The travelers were escorted to the center of the ten ships where there was an open space for them to pitch their tents and build a campfire. Gogo made it clear they were to stay there for the night. Obviously the space had been used before. There were signs where the grass had been pressed by sleepers and signs of campfires. It was probably where Qito stayed.
By the time they settled in, word had gone around among the Agdaline about who they were and the help they gave in defeating the Balok on the ground. Curiously, they saw no young Agdaline in contrast to the Stick People they once met. It seemed to them that the children, if any, were being kept back, and the flying serpents were not much in evidence, either. At least none approached the travelers.
Several adults wandered by and asked innocuous questions now and then. The travelers did their best to affirm friendship with the Agdaline people and assure them that they were no threat. When Gogo finally returned, they had questions.
“We are not the most trusting people,” Gogo admitted. “Especially when it comes to the intentions of primitives like yourselves.”
“Primitives?” Katie Harper jumped on the word.
Gogo looked momentarily stunned by the strength of her reaction. Humannss,” he said in Qito’s language. “I did forget you are from the future. You speak Agdaline words and are friends with the female of the gods.”
“Qito,” Lockhart spoke softly to Katie who nodded.
“Look, why are we here?” Lincoln interrupted. “Alexis has clearly moved on from this place.”
“We are here to help,” Boston said.
“I don’t know if we are allowed to help,” Roland countered, but before they could argue about it, they were interrupted by the sound of Captain Decker clicking the scope to his rifle. He looked up. He had everyone’s attention.
“They are coming,” he said. “Just trust me.” Katie Harper said nothing. She picked up her rifle and Lockhart picked up his shotgun.
“Who is coming?” Lincoln asked.
“Air support,” Captain Decker answered.
“But we wiped out the ground troops,” Katie objected. “There is nothing left to support.”
“All the same,” Captain Decker said as he raised his rife to his eye.
“What is this?” Gogo looked confused.
“Warn your people,” Lockhart told him. “The Balok are coming by air.” Gogo paused for only a moment before he shrieked and waddled off as quickly as the heavier earth gravity allowed. It was seconds before the first craft topped the ridge. It was a single-snake craft that opened fire on the Agdaline ships which were woefully unprepared. It was followed by five other single-snake ships, and three bigger craft that looked like the three-snake ships the travelers had seen before.
When the first craft raced over their heads, it fired intermittently as its guns allowed, Captain Decker wheeled and returned fire. He must have hit something as the craft immediately let out a stream of black smoke and spun out of control. It crashed, became a ball of flame and just missed an Agdaline ship. “Go for the rear vents,” the Captain said.
“Hit the muffler,” Lockhart nodded as he pulled his pistol. The shotgun was useless at that range and he was much more accurate with the handgun thanks to his years on that Michigan police force, though at their speed, he doubted he would hit anything.
It appeared that three of the Agdaline ships had an energy screen up and working. When the Balok weapons hit, the screen became visible as it flared yellow, orange and then red, but it held. The other seven ships were open game, however, and they quickly took a beating.
The travelers managed to bring down two more of the small ships, but appeared to have no effect on the bigger, three-snake fighters. They could not find a vulnerable spot until Lockhart looked at Katie Harper and said, “Go for the eyes.”
There was a small slit of what looked like glass on top at the front and it became visible whenever a ship dove to attack. The big ships were currently at various points of recovery, but when the first straightened out and began a new dive, both Captain Decker and Lieutenant Harper brought their weapons to bear. No one heard or saw any glass break, but the ship never pulled up from the dive. It crashed into an Agdaline ship and became a much bigger ball of flame. Everyone had to duck.
One of the Balok three-snake fighters wheeled around and pinpointed their location. It dove straight for them. Weapons fired from both sides before the people on the ground had to duck. There was an explosion. People held on. A couple of them were tossed. As the three-snake fighter rose up again, the Agdaline weapons at last came on line. First one ship and then several others fired, and with surprising accuracy they made short work of the remaining Balok fighters.
“They must have their main guns tied to their computers,” Boston said, but Roland hushed her. Lockhart was by Katie Harper who was badly stunned, but otherwise unhurt. Lincoln scooted over next to Captain Decker who did not fare nearly so well. All he could do was swear, but the others ignored him. They did what they could for his wounds, but suspected the real damage was internal and they could do nothing for that. He passed out.
Somehow, the Agdaline saw the trouble and several came with Gogo. They brought a box on wheels. It was hard getting the unconscious Captain into that small space, but once they did, the Agdaline activated the machine.
“It is a sleep chamber,” Gogo explained. “We rest in these through the long dark night in the sky while we wind our way among the stars. He will be comfortable and his condition will not become worse as long as he sleeps. Sadly we know little of your insides or how you may be made. But we will take him to the female of the gods. It may be she can heal him.” The others nodded, but even as they looked up they saw Qito, Tec’huanu and several others coming down the hill. They had seen the Balok pass over their village and came running.
Qito shook her head when she arrived and got the news. “There is nothing I can do right now. The gods and spirits of this new world have a geis on me that prevents me from taking extraordinary actions. They call it a test. I call it unfair, but it is what it is. Meanwhile, they have informed me that you must move on. I will see that the Captain does not end up in space with the Agdaline. I will keep him here and I suppose he will have to move into the future the slow way until I can come and heal him properly.”
“But Qito –“ Boston started to object.
“No. The powers in this world are right about one thing. This is my world and my time and my problem, not yours. There is nothing we can do for Captain Decker right now except keep him alive. And there is nothing you can do about this trouble with the Balok. Meanwhile, you must go, and clearly you cannot take Captain Decker with you at present,”
“But—“ Katie wanted to object.
“No. You need to understand you will not be able to solve every situation as you travel through time. Sometimes there will be things that I will just have to deal with after you have gone. Your main job is to get back to the twenty-first century in one piece. These Balok will not follow you through the time gate so they are not your concern. Please, Lockhart.”
Lockhart paused to look at the devastation to the Agdaline ships. He looked at Gogo and the others who had remained. He looked at Qito and Tec’huanu, and finally at the sleep chamber that looked so much like a coffin for Captain Decker. Then he spoke.
“I more or less promised the Captain that we would move on when it was time, no questions asked.” He looked at Lincoln. “Besides, our chief job right now is to rescue Alexis, again. We will go in the morning. We will keep Decker’s horse for him if we should ever see him again. No arguments.” No one argued.
Qito’s people raised the sleep chamber as they had the great stones of the ruined temple on the ridge. They did not touch it, but by placing their hands near it lifted a foot off the ground all by itself. They walked it back to the village and Qito and Tec’huanu followed.
The travelers went the next day through the hills and dips in the Andes and came at last to the next time gate about sundown. Boston, Katie, Roland and Lockhart all took a long look back, though they were well out of sight of everything they left behind.
“Now we are five,” Lincoln said.
“Until we find Alexis and her father,” Lockhart countered and Lincoln nodded.
“Until we find Alexis.”