KNIGHT’S GAMBIT - Dizzy Dolphin
Argent, first seen in Knight - Errant and more so in Knight Light, is back and Lee is about to take a trip. Some knowledge of Knight Light might be helpful but not required, just make a leap of faith.
A gambit (from ancient Italian gambetto, meaning tripping) is a chess opening in which a player, most often White, sacrifices material, usually a pawn, with the hope of achieving a resulting advantageous position.
Some violence near the end, not prolonged or overly graphic but could be unsettling to some.
Argent arched his back and purred loudly, enjoying the back scratch from Chip Morton, the XO of the famous submarine Seaview. This wasn’t the first time the cat and man had met, but Chip didn’t remember anything about their previous encounter that had been removed from his memory, from everyone’s memory.
Argent had popped in upon occasion after his first visit to see what was going on with Lee Crane and Harriman Nelson. He had been in charge of testing the two men for his home dimension. The two had passed with flying colours as far as he was concerned, although it was still a matter of some debate back home.
Well I guess we’ll get some resolution on that front once I get Lee home, or maybe not, never can tell just how things are going to turn out these days. Who would have thought that we’d be in the situation that now prevails! As enjoyable as Chip’s back scratch is, time to get moving.
Argent moved away from Chip, he looked around at him once and flipped his tail, then continued on his way.
“Well I guess I’ve been dismissed,” Chip chuckled. He was on his way home, Seaview would be in port for awhile and most of the crew was on leave. He’d get together with Lee in a couple of days and maybe they’d go sailing.
Lee turned quickly, for the third time that day he was sure he'd seen a silver tabby cat out of the corner of his eye. The first two times were on the NIMR grounds, this time it was when he entered the missile room onboard Seaview.
OK, I can understand maybe seeing a cat on NIMR grounds, but here? Why does the cat seem so familiar?
He shrugged and resumed his examination of the missile silos. They were empty right now; Seaview would be in port for a month while minor repairs and general 'housekeeping' was performed. As far as Lee could see, the silos were in good condition but they would be thoroughly inspected by professionals before being reloaded. He just wanted to give Seaview a once over before the specialists swarmed all over her. Naturally he would inspect her again when the work was all done, until then he had an office full of unending reports and requisitions to look over at the Institute and he planned to spend some time with Chip just relaxing. He knew Admiral Nelson would be up to his eyeballs in scientific journals and reports, not to mention planning future research cruises for them.
Lee had dinner plans that evening with Nelson and was looking forward to spending some off boat time with the Admiral. He turned and froze, sitting in the middle of the deck was a silver tabby cat, in fact the same cat Lee was sure he’d been getting glimpses of. He met the cat’s huge hazel eyes, he could have sworn they were swirling. In that instant Lee felt like something slammed into his brain, images and memories flooded in. Some receded and faded but others stayed clearly in his mind.
Argent. Lee thought to the cat, knowing the actual speech was not necessary, that the cat would understand him.
Greetings Lee. I have come for you.
Whoa, hold on a minute. What do you mean 'come for me’?
Lee knew there was a lot that he had just forgotten as suddenly as he’d remembered it but what had stayed was that Argent wasn't from this world, that he himself had some interesting genetics in his past.
Lee Crane, son of a noble house, you are called home. Argent began to enlarge, stretch up, and grow fuzzy as he moved towards Lee.
Place your hand on my body.
Lee felt compelled to obey, he reached out and placed his right hand on Argent, locking his eyes on the cats. As he made contact a silver, sparkling light began to swirl out from Argent to encompass him.
Nelson crammed the last of the papers into his briefcase. He looked around his cabin to check to see if he had forgotten anything. Satisfied he shrugged into his uniform jacket, placed his cover on his head, and left for the missile room where he was meeting Lee.
As he came through the hatch his blood ran cold. Lee was semi crouched in the middle of the missile room, surrounded by an ethereal sparkling light coming from a form next to him. As Nelson watched, the light enveloping Lee started to pulse and turn hazy blue. Lee appeared to be losing definition in the light, he was stretched forward, a hand on the other form in the light, his eyes were locked on whatever it was and he appeared to be breathing hard through parted lips.
"Bloody Hell!" Nelson swore, "Over my dead body!" He dropped his case and his cover fell from his head as he rushed forward, flinging himself at Lee, trying to grab Lee around the waist to pull him free.
Nelson didn’t know how Lee was doing, but it seemed to him that all the air was being crushed out of his lungs. He had no idea what he had gotten himself into; he had reacted strictly on instinct seeing Lee trapped in the hazy blue light. There was just no way he was letting anything happen to Lee, even if that meant leaping headfirst into a totally unknown situation.
He had managed to get a grip on Lee and then worried that he might lose it, as pressure built around them. He soon noticed that he seemed to be ‘glued’ to Lee. Then he had a feeling of lightness, as if everything that made him physical was detaching.
The Admiral couldn’t contain his scientific curiosity even though he was in the midst of a very startling experience. He contemplated the science behind delinking his and Lee’s cellular structure and fervently hoped that who or whatever was doing this could also recombine their cells correctly. That was his final thought as they disappeared from the missile room.
On Lee’s part he was simple thinking, ‘beam me up Scotty1.’
In what seemed no time at all they were inside the light again and it began to dissipate around them. Nelson released his grip around Lee and took a step back. He noticed that Lee’s right hand now rested in the middle of the back of a distinguished looking, silver haired man. Well ‘man-ish’ he supposed, there was a not quite right look to him, rather to thin and tall, his silver hair was strangely full and fluffy.
Lee was only a little less disoriented than the Admiral. He knew something was going to happen when he put his hand on Argent’s back, since Argent had said he was ‘called home’ he’d figured that he was going on a trip, whether he wanted to or not. Through the sparkling cloud he had vaguely noticed Nelson enter the missile room, pause and then leap towards him as the light turned blue. He had then felt something around his waist, correctly guessing it was the Admiral trying to pull him free.
