Iphigenia did not struggle as they led her to the altar. She walked barefoot on the fine sand past the black ships tilted on the beach. Their sails hung flat in the still air. Dry eyed, she looked at her father and failed to forgive him really loudly. She climbed of her own volition onto the altar draped with the skins of wild animals dedicated to Artemis, mistress of sacrifices. They bound her with red ropes. They did not need to. She said so. "I will not struggle." As they turned from her, she whispered to the clouded ceiling of sky, "Artemis of the open countryside, I long to run with you in the deep forests and gaze into the light of your eyes. Blessed would I be if you took me up as one of your maidens." She sighed. "But I would so completely die for you."
Achilles, to whom she'd been promised as a bride, stood aside at her request. He'd put on this simply luscious, Ionic style, black linen, chiton with a dazzling high silver girdle in her honor.
Agamemnon held the long knife out to be blessed. He raised it up and spoke the words to appease crazy ass Artemis that their black ships might sail to Troy and sack the Hades out of the place.
Clytemnestra exploded in screams and struggled to be free of the warriors that held her.
A great black shadow passed through the grey clouds over them. A beam of white light seared the altar and they held up their hands against the blaze. When they looked back, Iphigenia was gone.
Clytemnestra wept. "Thank the gods. Thank the gods. Thank the gods."
Agamemnon turned to Calchas. "Does that mean the curse is lifted?"
They had time for no more words as animal killing Artemis appeared with a doe lightly draped over one shoulder. She looked at the empty altar and asked in a voice like falling stars, "Where is Iphigenia?"
Clytemnestra pulled away from the now slack hands of the men around her. She walked with purpose to the slim goddess, whose shadow crossed them all, and said, "Did you not just snatch her up from death?"
Artemis flung the doe upon the altar with a blow that cracked the hasty wood. She glared up at the sky with narrowed silver eyes. She said in the voice of cold dark spaces, "That was not me." She was gone in a rush of wind that puffed the black sails of the black ships.
The warriors on the beach cheered. Agamemnon turned to his wife and said, "So, uh, we all good? Not like Iffy died or anything."
Clytemnestra looked straight ahead as he kissed her cheek and said a very loud nothing. She turned to Achilles, in his simple yet stunning robes. "Will you go find my daughter?"
Achilles looked up at the sky where vast shadows moved over the clouds. He gripped his spear and for the first time that afternoon, he smiled. "A daring quest. Sounds irresistible."
"So... your plan is to wait to be rescued by the gods," said Penelope. "You do realize there’s a fifty to eighty percent chance we’ll just be turned into shrubs."
When she put it like that, Iphigenia was a little less sure of her plan, but still she felt it necessary to protest. "Artemis protects maidens who dedicate themselves completely to her."
Penelope gave her a look to indicate what she thought of that. She resumed her examination of the crystals embedded in the door mechanism that slid open and closed for their captors with a touch. She said to Circe, who was doing much the same, "Are you sure there’s nothing you can do about the door?"
Circe lightly caressed a green crystal with her index finger. "I cannot work magic with a sow’s ear." She laughed to herself and touched a purple crystal. "Actually I can, because I am that brilliant, but," she examined the perfectly smooth metal wall, "I have no idea what magic this is." She tapped her pinkie against her teeth. She called out to the other women in the room. "When the white beam took you, I don’t suppose anyone was about to sacrifice a small black goat, because that would be so incredibly useful right now."
Helen sighed and tugged at her tangled hair and somehow managed to look perfect. "I was at my bath." She flicked away a single perfect tear that became a pearl as it hit the metal floor. "I was completely naked. All naked and hot and wet in my bath." She brushed her hand down the soft robe that Circe had conjured for her from a feather. "Our captors probed me all over." Her hand slid farther down. "Twice. I wanted to be sure that they found what they were looking for." She stretched out slowly.
Iphigenia glared at her aunt, Helen, who didn’t notice. There were several grumbles from the women of the room of, "You told us, Helen." And at least one comment of, "I didn't get probed. They just waved a light over me."
Penthesilea ignored all this by being asleep. She leaned against the far wall of the room with her eyes closed and her hand firm upon her axe, which was a noble weapon and not to be used for hacking at a metal wall. She’d said earlier, "Wake me when there's something to kill."
The room in which they were held shuddered. Penthesilea woke up. "I can hear the arrows of Artemis and Apollo as they batter at the shields of our enemy." She tapped the butt of her axe lightly against the wall.
Iphigenia couldn’t hear anything, but if an Amazon could, she wasn’t going to argue. She swallowed and said to Penelope and Circe, "I was supposed to be a sacrifice to Artemis. Do you think it would help if," she trailed off.
Penelope put her hands on her hips. "Oh, for the love of... we’re not sacrificing anyone."
Circe clapped her hands. "But it does give me an idea, which because it's mine, is incredibly clever." She winked at Iphigenia and twisted one of her rings off.
