Avalon 6.3 Stubborn, part 6 of 6

The chariots could not move as fast as the horses alone, even on open and relatively flat ground, but there seemed no doubt who they were after.  Lincoln figured they could track the horses, even in the woods, so their only hope was to keep their distance, or find back-up.  Alexis looked back when they came to the edge of the woods on the other side of the open field.  The chariots had fallen behind, and the men were well off, but jogging dutifully along.

“They will have to slow way down when they reach the forest,” Evan said, with a look back.

“So will we,” Alexis said, as they started in among the trees.

“What happened?” Lincoln asked.

“They must have had the chariots already hitched up and the soldiers ready to move out for some reason.”

Lincoln grunted, as an arrow whizzed past him and stuck in a tree.  “Damn,” he said.  As Alexis pushed out front, Lincoln pulled his handgun and fired twice in the direction of the archer.

“Help,” Evan yelled.  “We are not far now,” he told Lincoln.  “Help!” He pointed for Lincoln. “It is more over to the right, I believe.  Help!”

Alexis and Lincoln angled in the way he pointed, and probably hurried the horses more than they should.  Evan tried one more “Help”, before Lincoln hushed him.

“Trees are a great way to get hidden. quickly.  But it loses the point if you keep giving away our position.”

“Yes, of course,” Evan said, but he did not look too embarrassed.

They very quickly came to a clearing filled with horses. On closer examination, they realized half the horses were centaurs.  On a grassy ledge beside a cave and some rocks, a wolf with black hair filled with red streaks growled, not at them, but at something else.  When they got up to the others, they turned and saw a path through the woods that Evan either did not know about or forgot about.  The three chariots were coming up the path in single file.

“There are a couple of dozen soldiers coming along behind the chariots,” Lincoln reported.  Poor Evan stared at the centaurs, like they were something he never imagined before.

The chariot in front stopped and a man shouted.  “I see you have friends.  Cecil.” He pointed.  “I suppose these people have also come from the future.”

“Yes,” Lincoln shouted back.  “And Cecil is going with us.”  Lincoln took courage being back among the travelers.

The man scoffed.  “You are welcome to him.  He has proved useless, and in some cases, dangerous.  Good luck.”

“Lord Tarquin.  I told you that you needed horse riders, not just chariots,” Evan responded, as he got down from behind Lincoln.  He went up toward the ledge to be protected by the wolf.

Tarquin paid no attention, as he already moved on to the centaurs.  “Colon,” he said.  “Don’t tell me she has forgiven you.”

“I forgave you,” the wolf seemed to say.

“We are working it out,” Colon answered at the same time, as the wolf changed into Valencia.  She took a moment to brush back her long red hair before she rose up about ten feet where she could hover and look down on everyone.

“Tarquin,” she said, a sharpness in her voice.  “You have no business here.”

Tarquin got mad.  “People come onto my land.  It is my business to know who they are and what they want.”  The foot soldiers came up to stand alongside the chariots.  Some had spears, but some had bows and arrows ready.  “The seven hills are filling up.  There are new homes, hamlets, even growing villages crowding one another. Soon, a man will not be able to walk and know where one village ends and the next begins.”

“There is time before that happens, but the King in Alba Longa got old, and he stopped paying attention.  Latium is falling apart, the tribes are fighting one another, and the brothers quarreled.  The usurper has the rightful king locked away, but he does not care about Latium.  People are coming to the seven hills by the hundreds to escape the fighting and find peace.  Maybe you need to talk to all the people, to make the seven hills like one big city, for mutual protection, if nothing else.”

Tarquin shook his head.  “I will not share the crown with what you call representatives from the other hills and villages.  Why do you not understand?  That would only lead to chaos.”

“Tarquin.  Some things are beyond your understanding, but some things you already know.  Have you made a decision about your daughter and my boys?”

“I heard they got adopted by the chief shepherd and his wife.”

“I suckled and weaned them.  I still claim them.”

“Wolf’s milk,” the driver of Tarquin’s chariot mumbled plenty loud.

“My daughter is only six,” Tarquin protested.

“And the boys are twelve.  What’s your point?”

“Maybe I will have a son to follow after me.”  Tarquin grinned, but it looked like the grin of a man who had little hope.

“Make up your mind soon, before Acca Longia begins looking for potential mates.”

“Faustulus can be bought.”

Valencia appeared to roll her eyes, but they got interrupted by a voice on the wristwatches worn by the travelers. They heard Elder Stow’s voice.

“Things are wrapped up here.  The humanoids are locked away, and the Gott-Druk Father…er, Captain has agreed they do not belong here.  They only came here as a last resort.  I only have one last thing to do, and then we will be ready to ride.”

“Roger,” Lockhart responded and looked up at Valencia.  Valencia appeared to be talking to someone that no one else could see.

“Yes, lover.  Everyone, please.”

Everyone in the conversation, travelers, chariots, soldiers, and centaurs all vanished and reappeared on the island in front of the Gott-Druk freighter.  Most of the men and centaurs shouted in fear and surprise.  The travelers hardly blink, having traveled that way on plenty of occasions.

Valencia arrived, still in the air, but she came down to earth and hustled to the boys, Romulus and Remus, who arrived with a dozen sheep. A big man stood there as well, his back to everyone, shaking his finger at the boys.

“Tell your father these are the sheep I claim for the blessing of his flock.  It is spring, and he will more than make up for these with new lambs.”

“You brought these for me?” Valencia asked.  “The Gott-Druk don’t eat much meat.”

“No,” the man said.  “But those others do.  You said it is still a long way to the new Gott-Druk world.”

Valencia nodded and stood on her toes to kiss the man’s cheek.  He turned, wrapped her up in his arms, and planted his kiss right on her lips.  Then he vanished.  Valencia turned to the nearest Gott-Druk, still smiling, a silly smile, but serious in her tone of voice.

“Fresh water and sweet grass to keep them alive until you feed them to the humanoid prisoners.”  She turned on the boys.  “Drive the sheep to the cargo hold where this man tells you, then come right back, and don’t you dare touch anything, do you understand?”

The boys nodded, and one of them said, “Yes, Mama.”

Valencia returned the nod and turned to Tarquin and Colon, who somehow managed to end up next to each other. Tarquin spoke.  “That was?”

“Saturn,” Valencia said, plainly. She did not give it another thought, but several of Tarquin’s soldiers and a couple of centaurs backed up a bit.

Finally, Valencia turned to the travelers, and specifically the two on foot, Elder Stow and Sukki.  “So?” she asked without spelling anything out.

“She is being stubborn,” Elder Stow said. “Here, she has a chance of joining a crew of nine on a ship that needs twenty.  She has a free ride back to the new world where she can live a happy and safe life, away from all the dangers of the road.  She refuses.”

“Father!”  Sukki got unexpectedly verbal.  “You agreed to be my father and I agreed to be your daughter.”

“Exactly,” Elder Stow raised his voice a bit.  “A daughter should obey her father.  You are grown, and not a child, but now it is a father’s job to make sure his daughter will be cared for and safe.”

“But I have a whole family.”  By which she meant tribe, in the Neanderthal sense.  “I have Katie and Lockhart, who are the best Mother and Father.  And Lincoln and Alexis take good care of us all.  And Major Decker makes me laugh, sometimes. Laughing feels good.  Our people don’t laugh enough.  And Boston is my best friend, ever.  I don’t want to leave.”

“But it is dangerous,” Elder Stow tried once more.  “There is no telling what we will run into on the road.  I would never forgive myself if you got hurt.”

“Or if you got hurt,” Sukki responded.

They stared at each other.  They hugged.  They turned to their waiting horses and got right up.  Sukki went to ride beside Boston, and just to make the point, she put her glamour back on so she looked human, albeit, a big, strong looking girl.

Elder Stow turned to Lockhart with a word.  “Ready to ride.”

They had to cross the river the hard way. Tarquin had to abandon his chariots. He said he would have to fetch them when he sent men with rafts.  Evan crossed, holding on to Lincoln, and that prompted Lincoln to ask.

“Do you know how to ride?”

“Of course,” Evan said.  “I ride horses like this all the time, when I am not driving the wagon.  My family cannot exactly afford one of those automobiles.  They are a rich man’s toys.”

Lincoln and Alexis got busy figuring out the horse business, but Katie overheard and asked.  “When, exactly, did you leave the future and find yourself stuck in the past?”

“October twenty-first, 1905. Why?  Isn’t that where you are from?”

“Figure that out later,” Valencia said. “You are going to want to watch this.” She stood between the boys who were already almost as tall as herself.  She put one hand on each of the boy’s shoulders, soaking wet as the boys were, and she nodded across the river.  The big Gott-Druk freighter rose slowly in the sky, and when it got high enough, it rapidly increased speed until it disappeared in the clouds.

“Tarquin,” Valencia said.  “As I said, some things are beyond your understanding. But your daughter needs a husband.”

Tarquin turned quickly from awe at the Gott-Druk ship to sneering at Valencia.  “We shall see about that.”  He turned, and his people turned with him and marched back toward the village.

Colon bowed to Valencia and whispered, “Forgive me,” like he just figured something out, and it frightened him.  He rode off with his company and made a point of shoving one centaur.  No telling what that was about.

“Evan will ride Misty Gray,” Alexis announced.  “He is a good horse and will give no trouble.”

“Alexis will double with me on Cortez,” Lincoln said, and helped her up.

Lockhart looked around.  “We are all here.  Soaking wet, but all here.”  He noticed Valencia and the boys walked off, but he guessed the boys were already bugging her on wanting their own horses to ride.

“Boston and Sukki, keep up.  No straggling,” Katie said.

“Yes, Mother,” Sukki responded. Boston had to go one better.

“Yes Mom.”

Lincoln, who rode beside Evan asked, “So, you came from the future back here to the past.  Any idea what we will find in the next time zone?”

“Oh,” Evan said.  “That will be very dangerous.”

************************

MONDAY

The travelers enter a war zone…Episode 6.4, Stories, will post in only 4 parts, so there will be a post next THURSDAY and it will post in a single week… Don’t miss it.

So, until MONDAY, Happy Reading

*

 

Avalon 6.3 Stubborn, part 5 of 6

“Valencia?” Lockhart asked. Valencia nodded, and Lockhart felt the need to defend himself.  “Well, Lincoln wasn’t here to ask.”

Katie didn’t smile.  “We got trouble,” she said as she got down from her horse.

“Right here in River City,” Lockhart said, as he and the others got down to join her.

“Good one,” Decker told him, quietly.

“I know,” Valencia agreed, but she had other duties.  She turned to the boys and shooed them off.  The boys groused, but picked up staffs that leaned against the rocks and ran off like in a race.  “They are supposed to be helping their father with the sheep.”  Valencia invited the travelers to join her on the ledge, and maybe in the cave.  “The dwarfs dug it out for me. It is quite comfortable,” she said, about the cave.

