Chapter 4: The Wardrobe Malfunction
The door to the room was now below me. I curled up into a ball and readied myself for the eventual landing. I started counting, “One one-thousand, two two-thousand, three three-thousand, four four-thousand, five five-thousand…”

I stopped after twelve seconds. At one standard gravity, it takes that long for a one hundred and seventy pound skydiver in the proper position to drop over fourteen hundred feet and reach terminal velocity, one hundred and twenty miles an hour. Gravity, air density, aerodynamics and weight all affect falling speed. Regardless of all those variables, after twelve seconds, the landing was going to suck!

I hit the steel door with a ‘WHUMPH’ I felt in every cell, and crashed through it into the circular well. I hit the wall on the far side, and all my bones disarticulated and my flesh flattened against it. Despite my body’s superhuman ability to stretch and give, I felt everything tear as I did my best impression of an overfilled bag of jello hitting the sidewalk from three stories up. And as if that wasn’t enough fun, the two dead grays and their wicker recliners smashed on top of me.

It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, although it still wasn’t great. Within seconds, my bones popped back into place and all my soft tissue injuries healed. Fornik had been a smug little prick and he deserved to die, but his enhancement spell probably saved my life.

I pushed the grays’ bodies off me and looked up into the pilot-navigators’ room. A crack in the saucer’s outer skin revealed bright sunlight. The air was clean and breathable, the gravity similar to Earth’s. “OH HELL YEAH!” I stood and screamed with delight. I was alive and in another dimension. I was free of Jehovah’s grip.

I was still stark naked, covered in blood—mostly the grays’—and hungry. If I’d had to power the spell that had just healed me, I’d be severely hypoglycemic and probably unable to keep my feet if I wasn’t already unconscious. Instead, I only felt like I’d skipped a couple of meals.

I considered the two dead aliens. The one that still had a head’s clothing was slightly cleaner than the other’s. I stripped off its pants and put them on. They were way too small for me; it looked like I was wearing calf-high tights. I held up its shirt and briefly considered putting it on, but I decided it’d look like a tankini on me. Instead I used it instead to wipe as much of the gore off me as possible.

I wanted food, and it’d be nice if I could find my own clothes. I studied the hallway. There were five doors. I’d dropped through the open one. I saw why I the thin steel wall I’d hit had been so unyielding. The door to the torture room on and the one next to it were both cracked open. Loose red sand spilled from the cracks; we’d crashed into some sort of desert. Due to the grays’ crappy metallurgy, the half of the saucer that hit the ground first had cracked and splintered open instead of crumpling, and sand had packed into that side. I’d have to dig out the sand to get anything out of those two rooms.

The oversized door also had sand spilling from its edges; the space behind it was probably packed full too. I reached up and opened the door next to the one I’d fallen through. The room was completely empty. The grays apparently went for the minimalist look; I didn’t see any signs of cabinets or furniture or anything. The crack in the outer skin of this room was slightly larger than the other one; it looked big enough to squeeze through. I had to use my claws to get enough purchase to climb the bare steel walls.

Once I got far enough in I grabbed the edges of the crack and stuck my head outside. The sun was high overhead, and it was hot; probably in the high nineties without any trace of humidity. For as far as I could see, there was nothing but dunes of loose red sand. Then I heard deep, rumbling voice coming from behind me. “I smell the blood of an Earthling Hero.”

I let go of the crack and dropped all the way back into the circular well. A huge, two-foot-wide furry paw with claws to match crashed into the crack opening it even wider. An enormous eye peered into the crack, and then withdrew. Whatever it was smashed in the top of the saucer like it was a soda pop can.

The opening got large enough for me to get a good look. It had the face and upper chest of a man, the mane and forelimbs of a male lion. It was a sphinx the size of an elephant. Even though I’m much stronger now than the average paladin, there’s no way I’m stronger than this sphinx. Hopefully, I’m faster, but I couldn’t let it trap me inside.

The sphinx tore at the sides of saucer trying to reach me. Before Fornik’s enhancement spell, I had a sixty-inch vertical leap. I timed his swings and then jumped up through the open door and drove my claws into the steel wall. My vert had increased by at least two feet.