Grrblod, the Captain of the Mrrphorpod, wasn’t sure when the attack had gone straight to blrr-glob. This was supposed to be a typical campaign on a G class world. True, there hadn't been a lot of time for in depth scouting. To be honest, since the nexus had been charted, they'd been a planet grab race with the Xian Empire.
It had started out the same as always. The computers had calculated the most likely dominant Queens within each societal grouping and interphased them up. They were supposed to fly around, a little shock and awe. Boom, they were the new dominant species.
The Mrrphorpod shuddered as the female alien in an open silver box pulled by what looked like a domestic animal of burden threw a stick at them with a stringed device. As it struck, the computer monitor displayed a helpful message that indicated that the force of the blow was the equivalent of a 100.3 megaton strike. The Mrrphorpod’s shield went down another two percent.
The male alien in an open burning gold box threw one of his sticks and Cleegoff, the Weapons Officer, screamed like a gleebling. "That has the heat energy of a mid-sized star." Which since they could all read the large monitor, wasn't exactly new information. The Mrrphrorpod's shields went down another two percent. Cleegoff shot off another laser blast and made a direct hit on the burning alien. Cleegoff shook all four upper limbs. "Hyah."
Grrblod waved eyestalks significantly, as the box and its contents were completely unaffected. "What part of energy signature like a star didn't you understand when you fired an energy weapon at it? And if you hit the other one, it's like hitting a big rock. Don't we have other weapons." Grrblod spun his Captain’s chair in a full circle, because at least that was some sort of something.
Cleegoff tapped some panels disconsolately.
The alien in the silver box, unconcerned about flying openly in the vacuum of space, fired another stick. It arced in the non-existent air and bounced off their shields. The monitor chirped that their shields were down another two percent. The alien Queen yelled something at them and shook a limb. Grrblod heard her through the walls, which given there was no sound in space, was just one more wonderful joy in this moment.
The second officer, Zravor, who up until that moment Grrblod had been sure had glycol instead of hymolymph for pulmonary fluid, appeared on the bridge looking shaken to his anterior chitin. Zravor gripped the wall as another stick struck the ship. "Captain, the prisoners have escaped."
Grrblod gaped at Zravor. "But that’s a triple level containment unit. It’s rated to contain up to 3000 marbs of pressure."
Zravor dripped oil on the floor. "One of the prisoners, um," Zravor clearly didn’t want to say what was next.
Grrblod waved at the display where aliens were about to breach the hull with tiny thin sticks. "Spit it out."
"One of the prisoners transformed into a very large, very, very, large thing. It just ripped open the doors and started flinging pieces of the ship around."
Just then the hatch door slid opened and one of the prisoners flipped into the room. The alien female flashed horrible teeth at them and screamed incomprehensibly, which was admittedly typical of a Queen in Grrblod's experience. This Queen spun a metal weapon in her hand, which ordinarily wouldn’t have been a problem, but before any of them could raise an energy weapon the Queen had actually cut off Cleegoff’s lower anterior arm and held that weapon to Grrblod’s thorax still dripping with Cleegoff’s hemolymph. The Queen yelled something no one understood.
Grrblod twitched a lower limb to turn on the universal translator, but at a movement of the blade decided ignorance was fine.
Nebor, the pilot, took the Queen’s words to mean, "Land this Queen cursed ship."
Cleegoff dripped on a monitor and whispered, "The entire fleet is under attack. The Crevgrpod is under fire from someone standing on a mountain," eyestalks waved in horror, "throwing energy weapons. This planet isn’t rated for energy weapons. And, and, half the fleet has been turned into fruit trees. We’re not meant to bear fruit. That’s why we’re soldiers."
Grrblod didn’t respond. There was large sharp piece of metal pressed to glrb's thorax. Grrblod wasn’t going to do anything.
Although, the battle still raged in sky, strong armed Artemis raced to where the black metal ship landed on the island of Lueke.
As her great stag pulled her chariot to the shore, Artemis saw Iphigenia, changed into a new form, herding the invaders onto the beach. Artemis called out with a voice like the untamed wild. "What have you done to her?"
Circe spread her arms wide. "It's a little something that I've been tinkering with. Iphigenia's part hawk, elephant, camel, and octopus. I call the form," she flashed a delighted with herself grin, "Heceight."
Circe shrank into herself with a stiff jerk. "Don't judge me with your simple rural aristocratic standards. How must it be to you in your small mind?" She glared. "Heceight is the culmination of a life's work." She crossed her arms. "My life's work and I refuse to apologize for my life."
Penelope spread her fingers wide as if to let criticism flow through her fingers. "Did the job. I don't care what you call it. Personally, the tusks were a nice touch."
"Really," a smile spread across Circe's face. "That's so refreshing." She sighed and unfolded her arms, but seemed uncertain what to do with them. "I'm sorry. I'm just used to more of a, 'oh, no, what have you done,' reaction."
Artemis waxing bright took a single step towards Iphigenia, who called out from some really hard to determine location, "Artemis fair, I’m yours entirely." Artemis sprang forward with her arms outstretched, "Oh, Iphigenia." They embraced, which since Iphigenia now had eight arms was a lot of embrace. Some sort of kiss happened. In a rush of wind, they were gone.
