“Ambush,” Decker pulled his rifle as Roland came back from the front and Elder Stow came in from the other side.
“How do you know?” Lockhart asked, while he pulled the shotgun and Katie got her own rifle.
Decker looked at Nuwa. “One of your guys came up and said, “hoop, hoop,” and pointed.”
“Any Pendratti?” Nuwa asked. Decker shook his head.
“Not that I saw.”
“Options?” Lockhart looked at the two marines, but Elder Stow spoke first.
“I could set a screen to the side that arrows and such cannot penetrate, that is, if we can ride past them.”
“Can you make it one sided so we can shoot them?” Decker asked. Elder Stow nodded, and Decker explained. “We need to hurt them so they don’t try again, further down the road.”
When the were ready, they did not move very far before the arrow barrage came from the rocks. The arrows all fell short when they hit Elder Stow’s screen. Decker and Katie returned fire, but Katie stopped after a moment. Lockhart had to tell Decker to stop and follow, since he was falling behind. Elder Stow left a parting shot with his sonic device. He loosened some rocks overhead and started a bit of an avalanche. He said something to the group about it.
“It was a good idea when they tried it.”
Nuwa got down from behind Katie once the were in the clear. Katie and Boston walked their horses, with Lockhart near. Roland went back out to the point and Decker and Eder Stow went again to the wings. Lincoln and Alexis appeared to take up where the left off the day before. No one knew what the were talking about, but it felt like a private conversation.
Boston started the questions this time. “So who are these Qinjong?”
“Western people. The live in the Qinghai and the Kunlun Mountains around the headwaters of the He, and they are not Longshan people. They were a quiet, peaceful people all my life until recently. If they were migrating, moving in, becoming part of the people, that would be one thing, but I know of no reason, drought or pestilence or disease or anything to make them change their ways or move out of their place. But in these last few years they have come into our land like a bunch of Saxon raiders, burning whole villages and carting people off as slaves. You don’t understand. They are hunters and gatherers. They have no use for slaves. That is just another mouth to feed. So I thought to find out where the people are going, and I actually did check the mountains first. That is where I found Tien. And now I am checking the south side, on the edge of Tibet.”
“Not much room here, all things considered. We cross the highland peaks to our right and we end up in the Tarim basin, where the desert is. Go far enough to our left and we run into the Himalayan Mountains.”
“What will you do when you find the Pendratti?” Boston asked.
“I can’t say,” Nuwa answered. “You never know who might be listening in.”
That evening, as people relaxed around the fire, Nuwa thought to talk to the couples present. Lockhart was telling old jokes, and Katie was laughing at them like they were brand new. Nuwa thought there was something to be said for the generation gap between those two, but she knew they were simmering and hardly cooked at all, so she moved to the old couple. Alexis and Lincoln were married longer than their present ages. After nibbling on the apple of life, Lincoln turned twenty-nine or so. Alexis could not be older than twenty-five.
“We’ve been married thirty-five years,” Alexis said. “I know it is hard to think this way, especially for Benjamin, but I would like to have another baby.”
“Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad,” Lincoln said, softly, and Nuwa knew she had to intervene.
“I hope you can hold off until you get home,” she said. “Now is not the time to be having a baby. Alexis, you will never make it through your last trimester the way you are moving through time, not if you face any trouble, and more importantly, when the baby is born, it will be time locked in that place. You won’t be able to bring it into the future with you.”
Alexis and Lincoln looked at each other like this was something they never considered. then they all looked up at the sound of a distant howl. Lincoln looked for the moon, but Alexis did not doubt it was their werewolf, the one Katie called Bob.
“The sound might travel for miles in this scrub and rocky land,” Lincoln suggested.
“It might,” Nuwa said, and she excused herself to talk to the young lovers.
Roland and Boston were being very quiet. “I thought you two would have walked side by side these last couple of days. What gives?” Nuwa took a seat by the fire where she could eye the both of them
“We’ve been arguing,” Boston admitted. Nuwa said nothing, so Boston looked at Roland and he explained.
“I am now one hundred and twenty-seven years old, if estimates are correct on how long we have been traveling in the time zones, and I have spent months in the company of humans—ordinary humans, an unheard of thing for an elf. What is more, I have had a chance to observe humans and human ways up close, even in these days long before my time, and I have come to appreciate how complex and diverse the human—the homo sapiens race really is, and how fragile it is in the face of a hostile universe. What is more, I am in love with a human and I can’t seem to help it, great sin though it is for my kind.”
“I am ready to become an elf, if you can do that,” Boston interrupted.
“No,” Roland started to protest, but paused when Nuwa held up her hand.
“Very elfishly spoken,” Nuwa said with a smile for Boston. “To interrupt a Bean in the midst of a heart-felt confession.” Nuwa grinned, and Boston grinned with her. “But it is never wrong to be content with who you are. Much of the evil and confusion in the human race is due to people who are unwilling to be who they were born to be.”
“My parents and brothers already think I’m an elf, or a fairy, but I never had a desire to fly. Even Alexis says I have more elf in me than she has.”
Nuwa shook her head. “That is not how you were born.”
“No. I am prepared to become human, and work for Lockhart and the Men in Black,” Roland responded, mostly to Boston. “And no matter how long or short my life, I don’t mind as long as I get to live it with you.” Boston just shook her head and gave Roland an elf grin.
“I’m not going to be responsible for killing your father,” Boston said. “I like him.”
Nuwa held her hand up again to speak. “I accept your application to work for the Men in Black. Report to Lockhart in the morning.” Roland smiled, because he thought she was going to grant his request and make him human. “And Boston, The Almighty, my God will never abandon you, but you are asking for another layer in between your life and Heaven. Are you prepared to have an ordinary human being as your goddess, or god as the case may be, to love you and care about you, and in my own stumbling, fallible human way, to watch over you and direct your steps. You know, I am not Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. I am not always in a good mood.”
Boston nodded. “But I have never met you in any life where I was not drawn to you, and cared about you, and anyway, you are Lockhart’s boss, so I figure most of it won’t change. As for heaven, I trust in the Lord, and I trust in you too, already, so again, I don’t see much changing. And sometimes you scare me already, so that probably won’t change.”
“Everything will be different,” Roland objected. “You have no idea.”
“I’m the one to change. I know what I am getting into.”
“You don’t. You can’t” Alexis interrupted her brother. “You have no idea, either one of you.”
Boston and Roland heard, but ran out of things to say, so they stared at Nuwa to make a decision. Nuwa simply stared back before she decided something. “Sleep on it,” she said. “Things may clear up in the morning. Wait until daylight.” She rolled over to sleep, and said nothing more.