“A medium sized warship,” Elder Stow reported what his scanner and his private database told him. When the ship fully landed and pointed its weapons at the woods, Elder Stow lowered the screens and walked out with Katie and Lockhart to contact the ship. Boston and Sukki insisted on tagging along, and Eric ran up to walk with them. Elder Stow had to show Lincoln how to turn on the screens, if necessary.
Three ape-like people exited the craft to meet with the humans. They wore pants, but no shirts. They had straps from shoulder to hip and devices of some sort attached to the straps. The travelers did not doubt that some of those devices were weapons. The apes also wore helmets which looked odd around those ape faces—looking almost like American football helmets.
“How can we help you,” Lockhart asked in the local tongue they had been speaking over the last several days.
One ape man stepped forward, no doubt the one in charge. “We mean you no harm,” he said, before he looked down and patted one of the devices on his chest strap. It took a couple of seconds before the device spoke in the tongue of the locals. “We mean you no harm.”
Lockhart thought he might try the ape language. The gift of the Kairos had been to understand and be understood whatever language got spoken. The travelers heard everything in English and spoke English as far as they were consciously aware. They normally did not think about what language they were speaking, but they sometimes noticed when presented with more than one option. Besides, alien languages often had odd noises and very odd pronunciations that were hard for the human tongue to get around. Fortunately, this ape language sounded fairly normal. Lockhart later said it sounded Greek. Katie countered that it sounded more Aramaic, and Lockhart could not stop himself. “It is all Greek to me.”
Lockhart turned to the ape man. “We also mean you no harm, so that is good. But I must ask, what are you doing here? You must know that this world is off limits to space travelers.”
The ape man looked at his companions. Katie judged it a look of surprise before the ape man spoke again in his own tongue. “We are hunting Eaters and tracked one of their ships to this world. The Eaters care nothing for the rules. We found the ship crashed and ruined some distance from here, but my mate says there may have been survivors.”
Katie spoke for the first time. “This village has had three casualties of the Flesh Eaters in the last thirty days. Two were eaten to the bones. The third victim had the blood drained, but the Flesh Eater got scared off before it could feast. I would guess one survived, though it may be weak. There may be more.”
The ape looked unmistakably like he had to think about that, when one of the others nudged him and said, “scan right.” Whatever that meant.
The ape man took another device from his strap and turned it on Katie. It only took a second, before he said, “You are female?” Katie heard something unkind in the way he said that, though with aliens it was hard to tell.
“Last I checked,” Katie responded, but the ape man had already moved on to scan Elder Stow. The scanner flashed red, and the ape’s eyes got big. Elder Stow thought it only fair to remove his glamour and stand there in his full Neanderthal glory.
“Gott-Druk,” the ape said with some trepidation in the edges of his voice. “Now it makes sense.”
“What?” Lockhart asked.
“We scanned and scoured this whole planet, and it led us to the one sign of technology beyond the rest of this world. We found the crashed Eater ship. But then we picked up a new signal, five of your days ago. It was like… energy sources… so much we did not understand. But the refined metal we understood. My commander sent me and my ship to see what we might be dealing with.”
“We are travelers,” Lockhart said, taking back the conversation. “The Gott-Druk are originally native to this world and have permission to visit here. You should not be here.”
The ape man nodded, though the others did not know what that meant. He spoke to the question. “The one called Kairos said we could watch for Eaters and come if we remove the Eaters from this world and do not interact with the native peoples of this world.”
“The Kairos will be here in a few days,” Katie said. “She is also a female.”
“So it has been recorded that the Kairos sometimes takes the female form.”
“What?” Katie turned her head.
“Boss, we got company,” Boston added. They all looked. Inga and Kerga were leading about two-dozen warriors from the village. Tony and Astrid came out from the traveler’s camp, and Boston and Eric also went to try and stop the crowd, or at least keep them from getting too close. Kerga appeared to agree with whatever they said. The warriors stopped, but then he and Inga followed Boston and Eric to the meeting.
