The Duel of the Gods
Roland Avera surveyed his surroundings. He was a god. He was a supreme being, the chief deity of Gampona. He closed his eyes, bowed his head and took one more cleansing breath. Immersed in his role, he walked onto the stage. The curtains magically parted to allow him to pass.
“Borrom. Borrom. Borrom.” Thousands of the primitive inhabitants of Gampona had assembled to witness the return of their almighty deity.
Roland moved to his mark. An air of dominance emanated from every stride. He had always thought of himself as an outstanding ad-libber. This performance was going to be right in his wheelhouse. In fact, the only discomfort he had to deal with was of the physical variety. The blue body paint that currently covered every inch of exposed skin had a tendency to irritate, causing him to itch. He would not give in to the discomfort; scratching was not godlike.
“People of Gampona. I, Borrom, have returned.” Raucous cheers exploded from the gathered multitude. “I will grant you great prosperity and joy. You will provide me with the tribute I deserve. Witness my generosity.” The god turned to the beautiful young woman who had accompanied him onto the stage. She was resplendent in a golden dress which perfectly matched her yellow eyes. Roland knew they were colored contact lenses, just like his own, but he still found their appearance to be disconcerting. “Magana, my daughter, goddess of the sun, bring forth one who is suffering.”
Magana assisted a hobbled native onto the stage. The middle-aged Gampian could barely support any weight on his right leg; a makeshift crutch provided stability. Roland recognized the man from the morning briefing. This individual had been carefully selected for the demonstration about to be staged.
As Roland approached the nervous man, a voice resounded in his hidden earpiece. “Remember that you must give the injection near the injured knee. The combination of adrenaline and pain killers should be sufficient for him to walk off stage. We will sedate him and perform the corrective surgery once he is out of sight.”
Roland did not need to be reminded. He was a professional. The actor placed his hand on the man’s knee. The injection device was hidden between his index and middle fingers. “Be healed,” he demanded as he released the medication into the Gampian’s joint.
The man recoiled slightly from the sting of the needle.
“Do not panic,” announced Roland. “The touch of Borrom is very powerful.”
The voice in his ear spoke once again, “Give it about a minute to start to take effect.”
“Pobligo of Divorac,” Roland addressed the inflicted man by name. “Do you believe that you will be healed?”
“Yes, my god.”
“Do you believe that proper tribute will always be rewarded?”
“Yes, my god.”
“Then throw aside your crutch and walk freely.”
The man released his wooden cane, letting it drop unceremoniously. He tentatively placed weight on his right leg. Feeling no pain, he flashed a huge grin. “I am healed,” he shouted. A clamorous chorus of cheers ignited from the crowd. Magana extended her arm, directing the man off-stage. He raised his hands above his head, shaking them victoriously as he walked in the direction he was instructed. His limp was barely noticeable.
Once the healed Glampian had left and the boisterous cheering had subsided, Roland addressed the crowd. “That is only the tiniest glimpse of the glory I will bestow on you, my people, provided you pledge your complete faith and contribute sufficient offerings.”
The ear-piece spoke once again. “Everything is set up for the next miracle.”
“Now, my children. We feast on fruit and meat.” Roland extended both hands to the sky and waved them in an intricate flourish of movement. Soon, a hail of berries and small apple-like fruit began to fall from the sky. Shortly thereafter, a great multitude of plump birds glided in from above. The grey colored creatures were too heavy to fly, making them easy prey for the waiting Glampians. Roland glanced up at the sky. Even though he knew it was there, he could not find the sky-colored shuttle which had dropped the food.
“Borrom… Borrom… Borrom,” chanted the masses as they gathered the berries and prepared the cooking fires.
