North Atlantic: July 23, 1944 0105 Hours
General Gregory Crist stood on the deck of the Baltimore class heavy cruiser the USS Pima. He took in the night air, the stars twinkling in the clear sky. It was just the day before when the convoy had left New York Harbor on their way towards England. He had never been on the ocean before. However, he was relieved to find that unlike many of the recruits on the RMS Olympus, a converted British luxury liner, he did not experience the displeasure of seasickness.
Crist looked off the deck into the inky black ocean wondering if there was a U-boat out there waiting for them. The German's wolf pack strategies had not been doing them much good lately. However, there was no telling when they might take a shot at the fat convoy anyway.
The baby flattop, the escort carrier USS Kiska, was riding along with the Pima. Any u-boats patrolling the area had to stay low during the daytime so that the aircrew on the Kiska would not spot them. However, airplanes could not fly off carrier decks during the night. Therefore, the convoy could still face some brave German captain trying to halt some of the reinforcements destined for the European invasion.
"General Christ," a young seaman said behind the general, interrupting the army soldier's line of thinking.
"Crist, son. The 'I' is short. I am not the Lord," General Crist replied in his usual dry humor.
The sailor thinking the general had rebuked him quickly saluted. "Sorry, sir, I meant no offense."
"Relax," Crist said smiling to put the boy at ease before he returned the salute. "I assume you have a message for me."
"Yes sir, Captain Arnold wants to know if you would like to join him on the bridge."
General Crist followed the young seaman to the ship's bridge. He had not yet met the captain. He had spent most of his time in his quarters reading various reports about the Normandy invasion. It was either that or walking on the deck taking the salty sea air, or enjoying a cigarette. Sometimes he did all three.
A dim red light bathed the bridge in an eerie light which allowing the crew to work in the darkness and limited the light that any prospective underwater predator could see. All the sailors wore a lifejacket and a standard issued steel helmet, both painted blue. The captain was talking to a sailor wearing headphones. From the snatches of the low conversation, Crist reasoned that this was the sonar man.
Captain Arnold looked up from the sonar station towards General Crist as the general approached the helm. The helmsman kept his eyes forward in the dark night guiding the cruiser, and therefore the entire convoy, towards their destination.
"General," Captain Arnold said extending his hand. "I've been anxious to meet with you all day. I'm sorry my duties have kept from any pleasantries."
"Think nothing of it captain," Crist said returning the handshake. "I'm sure being in charge of a convoy can be challenging."
"Yes sir, it can," Arnold replied. "Would you like some coffee?"
"Yes, if it is no problem."
"None at all," Captain Arnold nodded towards the sailor who escorted Crist to the bridge. "Two cups please, ensign."
"Aye, captain," the ensign saluted and exited the bridge.
"Well, general would you be interested in knowing about the make-up of this little convoy?"
The general smiled and nodded his head.
"You have our flagship, the Pima, which you are on. We also have two destroyer escorts the Blake and the Phillips. There is also a new Fletcher class destroyer John Reynolds and the escort carrier Kiska. That is the teeth of our little armada.
"Now we are riding herd on one LST, the hospital ship Respite, the British troop ship RMS Olympus, four cargo ships and one fat tanker. All bound for merry ol' England, where they will be divided up and sent on various missions.
"Our job is to get them there in one piece. The German's job is to sink as many as possible. We have all our sonar crew listening for any baddies that may be trying to stop us. They are on passive sonar, which is just fancy lingo for microphones in the water. If we need we have active sonar. It makes a lot of noise but it let us know where everything is underwater. The draw back is that it also lets anything that may be hunting us know exactly where we are as well." "That is pretty impressive captain," General Crist replied looking around the interior of the bridge. He noticed the usual array of equipment, like the compass and radio as well as the sonar station. He also noticed a large mechanical device that seemed shoehorned onto the deck. It normally would not have gathered his attention because he did not know what belonged on a bridge and what did not. However, several men in white lab-coats were operating this one.
"If I may ask captain, what is that?" Crist said pointing to the large machine.
"That my dear general is Washington's newest little toy. I don't even know what it exactly is supposed to do. But I am assured it is supposed to protect the entire convoy from u-boats."
The ensign soon arrived with the two tin cups of hot coffee. As the two senior officers drank the java, the captain continued to give the general a tour of the ship's bridge. Suddenly the sonar operator held up his hand and motioned for the captain.
"Sir, I have multiple contacts to the southeast," the sonar man stated.
"Alert the fleet," the captain replied. "Son, you have a count on the contacts."
"I am not sure, but it sound like three maybe four U-boats, sir."
Before Captain Arnold could issue any further orders, one of the men in a lab coat approached the ship's captain.
"Captain, let me use the device. I assure you it will work," said the man.
"Very well, Dr. Reno," Arnold said. "But we'll still prepare for battle."
Dr. Reno walked over to the machine. He started instructing his men and they in turn began flipping switches, turning knobs, and pulling levers. An ominous whirring noise began to emanate from the interior of the Pima. Soon a green fog started to envelop not only the cruiser but the other ships in the convoy as well. In an instant, the outside world disappeared.
Every person on the ship began to get weak as a strong sense of nausea hit them all. Crist knew it could not be seasickness for some of the seasoned crew were even grabbing their bellies. He somehow knew that every person in the convoy was experiencing the same sickening effect.
As suddenly as it began, the machine causing the ominous whirring and nausea began to spark. Smoke billowed out from behind its panels. Dr. Reno ran to the main shutoff switch. However, before he could activate it, a blue-white bolt of electricity shot from the machine and struck the doctor. The doctor fell forward and managed to land on the red lever of the shutoff switch. The whirring and nausea instantly ended.
The green fog also disappeared revealing the convoy in a blue sea bathed in the bright rays of the morning sun.
Captain Arnold was the first to react after the device ceased to function. "Get that man to sickbay!" the captain ordered two of the sailors on the bridge. A black cloud filled the bridge and the doors were thrown open to help dissipate the smoke and acrid smell that accompanied it.
"Sir!" the sonar operator shouted. "The contacts are no longer there. I only hear the screws from our fleet."
Before the captain could acknowledge the helmsman broke in. "Captain, the instruments are wrong. According to my compass we are heading west!"
"Maybe that damn machine turned us around," the captain griped. "No, the sun is still rising and we are headed towards it so we must be going east."
"It's a little early for sunrise don't you think," General Crist offered.
"Machine must have ruined the compass as well as blacked us out or something to boot," the captain reasoned. He turned towards one of the lab-coated men.
"You, ah, Dr. Berger," the captain said a little loudly. "What in hell just happened?"
"We had tried to make the convoy invisible," Dr. Berger replied staring at the still smoldering machine in disappointment. "It worked last year on the Eldridge in Philadelphia."
"Stop your stammering man!" shouted the annoyed captain. "What happened?"
Dr. Berger cleared his voice. "Well, captain, sir, uh -- I don't suppose you are familiar with Project Rainbow?"
The stern look from the captain alerted the scientist that he was not. "Ah, well by applying the Unified Field Theory using electromagnetic radiation and gravity we were attempting to bend light. This would have made our fleet invisible to the enemy."
Dr. Berger noticed that instead of calming the captain he was actually agitating him further. "Sir, it is possible that we could have transported the fleet."
"What do you mean 'transported' the fleet? Through time? To a new location? What?"
"It is possible that both occurred." Dr. Berger replied.
"Sir, the fleet wants to know what is going on," the radioman said. "It sounds like everyone is okay, but every compass seems to be pointing in the wrong direction."
"Can you reach Liverpool, or New York?" the captain asked.
"No sir, the only signals I am receiving are coming from our own fleet."
"Dr. Berger," Captain Arnold said sternly. "I have about ten thousand soldiers and a few hundred military engineers on the Olympus as well as valuable replacement parts, ammunition and other stores on those cargo ships that are direly needed for our efforts in Europe. That is not to mention the oil on that tanker and that hospital ship and the vehicles on the LST....
"I will not have it on my record that we lost the war because your little toy did not work correctly.
"I will put this bluntly. Fix it!"
Because Dr. Reno's injuries were serious, the Pima sent him over to the Respite for care. The medical care needed was beyond that which the sick bay of the Pima could offer. Captain Arnold determined to keep the fleet moving east despite what the compass said. A compass could be wrong; the direction in which the sun rose would always be the same.
Arnold figured the time to be about 1000 hours. They could not be certain of the exact day. If they could move forward in time a few hours, it was also possible that they had moved forward a few days, weeks, months, or even years.