“Seriously,” Katie said, with a hard look at both Lockhart and Decker, to be sure they kept their mouths shut.  “We were not sure what to do in this situation. It never came up before.  But now, apparently, Lincoln and Alexis have managed to get Professor Emerson, though we have no idea where they are.”

Lockhart cleared his throat. “Elder Stow and Sukki have gone invisible to check on the Gott-Druk merchant ship on the island.”

Valencia nodded, but it looked hard to tell if she thought that had been a good idea or not.  “Cecil lost his chestnut.  I told him he had to wait until you came so you could take him back into the future.  I said he had to try to fit himself in while he waited, and warned him against saying things about the future.  I know he said some things, but none of it history shattering.”

“But, how did you know we were coming?” Boston asked.

Valencia smiled.  “I always know you are coming, I just never know when. I said Cecil might have to wait six months or six years.  I had no way of knowing.”

“How long has it been?” Katie asked.

“They have been stuck in the past for almost seven years, as far as I know.  Six months or six years was only a suggestion.  Lucky for him, it turned out he has only been stuck in this time zone for about three months.  But then the Gott-Druk ship landed, and they are a pickle.”

“What do you mean?” Lockhart asked.

“Three humanoid warships caught them outside of a planetary system when they were making some minor repairs.  They could not run, but being only a merchant ship, with a minimum of second-hand weapons, they destroyed all three warships, but not before a humanoid shuttle crashed into the cargo bay. To be fair, the Gott-Druk were merchants, not warriors, and were outnumbered three to one.”

“Not made to fight against trained soldiers,” Decker understood.

Valencia said, “Yes, well, the humanoids captured the ship, and the Gott-Druk faked engine trouble and came here. I am sure they are stalling, figuring that I will show up eventually, but I honestly don’t know what I can do to help them. Neither Salacia, nor any of the other gods will help.  They all say it is a flesh and blood problem and needs a flesh and blood answer.  I am afraid my intervention might make less flesh and more blood.”

Katie got ready to call Elder Stow and get an update, but Colon, who nobody realized was still there, interrupted as everyone heard a Bang! Bang!

“I hear sounds of distress.  It sounds like humans.”  Colon waved, and a half-dozen centaurs came out of the woods to stand beside him.  They carried clubs, and two had bags of stones and slings.

The travelers went back to their horses and mounted up.  They pulled their weapons to be ready.

“I hear it too,” Boston shouted. “I think it is Lincoln and Alexis. I think the shouting is Evan, or Cecil…Whatever.”

###

After stunning, or maybe killing the humanoid, Elder Stow spoke to Alexis over his communication device so the two Gott-Druk engineers could hear.  He did that on purpose so they would not go into shock when he made himself visible. He kept Sukki invisible for the time being.  “What seems to be the trouble?” he asked.  The engineers stared at him, so he thought to explain a little. “Never mind how I got here, or where I came from.  Let’s just start at the beginning.  How many humanoids are on board?”

“Eighteen,” one said.

“There are usually two here at all times,” the other said, almost as quickly.  Elder Stow touched a spot on his belt just before the other humanoid came into the engine room, gun drawn.

“What are you doing here?” he yelled, giving his fallen comrade a long look.  He did not wait for the translation device to work before he spoke again.  “You do not belong here.”  He pulled the trigger on his gun, but the power did not penetrate Elder Stow’s personal screen.  Elder Stow responded by pointing what hardly looked like a small stick at the humanoid. The humanoid either became stunned, or died and fell next to his companion.

The engineers spoke fast.  “We had a crew of twenty, but lost five in the battle and the crash in the cargo bay.”

“Two got killed defending the ship before the surrender.”

“Three got eaten.”

Elder Stow held up his hands for quiet. “Get weapons and watch these two in case they are only stunned.”

“But, there are eighteen,” one said. He looked rather young, about Sukki’s age.

“Not now, son,” Elder Stow said, kindly. “Only sixteen.”  He pulled out his scanner.  “You two stay here and repair what may or may not need repairing.  I will be back.”  He became invisible again, and said, “Come along, Sukki.”

“Yes, Father,” the engineers heard Sukki respond and looked at each other before they scrambled to arm themselves.

Elder Stow and Sukki followed the signs on Elder Stow’s scanner.  They found nine sleeping in two rooms in the crew quarters.  Elder Stow carefully shot all nine of them, to stun them, so if they did not die, they would stay asleep for a while.  He checked each room to make sure they had no other way of escape while Sukki took all of their weapons to the hall.  He noted that even the vents were too small to crawl through. Once he helped Sukki remove anything in the room that might be used as a weapon, he shut and locked the doors. Then he turned up the power of his weapon and melted the metal doors to the metal frames.  Any humanoid who woke would not escape those rooms without cutting equipment.

Elder Stow and Sukki found two guarding the communications room.  The humanoids did not want any of the Gott-Druk calling for help.  Clearly, they had no idea how long a range the Gott-Druk device might reach.  Also, clearly, the Gott-Druk had reached a level of technology beyond anything the humanoids knew.  Elder Stow recalled the histories.  His people far surpassed Anazi technology, and that happened a thousand years ago.  Now, they absolutely surpassed any humanoid technology, since the humanoids, at first, merely built off the scraps of what the Anazi left them.

“The gap between the elder and younger races is widening,” Elder Stow told Sukki as he shot the two guards.  He and Sukki dragged them to a closet where they locked them in.

“Father,” Sukki said.  “These creatures have invaded and killed our own people.  They do not deserve to live.”

Elder Stow stopped to look at her, kindly.  “Yes,” he said.  “I must remember you are from the before time.  Your distrust of the Elenar, and your disrespect for humans is strong.  There seems to be something in nature which is innately xenophobic.  All creatures naturally hate and fear anything that is intelligent and different. Call it the fear of the unknown. But I have learned some things in this journey.  All life is precious.  Mercy is not a bad thing.  And sometimes half measures are enough.  Most of all, good and bad are not determined by outward appearance, and people come in many shapes and sizes.  Some will be good and some will be evil, but we cannot judge by appearance alone.  It is not our place to determine who should live and who should die.  We are not God.  And even the worst offenders deserve a chance to repent.”

Sukki nodded and kept quiet.  She might not have understood exactly what he said, but she willingly trusted her adopted father.

They came to the flight deck. Sukki shrieked, and alerted the three humanoids there, even if they could see nothing to account for the noise. Sukki could not help it.  The Gott-Druk pilot sat in the command chair, half-eaten.  Elder Stow did not mind killing those three so much.  He turned up the power on his weapon and left three small piles of ash where there had been humanoids.  Apparently, knowing the lesson about mercy in his head did not prevent him from reacting out of anger and upset.

“Father?” Sukki wondered.

Elder Stow turned his weapon back down and sighed.  “As Alexis sometimes says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”.”

When they returned to the engine room, they found the humanoids had only been stunned after all.  The Gott-Druk engineers had them well tied, and in fact, Elder Stow had to cut the ties around their legs so he could get them to walk. The humanoids were astounded that he could understand them and speak to them in their own tongue without the need for the translation device.  They were appalled that he had the technology of invisibility.

Elder Stow went invisible in front of them all and spoke.  “Come along.” Anyone watching would have seen two tied humanoids followed and guarded by two Gott-Druk coming down the runway, and that is it.

###

Alexis and Lincoln, with Evan behind him, started across the open fields by the river with some trepidation on the part of the travelers.  They walked their horses well within sight of the village walls.  Lincoln feared the villagers would come out and get after them in no time, but Evan-Cecil assured them.

“By the time Lord Tarquin hitches up his chariots and gathers his men, we should be well out of range and hidden again in the forest on the other side.”

Lincoln thought to distract himself from his worry.  “So, is it Evan or Cecil?”

“Evan,” the man said.  “But apparently, it is too Gaelic for the locals. Cecil fits better on the Latin tongue and memory.”

“Where are we going?” Alexis asked. She and Lincoln had agreed to meet the others back at the campsite on the other side of the river.

Evan understood.  “We need to go around the hill to the cave of the she-wolf.” He paused to think before he quickly added.  “It isn’t what you think.  She is not a werewolf, exactly.  I mean, she is a werewolf after a fashion.  But she is a very nice lady.  And brilliant, in a way.  Yes, I think she is brilliant.  And she can fly.  I don’t know how she does that, but it is true.”  He looked at Alexis to see if he put her mind at ease.  He felt some surprise that she did not appear to be surprised or distressed at all.

“Valencia,” Lincoln said.

“Might as well,” Alexis responded. “It is where the others are, except Elder Stow and Sukki.  I wonder how they are making out.”  She reached to turn on her wrist communicator, but stopped when they heard and saw movement at the village gate.  Three chariots came out and headed straight for them.  Twenty men, all armed, jogged after the chariots.

“Damn,” Lincoln shouted, and they began to gallop.  Evan just had to hold on.

Avalon 6.3 Stubborn, part 4 of 6

Lincoln and Alexis tied off their horses. They were both soaking wet from the river crossing, and so were the horses, but none seemed any worse for the wear.  Lincoln thought to try out his wristwatch radio.  “Lockhart, can you hear me?”  He had to wait a minute, figuring Lockhart had to remember how it worked.  He heard Katie’s voice in response.

“We hear you,” she said.  “Keep in mind, every peep on the radio reaches everyone. Meanwhile, Robert is not getting the best cooperation from Elder Stow’s horse.”

“That is a very good horse,” they heard Elder Stow respond.  “You just have to coax it, gently.”  Elder Stow did not have a watch-radio, but he could easily pick up the frequency on his communications device.

“We will try not to get out of range. How does it look, Lincoln?”

“Like we figured.  The people came out to work on the spring planting. There are not many near our location, but even if no one comes close enough, we have a good view of the city wall, mostly a wooden wall, and the city gates.”

“Elder Stow?”

“A merchant ship as I surmised.  We are about to go invisible for a closer look. There appear to be some crew members sitting around a fire. We will let you know what we find out.”

“Roger.  Out.”  Katie nudged her horse into the water and bit her tongue rather than complain about how cold it was.

###

“Are you ready?” Elder Stow asked. Sukki nodded, so he flipped the switch and checked to be sure she went fully invisible.  Then he made himself invisible, so they could still see each other, but no one else could see them.  “Let us see what the people are talking about.”

As they walked up, they saw seven Gott-Druk sitting around the fire, and two men that were definitely not Gott-Druk, standing, with guns in their hands.

“Humanoids,” Sukki whispered. Elder Stow nodded and hushed her.

