After 1236 BC Philistia. Kairos 67: The Nameless God
Katie and Artie walked out from the camp to talk. Everyone said watch out for the crocodiles. Lockhart waved, but people could tell he worried. Artie had changed since her experience in the last time zone, and people did not know how to read her changes. She seemed sullen, sometimes pensive, thoroughly teenaged.
“We were worried about you,” Katie said. “We all were.”
“Your father drove us like a madman to reach Utumari. We didn’t make it.” Katie smiled. “Your sister Sekhmet found us first.”
“Sekhmet has work to do,” Artie said. “She has been very good to me, but I know she is busy.”
“I suppose that is right.” Artie stopped, walking so Katie stopped.
“You have work,” Artie said, and waved off the idea that they all needed to work to get home in one piece. “No, I mean after you get home. You are a marine, and you will go to work with the Men in Black, with Lockhart, Lincoln, Alexis, and I suppose Boston, too. Elder Stow will go back to the Gott-Druk where he has both work and family. Decker will live and die a marine. But what about me? I’m just sixteen. What am I going to do when we get there? I have no reason for being.”
Katie smiled. “I thought I might help you get your GED, and then you might go to college. There are all sorts of things you can learn, and you won’t be sixteen forever. Who knows? You might find a nice young man.”
Artie shook her head vigorously and started walking again, so Katie walked. Artie had to think, but she finally spoke again.
“When I was alone, my strongest self came back to the surface. At times, there, I stopped being a sixteen-year-old girl and became something else. It is the reason I survived. I am a soldier, and a dominant. That is like a commander—an officer, like you. It is what I have been programmed to be.”
“Your military training helped you survive,” Katie suggested that she understood. “I depend on my training every day on this journey.”
Artie shook her head again, and they stopped walking again. “That’s not it. I learned more military things from you and Decker, and everybody else, than I ever learned through my programming. You taught me how to think, and think on my feet, as Decker says. He says most battles are won in the mind before the two sides ever come to blows. I understand so much now that Artie the Android would have never understood. My program did not cover the subtleties of life, thought, feelings, intuition. I’m not sure the Anazi themselves can understand some of the things I have learned.”
“But that is all good, isn’t it? You have grown a lot compared to how you were when we first found you. But isn’t that good?”
“It is good,” Artie said. “It is very good, but…” She started walking again, and Katie walked with her and held her tongue until Artie spoke. “I think if I lived long enough as a human, I might become as wise as you, as loving and caring as Alexis and…” Artie shook her head, gently. “No, never as wild and crazy as Boston. But you get what I mean. But here is the thing. I feel as if I have grasped the basics. There might be a million more things you can teach me, but at this point, they might be things I can figure out for myself.”
“Good for you,” Katie said, to Artie’s surprise. “That indicates you are growing up, maturing, and not just growing older. You sound like a bird getting ready to leave the nest, or in other words, like a true teenager.”
Artie stopped them a third time. They were nearing the water, but did not want to get too close without checking the area for dangerous creatures. That was when Artie finally tried to verbalize what she felt.
“I feel as if I have betrayed my own people. I made others do all the dangerous work, while I stayed here, safe. I have learned a lot. I’ve learned all, or at least most of the important things of life, but now I am wondering, what good is it if I can’t share this knowledge with my people? I don’t know if I will ever see my people again. I mean, I love you, and dad, and everyone so much,
I can’t tell you. I have loved being human, but I know that deep down, I am not human.”
Katie hugged her. “You will always have a home with us.”
Artie hugged her right back. “I know. But I have another home. I am a dominant android. I need to find that other home, and go back to my own life—my real life.”
They started walking again, and both slipped, fell, and slid down into a pool. Katie imagined water, until she tried to get out. Something had her feet, and it started to creep up her leg.
“I’m stuck in the mud,” Artie said.
“Help,” Katie imagined quicksand, and they needed help to get free.
They heard laughter, and Artie recognized it. “Djin,” she yelled. “Explain yourself.”