The sailors in the fleet also came to the realization that they were no longer in the North Atlantic. The temperature was too warm and the sea did not feel right. After years of crossing oceans, a seasoned seaman came to know the temperament of the various oceans.
Nonetheless, Captain Arnold figured that if they continued east eventually they would find land. So far, not even the radar picked up anything. The Kiska launched a few scout planes but the TBF Avenger torpedo bombers acting as scouts could not find anything within their flight range.
General Crist was feeling useless with the looming crisis facing the fleet. It was not his way to be inactive when something was going down. One only rose to the rank of general if he could quickly come to decisions and implement them into action.
Therefore, General Crist transported himself over to the hospital ship Respite. Crist figured that keeping the fleet together and calm occupied all of Captain Arnold's attention so he could not head over himself. So, Crist took it upon himself to be transported over to the Respite where he would, depending on the Reno's condition, interview the doctor.
General Crist was amazed once he stepped aboard the Respite. The large hospital ship reminded him a lot of a modern hospital. The ship boasted two operating rooms, had x-ray machines, dental care, plastic surgery, and psychiatric care. She could care for over 400 patients and had a crew of 516. Some were ship's crew and others were medical personnel. Doctors roamed the corridors, as did a number of nurses.
Crist had forgotten that there were women in the convoy. All were the nurses aboard Respite. They were all over the age of 20 and held the rank of lieutenant. Crist also noticed that most were chaperoned by a soldier. This was ship of mercy not of ill repute.
Finally, Crist found the doctor attending to Dr. Reno. The medical doctor assured Crist that Reno, though gravely injured, could answer a few questions. General Crist entered the sterile room and saw the scientist lying in a bed with bandages wrapping his upper torso. There was an IV-drip hanging from a metal stand that connected to Reno's arm.
Dr. Reno groggily looked over at the general as he entered the room. "You must have something important to ask if you came all the way over here to see me," Reno said in a tired voice.
"As a matter of fact I do. Please, let me know when you are too tired and we can pick it up later," Crist said as he pulled a chair up next to the bed.
"Just a little sore. Go ahead and ask your questions," Reno said.
General Crist explained all that happened since the machine shut down. He told the scientist about the compasses, the sun rising early, and the change in the ocean. When he finished Reno laid back and digested all this for a while before he addressed Crist.
"Do all the compasses point in the same direction?" Reno queried.
"As a matter of fact they all point directly south with about a 13 degree declination," Crist offered.
"I'm afraid that you may not like my answer," Reno strained the exhaustion finally overtaking him.
"Maybe you should rest," Crist stated. "I could come back in a few hours."
"No, you should let Captain Arnold know," Reno replied.
"The compasses are working correctly. The magnetic pole on this world is to the south," Reno said fighting to stay conscious.
"What do you mean?" Crist asked hoping he did not hear correctly.
"Simply, that we are no longer on Earth. We have been transported to another world," with that final word Reno collapsed back into his pillow and lost consciousness.
"Do you actually believe this?" Captain Arnold asked Crist once the general returned to the Pima.
"It is a hard pill to swallow, but it does make sense," Crist said smoking a cigarette.
"What do you think we should do? You are the ranking officer."
"Captain," Crist said to the excited captain. "The fleet is under your command. You get me to land and I'll take over any landing operations. However, if you want my advice I say we keep going east. There must be some land out there somewhere."
"Maybe and maybe not. In any event, I only have a finite amount of fuel for the ships and aircraft. Hopefully, we'll catch something on the radar," Arnold responded.
"What about the two Kingfisher floatplanes on this ship? Their range is further than the Avengers," Crist offered.
"It takes a long time to retrieve a floatplane and secure it back onto its catapult. No the range of the TBFs will suffice," Captain Arnold countered.
The two men sat in silence as the bridge crew continued their work. The sun was out in full force and there was not a cloud in the bright blue sky. In another time and place, this would be a wonderful day. Today it was just another mystery as to what was going on.
Finally, Arnold went over to the radioman. "Sparky, have all senior officers of the fleet assemble in the wardroom in two hours." Arnold then turned towards Crist, "General I would like all your senior officers in attendance as well."
"You figure a briefing?" Crist asked the captain.
"Yes, preferably a joint one explaining the possibility that we are lost -- very lost," Arnold concluded.
The radio operator suddenly spun around to address Captain Arnold. "Sir, the John Reynolds has spotted some debris off her port side."
Arnold and Crist both rushed over to the radio. Sparky continued to listen on his end and finally relayed more information. "It appears sir to be from a wooden ship..."
"Maybe we are not so lost after all," Arnold proclaimed.
"Sir, they also say there is a survivor, and he is being sent over to the Respite."
"General, I know that you out rank me. But if you can spare someone to interview the survivor and report back to me I'd be very thankful," Arnold said to the waiting General.
"Not a problem. I can spare myself. I've got a few interpreters over on the Olympus I will take one of them along in case our survivor doesn't speak English."
It was the second time in a matter of hours that General Crist found himself on the Respite. This time he was ushered to the room with the survivor of the wooden boat. With the general was an interpreter Lieutenant Roger Greer. It was because of his extensive range of languages and expertise in linguistics that Crist chose Greer to accompany him.
The doctor showed the two military men the room with the survivor. Nurses were busy setting up an I.V. and taking vital signs. At first neither men could see the survivor because of the mass of medical personnel assemble around the bedside.
After a few minutes the nurses and the presiding doctor walked away to confer with each other. The survivor sat in the bed. A pillow obstructed the face so Crist could not see what the survivor looked like. Finally, the doctor walked over to the two officers.
"Gentlemen, it looks like she'll be all right," the doctor said. "She's conscious but is suffering a bit of shock. Please, do not over task her with too many questions."
"Her?" Crist exclaimed. "You mean it was woman on that boat."
"Obviously, the answer is yes," the doctor replied. "Here are her effects and this might help you out."
The doctor handed over the woman's tunic. It was white with golden scroll pattern on the hem that reminded Crist of Greece. The other object was a tattered fabric with some writing on it. It was writing Crist had never seen before.
"Lieutenant, what do you make of this?" the General asked the interpreter.
"Sir, I am fluent in five languages. But this does not look like any European script in design," Greer replied looking over the fabric. "I did once take some classical languages. If I am correct this looks a lot like Linear A."
"Son, you are speaking Greek to me," the General stated.
"In a sense that is correct, sir. Linear A is from the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete. It has not yet been deciphered."
"Well, maybe we can get something from the girl," Crist said.
"Yes sir, I'll try," Greer responded.
"Lieutenant, I want to stress that this is very important. I need you to do more than try," Crist sternly ordered.
"Yes sir!" Greer said with a crisp salute.
"Good, I need to return to the Pima. I want you to alert us to any breakthroughs," Crist said. "Oh son, one more thing, time is not a luxury we can afford."
General Crist returned in time to join Captain Arnold in the wardroom. All the captains from the various ships in the fleet were in attendance as well as every colonel that accompanied the troops aboard the Olympus. The officers were all either smoking, drinking coffee or both.
"Gentlemen," Captain Arnold addressed the assembled men. Their conversations died down once the captain began to speak. "You may have guessed that we have experienced some rather unusual events today."
Several men nodded their heads. "The general," Arnold pointed to Crist who stood off to one side, "and I have done some investigation. It appears that some new device that was supposed to turn our fleet invisible malfunctioned."
"What do you mean by malfunctioned?" asked one of the captains with British accent. Arnold noted that he had to be Captain Bolger from the Olympus.
"Well, according to Dr. Reno we have been transported to another location," Arnold replied.
"Where exactly is that?" the British captain queried further.
"We do not precisely know where. It could be any where on Earth or, as Dr. Reno suggests, another planet," Arnold answered in a stoic voice.
The assembled officers broke out in questions, disbelief, and just general chaos. Captain Arnold tried several times to quiet down the group but to no avail.
"Attention!" screamed General Crist at the top of his lungs. His harsh commanding voice automatically brought the soldiers to their feet. The fleet captains quickly followed suit.
"Look here," Crist said sternly. "We need you to take this information and present it to your men. We need you to do it in a calm and controlled manner. Plus, we want you to be prepared to keep control of the situation."
"That is correct," Arnold added. "We also want you to assure the men that we are working on finding land and fixing the machine. We will either find out we are still on Earth or we will find a way to return."
Lt. Greer spent the entire day with the woman found in the ocean. He was quickly able to learn that her name was Mina. For someone who survived a shipwreck she was doing remarkably well. When Greer started to talk with her, she became alert and any signs of weariness instantly disappeared.
