We’re rolling now.
6. The Death Tribe and the Goddess
Tobun’s hut was modest in size compared to some of the other dwellings in the village. Some tribesmen had built their homes into the largest trees at the edges of the clearing, leading to some intricate and large designs. Their eldest member, however, was a man of minimal needs. Thick boughs made up the structure, with stretched hides forming a roof over. The hut was octagonal in shape and very closely resembled a yurt.
Women of the tribe, the first either of the time travelers had seen since arriving, brought in a series of steaming, deep pots, all with different meats and vegetables on skewers inside. Tobun explained that everything they were eating had been caught or harvested that same day. The forest was apparently verdant with flora and fauna, and while agriculture was not a technology unknown to the tribe, the sheer volume of edible plants growing naturally did not require them to grow and tend their own food, or find solutions for irrigation.
The meal was well received by both the Doctor, who politely accepted the fifth and sixth round of food even though he was feeling very uncomfortable well before pushing his bowl away.
The Captain, who had finally been tended to by Tobun’s trusted healers, had a healthy appetite and ate twice as much as either of the other men.
“We appreciate your hospitality, Tobun,” the Doctor said to him. “And now that I have eaten your food I will say thank you.”
“Yes, this was a fine feast,” Captain Light agreed, belching behind a fist.
“I take it by your tone and polite shifting of your bowls that you are now moving from accepting gifts to demanding answers,” Tobun said with a slight smirk. “But before we begin, I want you to know that I purposefully ended the discussion earlier in order that you would hear only information that would help you. While the men that help me in the affairs of this village are wise in their own ways, each has their own agenda, and all would have given you different versions of the answers you are probably looking for.”
“Well, thank you for that,” the Doctor replied. “We realize our coming here is met with some suspicion.”
“I do not suspect you of being anything other than two travelers waylaid on their journey. I will do what I can to help you, and the rest of the tribe will do as command them. Now, let us speak less of the moment and more of that which is unknown to you. Ask your questions.”
The Doctor and the Captain looked at each other, and Captain Light nodded for the Doctor to go ahead.
“How long has she been here?” the Doctor asked. “Does she have a name?”
“Long before I was born, and before my father’s father’s father was born, she was here,” Tobun answered. “And next you will ask how she has not aged. Ages ago we worshiped her as a goddess, and so the dream of her has always been alive in our minds. She is the only goddess in the pantheon, and so we simply call her Goddess. The rest of our gods took the form of men or animals. The palace where she gathers her followers was a temple built for worship of her, though we abandoned it long ago when the Death Tribe appeared.”
“Why then?” the Doctor pressed.
“It was a dark time for our people, and we were very nearly destroyed by the Death Tribe. We turned from our gods after seeing that they had abandoned us to the evil force that spawned our wicked brothers. The Death Tribe took over the temple, and the Death God used it as his seat of power. The Death Tribe believed a prophecy that they had been chosen to purify the planet. The Death God convinced them that if our species were to survive on this planet, it would eventually spawn a child that would destroy everything, the planet, the stars. And so they slaughtered us, and they did so with suicidal fervor, knowing that their deaths had purpose. The planet was once swarming with different tribes, but most were either destroyed or turned to the beliefs of the Death Tribe.”
Captain Light shifted uncomfortably in his seat, and the Doctor was not oblivious to it.
“I notice that your people have survived,” the Doctor responded. “How long ago did all this happen?”
“My grandfather was a child when the Death Tribe was defeated and the Death God disappeared. The temple remained empty until two winters ago. That was when new stars began to appear in our sky. The people began to say that new gods had arrived to protect us. And that is when she appeared,” Tobun said gravely.
At this, the Captain sat forward. “Did she come in a ship from space?”
Tobun shook his head. “As I told you before, the last spaceship to land here left when I was a child. There was a tribe that made their homes in the cliffs to the North of the temple, some distance from here. We once traded with them quite frequently. Ryn Fegh had taken his caravan there on his winter route, but when he arrived the village was abandoned except for one man who was dying. The man had cut off his hands, and with his last words he told Ryn Fegh that the entire village had been possessed by the Goddess and had gone to her temple.