"Uh," said Circe. She called out to the breeze, "Don't you want me to turn you back." She shrugged. "I guess not."
Behind them, the metal ship lurched into the air and zig zagged away across the darkening sky. Penelope turned to Penthesilea. "Weren't you supposed to be watching them?"
Penthesilea sneered at the ship as it disappeared from view. "They were cowards unworthy of my blade." She spat on the ground.
Penelope decided that she did not care. She turned back to Circe. "I could use a woman of your talents in Ithaca."
"Well," Circe played hard to get for all of not at all, "I want a tower."
"Done." Penelope offered Circe her hand to confirm the agreement.
It was only later, after Penelope had organized shelter for everyone and set up work details to make sure they would have food and water, that she asked, "Has anyone seen Helen?"
Circe, who was examining a charming metal box that she'd acquired during her capture, didn't look up. "No."
Helen lounged on the couch that had been hastily prepared for her on the ship’s bridge. Zravor scuttled over and brought her a fresh bowl of ne-ne berries. She smiled like the dawn over the Praxis Nebula, which was actually a metaphor that made no sense, but after the third cycle with her, Grrblod could no longer metaphor clearly. Her soft, "Thank you," made every officer on the bridge squelch in their anterior sacs, which they had grown as a result of her sweet, sweet pheromones.
She bit into the fruit and made a noise that caused Vrilliax, the communications officer, to faint dead away, which was fine. Just fine. No one to communicate with anyway.
She stretched and they all froze. "Grrblod, your empire sounds so lovely. And it’s ruled by a Queen you say. And she can have as many husbands as she wants. Mmm." She licked her lips to wipe up every trace of fruit.
"Yes, My Que... Helen. Um, well, for a relative meaning of husband. Mostly she bites their heads off, you know, after." Grrblod trembled a little to think of sweet Helen coming face to face with Queen Zzznud, the Great and Terrible.
She inhaled and sighed and moved her foot restlessly on the couch.
Grrblod said, "What is it, Helen? More berries." Grrblod snapped limbs frantically. "More berries for Helen."
"No, silly." She brushed her fingers over glrb's upper chitin. She leaned close enough to brush her lips against glrb's antennae, which quivered at the smell of her sweet scent glands. "I want you to probe me again."
Grrblod whined in terror and joy, and followed Queen Helen from the bridge. She hadn't snapped glrb's head off the first seven times, so the odds were in glrb's favor.
After a three month journey in which he’d fought three giants, a giant turtle, a sand giant who thought he was a turtle, and had fourteen really lovely encounters with some truly beautiful local heroes, Achilles landed his black ship on the island of Leuke.
Circe paused on the beach where she was weaving a ship's sail from flower petals. She yelled out. "You’re a little late. She gestured to the flower vessel in front of her. We’re almost done building our ship. I call it a Float." She paused at his look. "Because it’s a boat made of flowers." At his long pause, she turned her face from him. "Don’t you dare to judge me. I’m with people now who understand my genius and I won’t go back to the way it was."
He ignored her. He was almost done with his quest. "Where is Iphigenia?"
Penthesilea jumped down lithely from the rose stalk mast. "Nice dress." Achilles smiled back. Her armor was beautifully maintained.
Penelope said around the thorn nails in her mouth, "Nice to see you too."
Achilles had priorities though. He was not going to go back to Clytemnestra empty handed. "I must find Iphigenia."
Circe continued weaving. "Artemis picked her up months ago. It was a very moving example of love overcoming all odds between a god and a chimera."
Penelope sighed. "Didn’t give us a ride, of course. Gods!"
Achilles decided, after a really a lovely encounter with Penthesilea over blade maintenance, to continue his quest on the flower ship, which was much more to his liking that a silly black ship anyway.
The Xian fleet passed the single Zzznud ship fleeing the G class planet in disgrace. The Admiral of the Xian fleet sneered, which since he had no mouth, but a very large head, was more of a telepathic sneering comment of, "Pathetic."
His chief science analyst mentaled, "Admiral, there is a large concentration of pathetic primitives on that sub-continent." He mentaled some controls and the monitor rotated a holographic display. The Admiral smiled, but on the inside of his enormous brain, because he had not devolved a mouth. The Zzznud didn't have holograms and that was one of the many reasons that they were clearly an inferior empire. "Fly in above them. We should give them fair warning." He laughed sardonically and the bridge joined in on the mental plane.
Arjuna looked up at the large spinning silver dish that floated over the battlefield. A voice called out from the dish. "Humans of G54-nb, you have three days to vacate the planet before it is terraformed to support a superior life form, which is us."
Krishna thoughtfully adjusted the chariot reins. He said, "Do not yield to unmanliness. It’s not your natural look. Shake off faint-heartnedness, scorcher of enemies! Focus on action. In this case, your action should be to strike the blue light with a single arrow."
Arjuna lifted his bow. A small blue light blurred in a thin line on the rim of the dish as it rapidly spun. Arjuna smiled, pulled back his bow string and let go.