I jumped again. This time I drove my claws into his shoulder. I expected to rip through his hide and slash into his muscles. Instead, my claws barely penetrated; it felt like I was trying to pierce magically enhanced high carbon steel. SHIT!

I landed on its shoulders and the sphinx pulled back. I pushed off with my hands and feet and somersaulted away from it. When I hit the ground, the sphinx pounced on me like a cat. I threw myself underneath it, hit the sand with my outstretched hands and did a forward roll onto my feet. I turned to face him and put my hands up. “I come in peace; I’m not here to fight!”

The sphinx was crouched to pounce again. He paused and raised an eyebrow. “You stink of Jehovah; I am Kemet’s guardian. Therefore I must slay you.”

I kept my hands up. “Wait! I’m a deserter. I’m not on a quest; I’m running away from Jehovah!”

The massive creature looked surprised. He settled his hind end down and sniffed twice. “You smell of truth. Interesting.” The sphinx looked like he was being dubbed; his mouth movements didn’t match his words. I’d been wondering why he was speaking English; he wasn’t. Apparently, Fornik had cast a translation spell on me. I wondered how and why; he must have done it while I was unconscious. Couldn’t be the sphinx doing it—I’d notice that for sure. “What is your name, deserter?”

I lowered my hands. “Victor Paladin.”

“I am Akil Meti. You are the first deserter from Jehovah I have encountered. I am hungry and you also smell like you will make a good meal.” As he charged, I leapt straight at his face. He opened his mouth to snatch me like a tossed treat. I reached out and snagged his nose with my claws. As I braced my feet on his cheeks, I felt my over-tight pants split completely at my crotch. His eyes crossed as he tried to focus on me and then they opened wide at the sight of my newly exposed fruit hanging inches above his nose.

He hadn’t expected me to jump on his face. I hadn’t expected a wardrobe malfunction. For a split second, we both froze. I recovered first. I spit into his right eye and then his left. I flipped myself over his head. While still in the air, I grabbed hold of his mane with my left hand and slashed at the fur over his spine. I tore at the same spot twice more, and tiny drops of blood appeared in the grooves I’d cut into his skin.

As he started to roll on his back, I jumped off. I stood in a ready crouch as he got back on his feet, blinked rapidly, and then glared at me. His voice was full of disbelief. “Truly, did you just wave your tiny man-parts in my face?” I didn’t reply. I had a feeling he wouldn’t believe me if I said it was accidental and I hadn’t enjoyed it much either. Then he sounded pissed. “YOU DARE INSULT ME!” His roar of rage was so loud I had to dial my hearing down. The son-of-a-pussy hadn’t even noticed I’d spat venom into his eyes.

I jumped to the side as he sprang at me again. I got a claw hold on his side as he passed and pulled myself on his back. This time he tried to buck me off. His mane gave me a perfect handhold. In eight seconds, I got three more good claw strikes over his spine before I was thrown off and rolled to my feet.

He charged again and again. Each time I sidestepped him, got on his back and got one, two, or three strikes on the same spot before he threw me or I jumped off. I slowly cut my way through his skin. Fatigue set in quickly. Luckily, he tired faster than me. And man, it was hot! I was sweating like a sweat-hog. The sphinx couldn’t sweat. He was much, much heavier than me, and huge bodies don’t shed heat as fast as small ones do. Akil began to pant.

I didn’t give him time to rest. I kept jumping on his back and clawing at the same spot. I eventually slashed my way through his armored skin. His muscles were dense, but they weren’t magically armored. I cut through his paraspinal muscles like a katana through a rolled tatami mat. I plunged my right hand between his vertebrae and he jerked his head back and trapped my hand. I hadn’t quite cut through to his spinal cord to give him a jolt of coral snake venom when he rolled over onto his back. For the second time in thirty minutes, my bones were forcibly disarticulated and my flesh stretched and torn as he wiggled and rolled and mashed me into the sand with everything he had. He compressed the sand almost solid underneath me as he did his best to grind me into a bloody smear.

Akil had said that he wanted me for a sphinx snack; I’m pretty sure sand-encrusted meat doesn’t taste all that great. Since he didn’t stop grinding me into the sand for almost five minutes, I got the message he had really, really taken offense at my wardrobe malfunction.