“So, you say the ship will not fly?” It sounded like a question, but Sukki and Elder Stow had to wait for the translation device to translate the words into Gott-Druk.  Of course, to Elder Stow and Sukki, the translation still sounded like “So, you say the ship won’t fly?”  They had been gifted by the Kairos with the gift of the little ones.  No matter language got spoken, they heard it in their native tongues.  Likewise, they could respond if necessary, and the person they spoke to would hear the words in their own native tongue.  A few alien languages they had come across had been difficult, but Humanoid and Gott-Druk were easy.

“Too much battle damage,” one of the Gott-Druk responded.  “You attacked us with three warships, and we would have gotten away if you had not crashed your shuttle into our cargo bay.”  They had to wait for the translation again.

“I got hungry,” the humanoid said, and appeared to laugh.  After the translation, he added, “So, why did you come here?  This world is marked in green.  No one is supposed to come here.”

“We did not exactly have a choice.”

“But this world is no good for repairing your ship.  It is only good for food.”  It sounded like yelling, humanoid style.

“We did not exactly have a choice,” the Gott-Druk repeated.

“Come,” Elder Stow whispered.  He led Sukki up the ramp and into the ship where he thought to add, “Don’t touch anything.”

They arrived in the engine room where a humanoid held the two Gott-Druk engineers at gun point.  They heard the humanoid yell into his communication device. “I can’t get it to work.  I don’t even understand it.  They call it ion energy and say it powers the photon drive, but they call it dark energy and anti-photons.  I don’t even know what they are talking about.”

They heard the roar from the other end. “Keep them at it.  The longer we stay here, the greater chance we have of being discovered by whatever reason this world is marked in green.”

Elder Stow heard enough.  He pulled his weapon and set it with just enough power to stun a Gott-Druk.  He imagined it might kill the humanoid, but that could not be helped.  He fired.

###

Out in the fields, a middle-aged woman came to rest in the shade of the trees.  Alexis took the chance.  She shaped her fairy-weave clothes to imitate the local styles, and made some small noise in the woods so the woman would not be startled by her sudden presence.  The woman looked back and saw her.  Lincoln stayed out of sight, but he held on to his Patton saber and had his handgun at his side, just in case.

“Your pardon,” Alexis said.  “I am looking for someone and perhaps you could help me.”

The woman did not bother to rise, but shaded her eyes as she looked up.  “You must live some distance from here, like on some outlying farm,” the woman said.  “I know a lot of people, but I don’t recall your face.”

“I do not live near here,” Alexis admitted.  “I do not know the face of the one I am looking for, but I know his name.  It is Evan Cecil Emerson.  Do you know him?”

“Cecil? What do you want him for? He is pretty useless.  He can’t hardly dress himself.  He doesn’t know anything about work or tools.  He can’t hitch up the oxen, and couldn’t plow a straight line if he got threatened with the whip.  He is an idiot.  I got a six-year-old who knows more than him.  What do you want him for?”

“He doesn’t belong here,” Alexis said, plainly.

The woman laughed.  “You may be right about that.  He’s been saying the same thing since he showed up some time ago, hungry and helpless.  I would bet the Etruscans threw him out, but we take in all the strays here.  We got some Etruscans, Latins, Sabines, Albans, Greeks.  We even got some that claim they came from as far away as Asia, from a place they called Troy.  I don’t know where that is, either.  I don’t know where Greece is either, except I heard about it all my life. So, who told you about Cecil, and where does he belong?  He sure doesn’t fit in here.”

Alexis took a deep breath before she decided on honesty.  “A faun from Vatican Hill asked me to fetch him.  Cecil is from the future, and I intend to take him there—to take him home.”

The old woman stared. Then she laughed. “You a believer in the wee people? You go for all that magic foolishness?” She paused in her laugh.  “To be sure, Cecil says he is from the future. He says he got separated from his wife there, and does not know how to reach her.  Funny you should say that.”  The old woman’s eyes got big for a second, before she squinted and pointed.  “Cecil is there, with my husband, probably messing up the planting, again.”

“Tyrus.”  The woman stood, shouted and waved.  “Tyrus.  Bring Cecil.” The man scowled and handed the reigns for the plow to the young boy beside him.  Cecil did not move until Tyrus waved for him to follow.

“What?” Tyrus shouted back.  “We’ll never get the field done if we leave off work.” His voice lowered as he drew near. “Cecil is doing his best, poor as that may be.  What?”

“This young woman says she is looking for Cecil; says she wants to take him back to the future.”

Alexis had to concentrate, but managed a sentence in English.  “Do you want to return to the future?”

Cecil fell to his knees and began to weep.

Tyrus looked flummoxed.  “I can’t allow that.  Lord Tarquin himself told me I could have him if I didn’t lose him. If he goes missing, what is going to happen to me?”

“On the other hand,” Alexis said, reading the couple.  “If I take him off your hands, you will get much more work done and have one less mouth to feed.”

Tyrus rubbed his jaw.  “There is that.”

“Ah-ha,” the woman nodded and smiled, like she liked that idea.

“No, but it cost me to have him.”

“Benjamin,” Alexis called.  Lincoln stepped into sight and made a show of sheathing his saber.  “Do you have those coins you picked up from Ibelam?”  She turned to the couple and explained, even if they would not understand. “Ibelam helped a friend, Artie, and she paid him in gold coins such as the Androids minted for their economy, and mostly for trade.  Ibelam was kind enough to share a few, despite him being a notorious pirate.”

“Here,” Lincoln handed them over and Alexis gave them to Tyrus.

“Ibelam?” Tyrus asked.

“Yes.  I imagine he sailed by here at some point, though that would have been when you were a child.  He captained the ship, Sinbad’s Folly.”

“Sinbad?” Tyrus appeared to know something.  Some light went off in his memory.  “Notorious,” he agreed, and looked at the coins.

“Cecil,” Alexis waved for him to join them.

“Evan?” Lincoln asked.

“Either,” the man said, and he hurried. He almost started to cry again when he saw the horses, but they mounted, Evan behind Lincoln, and they rushed to the river.  “No, that way,” Evan said, turning them away from the water

“We have to get out from under the eyes of the town,” Lincoln insisted.

“We will.  Trust me.  That way,”

They turned downriver and soon came out of the trees where they could be plainly seen by anyone up on the village wall.

“By the time they bring out the chariots, we will be back under cover and out of range, believe me.”

Alexis spoke into her watch. “Katie. Elder Stow.  We got Evan Cecil.  How are you doing?”

“We have a dilemma to resolve, but it should not take long,” Elder Stow responded first.

“Just coming to the cave where Valencia should be located,” Katie answered.  “I’ll let you know.”

Evan appeared startled by the voices that came from the little bracelets the people wore.  He did not say anything, but he looked more closely at his saviors.

###

The riders and their centaur guide came out of the trees on to a small clearing.  The spring flowers grew up to a grass covered ledge, at the back of which sat a clear cave among the rocks.  Colon stopped, so the others stopped with him, and wondered what he would do.

“Lady,” he called.  “My lady.  Gracious lady, I have brought friends of yours.  The faun of the gray hair sent me.  Lady…” Colon stopped speaking, and looked worried.

A wolf slowly emerged from the cave, growling and snarling.  It looked hungry.  The travelers noticed some red hair that grew out of the wolf’s back.  Colon took a step back, but he tried to smile.  Two identical boys, no older than twelve, came from the cave to stand beside the wolf, and both complained.

“Mama.  We have company.”

The wolf let out a little grin before it changed into a woman, about five and a half feet tall, with long red hair down her back, and eyes as dark a charcoal.  “Thank you Colan,” she said.  “It doesn’t fix things, but it helps.”  She turned to the travelers.  “Lockhart, bad timing as usual.”  She opened her arms.  “Boston.” She had to wait.  Boston hesitated because of the wolf, but only hesitated for a moment.

One of the twelve-year-olds put his arms out for a hug, but Boston snubbed him, and the woman slapped his hand. “Romulus,” the woman scolded.

“And Remus?” Katie asked, and got that groupie look on her face.

Avalon 6.3 Stubborn, part 3 of 6

The travelers found a place among the trees and behind a rise in the landscape where they felt they could build a fire without attracting too much human attention.  Boston and Katie bagged a deer, and Alexis found some greens that were better, not bitter, and some tubers that boiled up real nice.  Decker, Lockhart, Lincoln, and Elder Stow climbed to a place on the rise and in the trees where they could watch the village and the Gott-Druk spaceship.  Decker brought his binoculars and night goggles.  Lockhart got the same equipment from Katie, which Lincoln kept borrowing. Elder Stow contented himself with what his scanner could show him.

“They have shrines near the middle-top of the hill,” Lincoln said.  “I would guess Greek gods with Roman names, like Jupiter instead of Zeus and Pluto instead of Hades.”

“I wonder if Saturn is still around,” Lockhart said.  “I recall the Kairos mentioning that he got confined to Italy to keep him off Mount Olympus.  The Kairos said in his passive-aggressive way, Saturn insisted on different names for the gods in his jurisdiction.”

“Not really a different jurisdiction,” Lincoln said.  “Still part of the Greco-Roman jurisdiction in southern Europe.  Zeus threw his father, Cronos into the deepest pit of Hades. He spared his grandfather, Saturn, but confined him to Italy, sort of like a big prison cell.”

“I see three main gates on the wall,” Decker said, interrupting the conversation that neither man knew honestly what they were talking about.  Lincoln had the database and could read about it, but that was not what they were there for.

“I have scanned for Gott-Druk life-signs,” Elder Stow interrupted.  “They seem to be confined to the island.”

“I see several fires,” Lockhart agreed, and Lincoln reached for the binoculars.

“No indication they have seen us, or even that they are looking in our direction.”

“Atypical behavior for the Gott-Druk,” Decker said.  “I would have expected them in the village, making the humans cower and bow down to them.”

Elder Stow frowned.  “You have a very low opinion of my people.”

“Nothing personal,” Lockhart said. “But it is the behavior we have seen and what has been reported about your people.”

Elder Stow took a deep breath and nodded. “But here, the ship parked on the island has some armament and weapons, probably a necessity for space travel, but it does not appear to be a warship.  I would guess it is more like a merchant ship, a freighter of some sort.”

“There’s a twist,” Decker said.

Lockhart lowered the night goggles. It was hardly dark enough yet to make them worthwhile.  “I would say giving these early Romans access to heat rays would be even more dangerous to history than the old Gott-Druk way of taking over and trying to make slaves of the human race.”

“I don’t know how we can get into the village and get Evan without causing an uproar,” Lincoln said.

“The presence of my people does complicate things,” Elder Stow agreed.

Lockhart also agreed.  “Especially if they are on a peaceful trade mission.”

“So, we find the Kairos first?” Decker made it a question, but it seemed the only solution to him.  Throughout their journey, he had learned that the Kairos inevitably knew what was happening, and had some idea how to deal with otherwise impossible situations.