Greer was able to learn a few words, and he taught her a few words in turn. He could tell that she was very anxious to communicate with him. She would point to the tattered rag that contained the old Minoan script. She even tried writing a message to Greer, but it was still Linear A. Sadly, Greer did not know how to read that.
After hours of learning some basic words, Lt. Greer decided that Mina might want some fresh air. He checked with the doctor. He received the okay as long as she used a wheelchair. The strange device fascinated Mina. Nonetheless, she allowed Greer to push her along the corridors and out onto the deck of the Respite.
The sun had set and the stars were out. Greer was not an astronomer, but he could tell the Big and Little Dipper from the rest of the constellations. He could not find either. The moon also looked slightly different; a little larger in fact. The moon was full in the clear night sky, and it cast its silvery luminescence upon the deck of the hospital ship.
Mina also studied the sky. After a few minutes, she jumped out of the wheelchair and pointed towards the east. The same directions the fleet had been traveling all day.
"Ghie!" she cried as she grabbed Greer's arm and excitedly continued to point east. "Ghie!"
Greer watched bewildered for a couple of minutes. He did not know what 'ghie' meant. It was obviously something very important. Mina frowned at Greer when he shook his head that he did not understand.
Mina began to stamp her feet. With no reaction from Greer, She knelt down and pantomimed picking something up and letting it run through her fingers. She then stood up and pretended to be breaking the ground with some tool.
Greer smiled and asked, "Gaia?"
Mina clapped her hands and nodded. She then pointed east again saying, "Ghie."
Greer became excited. If he had guessed correctly that meant there was land to the east. He had to contact the Pima quickly.
General Crist had finally decided to head back to his quarters and catch some shut-eye. He had not slept since the incident with the machine. Therefore, it was no surprise that as soon as his head hit the pillow he was fast asleep.
"General Crist?" a voice asked in Crist's dream. The voice sounded familiar yet he could not place it. "General Crist?" it asked again a little louder. Crist's mind was slowly starting to coalesce around consciousness. "General Crist?" the voice said again and Crist sat up in bed.
In the doorway of his quarters stood the seaman he met on deck the night before. Crist cleared his throat and swung his legs over the bed planting his feet on the floor.
"Yes," the general finally choked out.
"General, Captain Arnold wants to see you immediately," the sailor stated.
The general climbed out of bed wondering if the captain ever slept himself. General Crist and the escort hurried down the hallway and up stairs until they were in the bridge. Arnold was looking out the window up at the heavens.
"Sorry to wake you general," Arnold said never taking his eyes off the night sky. "Well, it looks like Reno was correct. We are on another world. Those are not our stars," the captain said turning to look at Crist.
"I'm assuming you called me up here for something else," Crist replied. Without his coffee after waking up, he could tend to be a bit short.
"Sorry general, you are correct," Arnold said he looked at the escort. "Ensign, please two coffees." The sailor saluted and left the bridge.
"Your man, Lt. Greer just called," Arnold began. "According to what he has learned from our castaway, land should be somewhere to the east. We still haven't seen anything on radar, but I will make sure some scout planes are sent out in the morning."
Crist nodded his head. This was important and it looked like Greer was eager to learn ancient Minoan. "Did the lieutenant say anything else?"
"Not much. He said he is working on the rag -- whatever that may be. He hopes to have it solved by morning," Arnold said.
"Captain," Crist said. "It looks like morning will reveal many things to us. So if you don't mind I will take a rain check on that coffee."
Crist joined Arnold on the bridge as soon as the sun broke over the eastern horizon. There was hot coffee all ready waiting there with some cinnamon rolls. The general wasted no time and helped himself to both
"Morning, general," Arnold greeted.
"Good morning, do you ever sleep," Crist asked.
"I've been catching some catnaps here and there. My XO has been insisting that I hit my bunk, but I can't do that."
Crist would have sided with the executive officer. However, if he were in charge of the fleet on an unknown world, he too would be close to the bridge.
Before Crist could say anything, a man in an army uniform walked onto the bridge. His eyes were red with lack of sleep and his uniform wrinkled.
"Lieutenant Greer," General Crist said to Captain Arnold, "is our interpreter. I believe you both spoke to each other last night.
Greer saluted both men as Crist held out a steaming cup of Joe for his young officer to drink. Greer nodded his thanks and drained the coffee oblivious to the hot liquid burning down his throat.
"Thanks," Greer said. "You won't believe what I have learned."
"Well, son maybe you should let us in on it," Crist urged.
"I have broken Linear A. Well, at least as much as is on this fabric," Greer said holding up the tattered cloth. "This is a prophecy of some sort. It reads, From Olympus over the sea, men in iron boats shall set us free."
Arnold and Crist continued to stare at Greer. The young lieutenant began to squirm uncomfortably under the gaze of the senior officers.
"Well...well, sirs," Greer stammered. "I believe that is why Mina, that is the castaway's name, sailed out to find us. We must be the men in the iron boats; in addition one of those boats is called the Olympus."
Captain Willy Hodgson was flying his TBF Avenger torpedo bomber on another scouting mission. His instructions were to fly as far east as fuel would allow and then head home. If he sighted any land or saw any vessel in the water, he was to alert the convoy as soon as possible.
For the most part the flight had been routine. There was just the blue sky above and the blue ocean below to keep him and his crew company. His crew (the radio operator and rear turret gunner) would occasionally crack a joke. But, for the most part, there was little to report.
Hodgson glanced down at his fuel gauge again. He still had three quarters of a tank of fuel left. There was still plenty of time to fly looking for anything of note to report. The morning sun still crept upward to its zenith. Hodgson did not know what to make of the report Captain Gracen of the Kiska gave. He wondered if it were true that they were on another planet. This did not look like any planet he ever read about in science fiction magazines. The sky was blue, the air breathable, and the ocean looked a lot like the Earth's.
"Captain," the bombardier said over the intercom. "Look down below us."
Hodgson looked at the sea below the plane. At first he did not see what Ericson, his radioman saw. But when he did, he had to do a double-take. There below him swam what looked like a giant sea serpent. Just like one he used to see on the borders of old maps.
"That can't be right," Hodgson said over the intercom.
"I see it too captain," Ericson replied. "That has to be one huge snake."
"You gotta be kidding me!" exclaimed Bobby James the turret gunner as he craned his neck to see the large monster moving in undulating motions through the ocean.
"Ericson, radio this in," Hodgson ordered. "I'm going in for a closer look."
Hodgson winged the Avenger over into a dive. The wind whistled past the canopy and over the wings as the plane dropped on the sea monster. If Hodgson had a bomb or torpedo he would have been tempted to drop it on the sea creature. However, to gain the maximum range from the torpedo bombers the scouts only flew with the .30 and .50 ammunition in their machineguns.
"My Lord, I hope that thing can't breathe fire," Ericson said casually.
Hodgson did not think about it twice. He pulled back the stick to level out the flight. If there were sea monsters, it was also possible that they could breathe fire. He just hoped that he was out of its range.
The sea serpent continued on its way without noticing the combat plane following it. It would dive its head under the sea only to bring it back to the surface several yards further on. The beast's body followed its head in the rhythmic movement.
"Cap, I've sent the message. They don't believe us, but they have it," Ericson broke in over the intercom.
Before Hodgson could reply, he noticed a shape growing larger on the horizon. As the sea serpent and the Avenger approached, the shape grew into an ancient wooden ship.
"Look at that thing. It looks like something from the Iliad," Hodgson said over the intercom.
The wooden ship had a bank of rowers and a large sail on a single mast. On the white sail, there was a design of a double axe head. However, little of this mattered to Hodgson. The sea serpent headed straight for the wooden ship as the crew of the boat tried to change its course.
The unireme would not be fast enough to escape the charge of the monster bearing down on it. Hodgson lowered the Avenger and sighted up the .30 machinegun in the nose on the beast. As he depressed the trigger, the armor piercing bullets ripped into the flesh of the serpent.
The great sea snake halted its charge and lashed out towards the descending aircraft. Hodgson pulled back on the stick and managed to avoid the great jaws of the wounded monster. Ericson and James opened up with their machineguns as the Avenger climbed back into the sky. Ericson's gun was a .30 like Hodgson's, however, James had the .50 and the effects of his armor piercing rounds on the sea serpent were devastating.
The sea serpent writhed in agony as it painted the ocean red with its lifeblood pouring from great ragged holes up and down its long body. Captain Hodgson turned the Avenger back around for a second strafing run. This time he made sure to stay high enough to be out of range of the tortured beast's giant maw.
