“I believe it is time for us to go home.” Peter Alexander spoke up from the corner where he and Colonel deMartin had been watching the events on the view screen. “The Colonel and I have discussed our world at length, and there is a great deal of work for us to do as well.”
“Ali Pasha will likely be rooting Sorvee out of his world for the next hundred years,” Manomar suggested.
Peter Alexander looked at them. “That is at least how long it will take us,” he said.
Jill looked at the Cherokee Chief before she spoke sternly. “Just remember, your chits were not given to you to rule or influence your world. Your job is to prevent outsiders like the Sorvee from coming in and corrupting your world. In a way, you are like an outsider now, yourself. You must not interfere with the normal course and development of the people lest all of our work be for nothing.”
Alexander looked back at Jill for a minute. It was a hard look, but he dropped his eyes at the last. “I understand,” he said. “I waited years and years for someone to come seeking Lela, and I did not overstep my bounds, even if I did not yet understand them. You will never have cause to return and scold me for going too far.”
“That does not mean we can do nothing,” Colonel deMartin said quickly, though it was more like a question.
Jill nodded. “It is a line you will have to draw for yourselves. Kera Ann did not do nothing. But be careful where you draw that line and do not step over it.”
“So, where are we headed?” Ethan asked.
“Doctor Augustus first.” She answered. “We have wounded soldiers to fetch.”
They came to the hospital in time to see the soldiers drive off an attack from some unknown assailants. Guns blasted from the roof and from the windows, some pulse microwaves and some regular old army issue, and the enemy, whoever they were, retreated down the hill. None of the defenders looked injured, though there were several large chunks of building missing, and most of the rest of the hospital looked badly burned. Jill’s hands flew across the Main, and in a minute, she and Ethan had the same information, except she mouthed the word through gritted teeth. “Chernobyl.”
Ethan’s word was more like, “Damn!”
“Colonel.” Jill whipped around. Colonel deMartin, Manomar and Peter Alexander were standing in shock, staring at the screen. “You have to unload and help defend the hospital until we get back. Doctor Augustus may need your help in case they break in and one or more of the men become infected.”
“Isn’t this world seeded with anti-Chernobyl chits?” Ethan asked.
“Of course,” Jill responded as she began to open the necessary doors to the crew’s quarters. “Out. Out!” She shouted into the projector. “Otherwise, every soldier in the hospital would already be infected.” She finished her sentence for Ethan alone before she returned to the projector. “Everyone. On the double.” She opened another door in the control room and she did not have to tell everyone what it was for.
“But can’t we go with you?” Peter Alexander asked. “You may need us as well, or at least me as the last Guardian aboard.”
“No.” Jill spoke sharply. “This is one trip Ethan and I need to take alone. Besides, Doctor Augustus may need you more.”
Jill smiled, but shook her head. Then she got busy while Ethan answered for her.
“Go. We won’t be long.” He spoke softly to reassure his friend, though to be honest he had no idea what Jill was planning or how long they might be. Colonel deMartin saluted and left, and Peter followed if a little more reluctantly. Manomar was the most reluctant of all, but in the end, he left as well when his commitment to obedience outweighed his commitment to duty. He would trust his new masters. Soldiers were running out of the other doors, and Ethan watched as Captain deMarcos came running up to the roof with a salute for his Colonel.
“They came out of nowhere and grabbed two men who were walking in the park. Degon and Plisser are now fighting for them. The Doctor says they have been infected and cannot be retrieved. He said we had to defend the hospital until you got back, but boy, am I glad you are here.” DeMartin took the Captain off with Alexander for a more detailed explanation of their situation while Ethan turned to Jill.
“We could just blast them out of existence,” he said.
“What are you thinking?”
“Shhhhh!” Ethan got quiet. “It is a strange signature,” she said. “But there.” She pointed, and a place on Manhattan, or New Rome came into focus on the screen. “That is the place where they came through. We can follow them back the way they came.”
“I thought the radiation interrupted tracers.”
“Normally,” Jill said as the last of the soldiers vacated the ship and the doors closed. She instantly shifted their position to the new location. “But this trail is fresh and sloppy, like most newcomers to the worlds. It is a radiation all its’ own which is strong enough to stand out from all the background noise.”
“And what are we doing?” Ethan asked. “Shutting down the doorway?”
“Going to the Chernobyl world,” Jill responded. Ethan swallowed.
They were there in a moment, smack in the middle of an enormous city, which was so full of smog, Ethan could barely make out the empty streets down below. “They don’t waste much energy here, at least people energy.” Jill explained while she worked on something. “They do only what is necessary to maintain the human population, but no more. They need people because they are parasites.”
“They can’t live outside the host?” Ethan asked.
“They can, but they can’t do much without a host who has eyes and ears, hands and fingers and such. They are silicon, some would say a life form, but most call them an accident or a disease. They are programmed to multiply, and they are running out of room in their atmosphere, that’s how thick they are, even if they are microscopic.”
“We are molecular size, simulating a simple viral protein chain. They may have anti-virals against such things in case they should infect their human hosts, but most likely, they will ignore us. This ship is full of anti-Chernobyl chits and there are several storage tanks full of the stuff as well. I am not worried about us, but I have to go down there.”