No one objected as they scooted off the rise and returned to the camp.  They found the horses cared for and set for the night, and food cooking, but they all imagined they would be up for a time of debate.  Everyone needed a chance to put in their two cents, and then Lockhart needed to keep them together long enough to do whatever the consensus decided.

###

In the morning, Lockhart felt unhappy, but nothing he could do about it.  Lincoln and Alexis insisted on edging up to the farm fields, where they figured most of the people would come out to participate in the spring planting.  When the workers came out, they imagined they might find Evan and whisk him to safety.  There was one place where the trees came right up to the edge of the fields. They would have a good view of the fields and the village from there, while they could stay hidden.  Lincoln insisted someone had to stay and keep an eye on the village.  Besides, they found a trail they could ride to the river if they needed to evade pursuit.

“We still have the wrist communicators to keep in touch,” Alexis reminded everyone.

Lincoln got to say it.  “I keep forgetting about these things.”

Lockhart could not argue, but he made Katie give Lincoln her binoculars and Alexis the prototype amulet, so Alexis and Lincoln could find the next time gate if they got separated from the rest of the group.  He made Lincoln give Katie the database in case Lincoln got captured.  He figured if the Gott-Druk could figure out how to read it, they might learn some things about the future that they should not know.

Elder Stow, perhaps worse, insisted on checking out the Gott-Druk present on the island in the river.  Sukki would go with him.  He made her swallow a big pill which he said would pass in a couple of weeks.  Meanwhile, he could use his equipment to make her invisible when he went invisible.  He had a few invisibility disc relays, but insisted the pill was more certain and better for something like this.

“I will try to talk with them to see what their intentions may be,” Elder Stow said.  “I will try to suggest they need to not be here, but I don’t know how they may respond.  Invisibility is just a precaution.”  Lockhart did not object until Elder Stow added a note.  “It would probably be best if you keep the horses with you.  I can levitate us to the island, but visible, flying horses would not work well.”

“It is going to be hard enough trying to wend our way through farms and hamlets to get to the back of the hill where the Kairos is located without giving ourselves away.”  Lockhart complained, but they took the horses.

###

Decker and Katie rode out front, armed and ready for whatever might present itself.  Lockhart and Boston followed, each bringing an extra horse with them.  In this way, they approached the river, prepared to swim across where it got deep, but they found a surprise waiting for them on the riverbank.  A centaur.

“Welcome.  I am Colon, prince of the mountain pastures where my family makes its home.  I have come at the urging of the gray-haired faun, to guide you to the goddess of time.” He smiled.  It felt like a big speech for the brute.

“I don’t suppose Dionysus is around anywhere,” Decker said, a frown on his face.

“Silenus in this place,” Katie said.

“No.  I am quite sober,” Colon responded

“Eh?” Lockhart asked, and Katie explained.

“The centaurs in legend are well known for their wild, drunken orgies, and attempts to ride off with women, to molest them.”

Colon’s eyes grew big.  “You are an elect, as strong and capable as a demigod,” Colon objected, without denying anything.  “You must think me mad to wish to offend you.”

“Just so we understand each other,” Katie said.

“But to be sure, I have also come to see the red-haired girl, the wisest of the wise.  Clopsus the Great said you would be among the travelers, and I am deeply honored to meet the one told of in our legends down through all the centuries.”

“Um…Thanks,” Boston swallowed.

“And it is even as I have been told. You have become as an elf, even a high elf, and a princess among all the elves”

“Princess?”  Lockhart asked, and grinned.

“As in, Disney?” Decker smiled at her.

“Shut-up,” Boston said.  “Truscas had a big mouth.  Can we get going?”

“Of course,” Colon said.  “If you will follow, I will endeavor to lead you in a safe way for my distant cousins that you ride, and away from the human scum.”

“Shows you where we rate,” Decker said.

Lockhart had to tug on the reigns of Elder Stow’s horse to get his nose out of the grass at his feet.  “Come along, cousin,” he said.

###

Elder Stow and Sukki landed among the few trees on the island.  “It will not hurt to look and listen first,” he said.  “Caution is a good thing.”

“Yes, father.”  Sukki lowered her eyes.

Elder Stow smiled for the girl. “You are a good daughter, even if you are adopted.  I wish my daughters by the flesh were as cooperative.”

“Oh, children need to respect their parents,” Sukki said, in complete sincerity.

“My Abella argues all the time, about everything,” Elder Stow said, as he got out his scanner and adjusted several settings.

“Arguing shows a lack of respect. She should at least respect that you are her father.  How old is she?”

Elder Stow paused to think before he answered.  “She is thirty earth years.”

Sukki drew in her breath.

“I am fifty-two,” Elder Stow said.  “And no, I did not have a bite of the apple of youth as Lockhart, Lincoln and Alexis had. I am an honest fifty-two.”

“But…I never heard of many Gott-Druk who lived much after forty.  Forty-five is very old.  I heard one old woman lived to forty-eight, but fifty sounds unbelievable.”

“You come from the deep past.  I understand,” Elder Stow told her.  “But in the future, we have found ways to take better care of ourselves.  My father died at the ripe old age of eighty-six”

Sukki’s eyes got big s she calculated “He was still having children at thirty-six.  But that is so old.”

“Thirty-four, and not so old in the future. Now hush.”  Elder Stow looked at his results.  “It is an ancient Sky-Skimmer; a merchant vessel as I surmised.  Crew of twenty, though quite big.  Minimal weapons, but new-ion driven.  We have made it to the photon age. They might not have a photon bomb, but possibly a gravitron bomb.  Honestly, I am not as conversant with that age in history to say for sure.”

“I did not understand a word you said,” Sukki admitted.  “Why am I here?”

“So I have company.  It is important for families to do things together. Besides, if we have to reveal ourselves, you will not be out of place.”

“Yes, Father,” Sukki said, and with some joy at the idea of being family.

************************

MONDAY

The travelers have split up.  Everyone has their assignment.  We shall see how things work out… or not.  Until Monday, Happy Reading.

*

Avalon 6.3 Stubborn, part 2 of 6

In the morning, the travelers found people on the beach, and some rough-looking fishing boats in the water, not far from the shore.  The travelers got up quietly and tried not to attract attention.  Boston woke everyone with a warning to keep quiet, while Sukki kept an eye on the people.  Lockhart opted not to build up the fire.  They chewed on what they had, packed what they could carry, and got ready to ride.

“No sign of Aneas,” Lincoln stated the obvious.

“I have a feeling he will show up.” Lockhart was not worried.  He recognized it took a great deal of courage for the fauns to contact them as they did. “Their distress must be real and serious, and I imagine they will not miss the chance to solve their problem.”

“I was thinking,” Katie said. “Maybe their dimension is more in line with the fourth dimension of time.  They may be in tune with the man’s distress because of his time displacement.”

“You mean because he is out of his own time,” Lockhart put it in his own words.  “And maybe that is how they found us and knew who we were.”

Katie nodded.

“An excellent suggestion,” Elder Stow said, as he mounted.  “The little bit of data I gathered might suggest something like that.”

As Elder Stow got up on his horse, Sukki and Boston scooted down from the ledge where they watched the humans on the beach.  Sukki got right up, being a much-improved horsewoman.  Boston grew up riding rodeo in Massachusetts.  She leapt up on Honey, her horse, and could ride rings around the rest of them.

“Are we ready to ride?” Decker asked.

Lockhart nodded and pushed forward. They had to come through the gap in the rocks single file.  They tried not to rush, but the women down the beach who saw them and screamed did not help.

Once they started up the shoreline, they quickly got out of range of the screamers.  Shortly, they turned inland and imagined they would not be followed. They had seen some horses used to pull the plow, and saw a chariot once, but they had not seen any horsemen in the villages, so they were not too worried.  Elder Stow’s scanner spotted a village up the shore, so they had to turn inland in any case.  But they figured they could outrun any men who followed them on foot.  They already had.

It did not take long before they found Aneas and his two companions waiting for them.  Lockhart pushed out front and called to the gray-haired faun. He had instructions.  He got down, thinking Aneas might fear the horse, but the horse did not appear to be the faun’s problem.  Clearly, Lockhart himself made the faun wary, then Lockhart remembered the faun mentioned the centaurs who still lived in the mountains and figured the horse might be no big deal   He got ready to speak, but Aneas spoke first.

“We will stay out front, and you may follow.”

‘Fine and well.  We will keep our distance as long as you don’t lose us. Keep in mind, the path you choose must be acceptable for the horses.”

“I understand.  We will go the way of the centaurs so you will have no hardship.”

Lockhart nodded.  “Also, it would probably be better if we stayed away from other people.”

“We are so inclined.”

Lockhart nodded again.  “Also, it would be best if we had some warning when we come near the village where the man is kept prisoner.  It would be better to see it secretly from a distance and decide on the best approach.”

Aneas paused to think, and finally shrugged.  “I do not understand humans.  You do not care for each other, and even hurt each other and hurt everything else.  I do not understand why you should not ride in and say, “Hello neighbor”.  But your ways are not our ways.  I will do as you ask.”

Lockhart did not nod that time. “All the same,” he said.  “One more question. Does the man have a name?”

To Lockhart’s surprise, the faun smiled a little at the question.  “One of our kind has made a song of the name.  It is Evan Cecil Emerson, Assistant Professor of Antiquities in Latin and Greek.  It seems a ponderous, long name, even for a human.”

“Thank you.  We will do our best to help.”  Lockhart turned and got ready to ride.  He realized he forgot to ask about lunch, but he imagined it was too late. The fauns stood ready, but looked uncertain about the humans.  “Burn that bridge when we come to it,” Lockhart mumbled.

“What bridge? Katie asked.

Lockhart waved her off.

The fauns led them all day by a path that in some places almost appeared to be a dirt road.  Katie imagined the future Appian way, and said so.  They never saw any people, and sometimes wondered if any people lived in the area, though they felt certain some did.  One time, they climbed a hill and saw what looked like smoke in the distance.  They could not be sure.  The fluffy-white clouds, gray on the bottom, sat low in the sky and melted into the horizon. It might have been a piece of a cloud, or something smoldering from the thunderstorm two days earlier.  It might have been a fire built by some of those centaurs Aneas talked about.

Lunch did not take long.  The fauns disappeared.  The travelers did not build a fire, so they only had smoked leftovers to chew on, a breakfast repeat.  Alexis and Sukki found some grapes and greens.  The grapes were not quite ripe, and the greens tasted bitter, but it would sustain them.

Elder Stow pulled out his scanner to read what might be on the horizon.  Decker meditated to let his eagle totem lift him into the sky for a similar look around.  Both reported the mix of woods and fields covering seven hills on the other side of a river.

“Every hill appears to have collections of buildings,” Elder Stow said.  “I would only call three villages.  The rest would be hamlets, or family farms and homes; though it seems to me they are all relatively close to each other, and building closer.  Soon enough, the fields and pastures will begin to disappear under buildings.”

