“Not fair,” Boston yelled.
“What?” Artie asked, and Alexis and Lincoln looked at her with the same question in mind.
“He disappeared. It took me about thirty time zones to figure out the Kairos was represented by a little dot in the wilderness. We moved off the direct line to the next time gate to catch him, but now he disappeared.”
“What do you mean, disappeared?” Katie asked, and pulled out her amulet.
“Off the grid?” Lockhart asked.
“Wait, wait,” Katie said, touching her controls. “Boston, set it to maximum distance. I still see the gates.” she showed Lockhart, and he nodded. Artie wanted to look.
“I know. I know.” Boston said, grumpily, and increased the size of her map until the two time gates reappeared. At that distance, the dot pinpointing the Kairos was too small even for her elf eyes to see, but she could reasonably assume he was half-way between the gates. She showed Alexis and Lincoln.
“How did he get all the way over there?” Artie asked, and added, “Where is there?”
Katie pointed in the general direction. “Probably one of the gods took him there,” she answered Artie.
Boston spoke. “My guess is somewhere over on the eastern end of the jurisdiction, practically in the next jurisdiction over.”
“It would take us weeks to get there,” Alexis said.
“That is a long way for people who don’t want to get involved with the local people or entangled in local affairs,” Lincoln spoke to Lockhart. “Especially if there is an invasion going on.”
“If he got taken for some emergency, he could get back here in the same way,” Alexis said.
Katie looked at Lockhart again. “If we head out for the new location, we may have to turn around and come right back two days later.”
“Wasted trip,” Artie summarized.
Elder Stow interrupted. “Well, I can’t even see the time gates.” He stared at his scanning device and adjusted everything he could. “He is completely off my grid. If I were on my own, I might get stuck in this time zone for a long time, looking.” He looked up. They all knew he had some way of locating the time gates, but this was the first time he admitted it. “You know I only have small hand-held devices such as an elder carries,” by which the rest understood ‘such as a military officer carries’.
Lockhart turned to Boston with a question. “Can you lead us to the Kairos’ last location, where he was before he disappeared?”
“Wait a minute.” Boston fiddled with her amulet before she nodded. “There is no clear point, but I can get us close, anyway.”
“Baseball rule?” Decker suggested, and Lockhart nodded.
“Three strikes, he’s out. We give him three days, in case the gods send him back to where he was. After that, or if you can tell on that thing that he has begun to move slowly, like the gods are not helping him, then we move toward him and maybe meet him half-way.”
People agreed and set about packing their things.
After only a few hours, they came to a hill beside a river. A man called down to them. “Who are you? What do you want?”
“We are looking for a man named Padrama,” Lincoln shouted the answer. Katie and Lockhart looked through the binoculars, and Decker took a good look through the scope from his rifle. They saw the chariot and horses, the fire, and a man kneeling, holding tight to a shield and a spear. They did not see much else, and no other people.
“Maybe we can join you and wait for him,” Lockhart shouted.
“I have no gold or anything of value. I have little food, so I cannot help you if you are hungry.”
“We are friends of Padrama,” Katie tried.
“Not true. I have served Lord Padrama since he was a child, and I do not know you.”
Alexis tried something else. “We have known the Kairos for a very long time.” She felt the hesitation on the part of the man. After a moment, he asked a question.
“Do you know the Princess?” the man asked.
“Yes,” Alexis answered. “And Doctor Mishka, and others.”
The man set down his spear and put the shield back into the chariot wagon. “You might as well come up. I am sorry I have little food if you are hungry.”
The travelers climbed the hill, and immediately set about caring for their horses while the man sat by the fire and introduced himself. “I am Raja. Rajasimpli. I serve Lord Padrama’s family, and my job is to make a man of him. Of late, he has threatened to make a man of me.”
Lockhart introduced the travelers, and asked, “What brought you here so far into the wilderness?”
“My young lord met a young woman, Mohini, and she got abducted by Ravager, the servant of the god Shiva. We have followed, though we left our people far behind.”
