They moved an hour away before they made a camp in a hollow beside a hill. Ali Baba sent Hussain back to his own camp with the word that he hoped to be there by noon tomorrow. He made Schaibo stay with him, had Elder Stow put his full screens around the camp so the horses and mule would not wander, and he got down to examining the equipment before dark.
When supper arrived, Lord Baba and Elder Stow came to agree. They imagined no remote way to short out the personal screens of the Wolv, having had only one afternoon to work on the problem; but they agreed an electromagnetic pulse would do the trick nicely, and short out the Wolv weapons besides. The ships, with their stronger screens, would likely be shielded from the pulse, if their screens were activated. That would be just as well. Lord Baba planned to send the survivors, if any, back into space. He acknowledged that the Wolv were not known to surrender, so all he could do was shrug.
“Where are we, exactly?” Katie asked, even as Lord Baba and Elder Stow came to the fire. She and Lincoln had mostly figured it out, but they remained unsure.
“Wait,” Boston interrupted. “What about Sukki?”
“Armenia. Near the border of Osroene,” Baba answered Katie’s question, but looked at Boston and Sukki, showing some sense that he would address their questions in a minute.
“That does not explain much,” Lincoln said. “We figured that out, but when?”
“Trajan died almost a year ago,” Baba said. He put down the last piece of equipment he played with. He had a small knife and tried to pry the thing open, but it was being stubborn. “Hadrian is emperor now, and this is all Roman territory, but not for long. Mesopotamia and Assyria will be traded back to the Parthians, if they aren’t already.” He took a bite of supper and decided he better explain something.
“Trajan got guns. He conquered all the way to the Persian Gulf and burned Susa, but we blew up his factory, cutting off his supplies, and effectively disarming him. The Persians, Arabs and Parthians then combined to stop his progress. The Arabs, under Lord Sasan, originally a Zoroastrian priest, sort of took over a very weakened Persia. As usual, it is complicated, since they all still answered to the Parthian King of Kings, as he calls himself.”
“So, where are we in this mess?” Lockhart asked.
“I figure you came in around Lake Van,” Baba answered. “That river you crossed this morning was the Tigris.”
“Yesterday, Late afternoon,” Tony interjected. He drove the wagon at the time.
Baba nodded. “A Wolv scout-transport with fifty or so Wolv, and three or four small craft, like the three-man scout ship we encountered, is parked on the Chaboras River, a tributary of the Euphrates, this side of Edessa. I figure the next time gate is on the other side of the actual Euphrates, somewhere on the road between Edessa and Antioch in Roman Syria.”
“Hadrian is Emperor,” Tony said.
“He was less into conquest and more into building walls and forts and making solid borders,” Katie explained to Lockhart, but so everyone could hear.
“I suppose,” Baba said. “Now that the weapons of Trajan, the guns, have been taken away, his options for conquest are greatly diminished. Besides, he will have to contend with the Wolv, and probably see some of his legions decimated. There is a full Wolv battle fleet parked on the corner of Superior Moesia and Inferior Moesia, and Thrace. That is about six thousand Wolv, like a full-strength legion of Wolv. By the way, I haven’t detailed that for the others, so I would appreciate you not saying anything about it, when we get there tomorrow.”
People agreed to keep their mouths shut, but Boston could not help interrupting. “But what about Sukki?”
“Sukki,” Baba said, kindly, and reached for her hands. She slowly took his hands, afraid of what her own hands could do. “You have nothing to be afraid of. The goddesses who were kind enough to make you human, all wanted to give you something to help you fit in with the human race, though I can’t understand how some of the gifts might help.”
“But I had something come from my hands. That poor Wolv got blasted. I’m not safe,” Sukki spouted.
Baba said, “Hush, hush… You can be sure the goddesses did not give you anything without also giving you the ability to control it. That may take some learning, or practice, but you can control it.”
“But what has she got?” Boston said, excited.
Baba turned to look first at Nanette. “And you are learning how to lift some things?” Nanette also looked scared. “Telekinesis, I think, not strictly magic, or maybe some magic. It was hard to tell, judging from the evil twin. Nothing to be afraid of, but the ability will come and go as the Other Earth phases in and out of conjunction and you move through time. Learn what you can do when you can, because in 1905, or whenever you get home, you will have the ability for the rest of your life.”
