ACT TWO (continued)
The Indian hunched over and followed the cowboy, ducking behind piles of scrap along the way to take out legionnaires who were fierce yet poorly armed. When they reached the boy, Spartacus grabbed him by the face and asked: “What's your name, son?!”
The boy choked back a sob.“Will, sir!”
“Well, Will, we're gonna have to make a run for it. You ready for that?”
Will wiped away his tears and nodded his head. Before he could say anything else, or had time to change his mind, the cowboy lifted him up by the collar and began dragging him in the direction of the colony. Once the boy's instinct to live kicked in, Spartacus let go and drew his revolvers. Next to him, Whitecrow, out of bullets, picked up a traumatized pig that was passing by and chucked it at the legionnaires closest to them. The cowboy and Indian watched as the background to the fiasco was provided by one of Michael's glider-men who was spinning toward the ground like a leaf during the reaping season. Back at the car they calmly reloaded their weapons. Everything slid into that slow moving fast-motion dreamscape that was one of the many conundrums of battle. During the time it took them to reload their weapons, another one of the glider-men met his end when he was struck by a bolt of lightning.
The colonists and their guests, try as they may, could not seem to put a dent in the legionnaires numbers. Following orders given by Ike, two dozen men and women raced forward and grabbed chains that were fastened to stone slabs. They then dragged the slabs of stone toward the mountain face, revealing a mote of tar. After the tar had been lit, a fence made of razor wire sprung up on either side of the mote. Meanwhile, overhead, the last of the glider-men was brought down by a RPG. The beating of drums stopped and the Chief of Aeronautics' bullets began. Spartacus watched as Micheal, a cunning man with powerful arms and a perfect aim, began dropping the legionnaires closest to the mote. Micheal and the other snipers perched in the eyrie continued to pour one heaping cupful of God's wrath after another onto the wicked below, but still the legions pushed onward.
Lightening crackled throughout the sky as four strong women under the command of Lopez wheeled out two hand-cranked Gatling guns and opened up on the enemy. Caesar's legions, undeterred by the colonists and their more sophisticated, if not somewhat antique, weaponry, lifted the RV and tossed it onto the razor wire, creating a bridge over the mote of flames.
Ike ordered the woman with Herald's horn to sound the retreat. He, Spartacus, Whitecrow and Edwards, along with the women in charge of the Gatling guns, waited to fall back until everyone who chose to continue the battle within the mountains—should it to come to that—had made it inside; choosing to remain behind were twenty brave warriors intent on buying their fellow colonists more time by fighting to the death.
A legionnaire with a rocket launcher leapt on top of one of the cars that was to be scrapped the following day and made a vulgar gesture toward Lopez. Lopez, in response, picked up a harpoon with an explosive attached to the end of it and sealed the parcel with a kiss. She then delivered her token to her would-be admirer. The harpoon struck its target like an arrow from Orion's quiver, sending the legionnaire past his captain and pinning him to the tree in the center of the courtyard. Just as the entrance's rock barrier came down and the large steel doors slammed shut, there was a double explosion from outside.
Everyone was quite. After a few seconds, Ike spoke. “They're clearing the barrier,” he told Lopez.
“Shit!” said Edwards. “Why can't those bastards take a hint?” He turned and shouted at the entrance: “PISS OFF, ASSHOLES! Nobody's buying today!”
Ike grabbed Lopez by the arm. “You and Edwards get the women and children to the armory. Take all the weapons and food you can carry and then get to the secret passages. Once you're outside, don't stop moving until you make it to New Hope.”
Lopez jerked her arm free and gave her husband a defiant look. “I'm not leaving you.”
“You're gonna have to, honey.”
“Don't argue with me, woman.” He put his hand on the back of her neck and pulled her to him, barring his face in her hair. He then touched his forehead to hers. “Now get our girls out of here. Get them somewhere safe. If you love me, you' ll save the best part of me. Don't you know that you're the bearer and guardian of my immortality?” He gently pushed her away. “There's not a moment to lose. Go. Go!”
Tears glistened against Lopez's cheeks as she placed her fingertips against his lips. There was no need for the pair to say the words I love you: such phrases cannot articulate what is in the lover's heart during the time of war, only the eyes have the power to do that.
