.
  “You didn’t see that last possessed girl. Duke, she was spitting blood and grabbing at people, burning marks on them,” said Edison.
   “She was castin’ hoodoo over the women, and dancin’ crazy-like.”
  “Hoodoo?” said the Duke. “Do you mean supernatural powers? You’re talking about magic, Anise. Illusionism, and sleight of hand. I assure you, there’s no such thing as magic.”
There was a cry out from behind the Duke as a dancing man suddenly flailed his arms around, his arms shuddered from a sudden flexing of muscles, then he began breathing heavily, his eyes wide open. The man was tall with short, curly black hair and he wore a striped polo shirt and jeans, but bare feet with toes curled from pain as he was possessed, and everyone else stopped dancing and stepped back. As the man clenched his teeth, the whites of his eyes grew red from the veins swelling with bright blood. With a painful groan he suddenly relaxed, exhaled calmly and smiled, standing up straight.
  “Now, he we are . . .” said the man, speaking in a Cajun accent. He glanced around for a moment before his smile dropped. “I want my hat. Where’s my foutu hat?”
At the sound of the voice, the Duke slowly and coldly turned around.
Some people closest to the shrine grabbed at the top hat, and the first young boy to get it quickly brought it over, holding it out towards him within arm’s reach. The man slowly and carefully pinched the hat between two fingers. As the boy let go, the man’s hand snapped forward and grabbed the boy’s wrist. He squealed, terrified.
“Did you forget something?” said the man as the boy whimpered. “ . . . gloves?”
A scared looking woman snatched a pair of gloves and a handful of chalk from the shrine and ran over holding them an inch from his face, the handful of chalk, and the thin, black cotton gloves with green and yellow lines around the wrist. He let go of the boy and grabbed the chalk with his left hand, and smeared it on the left side of his face, leaving it dusted white. Then he took the gloves with his other hand, and the woman grabbed the boy cooing to him as a mother, walking away as the man donned the gloves.
  “The Baron,” said the Duke, spitting out the name as though it was sour.
  “So, you want war?” said Baron Kriminel, looking around “Dem Tonton Macoute are my blood, you talkin’ war and fightin’ back. You gonna fight dirty, you wanna stop ‘em boys.”
  “Baron, they are killing us,” said the leading mambo woman, walking up to him.
  “You want fair trade?” said the Baron, he stepped forward and grabbed her backside, pressing his crotch to her side and grinding with a vulgar moan, then whispered in her ear, but his voice rattled deep and husky and from the silent crowd everyone heard him say. “I want a prayer from you. But, you want death, bring me death . . . a sacrifice. Three this time.”
  “Yes, Baron,” she said. He smiled crookedly and let go of her.
  “That’s what I wanna hear . . . yes, yes, YES!” he said, clapping his hands. “Come on, this is a good night, rejoice! Now, get me someone gettin’ me a drink!”
People started to dance, although some of them looked nervous. As the woman moved through a back passage to head outside, the Baron turned to the shrine of offerings. There, someone was pouring him a glass of wine. He  walked over, smacking the glass so it spilled on the sand, and grabbed the bottle. He took a swig and grunted with a smirk. “Good red,” he said.
The Duke’s hands were shaking with anger and he started to move towards the Baron, but Edison grabbed his shoulder.
  “Stop,” he said, his voice hushed “Do you remember last time? He’s much too powerful.”
  “That’s what these people all think,” said the Duke, growling at Edison, staring him dead in the eye. “They’re too scared because he’s so powerful, so they do everything he says. That’s not power, that’s an abuse of power.”
  “You think I don’t know that?” said Edison. “But you’ll make things worse by pissing him off.”
The Duke looked at Edison coldly, and he stood up straight. No longer looking him in the eye, at his full height he was three inches taller, and he looked down at Edison.
  “You underestimate how dangerous I can be when I’m ‘pissed off’,” said the Duke.
The two of them turned when they heard the sound of fluttering and clucking, and they saw the mambo woman return, holding two black chickens, each upside down and held by the legs. The second woman wearing black and red followed holding a third. Each was let go and they flapped down to land awkwardly near the centre poll of the building, and they scratched around, squawked and one even ran around trying to go back out the door where it had come, but the other patrons herded it back to join the others.
Baron took a few steps towards the three, took a swig of wine, and spat it out at the chickens in a spray. The chickens were wetted, but not much agitated.
  “Magnifique,” he said, chuckling. “Now, where is it? Pétrole? I want holocaust!”
