Jill was exceptionally quiet during lunch. She had a lot of information to process through her chits. Upon entering Lela’s ship, Ethan’s chits also caught up with all of the most up-to-date information of the Gaian people, or at least what Lela had processed since her last contact with home. That current history triggered the whole recent history of the Gaian people in general which went running through Ethan’s mind at a rapid pace. Jill, however, had swallowed Lela’s back-up work chit, so besides getting up dates from home, she had to process through all of the worlds Lela had been to, all of the Guardians she had established, and all of the work that was left undone. Fortunately, the others were occupied, being very animated about their adventures, though poor Captain deMarcos was hardly able to follow most of it. Inevitably, the question came.
“Who are these Nelkorians?”
“A people the Gaian destroyed long ago.” Ethan answered for Jill. He took her hand and let her rest her head on his shoulder. “Only they missed a few.” He considered that revelation. The Elders was the name he now knew belonged to his Neanderthal and, to his surprise, some other proto-human people; but apparently those Elders missed a few Nelkorians as well. Ethan understood that in general, the Elders, like Jill’s people, felt that the people in the worlds should rise or fall on their own merits and thus they stood firmly against the importation of technology for which the local world might not be ready. Curiously, they were less inclined to stand against one world invading another, but in the case of the Nelkorians, they agreed that the risk of destruction to the worlds was too great. But the Elders missed a few as well, and that told Ethan that even they were not infallible.
“Gaian?” Alexander was asking.
“Lord?” Manomar nudged Ethan. Somewhere along the line, Manomar decided that Lord and Lady were appropriate titles of respect for Ethan and Jill. To the others, they were still plain Jill and Ethan, but the others did not object to Manomar’s designation. “Lord?”
Ethan shook himself free of his own thoughts and looked up.
Alexander tried again. “Gaian people?”
Ethan nodded slightly and looked at Jill before he spoke. She had her eyes closed, but she was not sleeping. “Like everyone, they simply call themselves human beings and their world earth, but in the worlds they are known as the Gaian people.” He looked at Peter Alexander who probably got enough information from Lela to ask the question. Ethan looked around at the rest of the strange collection of people and ended with a look at Manomar. He noted that the others knew nothing about it at all. “Her mother’s name was Gaia and her father was what you would call Emperor of the known worlds. Jillian was born on the same day they discovered the alternate earths.”
“Known worlds?” Ali Pasha wondered if he misunderstood the phrase.
“Not alternate Earths.” Ethan pointed up toward the ceiling and Lars got it immediately.
“The Stars!” Lars shouted. “I always wanted to travel,” he said, confidentially to Manomar. Ali Pasha looked distressed. Up until then, he had continued to think of the stars as Allah’s windows to heaven whose light was allowed to shine into the darkness. Ethan knew that Ali Pasha would have some processing of his own to do. Thus far, Ethan thought he had done rather well, considering he had the furthest to go in restructuring his mind and the way he always understood the world to be.
“But Gaian?” Colonel deMartin took up where Peter Alexander left off.
“Yes.” Ethan said and pulled himself together to speak. “When the explorers first went into the worlds, they called themselves Gaian, the explorers of Gaia in honor of their queen.”
“In honor of her birth,” Ethan told the others, and then he answered the unspoken question. “The Gaian discovered the Nelkorians about three hundred years ago. The Nelkorians were preparing to spread across the worlds, and Jill’s people understood that they had to be stopped. The Emperor gathered the fleets from the frontiers. The ship.” Ethan pointed to the picture of the door on the wall. “It is a class three fighter-destroyer, much bigger than the little control room we saw. The Gaian tracked the Nelkorians across the worlds, and concluded the war after about a hundred years, though some say there are still searchers in the far-away places.”
“They missed a few,” Alexander said.
Ethan nodded. “I guess those far-away searchers suspected as much.”
Jill sat up and looked at the Cherokee and the colonel. She spoke sharply, but her eyes were not exactly in focus, like a person speaking out of a trance. “Beware of any children born without faces. You must watch carefully over the next year, and destroy any you find. Do not be tempted to believe they can be turned to good, no matter what they say. Such power inevitably corrupts absolutely. They must be utterly destroyed.” She closed her eyes again and leaned back into Ethan’s shoulder while Alexander and deMartin passed a look. They had not considered that there might be others, and in fact they both pictured that there might be one or more presently in the Old World even as they spoke.
Ethan confirmed that, and then fell again into his own thoughts while the others began to speculate on what other challenges might be out there in the Worlds.
Ethan considered that at the conclusion of the war, Gaia, the one who led the charge against the Nelkorians got killed, and Jill’s father virtually shut down the explorations of the Worlds as a result. “It is too dangerous,” the man said. “And it is not our place to dictate who can and cannot live.” He was the one who originally instituted the complete hands off policy, and then he promptly died of a broken heart, or so they said. Nothing else was ever proved, despite the conspiracy theorists.
Jill’s first husband took over, but then Jillian and Archon divorced over the issue of the worlds; but no, that was not strictly true. In the scan of a thousand years of history, and as near as Ethan could figure things out, Jill and her husband separated when their son turned twenty-one. That meant they were really only married for twenty-two strained years. It also meant they had been separated for some eight centuries before being formally divorced. The worlds issue had just been the excuse to finally end things.
Ethan reached down to softly brush Jill’s lovely black hair, to keep it out of her eyes. She shifted a little to acknowledge his gentle, loving touch, but her eyes remained closed.
Meanwhile, Ethan’s mind kept him on track. Her first husband continued her father’s policy of hands off, isolationism, but Jill took after her mother. She knew there were some people finding their way into the worlds, like the Nelkorians, and they had to be stopped, because if they did nothing, one day it would come back to haunt the Gaian.
The guardian program was conceived. The guardians could do a lot on their own, and stop most threats, but they also served as watchers for the Gaian who could not be everywhere. The Gaian rebels, and that was what they were considered being involved in an essentially outlawed activity, managed to get their hands on a large number of warships that were brought in for the war. There were many in the military that understood the seriousness of external threats and secretly agreed with Jill. With those ships fitted with the transitional technology developed for the war, Jill and her rebel followers were able to begin establishing guardians across the worlds. Suddenly, Ethan felt Jill’s uneasiness in a new way. She looked up at him. They were truly becoming a couple, becoming unbelievably close and growing to read each other well, and their chits went a long way to bring them into sync with each other.