Written by shadar :: [Thursday, 06 April 2017 23:42] Last updated by :: [Saturday, 08 April 2017 09:22]
James Byson cowered behind a low, rock wall as the Nazi Tiger tank rumbled and clanked into the tiny, remote village in the Ukraine. He covered his ears as the tank fired at the smattering of organized resistance, its shells blasting apart the low buildings that protected the rabble of freedom fighters.
Men armed with antique weapons and pitchforks stood no chance against these Germans, but they fought nonetheless. They knew that these soldiers had killed every man, woman and child in the surrounding villages; all part of the Nazi campaign to rid this rural part of the Ukraine of its largely Jewish population. Many men would rather die fighting than to be lined up and shot in the village square.
A fate that Byson would share if the German’s caught him. America wasn’t in the war yet, but the Germans would not allow word of their purge of the Jewish population to escape. He just wished he had a camera and film to prove what he’d seen. That, and a way to escape beyond the clutches of the Nazis.
He peeked through a crack in the wall as the tank clanked and rumbled past him. A command half-track and a squad of German light infantry followed in its wake. One tank and a dozen men were all it took to wipe out a village this size. They were so confident of the overwhelming power of the Tiger that they didn’t bother looking behind the walls that lined the road into town. The villagers invariably fought to protect their homes, not their fields.
His stomach turned as he realized there wouldn’t be as much as a dog alive when they were done. He’d walked through three similar villages after the Germans finished with them. It was genocide, pure and simple. Yet back home, President Roosevelt continued to fail in his effort to get his countrymen to enter the war. Isolation was the guiding emotion among the American public. Europe was across an ocean. No need for American boys to die.
Byson’s plan was simple: stay alive until he got south into the Crimea and then stow away on a boat headed to Turkey, one of the rapidly shrinking list of safe places. He had learned to wait until the heavy shooting and screams began in the village, and then he’d duck into a ditch and work his way toward the closest grove of trees. Then to the next grove and so on until he reached the next village to the south. And then the next one, paradoxically using the German violence to cover his escape.
Yet strangely, this time instead of gunshots and screams he saw a young woman with flaming red hair run out of a low house just as the tank passed by. Astoundingly, she was dressed in little more than a metal swimsuit despite the bitter cold. Stranger yet, she carried a huge broadsword that was almost as long as she was tall, and likely heavier than most men could wield.
She raced toward the tank with the sword in both hands to hack at the tank. Her sword should have bounced off the good German armor, but instead, it sliced through a corner of the armor to slice an entire wheel assembly from the track, sparks flying wildly from the blow. The tank began to spin in a circle and the tread ran off the wheels. Byson blinked, trying to figure out what he was seeing when the redhead leaped twenty feet up into the air to somersault over the tank’s turret and land on her knees on the armored deck behind it. Holding her long sword with two hands, she plunged it between her thighs, impossibly driving it through the thick armor to bury it deep inside the engine compartment. The heavy German diesel coughed and belched blue smoke as it sprayed black oil before rattling to a stop.
Several of the startled infantry dropped their weapons as she pulled her blade free and swung it over her head while giving off a primitive war cry. They turned and started to run away, leaving the rest of the soldiers staring slack jawed. They were still staring at the girl when the top turret hatch slowly opened behind her. Byson wanted to scream a warning as the tank commander appeared armed with the usual Luger. He fired at the back of the woman’s head, and her long red hair flew wildly as the impact knocked her off the back of the tank to land face-first in the mud. That galvanized the remaining soldiers, who joined in to fire on her, her nearly naked body jerking in the mud as dozens of bullets struck, her red hair flying.
Byson took advantage of the confusion to run for the forest. He was nearly there when several poorly aimed shots kicked up mud on either side of him, but he luckily made it to the safety of the trees before getting hit. Normally he would have kept running, but this time he ducked behind the first trees to stare back at the town. That red-headed woman had looked like something out of a Robert E. Howard story. His hands trembled as he unfolded his opera binoculars to get a better view.
What was a woman like THAT doing in a village like this? And how could someone with a sword defeat the armor of Germany’s largest tank? Her blade had cut through the tank as if it had been made of soft butter and not high-carbon steel.