A small black cloud came to the ground, like a ball of smoke drifting in a breeze. It slowly formed into a man’s figure, and he laughed as the women began to sink in the muck. “I have played. I have toyed with you all, but you are charmed beyond normal mortals. The gods themselves have hedged you around, and they watch.” Anger replaced the laughter, and two oversized crocodiles appeared at the man’s feet.
“Help,” Katie tried again.
“They cannot hear you. I have been made small as the gods have eaten bits and pieces of my power. But I have not been made so small that I cannot kill you. That is what must happen. You must die, piece by piece. I will have you all.”
The crocodiles began to move toward the water, pausing only to decide on the best way to get at the struggling humans. Katie managed to get her hand down and pull her knife, but she and Artie had sunk up to their chests so she had no room for leverage. The man reverted to cloud form, but it watched. It did not fly off.
As the first crocodile slipped one foot toward the water, something rumbled in the earth. The cloud became agitated. It began to swirl. The women heard a roar of anger. Lightning struck the earth, and the cloud, like a tornado, whipped off to the north. A man—a giant appeared.
The giant wore a jackal head and held a staff which he planted once in the ground. The crocodiles disappeared. He planted it a second time and it hinted of thunder. The women found themselves clean of every speck of mud and standing on the hard surface of the earth. The pool of quicksand vanished as surely as the crocodiles. He slammed his staff once more to the ground, and the thunder came loud and strong. The women, the travelers, their horses and tents, all of their thing in the camp, and the camp itself, vanished. They left the Nile delta where they had been, and reappeared on the far side of the Saini, near the sea. Then the jackal-headed man spoke.
“This is as far as I go,” he said, in a deep voice that vibrated down to their toes, and he disappeared.
Katie and Artie looked at one another and walked quietly back to the camp. The man even transported the campfire, undisturbed, with sufficient wood to see them through the night. Lincoln was the first to speak.
“What was that?”
“Anubis,” Katie said, and sat. “The djin is not giving up. Apparently, the djin has decided that the only good traveler is a dead traveler.”
No one had much to say after that. People went to bed surrounded by desert instead of the lush green of the Nile delta, but they did sleep.
Around one in the morning, Artie and Katie woke up to the sound of humming overhead. Artie did not recognize the sound as Anazi, but it clearly sounded like a ship of some kind, either hovering or moving slowly across the sky. Lincoln and Decker were on watch, and Decker made a decision not to wake Elder Stow. Katie agreed. She felt no imminent threat.
While Artie and Decker tried to sight the craft in the night sky, Katie sat down next to Lincoln. She felt some concern for him, too.
“You have been very quiet lately. I hope everything is all right.”
He looked at her for a minute before he opened-up. “Alexis and I talked about it. We haven’t said anything because we don’t want Boston to feel bad. You need to not say anything.” He waited for her to nod. “Alexis and I need to be together again. As Lockhart says, we deserve each other. She has pretty much taught Boston everything she can—what she needed to teach her as an elf. The rest she can explain in her human form, like if Boston has questions, that sort of thing. She almost asked Utumari about it, but we did not see him for very long, and we were all so preoccupied with finding Artie. It just wasn’t the right time. We may ask Nameless when we see him, but Alexis doesn’t know how. She is afraid Boston may panic.”
Katie responded with her own dilemma. “Robert and I agreed that we would marry the next time we were where Artie and Sekhmet could both be there. I don’t think he… we expected it to be this soon, but I think we are ready… I hope… I don’t know.”
Lincoln smiled at her. “Jitters?”
Katie returned a hard stare. “No doubts,” she said. “But it is a big step, that’s all. I went for the longest time believing I would never marry anyone, ever.”
“A big step,” Lincoln agreed. “But worth it. And children…” he watched Katie’s eyes widen just a little. “Worth it,” he repeated.
“There,” Artie shouted and pointed at the moon-lit sky. Decker looked.