The doctor stopped his work and put on a pair of thin leather gloves. He grabbed something like a magnifying glass and stepped over to examine the travelers. He paused to look up at Lockhart, who stood quite tall. Lockhart wanted to make a face, maybe a Decker face to intimidate the little man, but it was hard to get his face to cooperate when he had a gun poking him in the back.
“Yes, these will do quite nicely,” the doctor squeaked in a timid little voice.
“Aren’t you going to listen to our heart and lungs,” Alexis objected. “Don’t you want to check our blood pressure, or maybe take a blood sample for analysis?”
The doctor stopped and stared at Alexis for a minute. He seemed to need the words, and finally he came out with, “No. None of that is necessary. You are relatively healthy specimens who show no signs of infection. That will do.”
“Are you ready to go?” Bozarius asked.
“The tide is not up yet,” one of the men said.
“About an hour,” the doctor said at about the same time.
Bozarius nodded. “Stygria, you and your men keep the prisoners locked up until the doctor is ready to leave. You need to escort the prisoners to the ship and see them fastened in. Then you have your orders.”
“Sir.” the man, Stygria came to attention and acknowledged his leader like a military officer, only lacking the salute.
Bozarius thought to say something more to the travelers before he left. “Doctor Theopholus has kept the plague alive since the death of the Prophet, and in a controlled way that has kept it away from the armies of Arabia. That has been for more than thirty years. How old are you now?”
“Sixty,” the doctor said. He went back to work but half-listened.
“There is one more job before he can rest. He will cut the population, including the military strength of Constantinople in half. This plague outbreak will be the pneumonic kind?” The doctor nodded but said nothing. “He will infect you when you reach the city. You will infect everyone else. I believe that is what you call killing two fish with one stone.
“Birds,” Lockhart mumbled.
“But what happens when the Arabs get here? Won’t they risk catching the infection?” Lincoln asked.
“It will burn out by the time the Arabs get here. That is two years hence. I have many more cannon to make in those two years. Then we blast the vaunted walls to gravel and that will be that.”
The travelers got brought to the room where they heard the moaning and groaning, and they got locked in.
Elder Stow stopped working on his screen device long enough to eat. He actually joined in the conversation around the table for a while. People were talking about how similar they all were, black and white, men and women, from 1905 or 2010, and even between Homo Sapiens and Homo Neanderthals.
“Much of it, like touch, parental concern, and children exploring their environment is plain animal stuff, at least for mammals,” Elder Stow said. “Though I have witnessed birds and others who show a remarkable concern to keep contact and stay close to their young.”
“Crocodile mothers,” Decker nodded.
“Most of the rest, as far as I can tell, and I never really thought of it before, seems to be based on social, cultural, and more than we realize on technological conditions. Without automobiles, and I might say, trains and planes, people connect with people, mostly neighbors and in the community. The limiting factor appears to be the ability to travel. With cars, trains, and planes, people can travel, even to distant and interesting places, and I mean ordinary people, not just the rich. Real friendships can develop between people who may live thousands of miles away when you have a telephone.”
“Then,” Boston interrupted. “With the invention of the internet, people do not have to go anywhere. You can travel the world from your own living room, and no one has to talk to anyone, if you don’t want to. We are all isolated all over again, and this time, people don’t even know their neighbors.”
“Yes,” Elder Stow frowned. “Not all advances are especially good ones. And believe me, there are some advances on the human horizon that make bad matters worse. You don’t want to know, but I will say, I have learned much in our journey, and one is that relationships, or what I imagine as real contact between real people, is something we should never lose sight of. Hugs matter. All hugs matter.”
Sukki smiled and gave Elder Stow a hug.
“Travel broadens the mind,” Decker said, and with a little grin for Nanette added, “Or so I have heard.”
Nanette returned his grin and patted his hand. “In that case, 5000 years has not quite done the job. You have a little more traveling to do.”
Decker picked up Nanette’s hand and kissed it right in front of everyone. Boston dropped her jaw. Sukki looked away and turned as red as Boston’s hair. Elder Stow smiled and said, simply, “Family.”