“Farmers and shepherds, for the most part,” Decker agreed.  “But I hope they are all good neighbors.  If they keep building, it won’t take long until the whole area looks like urban sprawl.”

“The main village, at least the biggest one, appears on the center hill, and built on the side where the people can overlook the river.  They probably watch for river traffic and whatever trade might go up and down the river. They probably also watch for enemies.”

“Enemies, for sure,” Lockhart said. “All of the different tribes around here do seem to hate each other.”  Decker agreed, but then he reported on something different.

“The fauns appear to be angling us up above a bend in the river, north of the town-hill, to a place where the river and a large field of a sort stand between where we are headed and the villages and people on the hills.”

“Rome,” Katie named the seven hills.

“Agreed,” Lincoln checked the database. The villages and people on the seven hills would one day be Rome.

“I imagine the fauns intend to give the people a wide berth,” Lockhart suggested.

“Boss,” Boston spoke up.  She had her amulet out to check what she could see, though the map on the amulet remained skimpy on most details.  “I can see where the Kairos is located, like near a village, but a little north.”

“Likely in his own place on the back side of the hill,” Elder Stow said.

“Her place,” Lincoln corrected the Gott-Druk.  “Valencia, the Kairos in this life is a her.”

“Of course,” Elder Stow said, graciously. “It is hard to keep up with the him and her changes.”

“You got that right,” Decker mumbled.

“Let’s see where the fauns lead us,” Lockhart concluded.  “We may be going around the seven hills to some other town further away.  After we get Cecil, we may have to backtrack to see Valencia.”

“Evan,” Boston blurted out.  “Not Cecil.”

“Evan,” Alexis agreed.

“Evan,” Lincoln supported his wife.

Lockhart looked at Katie who shrugged. “Professor Emerson?”

It did not take long after lunch to reach the river.  They stayed in the shadow of the woods, but saw the distant village on the hill. They also found an island in the river, and everyone reacted, though they did not stop for a good look.

“I remember that island,” Boston told Sukki. “Truscas the Centaur carried me across the river there.  Saturn’s house sat at the top of the hill, there.”

“Palatine Hill has had some occupation since back before the flood,” Katie told Lockhart and the girls. “Early Neolithic, that is stone age.”

“My people are familiar with the area,” Elder Stow said.  “It was one of our gathering places in the before times.”

Decker got Elder Stow’s attention and pointed.  He saw something shine on the island.  He got out his binoculars.  Elder Stow got out his scanner.

“Gott-Druk,” Elder Stow reported. “They are powered down and well camouflaged, like they were when we found them on Malta.”

“I did not see them from the sky,” Decker admitted.

Katie looked and handed her binoculars to Lockhart, who also caught a glimpse before the trail took them more deeply into the woods.

“Well,” Lockhart said, as he returned Katie’s binoculars.  “Looks like we will have to backtrack and find the Kairos for sure.”

“The Gott-Druk do not belong there,” Lincoln said.  He had started getting good at stating the obvious.

After that, they quickly came to another small hill beside the river, but on the near side.  The fauns stopped, and Aneas approached the humans, carefully. Lockhart and Katie dismounted and walked out to meet him.  They tried not to scare him.

“Our home is in this place,” Aneas said.

“Vatican hill,” Katie called it.

“There is nowhere on this planet where the sickness of violence does not intrude.  But mostly, in this place, there is peace.”  Katie and Lockhart looked around.  They felt the calm in the air, and the sense of peace that pervaded the area.  No doubt, they sensed the faith and quiet contemplation that would fill the area in the centuries to come, but they never would have understood it if they were not time travelers who knew where they were.

Aneas spoke again.  “The man from the future is captive in the village you saw across the river.  The goddess of time lives in a cave near there.  If you are willing to take him into the future with you, you will have our gratitude, forever.”  He stepped behind a tree and was not present anymore.

Katie and Lockhart held hands as they walked back to Lincoln and Alexis who held their horses.  Alexis had a suggestion.

“We could camp here tonight.”  It sounded like a question.  “We might be far enough away from people where we can build a fire and honestly get a night’s rest.”

Katie shook her head.  “We should not violate this place with our humanity.”

“No,” Lockhart answered Alexis directly. “We have to backtrack to a place where we can keep an eye on the village, and on the island.  Then we will need to decide what to do in the morning.”

“I got some good data,” Elder Stow told Boston.  “But it will take some serious study to understand it.”

Avalon 6.3 Stubborn, part 1 of 6

After 761 BC Before Rome. Kairos lifetime 75: Valencia, Mother Wolf

Recording …

“I remember this place,” Boston shouted. “Last time we came here, Roland, Father Mingus, Truscas the Centaur, and I had to try and get Silenus to help us sober up Saturn so he could get all of you out of Pan’s dance.”

“Y’all,” Decker said.  “To get all y’all out of Pan’s dance.”

“Yeah,” Boston agreed.  “You were going to dance the whole month, but you-all would not have survived that.”

“Hopeless,” Decker said.

Boston turned her joy to sorrow as fast as a fee.  “I miss Roland.”

“He is in the future, waiting for you,” Alexis said, quickly.  “I feel certain of that.”

Boston nodded, but still sniffed.

“Are we going to get in trouble this time?” Sukki asked.  She had not been there the last time, but she grew concerned about needing to be rescued. All told, though she was homo-Neanderthal rather than homo-Sapiens, she behaved, a good girl who did not like conflict, and she did not want to be in trouble.

“We will be fine this time,” Katie said.

“I hope,” Lockhart mumbled, and Katie elbowed him softly.

Lincoln sat up, put a log on the fire, and cleared his throat to get everyone’s attention. “So, Valencia.” People quieted to listen.  “She is Etruscan.  We should pass through the entire Etruscan home territory.  Near as I can figure, judging from Boston’s clues, we came into this time zone somewhere below Naples.  We should pass through Rome, which probably isn’t there yet, and exit somewhere beyond Pisa.  No leaning tower there yet, either.”

“So, Valencia is in Rome, about the mid-point?” Alexis asked.

Lincoln shrugged.  “Rome is on the edge of Etruscan territory, and the map in the database suggests there are two Etruscan towns, I guess cities, close by. I would guess she is somewhere in there, depending on how old she is.”

“Always the question,” Elder Stow said, and he got up to head for bed.  They had been in this time zone for three days, but this was the first chance they had to relax and ask about what they might be facing.  They spent the previous days avoiding tribes of humans and hostile villages.  Apparently, no one trusted anyone else in that part of the world.  They had to ride hard to escape several roving bands of men, and had twice been attacked, once in the night.  They had to be ready to move at night, and had to get up extra early to be gone by the time the locals arrived.  Here, they found a sheltered cove by the beach where a large rock blocked their firelight and rocky ridges sat securely at their back.

“So, Valencia has red hair,” Lincoln started to give the details.

“Woo-hoo!” Red-headed Boston shouted, before she grabbed her tongue.  They had visitors, and not ordinary visitors.  “Sorry,” Boston whispered.  “My radar is set for humans.”

An old gray-haired faun hobbled up from the beach, followed by two younger fauns.  it felt unusual to see them.  Fauns were notoriously shy.  It felt doubly odd to hear the gray-haired one speak.

“Pardon.  Forgive me.  My name is Aneas, or that is what you may call me.  You are the people from the future?”

The travelers appeared shocked. Memories of Pan’s dance that Boston spoke about bubbled up in their minds from more than two years ago in their journey.  That happened more than three thousand years ago, real time, but the images felt like yesterday.  They remembered goat-hooved Pan, the satyrs and nymphs, the fermented grapes; and most of the images felt embarrassing, like images they would just as soon forget.

Elder Stow, not with the dancers at that time, fiddled with something on his scanning device.  Sukki, as usual, looked around and waited for someone else to speak.

Since no one else appeared willing to answer, Boston said, “Yes, that’s right.”

Aneas nodded.  “You are the red-headed elf that was once human.  And your friend is of the elder race, as is the one who looks like the old man.  The dark one is your defender.  This man here has knowledge I must not see, and his wife is the black-haired witch who used to be an elf.  The other man there is the leader of this expedition, and his wife is the golden-haired one-in-a-million elect.  Am I correct?”

People looked at each other before Lockhart finally spoke.  “Clearly, you know us, but what can we do for you?”

Aneas and the two behind him appeared to let out collective sighs of relief.  No telling what kind of a reception they feared they might get. The travelers got the impression that being seen by humans was a rarity, and talking to humans amounted to something that never, ever happened.  The travelers understood that fauns might be more than just shy.  The appeared fearful and timid people as well.

“There is another, a human male that does not belong here.  The centaurs that still hide in the mountains have discerned that he came here from the future.  He has been taken captive by the ones who first came here on ships from the sea. He is made to toil for them, but his labor is not appreciated.  We have seen how he is treated.  I cannot begin to imagine I know anything about human behavior.  Only, I would not care to be treated that way.”

Aneas paused to think, so Alexis asked, “What would you have us do?”

“He cries out day and night for Mildred. I do not know what a Mildred is. And sometimes he cries for Professor Fleming.  I cannot imagine such a thing.  But his heart cries, not just his mind, you see?  His heart cries, and we hear the heart, and feel all the pain he feels. It disturbs the little ones so they cannot sleep.”

“I understand,” Alexis said.  “But what are you asking of us?”

“We were wondering if you might be willing to take him back into the future with you.  It might be that he can find his Mildred there, do you think?  In any case, we might have a little peace.”

“Which direction?” Boston asked, and got out her amulet, the one that showed the location of the time gates. Aneas pointed, and Boston said, “Yes. That is right.”

“How will we find him?” Lockhart asked the practical question, assuming the man, after a time, would appear no different than any other local.  Besides, he knew his group needed to avoid human contact wherever possible, knowing that most of the time it would not be possible.  They had discussed it and agreed that from this point going forward, it would be best to avoid doing something that might throw history off track. Of course, that had been impossible since entering this time zone, but the sentiment was there.  Indeed, their trouble caused the topic to come up, and they agreed in theory.  Katie offered the summary.

“Right now, and for a few more centuries, depending on where we land, we probably won’t make much of a ripple. History is still mostly verbal and memories.  But we need to practice, because from here on, history is beginning to be written.   The future does not need a record of ancient time travelers, even if most in our day would cross it off as an ancient conspiracy theory, like bigfoot or ancient aliens.”

“We have seen our share of ancient aliens,” Lockhart teased.

“You know what I mean,” Katie said, grinned, and elbowed him softly in the ribs.

Aneas answered Lockhart’s question plainly.  “We will take you to him.”

“Fine,” Lockhart said.  “But we have had a harrowing few days since coming here.  We need a good night’s sleep, and the horses are not made for the wilderness in the dark.”

