Lockhart yelled as soon as he got close enough. “Marzalotipan.” Katie glanced at him. She had her rifle out. Men were standing around the ramp, and they looked like soldiers, not a casual hunting party. They were eyeing the merchandise with some trepidation, except the big man who was talking to the birdman.
“Marzalotipn,” Lockhart yelled again, and the birdman turned to stare as Lockhart dismounted and grabbed his shotgun. Katie got down and told the others not to crowd in. She figured at least Decker would put the big human in his sights.
Lockhart stopped short. The bird had wing-like arms that ended in some sort of hands, feathers over much of its body, a beak-like nose and mouth, and sharp eyes that did not appear to miss much. Lockhart could not tell the difference based on his past encounters, but this appeared to be a bird-woman, or it sounded like one in the translator. The other two bird people looked younger, and he guessed they were male.
“Your people have been told that Earth is off limits for trade,” Lockhart said as he walked up and tried to strike a pose that projected readiness, but remained non-threatening.
“Why are you here?” Katie asked.
“A sad tale.” The Martzalotipan shed some tears. “Our home world has been overrun. So few have escaped. I, Noodlgluk, and my sons Screek and Shloop. Shloop’s mate, Clack-Clack is inside, deeply sorrowing.” The translator could only accommodate so much, but Katie and Lockhart got the gist of it, as the others moved up.
“Anazi?” Katie asked, kindly.
“Anazzizi,” Noodlgluk nodded.
“The Anazi sound like they have serious OCD issues. I’m guessing they have no tolerance for a bunch of free birds flying around the galaxy, arming whoever will pay them a good price.”
Lockhart picked up on Katie’s attitude. “I am sorry to hear about your world,” he said. “But this world is still off limits.”
“It is a sanctuary world. The Anazzi-azi cannot come here.”
“True,” Lockhart said, as he looked at the human who appeared to be following the conversation with great interest. “But you cannot trade here,” Lockhart got to the point. “Your technologically advanced weapons systems do not belong in the hands of these people. These people will learn to build their own systems soon enough.”
“But we trade only for land so we may have a place to live.”
Katie responded to the grin. “I take it you claim this land.”
The man answered. “From here, south along both sides of the great river to the Sea of Salt is Jebusite land. My land. These talking birds have shown me some interesting things. I might be willing to trade some land for some of what I have seen.”
“It doesn’t work that way,” Katie said to the man and to the bird. “Reality is larger and more complicated than you think.”
Lockhart spoke to Noodlgluk. “No weapons of any kind, or even something that might be turned into a weapon.”
One of the bird sons stepped up, clicked off the translator, and said something to Noodlgluk. It was hard to follow, but clearly the Marzalotipan did not know that the travelers had been gifted to understand and be understood, no matter what. Lockhart contradicted the son.
“I would say you do have to listen to me,” he said. It came out in English, which even he was not expecting, but apparently the Marzalotipan understood perfectly what he was saying. “If you check your historical records concerning this world, you will find reference to us, no doubt hundreds of years ago. Now, we will take your concern to the Kairos, which is a name that should also be in your records. The Kairos will decide what you must do, and that decision will be without debate.”
Noodlgluk turned her translator back on. “And why should the Kairos decide what we can and cannot do?”
Lockhart found his words reverted to the local tongue. The Jebusite would understand them. “Check your records for the Kairos and then ask your questions. Boston, how far from the Kairos are we, travel time.”
“About two days, if we push it. Eighty or ninety miles. We have a couple of hours of daylight, then all day tomorrow and the next day and we should get there in the evening, or the following morning,” she said.
“We might need to camp and take the morning to finish the trip,” Lincoln suggested. He was consulting the database.
“It is my land,” the man protested, and his dozen soldiers moved a bit closer with their big spears on hearing his agitation. “Who is this Kairos and why should he decide?”
“Yadinel…” Lincoln only got out the name and the man’s agitation turned to violence. Lucky for Lincoln, Katie caught the fist and threw the man back to the ground. The man did not expect that.
“Don’t do something stupid,” Lockhart said, sharply.
“I would hate to have to kill you,” Decker added, his rifle ready.
“We have only just met,” Katie said and held out her hand to help the man back up. “Do you have a name?”
“Mebdred,” the man said, as he refused the hand and got up on his own. “Chief of the Jebusite people.”
“Chief Mebdred,” Lockhart said. “There will be no trade until the Kairos decides what is to be done about these refugees. If they stay, they may be allowed to trade for land at that point, but nothing before.” He turned to Noodlgluk. “Is that clear?”