  Someone with a metal jerry can came forward and doused it over the chickens. Each flapped and scrawked, upset, as they were covered and the room filled with the smell of vaporized petrol.
  “What the hell?” said Anise, as someone brought over a candle and placed it to the chicken’s sodden feathers. The bird suddenly burst into flame and began flapping wildly, jumping and shrieking. The Baron smiled cruelly and laughed as the bird jumped and cried out.
The Duke charged forth and skidded to a stop, digging his foot in the sand to send it spraying at the chicken, Then kicking up the sand with his other foot, he doused the flames, then stared daggers at Baron Kriminel.
  “Que diable? You merde chatte! What in god’s name do you think you’re doin’?!”
  “Rescuing an innocent creature from a monster,” said the Duke, looking at the bird. All of its feathers were charred and covered in sand, and it looked distressed, but it was not hurt. “You enjoy watching harmless creatures burn?”
  “Yes,” said the Baron. “How dare you stop my sacrifice?!”
  “I dare because I have empathy for innocent lives! I don’t care how powerful you are, nothing has the right to molest morality and good sense this way!”
The Baron stared at the Duke, and everyone watched in stunned silence, only the clucking of the chickens could be heard. Then, the Baron smiled.
  “You must be swingin’ coconuts to stand there like that, but it has been a long time since I’ve needed to throw my weight around . . . I’m the Baron of Decay, I watch rot and bleeding and slow, insidious death.” The Baron took two careful steps towards the Duke, till he was a few inches away from his face. “I relish the chance to rip you a new urètre.”
  “I’m not scared of you,” said the Duke.
“I’m not really here, sot naïf,” said the Baron. “And I already know how to hurt you . . .”
The Baron smiled, and slowly removed the glove from his left hand, showing the still-chalky fingers. Baring his teeth, he stuck his thumb in his mouth, then bit down with a sickening crack, blood squirting out, making some people faint and others groan or scream in horror. The Duke’s face went from anger to horror. The Baron held up the bleeding stump of his thumb and spat the digit at the Duke, so it bounced off his chest.
  “You don’t like me hurtin’ innocents? I will break every bone in this building!”
  “You’d hurt your own people?”
  “I do whatever the fout’ I want to, nègre!” said the Baron, “But would you? Would you hurt me? This man has a family, a mammy and a pappy who love him so so much.”
The Baron suddenly grabbed the Duke by the throat with his right hand, and Anise squealed.
  “Duke, no!” she called out, and the Baron started laughing.
  “I got you by the throat, boy!” said the Baron. “and I don’t even mean your collet.”
The Baron let go of the Duke and pointed his hand, bleeding all over the floor, towards Anise.
  “You a friend o’ his? His squeeze? Bet he wants to baise your honeypot, non?” said the Baron as he walked towards Anise and Edison.
  “Leave her alone!” said the Duke, and the Baron turned to face him.
  “Will you walk?” he said, sternly and seriously. “You beg forgiveness, get out of my lakou and respect my name? Respect the Baron?”
The Duke sneered, disgusted.
“No, don’t you dare, boy! Once chance, I give you . . . one . . . merde. To hell with you.” The Baron’s eyes glowed like red lightbulbs as he turned to Anise. He slammed the flat of the palm of his bleeding hand into her chest, but she wasn’t knocked back. There was a sudden flush of wind, that disappeared as quick as it came, then the Baron slowly drew his hand away from Anise muttering to himself, and with it a red, ghostly image, transparent but shaped exactly like Anise, was pulled from her body. As the ghost was removed from her, Anise’s body fell, Edison caught her and tried to help her up, but the phantom-image still seemed to struggle.
  “NO!” screamed the Duke.
  “YES!” snarked the Baron. “I’m taking your woman, nègre. You want her back, you’ll give your respect to me! Your soul for hers . . . fair trade.”
The red spectre floated up and out through the ceiling, and simultaneously the man seemed to stumble, dazed. There was silence before the man suddenly screamed in agony and grabbed his bleeding hand, tears streaming down his face from the pain. The Baron was gone. Several people ran forward to help the screaming man.
The Duke ran to Anise and kneeled down.
  “Anise!” called the Duke, leaning over her.
  “She’s alive,” said Edison, putting a hand on Duke’s chest to hold him back “Pulse, breathing, all good. But she’s gone. It’s like a . . . a coma, or something.”
  “He took her . . .” said the Duke, cradling Anise’s cheek in his hand. “Stripped her neurons of her mind . . . I have to get her back.” The Duke rose to his feet.
