When the one by the Main finished tapping, the screens around the building went down. Ethan went immediately to hit the recall button, but the man by the Main stopped him.
“Your recall has already been sent.” The man spoke as he lowered his hood. He was an Elder, but not a Neanderthal. The nearest Ethan could come up with was Cro-Magnon or early Homo Sapien of some kind. Jill put her arm around Ethan as they waited for the man to speak again. He put his hand near Ethan’s face for a minute as if gauging something before he spoke.
“He is my husband,” Jill said.
The man smiled. He had very sharp teeth. “But not until you share your personhood, is it not so?”
“Yes,” Jill said and looked away.
“And you have broken many rules here,” the man continued and Ethan felt the need to interrupt.
“These people could hardly reach their potential if they were wiped out.”
“Yes, but perhaps in this world these artificial persons were destined for greatness.” The man shrugged. “We will never know. But I will not quibble over flesh and blood, only remember, we are watching.” He turned slightly and spoke to Ethan. “Child, we were traveling the space ways when the Gaian were still playing with sticks and stones, five thousand years before their vaunted steam engines. Never forget that we are watching.” The man pressed another button on his watch and he and the Neanderthal by the door vanished, and everyone, including Ali Pasha, appeared in the control room. DeMarcos and his men appeared in their rooms down below where Doctor Augustus was waiting to treat the wounded. Kera Ann, Devon and William appeared in their lounge, and Ethan found that they were not only moved back outside of the building, but his view screen showed a night gathering of humans in a town some twenty miles from where they had been.
Ethan looked at Jill. It was not exactly concern or fear in her eyes, but it was something near enough. He wrapped his arms around her as if to say it would be all right, and from her response, he guessed it was the right thing to do.
“What is this?” Ali Pasha looked at the spot on the floor.
“You.” Ethan said over his shoulder
When they were ready, Ethan let the doorway grow slowly near the bonfire where a large number of people were gathered, and he turned up the brightness to be sure people saw. Some ran off, others waited quietly or stared in amazement, some pulled out guns but made no other hostile moves. Fortunately, no one panicked. Ethan projected Kera Ann, Devon and William just outside the door, and himself and Jill a step back. Jill tweaked the projection so she and Ethan were a little fuzzy and glowed a little like the door.
“Billy, put down that stupid weapon. We’re coming out in a minute and I don’t plan to be shot,” Devon shouted.
“We did it!” William shouted even louder and threw his hands up in joy. “Type ones are restored and the relay station is no more.” Ethan had checked and the building was completely gone. It took a few minutes for that word to spread before the cheers started, followed by music and dancing. Billy came up to throw his arms around Devon, but passed through the projected image.
“Back up, ding-dong. I said we will be out in a minute. And make sure we don’t get shot.” Devon was being extra careful.
Inside, Jill and Kera Ann hugged. They had cried together, so it was only natural to hug as well. “We will be here if something legitimate comes up.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I hope you don’t get into too much trouble with the princess.”
“Silly.” Jill had to smile. “I am the princess.”
“Can’t I have just one, only to protect Kera Ann, I swear.” Devon was trying for one of the microwave rifles or handguns. Ethan had to shake his head.
“Not a chance,” Ethan said. “Besides, she has her own defenses against such weapons. She will be just fine, and so will you.” He shook Devon’s hand and William butted in with his own handshake and word of thanks. In some ways, William was like a kid, like so many computer geeks that Ethan knew back home.
Ethan paused as he had a sudden, strange thought. He had been changed with all that had happened thus far; irrevocably changed. In a real sense, this earth was his home as much as his earth. All the worlds were the earth, his earth, no more and no less regardless of the differences. Even the world of the Elders, wherever that might be, was no more than another earth. In that sense, they were all his home, and they were all his people; and all at once, Ethan no longer felt afraid or worried about the Nelkorians, the proverbial Chernobyl, or any others who had turned to hopeless wickedness. Suddenly, he felt sorry for such people. It was a major revelation, and maybe the one revelation that the Gaian hoped the guardians would have. That would certainly explain why they took guardians in training out into the worlds.
“Keep in mind.” Ethan spoke at last to Devon and William before he let them go, while Jill commiserated with Kera Ann. “You still have work to do, yes, but maybe on this world the AIs would have achieved greatness in time. Maybe it was what your world was meant to become. We will never know, and we broke a lot of rules stepping in like this. Now, the world will become what you make it. Never forget that.”
Jill smiled at Ethan’s little speech, though Ethan felt foolish after saying it. Clearly, it impacted their three visitors and gave them much to think about as they exited the ship. Lars, Ali Pasha, Alexander and Manomar also paused to think. Ethan felt a little embarrassed. He was a man of words, but it was spin; it was not supposed to be profound.
Later that night, Ethan and Jill spent a little time together on the roof of the Ridgetop hospital before they went to their room. There were some men who needed healing, and Doctor Augustus, good man that he was, was reluctant to turn them over to a bunch of early twentieth century hacksaws. Ethan imagined the world of Peter Alexander and Colonel deMartin as early twentieth century. “Hacksaws” was the Doctor’s word.
“You’re warm,” Jill said, pulled in real tight to his chest and held his arm around her with her free hand
Ethan had a thought. “All right,” he said. “So who is trying to kill us?”
“The present day emperor of the Gaian people and all the known worlds,” Ethan said. She turned his face so she could look into his eyes.
“That’s the guy. But it is getting chilly up here. Let’s go down to our room and get warm.”
Ethan did not move right away. He considered his situation. Here he was with the Gaian princess, her former husband, the current emperor was trying to kill them, and she had a son, besides; but then she was nearly a thousand something years old, so maybe the only odd thing was that she only had one child. He looked into her remarkable blue-gray eyes and all of those thoughts left him without coming to any conclusion. He could not think of anything but loving those eyes, and he decided that maybe they should go down and warm up before his thoughts overheated.