Now that he appeared to have arrived at his destination his ONI training kicked in. Noticing but dismissing the Admiral for the moment, as he seemed fine, he noted that his silver tabby cat was now a tall, slim ‘man’, with startling silver hair, he was dressed in robes of white and silver. Lee surveyed the hall they had materialized in. It featured a high vaulted ceiling, large colourful pennants hung from pillars. Enormous arched, stained-glass windows depicted scenes that were totally alien to Lee. Well if I were home I’d say I was in the Great Hall of a castle. No one else seems to be around.
“But you are home Lee Crane,” advised the silver haired man next to him.
Lee noticed that it wasn’t telepathic communication anymore.
“It could be, but as m’Lady is making an effort to be ‘earthlike’ we are simulating manual speech, although as you see, I still read your thoughts when I like.”
“Well stop it Argent, or do you have another name here?”
“Yes, but you could not pronounce it, so Argent will continue to do. There is much for you to learn and a short time allotted. Prepare yourself.”
“Huh! What? Just minute.”
The ‘download’ hit Lee’s brain like a load of bricks, just as the first one in the missile room had.
During the brief time while Lee and taken in his surroundings and his short discussion with Argent, Nelson had been trying to move, or at least speak, all to no avail.
Lee blinked, holy shit!
He looked over at the Admiral, “Sir, I’m sorry but Argent has bound you for the time being, no moving, no speaking. Please trust me that for the moment it is the safest thing for you. I’ll explain when I can, just trust me, please.”
Lee didn’t like what was being done to the Admrial but this wasn’t their world and until he could sort out exactly what the rules here were, he’d have to put his trust in Argent, for now.
“Argent, could you do the same ‘download’ to the Admiral that you did to me?”
“Good lord Lee! Touch the mind of one from the House of Sonnel! Strictly forbidden and as you would put it, it would get us in a boatload of trouble. Binding him is allowed, that’s all, as it’s simple muscle paralysis.”
Argent looked toward the front of the hall when a gong like sound was heard, just before a column of silver light appeared, it swirled briefly then formed into a tall, slim imposing female. Like Argent, not quite right, to tall and slim.
She moved toward Lee, gliding more than walking.
So this is the Matriarch of the House of Nerca.
Lee stood stiffly erect, knowing that he was being scrutinized as never before.
The being completed a circle around him and stopped directly in front of him.
“Welcome, son of the House of Nerca.”
“Greetings m’Lady,” Lee replied with a deep bow.
“He will do very nicely, Argent. However, what is THAT doing here?”
Even if she hadn’t pointed Lee would have known she was referring to Admiral Nelson and he bristled at both her words and the tone in which they were spoken.
Before Argent could reply, or Lee protest, Nelson heard a gong sound in front of him. A female, just as imposing as the 1st one was materializing inches away from him and facing Matriarch Nerca.
“I strongly protest! Not only have you transported one of ‘yours’ from that backward habitat but you had the audacity to take one of mine as well!”
There was only one person that this new female could be referring to. As she looked Nelson over he noticed that her eyes were an intense, ice cold blue.
“I assure you Matriarch Sonnel, we didn’t take him. He tried to interfere with our capture and was caught up in the transport beam.”
Matriarch Sonnel’s eyes narrowed speculatively at Nelson. “Tried to interfere did you, perhaps there is more to you than it would first appear. Tell me part-breed; were you trying to kill him?”
Nelson had noticed that the restraint he had been under since arriving had disappeared when this new being arrived.
“Certainly not! I was trying to pull Captain Crane out of the light.”
“You did not want him brought here?”
“I have no idea where ‘here’ is, but I did not want him taken away period.”
She looks annoyed, Nelson didn’t really care. Suddenly he felt a sharp pain in his head which intensified, he staggered, Lee instinctively reached out to steady him. Before Lee could say anything they all heard a furious command from Matriarch Nerca, “STOP.”
Nelson took a deep breath; the pain was gone as suddenly as it had come.
Lee’s Matriarch began to speak to Nelson’s, “They may not be pure but it is still forbidden to enter their minds without permission. They do not know how to block such an intrusion.”
“It was taking to long to get information out of him.” She looked at Nelson again, “So Nelson, as you seem to be called on your world, Crane is your slave, he obeys your orders, this is good.”
Matriarch Nerca drew in a sharp breath but before she could say anything Nelson squared himself under the other’s gaze and bit out his retort.
“He is no such thing. He is the Captain of my submarine, well respected by everyone. I hold him in very high regard, both professionally and personally.”
“Curious, I saw in your mind that you are his superior. I don’t understand this ‘respect’ you claim to have for him.”
Nelson had had enough. I really don’t give a tinker’s damn what you do or do not understand. Send us back, we want no part of whatever is going on here.”
Lee could tell that the Admiral had not received the same ‘download’ of information that he had from Argent. It appeared that information had been extracted by the Matriarch, but none given. While he didn’t know exactly why he had been brought here he did know about his and the Admirals somewhat distant relationship to the entities. He also had some idea of how he was expected to act.
“Matriarch Nerca, if I may be allowed to address those present.”
“Speak, son of the House of Nerca”
“Argent came for me, I do not yet know why, but send the Admiral back, you did not want him.”
The Admiral broke in, “Either we both go back or we both stay, I’m not leaving without Captain Crane.” He gave Lee a glare that was sufficient warning not to cross him on this.
“Silence, Nelson of the House of Sonnel. You have not been granted permission to speak. It is only because of the unusualness of the circumstances that we have tolerated Matriarch Sonnel in our presence, unbidden, and allowed her to question you.”
Lee thought that the other Matriarch looked like she was about to stroke out.
“How dare you! You have taken one of my House and you ‘tolerate’ my presence!”
Nelson was puzzled, obviously she was referring to him as belonging to her House but it made no sense to him, any more that the other saying that Lee was hers.
Lee could read the confusion in the Admiral’s eyes.
“Please, Matriarch Nerca, could the Admiral not have the same knowledge download that I received. It’s not fair to discuss these matters when he has no memory of the distant relationship that exists between the Houses and us.”
“If we are sending him back there is no need for him to remember anything.”
“I told you before, I’m not going back without Captain Crane.”
“By what means do you plan to stop us if we decide to send you back. You will go if we so decide, and I can really see no reason to keep you.”
