Guardian Angel-4 Out of the Frying Pan, part 1 of 3

“I always wanted to go traveling.”  Lars stood on the other side of the bars and talked while Jill munched on sausages, potatoes and various kinds of vegetables that were just thrown on the plate and which were not nearly as tasty as Angelica’s supper.  Ethan listened and watched Jill in amazement as he turned up his nose and picked at his dinner.  Kirsten was there, too; but all she could do was cry.  Ethan imagined the girl liked them.

“I hear out past Fort Detroit, there are inland seas made of fresh water, but big enough where a man can be swallowed by the water and have no sight of the land.  I hear out west, the Ohio River runs into a greater river that runs the whole length of the continent, sometimes more than a mile wide.  I hear beyond that, there is a painted land and a canyon so wide and long and deep, you could put every fjord in Scandinavia together and it would not equal that one canyon.”

“All true.”  Ethan nodded with another look at Jill, thinking that she must have a caste-iron stomach, or perhaps she let her taste buds have the night off.  “I vacationed one summer on Lake Mead, I mean, that is near the Grand Canyon, and I have been to Mackinac Island several times.”

“Why didn’t you travel?”  Jill asked, hardly giving Ethan a glance.

The big farmer shrugged.  “Angelica came along, and then our son, but he died, and then Kirsten, and then our other son, but he died too.  And then I guess I got old.”

“You’re not old,” Ethan protested.

“I’m nearly fifty,” Lars protested right back.  “I can’t do what I did when I was twenty, or even thirty.  I feel it in my back well enough when I do too much, let me tell you.”

“Papa.”  Kirsten paused in her cry to encourage her father with a hug.

“But then I don’t suppose you two will be going anywhere now.”  Lars shook his head, sadly and clicked his tongue, and that started Kirsten crying again.  “I just wanted you to know, no hard feelings and all that.  It was not my idea, you know.  And I never thought you were spies.”

Ethan took a big bite of sausage and considered that it might actually be his last meal.  He looked more disgusted by the food than afraid of hanging in the morning.  Somehow, all of this had become plain strange and at present, he was having a hard time accepting that any of it was really happening.

“Angelica?”  Jill asked.  Ethan wondered what she was implying.

“Bad decision.”  Lars continued to shake his head sadly.  “The penalty is too much, even for spies.  I am sorry.  I never would have thought it would go this far.”

“So.”  Ethan gladly set down his spoon and interrupted.  “Do I get a last request?”

Lars thought for a minute before he nodded.

“How about some telegraph wire?”  Ethan gave it his best, hopeful grin.

“Sticking to your strange story?”  Lars nodded.  “But they are watching everyone to be sure that does not happen.”

“Why?”  Ethan wondered.  “If the story is not true, then giving us some wire will not matter.  But if the story is true…”  He let the sentence hang in Lars’ mind for a minute before he finished it.  “Then we are innocent of spying for the Anglish and really should not be hung.”

“Why should it matter to anyone if we get some copper wire at this point?”  Jill added.

“I am sorry,” Lars said.  “I am really sorry.”  He hustled his daughter out of the cellblock and Ethan groused about the second-rate sausage.

“Still think someone will come?”  Ethan asked after the food was thankfully taken away.  He looked at the drunk in the cell across the way and wondered if the man would ever wake up.

“I don’t know.”  Jill answered honestly.  “I don’t know.”

###

Jill felt terrible about getting Ethan mixed up in all of this.  She knew she would survive whatever happened in the morning, but at this point, he did not stand a chance of surviving.  She wanted to cry but dared not for his sake, so instead she took his hand and held on tight.  She needed his touch as much as she needed to give him what comfort she could.  She knew he was having a hard time accepting the reality of all that was happening; but she also knew he would accept it in the morning if help never came.  She did cry then, just a little, and he ended up comforting her.

After a time, the gaslights got dimmed and Ethan and Jill looked at the two cots.  Jill wondered if they might spend the night together.  That was when they heard a soft noise outside their window and a line of copper telegraph wire began to slip in between the window bars.  Jill stood on the bed and looked out while Ethan collected the line.  “Angelica.”  Jill identified their savior.

