Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Astrologer's Assault

After wrapping things up in New Mexico, I took a side trip to Washington to visit Dr Ken Stevenson at the Smithsonian. Ken was an outstanding anthropologist, and well versed in American Indian artifacts. I wanted to show him my chain, perhaps the only remaining relic of my unexpected journey to Cibola.

“Always glad to see you, Athena,” he said affably. “When are you going to stop doing all the manual labor and do some real archeological work? We have an opening here, you know.”

“Thanks Ken,” I said. “But I'm in love with Queen City and with field work. Besides, Chatterjee would never consent to it. I'm afraid I'm wedded to the Museum of Natural History.”

“I know, but you can't blame a guy for asking,” said Ken. He spread his hands then asked, “What have you got for me?”

“Can't an old friend drop in to say hi during a conference?” I asked innocently.

“The conference is over in Arlington. I'm here. You're here. This implies more than a social visit.”

“OK you have me dead to rights,” I smiled. I pulled the chain from my purse, then unwrapped the silk handkerchief containing it.

“Oh my!” said Ken. “Shiny!” He bent over the chain and looked intently. Lifting it, he pulled a pocket magnifier out and studied it.

“Well without a more thorough study, I'd say this is gold. Possibly Arizona or New Mexico in origin and from the work of the chain, Pueblo Indian work six hundred years old. How am I doing?”

“I knew that much already,” I said. “But I have the advantage of having found it out there. So it IS genuine?”

“Oh yes, and valuable. Where did you find it?”

“In a cave I was exploring with an old colleague. I'm not sure I could find it again,” I lied.

“Pity,” Ken said. “You used to have an unerring sense of direction.” He looked back at the chain.
“I'd really need to make a fuller study of it before I can render any more judgment, Athena. Mind if I hold on to it?”

“Well, I suppose. You know where to send it don't you?” Ken nodded and I smiled. “The conference doesn't start in earnest until tomorrow afternoon. That's when a young archaeologist from Queen City presents her latest paper on the temple of Bubastis.”
“Oh right. You helped Randal Courtney. I'm surprised he's not here to present it himself.”

“I heard he was trying to raise funds for an expedition in Guatemala. Something about a jaguar cult. And when he heard I wasn't welcome there; well, he looked for another hot archaeologist.”

Ken laughed. “That sounds like him. Hey are you doing anything for dinner tonight?”

“Actually Ken, I'm exhausted. I plan on slipping into comfy pajamas and reviewing my notes. Hopefully I can get a good rest.”

With his hopes dashed, Ken frowned. “OK. But you ARE on the spot for dinner tomorrow after your triumphant presentation.”

“Agreed. Say about seven?”
I checked into the hotel and took the elevator to my room. Looking out of the window I could see the lights of the mall in the distance as the city of Washington swept toward the Potomac. Closer I could see the bright lights of the Pentagon. A full moon was rising in the east, and I pulled my camera out of my luggage, thinking this would make a good shot.

Through the telephoto lens, I could see a small motor launch pulling through the river, and landing on the shore near the Pentagon. Several men with dark jumpsuits jumped from the boat, and moved stealthily toward the Military headquarters I saw the steely glint of high powered rifles as the team of about 20 men stalked their way through cover toward the building.

“This looks like a job for White Owl,” I said, not knowing who to contact in the Guild. I put in a general alert, though, and was assured by Dark Hunter that backup would be coming.

I slid open the balcony door and stepped onto the small terrace of my room, then launched myself into the air. The wind currents were warm and I welcomed their invigorating caress against my skin as I swept across the night.

I heard the barking chatter of gunfire as I approached. “Sounds like I missed the opening innings,” I muttered. I swept in from a flank, spotting sentinels and MPs exchanging gunfire with the commando team.

“Oh my! This looks like something from an old war movie!” I remembered watching several violent movies with my father when I was younger and never realized it was so authentic. But the strike team pulled grenades and began tossing them at the guardians of the military complex. It was then I realized my nose filters, and I slipped them into place, as the MPs sagged to the ground.

“Looks like the Army is out of action,” I said. “I guess its up to me.” I took a step and kicked the gunman nearest me with a heavy boot. He dropped like a ripe apple from a tree. But as I whirled, I saw three more men drawing beads on me with their rifles.

I delved into my pouch, praying for a few more precious moments, then came up with a smoke grenade and two bop balls. I tossed the grenade first and a thick, acrid smoke filled the area. From the darkness, the first steel ball flew unerringly, striking the next nearest gunner in the forehead. He spilled backwards; his gun firing uselessly, then stopping abruptly.