Nelson couldn’t think of a reply. She was quite correct, there was nothing he could do if they decided to send him back without Lee.
Matriarch Sonnel, who had been sulking, suddenly got a sly expression on her face.
“He wishes to stay and I have not yet chosen a Knight for the contest from the part-breeds, I select Nelson.”
Contest, Knight, what the hell are they talking about now? Wondered both men.
“It is your prerogative, Matriarch Sonnel. Nelson is proclaimed your Knight, to compete against our Knight, Crane. Argent, provide the required memories to Nelson.”
Lee staggered a bit as he coalesced in a palatial room. Why can’t they let us walk to wherever it is they want us. Damn unnerving just blinking out and back in again.
The walls were draped in flowing fabric in shades of ocean blue and white. There was a bed in the room, it was the hugest thing he’d ever seen and round. Grecian urns were scattered about, the smaller ones on pedestals.
Appears they can’t quite keep their earth styles in sync. Medieval halls and Greek bedrooms. The whole thing made him feel further disoriented. If that wasn’t sufficient he heard a soft chiming sound and then saw a delicate sparkling column of light appear a few feet from him. It formed into the most incredibly attractive female he’d ever seen, who then came flying into his arms.
“Oh help me, please help me,” she beseeched him.
Lee was totally bewildered. This was to much. He just looked at the woman nestled in his arms, and was totally speechless.
She was robed in flowing silk in shades of emerald green and lime, it felt soft beneath his hands and he could feel the warmth of her body through it, pressed tightly against his. In the brief glimpse he’d had before she’d intimately applied herself to him he’d noticed that the bodice outlined her ample breasts perfectly, and was cut very, very low. Her hair smelled of frangipani and was as black as coal, falling in soft waves and curls far down her back. Her skin as pale as alabaster, lips as red as roses….
Yeesh Crane, pull yourself together.
“Ah, hello.” Oh great opening Don Juan.
The woman looked up into Lee’s eyes, she looked even more appealing with her topaz eyes shimmering with unshed tears, face framed by the glinting midnight hair.
“My Knight, my Champion,” her lips quivered as she said the words.
Huh, hell I’ll be anything she wants me to be.
He’ll smiled at her.
“Maybe we could start with you telling me your name.”
“Oh, of course.” She started to move away from him and he found that his body wanted to move right along with her, maintaining their contact. He finally got a small, tenuous grip on himself and stopped.
She didn’t go far, just a couple of steps. My name is Niamh.2
“It is because of me that you are here. Well not exactly, if the others would only be reasonable.” She went over to the round monster bed and sat down heavily upon it, if anything so delicate could be described as doing anything heavily. She looked up at Lee again but didn’t say anything else.
Lee wasn’t any further ahead in understanding what it was all about. Seems like it’s going to be up to me to extract the information I need.
“Niamh, what is it that the others need to be reasonable about?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot that we aren’t mind linked. I don’t know how you manage to communicate effectively having to use... ‘speech’?” She said the last word as a question, apparently not sure if it was the correct word.
“We manage.” Apparently getting and keeping her ‘on topic’ is going to be a bit of a challenge.
“Please tell me just what it is that has you concerned and how I’m involved.”
“Do you know anything about forms of energy?”
Lee sighed to himself, Why is nothing ever easy. Well here goes....
“I’m aware that there are six forms of energy: chemical energy, electrical energy, radiant energy, mechanical energy, nuclear energy and thermal energy. They are all related and each from can be converted or changed into the other forms. The Law of the Conservation of Energy states that the total amount of energy in a system remains constant although the energy within the system can be changed from one form to another or transferred from one object to another. Energy cannot be created or destroyed but it can be transformed.”
Lee actually felt rather smug about remembering all that. Hanging out with Nelson seemed to have unexpected perks.
“Very good Lee, I don’t know if anyone explained about where you are but everything you see has been created from energy for you. We exist in a state of energy. At one time we were ‘one’ but then somehow we broke apart into two ‘colonies’, I guess would be the easiest way for you to understand it. We refer to ourselves as ‘Houses’ for your ease of reference. We can take many forms by manipulating our energy and do so when exploring other places and life forms.”
“OK, but I don’t see how or why that means I have to be here.”
“I’m getting to that Lee. Two of the entities wish to combine into one.”
“Let me guess, they aren’t in the same ‘House’, and it’s not approved of by either House.”
Who’d a thought it, Romeo and Juliet between energy beings in an alien dimension. Does it get any weirder? I wonder if the Admiral is getting the same story and what he makes of it.
“It gets a bit more complicated.”
Of course it does!
“If two are allowed to merge then all must merge. My House is willing as long as we are in control of the whole...”
Lee had more of the picture now, “And the other House is willing as long as they are in control, I still don’t see how I fit in.”
“It was decided that each House would pick a Champion or Knight from another world to compete against each other and the one with the winning Knight would be in control after the merge.”
“I take it that you are one of the two energy beings that started this.”
“Yes, you’d understand if you could meet the other one, he’s very special.”
“Oh I understand it just fine; I would have thought you’d be evolved past that though.”
“Come now Lee, you know what happened with one of your ancestors, and you seem to understand about energy and the laws of attraction.”
Lee had a feeling that she wasn’t talking about molecular bonds.
There was another chime and column of sparkles in the room.
“Great, what now!”
Argent appeared, “I take it that the situation has been explained to you, Lee.”
“More or less. I take it that the Admiral and I are supposed to compete against each other. Just what type of competition is it?”
Lee did not like
the thought of trying to beat the Admiral at anything.
Argent sat down by Niamh on the bed. She smiled brightly at him and nodded that he should be the one to explain this part.
“There could be as many as three contests, depending on how the first two go. Each House selects a contest, then, if you are tied, a third one agreed upon by both Houses will be necessary to decided the winner of the competition.”
“Are you going to tell me what the first two are?”
“Afraid not, I haven’t a clue, each will be explained when the time comes. I have the utmost confidence in you Lee, that you will be victorious.”
“Ah, swell.” Lee replied, rubbing his hand through his hair a couple of times.
Of course Argent didn’t deem it appropriate to tell Lee that he felt pretty much the same way concerning Admiral Nelson.
