The storm had passed and the crystal sun was shining brightly once again.
Jeff gave Béla some of Greta’s clothes to wear. Surprisingly, they fit. Béla considered herself extremely petite and was hoping the clothing Jeff offered would be too baggy to wear. Then she could have convinced him to let her run naked; at least between settlements.
They both explored the storage room, separating out what they wanted to take with them. They only needed the basics – a backpack for each of them, a bedroll for each pack, spare clothing and an ice pack for carrying perishables although this early in the spring, there wasn’t likely to be anything available that wasn’t already frozen.
Béla found a standard first aid kit, complete with gauze, white tape, snakebite medicine, hydrogen peroxide and several syringes. There were also bottles marked penicillin, aspirin and Niacin.
“What’s the Niacin for?” Béla asked, curious.
She needed to empty at least one of these vials to store some of her blood in, just in case they got separated somehow. It was her blood, after all, that was the cure for this wasting disease.
“Niacin?” Jeff asked. “Oh, that’s for radiation poisoning. It helps the body to negate its effects, somehow.”
Béla had taken Niacin before. With her, it had created a fierce sunburn effect, convincing her that radiation poisoning was what she had. The effects did wear off after awhile, though. She had wanted to know what a sunburn felt like, so Jake had sadistically fed her a handful of B3 tablets, so she’d know. Then he’d practically rolled around on the floor as she frantically stripped off her clothes and stood – naked, trembling and terrified – in the middle of the room with her arms and legs spread, carefully and painfully not touching any part of herself as she fried. She still flushed (infuriated) when she thought about that!
She didn’t really know if Niacin would cure radiation poisoning like sunburns and such, but back on Earth, there was a philosophy of medicine that believed in using minute doses of natural substances that actually created the symptoms to cure the condition one suffered from. Béla had never been sick, so she never bothered to learn more about it. In the end, it was the aspirin that got tossed. At least, B3 was a vitamin, and Béla hated drugs and the effects they had on her more than just about anything else.
After raiding Jeff’s kitchen and ice cellar for food to pack along, they looked around the horizon, deciding which way to go. Béla knew that cargo was being unloaded at the South Pole, so they decided to head that way. One of the odd things she noticed about navigating around New Eden was that, on a clear day, it was impossible to get lost; your destination was always visible on the horizon, above you. In fact, the only visible horizon occurred where the land curved up behind the clouds. If there were no clouds around, you could see halfway around the planet.
Jeff estimated that it would take four to six weeks to reach Southern, the town nearest the South Pole Depot. Béla had the misfortune of landing nearer Northern than Southern when she’d taken her morning sojourn a little too far from the great ship, and they were going to have to cross the equator to reach their destination.
They had seven weeks until the southern crystal sun began shining, transmitting sunlight into New Eden. If they arrived later than that, Béla would have to wait two more months until the northern crystal sun was in shadow, while traveling halfway around New Eden to Northern in order to get transportation back to the great ship and her sisters.
“I remember, in my studies, there was a rail system here,” Béla was saying as they traveled. “Why haven’t we seen any tracks? They should be all over the place.”
“They are,” Jeff replied. “We just haven’t walked far enough.”
He pointed up to their destination for the day – a small town with a visible rail line running through it. There was smoke coming from what looked like the Town Square. It was blowing away from them.
“We should be there in a couple of hours,” Jeff continued, “It’s only seven or eight kilometers.”
It looked close enough to Béla for her to just hop over into it. She craned her neck to look higher. Further away, the detail of the landscape disappeared into haze. At this time of the year, there was too much moisture in the air to see more than twenty miles or so. There were only two towns she could see. They both seemed to be on fire.
“What are they burning?” she asked, not certain she wanted to know.
Jeff looked up at the town. She could feel in his mind that he was upset about where the smoke was coming from. He knew the layout of New Hope and there was no reason for a fire to be where it was.
Béla withdrew from his mind as the walked on, and kept her thoughts to herself. She had seen town squares burn before, and suspected she knew what they were burning.