“Ryn Fegh traveled to the temple to verify this, and he spied lights there that had not been there before. Keeping hidden, he watched the temple, and, indeed, the tribe were all there, and each of them had a red right hand. Ryn Fegh attempted to speak with him, but they acted as if he was not there. They went about their lives in a happy daze, eating and drinking and socializing, but only with those who bore the red hand. Ryn was invisible to them. Before he left, he says he saw the Goddess descend from the temple and the people bow to her. In fear and awe, Ryn Fegh fled back to us, and related his tale.”
“And then this … disease,” the Doctor mused. “The red right hand began to spread to other villages? Including your own?”
“News of the rebirth of the Goddess, coupled with the new constellations in the sky caused a resurgence in the worship of the old gods. Ryn Fegh, being a traveling merchant, spread his tale along his caravan route, and so, many of the tribes also began this worship, some more than others. They began pilgrimages to the temple, and most never returned, but some did. Those of our village that returned bore the red hand, though the happiness and contentment that Ryn Fegh witnessed at the temple did not carry back to their villages. They demanded we all return with them to the temple and give ourselves to the Goddess. Those affected were violent and possessed a deadly power in those hands. If we attempted to restrain them or attack them, they would cause the attackers to turn to dust.”
“What about the other weapons, the plasma rifles and such,” Captain Light interjected. “Where did they come from?”
“Devos can tell you better than I,” Tobun admitted. “His tribe fought them in combat. When Devos made his way to our village after his tribe was slaughtered, that was the first we heard of the weapons.”
The Doctor and Captain Light exchanged glances.
“I think that about covers it,” Captain Light said, standing from his seat. “We really appreciate–”
“Wait a moment,” the Doctor interrupted him. “Tobun, I have a few more questions, if you don’t mind.”
Tobun nodded for the Doctor to proceed. Captain Light seemed reluctant to sit back down, but did so with a sigh.
“This Death Tribe. How exactly did you defeat them?” the Doctor asked.
“A hero appeared. Some say he was the very child the prophecies said would bring about the destruction of all things, already born and grown to adulthood. He united the tribes that were left and led them against the Death God. Shortly after that final battle, the hero disappeared. My grandfather said that the hero came from our tribe, and when he returned after defeating the Death God, the village elders gave him an artifact of great power that allowed him to leave this place forever.”
“Sounds like every other hero prophecy I’ve ever heard. I’m sure they’ve got a genesis story and a great flood like everyone else, too,” the Captain quipped.
“Well, it might be important,” the Doctor countered. “Suppose that Death God, or whatever was behind it, somehow survived.”
“Last question,” the Doctor continued. “Does anyone see the Goddess outside of her temple?”
“You yourself claim to have seen her,” Tobun replied.
“Yes, aside from us.”
“She sometimes is seen in the forest, but only a handful of men ever escape her. Her touch brings the red hand. I am surprised that neither of you have it, having been captured by her. It is unusual.” Tobun looked at both of them in turn. “The others will accuse you of being in league with her, but I believe otherwise.”
“I am glad you trust us,” the Doctor replied nervously. “We desperately need to get off this planet. We want no trouble with you or your people.”
“Huts have been arranged for you, and you will stay with us until we leave for the temple. I am assuming you wish to go with us, should the council decide to send a party to her.”
“So, you will go with us? It could be dangerous,” the Doctor replied, concerned.
“I am not so old as I appear. I will do all I can to help you,” Tobun said solemnly. He then added, “Time lord.”
Both the Captain and the Doctor were shocked into silence.
“Your people are the space travelers that first aided us long ago. I can hear the beat of your two hearts from here.”
Tobun smiled a bit cheekily at the Doctor.
Devos was the last to arrive to the common house for the council meeting the next day.