“We will return in the morning to guide you.” Aneas said.

“Would you care to join us?” Alexis asked, pointing to the warm fire and the food still smoking to eat and take in the morning.

“Meat,” Aneas said, with a shake of his head.  Without a further word, he and his two companions turned and vanished.  Elder Stow let out a sound of surprise that sounded as close as he ever got to an expletive.

“They did not run off faster than the eye could see, or go invisible, or teleport to some other place on the planet,” he said.  “As near as I can tell, they slipped out of this world altogether.  I mean, they were here, solid and real.  The scanner is still analyzing that data.  But then they went…somewhere.  I would guess, from the data, they slipped into another universe. I don’t mean a temporal universe, like a parallel earth.  I mean a spatial universe, or physics universe, or another dimension.”  He went back to fiddling with his scanner.

Everyone sat quiet and thought, not sure they understood, so they were not sure what to ask.  Decker changed the subject.

“So much for not interfering with the locals.”

“Yes.”  Katie and Lockhart agreed.

“Do you think we should find the Kairos first?” Lincoln wondered.

Alexis responded.  “If this man is from the future, he is a risk to the present if he does not know any better.  I would think the Kairos will be glad to have us take him out of harm’s way.”

“Besides,” Sukki spoke, and everyone paused to listen.  “It does not sound like he is being treated well at all.”

No one said the words slavery or torture, but they all thought them.

Avalon 6.2 Sudden Encounter, part 6 of 6

Artie explained.

“We found a good world, not far away, and made it our new home.  The beautiful Anath-Rama brought us a village of humans to help us grow our daily bread and learn the ways of the earth.  I had a son, and he had good people around him, to love him.  It took real effort, but soon enough we had androids and humans living together, in peace.  We made a good world; but then we got attacked, twice, over two hundred years.  Some got killed.  The humans could reproduce and repopulate, but we could not. All of our efforts proved fruitless.” Artie took a deep breath.  “When the Anazi world got destroyed, the secret of self-aware, true, living android people became lost.  We have made super intelligent robots, but they are only robots…”  She let her voice trail off, and looked at Ibelam.

“I cannot tell you how to do that,” Ibelam said.  “Some future lives might know, but I have no idea.”

Artie’s eyes shifted to Elder Stow, but he shook his head.  “It is not a secret, but I don’t know…I don’t think I can say…I don’t know.” Elder Stow also looked at Ibelam, who shook his head as well, before he spoke.

“None of my future lives are willing to tell.  I don’t know if that is because you are not supposed to know the secret or because you have to find out for yourselves.  But I will tell you what I know.  Your robots remain robots because I am sure your programming is perfect, and without flaws.  Life requires a miracle.  It happens like magic, or by chance accident, or by what you might call a glitch in the program, and not just any flaw will do.  But by reason and logic, you will never find it.”  Elder Stow nodded, and Ibelam continued.

“It is like finding God’s perfect plan for your life.  You can sit and think all day, and never find it.  There will be things in life that you will never understand, even things that don’t make much sense to reason, logic, or thinking really hard.  You can submit to the almighty and have things revealed, or be led to things.  You may stumble upon things and have them confirmed from above.  But the truth is, for reasons God alone knows, some never discover their purpose in this life.  Some seek haphazardly, or quit seeking after a time.  And altogether too many conclude that everything is just an accident, and they never start seeking in the first place.”

“I have known a few like that,” Alexis said, softly.

“Let me also say this,” Ibelam said. “Never quit seeking.  Never quit asking.  Never quit knocking.  You might never find, or fully find what you are seeking, but if you trust the almighty, you will find what is necessary—what is right, good and true.”

“The almighty?” Artie asked.

“Anath-Rama’s god,” Ibelam answered. “The one she calls the source.”

Artie lowered her head again to think, but continued her tale.  “We became explorers over these last couple of centuries.  We needed to head off any future attacks, if possible, but also, we went looking for the key to life.  We are slowly becoming less.  Someday, we may all be gone to Anath-Rama’s paradise.”  Artie quit speaking.  She had to consider Anath-Rama’s god.  Her thoughts were like a prayer, though she did not know it.  It helped when Mother Katie scooted over and hugged her.

General Redfern took up the telling. “About a hundred years ago, we discovered the Humanoids in space.  They appear to have risen to the top in this sector of the galaxy, and they have no interest in peaceful relations.  We have lost ships, and people.  We appear to be targeted as rivals.  We are becoming less, and outside of David, and the colony of mostly humans around him, we have found no way to replicate ourselves.”

 “They came out from behind a dwarf star and surprised us,” Artie interjected. “We did not even see them until they were right on top of us.  I headed straight to earth, and they appeared to keep their distance.”

Captain Korman spoke up.  “An analysis of their propulsion system and weapons suggests a technology that is not better, and may not be as good as our own. The record suggests in a longer journey we would have outrun them.”

Elder Stow looked ready to say something, but General Redfern interrupted.  “Our immediate concern is the Hungdin craft.  We picked up their troops easily enough, but their ship and base of operations are invisible to us.  We fear they have gained one technological advantage.  If they have an invisibility screen, they may be the end of us.”

Elder Stow had to think, and everyone allowed him the time without interrupting.  “I am not sure what is safe to say,” he said, softly, and looked at Ibelam who betrayed nothing on his face.  “But I believe it would betray no future to tell you the humanoids have no invisibility.  Their ship is built of the right composite materials and designed to cause your simple radar-like long range scanners to slip right over them, as if they are not there. Their stealth design is well done; perhaps even impressive.  But they do not have even a glamour of invisibility.  I believe I can help you there, but as for what makes a robot into a living being…”  He shook his head, his face filled with uncertainty.  Everyone understood.  It was not his decision, and the Kairos already gave all he could.

###

Several hours later, Elder Stow, Boston, Katie, Artie, and Captain Korman came from the ship with news that they now had the means to detect humanoid ships in deep space.  The one on the ground had also been found.  They discovered Ibelam got the people to start partying without them.  They had a big bonfire with plenty of game cooking away, and Ibelam told stories of his adventures.

Lincoln commented.  “No one in our century would believe a word of it.  I would not believe the stories myself except for two things.  First, we are talking about the Kairos.  As Lockhart said, he sits at the center of the hurricane while everything else swirls around him.  Second, we have four eyewitnesses here who have more or less confirmed the stories, no matter how strange they sound.  And, trust me, some have sounded pretty wild.”

“Never underestimate the veracity of four eyewitnesses,” Alexis agreed.

Decker came back from visiting the perimeter where android soldiers were keeping a sharp eye out for any humanoids or skeletons that might be headed their way.  He interrupted.  “Anybody ever figure out where that Muhamed guy went?”

“We found the guy running from skeletons,” Boston blurted out.

Alexis took up the explanation. “He seemed grateful.  He thanked Allah and the Holy Prophet for being saved. He only had a scrape from a skeleton spear.  Otherwise, he seemed in fine shape.”

“I guess he ran away when the soldiers attacked us,” Elder Stow said, and Sukki nodded.

“We should have made more effort to find him,” Decker said, still thinking about not leaving people behind.

“I figure he is native,” Lockhart said. “I imagine he knows where he is going.”

“Wait.”  Katie interrupted.  “He thanked Allah and the Holy Prophet for being saved?”

“Yeah,” Boston confirmed.  “So?”

“I told you, Allah’s holy prophet won’t be born for another fourteen or fifteen hundred years.”

Everyone got quiet.  Ibelam finally said it.  “So, your Muhamed is from the future.”

“He said he was a chemist from Medina,” Boston remembered.

“Probably a pharmacist.  Maybe from Mecca,” Alexis suggested.  “Someone who could make the life elixir.”

“Probably from our century,” Lincoln added.

“Probably the necromancer,” Elder Stow said it.

“Had to be,” Decker agreed, as the call came that there were some skeletons coming.  Some must have survived getting through the humanoid line.

Lockhart said, “Damn.”  Lincoln looked at Ibelam and wondered why he doubted the truth of any of Ibelam’s stories.  Ibelam just laughed.

************************

MONDAY

Next Time: Avalon 6.3, Stubborn. The travelers find themselves arriving just before the founding of Rome, and they find someone from the future who has been enslaved and does not belong there.

Until next time, Happy Reading

*

Avalon 6.2 Sudden Encounter, part 5 of 6

The travelers made a wide berth around the skeleton army that moved slowly through the wilderness.  When they came to the forest, they turned in. Boston said the Kairos should be among the trees, even if they got off track for the next time gate.  When they came to a meadow, they thought to stop for lunch.  They hardly dismounted, however, when an advanced troop of humanoids caught up to them.

The humanoid soldiers pulled long knives, which they clearly knew how to use.  No one talked.  No one debated.  The humanoids just attacked, and the travelers nearly got caught. Fortunately, Boston and Katie both sensed the approaching soldiers, even if they did not realize how close they were.

Katie and Decker flipped their rifles to automatic.  Boston and Lincoln had their handguns.  Elder Stow, Sukki and Alexis rounded up the horses, while Lockhart turned his shotgun on one that seemed to appear suddenly, and very close.  The travelers mounted and rushed off, even as one humanoid began to shout orders.  A couple of shots from humanoid rifles pierced the woods, but by the time that happened, the travelers were lost among the trees.

The travelers soon broke free of the trees and found a sheltered dip in the landscape to keep the horses.  Then, while the others held the horses, Lockhart, Katie, Decker, and Boston went to the tree line, to make sure none of the soldiers followed them.

“They probably had orders not to use their heat rays among the trees,” Lockhart said.  He lumped all alien weapons under the generic, “heat rays”.

‘Fire is not a good weapon,” Decker admitted.  Lockhart looked at Katie to explain.

“A sudden turn in the wind, and you risk getting your own men trapped by the flames.  Plus, when the air fills with smoke, it isn’t easy telling friend from foe.”

“Plus, there is no way to control it,” Decker added.  “A forest like this; a fire would run wild.  It might burn down half the countryside.

“I’m not sensing any soldiers following us,” Boston said, with a shake of her head.  “I should have known sooner, but they don’t feel like human beings, even if they look like us.”

“Hey, Lockhart.”  Lincoln walked up to join the crew.  “Have you seen Muhamed?”

No one had.

###

After getting around the skeletons, Muhamed simple waited for the chance to slip away.  He might have gone for firewood and not come back, if they planned to prepare some lunch.  Instead, the attack of the soldiers proved the perfect opportunity to leave unnoticed. Indeed, he hurried.

Muhamed stayed unaware of the larger events going on around him.  He imagined the army as local men, since they looked like ordinary enough soldiers, in their leather, and they used no weapons of power.  He imagined they were headed to attack one of the cities nearer the coast, so he did not think twice about them.  And he did not imagine there might be another army coming from the other direction.