He slowly worked his way to the west end of the trees, watching through his binoculars as two soldiers picked up her body and tossed it into the back of the halftrack. Impossibly, he saw her moving, arms and legs flailing until an officer fired his Luger into her head several more times. Two men quickly bound her arms and legs with heavy chains. Why would they do that do a dead body?
Instead of continuing into the town, the halftrack turned around to race away at top speed. Byson watched it with his glasses long enough to convince himself that it was heading toward the large castle to the east, where the Germans had set up a command post.
More and more this reminded him of the story called ‘The Shadow of a Vulture’ that he’d read back a few years earlier. A story by Howard that intriguingly had been labeled Historical Fiction despite featuring a fiery swordswoman named Red Sonja who could defeat any man. She’d allegedly been born in one of these tiny Ukrainian villages.
What he’d just witnessed, her being alive after being shot innumerable times, was even crazier than that. But if any of this was true, then my God he had a story! His head spun. Could Howard have been on to something? And was now sitting on the biggest story of the century? One that could completely change the mood of the American public if he could just tell it?
All thoughts of escape were forgotten now. He had to understand what he’d seen.
His fluency in Ukrainian, Russian and his passable knowledge German, along with his obviously Slavic appearance, had allowed him to blend in these last months, at least in the eyes of the Germans. He’d learned that if he was useful to the Germans, they’d keep him alive. Otherwise, life was very cheap in the Ukraine in December, 1941.
He began trudging toward the castle and its small surrounding town, paralleling the roads as much as he could. He soon came across a German squad who were having trouble with their Kubelwagon, the German equivalent of a Jeep. He screwed up his guts and walked up to them, using his Ukrainian-accented German to offer his help. Ignoring the rifles aimed at him, he claimed he was an auto-mechanic from Kiev and he could fix their vehicle. The German’s shrugged and let him approach, still holding a rifle on him.
He put his long experience fixing up cars back in the US to his favor, and he quickly got the Kubelwagon running by fixing the chafed primary ignition wire. That earned him a ride into the castle that overlooked the city of Kamenets-Podilskyi. Once there, the soldiers dragged him over to meet their sergeant, claiming they’d finally found a competent mechanic. Before Byson knew what was happening, he found himself pressed into a job that was somewhere between a draftee and slave labor. The sergeant claimed he’d be treated well if he proved valuable. He didn’t have to spell out the alternative. Bullets were cheap on the Eastern Front.
Byson tried not to smile, for he was now exactly where he wanted to be — inside the castle complex. This was where they must have taken the red-headed woman.
He set to work, fixing a number of vehicles that the German mechanics - young soldiers who’d never had a proper apprenticeship — could not. That success allowed him to move from one garage to another and also enter the warehouses and shops on the next two levels up to get parts. The German command post, barracks, dining halls rose from there to the roofs, all off-limits to anyone but German soldiers.
That changed when a backup generator in their communications section failed. He was escorted up several floors to fix it, which he did quickly, which brought much praise to his sergeant. He soon found his papers amended so as to allow him to be escorted any place in the castle where engines needed repair. They assigned an otherwise useless and very elderly conscript from Bavaria to be his escort, Corporal Klag. Given the man’s corpulent belly and his over-fondness for beer, the ancient soldier usually fell asleep as soon as Byson began working. Especially after Byson found ways to augment the corporal’s supply of beer.
Byson was just settling into his new routine when the atmosphere of the German fortress began buzzing with excitement — the Japanese had attacked the American base at Pearl Harbor. Despite the show of bravado by many Germans, who talked about an eventual invasion of North America, Byson overheard several officers talking in dreadful tones about “waking the sleeping giant”.
He worked his way closer to those officers, pretending to be tracing down a power line from a generator, and that’s when he overheard one of the SS officers laughing, whispering to the others that as soon as they decoded the secret in the blood of the red-headed Hyrkanian woman, their new supersoldiers would easily conquer the world.
Hyrkanian! That was the name Howard had given to the racial origin of his character of Red Sonja. Could that woman with a blade that sliced through armor be her? After all, Howard had sworn his fiction was based on ancient legends that had been handed down for generations.