  “What are you going to do?” asked Edison.
The Duke turned and walked out of the church.
“Duke, come back!” Edison called after him, but he didn’t follow, he stayed behind to help the bleeding Haitian man. The Duke got to the dirt track and ran, as he did the starlit sky above him seemed to darken from the gathering clouds. He arrived at the treeline, and marched across the beachsand towards the Lift, when there was a crack of thunder, and red electricity sparked in the sky above. There was another crack, and a red bolt of energy struck the lift, sending crackling arcs of power across the surface, then the clouds swiftly descended, roaring like a contained storm. The unnaturally dark purple clouds surrounded the Lift, spinning like a slow tornado.
The Duke ignored it, marching towards the Lift, but was suddenly struck in the shoulder by a spike of red electricity. He cried out in pain and dropped to his knees. Then, the tornado slowly lifted and settled, leaving only the sand behind.
  “No . . . no no NO!” screamed the Duke. Gritting his teeth, he slammed a fist into the ground out of anger. Then again, again and again, before leaning back and screaming at the sky like an animal. He rose to his feet, gripping his sore shoulder, and stalked towards the church once more.

The Duke returned to the church to see people gathering around the back of a pickup truck. Through the black crowd, Edison stood out, standing on the bed of the truck, talking to the injured man that was lying down, holding his bleeding hand up straight, he had a shoelace around the stump that was his thumb.
  “Above your head, higher than your heart, so it doesn’t bleed so much, take deep breaths and you’ll be okay” said Edison. As he saw the Duke, he stood up and patted another man on the shoulder. “Keep pressure on that thumb.”
Edison jumped over the side of the truck, back onto the sand and walked towards the Duke as the engine started on the truck.
  “Where the hell were you?” Edison asked the Duke, as he cleared the crowd.
  “The timeship, but it’s been taken away. The Baron took it!” said the Duke.
  “You were just going to leave?! That man is bleeding to death,” said Edison.
  “I don’t know medicine, I can’t help him any more than these people could. But I can help Anise!” growled the Duke, walking past the church.
  “What about me? Do you care that you left me here to clean up this mess?” asked Edison, and he held out his hands. “I have his blood on my hands. Nobody here knows how to deal with a severed finger, I had to do your dirty work. And this country has a high risk of H.I.V. too, that was stupid . . . for goodness sake, Duke, will you stop and look at me?”
  The Duke whirled around and shouted in Edison’s face, “I have to save Anise!”
 “Do you think I don’t know that?!” demanded Edison. “You have to stop and think, Duke!”
  “Just STAY out of my WAY!” roared the Duke, he turned and kicked open the churchyard gate, marching onto the grounds. He took the laser spanner from his pocket.
  “What on Earth are you doing?” asked Edison.
The Duke ignored him as he scanned the area with a red laser on his spanner, then began to walk towards the centre of the yard, but as he did a green semi-transparent hand reached up from the ground and grabbed his ankle and the Duke tripped over. As he rolled over to stand up, three more hands appeared and grabbed onto his legs and leather jacket with a ghoulish wailing sound.
  “Let go of me!” he cried out. Thrashing his arms, he swiped through the transparent arms, disturbing and weakening them slightly, but then transparent silhouettes of people slid from the ground and grabbed his arms, holding him down with echoing groans. The Duke struggled, but couldn’t escape their grasp. “I said let go!”
  “What did I tell you, mon ami?” said the old gravedigger, slipping out from behind a crooked, old tree. “None can step foot on my cour wizzout my say so.”
  “I am the Duke of Rathea!” roared the Duke, “And I DEMAND you let me go!”
  “Do you zink you are ze first to charge into my yard, screamin’?” asked Cimetiere, stepping forward, plunging his shovel into the ground in front of the Duke. He knelt down, holding the handle for support. The Duke struggled, crying out and flexing against the ethereal hands of the ghastly people, as he did the old, black man just watched quietly. After a minute, the Duke stopped, exhausted.
  “Please . . . I need help, please?”
  “Not from me, mon ami,” said Cimetiere. He gave a dismissive gesture, and the phantoms dragged the Duke backwards. The Duke struggled to gain his footing, but they stood him at the gate and threw him out. The Duke collapsed onto the ground just outside the churchyard, where Edison was standing.
  “What the hell is going on?” asked Edison, kneeling down. He offered a hand to the Duke, and the Duke glanced at it bitterly, then sighed, and took the hand.