Captain Sabrina Toorman had to admit the operation was going very well. At the current rate, the Glampians would be handing over all their planet’s diamonds, uranium, and other precious resources without any resistance. This process was proving to be much cheaper and easier than any previous attempts. She also had to, begrudgingly, give credit to Roland. His performance had been exemplary, much better than she had expected from a third-rate sit-com actor. As long as nothing went awry during the feast, Roland should be able to demand the first tribute in the morning. Captain Toorman had already sent word to headquarters to dispatch the first fleet of transport vessels.
“Captain, is Roland returning to the ship tonight?” asked one of the bridge technicians. “I would like to get his autograph. I am a big fan of him and the show he was on.”
“Pay attention to your duties, Ensign,” Toorman reprimanded. “When he does return to the ship tonight, he will be briefed on tomorrow’s performance. You will not bother him. Do I make myself clear?”
The Captain returned to her surveillance of the activities on the planet, shaking her head ever so slightly.
The bird tasted horrific. Pretending to enjoy the dry, gamey fowl strained every inch of Roland’s acting skill. As he washed down a bite with a cup of water, he wished the script had allowed him to perform a miracle that turned water into wine or a good craft beer.
He rose to address the naïve denizens of the planet one last time. The massive crowd fell silent as soon as Roland raised his arms. This gig was even better than an autograph session after the debut of a new television series. He had the awe and devotions of an entire planet full of groupies.
“People of Glampona, I will now return to my invisible castle in the sky. Fear not, I will return tomorrow to present even greater gifts to you. You would be wise to begin gathering tribute. My generosity will only increase if you show great adoration through offerings.”
Captain Toorman’s voice sounded in his ear. “Remember to lean back a little, you don’t want the jet pack to burn your legs.”
Roland had learned that lesson in rehearsal. There was no need to remind him. He stretched out both his arms and tilted his head and shoulders. “Good night, my subjects.”
Smoke began to form, engulfing the Glampian god. The crowd watched in wonderment as their deity slowly levitated. A thunderous cheer erupted as he ascended into the billowing clouds which had miraculously formed overhead. Once inside the cover provided by the artificial mist, the remotely controlled jet pack carried Roland to a secret location. There he would be met by a shuttle and returned to Toorman’s vessel which was currently in a low orbit about the planet. He hoped the transport wouldn’t get there too soon. It would be nice to have some alone time with the Magana actress.
That evening, Roland was put through a rehearsal of the next day’s production. Captain Toorman was a more critical and uncompromising director than any Roland had ever dealt with on Earth. He was surprised when, after all of the duties were completed, she allowed a young officer to approach him for an autograph. Assuming all official responsibilities had concluded, Roland decided to ask a question which had been bothering him for some time.
“Why are we performing this charade? I really like the work, mind you. But, why don’t we just trade with these people? We must have technology they would love.”
“You don’t keep up with politics much do you?” responded Toorman. She was clearly more relaxed than she had been earlier, yet she maintained an air of authority and dignity. “We and the Vooma are the two main expanding empires in the galaxy.”
“Well, I know that,” interrupted Roland, not wanting to appear totally uninformed. “We came very close to an all-out war against them.”
“It’s because of the treaty negotiated to prevent that war that we are unable to trade with planets like Glampona. The treaty clearly states that we and the Vooma cannot reveal ourselves, in any way, to planets that are not aware of the universe beyond their world.”
The captain continued, “The human negotiators were amazed at how quickly the Vooma agreed to this requirement. That is until we figured out that the Vooma were just obliterating planets. They were taking advantage of an obvious loophole. If you kill everyone on the planet, you aren’t revealing yourself. A second set of negotiations solved that problem. Both we and the Vooma can only obtain precious goods from newly discovered primitive planets by means other than war or trading. To be honest, that doesn’t leave much.”
“I see,” commented the actor, “there aren’t many options, are there?”
“No, that’s why it is so important that you don’t mess this up.”
