Truth and the Goddess Arl - Part Three
The following morning, after a restless night of wishful tossing and turning--the restraints prevented any actual movement--a nurse came by, removed the restraints, and told Alex he was free to go.
After several attempts, Alex managed to stand; his legs burned as the feeling in them returned. While taking a few tentative steps from the bed, Priestess Kai approached with the jar of peanut butter in hand.
"What, no apology for holding me against my will?" Alex asked.
Kai's brow quirked in amusement when she handed him the jar. "Kidding? You murdered a man right outside the temple. You're lucky we just restrained you in a bed. Had it not been for your captain... Well, you don't want to know."
The peanut butter jar felt heavy in Alex's hand. This whole mess happened because of the peanut butter. Had they not forgotten it the first time around, Alex never would have had to leave Bethany alone and none of this would be an issue.
"Why you letting me go?"
"Bethany woke during the night and confirmed your story. That and Mama has assured us she'll deal with you personally."
Visions of abnormally large needles danced in Alex's head. He shuddered. "How is she?"
"In and out. Her head took a decent blow."
"But she'll be all right?"
"Most likely. You're free to move about the temple. The dining hall is down the corridor and to the left. You are not allowed to leave the temple grounds without an escort--and that escort will be taking you directly to your ship."
Alex wandered along the beds until he reached the other end of the room. There he gazed down at Bethany as she slept.
What happened? Why, Alex wondered, why did he snap? All the pressure, all the building momentum of this entire trip just came to a head. Something inside him lost control when this girl that couldn't seem to find reason in her emotional instability. She gushed over Alex and Alex tried not to encourage it too much, for he couldn't bring himself to love her the way she loved him. Still, just the idea of what that asshole was about to do to her was enough to bring Alex to a point he'd never reached--a point of uncontrollable, uncontainable rage.
He felt sick to his stomach. Food didn't seem agreeable, but agreeable or not, he needed to eat. Alex leaned over the side of the bed, kissed Bethany on the forehead, and then headed for the dining hall. Right outside the door to the hospital ward, the hovering cart with all their purchases waited. He looked down at the jar of peanut butter in disgust before tossing it into the cart.
"How long have we been here?" Katlyn asked. She shifted uncomfortably on the bench, eyes locked on the Elder leaning against the doorframe.
"It doesn't work like that. While here, you're all effectively non-living. We're in zero time. You don't age. You don't grow hungry or tired. We could be here a week or a year--it matters not. Manipulation of the doorways will determine the ultimate time difference. I could send you back a year later or a second later."
Katlyn was tired--tired of listening to this Elder do nothing but tease them. No information at all had escaped his lips since they'd arrived in this corridor between realities. Sela and Yerik refused to listen to any "Interpol/Elder Propaganda" as they put it. Horus kept to himself, nursing his injured groin and pride.
"The sooner I can explain things," the Elder said, "the sooner you'll be returned to your reality. There is something to consider. When you do return, time will have moved on without you. I said I could return you a second later, and I can. But I won't. I've been in contact with another Elder and he's keeping track of the time in your reality. So depending on how long you wait to let me talk, that'll be how long you've been missing from your reality."
Sela frowned, only for a moment. "So Katlyn's question does have an answer. You're just refusing to answer."
"Is no eetee going to tell me how--" Yerik started to say.
"Perhaps," the Elder interrupted, "I should start with one of the most basic of lies."
Before anyone could protest, Katlyn said firmly, "Tell us."
"Not so much a lie as a concealed truth--for your own good."
The Elder spread his palms out and smiled. "We're not aliens. The Elders are very much human."
Alex sat alone in the back of the dining hall munching on a fresh apple. Round tables spread out haphazardly before him, dotted with people of varying types of dress eating an even wider selection of foods. The mixed aromas of fresh fruits, vegetables and cooking meats defeated any queasy doubts in his stomach. He had been hungry and uncanned, undehydrated foods were exactly what the doctor ordered.
Eavesdropping didn't give him much but a lot of talk about the Goddess Arl. In a temple dedicated to her, what did he expect?
Just as Alex finished devouring his apple, the swirling tattoos that surrounded the mohawk on top of Mama's head drew his attention. The ship's diabolical doctor strode through the doors of the dining hall, eyes searching. Once she spotted Alex, she came to his table and hefted her massive weight into the chair across from him.
"Been busy, dearie?"
Alex planted the apple core in the center of the table and watched it topple over. He avoided Mama's gaze with all his strength.
Mama reached across the table and patted his hand. "It's okay. When I heard what happened my first thought was that the guy had it good. Me or Franky and he would have endured a long-lasting punishment to rival all the pain of the universe merged into one. You did good, Alex. You did right."
Somehow the reassurances of a criminal didn't put Alex's mind at ease--at least that's what he told himself. His conscious mind refused to accept Mama's words. Part of him, however, embraced the words with relief.
"Not much for talking? That's okay. It's been an ordeal, I'm sure. Just wanted to tell you to send me a quick message via the SoftPAD and let me know exactly what computer equipment you need for your experiment. I'll pick it all up personally. For now just sit tight while Franky and I finish the shopping."
As Mama lumbered away, Alex gazed after her. He pulled out his SoftPAD, unfolded it, and did just what she said. All the while it puzzled him that for the first time since he'd known her, Mama had not nearly knocked his shoulder out of its socket.
Once the list zipped off to Mama, Alex headed out of the dining hall. He strolled down the corridor listening to the sounds of hundreds, maybe thousands, of people flowing through the halls and windows of the temple.
The initial shock of his actions wore off and now he was left with the guilt and the shame for his actions. Even that was a struggle because Mama's words did touch him in the part of his mind that knew what he did was justified and acceptable. Alex liked to consider himself a pacifist and he did at one time believe there was no excuse for murder. Now, though, he just didn't know. The only people in his life that were close enough to him to warrant the same kind of response in the same situation were his immediate family. Had he grown that close to Bethany? Of all the people on the ship, he'd spent the most time with her and only then because she hounded and harassed him so. Katlyn was the one person he wanted to be around and yet he barely found that possible. How was everything so screwed up?
Alex rounded the corner and paused.
Before him stood a giant archway glinting with specks of gold in the sunlight that poured from the skylight high above the temple's main chamber. Through the archway stood that main chamber, dominated by an enormously oversized holographic woman.
From Alex's position as he stepped slowly through the archway and into the main chamber, he could see the back of the Goddess Arl and what a beautiful back it was. Long, dark blonde hair flowed down the back of the Goddess, the ends a mixture of blues and reds. The slender body and tight ass drew him closer. His eyes absorbed in the twenty-foot high curves, fully aware he was about to embarrass himself in front of all the people milling about. But he didn't care.
He slowly rounded the holographic image that was so lifelike it would be impossible to tell it wasn't real had it not been so friggen huge. As he came around front, he lost his balance and nearly tumbled head first through the display of the Goddess Arl.
For the woman they call the Goddess Arl was not only appealing in every possible way, but Alex recognized her. Older than he remember by about ten year--not that it mattered, she'd aged well and looked, if possible, even better than he remembered. His mind searched for the connection. Why Arl? What is Arl? So obvious was the answer it took him several minutes to figure out.
Far louder than intended, Alex said, "The Goddess Arl is Avril Ramona Lavigne."
To be continued...