The other two closed, but I swooped down from above, cracking their skulls together. The dropped in pain and I managed to cuff all four in short order. I stood up, pleased, then spotted a bazooka behind me. I dove to one side as the explosive slammed into the wall of the Pentagon.

The concussion of the blast threw me forward and the falling rubble disoriented me as the two remaining squad members ran past into the world's largest office building.

“No more playing nice,” I thought. I hit the bazooka man in the back of the head with a bop ball and watched his knees buckle as he hit the pavement. But the leader of the team seemed too intent on completing his mission and disappeared into the darkened building.

Behind me, I heard the thumping of boots on the ground. The reinforcements had arrived. I shouted over my shoulder, “There's six of them, guys. I got the first five here, but the leader's inside.”

“Hey it's White Owl! What's she doing here,” asked the squad leader.

“No time to explain. He's getting away! There should be more Guild members coming.” He didn't hear my added “I hope.”

I stepped into the building, worried the trail was growing cold. But a trail of Potomac River mud led through the E Ring and on into the building. I followed them through several offices, ending in the A Ring where I found another opening blown into the wall. “Now what? He didn't have time to steal anything. Why would someone break into the Pentagon, only to break out into the central courtyard?”

As I stepped into the courtyard, I saw the jumpsuit and balaclava set off to one side, and in the center of the yard was an older man in ancient looking clothing. His dark brown hair waved in the moonlight and he seemed to be taking stock of the moonrise now cresting over the Pentagon.

“Another moment and the moon and stars will be in proper conjunction! And I shall be invested with Astral Powers untapped until now!”

“The Astrologer!” I shouted. “What are you doing here?”

“White Owl! But you're too late! The stars foretold your interference, and they foretold my ultimate success!” The Astrologer began floating, lotus like, and from his hand a sharp burst of energy shot my side. I howled with pain and flew across the courtyard.

Dragging myself to my feet, I said, “But why the Pentagon? Surely there was an empty lot somewhere that would have been a lot easier to storm.” Another burst of eldritch energy shot past me, singing my costume. I dove again, as the Astrologer followed after me with yet another burst of his new found powers.

“Easier yes, White Owl, but far less effective,” he explained. “Or did you fail to realize, we're contained in the world's largest pentagram? I'm certain the architect wasn't aware of the mystic advantages, but I was!”

Another ball of energy hit, trapping me in a painful glowing ball. I writhed , but was unwilling to give the Astrologer the advantage of hearing me scream again. But I smiled with satisfaction as I heard the racking of several semiautomatic rifles in the hands of the MP corps.

“Open fire men,” shouted the Lieutenant in command.

“You fools! Your weapons are useless,” mocked the Astrologer. He raised his hands and the hail of bullets disappeared. A further gesture and the walls of the Pentagon began melting, trapping the brave soldiers in the flow of concrete and limestone. As the walls solidified again, the soldiers squirmed helplessly.

But their distraction was enough to free me from the Astrologer's grasp. I hit the ground on my feet and began running. “Not so fast White Owl,” he said. “We have unfinished business.”

“I agree, Astrologer! I'm not done fighting yet.”

“But you see that no weapons can stop me!” he cried out in triumph.

“Maybe not, but I'm willing to bet I can destroy your source of power, by blasting apart your pentagram!” I whirled, grabbing grenades and lobbing them at the wall.

“NO!” shouted the Astrologer in fury. “I will destroy you White Owl!” A burst of mystic energy shattered the wall behind me. I ducked, expecting another blast, and instead heard a wail of rage.

“My POWERS They're GONE!!!”

“That's right, Astronomer,” I said. “Lets see how you fare in hand to hand combat.” I threw a right at his jaw, clipping him and catching him as he fell.

“Not too well, I guess,” I said. I dipped into by tool belt one last time for my final pair of handcuffs and locked them tightly on the now powerless Astrologer's wrists.

Moments later, the Astrologer was in the custody of the Military Police, and the trapped soldiers were freed by a judicious amount of goddess given strength. “Thanks White Owl. You really took it to him,” said the lieutenant.

The Astrologer stopped in front of me. “I don't understand, White Owl. The horoscope showed you would interfere but I would triumph. But don't worry. The stars predict more confrontations, and my ultimate triumph.” The guards hurried him off.

In the darkness of the courtyard, I saw several shooting stars streak across the sky. And while I'm not up on my astrology, I'd bet that the unplanned meteor shower may have had something to do with his defeat.

The End.

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