I was just about to go from playing dead to really dead when he finally stopped. He rolled back onto his feet, stood up, and shook like a wet dog. My hand was still caught between his neck bones, so I flapped across his back like a dishrag. When I didn’t fall off, he shook his body again. Then he tried to claw me off his back.

I immediately began to heal. Once my eyes started functioning, I saw my forearms shrivel as my body cannibalized my muscles for the proteins to heal my worst wounds. I kept my right hand where it was so he couldn’t throw me off, and jammed my left hand between his vertebrae and flooded his spinal canal with all the coral snake venom I had left.

The spitting cobra’s venom is cytotoxic. It destroys tissue and causes death through internal hemorrhaging. The coral snake’s venom is neurotoxic. It destroys nerves, which paralyzes every muscle except those in the heart and digestive organs. When the respiratory muscles shut down, death occurs through suffocation. As soon as the venom hit him, Akil dropped like a rock and collapsed onto his belly. I dangled from his wound, my feet barely touching the sand.

It felt like he’d ground me down to the bone across most of my back and legs. I could see my arms visibly shrinking as my body scavenged fluids and proteins from my less essential tissues. I was still losing blood even as my body fought to regenerate my lost skin. There was too much of me gone for my body to make up the loss from what I had left. This was a battle I couldn’t win. I was dying.

Cerebrospinal fluid surrounds the brain and spinal cord of all animals. When I pierced his spinal cord, I tore the lining that keeps that fluid contained. I pulled my left hand out of the way and a gush of clear liquid spilled down his side. I lapped weakly at this bounty as it flowed onto my face. As I drank, I could feel my skin heal. After the bleeding stopped, the healing process sped up. Muscles returned. I was able to pull myself up and force my mouth into the wound to drink the life that poured out of the sphinx. Too soon, the flow cerebrospinal fluid turned into a trickle.

I forced my right hand along Akil’s vertebrae until I cut his right vertebral artery. Arterial blood sprayed out of his wound, and I put my mouth over the stream and drank. Akil’s blood was like a warm, salty, raw steak-flavored milkshake; it was the best thing I’ve ever tasted in my life. I drank as fast as I could swallow, but blood still sprayed on my face and hair and out onto the desert sand for twenty feet around me. I drank until there was nothing left, then I carved out chunks of backstrap and wolfed them down. I must have swallowed thirty pounds worth before I got full.

I staggered back to the saucer, dropped into the central well and moved out of the sun. It was cooler in here than it was outside. I found the most level surface I could, lay down, and went out like I’d flipped a switch.

I was hot. The sun had heated the saucer like a wok. I heard flies buzzing in my ears – lots of flies. It took a second to force my eyes open. All the blood and fluids I’d been bathed in had congealed, clotted and glued my eyelids shut. I was crawling with flies; they were everywhere. I levered myself off the floor with a sticky, ripping sound and tried to brush the flies off.

From the sounds outside, scavengers had found Akil’s body. I could hear vultures and jackals squabbling over the corpse. I looked up through the crack to check the sun’s position; it was still high overhead. At most, I’d slept an hour or two.

God! I was so tired of being filthy and naked. I walked over to the gray who was still clothed, pulled off its shirt and tried to wipe some of the crap off me. It was useless; I was covered in sticky gunk that wouldn’t wipe off. The sand mixed in with it made it extra nice.

Two utility belts buckled together made a belt that was long enough to fit around my waist. I took the last gray’s pants, folded them in half and used my new belt to hold them in place as a loincloth. I was glad I didn’t have a mirror. I probably looked like a zombie having a bad hair day and wearing a silver diaper, but it was WAY better than free-balling it. I wish I’d thought to do this earlier. Riding an elephant-sized bucking sphinx bareback with nothing between it and my tender parts truly, TRULY sucked.

I was still thirsty and hungry. My only source of liquid was the scavengers outside, and my stomach lurched as I remembered sucking down Akil’s spinal fluid. I suspected that now that my body wasn’t killing me with the accelerated healing process, fresh blood wouldn’t taste quite so yummy. I had no idea where or when I’d get my next drink, so I had to man up and take advantage of all the available resources.