The next morning, Roland returned to Borrom’s Meadow. Magana, who had rejected all of his previous night’s advances, was by his side. The size of the crowd gathered had tripled from the previous day. Roland actually felt nervous, much like the time he had to perform a solo in an off-Broadway musical. Technically, it had been way off-Broadway since it wasn’t even on Earth. He couldn’t make any mistakes. Today, the plan called for him to demand his tribute. He, once again, was greeted with utter silence and complete attention as he began to address his subjects.
“Captain,” called the surveillance officer. “We may have a problem.”
Toorman sighed. She should have known something was going to make things difficult? No operation ever goes this smoothly. “What is it, Lieutenant?”
“I have just detected a Vooma ship currently in orbit. They appear to be beaming some sort of energy wave down to the planet.”
“Well, let’s see what’s happening. Have all available personnel at the ready. We may have to do some quick improvisation.” She turned her attention back to the video being broadcast from hidden cameras located on the surface.
Roland had only barely begun his address when he noticed that something was awry. The crowd’s attention was slowly, but steadily, fading. A low murmur originated in the rear of the gathering and quickly grew in intensity as it worked its way forward: the aural equivalent of a shadow falling across an open field when a cloud interrupts the sunshine.
The mass of people slowly parted, leaving an undisturbed path from the rear of the assembly to Roland. Walking toward Roland was an exceedingly tall Glampian, standing at least seven feet in height. He seemed to float along the ground. His large strides covering the distance almost instantly.
The interloper stopped a stone’s throw from Roland. When he spoke, his booming voice seemed to come from every direction. “That imposter is not Borrom. I am Borrom, the true god of Glampona. You must dispose of this false god and offer me tribute as recompense for your misplaced worship.”
Roland’s earpiece sprang to life. Captain Toorman was speaking louder and faster than what Roland had become accustomed to hearing. “That is a Vooma representative trying to sabotage our mission. They apparently have the same plan that we do. Do something. Discredit him.”
Roland extended his arms, hoping for, but not achieving the silence the action had garnered earlier. He spoke, anyhow. “Surely the people of this planet have seen the wonders I have performed, the gifts I have bestowed. It is clearly he that is the imposter. I shall simply smite him.”
Toorman’s voice grew even more agitated. “What are you doing? We can’t…. Okay, ready forward laser cannons. Roland, stall for a few seconds.”
“Yes, with one simple wave of my arms, I shall send a torrent of lightning upon this faux god and prove my divinity. Yes, that’s what I will do… I will do it… And I will do it…”
“Now,” called Toorman in his ear.
“Now,” screamed Roland, again making an intricate gesture with his hands.
The crowd murmured and moved even further from the second of the two gods. He showed no fear, standing resolute against whatever assault Roland would bring forth.
A bolt of pure energy hurled down from the sky. It hit directly on Roland’s challenger. The explosion was loud and violent. Dirt, stones, and smoke erupted all around the gangly Glampian. When the debris cleared, the creature stood unharmed. “See, this false god cannot harm me with his parlor tricks.”
“It’s a hologram,” informed Toorman. “Maybe we can somehow block their transmission from here.”
The crowd was definitely impressed with the power of the new god. Some of them were starting to inch their way towards the stage. It was apparent they meant to do harm to the one who would pretend to be their supreme god.
Roland continued to stall for time, hoping the crew on the ship could accomplish their goal of interrupting the holographic broadcast. “I was unable to harm him, because he is actually, Zobonda, the evil ruler of the lower world. He is the bringer of pain, the taker of children, the litterer of parks.” Roland silently cursed his impromptu speech choice.
The crowd seemed to halt their advancement, confused looks plastered on their faces.
The new Borrom spoke once more. “That imposter is nothing but an actor, a performer. If he were truly your god, would he be frightened and humiliated by this?” The tall blue man pointed to a large crate floating down from above. Roland could tell it was being maneuvered by small engines located at each corner, but to the Glampians it would appear to be controlled by some magical force.
