Avalon 6.5 Zombies, Murder, and Mayhem, part 6 of 6

Zombies came slowly up the stairs of the Ziggurat.  More than one lost its footing and rolled to the bottom, but all except one simply picked itself up and started the climb again.  That one lost its head, but there appeared to be plenty more where that one came from.  Behind the crowd of zombies, they saw people with torches.  That gave them enough light to see the zombie’s human shape, even if they could not see the faces.

The travelers pulled their handguns. It was all they had, and they figured they would not be much good against people who were already dead.  Decker, standing by the stairs and holding his military rifle, shot one zombie.  The zombie jerked when the bullet hit it, but it kept on coming.  He flipped his weapon to automatic and sprayer five shots into another darkened figure.  It jerked plenty.  It almost fell, but caught itself with its back foot and kept climbing.

“I see a crowd of them,” Elder Stow said, holding tight to his scanner.  “I mean living people.  They appear to have herded the zombies to the steps of the ziggurat.  I am guessing the zombies have enough presence of mind to know fire is a danger to them.”

“The people are feeding the zombies to the gods, hoping the gods will take care of the issue,” Lincoln guessed.

“Any suggestions?” Katie asked Lockhart.

“I’m wishing I had my shotgun,” he answered.

“I’m doing no good,” Decker admitted. “Who else wants a turn?”

“Let me try,” Boston butted up front and pulled her wand.  She looked down the steps.  “They are still pretty far away.  Alexis, give me your wind.”

“Might as well,” Alexis said. “These have flesh, not like the skeletons.  I could blow them off the steps, but they would just get back up again.”

Alexis put her hand on Boston’s shoulder. Boston tried to aim.  What came from her wand was something like a flame thrower.  She set the three out front on fire.  One fell and rolled down the steps like a ball of flame, but she commented.  “They are still pretty far off.  I’m afraid they might wander off into the vines and trees.”

“Let me,” Elder Stow said, and took Boston’s place as they heard Ninlil’s voice.

“Mary Riley!” she scolded Boston, who heard the words all the way to her gut.  “You will set the whole place on fire that way.”

“Sorry,” Boston said.  The scolding was not as bad for her as an elf than it would have been for a human.  Alexis lowered her head, but Ninlil patted her shoulder.

“That’s all right.  I know you were just trying to help.”

They turned and watched Elder Stow turn his weapon carefully on one after another. The zombies turned quickly to piles of dust and ash, but it looked like slow work, and there were so many of them.

“This will take forever,” Ninlil complained.

“I am trying to be careful,” Elder Stow said, even as he dusted a zombie and took a small chunk out of the step. “I am trying to preserve my power sources.  My batteries are running low again.”

“I’ll charge your batteries, but move. Otherwise, this will take all night.” She stepped up, and sounding very human, she rationalized her actions.  “This place is dedicated to the gods.  I claim my portion of ownership.  These dead ones are trespassing on my property without permission.” She blinked, and all the zombies down below turned to dust at once.  She also dusted the zombies still in the city, which was only nominally hers, but no one was going to quibble.

“The necromancer,” Lockhart said.

“I know,” Ninlil said, as she led everyone back to the fire.  “He is working for Ashtoreth, wicked girl.  She came to the city. I thought she was helping.  I should have known better.”

“The necromancer?” Lockhart asked this time.

“Ashtoreth whisked him off to the next time gate.  Hopefully, you will catch him soon and end his activities.”  Ninlil said, end his activities because she was too polite to say, “Kill him.”

Labash yawned and smiled.  “Well, now that the great and terrible zombie curse has been dealt with, I am going to sleep well.”

They pretty much all did.  Only Decker turned a little in his sleep, because not far away, Millie kept making sweet little noises.  He finally got up and slept by the fire.

###

Everyone got up with the sun.  The dwarf wives returned and began to cook a breakfast feast.  Labash looked up to the temple when a sound caught his attention.  He rushed up and caught the girl before she fell down the steps. She seemed groggy.

“Are you the gods?” she asked

“Sorry.  Just the gardener.  Labash. Do you have a name?”

“Kishilani,” she said, and then she smiled for him.  “You can’t be just a gardener.  You look like a god to me.”  They held on to each other as he brought her carefully down the steps and imagined she had a bit of a goddess look about her, too.  He had not been lying when he said the priests picked out the young and most beautiful girls they could find.  This one qualified on both counts; double qualified.

“What did you find?”  Ninlil asked, but she smiled when she spoke, like she knew a big secret.  It made Labash suspicious.

“Millie,” he called her over. “Meet Kishilani.  My teacher Ninlil and my fellow gardener, Millie.”

Kishilani nodded to each and added a word for Ninlil.  “Named after the goddess?”

“Yes,” Ninlil said.  “That is exactly right,” Ninlil said, as she went to sit and wait patiently for breakfast.

Labash and Kishilani still had one arm around each other as he took his free hand and introduced his friends.  It looked like he still held her up, though she looked perfectly capable of standing on her own by then.  She held on to him, and looked like she did not mind holding on to him.

“Lord,” they got interrupted.

“Oh,” Kishilani seemed startled by the dwarf and slipped into Labash’s arms for protection.  He happily accommodated her.

“Yes, Missus Hearthstone.  What do you need.”

Missus Hearthstone rubbed the stubble on her chin and nodded, like she knew Ninlil’s secret.  “How do you want your eggs?”

Labash looked a smidgen down at Kishilani, and she looked up at him with her eyes wide and her mouth part way open. “Eggs?” he asked her.

“Scrambled?” she whispered.

“Two votes for scrambled,” he told Missus Hearthstone.  “And I’ll appreciate you keeping your thoughts to yourself.”

“Oh,” Kishilani said again.  “I’m supposed to be ravished by the god.” Like, she just remembered what she was there for.

“Well, you found him,” Missus Hearthstone said, simply unable to hold her tongue.  Millie who kept looking at the two, and grinning broadly, thought to look to Ninlil.  If she understood one thing it was the gods frowned on imitators.

“Close enough,” Ninlil said, and did not bat an eye.

Labash did not want to let go. Kishilani laid her head on his shoulder and smiled that smile again.  Labash felt it in his toes, and he thought he better let go before she started to purr.  “So, while we wait, let me show you Rome after Nero burnt it to the ground.”  They stepped to the edge, still holding each other.

They looked and he pointed, and Alexis leaned over toward Katie and whispered.  “We need to catch him in one of these time zones when he is getting married.”

Sukki might have heard.  Boston should have been too far away to hear, but her good elf ears did not miss much.

“Yes,” Boston shouted, and then in a smaller voice added, “Or her.”

************************

MONDAY

The Necromancer is not finished.  Avalon 6.6: The Count begins on Monday.  Don’t miss it.

Until then, Happy Reading.

*

 

Avalon 6.5 Zombies, Murder, and Mayhem, part 5 of 6

“You were here,” Labash started, and looked around.  “Most of you were here with Ishtar when Babylon was founded.  Assur founded Assur—creative name—about two or three hundred years earlier, a small time in the life of the gods.  But you may recall Ishtar saying, in effect, that now that the boys each had their own place, they would have to take turns.  That was around 2000 BC.”

“I remember,” Boston said.

Assur raided southern Mesopotamia. Then Marduk raised up Hammurabi.”

“I remember Hammurabi,” Boston interrupted.  “What a dweeb.”

Labash smiled for her.  “Not to say they were the only players.  Hebat sort of cheated and her Hittites took two turns. But the Mitanni, the Hurrians, the Gutians, and others, all got a turn, all being supported and encouraged by various gods.  Enlil and Enki sort of supported the Elamites, who never went away until they got absorbed by the Medes and Persians.  Marduk did not mind.  He sort of held on to southern Mesopotamia and minded his own business.  Assur, though, got mad.  I think because he seemed closer to the front line, as Decker calls it.  About 1366 BC, he had enough.  He took a 300 year turn and shoved everyone back, taking on the Hurrians, Hittites, Mitanni, and the rest.  He messed with Babylon and southern Mesopotamia some, but not much.  Then it should have been Babylon’s turn, but Babylon had become occupied by Kassites.  You might call them the first Hippies.  Peace, man.”

“Far out.”  Lockhart couldn’t help himself.

“Groovy,” Lincoln countered.

“They were some serious vegetarians, well, meat got so expensive.  Marduk called it his mellow period.  They endured the pull and tug of Assyria and Elam, and for the most part lived quiet, peaceful lives.  Meanwhile, Assur went on a rampage, rearranging all his furniture.  The Assyrians again came out to play after a hundred and forty-some years of Babylonian do nothings.  This time, they overran everything in sight, including Egypt, but that is a different story.  Oh, I guess you met Tobaka.”

“Yes,” Katie said.  “He was Nubian, and his family ruled Egypt, but he said the Assyrians came in and threw his family out.  Killed most of them.”

“He wanted revenge,” Labash nodded. “But he never made it further than the Levant.  So, Assur made a big mistake when he burned Babylon to the ground.  That was about seventy years ago.  He got rid of that king and made sure the next one rebuilt the city and apologized to Marduk, personally.  But from then on, they would not be in the same room together, and I think Marduk plotted.”

“So now, we have two brothers fighting for the Assyrian throne,” Evan said.  “And I imagine Assur is behind the one in Nineveh, and Marduk is ready to support the other.”

“I became a frog,” Labash reminded them. “But, yes.  Marduk appeared in his temple and yelled.  He caused a small earthquake in the city.  He demanded Nabopolasser get off his rump and take the army out to support Sinsharishkun.  He said he wanted to see some Assyrian butt-whooping”

Decker laughed softly.  Boston spoke up.  “I wonder where he heard that term.”

“Yes, well, you know Sinsharishkun killed his brother, and I don’t know how it happened, exactly, but Marduk killed Assur at the same time.  By some trick, I am sure.  But the boys were pretty good at being able to read each other.  I don’t know, but the deed is done, and Marduk has suffered ever since.  I figure he will either come out of it, or in maybe fifty or less years, he will flip out entirely.  I dread dealing with a split personality, or worse, a multiple personality disorder.”

People waited while some especially loud screams reached their ears.  Several got up and stepped to the edge of the building to see how much of the city might be on fire.  Katie sort of regained their attention with her question.

“Nebuchadnezzar goes sort of loopy in his older years, do you think?”  She did not spell it out.

