Lockhart peered out, like from a cave on to a ridge, but he could not see much or very far outside of a blue hazy line in the great distance. He thought that might be the sea. He put his hand gently forward until he touched the gate.
“I see the shimmer of the gate in this light,” Boston said, and everyone nodded. She had come up to the front and looked around at her fellow-travelers. They could all see it, but not well.
“This would be easy to overlook, especially if we were in a hurry,” Lieutenant Harper said.
“Weapons ready?” Decker suggested, and Lockhart nodded. Mingus rolled his eyes, but Roland got out his bow, Boston fetched her Beretta, Lincoln checked his pistol, and Lockhart cradled the shotgun in his arms like a baby. The marines, of course, were always ready. Doctor Procter pulled a rickety stick from some secret place up his sleeve. It was his wand, and with that, Alexis felt prompted to look around for something she might use to focus her magic as well.
When they were set, Mingus rolled his eyes again, but Lieutenant Harper saw and threw the elf’s words back at him. “Better to be safe,” she said, and they all stepped into the next time zone.
The ridge top proved not very wide, and though it did not end in a cliff or sharp drop off, the slope looked steep enough to make them keep to the ridge top in the hope of finding an easier way down. Lockhart headed them east, toward the rising sun, and Boston remarked how lucky they were to arrive at sunrise instead of the dark of night.
“Of course it is dawn.” Doctor Procter squinted in the early light. “The time zones all share the same twenty-four-hour cycle. They may be different days or different times of year, or on different phases of the moon, but they all have twenty-four hours.”
Mingus added a thought, getting used to making up for what the Doctor left unsaid. “He means when it is noon here, it will be noon in every time zone. The only way we will enter a zone at night is if we leave a zone at night.”
“Nine in the morning or so, not dawn,” Lincoln interrupted. “It is hard to tell with the sun rising behind the mountains.”
“Chain of mountains,” Alexis spoke to her husband. “And we seem to be fairly-high up, though it is warm. I would guess near the tropics.” Lincoln nodded and for the first time he got out his proverbial notepad and pen. The pistol got put away since there did not appear to be anyone or anything around apart from a few birds.
After a short distance, they found a place where the ridge crumbled and rolled to the bottom ages ago. It seemed a gentle slope, but instead of being full of rocks and loose pebbles, it had become covered in grass.
“Our way down,” Lockhart said.
“Mmm.” Boston looked around and half-listened, as usual. She had her hand up to shade her eyes, and looked up now that they could see several peaks at once above them. “I like the way the rising sun sets off the peaks like so many islands in the sea.”
“Islands in the sea, indeed.” Captain Decker pointed across the slope to where the ridge top picked up again. A large wooden structure looked abandoned there—a man-made structure. It remained partly hidden behind some boulders, but for want of a better word, it looked like a boat, and a big boat at that.
“It can’t be.” Doctor Procter said it first. No one else said anything until they arrived at the site, and then they all said, “It can’t be,” except Mingus, who suggested it stunk.
“Father!” Alexis protested and Roland stood right beside her. “You stuff all those animals in a boat for forty days and forty nights and see how much stink there is.”
“The stink is hardly the point,” Roland added.
“Look at this.” Doctor Procter got everyone’s attention. The boat had graffiti on one panel near the quadruple-wide door and ramp. Over all was a picture of the sun and the moon squeezed together so it was a half-moon and a half-sun. A mermaid had been crudely drawn on one side.
“Half-woman and half-fish,” Alexis said while Lincoln desperately tried to make a rendering of the drawings in his notebook. He cursed not having a camera. “And a centaur, half-man and half-horse on the other side,” Alexis finished her thought. She ignored her husband’s curse and pointed with her finger.
“And the middle picture?” The captain, lieutenant and Lockhart did not see it, but to their defense, the pictures were very primitive.
“The Kairos,” both Doctor Procter and Boston spoke together, and Boston let the doctor describe it.
“The two persons of the Kairos are attached on her right and his left, so there are only three legs and two hands on a double-wide body. You can see the two heads clear enough.”
“And she has little boobs,” Boston added, and watched Roland redden just a bit.
“So, you like my work?” Everyone jumped and looked up. A man stood inside the Ark, at the top of the ramp. “You are future travelers. I thought that sort of thing was not possible—a self-contradicting proposition.”
“We are accidental travelers.” Lockhart spoke up quickly and just as quickly got Captain Decker to lower his weapon. Lockhart stood back from the others and still cradled the shotgun. Mingus stood beside him on the other side and frowned for some reason. “We plan to move on as soon as we can,” Lockhart finished.
The man nodded and asked for no further explanation. “I am just glad there is a future. I have worked hard so what I once saw might not come true. My wife says I am making freaks. I said they are her children too.” He paused to smile, but since no one but Decker joined in the smile, he finished his thought. “The truth is these offer hope, and there are others working elsewhere.”
“Why centaurs and mermaids?” Lieutenant Harper asked.
“Because the world is empty and needs to be filled. If the ones who would-be gods have nothing to occupy their time and attention, they will be occupied with each other, and that would be very dangerous.”
“Do I know you?” Doctor Procter asked, and squinted at the man, but the man shook his head.
“But I know you. I can’t help it. Boston. You will live much longer than a human should live. Alexis, your days will be shorter than they might have been. Doctor.” The man paused and scrutinized the doctor. “There is something different about you—something wrong.”
“He is half-elf and half-human,” Boston suggested.
“Half and half. No. But what an interesting concept. I wonder why I did not think of that. It would certainly cut down on their wild rampaging through the earth.”
“But wait,” Lieutenant Harper spoke quickly. She felt afraid that the man might run off, or maybe just disappear. “I still don’t understand the centaurs and mermaids. What about human beings.”
The man looked up at the lieutenant and smiled. “A sharp mind. They are the future—your future. But right now, they are all bunched up on the plains of Shinar. Oh, there are some small groups scattered here and there around the world, but mostly Shinar.” He pointed. “I see your way lies in that direction.” People looked, though there was nothing to see but mountainside. He waited until they all looked at him again before he spoke. “I must think on these things you have said, only I fear my children will find me before I can act on my thoughts.” He vanished. One moment he stood there, contemplating eternity, and the next moment he disappeared. Mingus answered everyone’s question when he spat the man’s name.