  “I have found the wormhole generator,” said the Duke. “It’s beyond the gate, but Monsieur Graveyard is guarding it . . . he threw me out.”
  “Well, what do you expect when you’re charging around like a raging rhino?”
The Duke gritted his teeth and closed his eyes.
  “I apologize.”
  “ . . . what?” said Edison, surprised.
  “I have . . . a severe temperament. I mean no disrespect,” said the Duke, holding up an open hand, but his arm was shaking. “But, I have to save Anise. I know exactly what I have to do, I need to use the machine, I need your help. Please . . . help me,” said the Duke.
  “How? What the hell is going on?” asked Edison. “I’ve seen vampires and werewolves, now ghosts. Tell me what’s going on Duke.”
  “I don’t have TIME!” roared the Duke, he stepped forward and grabbed Edison’s upper arms tightly, but when Edison winced he let go, clenching his fists.. “I . . . do you trust me, Inspector?”
  “No,” said Edison, staring at the seething duke. “But . . . I trust how much you care for Anise. What do you need me to do?”
  “Follow me,” said the Duke. He stormed back into the churchyard. Edison, having seen what happened last time he went in, hesitated, but then the Duke yelled “Come on!”
As they moved to the centre, the green figures appeared near the edges of the yard, but none of them approached.
  “They’re just psychic residue, Edison,” said the Duke, when he saw Edison’s eyes darting around.. “Don’t be afraid.”
  “Ahh, back so soon, mon ami?” said the old gravedigger, still standing next to the shovel he’d plunged into the ground just moments ago.
  “Cimetiere!” called out the Duke, his voice sounding slightly hoarse. “Let me pass.”
  “You ‘ave autorisation?” he replied, the green ghosts encroaching closer.
  “Yes. Inspector, tell him I can use the wormhole generator.”
  “‘Tell ‘im’?” said the loa, shaking his head, “Inspecteur, you don’t ‘ave to do as ‘e tells you. I will kick ‘im out again, if you want.”
  “Why does he need to ask me,” asked Edison.
  “Because it is yours - humanité’s portail - I will not let aliens charge in wizzout permission.”
Edison glanced at the Duke before nodding at the gravedigger.
  “Sure, he can use the portal,” said Edison with a shrug. “ . . . but only if I go with him.”
  “Fine.” The Duke, glared.
  “Zere . . . not so ‘ard, was it?” said Cimetiere, grinning. “Suiveurs, soulèvent l’portail . . .”
The loa took his shovel out of the ground and walked five steps away, then plunged it into the ground once more but this time it sent deep cracks across the graveyard dirt. There was a crumbling sound as the ground shifted, and fossilized, old skeletons with glowing, red, pinpoint eyes crawled out of the earth, all standing in a circle. There were six in total, caked mud and grass clinging to their ribs and teeth. The dried earth fell away from them as they mechanically, jaggedly clawed themselves from the ground.
  “What the hell . . .” said Edison, taking a few steps back. As he did, one of the phantoms behind him moaned, its echoing, hollow voice made him gasp.
The skeletons reached into the dirt and pulled up a large, dark metal ring - the stargate. The ring had been buried a few inches beneath the soil, but they lifted it upright before the Duke and Edison, with Baron Cimetiere standing in the middle of the ring, dirt pouring around him and over him, tumbling off his top hat. As the ring rose upright, the skeletons crouched down, and in synchrony they stopped, the gate stood tall, each of them holding the gate in place, three either side in a perfect symmetry of painful servitude, two of them near the base held out their arms to form rudimentary steps, then the red from their eyes faded away.
  “Now, take me to the Baron!” said the Duke, baring his teeth like an angry dog.
  “Are you sure?” said the gravedigger, leaning on his shovel once more. “Know that ‘e is très loin, many stars from here. It will take a lot of énergie to send you there, and you will need just as much énergie to return”
  “We will make our own way back,” said the Duke. “Dial the co-ordinates.”
Baron Cimetiere nodded, then raised his hand and slowly moved his hand around, drawing a circle in the air. As he moved his hand, the entire gate seemed to crackle and spark with red electricity. When the entire gate was live with power, he began snapping his hands towards the gate. With each violent gesture, a bolt of red lightning shot from his hand and struck somewhere around the ring, and where it did, the symbol on that portion of the ring became illuminated. He lit up nine symbols around the ring, when suddenly the energy coalesced within the ring and the unstable vortex burst forth with a whoosh. It finally settled, leaving a glistening pool of silvery water.
