When the boys awoke, they huddled around the fire and ate what was offered. Their eyes wide to take in the strangers in daylight. They said nothing, but Ramina was there with Boston, Katie Harper and the two fairies and they were using up all the words in any case. When Duba woke, the first thing he saw was the fairies and he screamed. When he saw Mingus and Roland right behind him, he stepped back and quickly let his fingers draw something like signs or symbols in the air. Mingus surprised his son terribly, and shocked everyone else except Pan. He jumped to his feet.
“Not the Praeger Defense,” Mingus shouted. “My heart!” He clutched his chest and fell to his knees before he fell to his side with his eyes closed.
Everyone was quiet except Duba. “What? I didn’t mean it.” He stepped up close. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.”
Mingus opened one eye and grinned at the boy. “Well, as long as you didn’t mean it I suppose no harm done.” He sprang to his feet. “So are we ready to go yet?”
“Time to move out,” Captain Decker agreed, and Lockhart made no objection. Only Lincoln spoke.
Once they arrived and found a place from which they could overlook the Shemashi camp, it did not take long to make an assessment.
“They are all bunched up around a central fire,” Lincoln borrowed the binoculars.
Lieutenant Harper looked through her own. “I make it about forty people altogether, plus children,” she said.
“About two hours before sundown. Time to go.” Captain Decker spoke as he cocked his rifle.
“No!” Lincoln was a bit loud.
“This is covert,” Pan said.
“But you said they would reset, I figure like a computer program after we’ve gone, or after you’ve gone. But if she is injured, she stays injured.”
Mingus put his hand on the man’s gun. “And that is why we don’t go with guns blasting. You don’t think I am going to take a chance on her getting struck by a stray bullet.”
Captain Decker yanked his rifle barrel free of the elf’s hand and frowned, but said no more.
“I’m not so sure about the reset,” Pan said. “I mean I don’t think it will work like that kind of reset.”
“What?” Captain Decker and Boston both reacted, and Lockhart made everyone pull back into the forest so Pan could explain.
“My Storyteller, Glen is missing. He isn’t dead or Jennifer would be in the womb, but I can’t reach him. Everything back home is confused, poor Alice.”
“So which is it? The Heart of Time resets things or doesn’t it?” Lincoln asked.
Lieutenant Harper thought out loud. “I think reset might mean the time gates jump back to the beginning point of that time zone. I don’t think the things inside the zone reset. I mean, people don’t come back to life.”
Pan shrugged, nodded, and shared his thoughts. “When time began, real time on earth, Alice was drawn back to the beginning of history. Yes, she was in the Second Heavens, but there was a rock and a dome of air, and angel was there along with Chronos. Alice, that is the Kairos and Chronos made the Heart of Time together. That was when history began.”
“The rock where we first landed.” Boston swallowed.
“I, that is Glen did not intend to go that far. The source must have had other ideas.”
Lieutenant Harper was still thinking. “So what you are suggesting is we will be imprinted on the time zone for all time – whatever time we spend there will become part of the historical reality.”
Pan nodded his head. “This seems utterly real to me, but maybe I am not a fair judge.”
“It seems utterly real to me, too,” Lincoln admitted.
“Mingus?” Doctor Procter questioned his friend and Mingus rubbed his chin.
“I don’t know.”
“So, what difference does that make?” Captain Decker did not get it.
“It means if we change something here it might change all of history,” Lockhart answered. “Real history,” he added for emphasis.
“Like the butterfly effect?” Lieutenant Harper lifted her foot to look in case she stepped on something.
“No.” Pan smiled for her. “Reality isn’t that simple or that inflexible. You would have to change something serious and maybe several things to really change history. Of course, I can’t let you do that. I would send you all to present day Avalon right now if I could.”
“What? Why can’t you?”
“Well for one, Alice isn’t finished building it yet. But for two, I told you, Glen is missing and it has repercussions all the way through history. And for three, the only way for you to get back to your own time is by following the time gates.”
“But what happens if we screw up?” Boston was concerned
Pan shook his head. “I don’t know anymore.”
“Only now we have to be real careful not to change history,” Roland said.
“What do you mean you don’t know anymore?” Boston interrupted.
Pan frowned before he turned red and yelled. “I mean in reality I am an eleven-year-old kid and I told you, Glen is missing and Alice and everything is confused. Come on, Ramina. We have to start operation scatterbrains.” He grabbed the girl by the hand and headed toward the boys who were keeping back from the strangers. He huddled them up like a football team, and though Ramina giggled at one point, it otherwise might have been a youth team. They even said, “Break!” when they were done.
The boys scattered and hunkered down to move through the trees like hunters, or maybe sneaky kids. Pan returned to the others. “A bit of temporal borrowing,” he admitted. “Don’t try that at home.”
“What’s the plan?” Lockhart asked, and Captain Decker gave him a curious look, like why was he really asking this kid?
“Wait for the signal, then come in with Lincoln, Mingus and Roland out front. Stop about ten yards off. The rest of you keep back and try not to kill anyone.”
“What about us?” Honeysuckle asked.
“A special assignment,” Pan said in English and watched as several eyes widened at being reminded of their native tongue. Pan started to speak whatever he could think of in English and was only interrupted once.
“What is the signal?” Boston asked.
“You’ll know,” Pan smiled and then continued to imprint English on the fairy minds while they went back to the lookout spot.