“Colonel Orlando deMartin.” The man introduced himself by removing his hat briefly and pronouncing his last name, “deMarteen.” He smiled for Jill. Ethan decided that though the man was older, there was something very Dominic about him. “Commander of the Emperor’s Third Colonial Light Armored Infantry Brigade. Please forgive the intrusion, but I understand you have just arrived in the city.”
Manomar stood up and looked down on the man, being a full head taller. DeMartin was not intimidated as he looked up. “Please join us,” Manomar said. He grabbed a nearby chair and placed it between himself and Lars where he could keep himself between this intruder and his master.
“Yes, we just came in from the far west,” Jill said, and she proceeded to tell her sad little story about their poor little farm. When she was done, Ethan interrupted with a question before the colonel could ask any questions of his own.
“So, Colonel, where is your aid? Don’t men in your position usually travel with an entourage?”
“Ah.” The colonel nodded and seemed perfectly willing to be distracted for the moment. “I am staying in this inn,” he said. “My entourage is all around, but I have at least some freedom here. But, you see, it was some of my men who picked you up this afternoon, so when I saw you I just naturally put two and two together.”
Ali Pasha said something in Arabic and Manomar translated. “My Master says you will never catch the savages banging around the countryside in your noisy automobiles.”
“Master?” The Colonel caught the word and acted like it was a swear word. Jill quickly jumped in.
“It is an affectation from his homeland, a sign of respect. Ali Pasha is a scholar and Manomar is his student.”
“Ah.” The Colonel seemed to understand well enough, but then he looked thoughtful. “Ali Pasha.” The name rang a bell, always a danger in world hopping, until deMartin smiled and nodded. “Are you the same Ali Pasha who penned that famous book in defense of evolution?” The group around the table shared eye contact until Ali Pasha himself answered.
“Perhaps,” he said.
“But I thought you were being held by the Holy Office in the Bastille of Granada.”
“He got out early for good behavior,” Ethan interjected. Jill almost hit him, hard, but Colonel deMartin laughed.
“Privately, I agree with most of what you said in your tome, but publically, of course.” He shrugged. “It is an honor to meet you, but we must be careful. I do not wish to get on the wrong side of the Holy Office. Even a knighted colonel is not above suspicion in times like these.”
Jill took that as an excellent opportunity to jump in. “I would think you would have far more important business than to worry about a few stragglers coming late into town.”
“You misunderstand me, dear lady. I have volunteered several of my junior officers to double up so you may have a room. I can see, though, the volunteering will have to move deeper in the ranks. Two rooms would be more appropriate.”
“I thank you very kindly,” Jill said.
“My wife and I could use some clothes as well,” Ethan added. “We left in a terrible hurry and Ali Pasha and Manomar were kind enough to share their robes with us.” He opened his to expose his naked chest.
“I see. Yes, I will be happy to escort you to the clothiers in the morning. You may ignore the entourage in the morning as you please.” He laughed.
“Wine?” Jill offered, and the conversation that followed was much more relaxed. At one point, deMartin asked to see Lars’ gun. Lars drew it and cocked it in the blink of an eye; but then he put the hammer back down and turned it to hand it to the Colonel.
“Impressive,” the Colonel said. “Thirty-eight?”
“Forty-four,” Lars said.
“That’s a big caliber for a handgun, especially in the hands of an amateur.”
“I hit what I aim at, but if you don’t mind, I am trying to save my precious bit of ammunition.”
“Quite right.” DeMartin returned the gun. “I doubt we have ammunition that caliber that would fit, but I would keep the antique holstered if I were you. These sorts of overcrowded, uncertain conditions bring out the thieves in some people and your antique looks to be in prime condition.” It was a fair warning, not a threat, and Lars took it as it was meant.
The rest of the night centered around the theories of evolution and natural selection. Ali Pasha’s only comment was, “I have done my saying. Now you speak, I am listening.” Ethan imagined the poor man wished he could take notes.
When they were finally shown to their rooms, the first thing out of Ethan’s mouth was, “He wants us close so he can keep an eye on us.”
“You’re becoming paranoid,” Jill responded.
“Being sentenced to hang, being tortured and being sentenced to be burned at the stake can do that to a man, you know.”
“Poor baby. I’ll protect you,” she responded.
“I was hoping you would. Better stay close to my side.”
“Is this close enough?”
Ethan swallowed. “Almost,” he said.
It was some time later when Ethan spoke again. “This isn’t paradise, is it?”
“It isn’t?” Jill teased. “I think it is.” She snuggled a little closer. Ethan said nothing. He just waited because she knew what he meant. “Okay, I have to be honest. It probably is not safe for me to go home right now. I don’t know. My information about that is not up-to-date enough, so I have been bringing us to places where I know we are needed.”
“How did you know we were needed?” Ethan asked.
“Where do you think the test rabbits went?” She asked with a sly grin. “A dozen different worlds, but Lars’ world and Ali Pasha’s needed some fairly quick action.”
“How did you know?” he asked again.
“The chits I sent with the rabbits brought back some disturbing information,” she said, and then added, “Oh. You saw the collars for yourself.”
Jill continued. “And then I came here because I was concerned about a friend of mine.”
“I don’t know yet,” Jill said, and then she did not want to talk about it anymore. That was all right because Ethan did not want to talk anymore either.
Nest Monday, Jill and Ethan find themselves in a war zone. Guardian Angel-9 In the Trenches. Happy Reading.