I didn’t want to waste energy and moisture chasing an animal down. I also wasn’t quite up to drinking animal fluids right away, so I made myself some tools. The steel walls where the not-bamboo struts braced against looked to be a bit thicker. I used my right thumb claw to cut out an eight-inch long, quarter-inch thick throwing knife with cross guard that I could hang from one of the loops in my utility belt. It didn’t take long to make and sharpen three knives.

I didn’t want to scare the scavengers off. I tried to be as quiet as I could as I climbed out of the wreck, but digging my claws into the steel walls made a bunch of noise no matter what I did. When I got up it was clear that the animals didn’t care. There were six or seven vultures jockeying for position at the dead sphinx’s wound. Four jackals waited for the vultures to finish up and move on. The magic that kept his skin armored hadn’t dissipated when he’d died. The vultures had been busy. They’d eaten their way in as far as their necks could reach, and were trying to force their way farther in.

I couldn’t face the thought of drinking vulture juice. I dropped to the ground, pulled out my throwing knives and threw them as quickly as I could at the jackals. I hit the first one in the head but not with the blade. It yelped in surprise and took off running. The other scavengers startled and fled. I missed the second jackal completely. I hit the third one in the haunch. The wounded jackal was easy to run down. It stopped struggling the second time I hit it in the head. I just nicked its right carotid so I could cover it with my mouth and not waste any. A thirty-pound jackal doesn’t have much blood, but what it had, I drank. Now that I wasn’t on the verge of dying, warm blood straight from the critter didn’t taste all that great. But at least I wasn’t thirsty anymore.

Killing usually doesn’t bother me. I’ve killed men and minions that needed killing without a second thought or first regret. I’ve hunted deer, elk, rabbits, and feral pigs; I’m fine with killing things I’m going to eat. I’m not much of animal lover and I’ve never owned a pet, but the jackal I’d just sucked the life out of looked exactly like a small golden haired dog. That bothered me. I sure as hell didn’t enjoy drinking its blood, and it looked too much like somebody’s house pet for me to want to eat it.

I’d never thanked the spirit of anything I’d ever killed before. “I thank you, jackal for your gift of life. I wouldn’t have taken it if I didn’t have great need. I wish you joy in the afterlife.” I don’t know if my words of gratitude helped the jackal but it made me feel better. I lay it gently on the sand and picked up my knives.

Weapons made from powerful creatures are magical. Weapons made from magical creatures are even more powerful. I walked over to Akil’s head. I didn’t feel bad about killing him. “Akil Meti, I beat you in a fair fight. I have drunk your blood and eaten your flesh. I will now take your skin and bones. By right of conquest, I claim everything.”

I dug out a trench underneath Akil’s body, made an incision over the base of his penis and started cutting out the bone that ran the length of it. Cats, dogs, walruses, seals, bears, bulls and raccoons have a bone inside their penis called a baculum. Eskimos use the two and a half foot long penis bone of a walrus for the shafts of their most valuable axes and spear throwers. They use polar bear baculums as the handles of their favorite knives. Eskimos call penis bone tools ‘oosiks’. Based on how his neck bones had responded to my claws, Akil’s bones were better armored than his skin.

Akil was as large as an elephant and had the equipment to match. I’m five foot nine, and Akil’s oosik was two inches taller than me. The base of the shaft was three-inches in diameter and it gradually tapered to a point about a quarter inch in diameter. It weighed about seven pounds, and as it dried out, it’d get lighter. I walked over to a loose sheet of metal and easily thrust the oosik through it.

I wanted this oosik for two reasons. First, I know how to use a spear. Second, my claws and venom worked best as surprise weapons. I wanted a weapon I can use openly until I need a surprise. I needed to find a source of water. Drinking animal blood wasn’t a long term solution. It’s easy to get lost in a desert; it’d be stupid to just wander around randomly hoping to find an oasis, stream, or river out of pure luck. If I was lucky, the night sky in this dimension would be similar to Earth’s. Once the stars came out, I planned to use the Big Dipper and the North Star to get my bearings.

