Decker shouted. He started to sway and could not seem to open his eyes.
“Decker,” Nanette shouted at him, and Boston and Sukki ran up to see what the problem was. Sukki arrived in time to see Nanette slap Decker, and yell. “Open your eyes. Come back to me.” The shock of the slap got Decker to pop his eyes open, but then he groaned and fell over.
“I’m all right,” Decker breathed.
“What happened?” Sukki asked, but no one was in a position to answer. Decker sat up when Alexis arrived and knelt beside him to examine him.
“I’m okay.” Decker waved her off. “I got hit with some kind of hypnotic, hallucinogenic ray of some kind. I don’t know what that was.”
“I didn’t think anything could touch you when you were with your totem,” Nanette said.
“He got poked in the eye once by a witch,” Boston said. “Outside Babylon, remember?”
“Thanks,” Decker said, and shook his head. “I had forgotten that.”
“I think the eagle eye is more like a gift,” Alexis said. “Like a power”.
“When he first got the gift, he dropped hand grenades on the alien Balok,” Lincoln said.
“Something physical goes with him when he takes to the air,” Alexis remembered the hand grenades. “There is a real connection to his physical being that stays on earth.”
Decker understood something, anyway. He got to his feet but had to lean on Nanette for a minute to stay upright. People waited to hear what he saw.
“About a hundred Vikings as near as I could see. They only have half a dozen horses, though there may be more horses in the woods. That was hard to tell with them all staying hidden, but in any case, they are mostly on foot, so if we can get past that point, it is unlikely they will be able to follow us.”
“And did you spy the spaceship?” Elder Stow asked with another glance at his scanner.
Decker did. “Maybe it saw me and moved fast. That got my attention. It came from hovering over that city in the distance and fired some kind of mind-numbing weapon when it got close. I saw a brilliant flash of colors, felt terrible anxiety—fear, I suppose. I got dizzy and wanted to throw up.”
“No,” Elder Stow said with some surprise in his voice. He pulled out his Gott-Druk version of a database and carefully searched. “Vishantu.” He read to himself, and Lincoln got out their database and read out loud.
“Vishantu or Flesh Eaters. Carnivores. They begin on their victims by drinking the blood and have a tongue specially adapted for that purpose, like a straw. They can also use their adaptation to suck the marrow from the bones after the flesh is consumed. Otherwise, they appear near human enough, slightly distorted, mouths too big and gray skin, but humanish.”
Elder Stow interrupted. “Must be Vr energy. A very narrow band of what you might call dark energy. It is a barely discernable by-product of faster than light travel. It is not something I would have expected these Flesh Eaters even to know about, given the level of technology available to them.” He waved off the questions and focused on the important point. “It affects the nervous system and the natural electrical functions of the brain. It causes a hypnotic state, illusions, or what you call hallucinations, fear, anxiety, pain, paralysis, and death depending on the length of exposure. Colonel Decker, you must believe me. The Gott-Druk have outlawed any concentrated use of this energy source. Most intelligent species that know of it have. We would never use such a thing, not even on Homo Sapiens.”
“Well, I have the headache,” Decker said. “Should I look forward to Paralysis and death?”
“There is no lasting trauma,” Elder Stow assured him. “Good thing you escaped the direct beam. Your headache should clear up in an hour or so and you should be none the worse.”
“Good to know,” Decker said. “Meanwhile, I’ll just take these two pain relievers, if you don’t mind.”
“Elder Stow.” Once he knew Decker would be all right, Lockhart changed the subject. “Let us look at the map you have of the area and see if we can chart the best course to evade the Vikings on the road.”
“Of course,” Elder Stow said.
“Tony. Join us since you are driving the wagon. And Elder Stow, you need to get your screen device ready in case that alien ship finds us.”
“Of course,” Elder Stow said again. “The fourth screen includes a block for Vrocan energy. Given enough time, I might be able to block just that energy and we could still move, but the whole normal screen will stick us in place until I can devise a workaround. In that case, the Vikings may catch us.
“It does appear as if the Vikings and these Vish…Flesh Eaters are working together,” Katie said, and Lockhart agreed.
“Ethelwulf,” A woman called. The king paused to turn to her with some annoyance in his expression. The command tent could only hold so many. And she should have stayed in Winchester. She would stay in Guildford whether she liked it or not. He changed his expression to a smile.