After another hour, Béla stopped walking and stood, silent and still, right in the middle of the road. Jeff walked a few more steps, then turned around to see what the problem was.
“We should get off the road,” Béla said anxiously. “There are guards ahead.”
“Guards?” Jeff laughed, “Are you daft? There are no guards here.”
“Yes. There are,” Béla told him, urgently. “There are guards and they have guns!”
“Nonsense!” Jeff said, and turned back to the road.
He walked away from her, then listened to her bare footsteps as she ran to catch up to him.
“At least let me walk in front of you,” Béla insisted.
“Why, for Christ’s sake?” Jeff asked, exasperated, now.
Béla stopped and looked at him. “You remember who Christ is?”
Jeff scrunched his forehead in thought. “Yes. I think so,” he replied. “Since I’ve met you, things are coming back to me about my life before. This…” He held his hand up, indicating the surrounding landscape. “This isn’t natural, is it?”
“No. It’s all artificial,” Béla replied tiredly. “If you dig down far enough, you’ll find the metal shell I showed you just last night... or whatever.”
'What do you call it when it doesn't get dark?' she wondered to herself.
“So that was all real, then?” Jeff asked, his eyes widening.
Béla looked at him, annoyed again, even though she knew this would happen.
‘What is with these humans that they can’t believe what they see in their dreams? No wonder they have such trouble communicating with each other!’
They walked another hundred yards, then Béla suddenly pulled Jeff off to the side of the road, tumbling the both of them into a shallow ditch. There was a distant ‘crack’ of a rifle shot.
“What is wrong with you?” Jeff yelled, indignantly picking himself up and climbing out of the ditch.
“We’re being shot at, you jackass!” Béla yelled as she followed him up onto the road again.
Startled by her words, Jeff swung around, trying to look everywhere at once. The ground erupted next to his foot, making him jump. They heard another distant ‘crack’.
“Somebody’s shooting at us!” Jeff cried, and dove for the ditch, much more willingly, this time.
Hiding behind his backpack, he looked back at Béla, who had folded her legs and sat down by the side of the road.
“Aren’t you going to hide?” he hollered at her, not believing that she would just sit there and let someone shoot at her. "Do you think this is a picnic?"
“No,” she said, shrugging her shoulders. “They aren’t shooting at me…
“Besides,” she continued, sounding bored again, “I can’t be killed with a bullet.”
“I beg to differ, Goddess,” Jeff explained as though he was talking to a child, “but I happened to see your revered Goddess Mother bring you back to life! She had to make you mortal so you could live again. Being mortal, Goddess, you can certainly be killed with a bullet!”
Dirt and gravel kicked up next to him. They heard another ‘crack’.
“They’re not trying to kill us, you know,” Béla explained. “One person is keeping us pinned here while the others surround us.”
“You’re kidding!” Jeff muttered. “And you know this because…”
Dirt showered down on his head from another ricocheted bullet, making him duck again.
Béla sighed at the ridiculousness of his delayed reactions and stood up as though she was daring the sniper to shoot her. She stripped off her backpack and tossed it into the center of the road. Then she stripped off her clothes as Jeff watched, mouth agape at what he was seeing. Naked, Béla raised her arms straight out to her sides and turned around slowly, displaying her slender body to the shooter.
“What are you doing?” Jeff demanded to know, too frightened for her safety to control the trembling in his voice.
“I’m showing them I don’t have the disease they’re afraid we’re carrying,” Béla replied, managing to sound bored, yet serious.
Then she walked around in front of Jeff and lay down, offering herself as a barrier between Jeff and the shooter.
“Get your first aid kit out,” she told him, lying naked on the ground in front of him.
Wrenching his eyes off that marvelous curve her left breast was making across her front, he pulled the white box out of his pack, almost dropping it out of his trembling hands.
“Now, hold it in the air,” Béla said. “Make sure the white part with the Red Cross symbol is toward where the shooting came from so they can see it.”