Labash frowned at her for talking about the future so flagrantly.  “Perhaps,” he said.  “But I don’t expect to be here by then.  In the new palace, I am building a wing for captive kings.  I said they can make it into a museum.  I have also built a great camp area for strays and captive people. Nabopolasser has already moved some Arameans and Suteans into the area.”  Labash appeared to enjoy shrugging.  “That is about all I can do; that and exert what influence I can on Nebuchadnezzar for the future.  I imagine I will be gone when Jerusalem falls. God, the source, seems content to let things work out that way.”

People nodded as they thought about it. Then Evan had another question.

“So, what is happening now?  How do things stand?”

Labash shrugged.  “Sinsharishkun is sitting on the Assyrian throne, but it is not exactly a safe seat.  Many of the provinces have rebelled during the civil war, and have thrown out or killed the Assyrian presence. They would need to be conquered all over again, but too many Assyrian officials see Sinsharishkun as a usurper, even if he is a son of the emperor.  And without Assur behind them, I think the Assyrian people are tired of war.” Labash shrugged again.

“Nabopolasser retook Nippur.  You know, the pro-Assyrian hotbed where Sinsharishkun planned his rebellion.  That did two things.  It put all the cities in southern Mesopotamia on notice that Babylon is back and ready to enforce the law, so they better cough up their tribute, and fighting men, and not be slow.  Babylon can just as soon flatten their cities as he did Nippur.  It also gave him a chance to throw the Assyrian army units out of his territory, which he did.

“So, now there is stalemate,” Katie suggested.

Labash shook his head this time. “Sinsharishkun fears the support of his generals is only lip service.  Right now, he doesn’t want to go there.  Nabopolasser honestly needs three to five years to build his forces before he can make a move.  Who will get there first?  Will Sinsharishkun find his courage, and his generals obey him, or will Nabopolasser have the time to build up his forces and take the war to the enemy with some chance of victory?  It’s exciting.  Like a three to five-year horse race, but that is about as exciting as it gets around here.”

“Lord,” one of the dwarf wives interrupted. She stepped up with a goblin in tow.  Labash and Boston recognized her as a female, but the others weren’t sure. She looked like a brute.

“Yes, Missus Hearthstone?” Labash asked what she wanted.

“This is Miss Thrasher.  You got company.  Tell ’em if they get hungry in the night, we left some meat and bread by the fire, there.  You tell ’em just be asking and Miss Thrasher will be getting.  There’s some vegetables there, too, and she is passable to cook them up if you want.”

“Thank you very much, Missus Hearthstone,” Labash said.  “Miss Thrasher,” he acknowledged his goblin, and smiled for her, which made her turn away and turn a bit red under the gray. “I am sure we will be fine. Personally, I intend to have a good night’s sleep.”

“Not right a young man like you should spend so many nights alone.  If you wasn’t my god, I would do something about that.”

“I am sure you would,” Labash said, with a touch of fear on his face.

“Good night,” she said, and she and Thrasher walked off into the dark

“Good night,” several people said, only to be interrupted by Decker.

“Here they come.”  That was all he had to say.

Avalon 6.5 Zombies, Murder, and Mayhem, part 4 of 6

When the evening came, several dwarf wives appeared and cooked a wonderful meal.  A couple of goblins showed up, and Evan nearly screamed; but Millie calmed him with her words.

“It’s all right.  They are the night watch, and my friends.  They keep the fires burning through the night.” Evan looked at her with wonder, and Millie smiled.  “I screamed the whole first week,” she admitted.

Millie enjoyed the company, and made like hostess for everyone.  Ninlil stayed mostly quiet.  Alexis felt tired, but good in Lincoln’s arms.  Working in the garden all afternoon seemed something she might have done at home, on her day off.  She felt content, but a little homesick, though they still had a long way to go to get back to the twenty-first century.

“And we have mostly vegetables in the stew,” Alexis grinned for that. “And actual fruit.”

“Alexis gets tired of all the meat,” Lincoln admitted.  “Only eating what someone can shoot does get old.”

“I am thinking of going vegetarian when we got home,” Boston said.  “If Roland doesn’t mind.”  Boston looked sad for a minute.  That reminded Katie.

“Why was Marduk so sad?  He kept saying he was sorry,” she asked.

“Yeah,” Lockhart agreed.  “What was that all about?”

Labash frowned.  “Marduk killed his brother, Assur.  He hasn’t been the same since.  You know they were more deeply attached than just at the head when they were born.”

“You couldn’t do anything?” Boston asked.

Labash shook his head.  “I was a frog at the time.”

“Sounds like a story,” Lockhart said.

“A couple of good stories,” Lincoln agreed.

“What is that?” Evan stood.  Some others joined him.  They heard more screams coming up from down below.

Ninlil spoke up and caught everyone’s attention, and people settled back down to listen.  “I already apologized for the frog.  Building and working in this garden is penance.”

“But you said you loved working with the flowers,” Lincoln said.

“In neat rows, and pulling the weeds,” Sukki added.

“I do.  Penance does not have to be hard and difficult duty.  It requires commitment and a willing heart.  Besides, way back in the past, the Kairos Anenki suggested that someday he and I would make a garden, like I wanted.  Oh, how young I was.  I actually imagined the whole land domesticated, from the gulf right up through the land between the rivers to the Phoenician shore.  Clearly, not a realistic idea.  But on a scale of this artificial mountain, yes, and for the building Labash is building.  I am looking forward to it.”

“But what about the frog?” Boston asked, a worried sound in her sad voice.

“Yes, well…” Labash began.  “Nebuchadnezzar has an older sister, Kashshaya.  She is about twenty now, but back when she was sixteen and I was about twenty or twenty-one, she swore she cried every night for loving me.  I mean, she could be a sweet girl when she wanted to be, and fair to look at, but she got spoiled rotten.  I couldn’t stand to be around her for very long because of the constant demands she made.”

“I’ll tell this part,” Ninlil interrupted.  “I felt sorry for the girl.  Enlil and I just separated, and I knew she genuinely loved Labash, whoever he was. I blessed the girl, with the power to make things come out the way she wanted.  I only intended to help her with her love, and no, I did not know Labash was the Kairos.  Even the gods do not know unless he reveals himself.  It is part of what it means when they say the Kairos is counted among the gods.  It is one of the few things in this universe hidden from the gods.  Anyway, she went to him and professed her love, but he did not return her love, and the magic I gave her would have worked on any normal man, but she could not force the Kairos to love her.  So, she got mad and turned him into a frog.”

“I stayed that way for several months,” Labash interrupted.  “…Almost got eaten a couple of times…”

Ninlil continued.  “The heavens shook, and when I looked and saw Kishshaya abusing her blessing, I removed the gift and made her forget she ever had such a gift.  She showed no remorse over what she had done to Labash, so I noticed nothing about that.  I did not look close enough.  I felt embarrassed for having empowered the girl in the first place.  It was not until Marduk came to me, weeping in his sorrow, looking for the Kairos, that I found out what happened to him.”

“She kissed me, and I turned back into a gardener.  I apologized for not being a prince.”

Ninlil grinned, but only a little.

“So, where is Kishshaya now?” Boston asked.

“Happily making demands of her husband,” Labash answered.

“Forget Kishshaya,” Katie said. “What happened between Assur and Marduk?”

People paused again as they heard new screaming from down below.  They saw lines of torches, and there appeared to be a couple of buildings on fire down there.

“I must go,” Ninlil said.  “Marduk is in no condition to help.”

“With what?” Alexis asked.  She thought about hurt people and wondered if she might help as well.

“The recently dead have risen, or at least their demon infested bodies have risen.  You know, it is not the way of the gods to simply solve human problems, but I can help the living in their battle against the dead.”

She vanished, and Lockhart said, “The Necromancer.”  No one argued.  Millie said nothing, looking at Evan.  Evan looked afraid to ask.

“Marduk.”  Lincoln reminded everyone.  People settled to listen, but Elder Stow turned his scanner back on, and Decker slipped over to the stairs where he could keep his eyes open.

Decker’s one mumbled comment was, “Nice to not be in the front line for once.”

“When Ashurbanipal, the Assyrian emperor died, they had some infighting to claim the throne.  One Assyrian general tried to claim the throne while everyone was away.  The eldest son, Ashuretililani threw him out as soon as he got home.  Meanwhile, the Assyrian governor of Babylon got poisoned as soon as word came that the emperor was dead.  A second son, Sinsharishkun wanted the kingship but knew his brother would be difficult to dislodge from the throne.  So, he started by claiming the throne of Babylon.  Well, the Babylonians were tired of Assyrian control over their lives, so they revolted and threw Sinshariskun out. In the confusion, Nabopolasser seized the throne of Babylon, where he sits to this day.  Not deterred, Sinsharishkun moved his rebel headquarters to the old Sumerian city of Nippur, and after that, it became a fight between the two brothers.  Are you with me so far?”

“Mostly,” Boston said.

“Civil war, brother against brother,” Lincoln said.

Labash looked at the faces around the fire, and continued.  “The Assyrians were good administrators of their empire.  They divided it into provinces, ruled by governors out of the provincial capitals.  Sumer, that is southern Mesopotamia, got ruled out of Babylon.  All the cities, from Babylon to the gulf paid tribute to Babylon and sent men to fight for Babylon.  For this reason, Nabopolasser not only had claim over his own city, but some claim over the province as long as he sat on the Babylonian throne.  It did not mean much as long as Sinsharishkun sat in Nippur, one of Babylon’s chief cities.

Anyway, Sinsharishkun spent a couple of years building alliances, knowing he did not have the force to meet his brother and the whole, main Assyrian army.  He turned to the independent people who lived outside, on the edge of Mesopotamia.  I don’t know what lies he told them, or what he promised them, but he got a token of support from the Medes, Persians, Parthians, Scythians, and Cimmerians.  He also put pressure on the cities of southern Mesopotamia that would have normally been under Babylonian control.  They also sent token of help, but with all that, Sinsharishkun was not sure he had the strength to face down the main Assyrian army.  All the same, the die was cast.  Sinsharishkun’s brother had spent the time solidifying his position in Nineveh, and now he was coming.”

“Exciting,” Boston said, and Sukki nodded.

“That was when I became a frog.”

“Poor timing,” Decker said over his shoulder.  His eyes stayed on the crowds in the streets, and the torches, burning buildings, and regular screams that wafted up in his direction.

“I was going to say,” Elder Stow started to say something, but fell silent.  His eyes stayed glued to his scanner.

