Everyone stopped walking. It was a very hard concept to grasp for anyone who had not at least seen old film of an atomic blast. Jill continued to explain while everyone contemplated the magnitude of such a weapon.
“Of course, that bomb fell eighty years before I got here, and I was here about eighty years ago. No telling what happened since, but keep in mind the increase in their destructive capabilities, given another hundred or hundred and fifty years to work on things. I hope it never came to war.”
“Hoping?” It was Ali Pasha who verbalized for everyone, even if he could barely frame his thoughts into the Englander tongue. “Such war is not for thinking! Madness! To destroying with such greatness, it is not war. It is madness!”
People nodded, including Ethan, when they heard the dim sound of a slight whine in the distance.
It turned out to be a ship of some sort, or maybe a flying car or truck, or an ambulance, Ethan decided as the vehicle came closer. There was something like a red cross on the side of the vehicle, and he associated the snakes on poles with the medical profession. The vehicle was definitely air-born and moved like a helicopter despite having nothing as crude as rotor blades. It set down in a clearing not too far from their location. Jill led them straight to that place where they saw a man in the same kind of white lab coat Jill used to wear. He got out and waved to them. He invited them to join him.
“Come.” The man said in a language only Jill and Ethan understood. “This area is still designated orange and I only have a limited supply of Ronolion to treat radiation sickness.”
The man opened the back of the ambulance and Ethan motioned for the others to get in since Jill’s arms were both still busy holding him upright. “And don’t touch anything!” Ethan commanded as a precaution. He looked especially hard at Ali Pasha and sought Manomar’s agreement, which the man gave with a nod of his head. Jill helped Ethan get into the front seat where he sat between her and the man who drove the vehicle. He did his best to remain upright without leaning on her too much.
“Good to see you again.” The man started up the conversation right away. “I expected you to come back about sixty years ago.”
“There were complications,” Jill said. “I got stranded in another world for a time and lost my ship. I picked up a husband, though.” She hugged Ethan and Ethan hardly knew what to think, except that maybe this charade had gone on long enough.
“I thought you said one husband in a lifetime was enough,” the man responded with a fatherly glance in her direction.
“I changed my mind. Ethan, this is Doctor Flavius Augustus, surname Galias.”
“Flavius is sufficient, or Doctor Augustus,” the Doctor said, and he stuck out his hand. Ethan reached for the hand, but the man shook his wrist so Ethan responded in kind and tried not to feel foolish at having gotten it wrong to start with.
“Doctor?” Ethan made the word a question.
“Medical.” The man gave the one word answer.
“I selected Doctor Augustus to be Guardian for this world. It was one of the last contacts I had before being stranded on your world.”
“I take it Ethan’s world did not have the technical expertise to repair whatever happened to your ship,” Doctor Augustus said.
“No more than your world,” Jill responded.
“But we have advanced in the years since you have been gone, you know. And we proved it by nearly wiping out the human race. I am glad you did not come back sixty years ago. The war happened.”
Jill and Ethan sat in stunned silence for a minute. They tried hard to absorb the news. Doctor Augustus spoke again after a moment.
“What the war did not kill, the thirty-year winter did. I can safely say that this was a war without winners. There are some people still alive, mostly in equatorial regions like deep in the Amazon and the Congo where the winter was not so bad and where the level of civilization did not warrant destruction, but most of them cannot read or write. Civilization is completely wiped out.” With that comment, he brought the ambulance down to a dock on top of a large building in what was obviously a ghost town. Jill spoke when he turned off the engine.
“Doctor, you can come with us to another place if you like.”
“No.” The Doctor shook his head. “There are still people here to protect, and who knows, perhaps over the centuries they may make a better show of things than we did, if there is someone here to give them that chance.” He got out like an old man who had spent too much time in the ambulance service. Jill and Ethan got out as well. Neither knew what to say. They let the others out without a word and went down into what was obviously a hospital.
The building appeared well kept, but most of that was automatic. The doctor had rigged up some long-life generators that he said would run for ten thousand years, and he seemed to spend a lot of time repairing and tinkering with the mechanicals, as he called them.
When they went down off the roof and went inside the upper reception area, Jill spoke again. “Doctor, two of these men are volunteers for their worlds. I need two serum preparations for nano-chit injection.”
“I can do that,” the doctor said, and he added a note as he walked off down the hall to the lab. “I wish them better fortune with their charges than I have had.”
With that, Jill had to tell the others what happened.