After a moment of holding the white box in the air, they heard an indistinct shout.
“Okay, we can get up now,” Béla told him, distracting Jeff again with a sensuous twist as she pushed away from the ground.
She got up and retrieved her clothes and backpack. She put her shirt back on, then put her backpack on over it. She threw her pants over her shoulder like she was carrying a jacket.
“Why did you dress like that?” Jeff wanted to know.
“Because the pack cuts into my shoulders if I wear it naked,” she replied, grinning at him.
She had been looking for an excuse to get out of those scratchy pants all day, and she wasn't about to put them back on.
“You know,” Jeff told her, “for a goddess, you’re very, um…”
He couldn’t think of the right word to use that wouldn’t sound terribly insulting.
“Casual?” Béla suggested, smiling.
Jeff glared at her. They began walking toward the person who had shouted at them. As they approached a grove of trees, two men walked out into the road, rifles held with seeming but practiced casualness down at their sides. Béla knew that both rifles could be brought up into firing position within a second if the pair of travelers moved unexpectedly. The thought of being a moving target excited her and ehs wished she was back on the ship being mauled by Beth or Elaine.
“That’s far enough,” the shorter one said. “What are you doing here?”
‘Tell him we’re bringing vaccine for the sickness,’ Béla thought into Jeff’s mind.
“Um, we have a cure for the wasting disease,” Jeff explained, sounding uncertain. “We have come, uh, to offer it to you, in return for safe passage through your district.”
‘Very good,’ Béla told him in his thoughts, ‘but they don’t believe a word. In a moment, tell them I’m a goddess.’
She began walking toward the men with the rifles. One of them pointed his rifle at her.
“I’m warning you, Miss; stop!” he growled at her.
Béla stopped. Tthen, smiling, she stepped toward him again. He pulled the trigger, not to kill her, but to crease the soft, fleshy skin outlining the flare of her hip with the bullet, letting her know he meant business and really would shoot her to protect his home, dispite the fact that she was half-naked and beautiful.
“Stop!” Jeff cried, “She’s the daughter of the Goddess of Light! She doesn’t know our ways! Don’t hurt her!”
‘Poor Jeff,’ Béla thought as she looked down at the burning furrow the bullet had made in her side. ‘At least, he’s really distraught about them hurting me. They won’t believe he’s acting, now. Damn! That feels good!’
She raised her arm to get a better look at her wound, then looked up at the man who had shot her. With her arm raised, he could get a good look at the furrow carved in her naked side. It was visibly getting smaller. In just a few seconds, it was gone, with only the red liquid trail down her side indicating it had ever been there.
The man stepped back, staring at the witch, his eyes wide with shock and surprise. He vanished in an explosive blast that left a two-foot wide hole in the road.
‘Nobody shoots my sister!’
The thought rang in Béla’s mind as she felt Elaine aiming at the other man in the road. She was using the ship’s small laser cannon and she was a very good shot!
“Everybody off the road!” Béla screamed, diving at the other man with the rifle.
‘Father! Get Elaine away from that gun!’ she screamed in her mind.
She tackled the other man and knocked him over. As they rolled together off the road, another laser blast blew a hole where he’d been standing an instant earlier. Jeff was as shocked at the turn of events as the surviving road guard was.
‘Stop shooting! You almost hit me!’
‘Then get out of the way!’
‘No!’ I don’t want you to kill anyone else!’
“I’m sorry about your friend,” Béla panted, protecting him from any more blasts with her naked body. “I didn’t want anyone to get hurt.”
The frightened guard looked from her to her companion and back, not comprehending what had happened.
Jeff filled him in, beginning his litany. “The seemingly adult but very naked woman on top of you is the Goddess of the Land. The Goddess was born two days ago in the storm that passed overhead. The Storm God is her father, and he destroyed your friend with a bolt of lightning for injuring his daughter.”