“Marduk and Assur,” Lockhart prompted.

Labash took a deep breath before he began again.

Avalon 6.5 Zombies, Murder, and Mayhem, part 3 of 6

“Lockhart,” a man yelled.  He came up with two women in his trail.  One of the women recognized someone in the group and began to run.  Evan recognized Millie in turn, and ran to her.  They wrapped up in each other’s arms, and Millie kissed Evan’s face everywhere through her tears.  Their lips touched, but they just held each other and cried.  This became a different sort of crying from the tears of the god. The other woman and Alexis got the same sort of satisfied, smiling look on their faces, and Alexis took Lincoln’s arm. Katie looked up at Lockhart.  He did not look at her, but he reached out and took her hand.  Boston laughed and almost applauded.  Quick as a fee, she flew from big, weeping tears to joyous giggles.  People thought quick as a fairy, but to be sure, she did not act much different when she was human.

“Labash?” Lincoln asked the man.

He nodded and opened his arms. “Boston.”

Boston raced into his arms.  “You are our age,” Boston said.

“About twenty-five,” Labash said. “But it has been a long twenty-five years.”

‘Come,” Millie dragged Evan to meet her friend.  “I want you to meet Ninlil.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Evan said, and shook her hand politely.

Millie waited for the interchange to happen before she added, “The goddess.”

“Enlil around?” Lockhart asked, and Ninlil frowned, but not for long as Boston, now a happy elf, interrupted.

“Is Enki still wearing his glasses?”

That image made Ninlil smile.  “Those little round things.  I can hardly imagine what he looks like without them. But come.  This place has become so depressing.”  The travelers blinked and found themselves in a completely different location.  They appeared on Etemenank, about three layers down from the temple at the top. The whole thing had been built in two-story layers, each smaller and set back from the one below.  The bottom layer looked of a length that Decker called about two football fields. The top layer, the actual temple of the gods looked the size of an ordinary two-story house.  On the set-back part of each layer, the garden grew, a brick walk all the way around between the green.

Ninlil bent down to work with her flowers, and ignored the people.  Labash spoke right up.  “Don’t worry. Your horses are being cared for by gnomes who took on the appearance of men, much as they disliked that idea. All of your equipment will be there when you are ready to go.”

Lockhart looked at the sky.  “Not to complain, but the guards said no one was allowed up here on the tower.  We need to find some place where we can bed down for the night.”

Labash smiled.  “You can stay here tonight, and for as many nights as you want. It doesn’t rain often.  And the guards don’t come up here.  I light the fires outside the house of the gods, and nobody ever said we could not cook on those fires.”

Millie added, nice and loud, as she looked at Evan.  “Mostly, we sleep among the trees and flowers.  The stars are endless, and we can watch the moon rise.  Even if it rains, we have shelter, overhangs, and some small chambers on the outer edge we can sleep in.  It is lovely.”

Decker sat at the top of the steps that went down to the next level, and ultimately to the bottom, where he could watch and make sure the guards did not come up.  People imagined he enjoyed the greenery and fragrant flowers well enough. Meanwhile, Elder Stow examined the edifice and everything he could about the city through the eyes of his scanner. He mumbled, sometimes.

Alexis knelt down beside Ninlil and talked flowers.  Lincoln and Sukki joined them, and soon they were all up to their elbows in dirt. Millie and Evan might have been right there with them, but they wandered off for a while for some private time together.

“So, this is the hanging gardens of Babylon,” Lockhart made it a statement, not sure what else to talk about.

“Not exactly,” Labash said, and got Katie’s full attention.  “Nebuchadnezzar, the king’s eldest son is sixteen.  A few months back, he met his fourteen-year-old Median Princess bride-to-be. He showed her all the wonders of Babylon, but she countered with the wonders and beauty of her mountain home. Needless to say, his teenage hormones went wild thinking of her, and he wanted to do everything he could think of to please her.

“A new palace?” Lockhart suggested.

“Well, yes,” Labash agreed.  “But more than that.  He wanted the Ziggurat covered in greenery, like the mountains, he said.  And he wanted another edifice built near, with the new palace built in between.”

“A second ziggurat?” Lockhart asked.

“No.  Not twenty stories.  About eight or nine stories, but this time designed to be covered in greenery.  I plan to use more stone, though bricks are the only natural choice in this part of the world.”

“You?” Katie asked.

Labash nodded.  “We use a big screw to pull water from the Euphrates, and fill the canal. You can see the canal from here, if you look toward the river. We use donkey-round pumps to get the water to the top.”

“Donkey-round?”

“You know.  The donkeys are tied to the gear and walk around and around in a circle to provide the power for the pump.  It took some real engineering skill to get it to work.  But we get water all the way to the top of the ziggurat, and then we control the descent to water all the trees and plants on the way down.  It will eventually rot the bricks this edifice is built with, but Nebuchadnezzar figures his grandchildren can worry about that.”

“So, you are building a second mountain for the princess and a palace in between?” Katie asked.

“One not so big, and with more stone so it may last a bit longer, but essentially, yes.  And yes, I know I need a bigger screw.  We are deepening the canal as we speak.”

“And all the result of teenage hormones,” Lockhart smiled.

“What does the king think about his son’s building projects.”

“Supportive,” Labash said, with some hesitation in his voice.  “To be honest, Nabopolasser is only worried about consolidating his power to face Assyria. Right now, things are kind of in a stalemate.  Assyria still owns northern Mesopotamia, and despite going through a civil war, they remain the power to deal with.  Babylon owns southern Mesopotamia.  And the Medes, with the Persians and Parthians backing them, own Iran and the mountain fringes above Mesopotamia, though no one really owns the Scythians and Cimmerians.  The king is too busy playing politics, making alliances with Medes and Persians to worry about Nebuchadnezzar’s teenage lust, except to say the Median princess is part of the deal, so I guess the king wants to make her happy, too.”

“Sounds complicated,” Lockhart said.

Labash shrugged.  “Most political intrigue is complicated.  Bricks don’t talk back and change their minds.  I’ll stick to building.  I got my own screw job to worry about.”

“Ha, ha.” Katie did not laugh.

“Lord Kairos,” Evan came up, holding Millie’s hand, and Labash stopped him right there.

“It is just Labash,” Labash said.

“See?” Millie tapped Evan’s arm.

“If I am a king someday, God forbid, or count or the duke of earl, maybe Lord or Lady, as the case may be.  But otherwise, only my little ones call me Lord…or Lady.  As for the Kairos part, you should not call me by that name.  The name is not unknown, though I have taken great pains to limit its exposure—at least, written exposure.  But in most times and places, I don’t make the Kairos public knowledge. Sometimes, I can do more, and do better when I stay hidden.  You wouldn’t want to be guilty of revealing me to the wrong person at the wrong time. So, best not to call me Kairos in public.  Besides, my name is just Labash.”

“Labash,” Evan said, and he and Millie took the bench that sat on the brick walkway between the green. Lockhart took Katie’s hand and walked off for some private time of their own.  Labash imagined getting back to work, but Elder Stow stepped up, his eyes still glued to his scanner.

“I just want to say, the screw, canal, and pump system is a marvelous job of engineering.  It is so simple, but it does the work, perfectly.”

“Thanks.  But I am going to need a bigger screw soon, and the donkeys don’t last long on the pump.  I am only glad I convinced the king that donkeys would work better than condemned criminals.  I am open to suggestions, though, if you have any.”

They talked about the new building and the water system for the rest of the afternoon, and Boston got right in there with them.

About an hour before sunset, Decker spoke to the group.  “There are two priests coming up the steps, and two guards, temple guards from the look of them, and they appear to be escorting a young woman.”

“Hold your fire,” Labash said. “They do this every month.  They probably have food and stuff with them. I supply the water.  The young girl will be left for three nights in the temple, to be ravished by Marduk, or whatever god comes along in the night.  They will pick her up in a week.”

“That’s barbaric,” Alexis said.

“Good word,” Ninlil said, and added the epithet, “Men.”

“Yeah,” Labash did not disagree. “But as far as I can tell, no girl has been visited, much less touched since I have been here.  She will offer some fanciful tale to make it look good, but otherwise she will spend the days with us, helping in the garden.”

“Can’t you stop it?” Alexis seemed on a roll.

“No way,” Labash answered, honestly. “There are girls lined up around the block to get the chance. Any girl chosen is honored, and her family gets to eat well that month.  The priests of Marduk decide, and they keep a few of them every year for service in the temple.  You know, they are not celibate priests.”

“So, the family gets paid for giving their daughters,” Katie said, and did not sound happy about it.

“How do the priests decide?” Lincoln asked.

“Young and good looking,” Labash answered.  “How do men decide anything concerning women.

The Priests and guards bowed as they went past.  The girl looked drugged.  The priests and guards bowed again on the way down.  No one said anything about the travelers being there.  Ninlil added a word.

“Disgusting.”

Someone down below screamed, but everyone tried really hard to ignore it.

************************

MONDAY

The screaming gets loud and the fun really starts.  Don’t miss the second half of Zombies, Murder and Mayhem: Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday…

*

Avalon 6.5 Zombies, Murder, and Mayhem, part 2 of 6

When the travelers entered the Ishtar gate of Babylon, they discovered Nabopolasser sat on the throne.  Though still forced to pay lip service to Nineveh and the Assyrians, he had conquered Nippur in the last year.

“That makes it about 619 or 618 BC,” Katie said.

“Labash should be about twenty-four or twenty-five,” Lincoln said.

“Sinshariskun should be king in Assyria,” Katie added and fell silent.

Evan spoke up when the crowd in the streets offered a chance to be heard.  “That is very good.  I studied in the Greco-Roman world because I could never pronounce those Akkadian names. My Latin was good, and much better now, and my Greek was passable, but Akkadian and Ugaritic gave me nightmares, not to mention Egyptian.”

“Egyptian is easy,” Lockhart said, with a grin.  He explained when he had Evan and Katie’s attention.  “The little one gift of languages includes the written word. Even when I look at Hieroglyphs, my mind automatically reads it in English.”

“It covers the written word?”

“Yes,” Lincoln said.

“Writing a response in another language that the other person can read can be tricky,” Alexis admitted.  “But not impossible.”

The travelers had no trouble knowing where they were going in the city.  They saw Etemenank, the great ziggurat of Babylon from the city gate.  It looked like a giant hill in the city, covered with vines, fruit trees, flowers and flowering bushes.  The building rested underneath all that greenery, roughly twenty stories tall in a three to five story city.