“Welcome to our village,” Inga said quickly before the village chief said something stupid, and Katie tried to explain to Kerga.
“These good people are also looking for the ones who murdered and ate your people. When they find them, they will stop them and punish them, and take them away.”
“We may kill them if we find them first,” Kerga said. It came out like a statement, but was a question, not asking for permission, but stated to see if there were any objections.
It took a second for the translated words to reach the ape man’s ear and he responded. The translation device working quicker this time, now having heard and pieced together some of the local tongue. “Be careful. The Eaters still have Vorcan energy to cause the madness and paralyze those who are not protected.” He tapped his helmet, and the travelers nodded, now understanding the reason for them. Elder Stow spoke.
“My people are protected. The locals are not. We have warned them, but they are angry.”
The ape looked sad. “I have seen such anger in others. I have not seen good come from it. Only weeping and gnashing of the teeth.”
“Yes,” Katie agreed, and Lockhart looked at her, Inga, and Kerga before he spoke again, this time in the local tongue.
“This land belongs to the village, but with their permission, you might park your ship here while you hunt for the Flesh Eaters.” He looked at Kerga.
“It is not exactly a trading ship in the dock, but we are not against travelers and strangers, strange as they may be,” Kerga said. “You may come to the meeting hall when you are ready.”
Katie smiled for Kerga since he had such a hard time smiling. “I was just going to ask if they wanted to join us around our fire.”
“No, please,” the ape man said. He may have meant to say no thank you, but then he explained. “You are omnivorous. You are selective in what you eat and do not normally eat people, but you do eat meat. We find that offensive and disturbing. We are well supplied on our ship and may rest comfortably there.”
“Understood,” Lockhart said.
“One more warning,” the ape man added. “You must not let the Eaters gain a foothold on your world. Even a few is all they need. They came to our world in the old days, and it took all of our effort to drive them out. We are still fighting them after these hundred and fifty of your years, as you count time. We can help you find them and end them, but we must keep apart. We have agreed to keep apart.”
“Also understood,” Lockhart said, as Katie turned to explain to Kerga.
“The agreement with the Kairos is they may come and remove the flesh Eaters from this world, but they are not to interact with the people of this world.”
“Wise,” Inga said, and after a moment, Kerga agreed.
“But I am curious,” Katie continued and returned to face the ape man as she spoke. “How much of your aversion to meat eaters is because of your struggle against the Flesh Eaters who seem to prefer people meat?”
“Some,” one of the ape men with the commander spoke for the first time. “We have discussed this. Probably some. Most species eat of the animal bounty of their worlds. We do not.”
“Fruits and vegetables,” they heard Inga explaining to Kerga.
Something on Elder Stow’s belt let out a brief beeping sound. He picked up the device, his scanner, and glanced at the trees which were not too far away. “Movement in the woods, about five miles off. I’m picking up refined metals. They appear to have come from behind an iron ladened ridge, or there may be a cave there that blocked my scanner.”
The ape man, a young one who had not yet spoken, looked very interested. “You can see such details at a distance with a mere box you hold in your hand. May I see that?”
“Certainly not,” Elder Stow said, gruffly. “My equipment, though they may be like toys, they are off limits to primitives.”
The head ape appeared to bow his head while the other pulled back his hand, like one scolded. Then the apes got busy hearing something through their helmets. “Confirmed,” the ape commander said. “Our ship has detected the same metal traces. We will send an unoccupied flyer to look.”
“A drone,” Katie translated for Lockhart.
“Still,” the young ape expressed some awe. “It takes our whole ship and all our energy to do what you can do with a simple box in your hand.”
Everyone could see that Elder Stow really wanted to show off, but he did not dare. He said, “I have learned on this journey that even a small thing can throw all of history off track. You best leave my equipment alone.”
“Wise,” Inga repeated herself, and they all paused to watch as an airplane-like drone exited the warship and headed out over the treetops.
The flesh eaters are on their way, and the apes, travelers, and vikings combined have to stop them, if they can. Until then, Happy Reading