“I used to be Anglish once.”  Angelica refused to look up.  “I’m not sorry I turned you in.  I do not know if you are spies or not, but I do not think hanging is proper.  I brought your wire.  If you can save yourselves with this, be my guest.  Hanging is not proper, only don’t come back.”  That was all that the woman was going to say, and she turned around and walked away, leaving a big spool of wire on the ground beneath the window.

“Enough.”  Jill turned back from the window.  “I only need about six inches, not twenty feet.”

“Oh, right,” Ethan said.  “Maybe two feet.  I have always found I need more than I thought.”

Jill felt such relief, Ethan would never know.  She spoke with a light heart while she cut off a compromise one-foot length with her teeth and the dull butter knife they gave her for her meal.  “And you have been world hopping often?” she asked with her mouth full.

“No speakers and stuff.”  He started to respond, like it was a real question, before he stopped and smiled.  “No.  First world hop was with you.”  He sat down beside her and slipped his arm over her shoulder.  “I’m saving all my world hops for you.”  She elbowed him in the ribs, softly, but otherwise ignored him.

When the laptop was wired and ready, Jill took out the dimensional watch, as Ethan called it, and wired it as well, noting that there was plenty of charge in the unit.  That was when the drunk across the way decided to get up.

“Jillian.”  The drunk, turned out to be a young man who called her by name, which surprised both Jill and Ethan.

“Dominic.”  Jill knew him right away, and he and Jill passed some dialogue in a strange tongue, while Ethan eyed this tall, dark haired, romance cover kind of man and took an instant dislike to him.  Dominic pushed open his cell door, which was curiously unlocked, and he headed straight for the sheriff’s office.  Jill took that free moment to whisper a different thought in Ethan’s ear.

“He says he wants to help, but I don’t know if I can trust him.  I don’t know which side he is on.”  She spoke quickly and held tight to Ethan’s hand.  She slid the dimensional watch back in her pocket and picked up the laptop with her free hand.  Ethan picked up his briefcase, and swung it once, like he might test a weapon.  “Whatever happens, don’t let go,” Jill insisted, as Dominic came back and took a pen from a pocket in his cloak.  A brief flash of blue light came from the pen and the lock on Jill and Ethan’s cell popped.  The cell door swung open.

“This way,” Dominic said, and he led them out the back door to avoid the gas he had released in the front office.  He checked carefully in all directions first before he waved them to follow.

“He says they have been looking for me, that he has a real transfer unit near and he has come to take me home after dropping you off.”  Jill whispered as they walked through the dark streets.  There were gaslights along those streets, but the lights did not illuminate much.

“So why didn’t he speak up sooner?”  Ethan whispered back.  “Why wait until we were ready to go without him?  Was he going to wait until after we got hung to take us home?”

They heard a noise up front, somewhere across the street near a streetlight, and Jill spoke quickly.  “We are known,” she said.  “If we go with you and get stopped, we will end up back in jail.  You check it out.”  Dominic wanted to argue, but Jill cut him off.  “I am not moving from here until I know it is safe.”  Dominic looked ready to growl, but he merely nodded and went to scout ahead.  Jill turned quickly to Ethan.  “You are absolutely right,” she said.  “It proves nothing, but I just don’t trust him.”

She had secretly turned on the laptop, and now opened it all the way.  She entered Ethan’s password and waited for the stupid computer to boot, almost cursed twice and only held her tongue after a glance at Ethan.  At last, she began to type and when she got ready to hit the enter button, a big hulk of a man stepped out of the shadows, grabbed Ethan and reached for the transfer unit.

Guardian Angel-3 New Sweden, part 3 of 3

Jill smoothed her long, straight black hair as they walked across the street toward the town hall.  She was glad they had not been handcuffed, or worse, but then the three big men with their guns drawn were more than enough to convince her not to cause any trouble or try to escape.  Ethan watched Jill fix herself and apparently thought that was a good idea.  He brushed off his suit jacket and ran his fingers once through his own curly brown locks before they entered the hall and came up to the big courtroom door.

“Come in.”  A man in a plain brown suit met them at the door and escorted them to a table.  There was a second table alongside their own where a second man in a plain brown suit looked over some papers.  Ethan’s briefcase was present and open, on a display table in front of a high desk at the very front and center of the room.  The laptop, paper and pens were all laid out on that table in a neat retentive row.