Béla noted that the road guard believed Jeff completely. Jeff spoke with the certainty of inner knowledge. He devoutly believed every word he said.
Béla had been right. What burned in the Town Square were the bodies of plague victims. She played her ‘Goddess’ role to the hilt, having had lots of practice in other cultures back on old Earth. One advantage of being ‘divine’ was that she didn’t have to wear clothes. Her body, of course, was petite, perfect and unflawed, as a goddess’ form should be (in her opinion, anyway), and she proudly displayed it, gazing back with regal aloofness at anyone who stared at her.
Jeff successfully demonstrated to the surviving townspeople that the vial of dark red liquid was actually a cure for the wasting disease. Although they diluted it, the resulting vaccine was quickly used up saving the victims who had not yet died. Each victim’s almost instantaneous recovery was praised as a divine miracle.
When the ‘Goddess’ was approached for more of the magical vaccine, Béla invented a religious ceremony where she stood and stared into the light of her mother, the Goddess of Light and held two empty vials up in the palms of her hands for her Mother Goddess to bless. Over a period of several minutes, they ‘magically’ filled with a dark red fluid even though the vials were corked.
Béla mentally thanked her brother again for showing her how to teleport. In this case, she was moving her own blood from inside her body into the sealed vials a few cells at a time. A few cells at a time were all she could currently manage. Only Jeff knew where the elixir actually came from.
Béla found herself performing this ritual several times a day, using fresh vials each time as more were brought for her to fill. Mounted volunteers took the diluted healing elixir out into the countryside to help any of the local farmers that still lived. Within three days, the wasting disease was completely eradicated within a day’s journey in any direction.
The death toll had been terrible. Over the winter months, the wasting disease had consumed more than half of the outlying population. But the elixir of the goddess prevented any more deaths. The remaining twenty vials were being taken further away to help communities on the outskirts of the northern farmlands.
Béla instructed the volunteer carriers that the elixir could be diluted with water at least six times and still be effective. When one suggested the use of wine instead of water, Béla replied that ‘since wine has its own magical and godlike properties, it would probably destroy the elixir’s magic. The Blood of the Gods should only be diluted in life-giving water.
Jeff, or rather, the Great Bard Geoffrey, as he was called, now, told and retold his tale of ‘The Coming of the Goddess’ to throngs of people several times that day. His ode explained her existence to people who knew absolutely everyone else, and made her pretty much immune to the local laws and traditions. No one even dared to suggest to her naked Divinity that she put some clothes on.
Partly because of her ‘Goddess’ status and partly because she was naked, Béla was always being touched by people everywhere she went. It made her incredibly aroused sexually – a condition that the Great Bard had to remedy every few hours.
With so many men around, Béla briefly considered instituting an orgy as part of her religious requirements for worshipping the land. She’d done that before as the goddess Breed, a thousand years earlier. However, she wasn’t sure if she should act on her impulse this time. She hadn't really intended to create an entire religion based on sexual witchcraft and within the next year or so, there were going to be so many flying goddesses around that things were going to get very confusing if she continued in this vein.
'Remember what happened to Hank,' she reminded herself.
After an estimated three days in the town, Jeff had managed to secure a railcar for them to use to travel across the equator. This cut two weeks off their estimated travel time. They were forced to stay an extra rest period so the townspeople could celebrate their salvation by preparing and consuming half the food they had stored for the rest of the summer.
Aided by the local beverage, many of the ladies, mostly younger girls who were old enough to have a good figure, shed their clothes, following their new goddess’ example of public nudity. After several hours of eating, drinking and celebrating, Béla was being driven insane with lust and the sexual desires that surrounded and bombarded her.
Finally losing control of her passions, the goddess grabbed the closest man available that was radiating sexual need and, ripping his trousers open, proceeded to mount him right in front of everyone, thus triggering the first annual ‘Rite of Spring to Celebrate the Coming of the Goddess of the Land’.
The first annual ‘rite’ was prematurely interrupted by the sudden arrival of another spring storm.