Another swirling energy ride and Nelson found himself in a rather opulent neoclassical room. It held gold backed chairs, semi-circular side tables, shaped vases, a sofa rolled at both ends, standing on carved lions feet, with antiqued gold leaf accents, all resting on a marble floor. Lovely wall hangings hung from the plaster walls.
He received a visitor, just as Lee had. He got about the same story from a ‘young man’ but with a slight embellishment.
“We are far more suitable to be the ascendant force when we merge. We reason far more scientifically, I’m sure you can see the benefit in that.”
“About the only thing I can see is that you are pitting Lee and I against each other for your own empowerment. Doing so with absolutely no regard for our feelings in the matter.”
“I suppose it was to much to expect you to understand. You have been told what is to happen, I suggest you rest now.”
With that Nelson’s ‘guest’ left. Nelson’s thoughts turned to Lee and wondered what he was experiencing, if he was alright. They wouldn’t harm him, they need him in good shape for whatever these dang tests are. He comforted himself with that thought. Realizing that he had nowhere to go he took the recent advice he’d been given and made himself comfortable.
Lee materialized in the room and saw the Admiral do the same on the opposite side. There were two large tables in the room set at opposite ends and two containers beside each of the tables. Lee nodded to Nelson and he saw Nelson give him a return nod and a once over, obviously checking to see if he’d managed to remain uninjured since they were last together. Lee wasn’t sure if he was insulted, amused or honoured. Before he could make up his mind he heard a stentorian voice, although he could not see anyone else in the room besides the Admiral. He could tell from the look of attention from Nelson that we was hearing it as well. Around here you just never knew for sure who heard what.
“The first test is devised by the House of Sonnel. In each of the boxes is a puzzle you must solve. One is the Periodic Table of Earth Elements, the other a 17 layer anatomically correct DNA double helix model. The first one of you to complete both puzzles wins. You may begin... now.”
Lee moved to one of the tables and opened a box, he stared at the multi-coloured balls and joiners. Must be the double helix thingy, like I have a chance of completing that, ever. He opened the other box and found flat puzzle pieces resembling a jigsaw puzzle. That I might have a chance at. He dumped the pieces on his table. He noticed that Nelson had chosen to begin with the helix puzzle. He wondered for a moment why, it made more strategic sense to choose the same one he was starting on, otherwise…..ahhhh. He started with that one so I could watch and maybe copy him or at least have a model to go by.
Lee kept an eye on how Nelson began putting the helix together as he, himself, worked on the Periodic Table with its 118 elements. He wasn’t having that easy a time with the Table. He soon decided that he wasn’t going to get very far trying to match the printed sides up so went with his strength, he was unusually good at spacial recognition and he did find that things went faster when he concentrated on the shapes of the pieces, until he discovered that some of the pieces were exactly the same shape and would fit even where they didn’t belong.
Let’s see, Hydrogen, Lithium, Sodium, Potassium, Rubidium, Caesium and Francium down the left to start. Oops nope, that H is part of Helium, belongs on the other side.....blast, how did that song go...
Nelson heard Lee start to hum and chuckled when he recognized the Periodic Table Song used to help students remember all the elements.
Between sort of knowing where the elements belonged in the Table and shape matching he finished the puzzle before the Admiral completed the Helix. He strongly suspected that Nelson wasn’t exactly pouring the coals on.
He pulled out his Helix pieces and from what he could remember of how Nelson started, he began to build it.
No matter how the Admiral dawdled, it was quite apparent that Lee was not going to be able to complete the Helix, at least not correctly. While it was sort of looking like Nelson’s it had a decided lean to it and some interesting colour placements.
Lee was still tinkering away when a voice announced the contest complete. Nelson had correctly constructed his double Helix and finished the Periodic Table.
Lee gave the Admiral a sheepish grin and a thumb’s up. Nelson gave him a big grin back and went to walk over to talk to him, when he was caught once again in the cyclone of sparkles, he had seen Lee start to be engulfed by his own whirling storm.
Both men blinked in the strong sunlight. They appeared to be outside this time and standing on separate platforms about 20 feet apart.
Lee was a little worried that all this popping in and out would be a little hard on Nelson. He knew he was feeling like he’d gone down the rabbit hole3.
“Admiral are you ok?”
“Yes Lee, I was just going to ask you the same thing.”
“Feeling a little like I’ve had one to many ‘special brownies4’.”
Nelson cocked his head at Lee, “And just what would you know about those, Lee?”
“Bit of an accident, tell you about it some time, Sir.”
Nelson was looking forward to hearing that story.
As they looked around, they saw what appeared to be identical obstacle courses in front of them. It didn’t take much imagination to figure out what this test was all about.
The same voice as before made itself known. “This test is from the House of Nerca. You see before you 8 obstacles. A Cargo net climb to a balance beam, cross the beam to the rope swings to the salmon ladder5, when at the top of the ladder you must barrel roll to the cliff wall, climb it to the top, then dive into the pool below and swim to the rock island. The first one on the island wins.”
The first contest had obviously been science oriented; this one was most definitely physical.
Lee started to strip off his shirt, it would only be in the way. He decided to keep his shoes on until after the cargo net climb, after that he’d shed them and his socks as well. He looked down at his pants, he couldn’t very well take them off although he wanted to, they’d impede his movement as well. Making a quick decision, he reached down and grabbed the material just above his right knee between his two hands, one above the other. Giving a mighty pull he managed to tear the material, he continued the tear around his leg and threw away the lower leg of his pants, he repeated the process with the other leg.
Satisfied that he’d divested himself of as much annoying material as he reasonably could be began to stretch and warm his muscles up.
Nelson also removed his shirt, seeing Lee’s wisdom in doing that. He wasn’t so sure about tearing his pants. Well if Lee can do it, so can I. It took him a bit longer to get the tear going and Lee had started over to help him but had bumped into an invisible force shield at the edge of his platform.
The voice was back. “You are not permitted to leave your designated area, please do not attempt to do so again. The contest will begin in five of your earth minutes”
Lee shrugged towards Nelson, who smiled back at him, “It’s ok Lee, I appreciate the attempt.”