The Doctor was quick to berate the Captain for the hijacked man’s robotic gait. “Can’t you do something about that?” he whispered harshly. “He looks like a marionette.”
“You try to control a life-size puppet while someone’s badgering you,” the Captain snapped back. He adjusted a knob on a device wrapped around his wrist.
The two guests of the tribe had been given smaller seats on the dais with the other five, and sat to the left of Tobun’s throne. While both Griln and Sigg were slightly upset at their being given such access, Ryn Fegh seemed to accept the word of Tobun that the travelers could be trusted.
“I hope that this will be a short discussion,” Tobun said to the assembled tribesmen. Several dozen members of the tribe were also in attendance and sat at the long tables surrounding the dais. “Yesterday it was decided that the time has come for us to confront the Goddess and her people, and the only decision that remains is that of who will go to bargain for peace with her.”
Several warriors that were present, obviously at the behest of Griln, stood and shouted their disapproval.
“Silence!” Tobun bellowed. The warriors immediately took their seats, as quick to obey as Tobun’s own son.
“War has already been brought to her by a tribe well suited for it, and they have failed. We must take a different path,” Tobun continued. “We will ask that she leave our village in peace, and we will agree to supply her with whatever she may desire that we can produce for her.”
Murmurs broke out among the assembled tribe.
“As the leader of this tribe, it is my duty to go and represent our people. Griln and Devos will accompany me.”
Several negative shouts erupted from throughout the common house.
Shouting above their cries, Tobun said, “I realize the danger that exists. And that is why I leave you two trustworthy council members to lead you should our mission fail and we not return. Sigg and Ryn Fegh will remain behind and carry on the work of the council. Jaron will also be given a temporary seat, if he will accept it.”
Jaron looked immediately embarrassed from his table of hunters, but nodded his acceptance solemnly.
“These men will protect you while we are away. If we should not return, they will direct the future of this tribe. They each have my blessing in the pursuit, should it come to pass.”
Turning back to the council, Tobun declared, “These are the conditions of our journey, and each of us knows the roles proposed. Are we in agreement that this shall be?”
Griln, Sigg, and Ryn Fegh all spoke “Aye!” in turn. Devos remained silent.
“Devos?” Tobun asked, awaiting his response.
The Doctor politely stepped on the Captain’s boot and ground his heel into the toe.
“Aye,” Devos stated very monotonously as the Captain stifled a curse.
“Jaron?” Tobun prompted, turning to him.
“Aye,” Jaron stated proudly. “May I serve as you desire.”
Tobun nodded. “Then we leave as the sun reaches its peak. Trust in those we’ve left behind to guide you, and let your thoughts be with us as we journey to the temple for the betterment of our peoples.”
With that, the assembly stood and began to filter out of the common house.
“They really trust him, don’t they?” the Captain observed. “He could tell them anything and they’d go along with it.”
“The fact that he doesn’t is why they trust him,” the Doctor replied.
Four of Griln’s warriors were chosen as escort, and they took up positions in front and behind the group as it left the village for the temple in the Kingdom of the Red Hand.
Most of the village turned out to see them off, and the tribe gave them a cheer as they set out.
As Tobun had remarked, he was not as old as he looked, and the pace he set was quick. Several times he had to prod the warriors in front of him to move faster. They made good time, as far as the Doctor could tell. They reached the promontory that offered the view of the temple in the distance in less time than it had taken the Doctor and the Captain to reach the village from there.
They moved in silence for the most part, but occasionally Tobun regaled them with tales out of the tribe’s legends as they walked.
When they camped for the night, Tobun and his son related the climactic battle against the Death Tribe as it had been told to them. The Doctor listened with interest, but the Captain seemed bored with the tale and curled up to sleep well before the others.
Their warrior escorts took turns on watch, but the night passed without incident.
After a quick breakfast, they were on the move again and the column of travelers had just attained their pace from the previous day when a strange sound was heard in the distance. The forest was thick overhead except directly over the narrow trail they followed. It was impossible to see the direction the sound was coming from.