Soon, German medical experts began arriving at the fortress, more and more each day, supposedly flown directly in from Germany. That and a number of very scary looking senior SS officers. They all disappeared into the tallest of the towers. Knowing that all these old castles had hidden passageways, he sniffed around in the basement until he found a small passageway that appeared to be beneath the tower in question. The entrance was covered by steel bars.
Taking advantage of his beer-loving Corporal’s sleepiness, he used a jewelers file and the better part of three nights to cut two of the bars in half in such a way that they still looked intact when he smeared grease over them. On the fourth night, he removed them to wiggle through the opening to ascend a steep spiral staircase he found behind it. Brushing away dense, sticky spiderwebs while rats squeaked as they ran over his shoes and bit at his ankles, he moving in total darkness, climbing ever higher on narrow steps until he found a small grate over a similar opening into a room at the very top of the tower. There, strapped to a massive iron table was the nearly naked red-head. Heavy chains connected her ankles and wrists to large bolts that were sunk into the stone floor. Her dramatically curved chest rose and fell with her breathing.
“Psst …” he said, hoping there was no one in the room outside his field of view. “Are you awake?”
The woman’s eyes blinked open and she lifted her head, her unusually large blue-green eyes reflecting the dim light of the room. Waves of red-hair flowed around her shoulders as she twisted herself around within the limit of the chains to locate the source of his voice. “Who do I speak with?” she asked in an antiquated dialect Ukrainian.
“You can call me Byson,” he whispered. “I’ve come to get you out of here.”
She laughed softly. “A dozen Nazis stand watch outside my door with bullet guns. More on every floor below. A hundred Hyrkanian warriors could not do this thing.”
“Then how?” he asked.
“Burning powders. Bring them here. Only the most powerful kind. We will use them to shatter my chains.”
“You mean explosives? But … but you’ll be killed as well!” Byson gasped.
She laughed, low and menacing, a powerful voice that was both beautiful and threatening. “No man or invention of man can harm the blessed of Scáthach.”
Byson’s heart raced faster yet. He knew that name. Scáthach was a goddess of war who had been secretly worshipped in the ancient Hyrkanian culture. He remembered seeing a statue of Scáthach in a museum, and he was most impressed with her flaming red hair which hung nearly to the floor. That and the exaggerated yet lean figure and its strong suggestion of athletic power. This living, breathing red-head, who should have blasted to bits by Nazi bullets, was easily as beautiful, her skin seemingly flawless despite having been shot so many times. She was both powerfully athletic and stunningly sexy, with eyes that were impossibly green, the combination exotic in a way he didn’t quite know how to describe. A palpable sense of power filled the room whenever she spoke.
“Free me, and you shall earn whatever reward your heart desires.”
Byson was trying to think of a reply when he heard the blink and scrape of a lock being opened. He whispered quickly: “I will return tomorrow night.”
“Free me and you have won me,” she said as she laid back down on the metal bed. “For as long as you shall live.”
Byson caught a glimpse of SS soldiers entering the room as he pulled his face from the opening to slink back down the long, twisting, narrow stairway. His heart raced as he felt an optimism and excitement that was electric. He’d never seen a woman half as beautiful — or a fraction as scary sounding. Hers was not a voice that belonged in this world.
Once back in the bowels of the castle, he focused his work on an ammunition truck that had been dragged into the garage with a broken axle. Corporal Klag drank beer and slept as usual during his long hours of labor, during which he replaced most of the tools in his bag with a dozen bricks of plastique explosive and some blasting caps. Suffering from lack of sleep, it was all he could do when he got back to his workbench to modify a small clock to act as a timer, attaching a battery to it and then to the blasting caps.
He slept on the stone floor that night alongside many of the other exhausted slaves, but as soon as everyone was asleep he found his way to the long stairway and back up the tower, carrying the handle of a mop with him and his jewelers files, along with his heavy bag of explosives.
“My hero returns,” the red-head said as she heard him filing on the bars. She lifted her head and tried to smile, but that only made her look scarier. Byson wondered if she even knew how to smile.
