Things improved between Ethan and Jill after that, though there were still some difficult moments. Ethan could not shake the idea that as soon as he was in place at home, she would leave him. At this point, though, he did not let it control him. He felt that every moment he had with her was blessed.
“Vulnerability is from the neck up,” Jill said in her teaching. “We have a saying in my universe that everyone has to die sometime, but you can even survive a wound to the heart if it is not too extensive. If your chits have time to repair the damage and keep the blood circulating to the brain, you will survive, but from the neck up you are irreplaceable. Understand this. Brain cells can be regenerated and memory can be restored, but only as long as your brain continues to receive blood and oxygen. Four minutes is about as long as you will survive otherwise.”
“Princess Jillian.” Peter Alexander had a question. He often referred to her in that way, but everyone imagined that he was referring to her by her quarter of Cherokee blood. “I am still unclear about the screens you speak of. I understand how a particle screen can ward off small particles, but the energy screens confuse me. I do not understand their purpose.”
Jill nodded. “We have already been protected against the low level of radiation that lingers in this place since the war, but I know you cannot see that. That is something I was concerned about, and so I concluded that another demonstration was in order. Doctor?”
The Doctor got up from his seat as a student and turned to help teach. “I was hoping we would not have to do this,” he said, as he picked up what everyone recognized as a rifle, though none had seen its like before.
“This is a Legionaire-47, a state of the art weapon in the war. It fires a high concentration pulse of microwaves guaranteed to turn your enemy into toast.” He lifted the weapon to his shoulder and pointed it at the target that had been set up. The target was a straw man, like a scarecrow, dressed in clothes and a kind of makeshift armor. “I hate these things.” Doctor Augustus mumbled as he took aim. When he pulled the trigger, the straw man burst into flame, and even the armor melted. “As you can see, it works all too well.”
“And now the demonstration,” Jill said as she stepped forward, while Ethan put out the fire. The Doctor checked to be sure the rifle was charged for another round, and then he aimed it right at Jill’s heart while everyone held their breath. He fired. Jill merely smiled.
“Even if you cannot see the microwaves, you can see that I remained unaffected by the weapon. This is a rather simple weapon. The energy screens will protect you from far more sophisticated and powerful energy sources, but do not depend on them. There are some weapons strong enough to fry you like the straw man, despite the screens. My own people have such weapons, and there are a few others we know of. The nano-chits can only generate so much power. Even the particle screen cannot deflect an arrow, spear or bullet head on, nor can it stop a knife or sword delivered directly with strength.
“Still, that is remarkable.” Ali Pasha spoke up. “May I see that rifle as it is called?” Everyone laughed a little. Ali Pasha wanted to see and touch everything.
When the morning session was over, Ethan found Jill in his arms. “Are you ready to go?” she asked. They intended to go to Peter Alexander’s world and attempt to retrieve Lela’s ship.
“Tell me again why I am going?” he responded with a question.
“Because I can’t do this without you,” she answered. She was getting tired of answering such questions.
“Yes you can,” he said and gave her a little kiss. “You made a transitional unit on my world out of paper and string. I think you can do anything you set your mind to.”
“All right.” She accepted the compliment. “Then I don’t want to do it without you.”
“And I don’t want you to do it without me.” He kissed her again.
Jill returned his kiss and then went to get her things for the trip and wondered why he could not just love her without hesitation and without all the questions. She needed him, even if he thought she did not need him. She loved him. How many times and in how many ways did she have to say it? She had been alone for centuries before finding Ethan. In him, she found someone she could love again. That was something she once thought she would never be able to do, after Archon. She knew there was no explaining it, him being from a middle high Earth and her being from paradise, and as hard as she tried, she could not seem to convince Ethan that it was true. But it was true all the same. She loved him. Why couldn’t he just love her in return? She wiped her eye and put her smile back on before she turned to face him.
In a short while, Ethan and Jill were in the front seat of a hovercar driven by Doctor Augustus. Peter Alexander and Colonel deMartin were in the middle buckets, Lars and Manomar with Ali Pasha squeezed between them were seated in the back, and they were all headed toward somewhere on the Maryland shore.
“This is a red area. That is, a heavy radiation area.” The doctor spoke as they searched around for some landmark, which might help Alexander get his bearings.
“I’m trying, but the landscape seems so changed,” Alexander said, and not for the first time. “Even the coast looks altered.”
“I’m not surprised,” the doctor responded. “The North Augustine Imperial Capitol was not far from here, up the Pontus River. This place took a real pounding during the war.”
“There.” Alexander pointed suddenly, though the Doctor could not see his finger. “Those rocks are known to me.”
“That jetty?” The Doctor asked. It looked to him like a thousand others that stuck out into the sea, but he nodded. It was almost directly over what had been the city of Balteninus.
“How far?” The Doctor asked.
Alexander quickly calculated and translated at the same time. “Ten miles should be enough. We should arrive on Cherokee land.” The Doctor turned the car and headed due west. He brought them down to a point where they drove a mere ten feet off the ground. There were no trees, bushes, or life of any kind to obstruct their progress.
“I can hardly imagine how you can see anything familiar in that landscape,” Colonel deMartin said as he sat back against the comfortable cushions. The others nodded, but Alexander assured them of his certainty.
“I am positive,” he said. “But even if I am a bit off, I know this is the right area.”
Ali Pasha tried to look out the windows, first around Lars and then around Manomar. He could not see much, but it all looked like empty desert to him, and it all looked the same.
When they landed, Doctor Augustus hugged Jill and shook everyone’s wrists in his fashion. “It was lovely having company. I wish you good luck and Godspeed.”
“Are you sure you won’t come with us?” Jill asked once again. “There is no reason you should have to stay in your dead world. I could find you a guardianship elsewhere, and it would save me the headache of having to find someone local and risk making a poor selection.”
“I am sure,” the Doctor said. “There are more survivors than I let on at first. There is a small farming community of some forty families northwest of the hospital, by the Darius River. They survived the thirty-year winter with me in the hospital and only just moved to begin again. I think I should visit them and see how things are turning out. There are others scattered here and there. I will be all right.” He kissed Jill on her forehead like a loving father and turned back to his vehicle.
Jill wiped a small tear from her eye and found that Ethan had already wired the dimensional watch, as he still called it, and booted up the computer. It only took a moment to type in the information. “Everyone hang on,” she said, and when they were ready, she hit the enter button.
Next week: Guardian Angel-12 Nelkorian…a person more creature than human… Don’t miss it.