January 2008 Volume Two Issue One
Killing a Goddess - Tracie McBride
It was Dion's turn to sleep with Laura on the last night of the Guard. The rest of us stood sentry outside the bedroom door as per the Protocol, trying not to think of what lay ahead of us in the morning. The dagger that hung from a leather cord around my neck was weighing me down. I saw Travis give his dagger a tug, and wondered if he was feeling the same way. The hover cameras kept a respectful distance, except for the one assigned to me. It had been malfunctioning over the past few days. The fist-sized globe moved through an erratic orbit around my waist. I grabbed it, banged it against the wall a few times, and released it. It wobbled slightly before righting itself, gliding smoothly back into line with the others. For a moment I worried that our overseers would view my assault on the camera as sacrilegious, but luckily its monitor light still glowed a benign green.
Johnny spun his revolver around on his left forefinger. We were each issued with one of the antique firearms at the start, but as far as we knew, the guns weren't loaded, and even if they were, they had probably ceased to function centuries ago. Unlike the daggers, they were mainly for show. The perimeter of the house was guarded for real by a platoon of priestesses, equipped with night vision HUD helmets, automatic plasma rifles and bio-tasers (just in case they only wanted to horribly maim an intruder, as opposed to blasting one into vapour). Still, it made me nervous when Johnny played with his gun.
Travis, who had been a one-pack-a-week man when we entered the Guard thirty-five days ago, was chain-smoking, lighting each cigarette from the dying remains of the last. Thirty-five days. It wasn't a randomly selected number. Five young men, taking turns, each spend a week's worth of nights in the bed of the Offering. Many Ceremonies these days are little more than snuff shows, an excuse for the masses to get off on the gory, protracted deaths of convicted criminals, mentally disturbed masochists and the terminally ill. At some, you even get to vote for the method of dispatch. But not this one. This is the real deal. That's why the five of us agreed to take part.
And, because Laura asked us to. We all went to university together, and all of us loved her, in an unrequited fashion, to some degree. Except for Caleb. It was just lust for him. At least, it was in the beginning. I can honestly say that my love for her had nothing to do with her looks.
I remember the precise moment I fell for her. We were attending a Dedication to Hera as part of our Compulsory Religious Training. Hera's priests had tracked down a small enclave of heretics, devotees of Allah or Jehovah or some such false idol. The audience was nearly rioting with excitement as the captives were herded into the arena, but Laura sat stony-faced and rigid. Moments later the lions entered the ring. Within seconds the largest cat felled a heretic, a pretty young woman about the same age as us. With one swipe of its paw, it disemboweled her. As the girl's screams cut over the roar of the crowd, Laura turned away. Her face contorted for a moment, and a single tear trickled down her flawless cheek. She quickly tried to cover herself, lying feebly about a speck of dirt caught in her eye, but I had seen her true pagan nature, her innate gentleness and compassion. By law I should have marched her straight to the nearest temple for Cleansing, but instead I made a silent vow to protect her, like some beautiful and delicate weed in a garden of Flytraps. How was I to know that my little flower would offer herself up for harvesting?
The Protocol was strict. During daylight hours, we were not permitted to so much as brush against her. There is a commonly held misconception that Aphrodite's Guard consists of a five-week orgy followed by a light slaughter, but it doesn't work that way. It was strictly one-at-a-time, one night after the other, in a pre-set rotation, with precisely three couplings in three different positions each night. That's why only men younger than twenty-two get to participate. We're more likely to be able to fulfill the requirements. The acolytes at Aphrodite's temple gave us a thorough testing beforehand to make sure we were up (pardon the pun) to the job.
The consequences of breaking the Protocol are catastrophic. The last time that happened, Aphrodite rendered the city's entire male populace impotent for six months. The penalty for the Guard members responsible was a corresponding six days of torture, culminating in their death. I think it was the barbed wire gelding that finished them off. On the other hand, the payoff for successfully completing a Guard (besides being allowed to live) is considerable. Women throw themselves at former Guard members, hoping that Aphrodite's blessing will literally rub off on to them. We knew of men well into their forties who were still bedding the most beautiful, wealthy and influential women in the city on the strength of their former service to the Goddess.
Strangely, we never discussed what was in it for Laura. The closest I came to it was on my last night with her, when she asked me what I intended to do after the Ceremony. I answered, then, in a thoughtless moment of post-coital drowsiness, I asked her the same question. She laughed, and said that when she was a little girl she had always wanted to be a goddess. I wish now that I had said what I was thinking, that she didn't have to die to become a goddess -- in my eyes, she already was one.