It took him nearly until dawn to silently saw through the bars blocking the opening to her room. His fingers grew raw and began bleeding as she encouraged him to hurry. She claimed the Nazis were bringing something called an Ubermensch in the morning. Byson heard the first hint of fear in her voice.
He finally pulled the bars free and used the long wooden handle to push the blocks of plastique under her iron bed, then attached his crude timing mechanism to the twelfth and final block. It was incomprehensible that anyone could survive such a blast.
“When should I set it?”
“Only as long as it takes you to leave. Procure a fast machine and meet me at a drinking place on the far side of the village from the castle. You will know it by the image of a drunken duck over the door.”
“Won’t the Nazis be looking for you?”
“No Nazi will be alive in this village by the time I join you.” Her voice sounded so cold and menacing that his hackles rose.
He set the timer for an hour and then pushed the final block under the bed, jamming it tightly against the others. Then he put the finely cut bars back in place and began to crawl down the stairs, his legs cramping. Staggering across the floor of the garage, dragging his now empty tool bag behind him, he pretended to work on a halftrack until the drivers began to show up for work, fat with their morning breakfast. He fired up the halftrack’s engine, supposedly to test it as the drivers opened the armored doors of the garage. He waited until three of them were standing directly in front of him before slamming the track into gear to roar forward, running them over. Their screams were cut-off as the treads crushed them to the stone floor.
He was committed now.
He drove the lumbering machine into the narrow street, wrestling with the steering levers as the half-track bounced off the walls on either side of the street. He ran over more soldiers. Ducking low as the guards fired on him, bullets pinging off the armor, he crashed through the heavy door of the castle wall to race out onto the causeway that led into the town.
He was barely halfway across when a massive explosion blew the top of the largest tower to tiny bits, the force of the blast toppling a second tower as it blew out every window in the castle. Chunks of rock rained down to bounce off the armored halftrack, one of them taking out the windshield in front of him. He kept the accelerator on the floor as he roared into the medieval town, weaving through the maze of streets as he attempted to find a way across to the far side. Behind him, he heard more explosions and many gunshots. And then men screaming.
He found the drunken duck pub as the first hints of daylight found him. Shockingly, the bodies of a dozen German soldiers were piled just outside the doorway of the pub, most of them missing limbs, several their heads, all of them surrounded by a huge and spreading pool of blood. He stepped gingerly over the bodies and avoided the blood as he entered the dim interior. There, sitting at the bar, surrounded by dozens of candles, was the exotically-dressed red-head. A dozen empty pint mugs lay piled around her as the terrified barkeep lined up a half dozen bottles of cheap Ukrainian whiskey in front of her. Byson watched as she chugged three bottles and began on her fourth.
“Ah, my hero returns,” she shouted boozily across the blood-soaked tables when she saw. “Come drink with me. I owe you a great debt.”
Turning back to the barkeep, she demanded another bottle. He raised his hands while claiming he had no more. She suddenly leaned toward him, darting as fast as a snake to grab his head, the fantastic muscles of her forearm tensing as his skull crushed with a wet crunch, his eyeballs popping out of their sockets to hang by stalks. She gripped the last bottle of whiskey in her bloodied hand to thrust it toward Byson.
“Drink with me, my hero. Let us celebrate the bond of worthy warriors.”
Byson took the blood-slippery bottle in trembling hands, and managed to take but a single swallow before coughing violently. It was the harshest whiskey he’d ever tasted.
She laughed and thumped him on his back nearly hard enough to break his ribs as she began draining the rest of the bottle. She was nearly done when a shot rang out and the bottle exploded, the bullet striking her left eye. She blinked and then roared as she threw herself at the soldier in the doorway, who emptied his submachine gun into her mostly bared chest. She leaned in to bury the flaming muzzle in her generous cleavage while slamming both fists down on the shooter’s shoulders to shatter half the bones in his body. He crumpled broken to the floor as she turned to offer her hand to Byson.
“Apparently I did not kill them all after all. Let us leave in your machine so we can fight another day.”