Noodlgluk nodded, but who knew what her word was worth. In the past, the travelers found the Marzolatipan quick to forget the rules and justify doing what they wanted, rules or no rules.
“You could just tell them to pack up and leave,” Mingus suggested.
“I can’t,” Lockhart admitted. “It sounds like they have nowhere else to go, but I am not authorized to allow them to stay.” He mounted and so did Katie.
“I wonder if they have any more of that Dilodian silk,” Alexis said, as they rode quickly south. Lockhart pushed the group and the horses almost until dark. Then he had Katie and Decker pick a campsite they could defend.
“You don’t think Mebdred will follow us, do you?” Boston asked.
“That is exactly what I think, and I bet I am not the only one,” Lockhart answered.
Sure enough, about an hour before dawn, Mebdred and his dozen men showed up. Elder Stow set his scanner when he went on watch in the wee hours, and it went off when people got close.
“Nice alarm clock,” Decker groused, and looked over the hedge with his night goggles, to see how far away the men might be.
“That’s all right,” Lockhart said. “I figured we would leave as soon as Mebdred showed up, assuming he was coming.” They skipped breakfast on the promise of a fine lunch, saddled up and headed south along the Jordan River.
Lunch was the inevitable deer, taken from a herd that got between them and the river. Alexis complained about not having time to go fishing for something different in their diet. Of course, a whole deer was far more than they could eat, and they had no time to smoke it or prep it for travel. Lincoln suggested leaving the rest for Mebdred and his band of merry men, so they did, and moved well down the river in the early afternoon.
“We didn’t get as far as I thought we would,” Boston said as they camped for the night. “Trailblazing always takes longer than I think.”
“That’s okay,” Lockhart told her. “I think we have moved out of Mebdred’s range.” He looked at Lincoln and Lincoln nodded.
They left early the next day just to be safe, and pushed south again, keeping the river to their left hand side. By early-afternoon, Boston moved them away from the river and toward the southwest. It was not long before they saw a familiar sight. Jericho rose up far off to their left. Boston suggested they go around it this time.
“Why?” Lincoln asked. “I have had dreams about Jericho, and wondered how it must have changed since we were here.” Alexis agreed with her husband.
“Sorry,” Katie said. “The Jebusites may have overrun the city, and going in might put us in Mebdred’s hands. Best avoided.”
After that, they turned almost due west and found a place among some rocks where they could shelter for the night.
“We are still ten miles out from where we should find the Kairos,” Boston said.
“I’m no help.” Katie said, looking at her own amulet. “This prototype only shows the line between the two gates when we first enter the time zone. I can extrapolate where the Kairos must be in the middle of the line, but since we have shifted significantly off the original line, my line has shifted too, to compensate.” She looked up. “I can take us from where we are to the next time gate, but where the Kairos might be, I could not say.”
“It’s all right,” Lockhart assured her. “I thought it best to follow the river as long as practical, and cut through the hills around Jericho. It was like two sides of a triangle, but faster overall since we avoided having to go over a few mountains.”
“The detectors are set,” Elder Stow reported, and people settled in for the night and some quiet conversation.
Katie spoke to Lockhart. “We have ridden pretty hard these last two days. I hope we can give the horses a rest when we find the Kairos.” Lockhart nodded.
Decker spoke to Lincoln. “It seems to me the time gates are getting farther apart as we move forward in time. I remember the two gates around the Tower of Babel were not more than about thirty miles apart. Here, they have to be at least two hundred miles apart.”
Lincoln responded. “I’m guessing as the world becomes more complex, the effective reach and contact range of the Kairos has expanded. It will probably expand some more when chariots and horses become more common, but not by much, and it will probably hover around the same size until the other side of the middle ages.”
Decker paused to consider before he agreed. “What I know is in the beginning it took three to four days walking to make it from one gate to the next. Now it can take three to four days ride just to get to the center. That would be six to eight days ride between gates.”
Boston talked to Alexis about Father Mingus. “I still can’t get him to say hardly anything at all.” She wanted to cry.
“Alexis,” Boston sounded like she was scolding the woman. Then she sounded like she wanted to ask something serious. “Alexis?”
“What,” Alexis had to prompt.
“Don’t be mad at me. You know it isn’t my fault, the way he was treating me. I was grateful. There is so much to learn about being an elf that I never knew. I didn’t mean to cause any trouble between you and your father.”
Alexis smiled for her. “Don’t worry.” Alexis gave Boston’s hand a motherly pat. “I don’t blame you. It isn’t your fault. You and I can still be best friends.” Alexis changed her mind and reached out to hug Boston. Boston hugged her back and then found some tears.