“Nelkorian Core?” Ethan asked casually. His hand covered his wound. He did not want Jill to panic.
“Uh,” Jill said with a smile and a nod. She took a few breaths to steady herself and then she spoke. “Nelkor’s first monster began by making a dozen female copies of himself, and just as strong as he could possibly make them. They were called the Nelkorian Core, and some expected that they would kill each other off, but instead, the first one convinced them to make a pact to share the world between them. They did, and then they killed their maker, they killed the first Nelkorian. Twelve monsters then started to have children, um, less powerful than themselves so they didn’t repeat the first one’s mistake, and those children, mostly male were able to duplicate themselves as well just so you don’t think this was all a female thing. They used the human race like playthings, Ethan. It was torment, torture, a kind of living Hell; but that might have been the end of it if they had stayed in their own world. Soon enough they would have started fighting each other, but one of the core discovered how to move into the Worlds without the help of any technology. It was like they were able to make a psychic tear in the fabric of reality itself and slip right through. The children needed technological help, of course, but the core could just shred their way through the worlds.”
“I can see why your father called out the fleet,” Ethan said, weakly.
“I thought we got them all,” Jill said, and she looked up at Ethan in time to see him close his eyes. Alexander’s knife clattered to the floor. “Ethan!” She shouted and then she called out. “Quick, Alexander. Help me get him into the lounge and on the couch.”
Peter Alexander, who was just coming to himself, crawled over, and somehow, between the two of them, they managed. Then Jill opened the door and Manomar came running in, berating himself for leaving them alone.
“There is nothing you could have done,” Jill said through her tears. “Ethan would have had to fight you too, and you and Alexander probably would have been able to shut down the screens and put us at the Nelkorian’s mercy. Sometimes it is best to not be there, but I know it makes it hard.”
“Will he be alright?” Peter Alexander asked. He knew it was his knife that made the wound, even if he did not exactly remember doing it.
“Yes,” Jill said, and she sat quietly and held Ethan’s hand while the others left her alone.
Ethan woke up the next morning near one hundred percent. His chits had reestablished and re-grown overnight. Jill was beside him, sleeping in a chair, her hand over his. He woke her gently only to have her throw herself at him in anything but a gentle manner.
“I’m fine,” he kept saying, and she knew that, but she did not care. She was just so happy. “But say,” he said when he finally got her attention. “Where did our helpers go, and who were they anyway?”
Jill lifted her head for a second. “A mystery,” she said as she tried to get serious. “The first was a full Gaian Battleship, Class one no less and as up-to-date as anything in the fleet. Full psychic keyed and amenities you would not believe.”
“Bigger than ours?” Ethan asked while he tried to get in touch with the information in his own chits. Apparently, he still had more chits to replace.
Jill laughed. “You could fit our fighter-destroyer in one of her four docking bays,” she answered. Ethan whistled, but since he had never actually seen the size of his own ship in context, he did not fully understand. “Yes, and that ship and ours combined would have eventually wore the Nelkorian down, I think.”
“You think?” Ethan understood.
“Fortunately, the Elders came when they did.”
“They are watching.” Ethan reminded her.
“That is what they always say.” Jill responded with a flip of her hair to put it back behind her ear. “But they are not as numerous as you think. Even they cannot be everywhere, but then they don’t stay in any place too long either, so you never know when they will show up.” Ethan nodded. “But why the battleship left, I have no idea,” Jill concluded. “Our ship scanned the ship and got the specs and all, but for some reason the crew stayed hidden. They are not supposed to do that.”
“Crew?” Ethan wondered. “One person could easily fly this ship.”
“Designed that way,” Jill said. “The battleship, too. But why any Gaian should come to our aid and then vanish without making themselves known is a mystery. That is not polite, to say the least.”
“Yes,” Ethan said as he sat up before he slowly stood. Jill helped, and when he assured her that he was all right, she took his hand and led him back into the control room. She grinned like a thousand-year-old school girl, and walked carefully at his side in case he should stumble.
Peter Alexander was pacing again, and Manomar paced with him. Only Colonel deMartin seemed relaxed as he sat by the view screen. Then again, Ethan thought, he looked like he was deep in thought.
“As near as I can tell the troops have moved out of Balazarius, and even the militia has been called up from all of the surrounding countryside.” The Colonel spoke first.
“We have to go,” Alexander said. He only paused in his pacing long enough to speak. “I fear the worst.”
Manomar stopped pacing on seeing Ethan recovered and Jill with him, smiling. “We have no real information,” he said. “This screen is not easy to use, but we have overheard the words assassins and mustard gas, whatever that is.”
“We know what mustard gas is.” Ethan assured him, but Jill did not look so sure. The colonel caught the look.
“A deadly gaseous compound that slithers near to the ground. Nations have tried to outlaw it, but so far without success.”
“And they think?” Jill did not get to finish the sentence.
“Apparently, they do think it, and they have taken the Cherokee army with them to the north.”
“Come.” Jill placed Ethan in Manomar’s hands and went to the Main. It only took a moment to locate the two opposing armies somewhere near the Watchung ridges. The Byzantines and Peter’s people had dug in at the base of the first ridge, and had a hot air balloon on the ridge, tied down, but flashing lights as if it was full of binoculars. From that strong position, the Byzantines could harass Elizabethtown and nibble at the edges, until it was ripe for an all-out attack.
General Gordon and his Holy Roman troops, along with all the militia he could muster, and any number of Delaware natives, had not waited to be nibbled to death. They came out and were arrayed just off the ridge, facing their enemy, and wonder to behold, they had a crude biplane up for observation purposes.
“This does not look good,” Ethan said.
“World War III.” Manomar reminded him.