After 1820 BC, Babylon of Hammurabi, Kairos 57: Ishtara, Reflection of Ishtar.
Lockhart and Elder Stow went east along the river to try and find a place to cross the deep water. Decker and Lincoln went west. Mingus took Boston into the woods. Mingus felt there was so much he had to teach the girl about being an elf, and the time was short. He had a bad feeling about the days ahead.
Alexis stayed in the camp to tend the fire and watch the horses and the tents. She was not sure why she ended up the chief cook for the group, but as she thought about it, she decided Lincoln and Lockhart were the next best options. Katie was learning. Boston was improving. That was a kind thought. Major Decker could cook over an open flame, but Alexis imagined he killed his taste buds at some point early in his military career. He could make anything edible, and eat it, but god only knew what it would taste like. They never asked Elder Stow to cook. To be honest, Father Mingus was probably the next best cook, but he was stuck in the eighteenth century in some ways. That was the century when Alexis was born, and as head of the Avalon history department, he seemed to have gotten stuck there. He still thought of cooking as women’s work, and there was no reaching him.
Katie also stayed in the camp, to guard the camp. Captain Katherine Harper worked a Pentagon desk through graduate school and the first couple of years after getting her doctorate in ancient and medieval history and technology. That might sound like an odd job for a marine, to study ancient and medieval things, but people dug up things all the time, archeologists and amateurs, and the Pentagon needed an expert to know, bluntly, what was human and what was not. Alexis supposed it was inevitable that Katie get tangled up with the so-called men in black; not that anyone imagined she would fall in love with Lockhart, the associate director of the men in black.
Alexis looked up to the top of the boulder where Katie sat looking out on the open fields, the woods at her back. She looked mostly at the river where the water meandered along, like her thoughts. Alexis knew what Katie was thinking about. She still had thoughts like that about Lincoln from time to time, and she and Benjamin had been married for more than forty years. They had children and grandchildren. When they ended up back at the beginning of time, they needed to go home the slow way—through the time gates. Fortunately, the Kairos gave each of them a slice of the apple of youth, and made them young again—them and Lockhart. Three old people wandering through time would have never survived. Now, being young again, Alexis was thinking about having another baby. That would have to wait until they got home in a couple of years. Alexis supposed she might be thirty by then, but that was not too old.
Alexis looked up at Katie again. Katie was twenty-eight, and now Lockhart was an early thirty-something. They made a wonderful couple, but one that never would have happened if Lockhart stayed sixty-eight. Alexis wondered if the Kairos knew in advance what would happen. She shrugged. She gave up being an elf and became human when she married Benjamin, but she still respected the Kairos more than most mortals. As an elf, the Kairos had been her god—not a God like God in Heaven, but near enough for all practical purposes. She still remembered those feelings, and all of the lifetimes of the Kairos she had met thus far gave her no reason to believe those feelings were wrong. Even now, she felt the Kairos was watching over her, and all of the travelers, even if the Kairos from her day had fallen into the chaos of the Second Heavens, before history began, and was at least temporarily lost.
“So we get to go home the hard way,” Alexis said out loud. “At least until the Kairos makes it back to Avalon proper.”
Alexis looked again at Katie. Katie was an elect—a one in a million warrior woman, designed by the gods of old to protect and defend the home, family, and tribe when the men went off to hunt or to war. She was stronger, faster, and a better fighter than most men. She loved the adventure of it all, and wanted to be out there with the others, on the front line, as Decker would say, but after some deep soul searching, Katie concluded that her literal ‘god given’ job was to defend the camp. So she sat on the rock, her marine rifle cradled in her lap, and she no doubt thought about Lockhart, and maybe children.
Alexis paused as she looked up at the sound. Katie stood and grabbed her binoculars. Something shot across the sky. There were several somethings. Katie looked fascinated, but Alexis worked back home for the so-called Men in Black organization. Alien intrusion was nothing new in her world. Sad, though, to have lost the innocent wonder of it all.
Alexis questioned what was taking the men so long. She shrugged. She imagined they would come racing back as soon as they saw the activity in the sky. She shrugged again. Men take forever to do anything. She picked up a piece of wood to put on the fire, and screamed.
Katie turned and saw two Alexises in the camp. She raised her rifle. She felt the ghoul’s presence in her mind, but could not tell which Alexis was the real Alexis. She dared not pull the trigger.
Alexis screamed again, but the ghoul opened its mouth so the scream sounded like it came from the ghoul. Alexis stepped back, wondering why the ghoul did not attack. She tripped over a rock. She fell hard on her side and cut her hands even as she saw the lion. It had waited, uncertain whether to attack the ghoul or the human. When Alexis fell, it made up its mind.
Katie fired her rife. She figured the lion might be some ghoul trick, like an illusion, but she could not take the chance. The ghoul Alexis turned toward the woods even as Mingus and Boston came running. Boston had her wand out and gave the escaping ghoul a hot butt. Mingus fired something more like lightning at the lion, which prevented the beast from seriously raking its claw across Alexis’ shoulder. She got a bad scratch, but then Katie fired a series of shots on automatic, and the lion collapsed for good.
Mingus went straight to Alexis. He gently helped her to get free of the rocks. She had one hand on her bleeding shoulder, and the other elbow against her ribs where she imagined at least one was cracked. Mingus made her sit on a rock and he carefully tended her wounds while Katie and Boston joined them.
“I don’t have my Beretta,” Boston reminded them. “I would have shot the ghoul, but I lost my belt with my big honking knife and my handgun. Sorry.”
“I saw two Alesixes,” Katie confessed. “I didn’t know which was the real one or I would have shot the ghoul.”
“No, ladies. It was my fault,” Mingus interrupted. “I never should have taken young Boston from the camp. There is a reason why we have three on watch all through the night. A ghoul can affect only one mind at a time. We should have stayed in the camp; the four of us together.”
“Father?” Alexis noticed some tears in his eyes. Alexis knew she was a natural healer. Whatever was wrong with her, she would heal fast, like an elect; like Katie. In the meanwhile, it certainly hurt enough.
Mingus finished bandaging her shoulder and shook his head as he spoke. “The reason I kidnapped you, twice, was to keep you safe. A daughter should not die before her father.”
“Lion steaks tonight,” Alexis said, and winced because of the pain in her ribs. Boston reached out to her, but there was not much anyone could do. Katie stirred the fire and Alexis finished her thought. “Katie. You and Boston will have to cook tonight.”
“I’ll cook it,” Mingus said, sharply. “Lion is tough and full of gristle. You have to know how to fix it to make it edible.
Katie went back up on her lookout. Boston stayed with Alexis. Lockhart and Elder Stow rode in after a few minutes.
“I heard gunfire,” Lockhart raised his voice, and they told him what happened.
“I burned the ghoul’s butt, but that was it,” Boston said in a voice somewhere between pride and an apology.
“I did not dare shoot. It looked like Alexis,” Katie did apologize.
Lockhart gave her a quick peck on the lips. “You did the right thing.”
Decker and Lincoln came in an hour later. “What happened?” Decker asked.
“Benjamin,” Alexis called him, and he leapt down from his horse and ran to her.