“Sounds like a ship,” the Captain remarked.
The warriors took up defensive positions around the group, and pulled their wicked axes from their backs.
“Chariots!” Griln growled. “They’re going to attack.”
The warrior chief, who never let go of his massive battleaxe, hefted it and stood protectively in front of his father.
“Now how do you know they’ll attack us?” the Doctor remarked. “Perhaps they’ve come to give us a ride?”
As the Doctor said this, one chariot, really just a platform with a massive plasma gun mounted to a steering column, appeared ahead of them, dropping down to the trail from above. As it touched down, the weapon fired twice, vaporizing two of the warriors instantly.
Another chariot appeared behind them, and just as quickly, the other two warriors were eliminated, leaving Griln with the only weapon.
From both chariots, a handful of uniformed men disembarked carrying plasma weaponry. Each had a red right hand, and on their uniforms they bore an insignia that matched it, a red right hand set on a golden triangle.
“Throw down the axe!” one of the men demanded to Griln, leveling his weapon at him.
Griln sneered at the soldiers, gripping his hilt tighter. “Why don’t you come and take it from me?”
The rest of the group clumped together, warily watching the exchange.
“We will take you to the Goddess unharmed, but you will not enter the Kingdom of the Red Hand with weapons!” the soldier barked. “Last chance, or you’ll be vaped like your inadequate escort.”
“He can be trusted not to use it. I give you my assurances,” Devos said suddenly. “Now, lower your own weapons and escort us to the temple as you were instructed.”
The Doctor looked at the Captain who seemed deep in concentration.
Immediately, the soldiers lowered their weapons.
“Devos,” Tobun said, turning to him. “You know these men?”
“All will be revealed in time,” Devos said cryptically.
“Traitor!” Griln accused. Tobun put a hand out and held his son’s shoulder.
“Third party, we’ll say,” Devos said, his voice very monotonous. Turning, he walked to the chariot that had landed first and stood on the platform. “These should hold us adequately. The pilots will take us to the temple, and the remaining soldiers can walk back.”
The soldiers seemed about to protest when Devos shouted, “That is an order! Now help them aboard.”
Confused, the Doctor and the others allowed themselves to be herded onto the vehicles–the Doctor and Captain with Devos, and Griln and Tobun on the other. One soldier joined each group and the rest stayed behind as the chariots lifted off.
“What are you playing at?” the Doctor demanded of the Captain as soon as they were airborne.
“Look at their hands,” the Captain said, pointing surreptitiously to the pilot.
The Doctor scrutinized the pilot’s right hand carefully before spotting it. The man was sweating. The sweat was causing the red paint on his hand to run.
“TDI?” the Doctor whispered. “Faking loyalty to the Goddess?”
“It appears so,” the Captain answered.
“How did you notice that in all the ruckus?” the Doctor asked, perplexed.
“I didn’t. I recognized the weapons,” he answered. “Took a chance on Devos though.”
“Well, I won’t complain on that point,” the Doctor replied. “We may have lost Griln if that went on. I anticipate we may need him later.”
The chariots rose above the trees and set off toward the temple. Primitive in comparison to technology both the Doctor and Captain had seen in their travels, it was sorcery to Griln, who nearly swooned directly off the platform. Twice during their flight, a stream of vomit fell from the platform and splattered on the tops of trees as they passed.
Hundreds of people milled around in the clearing that held the massive ziggurat. Stone buildings had been erected around the temple in patterns radiating out.
“Those are new construction,” the Doctor pointed out as they flew overhead. “They look like barracks.”
“The faithful have to sleep somewhere,” the Captain remarked.
The chariots rose over the top of the ziggurat revealing a courtyard at its center. Both chariots hovered briefly before descending into the structure and setting down in the courtyard where a dozen men stood bearing spears with their red right hands.
Stepping off the chariots, Griln less gracefully than the rest, the visitors were grouped together and surrounded.