The second run was even more destructive than the first. The giant sea serpent's head nearly exploded as Hodgson filled it with the steel rounds from the nose machinegun. When he pulled up, it was useless for Ericson and James to add their lethal fire for the great monster all ready lay floating lifelessly upon the ocean's surface. After a few minutes, the dead body slid below the waves.
Hodgson flew the plane low over the boat that was now heading eastward. The crew worked frantically at the oars. A few men looked over their shoulders in wide-eyed fear as the Avenger roared overhead. Nonetheless, Hodgson banked the aircraft and waved at the frightened crew. Just before he flew off towards the east again, he thought he saw one of the men below return his wave.
The old unireme disappeared in the distance behind the Avenger as it flew off. Hodgson was still mentally trying to get a grasp on exactly what all had occurred. He did not dwell long on it as he noticed land stretching out on the horizon before him. What grabbed his attention more than that was the smoke billowing up into the sky from the land.
Hodgson aimed the Avenger towards the smoke on the horizon. In only of a few minutes, he found himself flying over an ancient looking city. There was a natural harbor teaming with uniremes, trading vessels and fishing boats on the western edge. People were crowding the piers to get on one of the boats. A few of the boats were all ready heading out to sea.
On the northeastern side, the city was burning in a blazing infernal. A large breach had been forced into the stone wall and enemy forces were pouring through it torching and killing everything in their way. Outside the thick stone walls in trampled and burning fields raged a violent battle. Hodgson could not make out the combatants too well at his current altitude so he flew the Avenger back over the dust and smoke-choked battlefield at a much lower level.
On one side, the crew on the torpedo bomber could see men in bronze armor and heavy spears with bright points combating what appeared to be giant half-human creatures. The crew had only encountered these figures in mythology textbooks. There were thousands of minotaurs and cyclopes. The humans were having the worse of it. The huge axes and clubs of the gigantic opponents easily brushed aside or snapped the spears of the human defenders. Nonetheless, the humans continued to fight and occasionally would score on one of the mythical foes.
Without a second thought, Hodgson drove his plane into the combat and opened up on the inhuman forces with his nose-mounted machinegun. As he pulled up the guns in the rear of the plane added their weight to the carnage below. The Avenger flew back and forth over the battlefield several times repeating the strafing run leaving hundreds of dead and dying creatures on the field. However, Hodgson had to reluctantly turn the plane back out to sea when the aircraft ran out of ammo. Captain Hodgson and his crew only hoped that they had been able to even the odds that favored the inhuman army.
Captain Arnold at first could not believe his ears on hearing the TBF Avenger's reports. In the back of his mind, he still had hoped that they were on earth. If the reports were true and sea monsters, minotaurs, and one-eyed giants existed, then there was no doubt that they were indeed on another world.
Captain Arnold also fumed about the fact that the pilot of the scout plane took it upon himself to initiate combat. Granted, Arnold would have authorized the use of weaponry when he heard about the various monsters assaulting the humans. Nonetheless, there were still rules of engagement and Hodgson did not follow the chain of command in this instance. When the plane returned and when time allowed, the pilot would get a good chewing out by the captain.
However, the scout plane's reports did urge Arnold to action. If an inhuman army was assaulting the humans, he had to do something to help them. Fortunately General Crist was always near at hand. The two men quickly formed a plan.
The remaining 11 torpedo bombers would be loaded with either bombs or torpedoes and head for the city. Six of the F6F Hellcat fighter planes would escort them. The remaining 10 Hellcats would stay with the fleet on Combat Air Patrol or CAP. The Pima would launch its two OS2U Kingfisher floatplanes to scout out the land for an ideal place for a beachhead.
The convoy would steam as fast as possible towards the city. The LST, Landing Ship Tanks, had 15 M4 Sherman medium tanks onboard that could land on shore. It also had 4 LCVPs, Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel. General Crist could use these to start offloading the combat troops on the Olympus.
First, however, they would need a report from one of the Kingfishers on the best place to land. It was a desperate and deadly mission and they were going into it blind. Unfortunately, if the Avenger's reports were true, the humans did not have much time. In fact, there was a good possibility that they may be too late.
Lieutenant Dick Allen was the squadron leader for the Avengers. Half the planes in the flight group carried gravity bombs and the rest like his carried a torpedo. A flight of F6F Hellcats was above them acting as a protective screen against any possible threat from the air.
The aircrafts flew in the sky at cruising speed. They were on a constant look out for anything suspicious in the air or on water. Therefore, they could not fly too high or they might miss something important.
The flight could see the smoke on the horizon. They knew they were approaching land. So far, the flight had been uneventful, but everyone realized that that could change in a heartbeat.
Allen could see the dots of various boats on the horizon. As they grew larger as the distance between the flight of aircraft and the sea vessels rapidly dwindled, they could see that they were the uniremes, trading vessels and fishing boats reported by Hodgson's flight.
"Loot!" Bernie Davidson the radio operator and bombardier cried over the intercom. "Look to the starboard!"
Allen looked to his right to only become momentarily speechless. There in the ocean stood a man, or rather a giant. The giant stood bare-chested about twenty feet tall above the surface of the sea; his lower body submerged in the ocean. He wore a crown of polished pink coral on his gray head and held a huge trident in his right hand. The giant's long gray beard flowed in the air as he jerked his head towards the flight of aircraft.
"If that isn't King Neptune, I don't know who he could be," Bernie offered.
"Those ships look more Greek in design than Roman," Jack Harvey the tail gunner said. "I would bet that is Poseidon."
"I don't care if it is Abe Lincoln," Allen replied. "We'll keep a watch on him. Bernie radio the torpedo laden planes to stay with me. Have Ross take the rest of the flight to the mainland."
The giant did not give much notice to the flight of aircraft. He did not think it worth his time. His objective was to do something about the fleeing vessels arrayed before him. The giant raised his arm with the trident and gave a call that tore through the air in a deep bass.
The ocean began to bubble and boil around him when suddenly serpentine heads rose into the air. Sea serpents like that witnessed by Hodgson and his crew swam around the giant in writhing unholy dance.
The giant then pointed the trident at the disarrayed fleet of wooden boats ahead of him. The sea serpents charged like a cavalry of snakes towards the fleeing boats. The first wave of sea monsters quickly wrapped themselves around the helpless boats like a boa constrictor on its prey. The boats would then explode in a cloud of splinters. Any sailor that survived the crushing of their vessel the sea serpents quickly devoured in a ravenous feeding frenzy.
Allen and the rest of the flight crew watched in horror. "Pick your target and attack!" Allen cried as he put his Avenger into a dive towards the sea serpents. The rest of the flight did not need any further encouragement to follow suit.
Soon the sea was awash in blood as the Avengers opened up with their machineguns. Like with Hodgson's experience the sea monsters were vulnerable to the steel of the armor-piercing rounds that slammed into their bodies. Great cries ripped through the air as the serpents screamed in agony, their assault on the wooden fleet momentarily forgotten.
The giant now paid close attention to these steel birds wreaking havoc amongst his pets. The giant cried out a foreign command into the air as he again raised his trident this time aiming it at the flight of Avengers attacking the sea serpents.
A waterspout sprang into being and headed towards the aircraft. To avoid being caught up in the ocean born tornado the Avengers scattered. Allen ordered his flight crew to continue their assault on the sea serpents.
Allen aimed his torpedo bomber at the giant. When he was within range, he ordered Bernie to drop the Mark 16 torpedo. The lieutenant was glad that the fleet carried the new Mark 16 torpedo instead of the less reliable Mark 14, which was infamous for being a dud because of the detonator pin's tendency for bending when it came in contact with its target.
The giant watched curiously as the torpedo swam towards him. Confident that he was impervious to anything manmade the giant only smiled as he began to call another and larger waterspout into being.
The torpedo smashed into the giant's left leg; a huge splash erupted into the air as the torpedo exploded. To the giant's surprise, there was a lot of blood mixed in the spray. It took just a few seconds for the giant realized that the torpedo had utterly blown his left leg away.
The huge man fell backwards into the ocean. He floundered and struggled to stay above the water. His agonizing bellows filled the air. He had never experienced such pain before. The giant always believed that he was invulnerable to any manmade weapons, however the magnitude of the power belonging to a Mark 16 torpedo was much greater than a mere spear thrust or sword slash.
The remaining torpedo bombers dove onto the giant and released their torpedoes as well. Three of the four remaining Mark 16s found their mark. The giant who had never been wounded before, died as the three torpedoes detonated and tore off huge parts of his body.