“Osburh. What is it? Can’t you see I am in a strategy session before we leave? We are ready to leave?” He looked around and everyone agreed. The Vikings were seen preparing in a field just west of Kingston, in Surry, two long days away.
The woman came into the room carrying a two-year-old on her hip. “It is the baby. He won’t eat.” She looked distressed.
Elgar smiled and tapped Ethelbald to follow. “So, this is Alfred the Great,” Elgar said. The two-year-old gave him a funny look and turned his shy head into his mother’s shoulder. “Go on.” Elgar poked Ethelbald. “You’re the big brother. Encourage him to eat.”
Ethelbald also gave Elgar the same funny look before he turned to the boy and said, sternly. “Boy, you must eat your food to get big.”
“No.” Elgar said. “You are not his father. Sound like you are a big brother who loves his little brother. Like this.” He put his hand gently on the boy’s back and spoke kindly. “You know, those fruits and vegetables keep you healthy. A good night’s sleep helps too. Why if you were to get sick it would just break my heart. So have some fruits and vegetables…”
“And meat,” Ethelbald interrupted. “It will make you strong.”
“Fish is good,” Elgar said.
Ethelbald made a face. “I don’t like fish.”
“I do,” Osburh, the queen said. “What do you think?” She leaned back and spoke to her child. The boy nodded, just little. “Never mind, Ethelwulf. I think we will be all right now.” They left and the king turned to Elgar.
“Is that how you speak to your daughters?”
“I try, but what daughter ever listens to her father? Mostly, my girls do all the talking, and my wife is right in there with them, talking all the time. I don’t know if they ever say anything. I swear, though, they would all keep talking in their sleep if they could figure out how. I’m looking forward to the battlefield where I can have some peace and quiet.”
The king smiled. Osric rolled his eyes. Ethelbald laughed after a minute.
Elder Stow directed the group down the paths, keeping an eye on what his scanner showed him. William rode beside him to add his two cents. He knew the terrain, if not the actual way they had to go. Boston stayed out front, her senses searching for people, and her eyes open for dips, potholes, and blockages in the path that Elder Stow’s scanner might not pick up. Sukki rode between Boston and the group where she could relay information back to the wagon. The Gott-Druk might not be good at whispering, but Sukki could shout plenty loud.
Tony drove the wagon while Lincoln and Alexis rode on either side of the mule. Decker’s rope had already been tied to the wagon and to their horses in case the horses were needed to help drag the wagon up a steep incline or slow it on the downhill side. Nanette followed the train where her telekinetic magic might help the rear of the wagon over the rocks and rough spots. It was all they could do. The cutoff across the open land between Watling Street and the road to Winchester would be slow going.
Lockhart led the rest of the group to a small rise full of Rocks where they first pulled off Watling Street. They had to move beyond a swampy area before they could move off the road, and that put them within sight of the Vikings blocking the turnoff road to Rochester. Lockhart revised his thinking about being followed. Men on horseback would catch them, easily, but even on foot, the Vikings might catch them depending on how slow the wagon had to go in order to arrive in one piece on the Winchester Road.
Lockhart carried his shotgun and had his police special on his hip. The marines, Lieutenant Colonel Decker and Major Katherine Harper-Lockhart had their top-of-the-line military rifles ready. Katie said the Vikings might be posted in that place to protect the road to Rochester and keep any enterprising locals from interfering with the siege, or whatever was going on around Rochester. If they saw a group of people pull off the road and turn away from Rochester, the Vikings might be inclined to let them go.
“On the other hand,” Decker countered. “A dozen people in horseback seen from a distance might suggest the locals are gathering to attack them, and they might follow in force looking to nip that notion in the bud.”
“Nip it in the bud?” Lockhart asked.
“Prevent that from happening.”
“I know what it means. You don’t usually speak in cliché expressions.”
“Comes from Hanging out with Nanette,” Decker said with a straight face and focused his eyes on the Vikings in the distance.
“Yes, about that…” Lockhart started, but Katie nudged him to get his attention.
“Don’t go there,” she said.
After a moment of silence, Decker responded. “It’s good. I’m good. Now, I see some movement among the Vikings.”
Katie looked back and saw the wagon just pulling off the road.
“We don’t need to kill them all,” Lockhart said, turning his eyes to focus on the task. “Just discourage them from following.” They all concentrated until Lockhart added. “Nip that notion in the bud.”
Vikings and aliens. Events are heading toward a showdown. Until then, Happy Reading.