The scene played over and over throughout the room as mates looked at one another for the last time.
Ike kissed his wife's fingers, then, while keeping his eyes on hers, he yelled: “ Edwards, go with Maria! Take Kennard's two youngest lads and any male under eighteen with you.”
Kennard's sons and the other boys began to protest but were cut short by Ike. “It's your duty to look after your mothers, s, brothers and future wives,” he told them. “ This is not something new: the honor was bestowed upon you at the moment of your birth.” He looked each one of them in the eye. “I know you think that you're being handed a weakling's job, but soon, and for some time, it will be you—and only you!—that stands between the innocent and Caesar. It will also be you, the next generation of warriors, that will be responsible for passing down our legends so that we who have fallen this day will not be forgotten. . . . You are the colony now, understand?”
All of the young men straightened their shoulders and stood tall.
“Good,” said Ike. “Now off to the armory with ya.”
Scared but proud, the boys left with Lopez and the others.
Ike turned to the men and what few women remained in the foyer. He stood uncomfortably in the center of the room, like a politician without a teleprompter. “Someone's going to have to go behind them and trigger the barriers, then blow the armory. We can't allow our weapons to fall into our enemy's hands only to be used against the meek later. I know it's a suicide mission, folks, but we ain't got time to draw straws. So, who's it gonna—?”
“I'll do it!” said a welder by the name of O'Connor. The men and women standing closest to him patted him on the back, and many words of respect were given to him from the hundred or more colonists that filled the room. With a nod from Ike, he climbed down a shelf of rock and headed for the tunnel leading to the armory. Passing him along the way were three men pulling a cart filled with weapons.
“Hold it a second, O'Connor.” Ike looked passed Spartacus and Whitecrow. “Harper, what the hell are you still doing here?! You should be with the women and children like the rest of the medics!”
“What about our brothers and sisters?” asked Harper. “Someone's gotta stay behind and look after them.”
“Your brothers and sisters won't be needin' ya, mate,” came a voice from the crowd.
“Aye,” said another. “It's gonna be a fight to the death, so it is, just like our brothers outside.”
The medic looked around at the heads nodding in agreement.
“Harper, you're a good man,” said Ike, “but you should be where you're most needed. It's a long way to New Hope, and your skills will be required many times, I assure you.”
Harper shook his head and tried to argue with Ike, but words from his fellow colonists convinced him that for the benefit of the colony, which consists of flesh and blood and not stone and water, he should go. And so, he reluctantly joined O'Connor. When both men were inside the tunnel, they looked back at their friends one last time before triggering the second barrier of the morning.
Ike turned to the crowd. “I know that I cannot take Kennard's place, especially when it comes to the speeches, but we've been preparing for this day a long time so we know the basic plan: lure the enemy into our warren and kill as many as we can, even if we have to kill ourselves to do it.”
A heavy silence, as heavy and as cumbersome as the Shroud of Death, fell upon those in the foyer. For several moments there was no sound other than the ones created by Caesar's legions burrowing through the rocks. Then: “Will you not give us some words of comfort in these last moments, brother?!” shouted one of the female warriors.
Ike shook is head. “What words of comfort would you have me give, sister? I am a man of few words, unlike Kennard.”
“Then let the one who has been fighting this battle our whole lives give them.” said the warrior.
“What say you, Spartacus? Will you speak to us during our darkest hour?”
All eyes turned to the cowboy, including John Whitecrow's. When Spartacus did not speak, his second-in-command nudged him in the ribs.
The cowboy cleared his throat and looked at Ike, who was obviously anxious to pass the spotlight onto someone else.
To Ike's relief, Spartacus traded places with him.
The cowboy stared back at the crowd through eyes that were as weathered and as battle-hardened as the skin that surrounded them. When he spoke in his signature gravely voice, it was not words of comfort that he gave, but words of truth and courage:
“It is an animal's emotion, fear. Sometimes it serves those of the animal kingdom well. Sometimes not. Each one of you, look around at your brothers and sisters. They are not beasts of the animal kingdom, but spiritual entities that temporarily inhabit the kingdom of man. Hopefully when they die this day they will find themselves in a kingdom far superior to any that has been realized on Earth.” The man, who was a legend in his own time—a living monument to chivalry and valor—held out both arms and turned in a circle; a calculated move.