Half an hour before dawn, on the day of her death, Laura and Dion emerged from the bedroom, hand in hand as they were allowed to be until the first rays of sun showed. Laura was already dressed in her ceremonial gown, a translucent white wrap that clung to her body. Dion administered the drug that would relax her, render her compliant, and hopefully, reduce her pain to a pin prick. Although he tried to measure the dose precisely, his hands shook as he poured it out. Her eyes rolled back in her head seconds after swallowing it. She staggered and nearly fell, but Dion caught her. He balanced her on her feet until she could stand unaided, swaying as if she stood on the deck of a ship.
Travis was furious. You idiot, he yelled, what if you've overdosed her? What if the sun comes up, and she can't walk to the summit? Or what if she dies before she gets there? Dion yelled back. I don't care, he said. I'd rather she die of an overdose now, than that I under-dose her and let her suffer. They flew at each other then, and we had to pull them apart. It was the first and only fight any of us had. Then we heard the dawn bells sound from the temple, and it was time to go.
Laura showed no signs of moving, and we were now forbidden to touch her, so we had to prod her in the right direction with a broomstick. It diminished the solemnity of the occasion somewhat. Finally, though, we were all in formation and heading uphill to the sacrificial table some five hundred metres away. The table sat on a plateau, ten paces away from a sheer drop to a rocky beach. Miniature breakers slapped against the rocks. The rising sun dusted the distant whitecaps pink. A stingray-shaped shadow rippled beneath the water's surface and made its unhurried way around a promontory, the distance belying the creature's gigantic proportions. On any other day, the view would have been breathtaking.
A solitary priestess waited for us, anonymous in her magenta hooded robe. No other spectators were permitted. The priestess helped Laura to recline on the table, tethered her at wrist and ankle, and slipped her gown off her shoulders, baring her to the waist. Her nipples stiffened instantly in the cold morning air, and I felt an unwelcome stirring of desire. We stood in single file next to her, Caleb, Travis, me, Johnny, and finally Dion, all of us holding our daggers at the ready.
The priestess nodded. Caleb didn't hesitate. He raised his dagger above his head and plunged it smoothly into Laura's heart. Her eyes widened. She gave a tiny gasp and arched her back in a way obscenely reminiscent of her lovemaking. Travis stepped up next and stabbed her in the chest, and according to the Protocol, the rest of us followed suit. But Caleb's blow had been true -- by the time I drove my blade into her, she was already nothing but meat.
It was over in less than a minute. We were all crying, except for Caleb, who walked dry-eyed away from the table and stepped over the edge of the precipice, breaking his neck on the rocks below. Dion laughed hysterically. How's that, Aphrodite, he called to the sky. Two for the price of one! The priestess swung in Dion's direction at his blasphemy, but we were all too deep in our grief to care.
Aphrodite must have decided to overlook his slight, because the ceremony was a resounding success. Birth rates soared, and the temple had to double its recruitment of acolytes to keep up with demand. The tithes it received for the edited highlights of our performances were the highest in holovid history. We were heroes, especially Caleb, who was accorded full honours at his funeral, including the sacrifice of fifteen-year-old twin virgins to accompany him into the afterlife. There's good news for Laura as well. She is getting minor deity status. They've started gathering relics for her shrine, including two locks of hair (one from her head and one from her pubis) and a tiny preserved embryo in a jar, cut from her womb before her body cooled. The priestesses have run DNA tests so that, when Laura's shrine is complete, they can bestow the title of Goddess Consort on the lucky father.
Along with a gold-embossed boxed set of the holovid recordings, we all got our revolvers as souvenirs. Johnny found an aging artisan who crafted a single bullet for each of us to go with them. It turns out that the guns are fully functional after all, because Johnny used his bullet to blow his own brains out. Travis is continuing his service to the Gods. He has volunteered for the annual Tribute to War scheduled for this Sunday. He has been oiling his skin twice a day for a month to make sure it is in peak condition. Only the best human hides will be used to cover the Throne of Ares. Dion is engaged to be married. His fiancée is the only daughter of the wealthiest crime lord in the city. Her money and contacts will come in handy to fuel the prodigious drug habit he has developed recently.
Life hasn't changed much for me, except for one significant detail. Before the Guard I was like any other single man of my age, willing to screw anything that moved, but now I'm just not interested. I tried, Zeus knows I tried, but every time I went to bed with some young lovely I kept picturing Laura's blood spilling out onto the grass. Still, impotence has its compensations. I'm doing much better at school now that I have no distractions -- so well, in fact, that if I have the operation, I should be able to apply for a Civil Eunuch position when I graduate. I may have sacrificed my sexuality, but I will not cede my life to the Gods. Someone has to stay to worship at the temple of Laura.
- END -