As if by magic, the sea serpents halted their attack on the fleet and swam over to their king and master now lying face down in the ocean. There was not much left of the forty-foot long giant. He had lost both legs and an arm, his ribs lay exposed to the sun. The serpents swam in circles around their master mourning his death until his body finally sank below the waves leaving the ocean dyed red with his blood.
Lieutenant Ross continued to lead the remaining six TBF Avengers with their payload of bombs towards the mainland. The protective flight of F6F Hellcats also escorted the torpedo bombers towards their destination.
Captain Ray Walsh was the squadron leader for the Hellcats. Although the planes could also carry a bomb under each wing, this flight was only armed with the ammunition for their six .50 machineguns mounted in their wings. This was done in order for the fighters to remain with the longer range Avengers for the maximum amount of time in the air. Thus, weight had to be restricted.
As the two flights of aircraft approached, in the city that Hodgson's torpedo bomber discovered, the crew could make out that things have not gone well for the humans. This was despite Hodgson's strafing runs. The entire city now appeared to be in flames, the remaining humans were fighting tenaciously near the docks and piers of the harbor as the few remaining boats loaded up with human cargo. The huge minotaurs and cyclopes continued in their annihilation of the citizens and soldiers of the city below. They showed no signs of mercy.
"Okay, boys," Ross said over his intercom. "Let's see if we can help those people down there."
Ross aimed his Avenger towards the lead group of monsters. The muzzle of his .30 machinegun flashed as the steel rounds stitched their way towards the giant creatures. Several of the half-bovine minotaurs fell backwards as the bullets ripped through their torso. Ross's bombardier then released the 500 pound bombs which were residing the in the belly of the aircraft.
The ground shook as the bombs detonated amongst the ruins of the city. Huge clouds of dust, debris, and smoke obscured the view below. The giant monsters halted their onslaught long enough to look towards the sky. They were stunned into inaction to see five more of the torpedo bombers dropping their payload all over the ruined city. The entire city shook as if in a terrible earthquake as the bombs detonated.
Captain Walsh ordered his half-dozen Hellcats to help support the attack on the monsters crowding the city. The six .50 machineguns in each of the Hellcats chewed up any monster that survived the initial bombing raid. This was proving too much for the monsters below.
The few remaining human defenders did not know what to make of the strange mechanical birds in the sky smiting their foes. But, they did not question the fact that maybe some new god had come to take mercy on them. They cheered as the army of minotaurs and cyclopes began to retreat. The humans took rest and tried to restore order to their pitiful army as the few remaining civilian refugees took to the boats.
Both Ross and Walsh continued to press their advantage with continual strafing runs on the inhuman army below them. The constant pressure caused the lead forces to fall back. However, what started as a mere retreat soon became a rout. Soon the forces trying to leave the city were colliding with those trying to enter it. This resulted in massive confusion that rapidly became fear.
The entangled masses of monsters offered too tempting a target for the Avengers and Hellcats. The planes continued to fly in from all directions unleashing their deadly strafing attacks into the creatures below. Several times the aircraft came within feet of colliding with each other.
As with Hodgson's attack, the two wings of aircraft ran out of ammunition all too soon. The torn and mangled bodies of the invading army of monsters now littered the ravaged and burning city. Sadly, there was still a countless horde that was willing to replenish the ranks of the fallen.
However, much of the invaders enthusiasm for blood dampened when they witnessed the broken and shredded bodies of their more unfortunate comrades lying about. Instead of pressing the attack to finish off the remnants of the city's army, the minotaurs and cyclopes started surveying the carnage for any survivors.
The convoy made the best speed possible towards land. The Kingfisher scouts relayed that the best landing for the city would actually be at the city docks. For the moment, the defenders still held that part of the city. Even though the convoy was warned to be careful for there were many boats carrying the fleeing citizenry.
With the report of sea monsters in the area, Captain Arnold ordered all capable ships to use active sonar. The loud pings not only alerted any potential threat to the fleet, but also warned those threats that they better move along or face the consequences.
As the fleet steamed east, the warships only had to drop depth charges twice. One of the attacks not only produced the huge explosive spray, but also brought up some blood and body parts of an unfortunate sea serpent that got too close to the fleet.
The convoy soon encountered the fleeing flotilla of boats from the city. Captain Arnold would have liked to stop and help them out. However, his business with landing troops in the city took precedence because he did not know how much longer the defenders could hold out.
Nonetheless, Arnold had the foresight to have Lt. Greer and Mina on board the bridge. Mina was fascinated with the workings of the ship. Greer tried his best to describe what was going on with his limited vocabulary of Minoan which is what he referred to Mina's language. Mina was mindful to stay out of the way of the working men, especially the men in white lab-coats furiously working on a huge machine near the rear of the bridge.
"Lieutenant," Captain Arnold said as the cruiser sailed towards the ragtag flotilla of uniremes and fishing boats. "I need you tell those people out there that we are going to rescue their home."
Greer repeated the best he could what the captain wanted to tell Mina. Mina nodded her head but only asked, "How?" Captain Arnold handed Greer the microphone for the public address system.
Mina began to speak into the odd instrument and balked when she heard her voice boom out of the speakers like some kind of goddess. Greer urged her to continue. After a few seconds of hesitancy, Mina relayed her message. Captain Arnold requested that she continue the message repeatedly which she did.
General Crist walked over to Arnold when he had finished with the interpreter and the girl. "Captain, I have only four LCVPs or Higgins boats for landing," Crist said. "Each Higgins can only hold 36 soldiers, meaning I can land only about a 144 men at a time."
Arnold frowned, acknowledging Crist's concern. With only about a 140 men landing at a time, they could have a hard time establishing a good beachhead. Arnold paced back and forth for a time. Then he walked over to his radioman and spoke a few minutes with him. After 'Sparky' sent off a message, they all waited for the response.
On hearing the response, Arnold walked back over to Crist. "We are in luck, according to my scouts the city piers are made of stone and should be capable of offloading the Olympus. Our only concern is whether the depth is deep enough. I will send the Blake ahead to get sonar readings."
"Let's hope we can get there before we lose sunlight," Crist said watching as the sun started lowering in the west nearly kissing the ocean.
PFC Daniels did not know what to think. The night before the officers told the soldiers that through some malfunction of a secret weapon, and the entire fleet might have ended up on another world. Most of the troopers figured it was just some sort of joke or initiation on the green troops.
The sun was dipping towards the ocean to the west when the Olympus docked next to a long stone pier. The Pima, still steaming back and forth in the harbor, kept broadcasting the same message in a strange tongue repeatedly. The fact that the speaker was a woman only added more mystery to the strange events.
The officers wasted no time assembling the soldiers and preparing them for combat. Daniels had his rucksack and M1 Garand in hand when Sergeant Jim "Jolly" Rogers barked out the command for his squad to disembark.
The sergeant led his men down the gangplank and over the pier towards a burning, rubble-laden city. The soldiers took quick glances around them as they ran up the stone pier. Daniels had never been to Greece, but from what he remembered in his old school textbooks, the buildings looked Grecian in construction.
Occasionally, the men would spot a human watching them curiously from behind some ruined building. The few people the soldiers saw looked like ancient Greek soldiers as well. They wore polished bronze armor and carried a thick ox-hide shield with various images on them, a short bronze sword, a long heavy hafted spear, and the telltale bronze helmet with a horsehair plume.
"Okay you dogfaces!" roared Sergeant Rogers as the men assembled on the main road on the edge of the city. "If you didn't believe the fairy tale you were told last night you can see for yourself that it is real."
Several soldiers looked around at the burning city and the endless stream of G.I.s issuing from the Olympus. The carcass of a minotaur lay not far from the soldiers. It was half buried in the debris from a collapsed building.
"Sarge, this can't be real," moaned one soldier.
"You better believe it is real or you may get a rude awakening," the sergeant stated pointing to the half-bovine corpse with the barrel of his Thompson submachine gun. "You ain't going to get any steaks from that. In fact, it'll probably have you for dinner if you aren't careful.
"Now, we are going to rid what's left of this town of creatures like these as well as those one-eyed beasts you guys read about in the Odyssey. We will push through this city and anything that is bigger than a man is a target. You will not harm any civvies, you will not harm any half-naked man in golden armor, and you will assist anyone of the above. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yessir!!" the soldiers replied in unison.
"All right let's head out," Rogers said as he led his men through the debris choked roads of the town.
PFC Daniels held his M1 Garand at ready. He searched the surrounding area anxiously looking for some giant to assail him and his squad. They laboriously worked their way through the debris.