Byson had no idea how she was even conscious after drinking enough booze to have killed a platoon of soldiers, but given the way she’d smothered the submachine gun, not to mention surviving the blast in the tower, he was now convinced she was completely unhurtable. Truly he was dealing with a goddess and not a woman of flesh and blood. A thought stuck in his mind — in all the long history of literature, from the ancient Greeks to the fiction of today, such pairings had always proven fatal to mortal men. But there was no turning back now. The Germans would shoot him on sight. If he was lucky.
He slipped and stumbled on the bloody gore as he followed her through the doorway, then ran to his halftrack to climb the ladder into the driver’s seat. The magnificent red-head leaped ten feet up over the side to land lightly beside him, her huge sword dripping blood.
“Onward,” she yelled while pointing her bloody sword forward, acting for all the world like an ancient Calvary officer leading his men to battle.
Byson floored the accelerator to race down the narrow streets, bouncing off carts and walls and anything else in his way. He’d almost made it to the edge of town when he came around a corner to find the street blocked by a large squad of soldiers with two armored vehicles. He quickly backed up as bullets pinged off the front of the open halftrack. The red-head stood tall beside him as she jumped over the windshield to walk out into the hood of the halftrack, swatting away the bullets like they were merely bees. There she gave off a terrifying war cry as she leaped down to charge the assembled troops.
Byson ducked low as a riot of gunfire erupted. Then the blasts of grenades bursting, but over all that, he could still hear her exuberant battle cry. Slowly the gunfire decreased until the street was silent again. He lifted his head to see that the armored vehicles lay on their sides surrounded by bodies that had been hacked into pieces. A river of blood ran down the gutters on either side of the road. He wanted to vomit as he drove forward and turned to drive toward her, the wheels and then the tracks squishing dozens of bodies. He burst through the final gate of the town as the blood-covered goddess leaped back up to join him in the open cab. Her face was flushed as she stood totally in the moment, with one boob hanging out of her metallic brassiere. Drunk or not, she was more than a match for the best German troops.
Byron tore through the countryside at full speed, which for the halftrack was barely 50kph. Still standing, the red-head leaned her back against him while pulling his right hand from the wheel to wrap it around her, guiding his hand to her bared breast. Her nipple was hard and erect, her flesh firmer than any woman he’d known. It was he could do to wrestle the halftrack down the road as she began to moved gently next to him, rubbing her back against his shoulder.
It took him a moment to realize with a shock that she was using him to pleasure herself. Her movements grew faster and more urgent as he tried to keep up with his twin tasks of driving and working her breast, her nipple growing as large as a small thumb. His body got into the game, but fortunately, before he could crash the halftrack, she pushed his hand away to replace it with her own as she fell to the floor, writhing and screaming in ecstasy that seemed to go for a very long time, her wild athleticism shaking the entire vehicle. She gave a final shuddering scream, and collapsed. Looking down, he saw that she was asleep, a beautiful smile on her face.
He couldn’t help but grin fiercely. This was a barbarian woman, a goddess of war, fueled by bloody violence and booze, the aphrodisiac of Howard’s barbarian women. Could this really be the Red Sonja of his fanciful but supposedly historical story, published back in 1934? His thoughts reeled as he tried to comprehend what he could do with that information. What a story he could write!
He’d traveled less than twenty kilometers when a pair of Fock-Wulf 190’s came racing up behind them, 20mm cannon and 7.62 mm machine guns blasting long swaths down the road. Byson swerved to avoid their first pass, running the half-track off the road into a ditch. The red-head woke up to stand at the back of the track, waving her sword at the planes as they formed up for another pass. He wanted to jump out and hide in a ditch, but she shouted to him to drive on. He backed the track out of the ditch and drove onward, swerving and skidding as best he could as the planes approached at great speed, bullets tracing lines down the road toward them. This time, just as the lead fighter approached, the red-head leaped hundreds of feet into the air to slash at it with her sword, which hacked off half of one wing to send the fighter cartwheeling across a field to explode violently.
