Avalon 5.2 Palace Intrigue, part 2 of 5

“Can I see the zombie?” Artie asked, sweetly.  Her eyes were trained on the river where Major Decker shot the one that collapsed back into the water.

Katie raised her eyebrows.  “Teenage curiosity,” she called it.  “Don’t go bloodthirsty on me.”

Artie paused to consider what bloodthirsty meant.  Katie kept her elect senses flared, not only toward the river, but all around the camp, in case the zombies should come from the town, or along the shore in either direction.

Huyak hovered over Elder Stow’s shoulder, having sent his wife, sons and daughters back to the house.  Elder Stow worked on his screen device, preparing to set a particle screen around the camp that the zombies could not pass through.  In order to keep it up all night, though, he needed to charge the batteries, as he said.  He mostly worked with the pieces of equipment he gathered from the crashed Anazi fighter ship in the time zone before the last.  Huyak seemed fascinated.

Katie turned to look at the one girl Huyak left in camp.  She looked to be about Artie’s age of sixteen, and the thought crossed Katie’s mind to wonder why Huyak had not sent her to bed with the others.  The girl spoke to Katie, like she was reading Katie’s mind.

“Oh, I’m not Huyak’s daughter.”  She smiled and sat closer to Artie, as Artie continued her own thought.

“Because I have seen dead people before, but not with my human eyes.  It was different back then.  I wasn’t one of them.”  She turned to the girl and explained.  “I only just found out that death is not the end of everything.  My goddess, Anath-Rama has made a place for me and my people, and I thank her and praise her every day.”

The girl nodded.  “Anath-Rama is very nice, though a generation or two older than I am.”

“I am sure the place is wonderful,” Artie continued, wistfully.  “Edward is with her now.”

“Was he your boyfriend?” the girl asked.

“I’m not sure,” Artie answered, honestly.  “He might have been.  We didn’t get the chance to find out.”

“I’m going to have a boyfriend,” the girl said.  “I just have to figure out who it is going to be.”

“That would be interesting.  I had not thought of that.  Maybe I should get one.”

The girl nodded and looked up at Katie.  “My name is Arinna.”  She immediately looked down, like she got scolded.  Katie said the words after the fact.

“It is not polite to read people’s minds and answer before they have a chance to ask the question.”

“Yes,” Arinna said.  “But that is why I came to see you.  I can’t read your minds very well at all, and I got…curious?”

The hedge of the gods, Katie thought.

“That’s right,” Artie said.  “I can’t read minds at all, but I would be curious.  I am curious about a lot of things, since I became human.”

“What do you mean, became human?”

“I was born an android,” Artie said, with some pride.  “That is what Elder Stow calls us.”

“A machine,” Katie said, to Arinna’s curious face.  The word machine did not help much, either.

“You became human?”

“The goddess, Amphitrite changed me from a machine to a human.  I got like real hair and everything.”

“Wow, I didn’t know the gods could do that.”

“It felt strange, but good, like I was waiting my whole life to become human.  Like I should have been human my whole life.”

“Wow.  That must have taken great skill and ability.  I can’t do anything like that.”

“Can my friend stay with us tonight…mom?” Artie asked, with a hopeful look.

“It would be all right.  My…mom would not mind,” Arinna said, with the same hope written all over her face.

“A sleepover,” Katie said, and to Arinna she added, “And I am not asking who your mom is.”  She paused, a dramatic effect, but she needed a second to imagine this happening some day with her own daughter, and wondered what Dad-Lockhart might say.  “I suppose it would be all right.”

“Yea!” the girls shouted, and held hands, truly more like six-year-olds than sixteen-year-olds.

“Maybe I can help.”  An older woman stepped into the fire light, and Arinna jumped up to hug her.  “Hannahannah,” she called the woman, before she turned and introduced her.  “This is my grandmother.”

“Don’t worry, Katie, I will watch them,” Hannahannah said.  “Come along, Artie.  A growing young girl needs her rest.”  Artie popped up, took Arinna’s hand again, and the two went into the tent, both talking at the same time.  “Not that I expect to get any rest,” Hannahannah added, as she followed them.

“There.”  Elder stow announced, and Katie turned her attention to the Gott-Druk and Huyak.

“And nothing will be able to penetrate these invisible screens?”  Huyak sounded fascinated.

“Correct,” Elder stow said.

“Will I be able to get back to my house?  My wife will be missing me.”

“Of course,” Elder Stow said, and smiled.  “I included your house in the screen area of protection.  You will have to see us if you or your sons want to go out before dawn, but that should not be a problem.”

Huyak nodded and waddled off to his house.  Lockhart came out of his tent and said, “A nice one hour nap and I’m ready to go.”

“Nine o’clock?” Katie asked, surprised.

“You can get some sleep,” he said.

Katie harrumphed, stepped into Lockhart’s tent and stole his blanket, then went to lie down beside the fire.

“What?” he asked.

“Our little girl is having a sleepover,” Katie said, and Lockhart quickly looked at Artie and Katie’s tent.  “The girl’s name is Arinna.”  Lockhart looked again at Katie.  “I would guess she is a young goddess, but I would guess it will be okay.  The girl’s grandmother is with them.”

“Oh, okay,” Lockhart looked once more at the tent.  “If you think it will be okay.”

Katie grinned as she lay down and imagined her and Lockhart having a daughter, and him having that same silly, uncomprehending look on his face.

Lockhart sat quietly, watched Katie sleep, and kept the fire fed.  Elder Stow joined him, and they enjoyed the quiet of the night for over an hour.  When the moon rose, so did the sounds.  They came from the footbridge, and from across the river.  Zombies wailed and moaned, like ghosts in the dark.

“They are protesting, I imagine,” Elder Stow said.

“Yes,” Lockhart agreed.  “But I was thinking, they could only have been raised and activated by one of the gods.  If the god wants them on this side of the river, I can’t imagine your strongest screens will keep them out.”

“You might be surprised,” Elder Stow said.  “According to Yu-Huang, there is almost nothing the gods cannot do, but that does not mean everything is easy.  Some things are easy as breathing.  Some require learning, like learning to ride a bicycle or learning to read.  Young gods and goddesses don’t automatically know how to do everything.  Far from it.  They have to learn, like any children.  And then, some things are like scholarly tomes or higher mathematics.  There are some things that some, maybe many gods will never learn how to do.”

Lockhart slowly nodded, but then he said, “I don’t suppose any screen can prevent a god from appearing wherever he wants.  If he can’t figure out how to get the zombies through your defenses, no reason he could not appear here and simply turn the screens off.”

“If he thinks to do that,” Elder Stow said, but he went back to sit beside his equipment.

When the end of the shift came at midnight, and Decker and Lincoln got up for the wee hours, Elder Stow felt more confident that his screen defense would make it to morning.  He told Lincoln what was necessary and went to bed.

Lockhart looked at the tent he shared with Lincoln, but remembered Katie had his blanket.  He looked once more at the tent where Artie was, and all seemed quiet.  He took a deep breath, and lied down beside Katie.  Katie slung the blanket over him.  He put his arms around her.  Katie wondered in her sleep filled mind why they were not together every night.  Lockhart wondered what he did or said that caused them to separate.  He could not remember.  He didn’t want to be separated.  He loved this woman.  He feared for a moment that he might not be able to sleep for thinking about it, but soon enough he began to breathe long, slow breaths, and Katie snuggled into his arms.

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