He heard a voice.  He saw a person in a different sort of uniform.  He saw three of them.  He just started to wonder what he stumbled into, when he vanished.

Muhamed reappeared a hundred miles away, directly in front of the time gate.  Ashtoreth stood there, hands on hips, looking cross.  Muhamed fell to his face and trembled for his life, while the goddess spoke.

“You’re an idiot.  You almost walked right into the Android front line.  I don’t know whatever made me think you might be useful.”  She tapped her foot and demanded, “Say something.”

Muhamed spouted his thoughts, and proved unable to hold them in.  “The skeletons would not follow my commands.  I found your enemies.  They should be ripe for the taking.”

“Silence.”  Ashtoreth shouted, and Muhamed turned ashen white and spit up some bile.  The anger of such a goddess would have killed many.  “They are mere flies—annoying insects to be squashed without a second thought.  But they are being watched by many in the heavens.  I will not be a fool, like you.”

“But the skeletons would not follow my commands.”

Ashtoreth appeared to take a deep breath. “The elixir gives life.  It does not give you mind control.  Fool.  You must catch them in the swamp before you make the hungry swamp creatures live.”

Muhamed said nothing, but he thought, what about my life?  How could he bring the swamp creatures to life and get away before they ate him?

“I am not concerned about your life,” Ashtoreth said, knowing exactly what he was thinking.  “Unless you fail to kill the travelers.  I am tempted right now to torture you for the next thousand years, to start.”

“No, please.  I will kill them, dead.  I will do this.  They are Kafir.  They do not deserve to live.  I will use the elixir to trap them in their worst nightmare.  You know I will do this.”

“I am not known for patience,” Ashtoreth said, and vanished.

Muhamed stayed where he was for a while, and breathed.  But eventually, he picked himself up, dusted himself off, and stepped through the time gate and into the next time zone.

###

Artie cried when she hugged her adopted mother Katie.  Katie cried with her.  Dad-Lockhart put his big arms around both of his girls and nearly cried with them, but they were happy tears.  Boston’s eyes teared up, empathic elf that she was, and Lincoln and Alexis held each other and smiled to watch.  Decker and Elder Stow kept one eye and their ears on the receding battle, and one eye on the android troop that followed Artie.  Sukki did not know what to make of it all.  She stayed beside Elder Stow, being shy in front of so many people, even if the androids were not exactly human people.

Finally, the love-fest broke up and Artie called for a young man.  He looked mostly human, but he had some cyborg enhancements here and there. “David,” Artie called him.  “He is about seven or eight generations from my son. Apparently, when the Kairos made me an android again, he left my uterus alone, temporarily.  I was pregnant.”

“I didn’t know,” Katie said, and her face showed both joy and concern.

“I am fully android now, but I gave birth to a son, so I did have the full human experience after all.  I got to be a mom.”  Artie and Katie hugged again, and almost shared some more tears.

“David,” Lockhart put out his hand, and David knew to shake that hand, but he said nothing and kept looking at Artie to explain, even if he knew the stories.

“He calls me Grandma.”  Artie turned to David.  “These are your great-grandparents.”

Lockhart let go of the handshake and reached out to hug David instead.  “Welcome to the family.”

Katie looked at Artie.  “You make me sound so old,” she protested, before she also hugged David.  “You have your grandmother’s look about you,” she said, and turned again to Artie.  “Do I get to spoil him?”

Artie smiled at that thought.  “I spoil him enough,” she admitted.

Decker interrupted.  “You need to pull your troops back.  It sounds like the Humanoid troops have run into the skeletons.”

Elder Stow checked his scanner for confirmation.  “That appears to be the case.”

“Boston.”  Artie hugged the elf.  “And Sukki.  I remember you,” she said, as she hugged her.  “I was hoping you would go with the travelers.  Are you girls taking care of each other?”

Sukki looked at Boston and nodded.

“We leave no one behind,” Decker said.

“I remember,” Artie agreed and smiled for the marine.  “But come. We need help in scanner technology and in code breaking, if you can.  I wish the Kairos could be found.”  She began to walk, and the travelers and her escort followed.

“Artie.”  Katie came up to walk beside her and slipped her arm over Artie’s shoulder.  “Sweetheart. You should not be so stressed.  After more than four hundred years, you are still here.  You must be doing something right.”

Artie cried.  She let loose, and rivers flowed; and these were not happy tears. She did not stop until they got to the android camp.

They found several odd-looking humans in the camp, and only realized what they were seeing when one younger man opened his arms and shouted, “Boston.”

A red-headed streak raced into his hug. “Wow.”  Haniashtart raised her eyebrows at such speed, and a few androids looked equally impressed.

“Ibelam?”  Lincoln had to ask.

“I am,” Ibelam said.  “And these swarthy fellows are my associates. Haniashtart is an elect, like Katie, you know.”  The two women nodded to each other.  “Abdanath is my marine, or the equivalent in this age.”  Ibelam pointed to Decker who appeared to be in conversation with one of the android officers.  “Ahumm is my navigator, and knows the stars, though he has never gotten close to one. Gerbaal is my cook.  He can make anything taste almost good.”

“You mean he can make almost anything taste good?” Alexis said.

“I didn’t say that,” Ibelam said, flatly.

“The android people, maybe,” Ahumm said. “I see what you mean about them being people.  But who are these others?  They look like a strange crew.”  He gave Boston a double stare, having seen her run faster than any human ought to run

“Stranger than you know,” Ibelam said, with a grin.  He raised his hand, and the glamours around Boston, the elf, and Sukki, the Gott-Druk fell away.  He lowered his hand, and the glamours of humanity returned.

Artie stood quietly that whole time, her head lowered before the Kairos.  Ibelam obliged her by stepping up and giving her a big hug.  “I have spoken to Anath-Rama.  She is going to help me remove the humanoids from this world. Meanwhile, she says you have kept her very busy.  Tell me about it.”

Artie nodded.  She introduced General Redfern and his first officer, Captain Korman.  She got stools, a couple of chairs, and several big logs for seats, though some, particularly Ibelam’s crew, were happy to sit on the ground.  Then she spoke.

Avalon 6.2 Sudden Encounter, part 4 of 6

Ibelam called his crew to a halt. Something up ahead appeared to be sneaking through the trees.  Haniashtart cautioned him earlier and had her bow ready, with three arrows in her hand. Abdanath clutched his spear, having learned to trust Haniashtart’s intuition.  He tried to look around the trees.  Gerbaal slipped the copper soup-pot on his head, while Ahumm pulled a short sword for one hand and a long knife for the other.  Gerbaal strung his bow.  A good marksman, as the ship’s cook, Gerbaal had a real talent with a knife, but he learned it was best to keep the enemy as far away as possible.

Ibelam patted the sword at his side, but also had his bow out.  “Spread out,” he said.  “But stay close enough to see me.  If they are Anazi or Androids, I will try to talk, so don’t fire.  If they are Humanoids, you can fire when I fire.”

“But you said they look like us,” Abdanath said, trying to understand.  “Are they not people, even if they are not human people?”  He used the phrase Ibelam used often enough.

Ibelam shook his head.  “Maybe if they talk, but I can’t expect that they will. They are flesh eaters, and they don’t care if it is a deer or your flesh.  And they don’t bother to cook their food.”  Ibelam shook his head.  “Mostly, they do not belong here.  This world is supposed to be off limits.  They come here at their own risk.”

“But you will talk to the others.” Abdanath objected.

“Because I believe they will stop long enough to talk.  I do not expect the Humanoid to be interested in talking.  Their way is war and conquest.  We have dealt with humans like that, often enough.”

“But…”  True enough.  Abdanath could not think of a next question.

“Command decision,” Ibelam, the captain said.  That ended the discussion.  His crew spread out, and after a short way, Ibelam cursed, softly.  The men in the forest looked human enough.  They wore well-tanned leather uniforms, looking for all the world like medieval soldiers on the move.  But they carried rifles; no doubt energy weapons of some sort, and that made them especially dangerous to his group of relative primitives.

Ibelam let one arrow fly.  It went through the man’s neck and he fell without crying out.  Haniashtart duplicated his work on another soldier, but Gerbaal’s arrow hit one in the chest, and he did shout, a high pitched, not-quite-human sound.  It did not matter.  Abdanath had to shove his spear into the belly of one, while Ahumm used both blades to practically take another one’s head off.

A humanoid further down the line fired his weapon and struck a tree.  The tree started to smolder around the hole the weapon made.  Someone shouted, and someone squealed high-pitched words. Ibelam guessed the soldiers were to hold their fire in the woods where they risked setting the whole forest on fire. All the same, Ibelam backed his group away, thinking they wandered too far into the line.

Ibelam lifted his head at a sound. He heard rapid-fire from rifles, pistol shot, and at one point, what had to be the thunder of Lockhart’s shotgun. Then he saw streaks of light come from the distance.  He recognized the Anazi weapons, the same he saw used on the blobs in the ancient days.  It looked hardly different from the weapon Artie carried around with her.

“Why have we moved away from the action?” Haniashtart complained.

“You have my permission to shoot any who come this way,” Ibelam said.  She did not look satisfied, but she got up on a boulder in the woods where she could have a better view and shoot at several angles.  Gerbaal and Ahumm, with his own bow ready, slipped behind trees to watch.  Abdanath still clutched his spear, that he yanked from the belly of the Humanoid he killed.

“In case one breaks through the arrow fire,” he said.  He was one big, well-trained warrior who felt reluctant to kill, even alien flesh eaters. Ibelam imagined the humanoid appearance, looking so much like human beings, did not help.

The wind rose.  Fair Wind appeared beside Ibelam and talked to him like an excited child might talk to her favorite uncle.  “The Androids did not get fooled.  They were waiting for them.  Now the Hungdin are trapped on three sides.  I don’t know who the people are on the other side, though.  Their thoughts are clouded to my mind.  It feels strange.”

Ibelam leaned over and kissed her forehead.  “That’s okay. They are friends of mine.”

Fair Wind paused, grinned a big grin, touched the place Ibelam kissed her before she threw her arms around Ibelam for a big hug.  She projected nothing but joy, before she thought again, and backed up.

“But the best part.  The Hungdin are trying to back out of the trap, but the skeletons are there, behind them.  They are still trying to attack Damascus.” She laughed.

“Skeletons?” Ibelam asked.

“Maybe I should not have said that,” Fair Wind looked down.  “The servant of Ashtoreth brought them back to life, but they would not do what he commanded them.  After all these years, they are still stuck on attacking Damascus.”

“Androids?”

Fair Wind stomped her foot.  “Now you are picking on me.”

“Never.  You are much too sweet and lovely for that.  One day, you will be wise and know all things, enough to make your head hurt.  But that doesn’t have to be today.  Today, just be my Fair Wind, and that will be enough.”