Tony looked at his food and thought to change the subject. “Once the world was full of Greeks and barbarians, but then the Romans came, and the world got bigger. Some Greeks realized that some of the people outside the borders of Greece were maybe not so barbaric.”
“The Persians first. Then the Romans.” Nanette said. “Alexander the Great really expanded the Greek world.”
“Then the medieval world went backwards for a bit. Medieval people stayed pretty much in their villages and probably had no idea what the rest of the world was like. Even the church focused on spiritual horizons, not worldly ones.”
“Or the mosque. Or the synagogue.” Nanette added, basically agreeing.
“But then the age of discovery arrived, and it was no longer me and my few and everyone else are strangers. Now, the whole world seemed strange, but people got into exploring, learning, and getting to know everything that was new and different.”
“And where did that get us?” Boston asked.
“To world war or maybe world peace,” Decker said. “If the human race can ever learn to live in peace.”
Elder Stow’s screen device alarm went off. He turned it off quickly and checked his scanner. “Someone has gotten into the wagon,” he said.
Decker jumped up and grabbed his rifle. Elder Stow and Tony, with Katie’s rifle, followed. The girls came behind because Sukki stopped to hug Nanette and encourage her with Decker, and Boston tried really hard not to tease the girl.
In the stable, they found three men that tried to rummage through their things. They appeared to be trapped and unable to escape. Elder Stow explained. “I tuned a disc to the screen and gave it a twenty-foot radius around the wagon. I set it carefully so it would not slice through any flesh and blood, or animals. It was sort of a test, but I think it worked. Walking around the wagon would not set it off, but as soon as the insides of the wagon or anything in it got touched, it automatically deployed.”
“Can I shoot them?” Decker asked as they stepped up to face the three men.
“No,” Elder Stow said. “The screen is solid on both sides. They can’t get out, and we can’t get in until I turn it off.”
“Hey,” one of the men shouted. “We’re trapped in here and can’t get out. Help.”
“What did you steal?” Decker asked as Tony and the girls caught up.
“Nothing. I didn’t take nothing,” the man said.
“We were just looking,” Another man said. “He was just showing us your stuff. Honest.”
“I want you to lie face down, arms stretched out over your head while we take a look,” Decker said. They did not move. They looked at each other, uncertain. “Now,” Decker shouted. “Don’t make me kill you for just looking.” All three men got slowly to the ground. “Okay,” he said softly to Elder Stow and with more volume added, “Tony, do an inventory.”
“Hey, Decker,” Boston shouted from where she wandered into the back to check on the horses. “Somebody let Ghost out of his stall.”
Decker turned on the men at his feet. “Just looking?”
One man jumped up to run. Decker kindly shot him in the leg. He fell and grabbed his leg where the blood started to come out. He shouted, stunned by the sound of the gun and in shock at seeing a bleeding hole in his leg. It would start to hurt soon enough.
“Any other bright ideas?” Decker asked.
One man did not move at all. The other shook his head, said, “No, no.” and tried not to cry from fear.
“A horseshoe and some nails,” Tony said.
“Do I have to search you?” Decker asked.
The man who said nothing that whole time pulled the horseshoe and small bag of nails from his shirt and placed it on the ground. “Can we go?”
“Let’s see,” Decker said. He shouted to the back. “Horses okay?”
“A-okay,” Boston said.
“We need them saddled to take them to the dock,” Decker decided.
“All okay, blankets and everything.” Nanette shouted. “Being saddled.”
“Your friend probably needs to see a physician,” Elder Stow said, and handed a few copper coins to the scared one thinking if he was scared enough, he might do the right thing.
“Get your stupid friend and go,” Decker said. “And don’t come back. I would rather not have to kill you. It would spoil my supper.”
The two men helped their friend while he cried and tried to walk on one leg.
“Was that really necessary?” Elder Stow asked.
“The Kairos thinks so,” Decker answered. “Bad as guns are, they cannot be easily duplicated. Horseshoes, however, could change the course of history.”
The travelers need to escape to save the man who invents Greek Fire. They need to get that invention to Constantinople and disrupt the plans of the Masters, in whatever way they can. Until then, Happy Reading.