After a short way, they came to a broad avenue that marched right up to the face of the ziggurat.  Katie looked back at one point and imagined the buildings that crowded the Ishtar gate would one day be cleared out so the view from the gate to the man-made mountain would be unobstructed, and people could walk straight from the gate to the place of the gods.  Lockhart kept his eyes forward.  They ran into soldiers, because absolutely no one was allowed to climb to the house of the gods.

“If you wish to offer sacrifice to Marduk, his temple, Esagila, is over there,” the chief soldier said, kindly enough, and pointed across the square between the ziggurat and an enormous building in its own right.  “The priests will be glad to help you.”

“Actually, we are looking for Labash, the gardener,” Lockhart said.  The soldier paused, but still pointed to the temple.

“Esagila.  Marduk,” he repeated.

“Fine,” Lockhart said.

“Just tell Labash his friends from the future came by, and we will wait for him,” Katie said.

“Esagila,” the chief soldier pointed.

The group turned toward the temple, and Lincoln spoke up.  “We haven’t seen Marduk since this city was first built.”

“That wall there only stood three feet high in places,” Decker remembered.

Lincoln nodded.  “The Ishtar gate was not even finished being built.”

“The time before that,” Boston raised he voice.  “Marduk and Assur were like teenagers.  I remember they wanted to be cowboys.”

“That was where you found me,” Alexis said.  People paused to dismount.  They would walk their horses across the square.  Lincoln hugged Alexis, as if to say he was glad they found her, but he did not say anything.  Her father, Mingus, had kidnapped her again, but then he got himself killed fighting against the ghouls, and no one wanted to remember that time.

“Eliyawe kept the boys in line,” Katie said.

“I had forgotten her name,” Lockhart confessed.

“She looked skinny as an elf,” Alexis said, with a look at Boston.  “And full of energy.”  Boston smiled at the description.

“When was that?” Sukki asked.

“Early” Elder Stow admitted.  “I was not with the group for very long.”

“Before 3300 BC,” Lincoln reported.

Evan’s eyes got big at the date, but his mouth had a question.  “What were the gods doing with the Kairos?”  He seems to have accepted the notion that the ancient gods were not just archetypes, and the Kairos tended to be in the middle of everything.”

Katie explained.  “Eliyawe, Marduk and Assur just killed Tiamut.  They recovered the body of Osiris and were returning it to Egypt.”

Evan swallowed.  His eyes got big and he looked at the dirt as they came to the temple and found a place to tie off their horses.  “The remarkable thing is, I believe you,” he mumbled, and Boston, with her good elf ears, heard, and gave him a pat on the back for reassurance, even as her mouth gave him pause.

“You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

“Halt.”  The temple had their own guards.

“We have come to see Marduk,” Lockhart said.

“You carry weapons,” the guard pointed to the knives on their belts, things they had gotten so used to carrying, they forgot they had them on.  Fortunately, the Patton sabers stayed tied to their saddles, and the guns were not recognized as weapons; not even Decker’s rifle, which he rarely set down. “Weapons are not allowed in the place of the god.”

Lockhart, Katie, Decker, Lincoln and Sukki turned to leave their knives in their saddlebags.  Boston kept her knife in her personal slip, as they called the little interdimensional hole that followed her around.  She had her gun belt, her wand, and her bow and arrows in there, too, and she could pull them out at a moment’s notice.  Alexis had a knife, buried at the bottom of her pack, and rarely carried it.  Evan had no weapons, and Elder Stow had plenty of weapons, but no guard in ancient Babylon would ever recognize them as weapons.  They looked like little sticks and boxes attached to Elder Stow’s belt.

While the others slipped their knives in their saddle bags, Boston had a thought.  “Elder Stow.  My personal slip.  Do you think the fauns, in a similar way, slip their entire selves into their other dimension?”

Elder Stow nodded.  He did not respond with a bunch of technical data, even for Boston who had her PhD in electrical engineering.  She would not have understood the theoretical math. But he did say, “Something similar, like that,” and Boston nodded.

“We’re ready,” Lockhart said upon his return.

“But, where is your sacrifice? What did you bring to offer the god?” The guard got harsh, since he and the other guards he called to back him up appeared to have the only weapons.

“We bring good wishes for an old friend,” Katie said.

“I wonder if Ishtar is around,” Lincoln whispered.

“And thanks for saving me from the cave and the servants of the masters,” Alexis added.

“Maybe Hebat,” Lockhart returned the whisper and grinned at some memories.

“I’m sorry I don’t have a cowboy hat to give him,” Boston said.

The guards stood for a second, looking at each other, before the rude guard went back to the beginning.  “Where is your sacrifice?”

An older man came to the front of the temple.  He appeared to be shivering, and afraid, but he spoke up loud and clear.  “Let them pass.  Let them enter.”  They pushed past the guards and looked curiously at the old man, obviously a priest, if not the high priest.

The man shook and spoke softly as he walked and led the travelers into the temple.  “I have seen him twice in my lifetime.  I do not think my master ever saw him.  I have been twice graced, and I pray there is not a third time.  My heart would not survive that.”

“Who?” Lockhart had to ask.

“Marduk, the inexorable,” the old man said.  “Several years ago, the whole city shook from an earthquake.  The anger of the god.  He appeared in the temple, and told the Babylonian army to go in support of Sinsharishkun against his brother, Ashuretiliani, King of Assyria.  I fell to my face and remained unmoving for three days.  It scared me so.”

“He is here?”  Katie asked.

“He is crying,” the priest said. “That is almost worse, but he says he has to see you.”  The priest clearly did not understand, but he acted faithfully and dedicated himself to do what the god required.

They found Marduk, a much older looking Marduk, sitting heavily on a bench beside his own altar.  Something smoked in the sea.  The burnt offering smelled like lamb.  The travelers stopped just in front of the priests who mostly knelt with their eyes lowered, though some prostrated themselves.  They cried with their god.

“Why so sad?” Katie asked.

“Can we help?” Alexis wondered, even as the eyes of the travelers teared up.  When the god cried, everyone cried.  Finally, Marduk spoke.

“I am so sorry,” he said, which sounded so unusual.  The gods never apologized for anything.  “Ishtar is not talking to me.  I think Hebat hates me.  Ninlil is the only one who will talk to me, and she always has scolding in her voice.”

“But, we had some good times, defending the city,” Elder Stow said.

“And saving me,” Alexis added, and Lincoln had to step in because Alexis’ voice became shaky with tears.

“Eliyawe and her husband.  And you and Assur were having such a good time.”

Marduk wailed.  He began to weep and repeated, “I’m sorry.  I’m so sorry…”  Of course, when the god wept, everyone wept, until they heard a sound.

“Lockhart,” someone shouted, and Marduk vanished.

Avalon 6.5 Zombies, Murder, and Mayhem, part 1 of 6

(In case you are a new reader) we return now to our regular schedule of 3 posts per week on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and 6 posts (2 weeks) for the whole episode.  Enjoy.

************************

After 643 BC Babylon. Kairos lifetime 77: Labash, Gardener

Recording …

“Labash, male, 643-588,” Lincoln read on the first night.  “He is a gardener.”

“The Kairos?” Evan asked, still not quite understanding, thinking that the Kairos would not be anything like a lowly gardener.

“Apparently, he built the hanging gardens of Babylon,” Lincoln said.

“Oh…” Evan imagined that as better.

“You did not meet Labash?” Boston asked.

“No.”  Evan shook his head.  “We avoided people where we could.  We avoided Babylon in both directions.”

“Both directions?” Lockhart asked.

“Wait,” Katie said.  “Start at the beginning.  What did you see in your travels.”

“A good question,” Elder Stow said, as he shook his scanner, and only half-listened.

“Well…” Evan began.  “We left through the time gate in Italy and found ourselves in Palestine, or maybe I should say Israel.”  He paused Alexis in mid-breath.  “Whatever it is called.   It was similar to the land in the time zone we just left.  We did not go to any of the cities, and especially avoided Jerusalem. We learned to shape our fairy weave clothing to local styles, to blend in as much as we could with the local people.”

“What did you eat?” Decker asked.

“Food doesn’t move well through the time gates when you jump fifty years into the future with one step,” Alexis said. “Or into the past either, I suppose.”

“We found that out,” Evan said. “But that was why we could not avoid people completely.  We asked for bread, and always managed to find someone willing to share, and usually some olive oil, and fish or something besides.”

“Wow,” Boston said.  “You just went up to people and asked them for food?”

“News flash,” Alexis said.  “No internet in 1905.  No video games, television, on-line purchases, e-mail, or any way of isolating yourself from the human race.  People still knew how to talk to people in 1905.”

“I know that,” Boston retreated.

“Anyway, we traveled through that time zone without causing a ripple.  Only two things of note.  One was personal.  I was always interested in the Hasmonean revolt.  I kind of thought I might go back there one day to check it out.  Second, that was when we first noticed something seemed wrong with Nanette.  Millie said it felt like she became a different person, and not Nanette at all.”

“The evil twin,” Boston said.

“Come to think of it, she was the one who most strongly urged us to avoid Jerusalem, which is odd, since she was such a strong believer.  I would think a visit to Jerusalem would be high on her list.  Anyway, we moved from there and came into the Greek countryside. I didn’t mind that so much either. We crossed the Peloponnesus and traveled all the way up to Byzantium.  I did not mind that trip, and we met more people, mostly nice ones.”

“How could you talk to them?” Lincoln asked.

Evan nodded.  “Athena.  When Bodanagus gave us the fairy weave clothing, and she gave us the green and red chestnuts that point to the time gates, she also laid hands on each of us, one at a time.  She said she was giving us the little one ability to understand and be understood, no matter the language.  She also said she was setting a hedge around us, and a message so that when we moved from time zone to time zone, other gods might add to and strengthen the hedge. Funny, I did not understand what she was saying, but I did not question any of it at the time.”

“The gods have a way of clouding the mind when they want to,” Boston said, and Alexis agreed.

“Yes,” Evan seemed to understand. “But I have been speaking in English with people all this time, and hearing English, and it never occurred to me that there was anything odd about that.”  He paused to consider.  “What did she mean, hedge?”

“It is a partial block on your mind,” Katie explained.  “So even the gods cannot read your thoughts and learn about future things.  It also lets us talk about things freely, and no god can overhear us unless they are here, with us.”