Tobun saw an opportunity to speak. “We come to speak with the Goddess and would like to make an offer of friendship to her.”
Those with the spears ignored them. They seemed to be as lifeless and robotic as Devos, though the Doctor doubted it was the same technology. The spearmen all had smiles.
A woman in a long silk dress approached them and bowed deeply to Tobun. Her right hand was red.
“Elder Tobun,” she said reverantly. “We have been expecting you for some time. You are the last of the great tribe leaders to offer his service to the Goddess. Did you not trust the judgment of the rest of us? Did we not tell you it would be better this way? We sent many messengers to you. Did they not convince you?”
“You sent our own men and women back to us! They killed people for no reason in their madness!” Tobun fumed. “I trust you, Laara, no more than I trust the men that just murdered four of my warriors. You were always devious, even before you came here.”
“Bad blood there,” the Doctor whispered. The Captain nodded in agreement.
Turning to Devos, Laara smiled. “Welcome back, Devos.” Suddenly she touched her right hand to his face. Devos’s eyes went wide with horror and he screamed. Neither Griln nor Tobun moved to help him.
The Captain, suddenly inhaling sharply, ripped the device from his wrist and let it drop to the ground where it began to smoke.
Before their eyes, Devos’s right red began to slowly turn red.
As his scream faded, a smile played across his face. He then turned and stood next to Laara, who looked back to Tobun with a smile. “Don’t worry, we’ll get to you and your son soon enough. Devos here failed me and my Goddess and needs immediate punishment.”
Laara then stepped over to the Doctor and the Captain. “You two are quite the clever ones, aren’t you? The Goddess has very special plans for the both of you.” She crouched momentarily and picked up the device that the Captain had been wearing. “I believe you’ll find Devos less suggestive than before.” She held the device teasingly before the Captain’s face before tossing it aside.
“Now, are you prepared to meet the Goddess?”
“Oh yes, very much so,” the Doctor said cheerfully.
This seemed to displease Laara. “The only reason you do not belong to us is that my Goddess commands you stay disconnected.”
“Interesting terminology,” the Doctor replied with a smile.
“Where is Penelope?” the Captain demanded.
“Oh, you mean the sparkly little cube?” said a voice behind them. Turning collectively, they all saw the diminutive Goddess walking towards them.
“I thought I left you two to die,” she said disappointedly. “Why didn’t you obey me?”
“Look, we just want to get off this planet,” the Captain pleaded. “Why don’t you just give me back my AI, and we’ll leave you to this, whatever this is.”
“You both went through an awful lot of trouble to get here, Captain Drustan Light, formerly of the Temporal Defense Initiative. You’ve already been disciplined for interfering in a TDI mission, what makes you think we’ll allow you to do so again?”
“What?” the Captain said, surprised. “You’re TDI?”
“My mission here is to prevent a paradox,” the Goddess replied. “I’m saving the universe.”
“There’s no way you’re TDI, you’re too young,” he replied.
“Appearances can be deceiving,” she snapped back quickly. Turning to the Doctor, she added, “Isn’t that right, Doctor? How is our dear Doctor Watson, or what’s his name again, Jeffrey? I bet he has a lot … on his mind.”
The Doctor’s mouth gaped open.
“Oh yes,” she nodded. “You were on the right track, though entirely by accident.”
She turned from them and snapped her fingers. From a side corridor, several men quickly carried in an ornate throne, which she then sat upon, her child size causing its voluminous cushions to nearly engulf her.
“And so here we are,” she giggled. “Thank you for coming to my party.”
“What are you up to?” the Doctor demanded. “Whatever it is, I’ll find a way to stop you. You ruined a good man, and I won’t let you do it again.”
“Well, let’s see,” she replied, touching a finger to her chin. “First, a tea party, then we give Mr. Grumpy Tobun and his apeish son a lovely red hand, and then we kill you.”
“What’s the red hand for?” the Doctor finally asked.
“Like all TDI business,” she replied. “It is none of yours.”
(to be continued)