  “Come on,” the Duke said to Edison. He quickly walked up to the gate, climbed over the bones that formed steps into the wormhole, and disappeared into the event horizon of the wormhole. Edison, not wanting to be left behind, quickly made his way up and left the world.

The Duke stepped out of the stargate onto a speckled animal skin that carpeted the floor. The room was two storeys tall, and brightly lit with gas lights that were in the top corners of the shalestone-walled room, and spaced along either side leading to the end, where three chairs waited ten metres away from the stargate which sat at the other end of the room; off in the corner behind the chairs was the Lift, just as it had looked on the beach. Each of the chairs was hewn from hardwood, with red leather as the cushion, but the chair in the centre was twice as tall as the two that flanked it, taller than any human person could possibly be, topped with the cruel-looking antlers of some alien stag. Both arms of the chair had a chain leading from them to a leather collar around the neck of a hyena-like creature with spotty, brown and grey fur and a wild mane. One of them was asleep, but the other was loudly chewing and slavering over a large bloody bone, which looked disturbingly like a human femur.
In the chair sat Baron Kriminel, himself, not possessing an earthling host. He was a skinny black man with wiry muscle. He didn’t wear a shirt, or shoes but had a dusty tuxedo jacket on, a broken top-hat with the discoloured silk tearing at the seams and trousers shredded around his ankles. He wore dark brown, fingerless leather gloves on his hands, and an eye-patch with similar brown material over his left eye. He was lounging in his chair, stroking a small, glass in his hands, with white lines on it and a lit candle inside.
Edison stepped out behind the Duke, and the portal closed behind them. As soon as the Inspector saw the Baron, he looked sick.
  “Duke, whatever you’re going to do, can we do it quick?”
  “BARON!” shouted the Duke, his voice harsh, echoing against the mottled grey walls
The Baron glanced  looked up from the box in his hands, and smirked.
  “Duke,” he said quietly and mockingly, getting to his feet and stepping over the feeding hyena-creature. His voice sounded hoarse, as though he had smoked every day of his life. “This girl got a beautiful soul, I see why you like ‘er . . . honeysweet” said the Baron, placing the jar on his throne and standing there, patiently, staring at the Duke. The Duke walked towards him, walking over assorted animal skins that lead up to the three chairs.
  “Where is Anise?” said the Duke.
  “Safe . . . for now,” said the Baron. “Stuck to a govi jar. All yours, for the right price.”
  “You want my ‘soul’?” asked the Duke, coming to stand two metres away. At that distance, he could see the Baron’s face more clearly. The entire left side of his face looked emaciated and gaunt, paled and skeletal.
  “Yesssss,” hissed the Baron, “A pledge, to me. A prayer. A promise to the Baron.”
  “Do I kneel down? Do I kiss your feet?”
  “Non, just pray,” said the Baron. He smiled as he looked at the Duke, but when the timelord didn’t move, staring coldly back at the Baron, his smile dropped.
  “What are you doing, Duke?” asked Edison, standing back behind him. The Duke didn’t answer.
“You think you’re strong, don’t you? Is that why you’re here?” asked the Baron
  “I’m here to get my friend back!” growled the Duke.
  “By bein’ a hero?” said the Baron. “I’ve seen a lot of heroes in my time, they want to test me, see if they can bleed out my power, take my throne . . . all of them rotted away.”
  “I don’t like bullies . . .”
  “I don’t like wearin’ socks, je ne donne pas une baise,” The Baron held out his hand, and his one visible eye glowed red as the jar lifted from the throne, the occult hand of voodoo telekinetically raised it in the air and placed it in the Baron’s open palm. “I got you by the balls, Duke! One wrong step, I break this jar, your beloved beaux dies, forever. I have all the power, this is my world, nègre!”
  “Do you think I haven’t faced someone like you, before?” said the Duke, baring his teeth. “I am the Duke of Rathea! Warriors, fighters, terrorists, maniacs, genocidal monsters - and, yes, even those that think themselves gods! - all of them stood before me and declared me defeated and dead! You’re not the first to say as much, but there’s an enormous difference between you and the corpses of those I have stood upon, victorious! Do you know what that is, ‘Baron’?!”
The Baron shrugged, still flippant and calm.
  “Please . . . tell me. I’m shakin' to know.”
  “They stood before me on Rathea, they threatened my people . . .” said the Duke, quietly. “My world is dead, razed and burned to dust. I stood upon the ruins of my kingdom, I held in my hand the ashes and dust that used to be the blood of my people!” said the Duke, he held up his shaking hand, his voice breaking with emotion. “I was left behind! My people all dead! I was ready to die with them . . . until Anise. She taught me to live, again.”
