Jill and Ethan went to their room for the night looking forward to spending some time together; but as per his growing habit, Ethan had some questions.
“So, how is it that I was listening to you and Ali Pasha talk this afternoon and I actually understood part of the conversation?” he asked. “Come to think of it, yesterday I understood your Swedish comment to Lars about not revealing his gun.”
Jill smiled, but her response surprised Ethan. “Hold me,” she said, and he was happy to do that very thing. Then she kissed him like she was trying to wipe all the questions from his mind in a single blow. She nearly succeeded. He felt the tingling all the way down to his toes. “I’ve been so alone.” She added when they parted.
“You were abandoned?” He spoke tenderly and held her just as tenderly. He remembered what she said before, but he made it a question.
Jill shifted into a comfortable position deep in his arms before she spoke. “Not exactly,” she said. “You know I said we sent thousands of volunteers into the Worlds? Well, I was one of the ones who planned the routes so there would be no overlap.”
“Yes, I meant to ask how thousands of people could cover trillions of Alternate Universes.”
“The worlds. It is sort of alternate universes, parallel earths shorthand.” Ethan merely nodded. He kept forgetting, but he said nothing because Jill seemed to be thinking hard about something.
“The volunteers select a local person and empower them in certain ways so they act as a kind of Guardian for that world.” She sat up. “Please understand. Even if we had millions of volunteers it would not be enough to cover all of the Worlds.”
“No, I get it.”
Jill settled down again. “Anyway, I helped plan the routes and made a few trips to some more difficult situations and locations.”
“I bet the powers on your Earth would love to get their hands on you. Your head must be full of secret information about the resistance.”
“It’s not a resistance.” Jill started to protest. “But, yes it is, sort of,” she admitted before she continued on her own train of thought. “Anyway, I came here, to your Earth I mean, during a war. Unfortunately, my mobile transfer unit was irreparably damaged by a bomb in some way.” She sat up again so she could turn to face him. “To this day, I don’t understand how that could have happened. I have gone over it and over it, but it happened, and though I got out alive, I had to salvage what I could from the unit and self-destruct the rest. The wrist unit contains most of the parts from my original flyer.”
“I see. So you got stuck on my Earth with no way to go home. But when did all this happen?” He thought hard and reviewed recent history, but he could not imagine that she came through somewhere in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Jill hesitated before she spoke. She laid her head snugly against his chest and refused to look him in the eyes again. “London, September ninth, nineteen forty.” Ethan tightened. He could not help it. She kindly waited a minute before she spoke again. “Does it bother you?”
“No.” He said, and as he thought about it a bit, he slowly relaxed. “And I know better than to ask how old you are, but there is one question if you don’t mind. If I am out of line, tell me to shut-up.” He paused, but since she held her tongue, he asked. “Any children?”
“Only one. A son. But he grew up ages ago.”
“Fair enough. I am not sure what kind of a step-dad I would be anyway.” She looked up at him then and he smiled. “But if you are willing, then as long as I am able, you won’t have to be alone.” He meant it. Jill put her head back down and Ethan found out that she was not above a few tears.
In the early hours of the morning, there came a terrible knocking on the front door. People shouted along with the knocking, and everyone in the house woke up. Jill bit her lower lip while she dressed, suspicious of something she chose not to share. Her own clothes were dry by then and Ethan followed her lead, though his white shirt was still damp around the cuffs and collar.
“What’s afloat?” Lars came sleepily out of his room and met them in the hall. They all went downstairs together.
One ugly man had a half-dozen guards at his back and he looked like he was trying to control himself. “I have my orders,” he said and shoved some papers in Ali Pasha’s face. “Your prisoners are to be added to the list in the slave market.”
Ali Pasha tried equally hard to be polite and control his own voice. “They are not prisoners. They are my guests, and you cannot come here in the middle of the night and put a black mark on my hospitality.”
“My orders say prisoners. The community guards in the wilderness only bowed to your authority because it was your ill-advised expedition, but since returning, they have filed a proper report with the authorities. The guards captured these people and they are to be turned over immediately.”
Jill translated and Lars guffawed at the last comment and added his own take on the matter. “They captured no one, especially the guard who fouled himself when he first saw us.” Ethan said nothing because he followed the conversation perfectly well without the need for Jill’s translation, and he remembered the question he asked earlier, which Jill never answered. He frowned at her, but she would have to answer later.
“But these people are not slaves.” Ali Pasha protested.
“You are mistaken!” The man responded sharply, but took a deep breath before he continued. “The Mullah has determined that they are escaped slaves, but since it would waste their flesh to get them to tell who their owners are and they would become of use to no one, he has determined that they will be sold again with the proceeds going to the mosque.” The ugly man waved his men inside. He was not going to argue further.
Manomar came from the back with three other men. He had his hand on his sword hilt, ready to draw the weapon on his Master’s word. Even as the guards came pouring in the door and turned out to be more like twenty, Manomar looked like he would have taken them all on at Ali Pasha’s bidding.
Jill, Ethan and Lars were quickly surrounded. Jill placed her hand over Lars’ gun, which the big Swede was itching to draw. “Hold on.” She spoke in Swedish. “You may find it more useful later on, but I hope it won’t come to that.”
Ethan had a terrible thought and shouted in his best Englander. “Manomar, look after the equipment. Be sure it is not taken or damaged.” Manomar nodded that he understood.
“Please go good.” Ali Pasha turned to the three and urged them not to make trouble. “Most mistaken here. I be straightening. Very sorry, but I be straightening.”
“Thank you for your hospitality.” Ethan said perfectly in the Ali Pasha’s own language. “I am sure everything will work out.” Jill took his arm and stayed silent, but she grinned as they were carted off to the back of the slave market where there were cages waiting for them.