The other fighter took his time, approaching a bit higher, but still determined to strafe them. To his astonishment, the red-head jumped out of the track to race back down the road toward the oncoming plane, forcing the pilot to aim at her instead of the halftrack. Bullets kicked up dust all around her, but at the last moment she leaped even higher to stab her sword into the spinning propellor. The engine exploded as the nose of the fighter dropped down to crash on the road to race toward his half-track. At the last moment it bounced back into the air to tumble in flames over the halftrack to come back down and explode two hundred meters ahead. The red-head walked out of the flaming inferno and back toward his half-track, her hair full of burning gasoline. Byson slammed on the brakes to skid to a stop in a cloud of dust, staring as she calmly stuffed herself back into her silver brassiere, which had failed on both sides this time. She calmly jumped back up to stand beside him.
“We must find a place to get off this road. More flying machines will likely come, perhaps with bombs. I cannot ensure your safety if that happens.”
Byson wholeheartedly agreed as he turned off the road and headed toward the forest on his left. He found a narrow track that he could force the halftrack into, pushing over several trees in the process. Once inside the woods, the winding lane grew increasingly narrow until large trees blocked his way. The red-head jumped out to begin hacking the meter-thick pine trees down, every swing of her sword sufficient to cut all the way through them. She cut a hundred trees before the lane began to open up enough for him drive. She once again rejoined him in the cab, her chest rising and falling dramatically from her exertions. She didn’t look tired in the least.
The lane eventually ended at a neat cabin that was set in a small clearing. He killed the rattling diesel, and the deep quiet of the forest in early winter washed over them. Most of the birds had long ago gone south.
A quick thrust of her sword severed the lock, and they entered the small cabin to find a pile of wood for the fireplace and a kerosene stove for heat. The cabinets were filled with various local foodstuffs including fresh eggs — an unimaginable luxury given the German invasion. Whoever lived here must have run off when they heard the halftrack coming.
Byson started a fire and lit the stove, assuming the red-head would prepare them something to eat. Instead, she found some more bottles of that cheap local whiskey and collapsed into a chair to begin thirstily emptying the first one.
“Let me guess,” Byson laughed. “You live on booze?”
“If you mean spirits, then no, I need food. But this will sustain me until then.”
He nodded toward the kitchen. “Why don’t you see what can be made?”
She gave him a look that withered his soul, proclaiming: “I am not that kind of woman.”
“Then why don’t you wash some of that blood off while I try my hand at cooking. I saw a pump out back.”
She nodded as she rose, bottle in hand, and shrugged off her brassiere and other tiny bits of armor, dropping them casually to the floor as she walked naked out into the freezing cold.
Byson chuckled as he picked up the warm metal and carried it over to the sink to wash the blood off. The small pump over the sink produce a good flow of ice cold water. Looking closely as he washed her armor, he saw it wasn’t metal plate like he’d thought but rather a woven fabric made of incredibly fine metallic fibers. He’d never seen anything like it. Clearly it was as indestructible as the goddess herself. He hung her tiny bits of armor in front of the now blazing fireplace, and went to work cooking a dozen eggs and the large block of bacon he’d found in a cabinet. He was stirring it in a large pan on the stove when the red-head walked back through the door, naked and wet but scrubbed clean. She had a large yellow dog by her side. She jerked a blanket from the small bed and wrap herself in it before plopping down in front of the fire. The dog followed her over to lay close beside her.
“The owner’s dog?” he asked, noting that it looked like an oversized Labrador. Healthy and young. And well fed.
“Presumably,” she shrugged. “I have always liked dogs.” She ruffled its main, and the dog snuggled up to her. “Dogs have changed little since the time of my birth, which is more than I can say for men. I will call him Fang after my very first dog.”
“Speaking of which, we haven’t taken the time to properly introduce ourselves. My name is James Byson. Born and raised in New Jersey in the United States.”
She continued staring into the fire and petting the dog as she said softly: “I’m Sonja. Born and raised in Hyrkania.”
He knew it! “Red Sonja, from that story that Howard wrote?”
“If you mean the man of words who stole my story, then yes and no. He was very inaccurate. Thankfully.”
“But Hyrkania? That place is real? I thought it was a bit of creative license on Howard’s part.”
“Very real,” she nodded as she switched from petting the dog to combing her long red hair out with her fingers. “You are standing on Hyrkanian soil now. Our people were very robust compared to people today.”