Like Lee, Nelson began to stretch and warm up. He didn’t really see any likelihood of finishing before Lee, unless Lee had an accident and got hurt, that was not something he wanted to contemplate. What sort of medical aid would he be able to find for Lee here?
They stood ready. “The contest begins, now.”
Lee sprang for the cargo net and landed well, he quickly made his way up to the top. Nelson took a minute to watch Lee’s ascent. As agile as a mountain cat, makes it look easy.
He scrambled his own way up and was able to watch Lee on the balance beam; he noticed that Lee had removed his shoes and socks. He was about midway across, the beam was close to 20 feet long, and 4 inches wide, Nelson judged. Lee gracefully and quickly finished crossing it.
Lee was actually enjoying this contest. Makes for a reasonably good workout. He glanced back when he reached the end of the beam. He saw the Admiral just starting on his beam. It was about a 30 foot drop if you fell off, survivable but likely cause injuries. Easy does it Admiral, take your time.
As Lee balanced on the end of his beam, waiting to be sure Nelson got across safely. Then he looked at the first of the rope swings. It was about 8 feet away. OK, backing up a bit... Lee took a few steps back along the way he’d come on the beam, then he ran for the end and leaped to the rope, getting a good hold on it. His momentum easily carried him to the next one and he only barely managed to suppress a Tarzan yell as he swung from rope to rope across the 80 feet or so distance. His hands were sore by the time he reached the last rope as they were made of a coarse material. He also had to admit that his arms and shoulders were feeling a bit strained and tired. However, there was no time to rest or look back to see how the Admiral was doing. On the last swing he had to grab the bar for the Salmon Ladder and begin his ascent.
Lee grabbed the bar, which rested on two parallel walls. The walls had seven sets of notches for the bar to rest on, with 12 inch gaps in between the sets. The gap between the last two sets was larger than the previous ones. The bar was not bound to the wall in any way. It was going to be brutally hard on the upper body. Lee used momentum, swinging his body back and forth, and his upper body strength to climb, jumping the bar up from notch set to notch set. He had a couple of near misses and once he was angled on the ladder as he only caught one upper notch and the other side of the pole went back into the previous notch. He thought he might be finished at that point but he managed to move the lower end up to match the other and continued climbing, sweating and grunting, to the top.
I need to rest, that was a killer. I think every muscle in my arms, shoulder, back and chest is on fire!
No way to rest though unless I want to just hang here, wouldn’t be able to do that for long. My hands are already slipping. There’s just enough room to swing onto the top of the barrel and start rolling it, thankfully a short distance, to the next obstacle. He wasn’t sure he had enough energy left to keep his balance.
He didn’t know how, but he managed to stay on the barrel, just. As he lost his balance he was close enough jump forward and grab for the rope that hung from the climbing wall. He was covered in sweat and he was breathing hard. His eyes stung from the sweat dripping into them. Wish I’d thought to turn some of that pant material into a head band!
The rope gave him something to hang onto while he found his first foot and hand holds and started up the rock wall. He had wondered initially about his choice to get rid of his shoes earlier but decided it had been for the best, while this was hard on his feet, his leather-soled shoes would have slid right off the rock.
He wondered how Nelson was doing, hoped fervently that he was being careful and hadn’t fallen at any point. Lee would have been relieved to know that the Admiral had made it to the Salmon Ladder but would not be continuing further. After the first few swings and ‘jumps’ he’d decided that it just wasn’t worth it. He wouldn’t be catching up with Lee and he wasn’t interested in finishing the blasted course, he seriously doubted that he could.
Lee’s muscles alternately contracted and stretched as he worked his way up the wall. Had the rock wall been the only thing he’d had to conquer that day it would have given him very little trouble but coming after the other obstacles it was slow going. At some spots the wall had sharp, jagged rock edges protruding but Lee had to ‘hug’ the surface to keep from falling, effectively making him scrap his body over it, inflicting long cuts and abrasions that bled freely and slicked the rock. He wasn’t sure he would ever reach the top, the climb seemed endless but finally, when he moved his hand up looking for another hold, he found only empty space. He dragged himself up and over the edge, and collapsed on the relatively flat cliff top.
Nelson had seen the entire climb. When he’d indicated that he was withdrawing from the course he had been ‘moved’ to a room with a large view screen in one wall. His muscles had tensed along with Lee’s for every inch of the climb, he’d winced with every cut and scrape he saw the young man acquire pulling his body over the jagged rocks. Now that Lee was at the top, laying there drenched in sweat and blood, drawing what appeared to be deep, painful breaths, Nelson appealed to the entities, hoping they were listening.
“I’ve withdrawn, he’s won. There’s no need for him to complete the rest of it. Beam him out or whatever the hell you call it. He needs medical attention.”
For what seemed like hours but was, in reality, only seconds there was silence, except for the sound of Lee’s laboured breathing.
Finally the voice spoke, “The rules are clear, to win he must complete the course. If you both fail to complete it you must start again.”
Guess I can’t lay here forever, my muscles are already being to stiffen. I’ve got to get up and finish this.
It was still several minutes before he attempted to move. He expected the aches in his arms and shoulders, he wasn’t quite prepared for the firm protest from his back and chest when he attempted to get up. He couldn’t quite stifle his groan. His legs were none to steady as he slowly stood up.
He looked over the edge, to the pool below.
Well, the water will probably feel refreshing, maybe I can just sort of float over to the island. No fancy dive, haven’t the energy, I think just a straight forward feet first, arms crossed over chest drop will have to do. I’ll need a bit of a run to clear the rocks.
The rock face was mostly straight all the way down to the water but he didn’t want to take any chances. Of course, he wasn’t really sure how much of a run he could muster. He moved around a bit to loosen tight and protesting muscles, then backed up and made his run out over the side.
He hit the water and sank down, down, down, as he started to kick for the surface a strong current grabbed him and tumbled him about.
Where did that come from? The surface was a smooth as glass, no sign of currents.
With energy he didn’t have and muscles that had been pushed to their limit and beyond, he tried to surface. Trouble was he wasn’t sure which way to kick to get to the surface, even if he blew a bubble or two to find out he wouldn’t be able to see them with the current tossing him around. He’d have to pick a direction and go, hoping it wasn’t the wrong one.
