Alexis, Lincoln, Boston, and Lockhart stayed up with Ed and Artie while the others slept and the sun went down. After sunset, Boston wandered the perimeter of the camp now and then, to let her refined elf senses reach out into the dark, just in case. They half expected an Anazi rescue ship in the dark. Elder Stow set the screen device in his scanner to deploy impenetrable screens as soon as something came in overhead. Organic material, like birds, would be ignored, but anything else in the air would trigger the screens. Boston and the others felt safe enough, but Boston walked all the same.
Artie, with a little help from Alexis, explained everything she could think of to Ed; too much, really. She talked, sometimes rapid fire, and everyone saw plainly both how human, and in a way, how female Artie had become in the months since being liberated from Anazi control.
Apart from many questions, and not grasping certain concepts, Ed seemed most taken by the idea that he should be male. Lincoln and Lockhart tried to fill in things from a male point of view, including when they confessed they did not understand how women saw some things the way they did, either.
“I think I best be male,” Ed admitted at one point. “It seems much less complicated.” Then he offered a free thought, something he just started to learn how to do. “I accessed the program in my system that includes your faces and specifications on several occasions, since we came here to your earth. Most of it made no sense, even when I had contact with humans like you. But now, having met the living images, and having scanned you, and most of all, having spoken to you…” he paused before he continued. “…and listened to you, freely, it begins to make sense.” He paused again, and everyone waited, having seen that same expression on Artie’s face. He was thinking, or reviewing data as Elder Stow insisted. Even Artie waited patiently for him to speak again. “I say, I felt more attracted to Lincoln’s face and form than any others. There is no explaining it.”
“Thank goodness for that,” Decker interrupted as he came out of his tent. “It was bad enough when the Shemsu among the Olmec people carved my helmeted head in giant blocks of stone down in the Yucatan. Now, to have a bunch of androids running around the universe bearing my image. No. That would be too much.”
“Did we wake you?” Alexis asked by way of apology.
“Shift change,” Decker said. “Midnight.” Decker cradled his rifle and pulled up a seat by the fire.
“Well, I’m tired,” Boston said with a yawn. She had become a light elf, not given to night hours like a human. But then, she slept alone in her own tent, since her husband Roland went missing, and her father Mingus disappeared in that great flash of light, and Katie opted to room with Artie. Sometimes, the prospect of being alone kept Boston awake. Lockhart, Decker, and Elder Stow also slept alone. Elder Stow, in particular; at first because no one trusted the Gott-Druk, but later because he snored so badly.
Boston imagined she would be rooming with Artie. She had thought Katie and Lockhart would be together by then. She watched when Katie got up to take Alexis’ place beside Artie, even though Katie and Artie did not have to be up until the three to six in the morning shift.
“I suppose I better get to bed as well,” Lockhart said, and looked at his tent.
“So, where are we in the discussion of life, liberty and all?” Katie asked, looking at the fire.
“Goodnight,” Lockhart said, turning toward Katie, but making a general statement.
“Goodnight,” Katie said, more-or-less in Lockhart’s direction, but just to add her voice to the chorus.
Katie and Lockhart appeared to pause, but then Lockhart went into his tent, Katie sat by the fire, and Boston, an empathetic elf, went to bed, sad.
Around three, Katie walked. She had taken up Boston’s routine of walking the perimeter now and then, just to be sure. As an Elect, a one in a million-warrior woman, designed by the goddesses in ancient days to protect the home and families when the men went off to war, her senses and intuition were highly refined. She could sense danger and an enemy at a great distance, and what she senses at three triggered a red flag in her mind. She yelled.
In only minutes, something buzzed overhead. Alexis and Boston got up, groggy, but managed to combine their magic and form a magical disguise around Artie and Ed. They had no idea if the glamour would fool the Anazi scanners. Alexis suspected it would not. She suggested it would fool an Anazi’s visual perception, but probably would not even fool other androids.
The ship, a transport looking thing, stopped overhead. It got a good look at them and their camp, though Elder Stow had activated the particle and energy screens around the camp in case the Anazi ship took a shot at them. Everyone felt surprised when the ship rose in the sky, turned around, and left the area.
Something crashed through the treetops. It landed some distance from the camp. Artie shrieked. Elder Stow tuned his scanner quickly to examine and study the crashed object. He swore, something he never did, and adjusted the screens accordingly.
I made the screens extra-large and solid,” he explained. “I sliced through some trees on the outer edge, but made it tall enough to take in the camp, horses and the trees in the immediate area.”
“Won’t those cut trees on the edge fall on us when we turn it off to begin moving in the morning?” Katie asked, as she moved several steps in one direction, but heard what Elder Stow said.
A second something overshot the camp.
“We won’t be going anywhere for a while,” Elder Stow said, and frowned
“Gas.” Ed said the word a moment before Artie could identify it.
“What you call mustard gas,” Elder Stow agreed. “It will fall to the ground and creep along for several hours before it dissipates, but the screens should easily keep it out.”
A third something fell behind them all.
“Not very good shots,” Artie concluded.
“They don’t have to be with mustard gas,” Katie said.
“Let me look,” Decker suggested. Katie pointed in the direction she sensed was the source of the gas. Decker nodded and stepped aside to a place where he could sit and meditate. He let his spirit rise-up, carried by his eagle totem. He saw no sign of the Anazi ship. It had vacated the area. From overhead, he spied a small catapult, moon lit, and a dozen men using it. He saw the wagons, but as he circled around, he saw other men, more like thirty with chariots, about to charge the catapult. Decker figured the catapult men were shooting in the dark, assuming the campfire belonged to their enemies. They were in for a rude awakening when the chariot men charged. Decker came back to earth in time to hear Katie squawk.
“Who the hell is making mustard gas in seventeen hundred, BC?”
“Not the Anazi. We may never know,” Decker said, to verbalize Elder Stow’s shrug.
“Should we wake the others?” Artie asked.
“Why?” Decker responded with the question, while Katie retook her seat beside Artie and spoke.
“The others need a chance to rest, and as Elder Stow said, we won’t be going anywhere for a while.”
“You ask these humans and do what they say?” Ed sounded surprised, even if he had not yet figured out what surprise was other than in a military context.
“Oh, yes,” Artie said. “I have learned. We act as a team. Everyone has things to contribute, and these humans have knowledge and abilities that we do not have. The best judgment is not always a simple weighing of the facts. There is wisdom in listening, and these people have much experience that again, we do not have.”
“But to do what someone else says? Is that not slavery?”
“Not when it is a free choice,” Artie responded.
“Only an immature child always wants his or her way,” Katie added. “Elders can be wrong at times, but wisdom says the young should listen to their elders, and not resist them, especially those that care about you. That is how children learn.”
“I have over fifty years of experience to draw on,” Elder Stow said. “I understand Lockhart has seventy years of experience. We have determined that Artie has about five years of experience, though she does not count the four years she lived under Anazi domination. I suspect you are also about four or five years old.”
“Young soldiers listen to their seasoned sergeant and their commanding officer,” Decker added. “Not only because they have pledged to listen, but because listening to their experienced words, and obeying orders, is the way young soldiers stay alive.”
“And you have not listened much to Lockhart, my mother,” Elder Stow spoke to Katie who he called the mother of the group, after his Neanderthal fashion, as he called Lockhart the father of the group. “It seems he is an elder worth listening to.”
Katie said nothing, so Decker mumbled, “Only a child always wants her way.”
Katie stood. “Excuse me. I have a perimeter to walk.” She left the fire and Artie spoke.
“Love is something I am still working on.” She turned to Ed. “It is very, very complicated.”