“I kind of gathered that part,” he chuckled. “So why don’t we correct Howard’s story. I am also a writer. We could start from the beginning. Like your birth.”
She shrugged. “Is this how you wish to be repaid for your bravery?”
“Consider our talk a down payment,” he said, trying to sound brave. He’d seen what Sonja did to men who displeased her.
She turned her head to look at him closely for a moment, and then shrugged. “As I said, I was born here, in this place you call the Ukraine today. As near as I can judge, the date was about ten thousand years ago. I was not yet a woman when I fought off the invaders of our village.”
Byson’s jaw dropped. “Ten thousand …?” he gasped. He wanted to say that was impossible, but given what he’d seen today, he’d temporarily erased that word from his vocabulary.
“Yes, I think so, but I’m not much into birthdays.”
“But ten thousand years?” Byson couldn’t help but repeat, trying to push that thought into his resistant brain. “What have you been doing all that time?”
“Most of that was spent sleeping. I was on a ship that sank in deep water when I was less than a hundred years old. Some men who were laying talking wires dredged me up a few years ago.”
“Talking wires … you mean communications cables?”
She shrugged. “Whatever you call them. There are still many things about this world that I don’t understand.”
“But … how could you survive down there … you are human aren’t you?”
She started to nod, and then shook her head. “I was born as such. But no longer. I do not age, and as you have seen, I am difficult to injure. As far as the how, I prayed to the goddess Scáthach when I was about to be killed by the raiders of my village, and she blessed me with her power. She lives through me even today.”
Byson swallowed hard as he tried to drink it all in. He wasn’t a religious man. “So you really are a goddess.”
“I am not, but Scáthach preserves me. Like all gods, she is immortal, just as am I as long as she protects me. But she doesn’t live in me. She instead talks through me. And protects me.”
Byson pushed his disbelief aside. “So beyond being unhurtable, what are the other blessings she has provided?”
“Strength far beyond human, but not enough to break the chains the Nazis used. And I don’t easily get tired. Not physically anyway.”
“Which accounts for that monster of a sword you carry. But isn’t that a bit outdated in a world with guns and bombs?”
“Lamelar will cut through anything without dulling. I have killed many machines of war.”
“So you weren’t worried then when the Nazis captured you? Which by the way, seems a bit strange given what I’ve seen since. A single shot to the back of the head put you down?”
“I was just pretending to be unconscious. I had learned of their ubermensch and I wanted them to capture me. Fear is not something I indulge in.”
“I don’t understand who or what that ubermensch is. You seemed afraid of it.”
“He is a mountain of a man who is strong enough to easily pull my chains apart, and clearly under the protection of an even stronger god. He held me like I was a weak child, his strength frightening. The Nazis wanted him to mate with me to produce offspring that would serve them. That’s all I know. They did not believe me when I said the goddess would abandon me if that happened. They would get no offspring from me.”
“I don’t understand,” Byson gasped, trying to envision everything she’d just described.
Sonja slumped as her voice fell. “This is Scáthach’s bargain with me. She claimed that if I slept with any man other than one who had defeated me in fair combat, then she would remove my gifts.”
Byson felt a pang of loss. Like any man, he’d had his dreams, especially after her wild bit of self-love back on the halftrack. “Well, obviously that day has not arrived.”
“You are wrong, James Byson. There are many forms of sex that don’t involve my violation, and I’m too strong for anyone merely human to take me in any case. The only man who earned that right was a Hyrkanian warrior back when I was young and inexperienced. Like me, he had many times the strength of other men of the time, and even the weakest man of that era was stronger than any man alive today. By granting me his strength, I became a great warrior as well.”
“How did he do that?”
She shrugged. “I killed him at the moment he completed me. Scáthach gave his power to me.”
Byson stared. “You mean if a man makes love to you, he dies?”
“If he defeats me in fair combat first. Yes.”
“And here I was beginning to like this Scáthach.”
She smiled, appreciating his attempt at humor. “The gods care little for individual humans. You should also know that I gain a tiny bit of strength every time I kill an evil man. And I grow weaker when I kill a righteous one. Today was a day to grow stronger.”