The current disappeared as suddenly as it had appeared, I must have gotten above it, at least I hope I’m above it. His lungs burned and any second now he knew he was going to take a breath and get nothing but water. Maybe I’ll get lucky and pass out first.
As these thoughts passed through his mind he felt his head come clear of the water. He took a choking gasp before his feeble flailing ducked him under again, but only briefly. He knew where the surface was now and was determined to stay there. He rolled to his back and floated, trying to control his breathing to keep him stable and buoyant, he still wanted to gasp in great amounts of air. Thus, it was a minute or two before he realized that he was bumping into something. It was a few more minutes before he cared enough to roll over and find out what it was. He was at the tiny island. He wiggled more that crawled up onto it.
Nelson had dropped to his knees when Lee was caught in the current, he had been fearful that he was watching Lee’s last moments of life. He’d vowed that no matter what it took he’d find a way to destroy these energy beings and scatter their particles to all the corners of the known universe, or the unknown if it came to that. But Lee was alive, he’d made it to the island. That meant a tie, another test to endure.
The entities were puzzled by their human Knights, they didn’t react at all like they should. They seemed very concerned about each other when they should be concerned about winning and nothing else.
It was this concern that Matriarch of Sonnel was counting on. It was why she had elected to keep Nelson as her Knight.
A cheer went up from the House of Nerca, as Lee ‘appeared’ in the arena.
Seems there’s a bit of an audience for this one, can’t see anyone. Well they’ve done a bang-up job of creating a gladiatorial arena. He noted armaments attached to the circular wall. Maces, tridents, metal nets, javelins and even scimitars. There were also small round shields. Lee already had a sword sheathed in a broad leather sword belt. He unsheathed it, looked it over and found that it was of typical Roman design, double-edged, the width remaining constant along most of its length. On his opposite hip he had an 8 inch double bladed dagger.
He was also wearing a metal shoulder piece on his right shoulder, in Roman fashion he was bare-chested6. Somewhere along the way during the transport from the island to the arena, his cuts and scrapes had disappeared. He had a low slung red canvas loincloth for modesty’s sake. His arms were wrapped in cloth and leather and he had padded greaves on his legs. His feet were shod in sturdy leather sandals. He carried his red crested helmet, he’d never really cared for one. He felt quite comfortable, as this was not totally unlike his knight armament.
He moved to the middle of the arena, totally unaware of what a glorious sight he was, prepared for battle as a Gladiator. His chest, abdomen, belly and back were gleaming with oil, his muscles rippled in the sun as he moved.
He heard another cheer go up from the invisible crowd, this time he assumed from the House of Sonnel. He looked to his left and saw the Admiral ‘appearing’, similarly attired, the only real difference was that his loincloth and helmet crest were green. Although shorter than Lee he carried himself with authority and power and appeared a seasoned veteran of the arena.
How the hell does Lee wear this stuff? Nelson wondered. As far as he was concerned it was extremely uncomfortable and he felt like a damn fool parading around in it, but he’d never let anyone know it.
He was taken aback for a moment when he caught sight of Lee, looks every bit the Roman Gladiator, hate to actually have to get into a serious fight with him. I’d last all of two seconds. Wish I had my camera.
He strode stoically forward to stand in front of Lee.
“Admiral.” Lee nodded to him, “You’re looking, ah, very Roman.” Lee was trying hard not to grin, but Nelson saw it lurking at the corners of Lee’s mouth.
You let the grin loose Lee and you’ll feel the flat of this sword across your backside.
“And you’re looking a good deal better than I was expecting.”
Lee looked at his chest and shrugged. “No clue, Sir. I was expecting to be in worse shape myself.”
Nelson snorted. Lee could read in his eyes that he was not happy about his ‘garb’ or what it implied, not that either of them had been happy about any of it from the get-go. Still he had to admit that there was a certain something about the Admiral standing there, giving every appearance of a warrior ready to do battle. He was happy he wouldn’t really have to find out if he’d be able to win a battle between them. There was nothing that could make him raise his sword against Nelson.
The two Matriarchs appeared in what was decked out as the Royal viewing section. Lee saw Argent appear between the two of them.
Liked him a whole lot better as a fluffy kitty.
He heard Argent’s voice in his head.
I’m really sorry about all this Lee, it wasn’t my idea, I…
Lee didn’t know what happened but it was if a door had slammed shut to cut off what Argent was saying. He surmised from the scowls on the Matriarchs faces and Argent’s bow to them that they had reprimanded him.
In a voice that carried around the arena, Argent began the official announcement. His face showed both worry and sorrow.
SHIT thought both men, this isn’t going to be good.
“The two Houses stand tied after the first two contests. The third and final contest will decide who will control the whole after the merge. It has been noted that there is some reluctance on the part of the Knights to compete against each other. Therefore, some incentive is called for. Listen well Crane of the House of Nerca and Nelson of the House of Sonnel. This is to be a battle to the death…”
Nelson managed to beat Lee in protesting. “It will be no such thing. We’ve put up with all we are going to.” Nelson threw his sword on the ground; Lee’s quickly fell across it. “Sort out your petty differences without us, we refuse to participate further.” Hell we should have told them what to do with their idea in the first place.
“This reaction is not unexpected. As I said, incentive is called for. If you do not complete the final test, the lives of all humans on your planet will be forfeit. We are prepared to demonstrate if you doubt our sincerity. We will destroy the population of one of your cities to prove we can carry out our word.”
The area above the arena began to shimmer and the city of San Francisco came into focus. Above it a dark purplish, ominous cloud was forming. The cloud began to descend on the city.
Both Lee and Nelson cried out at the same time, “STOP”. The cloud hovered. There was no way to tell if it was illusion or the people in the city would really be killed. Nelson had no doubt the entities possessed the power to do so.
Nelson moved closer to Lee, “We’ll think of something son, pick up your sword.”
Lee nodded in mute acceptance, he could think of only one solution.
The image above the arena snapped out of existence.
“Be warned, one of you must die by the hand of the other, no other outcome is acceptable, you know the consequences should you not complete the test.”