The fires were scattered and there were occasional house still standing. Daniels noted that there was not a house over three storeys tall. There were also many bodies; too many of them were human. He tried not to look at their faces. He was already feeling ill.
Suddenly Sergeant Rogers opened up with his Tommy gun. A giant with one-eye stood towering over the sergeant with a huge wooden club raised. The .45 bullets from the submachine gun ripped a series of bloody holes across the cyclops's naked chest.
The giant gave out a howl of pain before falling backwards into the debris of a burning building. His body writhed in the fire as it consumed the beast's flesh.
A bellow brought Daniels back to his own concerns. A minotaur raised itself out of a pile of broken stones and charged the private while swinging its giant double-headed axe. PFC Daniels took a few steps backwards and opened up with the semi-automatic Garand. Two .30 bullets hit the monster in the upper torso. The shaggy-headed beast shook off the effects and roared in a bull-like cry. The minotaur charged again and Daniels emptied the M1 into the beast's chest and head. He even shot off one of its huge horns.
The minotaur's eyes fell back into their sockets and its tongue lay limp out of its bloody mouth. However the dead carcass of the beast continued to charge towards the private in a lumbering stagger. It finally fell to the ground but its momentum caused the body to tumble onto the soldier. Daniels felt the heavy weight of the brute pin him to the ground.
Under the body of the foul smelling half-bull creature Daniels could hear the combat around him as his squad fought off an ambush. Haskill's BAR fired off small bursts, as did Roger's Tommy gun. The rest of the squad continued to fire their M1s. There was the sound of a couple of explosions resulting in the use of the hand grenades.
Daniels could not see anything and try as he might he could not move the carcass off his body. He had to take shallow breaths for his chest was compressed under the minotaur's weight. The battle raged around him and all he could hear were the screams and roars of men and beast fighting in desperate combat.
"Haskill bring that BAR to bear over there." Sergeant Roger's voice cried over the din of combat. "Jenkins, call up the Pima and see if we can get some support before we lose all the remaining day light.
"Everyone fall back!" Daniels did not like the sound of the sergeant calling the men to pull back. The private tried to call out for help, but he could not manage anything over a hoarse whisper.
Grunts and growls of the beasts radiated around where Daniels was pinned under the body. He no longer heard the voice of his squad mates. Although, he could still hear the sound of automatic and semi-automatic fire in the distance.
Within a few minutes of the squad pulling back, Daniels could hear the whistling of the incoming artillery from all nine of the Pima's 8 inch guns. Daniels said a silent prayer and braced for the inevitable explosions that were about to commence. Though he could not see them, Daniels could imagine the inhuman creatures gathered around looking to the sky at the whistling death about to land on them.
The ground shook in a violent quake as the 8 inch shells exploded around Daniels. The cries of wounded and dying monsters mingled with the crashing shells. By the amount of shells falling around the area, Daniels figured that the heavy cruiser had sent a second volley. Miraculously after a half minute of intense bombardment the explosions finally stopped. More miraculously, Daniels found that not only did he survive unscathed but also the body of the minotaur had been shaken off him.
Daniels picked himself up from the ground. Around him lay the remains of giant monsters. Most were dead, and the rest were dying. Daniels reloaded his M1 and commenced to put the dying beasts out of their misery. The sun now had dipped below the horizon and the only light came from the flickering flames of the fires spread about the ruined city.
General Crist stood in a room of one of the more intact buildings still standing near the harbor of the city. It had been heavy work all morning. However, once the crew unloaded the artillery from one of the cargo ships, it was only a matter of a couple of hours before the soldiers were able to push the army of monsters out of the city.
The LST had to move further south to be outside the city walls in order unload its cargo of tanks, trucks and jeeps. Even if they could have unloaded the vehicles in the city, so much debris blocked the roads that the vehicles would not have been of much use.
Crist looked at the papers before him. He had 15 - M4 Sherman medium tanks, 20 - GMC CCKW 2 1/2-ton trucks and 10 - Willys Jeeps that all came off the LST. He also had 24 - 105mm Howitzer M2A1 artillery pieces, 75 - M1919 .30 machineguns, and 80 - M2 .50 machineguns. Not to mention a yet unspecified number of mortars, bazookas, landmines, and even crates of M1 Garand rifles. Plus, they had tools, metal detectors, some trailers and even bulldozer blades for the Shermans.
However, even though they had plenty of munitions for the various weapons they did not have an unlimited supply. Nor did they have any fuel other than what they found in the barrels aboard the cargo ships and the oil in the tanker. They also did not have many spare parts for the ships or the vehicles.
General Crist stood looking over the papers with some of his more senior officers. There was a lively debate as to whether they should train the natives in the use of their modern weapons or, show them how to manufacture them on their own. What was the best when the crew left after the scientists repaired the machine? Should they leave any equipment behind from the Pima once they could return home?
Of course, one of the major problems was they did not know how long they would be here. General Crist was still awaiting word from either Dr. Reno or Dr. Berger on the progress of the machine. So far, the scientist's efforts to repair the machine had been undisclosed. With the recent battles, neither General Crist nor Captain Arnold had time to inquire.
As if conjured from Crist's mind, both Dr. Reno and Dr. Berger entered the room. The officers stopped their debate and watched as Berger pushed Reno into the room in a wheelchair. The head scientist was still pale; his torso still wrapped in clean bandages. However, his eyes were alert.
"Ah, doctors," Crist said to the men. "I was just thinking about you."
"Good day general," Reno spoke. "I apologize I have not been up to par lately. I will try to answer any questions you may have."
"As a matter of fact, we all would like to know how long it will take for you to repair the machine," Crist said to the nods of his senior officers.
Crist noticed Berger stare down at his feet. The scientist was obviously not comfortable. Finally, Reno answered, "I'm sorry general. The cloaking machine cannot be repaired."
The officers started to shout and asked questions of the scientists all at the same time. General Crist had to yell for everyone to calm down at the top of his voice. When the officers finally quieted down, Crist turned his intense gaze to the head scientist.
"What do you mean it cannot be repaired," the general said in forced even voice.
"Simply that we do not possess the parts to repair it, nor the means to manufacture those parts," Reno stated in a matter of fact voice.
Before the room could erupt into chaos again, the general looked over every officer in the room. Finally, he spoke, "Gentlemen, what we just heard does not leave this room. We must keep hope up in our men, so until we can think of a solution we keep telling the men the machine is being worked on."
"General," Reno interrupted. "I said we do not possess the means to manufacture the parts we need. However, we do possess the ability to construct the proper factories. It will take time, but I believe we can do it."
General Crist nodded his head in resignation. They would have to bring these Bronze Age people into the modern age rather quickly.
"Okay," the general finally said. "We'll have to look into this. I want you Dr. Reno to make a list of what we are going to need."
"Well, firstly we will need to establish schools. The first will have to deal with language. Others will have to be in physics, chemistry, construction, and even farming to name a few."
"That is a good start," General Crist acknowledged. "Men, I want you to go amongst your men and find anyone who has a background in any of these fields. I also want people with a background in law enforcement and other social programs; we are going to need those too."
The officers nodded and muttered some 'yes sirs', they were still disappointed to hear about the machine not being able to be repaired.
Suddenly, Lt. Greer and Mina entered the room led by one of Crist's aides. The general almost forgot that he had asked the two to meet with him as well. As the two walked in the general made room for the two to sit at the table. The officers looked at the general, the general only glared at the men to tell them to keep quiet about what they had just discussed.
"Well, lieutenant we have a few questions I hope you and the young lady can answer," the general said after the two sat down.
Greer translated the best he could to Mina. Mina nodded that she understood and looked to the general. General Crist noticed her dark brown hair and brown eyes in her smooth olive skin. The woman had to be in her early twenties at best. He noticed that she was wearing her native attire that consisted of a white tunic with a golden scroll-like design embroidered on the hem.
"My first question is: what is the name of the city we just liberated?" Crsit asked.
Mina understood what the general asked and promptly replied, "Zakrostas."
"Good, good," the general nodded. "My second question is: what is the name of the country we are in?"
Mina did not understand what country meant and looked towards Greer with a puzzled expression on her face. The interpreter said a few words in her native language before she smiled and answered, "Atlantis."
"General," Dr. Reno broke the silence. "You better find anyone with a background in history, archaeology, and anthropology as well."
An old man with wild white hair and a matching beard sat upon his gilded throne. He wore a simple white toga and a gold crown sat upon his head. He looked around the room at the assembly around him. He still had not heard any word yet about the war.
"What can be keeping my brother?" grumbled the old man.