“I will,” she nodded and faded from sight.

Abdanath stepped up.  “News?” he asked.  He knew better than to ask who Ibelam talked to.

“Yes.  Good news.  We have androids counterattacking.  Plus, that cracking sound you hear in the distance is friends of mine.”

“You still have friends…Sir…Captain…?” Haniashtart slid off her rock to join the conversation.

“But the bad news is the skeletons are down that way.”

“Skeletons?” Ahumm groused as he walked up. “It figures.”

“They won’t last long against Hungdin energy weapons,” Ibelam admitted.  “But they might take a few with them.  But here is the thing.  They were brought back to life by the servant of our old friend, Ashtoreth.”

“You don’t mean Miss Bull Horns.” Ahumm said, using his hands to show pretend horns growing out of his forehead. Haniashtart and Abdanath nodded. “It figures,” Ahumm repeated. “Why should something be bad when it can be worse?”

“Captain,” Gerbaal joined the group. “Can I take my helmet off?”  He tapped the soup pot gently.

“Haven’t got a helmet,” Abdanath said.

“Near enough, for a cook,” Haniashtart grinned.  Everyone grinned, and paused with the grin still on their faces.

“Stand and identify yourselves.” Someone, a woman spoke from behind the trees.

Everyone dropped the grins, and Gerbaal chose to leave the helmet-pot on his head.

“Ibelam, Captain of the ship, Sinbad’s Folly,” Ibelam spoke up.  “These are members of my crew.  We mean you no harm.  Who am I speaking with?”

One woman and two men stepped out from behind the trees.  They wore simple uniforms and held handguns of a sort.  It took a moment for the crew to realize these were not human people, because these looked even more human than the Humanoid soldiers.  In fact, Ibelam thought the one in front looked remarkably like Alexis.  She spoke.

“We are the people from the stars, brought down to the earth by a great enemy.  We suggest you move out of this area, because a war may happen here, with weapons of such might and power that you cannot imagine.”  She paused to fire at Haniashtart’s boulder.  A big chunk of rock got sliced off with a great Crack! like a lightning strike.  Ibelam’s crew jumped, but the Alexis imitator holstered her weapon.  “It is for your own safety and protection we tell you to move out of the area.”

Ibelam merely smiled.  “You sound like Lockhart, but you look a little like Alexis.  I love the long black hair.”  He watched the androids pause and look at one another.  They knew those names, and even had the images of the travelers programmed into their minds.

“How do you know these people?”

Ibelam still smiled.  He felt for once he did right.  These people, androids though they be, deserved to live as a free people.  “I have known the travelers since they began their journey through time.  I was there when they saved Artie in the ancient days. But, you know this is a Genesis planet. You do not belong here, but neither do the Hungdin, your Humanoid enemies.  I think you better take me to your leader.  I may be able to help without any more people having to die.”

“Who are you?” one of the men asked.

“I am the Kairos, and in this life, a lowly ship’s captain who doesn’t like to see any more killing than absolutely necessary.”

The men and the Alexis-android all gasped after a fashion.  The woman said, “This way.  You will want to speak to General Redfern.”

“Artie has gone to collect the travelers,” one of the men said.

“General Redfern is going to want to speak to you,” the other man said at about the same time.

Abdanath stepped up beside Ibelam, and offered his thought as they walked.  “I know you avoid unnecessary bloodshed wherever possible.  That is why I don’t mind following your orders.”

Haniashtart, walking on his other side, sighed, but agreed.

Ahumm, one step behind, offered his two bits.  “I see what you mean about people, even if they are not human people.”

Gerbaal interrupted.  “What do they eat?”

Avalon 6.2 Sudden Encounter, part 3 of 6

Artie looked at the three-dimensional map that showed every life form for a hundred miles around, but it did not show the Humanoid battleship.

“Lady Artie,” General RFD 3297, Redfern, came into the open tent to report.  “Repairs are nearly complete, but the light-speed generator is fluctuating in the red zone.  We are a long way from home.”

“We have analyzed the Humanoid weaponry,” the general’s adjutant spoke.  “Their technology is no better than our own.  Maybe a little less.  If they had not surprised us from the back of star Beta 1397, we would have probably beaten them…in a fair fight.”

“But nothing stands still,” Artie spoke as much to herself as to her commanders.  “We are few, and becoming fewer.  When home world was lost, we lost the key to life.  We have built some very intelligent and talented robots, but we are becoming fewer.  We have tried to become more organic, to better replicate, but we have failed there, too.  Meanwhile, these organic humanoids may be countless in number, and they do not appear to be stopping.”

“Grandma…” a young, mostly human cyborg came into the tent.  Artie smiled and put her hand gently to the boy’s cheek.  She was more like the boy’s great-great grandmother.  When the Nameless god changed her back from human to android, he neglected to tell her she was pregnant.  He left her internal system intact and she gave birth to a boy; but that happened over four hundred years ago.  Others followed, and there were sons of sons, and daughters, but it happened slowly.  Now, their very existence seemed threatened.  Her androids might become slaves again to these Humanoids unless they found a way to defeat them.  At least her androids cannot make meat for the Humanoid table.

Artie raised her voice.  “I wish my mom and dad were here.  But at the very least, this is a genesis planet.  It is off limits to all space faring races.  We have no business being here, but neither do the Hungdin.  I have prayed.  I do not believe the gods will permit us to interfere with the normal development of this world.  I have prayed that the Kairos may come.  She, or he may know what to do.”

###

The travelers sat around the fire, tried to get comfortable, and tried not to make Muhamed feel like the center of attention.  They also tried not to think about the space ship they all saw, and who it might belong to. Katie bagged a wild goat, so they had plenty to eat.  Alexis complained about not finding anything more than a few rough greens.  They tasted bitter, even when boiled and spiced.

“Atkins,” Alexis turned up her nose and said no more.

Lincoln got out the database and read for the others.  He had to judge what might not be wise to say in front of Muhamed, but he figured Muhamed, as a local, would not understand half of what he talked about.  In that respect, he shared more liberally than he might have, otherwise.

“The Hungdin, a noble house of the Humanoid empire.  From what I can gather, when the Anazi and Androids fought it out, and the Anazi home world got destroyed, that left a great void in the control of the space ways. The Humanoids came from a planet on the edge of Anazi space, so thy were not ruined and turned to Anazi slaves yet. They garnered much of the Anazi technology, though, and pushed out from their home into the collapsed Anazi space. After roughly three hundred years of struggle with a variety of species, they came out, more or less, at the top of the heap.”

“So, who are they?” Lockhart asked.

“Humanoid.  They look like us, mostly.  Theirs is a medieval society.  Some planets and systems are ruled by a committee of the rich, mostly merchant class.  Most systems are ruled by the noble houses, like the Hungdin.  The have an emperor, though most of the nobility have their own armies.  When they expand their empire, the emperor usually steps in and pays off the noble houses for use of their armies, but takes the bulk of the territory for the crown. I guess that is how you get some planetary systems run by committee.”

“But what are they like,” Katie wondered. “I mean apart from the fact that they look sort of like us.”

Lincoln nodded and frowned as he told them.  “They have very sharp teeth and an internal system that appears able to digest anything that is carbon-based organic.  They do make and use slaves of some species.  They probably learned that from the Anazi.  But some species become lunch.”

Decker spoke plainly.  “Given the level of scientific and technological advancement on Earth at present, I would say we are standing on a lunch planet.”

“They don’t cook their food, either,” Lincoln added.  “They rip and chew.  They must have strong jaws.”

“As do we,” Elder Stow pointed to Sukki’s mouth, as Sukki nodded.  “Bet we have mostly molars, good for fruit and vegetables.  We are not big meat eaters, as you know.”

“Okay,” Lincoln took back their attention.  “But here is the thing.  The Humanoid show up chasing an old Anazi-Android ship.”

“Artie?”  Katie spoke right up and put a hand on Lockhart’s arm, and he nodded. Artie, along with the Egyptian goddess Sekhmet, became like practice daughters for the couple, before they married. The goddess Amphitrite, that is the Kairos, even made Artie human for a time.  On the day Katie and Lockhart married, however, Artie returned to her Android self and led her Android people into space to find a world they could make into their home.  “Could Artie be here?”

Lincoln shrugged.  “She is mentioned in the database, but I will have to read more before I can say for sure.  It may just be her people who talk about her.”

“She might not still be alive after all this time,” Lockhart said in as comforting a voice as he could muster. “For us it has been four or five months, about eight time zones.  For her it has been four or five hundred years.”

“I can hope,” Katie said, and Alexis had the good sense to change the subject.  She checked Muhamed’s arm where he had been wounded.

“So, tell me,” she said to him.  “How did you come to be all alone and chased by skeletons, no less.”

“Ahh…”  Muhamed drew out the sound as he settled his mind.  He spent that whole time, up until then, thinking through exactly what lies he would tell.  He knew he needed to stick as close to the truth as possible, to make it believable, while still throwing them off the trail.  People turned to him to listen.

“I am a simple chemist from Medina. It is a small town in the Araba that you have probably never heard of.  I came with a caravan in search of frankincense and myrrh and other such things to make my medicines.  We camped on a field some distance from here, but we did not know it was the site of an ancient battle.  Suddenly, in the morning light, the ancient army, mostly skeletons such as you saw, came to life and began to kill my guides and the others.  We scattered.  I ran back the way we came, and against all hope, I cried for help. Then you came to me, and saved me and healed me.  Allah…and the gods be praised.  I am only sorry I have only my person, and none of my things to thank you properly. I had gold and silver, and I would give it all to you in thanksgiving.”

“Not necessary,” Alexis assured him. “Is there a town or city on the way where we can bring him?” she asked, with a look at Boston.

“Yes,” Boston said, but she looked at Katie and Decker.  Those three went hunting together and took time to discuss their uneasy feelings. Boston’s elf senses told her Muhamed did not exactly tell the whole truth, but she felt uncertain what to ask.  She checked with her eyes.  Apparently, Decker and Katie did not buy the story either.

Lincoln spoke up.  “The necromancer,” he said.  “He must have passed through the field just before the caravan settled in for the night.”

“Or he came in the night,” Lockhart suggested.

“Or he was a member of the caravan,” Elder Stow offered an alternative.

“I do not know if any of the others survived,” Muhamed said, and appeared to grow introspective.  Internally, he adjusted his lies to point a finger at the rude fat man that came across him on the trail and refused to allow him to travel with the caravan unless he got paid in gold.  Muhamed hoped the fat man got eaten by the skeletons.  Then he wondered again why the bones were so hard to control.  He decided the bones needed more flesh on them for him to really control them.  He would escape and move into the future through the time gate, and try again.

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MONDAY

Ibelam’s crew and the travelers run into Humanoids and Androids at war, and Muhamed escapes.

Until next time, Happy Reading

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