The box landed on the stage, near Roland. Unceremoniously, the front face of the crate fell forward and dozens upon dozens of cats emerged from the container. Now it was Roland’s turn to have a look of confusion pasted to his face. The cats did what cats normally do. They pranced around the stage, oblivious to everything and everybody.
Toorman spoke to Roland once more. “The Vooma must have intercepted and studied broadcasts of the sit-com you were on. One of the technicians here says there was an episode in which you suffered a severe cat allergy.”
Roland smiled. He remembered that episode quite well. He had always thought he should have been nominated for an Emmy-Kutcher award for that performance.
“See, I am Borrom. These creatures have no effect on me whatsoever.”
Roland appeared to be garnering a tiny bit of support from the Glampians. They were no longer advancing toward the stage. He wished that Toorman and her crew would break the holographic transmission soon. That action would put an end to this confrontation. With the accuser gone, he felt confident he could regain the trust of the Glampians. They were not an overly intelligent race.
The Vooma Borrom was only disconcerted for a short time. “I will prove that the creature on stage is not a Glampian god. He is not a Glampian at all. Let the rain of truth commence.”
A light drizzle started to fall. Slowly, steadily, it increased in intensity. Roland couldn’t help but notice a distinct odor, like turpentine.
A shriek came from somewhere within the crowd. “Look, Borrom is melting.”
Panic started to creep into Roland’s thoughts. The rain he was being pelted with was laced with paint remover. The body paint which gave him the glossy blue appearance of a Glampian was beginning to wash away. Beads of water were snaking down his arms and face, leaving a trail of human tan-colored skin. There was no way to maintain his ruse any longer. Any hope for survival now rested on the act of making a quick escape. The actress who had portrayed Magana must have arrived at the conclusion even faster than Roland; she bolted from the stage, heading to the shuttle rendezvous.
Roland turned to make his rapid departure. The new Borrom’s voice echoed throughout the clearing. “See, that is no god. I am the one true Borr….”
Silence. Roland spun around to see what had muted his adversary. Where the hologram had stood, only seconds before, there was nothing but empty ground. The rain stopped, instantly and completely. The only evidence that the challenger had ever existed was the clowder of cats lounging about the stage and picking at roasted bird.
“Roland, get out of there,” came the voice of Captain Toorman. “We just went ahead and shot down the other ship. Get to the shuttle. We are preparing to retreat and…….”
The Captain’s voice was replaced with static. Roland hoped it was only a malfunction, but he feared it was far worse than that. The actor took off at a full sprint toward the location designated to meet the shuttle.
When he arrived, he found only a blue and tan striped Magana. Tears ran down her cheeks. She did not speak. She could only point to the heavens, toward the location where their ship should have been orbiting this world. Roland looked up, already knowing what he would see. Falling from the sky were assorted pieces of debris, certainly the remnants of Captain Toorman’s ship. The artificial meteor shower briefly flashed in the morning sky before each fragment of ship burnt up in the atmosphere. Soon the short-lived pyrotechnics disappeared along with Roland’s hope for escape.
The quiet was soon shattered by the cries of an angry mob. The Glampians were not happy about having been duped. The outraged creatures circled Roland and steadily closed in. They would exact revenge on the deceptive deity.
From his invisible castle in the sky, the actual Borrom, leaned back in his throne and laughed. “You know, this was much more entertaining than simply blowing up ships when they enter the solar system.”
“I agree,” said his overweight and blotchy daughter, Magana, the goddess of the sun. “That whole duel of the gods was sort of interesting. Too bad you had to put an end to the spectacle.”
“I know, but once the first ship destroyed the second, the whole thing was going to deteriorate. I will always protect my people. I think I will allow the next ship that arrives to survive long enough to see if we can get another show like this one.”
“Thank you, Father. I sure hope so.”
James Rumpel is a retired high school math teacher who has greatly enjoyed spending some of his additional free time rekindling his love for science fiction and the written word. He resides in Wisconsin with his wonderful wife, Mary.
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