Sphinxes exist in both Greek and Egyptian mythology. Akil Meti didn’t sound like a Greek name and Greek sphinxes have wings. On Earth, ancient Egyptians placed statues of sphinxes as guardian figures in front of tombs—the Great Sphinx being the most famous.

The Nile was an integral part of the Egyptian culture. If the night sky here was similar to Earth’s, there was a chance that this dimension also had its Nile-equivalent river. The ancient Egyptians built their temples east of the Nile because the sun rose from this direction and their tombs were west of the river because that’s where the sun set. If the night sky in this universe was different from Earth’s I was screwed, but if it was even close, there was a reasonable chance that Akil guarded a nearby tomb and I was west of a major river.

In the meantime, I had plenty to do. I went to Akil’s corpse and skinned him. I slit open his belly and cut out his bladder and stomach. I lay the hide on the sand to dry. I put the stomach and bladder under the hide so that they wouldn’t.

I then went back down into the saucer and brought back pieces of broken and shattered bamboo-like supports. When Akil tore the saucer open, he’d ripped loose a bunch of steel shards and fragments. I bent and cut one of the larger pieces and turned it into a makeshift griddle. I cut small slivers from the bamboo-like shards to create tinder and then struck the back blunt ends of my diamond tipped claws against a piece of steel to create sparks and a fire.

I sliced his liver up thin, butterflied about twenty pounds of his backstrap and cooked them on my griddle. I’d never eaten raw meat before. Once you get past the wet, slimy, chewiness, uncooked meat doesn’t have much flavor. After I cooked Akil, he tasted more or less like chicken. This didn’t surprise me—I’ve read that lions and house cats taste like chicken. Why does everything taste like chicken?

By the time I finished my meal, the vultures came back. The jackals didn’t. At first, the birds just circled overhead. After awhile they landed about fifty feet away from me. They stared and squawked at me to let me know they were hungry too and that I should hurry up.

I made a razor-sharp scraper out of a long rectangular piece of steel and scraped all the meat, fat, and fur from Akil’s skin. The low carbon steel scraper wouldn’t even scratch the actual hide, but the meat, fat, and fur just about flew off. It didn’t take long to dress the hide.

I like to run barefoot and I’m a paladin; my feet are tougher than the average human’s, but if I tried to walk or run barefoot all day in a desert, I knew I’d tear up my feet. Sure, I’d heal as fast as I tore them up, but that would take energy and resources that I couldn’t afford to waste. I cut out soles and straps for sandals, but I found out that sphinx hide had a lot of the qualities of high carbon steel. The straps cut my feet just like razor tape. Instead, I took hair from Akil’s mane and braided them into straps. It took a long time to make serviceable sandals.

My next project was a simple backpack. I stitched it together and made straps for it with more of Akil’s mane. I put the stomach, bladder, and some small, handy sized pieces of steel into the backpack.

It got dark enough to see stars. The night sky here wasn’t a perfect match for Earth’s but I could see Orion’s Belt, the Big Dipper, and the North Star. GREAT! I cut out a seven foot long, four foot wide piece of hide, rolled it up, and tied it to my backpack with braided hair left over from my previous projects. I took what was left of Akil’s mane, twisted it into skeins, and carefully coiled it at the bottom of my pack. Then I started cooking meat. After the sun set the temperature dropped quickly. During the day the heat from the fire had been uncomfortably hot; now it was just right. The backpack held about forty pounds of cooked meat, and then I cooked up and ate as much as I could hold.

It was a calm night, there was barely any wind but sooner or later it would pick up. Sand dunes move constantly; it wouldn’t take long for the desert to bury the wreckage. Throughout most of human history, metal—any kind of metal—was extremely valuable. In the middle ages, the price of a good steel knife would feed a peasant family for more than a year. Odds were high that the saucer was a treasure trove in this universe—perhaps even more valuable than Akil’s remains.

I threw the leftover hide into the saucer. If I came back, I wanted to be able to find the rest of the hide easily. When I left there were over twenty vultures watching and waiting. Even the jackals had come back. I ran due east to the sounds of the scavengers fighting over the sphinx’s corpse.

Go to Chapter 5.