The Matriarch of the House of Nerca was secretly congratulating herself on getting her rival to agree to a contest of this nature. Her Knight knew how to handle these weapons and should have no trouble winning. The consequences to his world of not performing should get him beyond his apparent fondness for his opponent. How anyone could harbor sentiment for someone from the House of Sonnel was beyond her, but that was had landed them in this ridiculous circumstance in the first place.
Matriarch Sonnel was pleased with the contest, Crane was a subordinate of her Knight on their world. He would be reluctant to harm him and the fact that he appeared to have a liking for him would make it even more likely that he would be the one to fall. Spawn of the House of Nerca tended to be very ‘soft’, they let their emotions get in the way, while those of the House of Sonnel suppressed such a weakness, they thought only rationally. Most of us that is, there is that small tendril that can let emotions interfere. If not for that we wouldn’t be in this mess.
Lee knew what he had to do. There was really nothing else to be done, he couldn’t see any way that the Admiral could come up with an ‘out’ for them. If a gambit was needed, he’d be it, at least his sacrifice would give Nelson a chance. He tossed his helmet aside, as did the Admiral.
They had been clanging swords now for about 15 minutes. Lee was very careful to make his swings look good but pose no real threat to the Admiral. He was well trained and familiar with this fighting technique. He made sure he always landed on Nelson’s upraised sword but not to hard. The Admiral’s attacks were easy to deflect, the Admiral wasn’t trying all that hard.
OK, so I’ll heat it up a bit then the next time he thrusts…
Lee’s next strokes were a little harder and a little faster, but never endangering the Admiral.
Damn, I can’t think of any way out of this, there has to be a way. Nelson’s thoughts were interrupted by Lee’s next, more forceful attack. I guess Lee wants to make it look a little more intense. He can stop anything I can do, so here goes…
Nelson’s next swing had more vigor behind it, Lee easily rode it off his own sword and sent a slash back, leaving his front fully exposed. An invitation to thrust if ever there was one.
Nelson obliged, realizing his mistake to late. Oh shit, oh shit, he isn’t raising his sword, he hasn’t stepped back…
“LEE”, Nelson yelled and tried to pull back his strike, he turned it from a thrust to a slash at the last moment, which ran across Lee’s abdomen rather than going through him.
Blood welled from the wound and ran down Lee’s belly and legs.
Lee dropped to his knees. Damn, hurts like hellfire but not deep enough to kill me outright.
The Sonnel Matriarch was yelling for Nelson to finish Crane. She couldn’t believe it when Nelson threw down his sword and went to Lee, kneeling down and enfolding him in his arms.
“What the hell did you think you were doing?” Not that he hadn’t immediately realized what Lee had in mind. In that one horror filled moment, when he’d seen his sword slice Lee open, his world had almost ended. His only thought, “Please God no, please no.” As if in answer to his prayers there was only blood, the sword hadn’t cut deep enough to spill Lee’s guts out onto the arena dirt. This was bad enough; Lee could still die, from blood loss and shock.
Lee looked at Nelson, seeing the worry and pain in his eyes, hating that he’d caused it. “Sorry Sir, it was supposed to be a clean, killing thrust. Didn’t mean for it to be so messy.”
“Damn you Lee Crane, when I get you back aboard Seaview I’m gonna have you cleaning bilges for a month.”
Lee chuckled and then gasped at the pain it caused. “You can’t. I’m the Captain and I’ll just order someone else to do it.”
Nelson was unwrapping the cloth from around Lee’s right arm to use as a bandage when he heard Matriarch Sonnel speak to him.
“Nelson, you have two choices, either finish Crane outright, or stand back and wait for him to bleed to death. Either option is acceptable in order to determine the winner.”
The devil take that suggestion.
Lee whispered to him, “Of the two Admiral, I’d prefer the quicker one.”
“And I prefer the third option, Captain.”
Lee looked confused. “Third, Sir?”
Lee felt movement at his left hip, before he could put two and two together he felt Nelson press something into his left hand and close his fingers around it.
The penny dropped as Nelson pulled the hand, which now held an 8 inch dagger, rapidly forward.
Lee was able to muster enough strength to move the dagger off center just before it slid into Nelson’s gut. He knew that an imbedded object should stay that way until medical help arrived but he didn’t have the strength to stop Nelson from pulling it out. Not that he figured medical help was on the way anyhow.
Blood gushed from the wound, Lee put his hand over it to try to slow the flow.
“That was brilliant Harry; just what will both of us bleeding to death accomplish?”
“That we go together, son.” If you hadn’t interfered I would have gone first, and maybe they would have healed you and sent you back home.
Nelson wondered again why it was only at times of extreme stress or when practically under orders to do so, that Lee managed to use his first name, he’d been trying to get him to use it when off duty for some time. I suppose it doesn’t really matter now.
Argent turned to the two Matriarchs, “Well I hope you’re happy, they are both dying by each other’s hand.”
“How dare you speak to us like that, well to me at any rate. It will do, whichever one lives the longest wins. Agreed?” Matriarch Nerca sputtered.
“Agreed,” responded Matriarch Sonnel.
“It’s a waste, it makes no sense, it hasn’t from the beginning.” Argent stormed at them, “we consider ourselves so superior yet we can’t decide our own future without taking the lives of other beings….how is that superior to anything!”
“Calm down Argent. You see Matriarch Nerca, your side is far to emotional to rule.”
“My side, it was your oh so logical idea to stage this in the first place. You don’t care anything about life, what sort of ruler for the whole would you make?”
“I didn’t hear you voicing objections at the time.”
“No, it did sound rather amusing.”
“Will you listen to the two of you, neither of you are worthy to lead a unified entity, or for that matter the separate ones.”
“Beware Argent, you go to far and will be dealt with if you continue.”
Nelson and Lee had heard the entire exchange.
Nelson sent his own thoughts into the fray. “Argent has made very good points. I was going to suggest that you use your strengths together to create a strong leadership, just as Lee and I have done on Seaview. It’s only because we have done so that we have many lauded accomplishments, not to mention having survived, with amazing regularity, extremely unusual, dangerous circumstances. However, I now realize you two would never be able to do that, and I wonder just what all the other energy entities think about having either of you calling the shots. They’d be far better off with someone like Argent guiding them.”