"Relax, oh king," a beautiful woman lying across the lap of a bronzed skin man wearing armor said. "Your brother knows his job and has never failed you yet."
"Yes, father," the man in the armor added. "I am sure Uncle has performed his duties."
"What do you think daughter?" the king asked the woman sitting by herself wearing armor much like her brothers.
"From Olympus over the sea, men in iron boats shall set us free. The coming fight will split heaven, bringing against us the wrath of seven. In the end, those across the Styx will only number a paltry six. I think that you, Zeus might have much to fear," the woman said. "The prophecy will come true and men will rise against us gods.
"Gods!" spat the woman. "Only to the mortals are we gods. Just because we will not die of age or disease does not mean we are gods,"
"Athena, watch your tongue!" snapped Zeus. "We brought the mortals here to our world to worship us. To be our slaves, our breeding stock, our pawns, whatever we want from them."
"You fear a prophecy that men had made," the man in armor added. "We keep no men here on Olympus. So where are the men in iron boats supposed to come from?
"The mortals have not been giving us our due so we naturally need to remind them of who we are. Even now, Poseidon is leading his forces of sea serpents and cyclopes with father's minotaurs as reinforcements against Zakrostas. The city shall fall and the rest of Atlantis will respect and worship us. Plus, the female slaves from the city shall arrive any day now."
"Ares," Zeus said, "you are correct in many things. Nevertheless, Athena speaks wisdom in being concerned with the prophecy. Even Apollo has confirmed it as much as he can. Although he cannot give us anymore answers than we have now."
"I am sorry father," Apollo replied lightly plucking the strings of his lyre. "The vision is not clear. Even I cannot force things that are beyond my power."
The beautiful woman laughed, "You all sound like old women."
"Aphrodite do not mock father," a man wearing leg braces admonished.
"Sorry, husband," Aphrodite said with heavy sarcasm. "Too bad you are not half the man as your brother, Ares."
Ares smiled as he stroked Aphrodite's soft golden hair. "Hephaestus is only half a man," mocked the God of war.
The blacksmith scowled. It was bad enough his wife warmed Ares' bed instead of his, but having the two mock him made things worse.
"Enough!" roared Zeus, his voice rumbled through the hall like thunder.
"Look, husband," Hera, his queen said from her throne. "Even now I see Hermes returning on winged foot.
The messenger of the gods flew into the great hall. He carried a large bundle in his arms and as he landed lightly upon the floor, he gave Zeus a sorrowful look.
"Hermes, what troubles you?" the king asked.
"I do not know how, but Poseidon has been defeated," Hermes said in a dour voice.
"Defeated? How is that possible? What did you see?" Zeus urged excitedly standing up from his throne.
"I saw your army retreating, if you can call a rout -- a retreat in disarray," Hermes said. "Their numbers were only a third of what set out against Zakrostas."
"Surely my brother can still raise the waves and shake the earth against the city. His sea serpents can destroy their fleet," Zeus countered.
"I'm afraid he cannot," Hermes replied. He then opened the bundle in his arms. In the bundle, the mangled remains of Poseidon rolled to the floor. His legs were missing, as was his left arm. His ribs were exposed through the torn flesh in his side. Even half his face was gone, revealing his grinning skull.
"NO!" screamed the king. His sorrow thundered across mount Olympus. "How can this be? He was immortal."
"Father, we are only immortal against age and disease. We are also impervious to any spear, sword, or bow that can be wielded by man," Athena stated. "However, the humans must have discovered some great weapon that can harm us."
Fear spread through the room. The gods looked at each other seeking answers. If the humans could kill the gods, then their days were numbered.
Ares jumped to his feet, nearly dumping Aphrodite to the ground. "Father, I can lead an army against the humans. Give me Hermes' draco-lords, and his griffins, Hades' Necro-lords, and his dead. I will overwhelm the humans."
"I too can create an army of Talos, my bronze giants to march against the humans," Hephaestus added.
"Not so fast brother dear," Athena cautioned. "You need to plan this out."
"We need action and we need it now!" spat Ares.
"It will take time for me to assemble the Necro-lords and the dead," Hades said to Ares. "As I am sure it will take Hermes some time to assemble his Draco-lords and their mounts as well as the griffins."
"How much time?" scowled Zeus, his thirst for revenge growing ever more in his heart.
"I can have everything ready in three months," Hades replied.
"I too can be ready in that amount of time," Hermes stated.
"How long for your Talos to be ready, Hephaestus?" asked Zeus.
"It will take me much longer, father," the blacksmith said.
"We do not have the time, father," Ares cried. "We need action now!"
"If you want to move against the humans and be assured their destruction, you would be wise to wait for all components to be readied," Athena counseled.
"I do not need any help. I have my own army of cutthroats and mercenaries," Ares replied. "I will set out immediately and I will finish the job on Zakrostas that my dear uncle was not able to."
"Maybe you should send out spies and see what they are up to," Athena offered.
"Spies? I do not need spies. Am I not the god of war?" cried Ares.
"I will concede that you are the god of bloodlust and murder," Athena added.
"I have had enough of your words. You sound defeatist, sister," Ares said with scorn. "When action is called for, you want to think about it. Well, we don't have time for your precious thinking." Ares grabbed his spear, and shield, and then marched out of the room. As he left he called out, "Victory and glory shall be mine!"
The American soldiers and some of the British sailors, or Otherworlders as the locals called them, had done much in the last week to clean up the rubble of Zakrostas. The army cleared the streets of debris and rebuilding had begun. They also removed the huge numbers of corpses by either burning or burying them.
The citizens of Zakrostas were at first hesitant as to what to make of these strange people from the sea. Mina did much to help win them over. She quoted the old prophecy of men in iron boats and told them that one of the ship's names was the Olympus. After that, the people of Zakrostas welcomed their liberators as heroes, some even as gods.
With the lack of housing, due to the utter destruction of the city, tents were set up as temporary shelters for the citizens to live in. As more refugees returned to their city, housing was becoming a crisis. There were few buildings left undamaged from the recent battle.
The language barrier was a big obstacle at first. However, between Lt. Greer and Mina many of the Otherworlders and the people of Zakrostas learned the other's language well enough to get basic ideas across. The language schools that were established proved very popular.
General Crist wasted no time in repairing the breach in the wall and laying out the best defensive measures possible. Although, they had plenty of rifles they did not have enough ammunition to press an offensive. It would be some time before they would be able to manufacture their own bullets not to mention grenades and shells for the tanks, the artillery, and the ships.
Crist also strictly rationed the activities of all vehicles to conserve as much fuel as possible. The only oil they had was in the tanker and they did not have any refining facilities. Some of the engineers believed that they could convert some of the vehicles to burn alcohol.
The men were proving to be very ingenious. They already had a blacksmith shop with a Bessemer converter to make pig iron into steel. The introduction of the modern saddle, bridle, and stirrup proved extremely popular with the Atlanteans. Another group had already begun construction of a watermill on the Skalandos River south of the city. The mill would prove extremely valuable in powering the first factories planned for the city.
General Crist had no problem assuming control over the city. It appeared that the city's leaders were the first to evacuate and headed for the capital city of Atlantis. The remaining military forces of Zakrostas were eager to learn from the Otherworlders. The U.S. forces taught them how to fire the rifles and modern military tactics.
"We've been knocking over every latrine looking for saltpeter," one of the soldiers in charge of making gunpowder explained to the general. "Until we can get better facilities up and running we will be only able to make black powder. This I believe will be in conjunction with the introduction of the muskets planned to be manufactured."
Crist nodded his head. The muskets would be the easiest weapon manufactured at this time. Plus, the more weapons made and put into the hands of the local military the better off they were. He had already concluded that only the Otherworlders would use the M1s unless there was an invasion.
The removal of the latrines was also proving to be expedient in another matter. The medical staff on the Respite determined that the sanitation conditions of Zakrostas were deplorable. The construction of a modern sewage system was already in progress with the reconstruction of the city. With it was planned running water in every household.
Corporal Manders kept watch on the south wall. The sun was high in the sky and its hot rays beat down on him relentlessly. The smell of human and animal waste permeated the air. The corporal mused that Homer never talked about the omni-present smell of sewage. He would rather be anywhere but on sentry duty. However, it was his turn and so he stood on the wall looking to the south.
At first, he thought it was just a cloud, but then the dust cloud grew larger as time moved on. Corporal Manders called for the officer on duty to confirm what he was looking at. Captain Miller took out his field glasses and focused on the gathering dust cloud.
Down the road marched about five hundred men wearing bronze armor and armed with the long spear. One man rode a horse in front of the small army. Behind him marched a standard-bearer with the symbol of a double-headed axe on the standard.