“What if they go invisible, like Elder Stow?” Evan asked.

“No,” Elder Stow answered for himself. “I asked about that.  No tricks will work.  The gods or spirits themselves have to be present so we know it, and we have to deliberately include them and tell them something or they hear garbled noise.”

“Bodanagus said Salacia put the first hedge around us when we appeared in Rome, his time period.  He said he felt a disturbance in time, and traced it to us.”

“Amphitrite,” Katie reminded the others. “The Kairos,” she said for Evan, who nodded that he figured out that much.

“Professor Fleming thanked Athena for the languages.  I think he may have known who she was, hard as that may be to believe.  She said, she was glad to help a true scholar and man of knowledge, as opposed to Bodanagus who only pretended to know things.”

“I bet he had a comeback,” Decker said.

Evan nodded. “He told her to go suck a sour olive.  But, if that was truly the goddess, wouldn’t that be a very dangerous thing to say?”

“They have a history,” Lockhart said, and left it at that.

“So, who was in the Greek countryside?” Alexis asked, wanting to get back on topic.

“Three armies.  Romans, Aetolians, and Macedonians; but I think the first two made a pact against the Macedonians.  Two men and two women explained it all to us.  They were a strange group.  The Greek was a Roman tribune.  The Roman was a Greek magistrate.  One woman was a priestess of Olympus and for the Amazons, or so she said.  The other woman was an amazing beauty, if I may say so. But she wore armor, very similar to Bodanagus, come to think of it.  She had a sword over her back and a long knife across the small of her back, and I, for one, did not doubt she knew how to use those weapons expertly.  She gave us gold, silver, and copper coins out of her bag, for Wallace and I to stuff in our pockets.  She said the bag would disappear, but gold would not.  She also said they were the oldest coins she could find. An odd statement, don’t you think?

“Not if you are traveling into the past,” Lincoln said.  “Young silver will also disappear and go back into the ground before it got dug up.”

“So you think…”

“The Princess?” Lockhart asked. Lincoln nodded.

“Another time zone I might like to return to someday.,” Evan said.  “Anyway, from there, we came into China.  We did not fit in and moved on as quick as we could.  That was where Millie noticed some strange behavior in Nanette, but she said nothing at first.”

“Point,” Lockhart interrupted.  “If you notice anything strange or unusual, you have to tell us all right away.”  Evan stared, and then laughed.  Everyone laughed a bit.  Everything they were going through was strange and unusual.  Lockhart conceded the point when he said.  “Just don’t keep secrets.”

“All right.  So, then we got to Sicily, and there is not much to tell other than what I said.  Nanette chased us out of that time zone, and back into the Greek countryside, only this time, we came in around Megara and found the exit somewhere out on the Black Sea. When we went around Pella, you know, the Macedonian capital, we ran into a young man named Diogenes.  He gave us a few more coins and said to buy a boat.  I don’t know if he was a rich man, or what. I don’t know how he knew we would need a boat.  But we used the coins and rowed to the time gate.  We appeared in the river, and got out of the boat before it disappeared.  I suppose it went back to the tree from whence it came.”

“Where was that?” Katie asked.

“Italy, well north of Rome, at last. We hurried to the city where we were found by a wonderful woman, and her ward, a young blind girl.  The woman called herself Diana.  She said it was her name from a child, when Diana visited her on several occasions… Now, come to think of it, I suppose she meant the goddess, Diana.”  He paused to swallow before he went on.  “The last time was when Diana brought her the blind girl to raise.  Poor Justitia had no parents who would raise her, is what I was told.  She was a very sweet girl.  But the best part came when I found out Diana was actually Marcia Furi Camilla, daughter of Marcus Furius Camillus.  Isn’t that incredible, to have stumbled upon her?”

“If anyone other than you and I know who that is,” Katie said.

“I could look it up,” Lincoln offered.

“Never mind,” Katie said.  “How long did you stay there?”

“About three months.  A bit more,” Evan said.  “Wallace is still there.”  He sounded a little disappointed that they were not overly impressed with his discovery. “Finally, Millie agreed to go with me to resolve the debate about the founding of Rome.  But first, we had to land a third time in the Greek countryside. The Peloponnesian war was raging and the Athenians and Spartans were busy destroying each other, and dragging all the others into the war on one side or the other.  We did not stay there, though we got stopped and delayed several times.”

“Something to look forward to,” Decker said.

“The next time zone was hard travel. I don’t know about horses.  I think we landed somewhere in the Himalayas. There was plenty of snow and slippery rocks.  Then we came here, and we traveled in this direction, around Babylon, and then the same place, but traveled in the other direction, around Babylon again. Then we ended up where we got separated, and I almost got eaten.  Then I found Valencia, and you found me.”

“That covers it,” Lincoln said.

“That is why I think it is best that you don’t read ahead,” Lockhart pointed at Lincoln, but did not explain.

“Not much help,” Decker summed it up.

“Well, I’m sorry,” Evan said.  “We felt it best not to get involved.”

“And you were right,” Alexis encouraged him.

“Something we might consider from here on out,” Katie said.

“No way,” Boston said.  “I’m not going through any time zone without finding the Kairos.  And if that puts us in the middle of the hurricane of whatever is going on, too bad.”

Avalon 6.4 Stories, part 4 of 4

Boston and Sukki had the early morning watch.  They often built up the fire, put whatever substitute for coffee they had on to boil, and watched the sun rise.  On that morning, Boston, with her good elf ears, heard some sounds near the horses. The leaves ruffled, and a few twigs snapped.  Just when she got Sukki to go with her, to investigate, they heard Elder Stow’s alarm go off.  It sounded loud.

The immediate response came, even as people roused from their sleep.  Several streaks of white light energy dissipated short of the horses and the campsite.  Boston saw Elder Stow’s scanner on a log, outside his tent.  She figured he set it before he went to bed, just in case they had visitors in the night.

Elder Stow came out of his tent, rubbed his eyes to wake up, and stared at his scanner readout. “As I suspected,” he said.  “They are basically still working off Anazi weapons.  I see no signs of personal screen technology yet.  I read one humanoid and a dozen wolv.  A scouting party, I imagine.”

“You need to make your screens one sided,” Decker said.

Elder Stow grumped, even as two of the wolv came tooth and claw against the screens in a futile effort to break through.  “That is ship to ship technology, so we can shoot them and be protected against their weapons.  It is not meant for personal screens.  In a case like this, one might call it cheating.”  He made a grumpy face, but Decker simply stared at him.  Elder Stow finally said, “The screens are one-sided, even if that is not a proper technical description.”

“Thanks,” Decker said, and he took his fancy military rifle and killed the two trying to scratch and claw their way through the impenetrable screens.  By the time he turned on the rest of the wolv, Katie joined him with her own rifle.  Lincoln and Boston pulled their handguns, though they only fired a couple of shots each. Lockhart grabbed his shotgun and blasted one wolv that tried to sneak around to the other side of the camp.  It took three shotgun slugs to put him down.

Katie saw the humanoid officer half hidden behind a tree.  He appeared to be hopping mad, and yelling to whomever might be listening.  She shot him, figuring they did not need him to call in reinforcements.  Then she felt bad about it.  She knew better; but by outward appearance, the humanoids did appear to be human.

Decker had a comment when the firing stopped.  “Don’t be surprised if one or more wolv plays possum.”

“I see no more life signs,” Elder Stow said.  “But now having seen the wolv, I agree, caution is in order.”

People stopped when they heard a sound. They heard distant explosions before they saw a good-sized ship come to the grassland just beyond the start of the forest where they camped.  When the ship settled down, they saw a number of people come out from the inside.  They recognized these people as androids, and watched as the androids hustled to make sure the wolv were all dead.

“Lockhart.”  A big black man in the doorway shouted.  “Boston.”  The red-headed streak ran into the hug.  Bring the horses.  We have to get everything loaded and out of here before the Lingling send more troops.”

“Tobaka?”  Lincoln asked first before he got busy breaking camp and bringing the horses to the ship.  “Lingling? Not Hungdin?” Lincoln asked the second question as soon as he had the chance.

“Different house,” Tobaka answered. “But part of the empire.  This is really not a good time, though I suppose it never is.”

“Artie?” Katie asked when she had a chance.  Lockhart paid attention as one of the androids perked up.

“The queen is home, safe and sound,” the android said, but Tobaka gave a sad little shake of his head.  Katie cried a little, and Lockhart held her.

They flew a short way and set down in an android camp, where they powered down and pulled camouflage nets over the ship. The camp included two warships, like frigates, and three merchant vessels, none of which were as big as the Gott-Druk freighter.  There were local humans there, mostly young women, no surprise, but some soldiers in skirts that might have been Egyptian.  Tobaka called them Assyrians.

“So, Evan,” Tobaka began as he guided everyone to lunch under a big tent.  “How did you like flying?”

Evan nodded.  He swallowed, and grinned, but said nothing.

“Couldn’t see much,” Lincoln said.

“Decker,” Tobaka turned next to the major.  “I am not American, African-American, or even a black man. I am African, specifically Nubian, though you can call me an Egyptian.  My family ruled in Egypt until the Assyrian a-holes came and killed them all.” Tobaka appeared ready to growl, but held his tongue.  “These Assyrian soldiers are part of the king’s penance, but that is a long story I will not go into right now.  Suffice to say, Decker.  You and most of your companions are Americans.  That is your tribe and nation, and the color of your skin or the color of my skin is irrelevant.  Believe me. It is cosmetics.  I have had many skin colors, if you haven’t noticed, but necessary to fit in where I am born.”

“No,” Decker said.  “I get it.  Being an American has nothing to do with a person’s outward appearance.”

“Evan?”  Tobaka turned on the man.

Evan nodded, slowly.  “I understand.  My wife explained it to me more than once.  Nanette, the real Nanette, is an especially good person, and she would be no matter what she looked like.”

“Your road is harder,” Tobaka told him. “1905 is before the equal rights amendment, the voting rights act, and lots of important things in your future.”

“My heart understands,” Evan said. “I hope Major Decker can forgive me if my mouth gets stupid.”

Decker nodded, but Lockhart changed the subject.  “Lunch was great…”

“Edible,” Lincoln suggested.

“With actual fruits and vegetables,” Alexis said with a smile, and Elder Stow, Sukki, and Boston all agreed.

“But what are we doing here?  Are we supposed to be hiding?  Should we unload the horses?”

