Ethan and Jill got dragged outside and tied to two of the five poles, which looked like permanent fixtures in the yard. They had to wait while the executioners lazily collected firewood. Not expecting to have a chance to get Jill alone again, Ethan started right in with the questions.
“So what did you infect me with?” He waited, and while he could not see her face, exactly, he imagined she winced.
“Nano-chits,” she admitted.
“Chernobyl?” He remembered.
“No. Never. These are organic based, not silicon nightmares. That they have successfully restructured to match your unique genetic and psychic patterns is evident by the fact that they have been effective, but they are not intelligent and they have no capacity to develop intelligence. In some ways it limits their abilities, but it is safer when they are not self-directed.”
“But I was able to understand Ali Pasha’s Arabic without thinking about it.” Ethan spoke while two men tied him to the pole in the yard.
“Well, they are very sophisticated in their programming, you must remember. Think of your computer, it allows you to store and retrieve masses of information and allows you to perform numerous tasks like calculations that would otherwise take days, if you knew the math. But your computer is not self-directed. It is only as good as the information it receives. You hear Arabic and in a very short time, the chits allow you to understand and respond. In time, if you hear enough Arabic from enough people, you will be able to pass yourself off as a native.”
“But I needed to think the pain away and think my healing from the whip.”
“Of course. The chits are not a panacea for life. They will never automatically erase any pain or pleasure, except that they are antibiotics which no known bacteria, virus or sub-virus can overcome. Listen, thousands of men and women continue to seed worlds against the expected Chernobyl plague and those organic chits will function automatically.” Jill paused for a moment in case Ethan had a question, but Ethan could not think what to ask, so she continued. “But for things like setting yourself free from bondage, you must think it to happen. Now.”
With that last word, Jill stepped free of her pole, and Ethan looked up. All of the executioners were over at the woodpile or getting straw to start the fire. She smiled for him as she walked behind his back. “I will help you this time,” she said. “But next time I will expect you to do this for yourself.” Ethan was instantly free. It was much quicker than if she had tried to untie the knots that bound him and much safer than if she had used a knife.
“Hey!” One of the men by the straw noticed. “Ahmed, you fool!” The man shouted, and Ethan guessed that Ahmed was the one who had tied them to the poles in the first place.
Ethan grabbed Jill by the elbow as she had once grabbed him, and he ran with her toward the exit, but as they neared the gate in the stone wall, Ethan remembered the guards just outside the gate. The commotion of pursuit was beginning behind them, so he had no option but to redirect their path on the only open route—back toward the house of torture. There was shouting, and two shots fired in the distance. As they reached the side of the house and ducked behind a number of crates that were lazily stacked there, they heard three more shots.
Lars ran from the docks as fast as he could. The sailors, who were concerned first about their captain, lost him in the crowd when he got to the marketplace. Lars ducked into a doorway and checked to be sure his gun was loaded. When he was ready to run again, he took off back in the direction he had been taken, which was toward the slave market. He hoped he was not too late to pull Jill and Ethan to safety, and he worried especially that Jill might not be able to break free as easily as he had. He hoped they were all right.
Some commotion started behind him. Someone shouted about an escaped slave, and he knew the masses would be after him any minute. He was not surprised that the people in this world reacted as they did. They could not afford to have their slaves even think about freedom, much less get away, since the slaves outnumbered the freemen.
“Auch!” Lars said to himself. He was going to save his friends, and woe to anyone who got in his way.
When he arrived at the slave market gate, he was not sure which way to go. He wasted precious time and risked being seen when he stopped to think through to his best option, but he knew it would do no good just running in blindly.
At that same time, Ali Pasha came out from inside the market and he seemed in a terrible hurry. “Sveeden!” He shouted on seeing Lars and stopped dead in his tracks
“Where are Jill and Ethan?” Lars asked quickly as he ran up. Manomar looked around the street and hastily threw his robe over Lars’ shoulders. The robe had a hood, which he also pulled up to cover Lars’ blond locks.
“Disguise.” Manomar said. Lars ignored him and concentrated on the scholar who appeared to be out of breath.
“I have money to be buying you from market, but taking time to raise money.” Ali Pasha breathed heavily. “Now you already selling, and Jill and Ethan taken to Examiners. Come, we must be hurrying.”
“These Examiners are not nice?” Lars guessed.
“Torture.” Manomar said the one word, and held up the briefcase. “Maybe we can send you home.”
Lars ran with them, but he managed a guffaw. “I hope not. I haven’t hardly traveled anywhere yet.”
When they came to the wall and the gate outside the house of the Society of the Mahdi, there appeared to be some commotion inside the gate. Lars caught a glimpse of Ethan and Jill as they neared and suddenly turned away. One of the gate guards looked about to take off after them, while the other presented his pike to the three approaching in order to stop their forward progress. Ali Pasha went into conversation mode, a man prepared to demand entry, but Lars and Manomar both knew that this was no time for talking. Manomar held back his master and went for his knife. Lars was quicker and did not have his hands full of scholar and briefcase. With two bullets, he put two guards out of commission, and Manomar left his knife where it was.
They began to run again, but as soon as they entered the yard, Lars saw Ethan and Jill headed toward some crates, three men on their heels. It took a careful eye to stop those men without hitting his friends, but Lars was up to the task, and on seeing their fellows dropped by a thunderous crack! and what looked like magic, the other men in the yard decided not to challenge their visitors further.