The captain quickly called his superior who then passed it on to General Crist. The general wasted no time in mounting the wall to observe the procession himself. By now, the army was within half an hours march to the city's southern gate.
The general quickly assembled some men to prepare to meet the delegation outside the gate. For a show of force, he would ride in one jeep, Greer and Mina would ride in another and two M4 Sherman tanks would drive along with them. The hastily assembled reception party drove out of the gate fifteen minutes after Crist noticed the delegation approaching the city.
As the quartet of vehicles approached, the advancing army stopped. The man riding the horse had a hard time retaining control over the terror-stricken animal. Even some of the soldiers hedged back waiting for the first chance to run.
Sergeant Maxwell the general's driver halted the jeep several yards in front of the Atlantean army. The tanks pulled up next to the jeep and halted as well. General Crist and the two guards riding along with him and the driver left the vehicle. The guards had their Garands ready in case they needed a show of force. Although the tanks would be much better at it than two men with .30 rifles.
Lt. Greer hopped down from his jeep which was parked behind the general's; as usual, Mina escorted him. They walked a few paces behind Crist and the guards. When the five people were a few paces away from the man on the horse they stopped. The well-muscled rider wore a kilt and a bronze breastplate, under his highly polished helmet with a long black horsehair plume the dark tan face of a man in his thirties looked down on them. His hair and short-cropped beard were black and his piercing eyes were brown.
The man on the horse said something to the Americans, and Greer quickly translated, "Greetings, God killers! I am King Podaistas and I welcome you to my kingdom."
General Crist spoke to the king through Greer and Mina, "Greetings king, I am General Crist and we come in peace and friendship."
"I hear that you and your metal monsters have defeated the army sent by the gods to punish us. I also hear that you have slain the mighty king of the seas, King Poseidon. My people have been spared and all owe you their lives," King Podaistas said in a mighty voice.
Crist smiled and said, "Your Greatness, it is our sworn duty to protect the innocent from oppressors. On our world, we were embarking on such a mission. We ended up in your kingdom by mistake. Yet our mission is still the same."
The king high on his wide-eyed mount looked down on the general and his men. Then in a loud voice for all to hear the king stated, "In payment for your deeds I grant you the city of Zakrostas and all the lands north of the Skalandos River and east of the city to the land of the Asgards of the kingdom of Ragnarok east of the Dragonspine Mountains."
The village behind Theena and her ragtag group of militia was burning. Thick gray smoke billowed up into the air. Ares and his bloodthirsty horde had just overrun the village. The farmers turned militia was no match for the god of war and his minions of cutthroat mercenaries. The attackers quickly overcame the village's defenses and the defenders fought tenaciously hoping to buy some time for the women and children to evacuate south.
Now all that remained of the village of Knopso's defenders was Theena and six militiamen. The tired warriors hurried south ahead of the ravishing army of Ares. It appeared that Ares was taking his time heading for Zakrostas torching every village and hamlet on his way. The war god's scorched-earth policy did not even spare the fields of ripening grain or the livestock.
It appeared that Ares chose this route over that used by the previous invasion by the minotaurs and cyclopes because the villages were untouched. He had deliberately gone out of his way in order to wreak as much destruction as possible.
Theena looked at the sky. The sun burned in an ominous blood red through the smoke obstructing its view. Black ravens and gangly-necked vultures were gathering across the countryside for the meal that the god of war was providing. It was no mere coincident that Ares and vultures were associated together. Because often where you found one, the other was not far behind.
"Teukros," Theena ordered. "Run ahead to the next village warn them that Ares is on the march and his bloodlust runs high. Ask if they have any militia that would help us to slow down Ares advance. Then make sure that all refugees head for Zakrostas or Atlantis itself."
The young teenager looked at Theena with a tired expression on his blood-smeared and soot-stained face. He still held the spear he had fought with in Knopso it was his only weapon. The youth nodded his head silently; he was too exhausted to speak -- let alone to run to the next village. Yet Teukros summoned the last reserves of his strength and began to lope down the trail to Thelos the next village.
Theena looked at the five men that remained. They too were all exhausted and more farmer than soldier. However, they knew if they failed in slowing Ares' advance, their family and loved ones would be put to the sword.
"There is a pass through the Tekos Hills further south of here. We may be able to slow them down there if we hurry," Theena said.
The farmers accepted Theena's authority. Even though it was not common, women sometimes fought next to the men in combat. With all the village leaders either dead or fleeing, Theena quickly took control of the strategy of the combat. Because of her able command, the farmers actually succeeded in slowing down the advancing horde long enough for the villagers to flee. However, it came at a high price. There were now only seven combatants left out of the 136 that began the fight.
Pheidas rode along with his band of bandits that owed their allegiance to Ares. The war god was always good at providing valuable plunder when he set out for war. Even now, a horde as never seen on the continent before was marching southward to destroy the Atlantean city of Zakrostas. The rumor was that they might hit the Atlantean capital itself -- the city of Atlantis.
The pillaging and plundering would be great. For centuries to come, the poets would tell the story of Ares and his army of mercenaries, bandits, and renegades. Pheidas planned to earn himself a line or two in the epic poem that would inevitably result.
For the moment, Pheidas and his mounted men were to scout ahead of the main advance. The village of Knopso surprised everyone with how effective the farmers fought. The outcome was a forgone conclusion and all the farmers did was to prolong their agony.
Men trotted their horses along the dusty trail. Many of the bandits wore a mask over the face. It was not to hide their identities, but to filter out the smoke and dust that choked the air. If Pheidas pushed hard enough, his men could make Thelos in time to pillage it before they lost the sun. He had the numbers and the men were eager. Hence, he started to pick up the pace and kicked his horse into a gallop. The band following him did likewise, kicking up huge cloud of dust in their wake.
Theena looked to the northwest where the road turned from Knopso. She could spy the telltale cloud of dust of a cavalry unit on the gallop. She signaled to the three men on the opposite hill by raising her spear and waving it back and forth. Then she dove behind a boulder and looked towards the two men with her.
"Do you think this will work?" asked a burly farmer, he had a dirty and bloody bandage on his head.
"Iamenos," Theena said. "There is no guarantee. But, this should slow them down."
"If the gods are willing, we may actually survive," Oros a smaller and older farmer replied.
"Forget the gods," Theena spat, "they have forsaken us. We must look to our own devices."
There had not been as much time as Theena would have liked to prepare. Nevertheless, she put the men to work as soon as they reached the pass. The men surpassed themselves by working so hard and quickly. They had to be on their last reserves of strength. They had fought a pitched battle, undergone a forced march, and still were able to accomplish many of the tasks that Theena demanded of them at the pass.
Pheidas rode his mount hard. He had hoped that his men would be able to overcome a few straggling refugees from Knopso before they reached Thelos. Although, they did not have much time, they could still squeeze in a little fun before they sacked the village.
Pheidas smiled when he saw the pass for it marked the midway point between Knopso and Thelos. The men were making very good time and the horses were still strong enough to gallop even further.
The bandit leader raised his spear over his head and circled the tip before aiming it to the pass. The men gave a loud cheer and race after their leader. Their bloodlust was at its fever pitch, and the men could not wait to ransack another village.
The pass was only a quarter of a mile long and Pheidas was just coming out the other side when a rockslide tumbled down in front of him. Pheidas pulled his horse to a halt and nearly ended up unhorsing himself in the process. Dirt and rocks rained down between the bandits and the exit.
Pheidas wheeled his horse around; he scanned the hilltops for any partisans. What he saw was a spear flying towards him, and then striking him in the chest. His blackened bronze armor did little to halt the force from the spear. Before he tumbled from his horse, he witnessed a woman on the hill smiling to see her aim was good. Pheidas fell from his mount and spilled his lifeblood into the thirsty road.
The other bandits gave a cry and some tried to leave from the other end. However, another rockslide closed it off as well. The riders wheeled about on their horses, the hillsides of the pass were too steep to climb quickly and a few spears and arrows rained down on them.
Several men were unhorsed as the projectiles pierced their armor leaving them dying in the dirt road. The bandits were desperate and some dismounted and tried to scrabble up the rocky slopes. Logs, rocks, and few arrows fell upon them killing many. However, their numbers were too great and they were eventually able to reach the summits.
Both sides were exhausted from the efforts to either gain the top of the hill or the attempt to forestall the ascent of the bandits. A fierce hand-to-hand combat resulted when the two sides met. Even though they again fought tenaciously and gave better than they received, the militia was finally overwhelmed.