“I am waiting to see if the humanoids picked up our journey to get you.  I figure three hours is safe.  If they saw us and traced our energy trail to know where we are, they will attack.  If they don’t come in three hours, we are probably safe.”

Everyone looked to the sky, though the tent blocked most of it.

“Story,” Tobaka said, and stood. “This convoy originally had three escort warships, one being bigger, more destroyer size, to escort seven merchant ships and freighters.  They had a trade agreement with another world where they provided grain and sheep for certain metals, like coper, tin, and iron among others.  That world was rich in metals, but beginning an industrial revolution.  In human terms, like around 1800.  Their population started growing rapidly, and they were having a hard time keeping everyone fed.  It was a good deal.  The androids got the metals they needed, and the people on that world got fed.”

“It was an equitable arrangement,” DLN 28579-Dolan, the android commander spoke up, before Tobaka continued.

“The convoy got intercepted by a light cruiser and two destroyers of the Chantar house, a smaller house in alliance with the powerful House of Lingling.  It seems the humanoids have targeted the androids as competitors of a sort. That is why the androids fly in convoy, with escort ships.  The battle was fierce.  The humanoid cruiser got too heavily damaged to continue, and one destroyer got destroyed. The androids lost their destroyer and four of the seven merchant ships, though they left two behind that were only damaged.  Hopefully, they repaired and escaped before the cruiser affected repairs.  The frigates and three remaining merchantmen came here for repairs, not expecting to be followed, but the Chantar destroyer traced them to this world.”

“We hid,” Dolan said.  “Though many of my officers thought with our two ships, we could take on the single enemy.”

“The androids learned the stealth technology, and are using it against the humanoids that invented it,” Tobaka said.

“As long as we stay powered down, and they do not put another satellite in orbit, we don’t believe they can find us,” Dolan added.

“You are saying cruiser and destroyer, using human terminology for the ships,” Alexis pointed out.

“For the marines,” Tobaka said. “To show relative ship size and firepower.”

“I understand the human terms,” Dolan said.

“Anyway,” Tobaka continued.  “Evan came through, and shortly after that, I convinced the Chantar destroyer to leave.  The androids made what repairs they could on this planet and also prepared to leave.  The minute they powered up, they found a satellite in orbit that signaled someone. They destroyed the satellite, but came back to see who showed up, in part thinking the Chantar destroyer might be hiding behind the moon or in the asteroid belt.  Three days ago, the Chantar destroyer came back with a Lingling battleship, a Lingling heavy cruiser, and two Lingling destroyers, all overflowing with wolv troops.  It is a mess. It appears the Chantar captain did not heed my warning, or the man got overruled.  In either case, this is not a good time for you to be here.”

“Commander,” one of the android officers came into the tent, her eyes glued to a device, even like Elder Stow, who presently had his eyes fastened to his own screen device.  “There is no evidence of activity on the long-range power scans.”

“I am also not seeing anything in the sky,” Elder Stow said.  “Their ships are at the outside edge of my small equipment, but I see no movement there, either.”

‘Good,” Tobaka said, but they still waited several more hours.

When the sun began to set, so the light, including infra-red and ultra-violet would be in the enemy eyes, Tobaka made them get on the merchant ship again.  He said, good-bye, and they got flown to the next time gate, where they got dumped along with their horses and equipment.

“That was rude,” Alexis said.

“Camp,” Lockhart said.  “We go through in the morning.”

************************

MONDAY

The Travelers head to Babylon where they run into Zombies, Murder, and Mayhem.  Next Time.

Until then, Happy Reading

*

Avalon 6.4 Stories, part 3 of 4

“Millie agreed to go with me into the past, to see if we could piece together how the Republic got started.  Wallace insisted on coming with us when Nanette showed up at the time gate.  Wallace wanted to stay with Nanette.  Tony talked about heading into the future, but he said he could not leave the professor to fend for himself.  Of course, I don’t believe the Nanette who went with us was actually Nanette.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, all went well enough until we arrived in Sicily.  But Nanette seemed changed from the start.  She did not talk to us.  Her warm and friendly personality changed into a sour personality.  She got plain rude, and mean to Millie.  But when we got to Sicily, she began to be able to do things—impossible things.  I don’t know. Like magic or something.  Like she had powers all of a sudden.  It was just little things at first, but her personality got worse with everything she learned she could do.  It was like the magic made her turn evil.  Millie said she noticed some things earlier, when we were traveling through China, somewhere in there.”

“Sicily?” Katie interrupted.

“That was the time when Pyrrhus of Epirus got invited to drive the Carthaginians off the island.  I guessed the year at 279 or so.  Millie and I discussed making the long trek to Rome. This would be on the eve of the Punic wars.  But Nanette forced us through the next time gate, and after a while, she followed us, or so it seems.”

“But why do you say it was not Nanette?” Lincoln asked.

“Because of the way she acted, and many things she said.  She talked about still being there with Professor Fleming, and how she would never leave him.  But there she was with us.  She talked about being in two places at once, and how hard that was.  And she talked about Janus, the two-faced god of the Romans, you know, one face comedy and one face tragedy.”

“One face good and one face evil,” Katie said.

“We met him, once, in the Alps,” Lockhart remembered

“So, maybe Janus split her into two Nanettes,” Boston blurted out.

“You mean, the god?” Evan had to ask.

“Don’t underestimate what the gods can do,” Lockhart said.

“We met the wicked witch, briefly,” Alexis said.

“Nanette?”

“Yeah,” Lincoln said.  “She’s taken up with some cowboys.  1870s?”  He looked at Boston.

“!870s,” Boston nodded. “I got shot.”

“Same age our horses came from,” Katie added.  The others had not realized that.

“Benjamin,” Alexis did not spell it out.

“Just coming to it,” Lincoln said, and after a minute he reported from the database.  “The Other Earth reaches half full in 525 BC, and is good until 225 BC.  Then we go into dark moon until 75 AD.  We are in a dark period right now, since 825 BC.  Now let’s see…”  Lincoln fell silent for a minute.  “Interesting…”  more silence. “I put in Sicily.  Umma from Carthage.  323-267 BC.  After her, Meng Shi in China.  267-228 BC. They both live in days when magic is possible.”  They had to explain for Evan, and Sukki, since it had not come up before.  Once again, they all looked to Lockhart to explain.

“The Other Earth fills the same relative space as our own earth, but in another dimension.  As it has been explained to me, it is what they call a physics universe, not a parallel earth.  As I understand it, the further you travel across the physical dimensions, the more the laws of physics that we know break down or cease altogether.  You don’t have to go far before life itself becomes impossible.  In the case of the Other Earth, it may be closer to the core than our own universe, because all of the laws of physics we understand function there too, but it has an additional force or energy like gravity or magnetism that we don’t have.”

“It is called creative and variable energy,” Alexis interrupted.

Lockhart nodded.  “We common folks call it magic.  Magic energy.  And some people, not many, can somehow tap into it and do miraculous things.”

Alexis spoke up again.  “Even in our day, we have not determined the genetic component, but it does tend to follow bloodlines.  It sometimes skips a generation, like grandmother and granddaughter, but not the mother.  It shows up about two-thirds in women and one-third in men.  No one knows why.”

“So, Nanette is a witch.  She can tap into this magic power…”

“…Creative and variable energy,” Alexis corrected.

“But what does this Other Earth have to do with her?” Evan wondered.

“Camp first,” Lockhart said, and pointed to the next group of trees, which looked like the edge of a forest. “I know it is early, but there are too many eyes in the sky.”  He pointed back; the way he had to look to be able to explain things to the others.  People looked.  A larger ship moved slowly across the sky, and Lockhart finished his thought.  “They are either surveying the area or looking for something.”

“Or someone,” Katie agreed, and she headed out to find an acceptable, defensible campsite.

Once the camp got set up, and the horses got their fair share of time, the people settled in around the fire, hoping the deer Katie bagged would be more edible than the goat Decker provided for lunch.

“Okay,” Lockhart began.  “The Other Earth has two differences to our earth, besides the magic energy we told you about.  One is, the Kairos never got born on the Other Earth.  At some point, the gods went to war with one another.  The landscape got shoved around pretty good and most of life got wiped out.  As for the humans, there were no survivors.  One of the gods who survived over there was Poseidon.  Somehow, he got the other surviving gods on that earth to agree to try and merge the two earths.  It did not work, for several reasons, as the Kairos explained it to me.  For one, Poseidon and the gods in our earth were not keen on the idea of merging with another version of themselves from another universe.  Second, the Other Earth existed as a mirror image of our own, with Europe pointing east instead of west, and so on.  And third, as the two worlds came into what they called conjunction, all this magic energy began to leak into our universe and caused all sorts of problems.”

“You mean, the people in our world suddenly became witches and warlocks.”

“Wizards, not Warlocks,” Boston said, and turned up her nose.

“Not many.  Never many, but some,” Alexis said.

Lockhart coughed.  People quieted.  “When the worlds got close, the Kairos Amphitrite figured out how to make a hole between the worlds and travel from one to the other.  The gods on the Other Earth wanted people, and life restored there, so they could have someone to be gods over, I suppose.  Amphitrite made the agreement.  Plenty of ordinary people crossed over, but especially those who were gifted to use the magic energy that world offered.  The gods of that earth set it in motion, relative to ours. Every six-hundred years, the worlds come into conjunction, and some people cross over.

“Not many come into our world,” Alexis said.  “But some went there, especially in the ages when witches get burned at the stake.”

Lockhart continued.  “The best way I have been told to picture it is to look at the moon.  Between the half to half-moon, through the full moon, we get close enough to the other world, so like increased moonlight, we get magic energy leaking into our world. That is when travel becomes possible between worlds, though it takes considerable magic to do it.  From half to half through the dark of the moon, the leakage really is not enough to activate any magic potential.”

“Right now, we are in a dark time,” Lincoln said.  “We should go through the light time from 525 to 225 BC, which would make the full moon in 375.  You said Nanette began to show signs of magic after entering the Chinese time zone. That had to be after 228, up to 323 BC, so well within the light time.”

“I see,” Evan said, whether he saw exactly or not.

“It sounds like Nanette had the potential,” Alexis said.  “The world went light around 1875, but by 1905 she maybe did not have enough light to bring out her potential.  Going back in time to where the light started in 225, and you landed about 279or 280 in Sicily, that sounds like light enough to bring out her magic.”

“If you were traveling with evil Nanette,” Lincoln said.  “You are probably lucky to have escaped.”