“Wait a minute.” Lincoln got out the database and began to read. “Mohini in this life is the fifth incarnation of a woman… She lived as Sasha, her third incarnation. She married Mikos way back when. We met Mikos.” People did not remember until he said. “Bluebloods and Sevarese, seals on the beach. Mikos was the son of Ares.”
“Oh, yes,” Boston said. “I remember.” Lockhart looked at Katie who also seemed to be remembering. Ares grabbed her and kissed her, passionately, and she did not appear to resist very hard.
“So, he sees Mohini like a soul mate, of sorts,” Alexis concluded.
“He has called her Sasha, and I have heard her call to him, Mikos,” Raja admitted.
“So, you are a long way from the invasion,” Decker concluded as he sat by the fire.
Raja appeared to think a minute. “The valley of the great river has been overrun, but mostly we are moving in and filling the empty spaces. We have no need to war on the people when there is plenty of room, unless we have to.”
“Mixed invasion and migration, as most reasonable scholars imagine,” Katie said, to distract Lockhart from thinking about Ares.
“Here’s the thing,” Lincoln paused in his reading. “It says normally humans are not designed to live over and over. They are male or female, and after a few lives in a row as the same sex, it gets strange. The Kairos lived as a woman once three times in a row at the beginning, and had to balance it with three male lives in a row. The Kairos almost got ruined by the experience. Since then, the Kairos has kept things in balance by, more or less, taking turns between male and female. But remember, the Kairos was originally designed with all the genetic material to be both, and was supposed to be born both, with one consciousness divided between two bodies.”
“I still say that would have been strange,” Lockhart shook his head as he tried to imagine it.
“We saw Amri and Zadok when we first began this journey home,” Boston remembered.
“They were still attached at the hands, like one being, but everything else was separate,” Alexis also remembered, and Boston nodded.
“Amri liked to talk and Zadok liked to listen, so it worked out well.”
“Anyway,” Lincoln took back the conversation. “Normal people are only one or the other. Apparently, the Kairos gets less than two percent added from his actual birth parents for each birth, and that is mostly cosmetics, like hair, or eye, or skin color. A person changing from male to female would normally require too much alternate genetic material. It would not be the same person.”
“So, we are women forever,” Artie said, trying to understand.
Lincoln nodded. “But here is the thing. For normal humans, the attractiveness increases. I read that as sex, as in the person becomes more masculine or more feminine with each rebirth. But at the same time, the mind starts to slip. After about the fourth birth, insanity begins to also creep in. It says, five is about the limit. Rasputin was the seventh, irresistibly attractive to the noble women in Russia, and madder than the hatter.” He went back to his reading, and Raja offered a comment.
“You are the strangest people I have ever met. Are you Yaksha? I should be more afraid, but after the Yaksha that visited us last night, you seem tame.”
“Visitors?” Alexis asked.
“Lord Padrama called them dwarfs.”
Lockhart nodded and pointed as Katie spoke. “Alexis and Boston are Yaksha. They are light elves, but the rest of us are human.”
“Me, too,” Artie said, proudly.
Raja nodded as Decker spoke up. “Come on, Lincoln. It is our turn to hunt.”
“Be careful in the wilderness. There are snakes, some are very big, and some are very poisonous.,” Raja said, and turned to the women. “And be careful to watch for the crocodiles in the river.”
“This river?” Lockhart said, thinking they were a long way from a salty delta, where he imagined all crocodiles lived. Then he remembered crocodiles lived all the way up the Nile.
Raja nodded, as he got up to find more wood. He did not want the fire to go out. “The villagers we spoke with called it the Ramganga River, and said it was full of crocodiles, and snakes, Pythons and Cobra. Personally, I am more worried about the bears in the woods.”
“And Lions?” Katie asked. She once shot a lion that attacked Alexis.
“Not lions. Tigers.”
“And bears,” Artie said.
“Oh my,” Lockhart could not help himself.