“I am but a simple man,” he continued. “But even a simple man can tell you that the battle we fight today—like all the ones that came before it and all those that will come after it—in the end will determine only one thing: the victor. The question is, will it be the Homo sapiens, or the humans? What say you, my fellow humans?!”
The warriors lifted their weapons in the air, shaking the very pillars of Heaven and Earth with their chanting. “HUMAN!!! HUMAN!!! HUMAN!!!”
Spartacus raised his hand for silence, and it was given.
“There is one thing you must know before the enemy enters the home of Mother Nature's sons and daughters. This war that we fight is an ancient one: the War of Freedom. Even the great Civil War was only a small battle won. The work of our ancestors, humans like we, has, up to now, been left undone. As long as slavery exists in any form, so does the possibility of self-destruction. If there is a more noble cause than freeing women and children from slavery, as well as the men who love and try to protect them, I have yet to hear it.” He paused, letting the humans reflect upon all those they had loved and lost at the hands of the Homo sapiens. When he began again, his tone was ruff but gentle. “Let the suffering of those across the drylands and their longing to taste freedom, give you courage this day, for their freedom is the only thing that matters.” Spartacus watched as one warrior after another resolved in their heart to die a human's death at the hands of those who were non and would never be.
“Okay, humans,” said Ike, “it's time. The bastards are almost at the doors. You know what to do. And if the possibility of escape makes itself known to you after you have done all you can do, for the colony's sake you must take it; but under no circumstances are you to make your way to New Hope: we cannot risk the lives of the women and children.”
“Yeah, sure, you guys know what to do,” Whitecrow said, as over half of the colonists took off down the tunnels and passages while the rest stayed behind to form a living barrier, “but what about us?”
“You two can come with me,” Ike told them. “I have to get to the old man, see if I can't drag him kicking and screaming through the fireplace.”
Whitecrow and Spartacus looked at the colonist, confused.
“The Great Hall of Gnomes hides a secret passage leading out of the side of the mountains,” Ike explained. “It comes out several miles away from the ones the women and children have taken. We'll wait until the legions break through, kill as many of the bastards as we can, then help the old man.”
The Indian and cowboy followed Ike over to the tunnel on the left. They waited inside the tunnels gaping mouth with two other men that Spartacus did not know. It wasn't long after they were positioned that the legionnaires blew open the doors, sending metal and rubble flying everywhere. The cowboy brushed some debris off of his shoulder and opened fire on the invaders, who mostly bore machetes and crudely fashioned weapons. Many of the enemy were brought down by the well-armed warriors in the foyer; however it didn't take long for the the legions to overwhelm them. In one last bid to end the battle then and there, the warriors blew themselves up, taking their weapons and the legionnaires inside the foyer with them.
Spartacus dusted bits of rubble from his shoulder and watched as several colonist used flesh and bone to lure the next wave of fiends deep into the mountains' labyrinth.
Ike turned to Spartacus. “Giddy up, cowboy.” Then he shouted at the enemy: “HEY! Yeah I'm talkin' to you, you steaming pile of troglodyte dung! If you're lookin' for a little action, we got plenty of it over here.”
The two men in front of Whitecrow, not bothering to conceal their masculinity, began to beckon to the legionnaires in comically portrayed female identities. “Woo hoo—boys! Your dates are over here, ready, willing and able,” they called.
A particularly large and filthy-looking legionnaire smiled. “Good enough for me,” he said lustfully.
Whitecrow pulled out his crossbow, loaded it with arrows that had shafts full of gunpowder, then rigged the flame at the end. Before the legionnaire could take another step, the Indian shot him in the throat and took off his head. Whitecrow then fell back with the others.
“Damn, if those freaks can get it up over these two ugly bastards, we better start praying for the female warriors now.”
“They're the lasts one you have to worry about,” said Ike. “Our sisters will take their own lives or our brothers will do it for them.”
The five lured the legionnaires down one tunnel and then another where they were ambushed by cleverly disguised colonists that were painted to blend in with the environment. Someone, as a practical joke perhaps, or maybe as a way to confuse the enemy even further, began playing opera over the intercom. The woman's voice, deep as the sea and full of sorrow, added a poetic sweetness to the horrors that were taking place below the land of the living.