“But that is not the only way magic can happen,” Alexis added, and waited for Evan to look at her before she explained. “Most of the spirits, such as greater, lesser, and even most of the little spirits have natural magic inside them. Also, half-breeds can do things, though lesser and lesser, even down to the seventh generation. The blood is not considered fully human again until the tenth generation, for example…”

Evan looked at Boston, the elf.

“Mine is mostly fire magic,” Boston said.

“I guessed from the red hair,” Evan smiled, then looked at Alexis again.  “Don’t tell me you are a witch.”

“Lincoln only calls me a witch on my bad days,” Alexis admitted. “Boston and I are not dependent on how close or far away the Other Earth might be.  My magic is in the wind, and healing magic.  I used to be an elf.  Boston used to be human.”

“From Massachusetts.  You know, Salem witches and all that.”

“But how can that be?  What do you mean you used to be an elf?”

“Boston became an elf to marry my brother, Roland,” Alexis admitted.  “I became human to marry Benjamin.”

“I didn’t know you could do that,” Evan said.

“It isn’t done, except in special cases.”

“The Kairos?” Evan asked.  Everyone nodded.  Then they quieted to give Evan some room to breathe.  It was a lot to take in.  They ate.  Finally, Alexis became concerned about the look on Evan’s face.

“What are you thinking about?”

“Wondering if Millie made it to safety,” he said.  “I pray for her every night.”

“I pray for Roland,” Boston said. “He disappeared.  We are believing he got a free ride back to the future. But there was a wolf.  Not a wolv, but a real werewolf, and he may have gotten torn up.  We don’t know.”

“Same,” Evan said.  “Except mine was a Wolv.”

“I can pray for Millie, too.”

“And Roland?”  Evan was not sure of the name, but Boston nodded.  After that, Evan seemed to relax around Boston, even if she was an elf.

************************

Don’t miss tomorrows post for the end of the story.

*

Avalon 6.4 Stories, part 2 of 4

“Nanette was his maid?” Alexis asked.

“Sort of.  Her mother served as a maid to his brother’s family.  Her mother’s mother served as a maid to his mother. Nanette was young, but the third generation serving the Fleming family.”

“You say was,” Lockhart pointed out.

“I mean is.  I hope she still is, but I don’t know where she might be.”  He held up his hands to forestall any further interruptions.  “The professor calls Nanette his personal assistant and secretary.  She has lovely handwriting, and the professor is rather absent minded.  She is as sharp as a whip.  I don’t imagine he would function well without her.”

“I can accept personal assistant,” Decker said, and cut a small piece of goat, though it really had not cooked well yet.

“So, there were four on the trip?” Lincoln asked.

“Six,” Evan said.  “We had two graduate students with us.  Charles Wallace Dodd, who goes by Wallace.  He fell madly in love with Nanette.  The other was Anthony Carter.  A good man.  Tony had an Italian mother, so travel to Rome felt like a trip home for him.  It was an exciting time for all of us.  There were several digs around the Roman countryside, and we had been invited to examine the artifacts and inscriptions and all that had been uncovered.  Plus, the church, Saint Peters, had an archive with documents dating to the third or fourth centuries that they were willing to let us see.”

“Point of information,” Katie interrupted.  “In 1905, knowledge was not fragmented like it is in our day.  All sorts of things, like history, ancient languages, archeology, sociology, political science, anthropology, and more, came simply under the heading antiquities, or often just history.  What was Professor Fleming’s area?” Katie asked.

“Theoretical.  But he was looking for evidence.  He wanted to understand how a functioning republic could devolve, as he called it, into a dictatorship so quickly and absolutely.  He claimed the fall from republic to empire made no logical sense.  I had to agree with him, in theory.  He is concerned about the United States, but especially concerned about Europe, where monarchy was not so long ago, and the fledgling democracies are not yet strong. He is looking to catalogue the warning signs.”

“Hitler,” Lockhart suggested.

“Mussolini,” Katie did not disagree.

“Does Nanette have a last name?” Decker asked, his mind on a different subject.

“Miss Jones,” Ethan responded. “She was a great help to all of us. I hope she is still out there and all right.”

“But, how did you get to be here?” Boston asked, betraying a bit of impatience in her question.

“We were all in the house we rented, one afternoon.  Lunchtime, in fact.  Professor Fleming was talking about his theories.  Mildred and I, and his students, and Nanette all listened intently, as you might expect, though he does tend to go on a bit, like a lecture, I suppose.  Then the whole house started moving.  We thought earthquake, but when the shaking stopped and we looked outside for the damage, we saw a real Roman marketplace, and plenty of people pointing and screaming. You see, we moved, and the whole house moved with us, to the exact time in history that Professor Fleming was talking about.”

“Ashtoreth experimenting with the Heart of Time,” Lockhart concluded.  “She must have looked back a hundred years, listened in to what these folks were saying, and moved them to the very place they were talking about.”

“Not to be benevolent,” Alexis said.

“No,” Katie agreed.  “She probably hoped these people from the future, with their knowledge and all, would start interfering with history and screw it all up.”

“Oh, no,” Evan said.  “Once we realized where we were and what had happened, Professor Fleming made us all swear to observe and take notes, but not interfere, or reveal anything about the future.  We all understood how dangerous that could be to future events.”

“Well, good for that,” Lincoln said, and Boston nodded vigorously.

“So, you lived in ancient Rome for nearly seven years before coming into the past?”  Alexis wanted to get it straight.

“Five years,” Evan said.  “We have been on the road for nearly two years, well, about eighteen months on the road and near four months in the last time zone.”

“You are wearing fairy weave,” Lincoln remembered.  “Where did you get that?”

“King Bodanagus,” he said.

“Lincoln,” Lockhart pointed, and Lincoln turned straight to the database to look him up.

“I’ll explain,” Evan said.  “We lived in the house for five years. People got used to us soon enough. Millie had some training as a nurse, since she was sixteen.  She and I made some small living working with the local physics.  Though I admit, I was not much of a chemist.  I am better now.  Tony found a potter’s wheel in the house, and made some good pots.  We built a working kiln out back, and he experimented with different glazes.  We opened the front room to be a small shop, since we were right there in the marketplace. Poor Tony was more interested in how the Roman Empire collapsed than how it came into being; but he said if he did not have the chance to study at the University, he always wanted to be an artist, so he seemed happy.  Wallace was not good for much.  He did some labor over the years.  He tried several things, but he never brought much into the house other than the occasional prostitute.

“Nanette?” Decker asked.

“Nanette became the toast of the town. The wealthy, even some senators, paid her to attend their parties, so they could hear her wisdom, and get their sons to propose to her.  She always brought Professor Fleming.  They were all a bit afraid of the professor.  He got credited with being a great magician, and soothsayer.  He fudged the rule about not talking about the future.  He said he was the only one who knew what would be safe to say, and what would not be safe.  He flat out broke the rule when he told Pompey and the senate that Caesar would not stop at the Rubicon.”

Lincoln interrupted.  “Bodanagus. About eleven zones in the future, after this one.  A king of the Nervii.  He fought Caesar to a standstill before they made peace.  He went with Caesar to Egypt and prophesied there about Egypt’s fall. He came to Rome and tutored young Octavian in the way of kings.”

“The Kairos gets in the middle of everything,” Katie said, and the others could not tell if she meant that as criticism or praise.

Boston defended her god.  “Only to make sure things turn out the way they are supposed to.”  She checked her instincts, in her mind and heart.  Some were different from her old human instincts.  Some were new, but one of the strongest told her she needed to not mess with history.

“Anyway,” Alexis made the conversation pause before she turned to Evan.  “Go on.”

“Not much to tell.  We survived.  We met Bodanagus after the first year, when Caesar came to town, briefly.  Bodanagus strongly underlined Professor Fleming’s rule about not revealing the future, but then he left us to our own devices. He made a contribution, so we wouldn’t starve.  He helped me join the physician’s guild, after he examined my chemistry and Millie’s medical knowledge to be sure, as he said, that we did not know anything dangerous. He got Tony into the potter’s guild, so we would not have to worry about some guild members coming and breaking all our pots.  Caesar himself signed the appointments.  Then he left us alone.  He went off with Caesar to Spain.  Then he came and said hi, but went off again to Illyria, and then Egypt.  I don’t understand.  Who is he?”  Everyone looked at Lockhart.

“The Kairos is a person,” he began, and stalled, so Katie picked up the story.

“A person born over and over, sometimes as a man, and sometimes as a woman.”

Lockhart continued.  “Sometimes, he says it is like being on a treadmill…or she. Sometimes he/she calls himself/herself just an experiment in time and genetics.”  Evan shook his head.  He had no idea what genetics were.

“The point is,” Katie said.  “The Kairos gets born as a know nothing baby, but inevitably at some critical historical point.  And like Valencia, she has to keep history on track, like it’s her job.”

“To make history come out the way it is supposed to come out,” Boston interjected.

“But how does the Kairos know how it is supposed to come out?” Evan asked.

“He remembers the future, or some future lifetimes anyway,” Lockhart concluded.

“Remembers the future?” Evan still shook his head.  “But you said the Kairos is born a know nothing baby.”

“Yes,” Katie said.  “And grows, and fits in with family and community, and becomes a solid member of the society, and learns and develops talents and skills, and has her or his own personality.  At some point after puberty, as the Kairos says, the walls of time begin to fall and memories of at least one past life and one future life begin to return.”

“The Princess and the Storyteller are nearly always there,” Lockhart said.  “Maybe always, and Doctor Mishka and Diogenes are often there as well.”

“Wait,” Evan said.  “I met a Diogenes coming here.  And I remember Bodanagus mentioning a Doctor Mishka.  I did not know who that was.”

“The Kairos,” Katie said, and they waited, while Evan thought it through.

“So, you are saying Bodanagus and Valencia are the same person, just different lifetimes.”

“Deep inside, the same being in two different persons,” Alexis encouraged him.

Another ship flew overhead, or maybe the same ship returned.  Lockhart said time to move, and everyone packed up lunch and headed out.

Back in the saddle, Lincoln had another question.  “So, you didn’t say how you came to be here.”

