They encountered no problems secretly letting the three hundred, now only two hundred soldiers from deMartin’s brigade off at their Elizabethtown Barracks. Several grumbled that now they would have to go back to army food. Some items were stolen – a few pillows and blankets, a dart board and a couple of decks of cards—but Ethan said nothing and Jill did not seem to mind. The molecular system could always make more. It took a little longer to convince the women and children of the hundred left behind on Doctor Augustus’ Earth that their husbands were moving them to another world. They picked up Colonel deMartin for that work, but soon enough they were ready for one more trip to see Doctor Augustus.
“Hug Peter Alexander for me.” Jill told the colonel.
“I hope the general is not trying to brush you under the rug with the posting,” Ethan said as they shook hands.
“Alexander and I have plans to make, and I think the general will not find me so easy to brush,” Colonel deMartin responded.
“Oh,” Ethan said. “And I hope the army reimburses you for our bit of clothes,” he joked.
“Best money I ever spent,” the colonel said, and he left them, rode off on horseback, and gave a shout over his shoulder. “And I should know. My wife used to spend a lot of my money.”
Three days later, Jill and Ethan were up on the hospital roof in Ridgetown, watching the light fade on the distant ruins while the sun went down at their backs. It felt like their place.
Ethan had been fairly quiet for those three days, not so quiet that Jill worried, but thinking hard about several things.
“The anti-Chernobyl are learning fast,” Jill remarked, casually. “It is amazing how having the children here have helped them grow up.”
“They are about at the same developmental level I would guess,” Ethan said without really focusing or shifting his eyes from the risen moon.
“I don’t know.” Jill was thinking, too. “Their cognitive functions were well used, and also their short-term memory. I don’t think it will take them nearly so long to grow up as it would a normal child.”
“Maybe,” Ethan said, like he was half listening.
“What is it?” Jill finally asked. She had given him some space over the last few days, but she felt it was time to ask. “Is there something still troubling you? Do you want to go home?”
Ethan looked at her. “I don’t think I will ever be able to go home again,” he said. “Not that I mind,” he added quickly. “I really wanted to do investigative journalism. I never really wanted to get stuck doing marketing and public relations.”
“So now you don’t have to,” Jill said, and scooted in just a bit closer. “And there are certainly plenty of worlds left for us to investigate.” She tried to be positive, and he responded by giving her a small kiss, but that was not exactly what he meant.
“I should go see my folks,” he said.
Jill looked down. Of course, both of her parents were gone. “I would like to meet your mom,” she said.
“That ritual usually takes place before marriage.” Ethan joked. He slipped his arm around her and she snuggled into her comfortable spot in his shoulder. “But that was not really what I was thinking.”
“I kind of don’t know how to say this.” Ethan looked hesitant before he just came out with it. “I’ve been feeling a little uncomfortable lately with all the lies we’ve been telling, and all the ways we have been manipulating people.”
“What?” He spoke softly and stroked her hair. “Like the farm we have in the west? Like telling Lars on the very first day, almost the very first moment, that we were married?”
“It was what I wanted, and besides, I spoke the truth when I said married couples are less likely to be separated.” Jill squirmed a little. “You work in PR. You know all about how to spin things and that is all it is, really. I was just trying to keep us from standing out in whatever world we were visiting.”
“Spin, yes. Lie, no,” Ethan said. “I am usually very careful with the facts.”
“But you don’t have to tell everything you know,” Jill said.
“No,” Ethan agreed. “You don’t have to tell them everything, but then there is the manipulation, too.”
Jill squirmed a little more. “What do you mean?”
Ethan waited until she settled down again. “I mean making us appear like angels, putting the fear of God into a new group of dimensional travelers and bringing that poor Byzantine Colonel to his knees.”
“But that’s not manipulative.” Jill pulled away to look up into Ethan’s face. “It is who we are. DeMartin was right. He did not see half of what we are capable of. There was nothing fake in what we did.”
“Well, like enough as far as they are concerned. At least I like to think so. Guardian Angels, and anyway, it is just what we can do based on who we are. We are Gaian, and you are too, now. You can call it manipulative if you like, but there is no need to always hide behind the limits of the world we are visiting. Sometimes we need to show ourselves a little. It is better than having many scalps taken.” She smiled and Ethan let out a little laugh at their joke.
“You are too.”
“Maybe. But I am still an immigrant. I did not grow up in your world, don’t forget. And I am sure I still have some cultural baggage from my world to work through.”
“Does this really bother you?” Jill asked softly. She let her nervousness out by rubbing the hand she was holding. In a minute, Ethan knew she would start squeezing it. She leaned again into his shoulder. She needed his assurance, and he understood.
“Some.” He had to be honest since the subject was honesty.
“I’ll try to be more careful.”
“I’ll work through it.” He caught sight of her incredible gray-blue eyes. He thought he could work through anything as long as he could be with her.
Doctor Augustus and Captain deMarcos were on the roof to see them off. Manomar stood silent, waiting, ever vigilant, watching over his two charges as they said good-bye. Ethan shook the hands of Augustus and deMarcos, and Jill, in her usual fashion, gave each man a hug.
“You have a new world to build,” Ethan said.
The Doctor nodded. “And with our new additions, the odds of rebuilding this world successfully have gone up dramatically.”
“I’m glad,” Jill said.
“Captain, you can’t be that old.” Jill smiled.
“Nearly fifty,” the Captain said. “Older than you, I guess.”
“Try another thousand years,” Ethan whispered.
“Eleven hundred in twelve years and thirteen days, I think,” Jill said.
“I’ll have to start planning the surprise party soon,” Ethan said, and Jill just smiled and kissed him.
“I love surprises.”
Doctor Augustus suppressed his grin when he said his final good-bye.
Manomar was more serious when he followed them through the ship’s door and back into the control room. “So where are we going?” he asked.
“Back to my Earth,” Ethan said. “Jill is going to meet my parents.”
Jill looked up at Manomar. “And you have no idea how nervous I am,” she said. The big man just smiled.