There was stunned silence.
Lee whispered to Nelson, “laid it on a bit thick, don’t you think, ‘many lauded accomplishments’?” Blood continued to rapidly seep through the crude bandage Nelson held to Lee’s abdomen, just as Nelson’s blood welled through Lee’s hand covering the knife wound.
Nelson felt himself starting to get dizzy, what little strength he had was fleeing and his hand started to slip away from Lee’s wound. He noticed that Lee’s eyes were losing focus, Lee’s head fell forward onto his chest. They slowly slid down to the ground together. Abandoning their attempts to stanch each other’s blood loss they simply held on to one another. The wounds pressed against each other and as blood flowed out from them, a small amount also passed between them.
The two men thought they heard crackling noises and sounds like bubble wrap popping but they were beyond caring, then beyond pain, going together…
Lee woke with a start, and a great deal of bewilderment. For some reason he was laying on the deck in the missile room. Even odder was the fact that the Admiral was lying beside him and they had their arms wrapped around each other. They were both in uniform.
Well if I had my pick of Heavens, Seaview would be right up there.
Nelson’s eyes snapped open, Lee hadn’t moved yet.
“I think we should probably get up.”
“Probably, I was just taking a moment to try and figure out if we are dead or alive.”
They heard a chuckle as they sheepishly released each other and rose. Looking over they saw a very impressive silver tabby cat, a lot larger than they remembered him being before and a lot fluffier.
“Well you two sure know how to get things moving! Never saw so many astonished energy entities before in my life. Especially two of them.”
“Care to fill us in Argent? We seem to be missing the part between when we died and now. I’m guessing we won’t remember anything of it later anyway.”
“Happy to Lee, and no you won’t. So we won’t be disturbed I’ve frozen time here.”
Nelson and Lee sat down on the bench in front of the dive hatch. Neither felt all that secure on their feet yet and although they weren’t surprised that time manipulation was also a power Argent had, they’d rather deal with it sitting down.
Nelson gestured for Argent to begin.
“It seems that the Matriarchs overlooked a possibility with you two. You might like to know that you are the first humans ever to enter our realm. Although thinking it over you probably would have just as soon not have had that honor.”
Nelson and Lee snorted at the same time and rolled their eyes.
“Well to continue… It came as a marvelous surprise that as you were dying…” Argent managed a very apologetic look for a cat, “that a small amount of blood from each of you passed to the other and entered your bloodstreams. Boom, you started the merge. It was total chaos as we were not prepared. Thinking back on it though it does make sense. One of you from each House, now in the home realm, any exchange of vital fluids would have the same effect as two of ours merging energy.”
“Makes me shudder, but which Matriarch is in control?” Nelson asked. Lee wasn’t sure he really wanted to know.
Argent shuffled his paws a bit and fluffed himself up even more, “Actually, neither of them. Seems with the merge happening so unexpectedly and considering what you’d said, the others decided on a third option.”
Nelson and Lee grinned at each other and together congratulated Argent.
“Yes, well I’ll do my best and all that. I plan to keep my eye on you two, there are things still to be learned from you, I think.”
Lee and the Admiral assured Argent that they felt he’d be a very good leader. They didn’t mention that he could scarcely do worse than either of the other two.
Argent didn’t leave right away, he played a game of chess with the Admiral. He toyed with letting the Admiral win but decided that Harry, as the Admiral had told him to call him, wouldn’t appreciate that. Lee had grinned and ducked his head when the Admiral had looked at him as he told Argent that his friends called him Harry. Argent discussed with Lee the responsibilities of leadership from a human perspective and what Lee felt was required of a good leader.
“Well I have to be getting back, Harry, Lee. I’ve enjoyed our visit, the last part that is.”
“As have we, Argent,” both men assured their unusual friend.
They had returned to the missile room at Argent’s request, they needed to be more or less where they were when they had left with Argent. “Makes for a smoother transition”, he had assured them.
“Harry, if you’d be so good as to pick up the briefcase lying by the hatch, and your cover, then just go a few steps outside.”
“Lee, you were standing about here.” Argent pointed with his paw, then sat halfway between them.
“As you say here, ‘fair winds and a following sea’ my friends.” With that, a soft white light emanated from Argent and enclosed Harry and Lee. They felt their memories of the encounter gently drift away…for the most part. Argent wasn’t beyond leaving a couple of little ‘tickles’ behind, just for the fun of it.
Nelson came through the missile room hatch and stopped, What the heck?
He blinked and looked again, I could have sworn I saw the biggest silver tabby cat in the world sitting beside Lee, but there’s nothing there now.
“Admiral, good timing. I’ve just finished looking over the silos, I don’t think they’ll need much in the way of repairs.”
“Fine Lee, fine.”
Lee noticed that Nelson seemed a bit distracted.
“Is something bothering you, Sir.”
“No, for some reason the thought of having you clean out the bilges just popped into my mind.”
“Something I’ve done wrong that I don’t know about?”
“No, no of course not. Just an odd stray thought.”
“Well if you really want me to…..”
“Captain, what I want you to do is come have dinner with me, then afterwards we’re going back to my house. I’d like to learn a little more about some of your off duty recreational activities.”
Lee wasn’t sure where this was going but he enjoyed spending time with Nelson. Their various duties made it extremely rare.
I’m not sure why but for some reason I think it might be a good idea for him to learn a little about armed combat in ye olden days…could be fun.
...a curious appearance in the air: it puzzled her very much at first, but, after watching it a minute or two, she made it out to be a grin...3
1 Hardly needs explaining I’m sure, but just in case. Star Trek, original series.
Scotty was the chief engineer and in charge of the transporter on the Star
2 Gaelic ‘bright’ Princess of the land of Promise who left with Ossian for the
3 Alice in Wonderland
4 No I’m not going to explain it unless you ask.
5 Really? Not everyone on the planet watched ‘American Ninja Warrior’?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nygdIxtKSmo if you need a visual.
6 Considered a symbol of masculine virility by the Romans.