“Bodanagus, or rather a friend of his, Athena.  She seemed a fine Greek lady.  When Caesar went to Africa, as he said, to clean up the mess, Bodanagus came back to Rome to oversee young Octavian’s education.  I don’t know if he and Caesar had a falling out, or what.  But at that time, Bodanagus explained to us about the time gates and the time zones, and Athena gave us all chestnuts.  One side was green, and the other red, though we were the only ones who could see the colors.  Now that I think on it, that was rather odd.  Also, he asked Athena to stabilize the gates in their present location for us.  He called her Minerva once.”

“The goddess,” Boston interrupted with a smile and a nod.

“Hush,” Alexis shushed her.  “Go on,” she told Evan.

Evan took a deep breath.  Calling the woman a goddess almost made sense when it came out of the mouth of an elf.  “Anyway,” he continued.  “The green side always pointed to the past time gates, and the red to the future gate. It worked a bit like a compass, pointing green ahead and red behind.”

“What about the professor?” Lincoln asked.

“Professor Fleming did not plan on going anywhere.  He said he had to be there to tell Caesar to beware the ides of March.”

“Funny,” Lincoln said, though no one laughed.

Avalon 6.4 Stories, part 1 of 4

This episode is in four parts.  Don’t miss the final post on Thursday of this week.  Enjoy.

************************

After 702 BC The Levant. Kairos lifetime 76: Tobaka, Nubian Prince of Egypt

Recording …

The travelers moved five long days through Etruscan held territory to get to the next time gate.  They were seen, and sometimes watched, but not bothered, as long as they moved on in the morning and did not settle.

People left Evan alone to his thoughts for most of that time.  In part, because he told them about his wife, Mildred, and how they became separated in the time zone to which they were headed.  He got captured by the aliens, and their soldiers that he called wolves.

“Wolvs,” Lockhart said, pronouncing the word a bit differently, and shivering a little as he said it.

“Damn,” Lincoln used his word, and Alexis agreed with him.  They at least read, in the so-called Men in Black records, about the one they found in New Jersey after two thousand years in cryogenic sleep.  One Wolv shredded a dozen people and would have eaten the nearby town if the Kairos had not showed up and stopped it.  They would explain it later to the others.

Evan felt sure he would have been eaten, if a group of strange looking men had not rescued him.  He only just found out they were not men, but were creatures of fantasy, elves, dwarfs and an ogre, when they forced him through the next time gate.

“Where Millie ended up, I cannot say.” Evan wanted to cry, but forced himself to finish the story.  “The Etruscan lords and kings are not a tolerant bunch, but the ordinary people in the countryside were nice enough.  They slowly moved me south, over about a month, until I came to Rome, or what would one day be Rome.  Lord Tarquin said if I didn’t work, I didn’t eat.  But I met Valencia, a person I do not understand, and she gave me hope.”

He did cry.  They figured he wept mostly for his wife who he felt surely must be dead. So, they mostly left him alone with his thoughts.

The other reason they left him alone, and stayed generally quiet over those five days, is because they knew that he, and his companions, came from 1905, not 2010, like the travelers.  To that end, they did not know what might be safe to say in front of him, assuming he could one day get back to his own time. They feared every word they uttered might be too revealing about his future.

Alexis and Lincoln stayed with him. They taught him to build his fairy weave tent by commanding it into the right shape.  They found he already dressed in fairy weave clothing, so the tent did not surprise him.  Lincoln decided not to ask about that until everyone gathered to hear the answer. Then he forgot to ask for a couple of days.

Alexis taught Evan how to complain about the deer, deer, elk, and deer diet, though Evan said he did not mind the meat, even if he did not care for the gamey flavor.

“You get used to it,” Decker told him.

Evan and Decker went off for one long talk.  No one intruded, but the result seemed to be that they came to an understanding.  Evan only later confessed one thing privately to Lincoln and Alexis.

“I don’t know why he said to call him a black man.  We don’t call people white men, though I have heard the term used as a general description. But we don’t call Chinese people yellow men, or Indians red men, though I have heard those terms used, unkindly.”

“Native-American, not red men,” Lincoln said.

“You are right,” Alexis said.  “And you better not call Boston pointy-ears either.”

Evan looked.  He freaked, as they say, when he found out Boston was an elf.  But Lincoln got his attention back when he concluded, “People have a right to decide their own self-designation.  If Decker wants to be known as a black man or an African-American, that is his choice.”  That was where they left it.

On the third day, Evan asked about Elder Stow and Sukki.  “What kind of people are they?  Do they come from somewhere in South America or something?  I have never seen the like.”

“They are Neanderthals,” Lincoln said, plainly.  He waited for Evan’s eyes to get big before he said more.  “They call themselves Gott-Druk.  Elder Stow and Sukki are not related by blood, but they have adopted each other in their own way.  Sukki comes from the before time.  That is, before the flood.”  He had to wait again.

“You mean, n-Noah and all?” Evan stuttered.

Lincoln nodded.  “As I understand it, she is what you might call a true cave-woman.  The Gott-Druk at the time were still working in stone, and just using some soft metals, like copper and tin.  During the time of the flood, they got whisked off world and given a new home world.”

“Whisked off.  You mean like in the spaceship we saw?”

Lincoln nodded.  “Since that time, over thousands of years, they learned to build their own spaceships, like the one you saw.  Elder Stow is really just Stow, I suppose.  I don’t know if he has a second, family name.  He doesn’t talk about it.  Elder is a Gott-Druk designation, like an officer of a ship. He isn’t the Captain, which in Gott-Druk terminology is Mother and Father for co-captains.  You might hear Elder Stow or Sukki refer to Katie and Lockhart as Mother and Father now and then.  Elder is one step down from captain.  Elder is a ship’s officer, but to us, he has always been Elder Stow.”

“Wow.”

“I might add, after thousands of years, since the flood, the Gott-Druk have learned a bunch of things, not just about spaceships.  He has, what you might call, a bunch of gadgets with which he can do some pretty remarkable things.”  Lincoln waited until Evan appeared to get his thoughts in order. Then Lincoln had a suggestion.  “You should go talk to them.”

It took Evan a whole day, but eventually, he did.

By the time they reached the time gate, Evan settled on Lincoln’s horse, Cortez.  Lincoln rode behind Alexis on Misty Gray, where he said he could pull his handgun if needed, an idea she did not like, but where he could also read from the database without worrying about where his horse wandered.

“So, read,” Lockhart said.

“The Kairos is Tobaka.  A male.  A Nubian.  I assume he is black.”

“’bout time,” Decker said, as they came through the gate and he and Elder Stow split off to ride on the wings.  They understood less than four month ago, the area was full of Humanoid officers and Wolv soldiers.  They would be extra careful, and watch the skies as well as the land.

Sadly, the land offered little cover. It appeared arid and hot.  The travelers moved up and down little scrub-grass and prickly-bush covered rises in the ground, and only had occasional trees and groves of trees here and there to offer shade.

Evan offered a reminder, since he already told them about the wolv.  “My brief time here happened nearly four months ago.  I understood there were two competing space races here, but both in small numbers.  I imagine that trouble has been cleared up by now. At least, that was what my escort suggested.”

Lincoln nodded, and turned to the database.  He spent several hours of quiet just reading.

Major Decker and Elder Stow rode out on the wings and sometimes a little up front in order to guard their travels and extend their eyes further into the wilderness.  They could not hear what Lincoln reported from what he read, but Lincoln had gotten good at giving a summary of the information over lunch or supper, depending.  Katie and Lockhart rode in front and tried to keep one ear on Lincoln’s report.  Boston and Sukki rode behind, and as long as they kept up, Sukki could hear as well.  Of course, Boston, with her good elf ears, could hear perfectly well, even when they straggled out behind.

“The Levant,” Lincoln finally said, and explained for Lockhart.  “That’s Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Israel to us.  We are somewhere in there.”

“Yes,” Lockhart said.  “I figured that out.”

“I believe the British call it Palestine,” Evan said.

“Let’s not go there,” Alexis suggested.

Evan didn’t understand.  “But we are there, aren’t we?”

“Well, this isn’t Egypt,” Lincoln said. “But she meant that was a subject she did not want to talk about.  You see, in our day, the area is still in turmoil, with Jews and Arabs claiming the same land.  It’s a mess, and most people can’t talk about it without choosing sides, so plenty of people would rather not talk about it.”

“I see.”

“But you came this way before,” Alexis said.  “What did you actually see when you were here?”

They all paused, as a ship of some sort zoomed overhead.  It did not look very big, and it soon disappeared over the horizon.

“Apparently, things have not been cleaned up, yet,” Lockhart said.

“Remarkable,” Evan said.  “When we arrived in Rome, I read in the paper where Mister Wright from Ohio kept an aero-plane in the air for thirty-nine whole minutes.  I thought that was remarkable, at the time.  Somewhere in North Carolina, as I recall.”

“Yes, but what about this place?” Alexis asked.

“It might help me pinpoint the location of the Kairos,” Lincoln added.  “And maybe the more accurate time frame, here.”

“Hold up,” Lockhart said, and then spoke into his wristwatch communicator.  “Lunch.”

They came to a grove of trees fed by a small spring that made a stream, which soon petered out in the arid conditions. Someone planted an olive tree there, and Alexis found some ripe ones. That was at least something other than the dead goat Decker bagged and carried over the back of his horse.

When the goat started cooking, and the olives proved sour, Evan opened up.  “To be honest, there is not much I can tell you about this place.  Just plenty of scrub grass and occasional trees. My wife, Mildred, and I, avoided people as much as possible, especially when we came into a time zone that was not part of the Greco-Roman world.  Wallace came with us, at first, and Nanette followed Wallace, or the other way around, or so we thought.  It turned out it wasn’t Nanette, exactly.”

“Nanette?” Katie asked.

Lockhart added, “Who?” at the same time.

Evan waved off the questions, took a deep breath, and began again.  “We left New York at the beginning of the semester and arrived in Rome after fifteen days.  I turned twenty-four, just married, and just got my first job.  Professor Fleming kindly made room on this trip so I could bring my wife.  She just turned nineteen in August.  Oh, it was a wonderful time.”  He got lost in his thoughts for a minute, and people kindly waited.  “Anyway.  Professor Fleming liked a paper I wrote on the days of the Roman Republic, and how they reached the height of Roman civilization, and how the empire was doomed to fall apart from its inception.  I think I got hired on his word, and he insisted I come on this trip. It was a great opportunity.”

“Nanette,” Lincoln reminded him.

“Yes, sorry.  She was Professor Fleming’s darkie.” He paused to look at Decker and apologized.  “Sorry. Major Decker.  I guess things are different in the future.”