“An interesting way of keeping your heart pure …” Byson admitted. “So how many men have you killed?”
She shrugged again. “Thousands easily. I have fought evil wherever I found it, and much of the world was evil then.”
“Worse than these Nazis?”
“Not worse, but more common.”
She paused for a long moment. “You should know that no man has saved me the way you have, for I have never faced a threat like that ubermensch in all my years. That monster would have truly destroyed me, but I always knew you would come in time.”
“How could you know that? I’m not exactly used to saving damsels in distress. I’m not even supposed to be here. In the Ukraine, I mean.”
She shrugged again. “There is always one man who wants me enough to risk his life. Scáthach ensures that. She makes me promise him my services. And I always keep my promises.”
“So when you are in trouble, someone always brings you your weapons? Helps you break out? How many times has this happened?”
“Many, many times.”
“And then …?”
“I kill those who imprisoned me as I did today, and I honor my pledge. Which usually means killing all my hero’s enemies, making him rich, and warming his bed, albeit with my limitation. Whatever he desires.”
“Sounds like a hell of a deal.”
She turned to look at him, her blue-green eyes sparkling in the firelight. “And on the third full moon, I kill him in his sleep. To release both of us.”
Byson swallowed hard, a stab of fear filling him. “Jesus … I gather you don’t usually discuss that nasty detail up front.”
“No, I do not. It would kind of ruin the mood,” she smiled cruelly, sounding very modern all of a sudden. “But don’t worry, that doesn’t apply to you. My debt to you goes deeper than with the others. Never have I truly faced extinction before this day.”
Despite her assurance, Byson’s hands were shaking as he finished cooking. She was clearly dangerous beyond comprehension. She came from a time when life was cheap, although from what he’d seen in those Jewish villages, such times had returned. He shook away his fears. She’d protected him on that roadway. The debt she owed him seemed to mean a great deal to her.
He started serving up the food. “Sit down over here.” He set plates on the table.
She rose to walk across the room and settle into a chair, her blanket falling partially open. He tried not to stare. Given the way she drank booze, he figured she ate the same way, so he placed most of the eggs on her plate along with most of the bacon. She immediately tore into it with her fingers, eating like a starving animal. He’d barely taken two bites of his food before she finished.
“Is there more?”
He pushed his plate across the table. “Just this.”
She pushed it back. “No, you need strength too. We have a long ways to go.”
“I now know some of what the Nazis intend, and from what I overheard, your country is now finally at war. I’m sure your leaders would reward me for my knowledge of the Nazi’s plans for their ubermensch, and help me continue fighting this new scourge upon the Earth.”
“Super men? That’s what they want to create?”
“Not just men. Women too. Even beasts. Demons perhaps. They are drawing all of Earth’s forgotten legends to themselves, many of which should not have been forgotten. I am but one of many. Yet I do not know where their ubermensch comes from. I have fought many demons, but I have never felt strength anything like his.”
“So you think he survived that blast?”
She shrugged. “I saw no sign of his body, but I was more interested in finding my weapons and clothing and escaping.”
He nodded toward the tiny garments that hung before the fire. “Clothing is a big word for such tiny things.”
“Regardless, that is what the goddess demands I wear in battle. I know not why; perhaps it pleases her. I know that it confuses my enemies, especially back in the days when everyone had armor.”
Byson couldn’t help but chuckle. “Trust me, it works just as well today.”
She pulled her blanket open wider. “You enjoy looking at me?”
Byson flushed as he felt himself rising. “You are being coy, for you have lived long enough to know how your body compares to that of other women. You know how men regard you.”
“Actually, most men fear me, and for good reason. My invitations are rare and difficult to earn.”
Byson’s passions surged, but he held it back. He’d known many women, but never one remotely like Sonja. He also remembered the way her orgasm has shaken that multi-tonned halftrack. If he’d been in her arms at that moment, he would have been crushed.
“Do not be afraid,” she said, sensing his concern. “I am quite skillful, and I can tell you are a man of experience and courage.”
She leaned down to speak with the dog, and then opened the door to let him outside. “Fang will stand guard outside. Come with me to lay by the fire. Perhaps we can forget our dangers until morning.”