  “I still hold all the cards,” says the Baron smirking cruelly, holding the jar in front of him. It looked so small and fragile. “Now I know how much she means to you, I still have the upperhand.”
  “No . . .” growled the Duke, frowning severely. “You still don’t understand . . .”
The Duke suddenly screamed and leapt forward, as fast as a hungry tiger, grabbing the Baron by the skull. He started smacking the Baron’s face into the chair. Out of sheer surprise, he dropped the jar, it landing on the fur on the ground.
The feeding were-hyena snarled and jumped, but the Duke kicked it in the face, making it fall back, whining. The Baron was frowning as the Duke held his face in his hands, and he screamed.
The Duke pulled the Baron up by his head, and swiftly wrenched his head around, making a disturbing crack!
The Duke dropped his head, and the Baron’s limp body crumpled to the floor, then the Duke looked at his hands. He was breathing heavily, like a raging bull. He threw a punch at the leather of the chair in front of him, then pressed his hands to his head, screaming.
  “Duke, stop it!” yelled Edison, running forward, “Duke, STOP!”
The Duke fell to his knees and cried out, his eyes tearful, and he screamed again, wordlessly, this time his throat sounding ragged.   “Duke, please . . .” said Edison, running up and placing a hand on his shoulder. At first, the touch made him flinch, but then the Duke seemed to calm, his breathing started to slowly calm down.
  “I didn’t want you to see this . . .” murmured the Duke.
  “You killed him, Duke.”
  “I know . . . I couldn’t . . . Anise.”
  “Duke, just focus. We need to get out of here,” said Edison. He reached down and picked up the jar that had fallen on the ground. It had white hearts and symbols drawn on the glass, and inside was white dust, a lit candle that burned despite the sealed lid its flame bright red, small chains and some chicken bones were scattered around inside as well. “We’ve got her back, let’s just get out of here, okay.”
The Duke stared at the little candle in the jar, and seemed to smile at the corners of his mouth.
  “Okay . . .”
Edison helped the Duke slowly get to his feet, and they walked over the the Lift, the Duke looked tired as he unlocked the door and lead the way inside. Edison watched as the Duke walked into the centre and looked over the Lift’s console within the main control room. He held the jar in his hand, looking at the candle. It seemed so small, but he was assured that this was Anise - everything of who she was.
  “Inspector,” said the Duke, not looking him in the eye, “can I ask something of you?”
  “Yeah. Sure,” said Edison.
  “Could you not tell Anise what I said?”
  “About how much she means to you?” asked Edison.
The Duke nodded.
  “Why?” asked Edison.
  “It’s not her fault,” said the Duke. “I used to be . . . I don’t like the person I used to be. When he died, I was lost, and she helped me find a new me. A new Duke. But I’m still young, still learning, it’s a lot of pressure to put on one person, to be your conscience. Your sanity. Your guide . . .”
  “You love her, don’t you?” interrupted Edison.
The Duke didn’t answer, merely sighed deeply.
  “Please, just promise me that you won’t tell her. Either she will be scared, and leave. Or she will feel trapped, and obliged to stay. I don’t want that, and she shouldn’t be forced to choose.”
  “Okay, Duke,” said Edison. “Mum’s the word . . . when we put her soul back, I promise I won’t tell her anything about what happened. But, tell me one thing. Did you know that you were going to snap his neck before we stepped through the wormhole?”
  “I didn’t want to . . .” said the Duke, and he stared off across the control room.
  “That doesn’t really answer my question,” said Edison.
  “No. It doesn’t,” said the Duke. He started flicking and switching dials, then pulled the ignition lever.

From the throneroom, the Lift started to shift and groan, and it made the lights flicker as it started to fade from existence, then with a wheeze and a thud, the ship vworped away. A few moments after it left, there was a soft hissing sound. In front of the throne, the collapsed form of the Baron was lying, head twisted around, but purple smoke was pouring out of his nose. The smoke quickly formed into a cloud above the throne, several wisps stretching out like tentacles. Then it found the maned hyena-creature that was licking its bleeding muzzle. The poor animal whined, scared, as the smoke found its nose, then aggressively flooded its mouth and nostrils. The entire cloud slipped into the animal’s airways, and once it did, the poor creature stopped whimpering, and as its eyes glowed bright red, it snarled, viciously.