Nanette nodded slowly, and turned to look at Alexis, who paused in her own thoughts to hug the girl.
“Now,” Baba returned to Sukki. “Let me see if I can list things. Athena, or Minerva, is the only one who stuck to the plan. She gave you what she called a fundamental understanding of physics and astrophysics, if you should be tempted by space, and the math to go with it. Knowing Athena, you probably have doctorate level understanding of those things. At least you should be able to understand what Elder Stow and Boston talk about.”
“That’s great,” Boston shouted, while others congratulated her. Sukki did not look so sure.
“Mother Bastet felt concerned that you not lose track with your roots. She let you retain your Gott-Druk strength, and enhanced it a little, I am sure. She also gave you a glamour, like the glamour you used to have that made you look human. It works the same, only now you can look Gott-Druk anytime you wish.”
“You should try it,” Nanette said, before anyone else could say it. She felt a bit shy at briefly having been the center of attention and wanted everyone to focus on Sukki instead. She decided that perhaps she and Sukki were alike in that respect; not wanting people to focus on them. The Romans said that made her all the more fetching and fascinating, but she could not help it. She did not like being the center of attention. She looked at Decker, but he did not look at her.
Sukki put on her glamour and sat there for a minute looking like a perfect young Neanderthal girl, though she could not see herself, she saw Boston raise her eyebrows at the change.
“Here,” Schaibo said, and pulled out a mirror as tall as himself from a little pocket in his vest. “I got used to carrying it around for my sister. She is a little on the vain side.” He turned the mirror to Sukki but turned it away again when Sukki began to cry.
“It is all right,” Elder Stow spoke to comfort her. “Now, you are truly my daughter.”
Sukki nodded and wiped her nose as she let go of her illusion of being Neanderthal. Schaibo put that big mirror back in his little pocket, without a word.
“Okay?” Baba asked, and she nodded before he continued.
“Mother Doris wasn’t sure what to give. Honestly, she is probably least connected to the human world and human things. She let you keep your lung capacity, and enhanced it some, like a dolphin, she said. You can hold your breath a really long time; and then she thought to let your body handle the cold and pressure of the deep, and sudden changes in pressure, too. That does not make you invulnerable. Far from it. You may be puncture resistant, but don’t think you can’t be shot by a bullet or an arrow. You will feel the hit, too, if someone takes a swing at you and connects. But the bullet or arrow might not penetrate far, and you should be pretty hard to crush. Also, I imagine the snowy cold won’t be as bad as before.”
“I don’t see how that will help her fit into the human world,” Alexis said.
“Maybe the fish world,” Lincoln said before he could stop the words from coming out of his mouth.
“Amphitrite’s mother,” Katie reminded them all. “Doris of the sea.”
People nodded that they understood, even if they could not see how it helped Sukki be more human.
“But what about the laser blast?” Boston said, and Sukki nodded.
“Yes. Well. The last two, mother Frya and not-my-mother Ishtar searched your heart. They saw the things that you wished you could do and filled you with those things. They are both, in their own way, goddesses of love and war. They put a weapon in your hands. I think you can turn it down to stun people and not have to turn them to dust and ashes. And they filled your heart with love. Mother Frya said the capacity for love is the only thing that truly makes us human.”
“I don’t feel any different in that way,” Sukki confessed, and looked to the side like one thinking really hard.
Lord Baba nodded. “I honestly don’t know what filling your heart with love means.”
“You said things,” Katie pointed out. “Is there more?”
Baba shrugged. “I am not sure. There may be more. I know you are stronger than human, with extra lung capacity in a self-pressurizing and cold resistant body. You have a powerful weapon in your fingers which you can learn to control with practice. But you also have been given some human knowledge, a way to remember your roots, and a big capacity for human love. If there is more, we shall see.”
People paused to consider Sukki. She quickly felt on the spot and got up to check on the horses. After a moment, Elder Stow and Boston got up to join her, and Alexis changed the subject.
The travelers are not out of the woods yet… I always wanted to say that. I saved it for years. Monday, the rest of the story. Until then. Happy Reading