“At least it doesn’t look broken,” Jill remarked casually.  Ethan nodded and smiled as he sat down beside her, but at the moment, Jill could not imagine how they were going to get hold of their ticket home.

After a short delay, three men came in from a back room and took seats behind the high desk.  Other men followed them in from the back and sat in what looked like a jury box.  The man up top who sat in the center, the one Jill figured had to be the head judge, carried a file and pulled out a piece of paper to read it over before beginning the trial.

Jill tugged on Ethan’s arm.  “That collar.”  She all but pointed at what Ethan indicated he had already seen.  All three judges wore a choker that glowed a dirty green color, like the dimmest fluorescent bulb.

“I thought they were merely a symbol of office and shrugged it off,” Ethan said.

Jill quickly corrected his thinking.  “Those are mind control collars.”

“What?  Who?”  Ethan whispered back.  “Not the technology of this world.”  Ethan understood that much.

Jill shrugged.  “Any of a dozen or so peoples,” she said, and Ethan’s eyes widened.

“I had not realized that traveling through parallel universes was so widespread.”

“You are Ethan and Jill Lugas?”  The judge in the center spoke up and gave the couple a stern look.

“Oh yes, your honor.”  Ethan stood and produced his friendliest smile.  Jill remained seated so he glanced down at her.  “It is Lucas.”  He offered the correction and the judge duly made a note.

“You are Anglish?”  The judge asked.

Ethan looked down again.  Jill nodded.  “Yes, your honor.”  He said before he sat as the man in the plain brown suit rose and pushed on Ethan’s shoulder to get him into his chair.

“You have been accused of spying for the Anglish.  How do you plead?”  The head judge looked bored and Jill knew that was not a good sign.  Their man in the brown suit, the defense attorney, started to say something about extenuating circumstances, but Ethan interrupted.

“Not guilty.”  He said it rather loud and stood up again.  “I have never heard of anything so ridiculous.  Say!  Why have we been kept in jail?  We have done nothing wrong except visit your beautiful country.  You have lovely people here who were very kind to us, but now we would just like to get our things and go home if you don’t mind.”  It was a good little speech, which dropped the jaw of their attorney, but the gavel interrupted it.

“Another word and I will have you gagged.”  The Judge meant it.  Ethan sat down and drummed up a very bewildered look.

“Didn’t I see you on Broadway?”  Jill teased quietly.  “Too bad it won’t do any good.”  She pointed again at the collars.

“How do you plead?”

The attorney looked at the couple, shook his head, and frowned.  “Not guilty, I guess.”  He did not sound at all confident.  He sat back down, and after that, he would not look at them, much less talk to them.

“Bother!”  The judge on the right looked like he was late for his luncheon date.

There were witnesses first, none of whom Jill or Ethan had ever seen, and they said all kinds of things that made no sense.  Then Lars got to speak.

“No,” he said, honestly enough.  “They did nothing nor said anything to make me prove them spies.  There were only circumstances, and some curious things.”

“For instance?”  The other plain brown suited man, the prosecutor at least took his job seriously.  Jill looked briefly at the defense attorney and wondered when the snoring was going to start.

“Well, I just happened to find them in the field where the militia has been at maneuvers.  God knows we all hope there is no war, but it seemed coincidence to me.  And then Ethan, Mister Lucas,” he pointed, “was awfully curious about maps.  He said he always liked maps since he was young.  That could be.  I do not know.  But then he came in the night looking for telegraph wire.  Maybe he has got some secret way of sending messages.  I am not saying he has, but who can say?  Those Anglish are clever, always coming up with new things.”

“Tell the judges why I wanted the wire.”  Ethan shouted despite the mean stare from the head judge.

Lars guffawed.  “He said he wanted to tie the witch to the bedpost.”  Jill stomped on Ethan’s foot under the table.  A couple of the men in the jury box snickered, but the judges did not even blink.

The prosecutor released Lars and turned on Ethan.  “Mister Lucas, please tell us about this spy equipment of yours,” he said.

“It is not spy equipment.”  Ethan erupted, like he had been waiting for his chance.  “I’m a writer.  The paper and pens are my job.”

“Also good for drawing maps which you like so much and making notes on an enemy’s strengths and weaknesses.”

“Nothing of the kind.”  Ethan clearly spoke with as much exasperation as he could muster, and it was not hard to muster a lot.  “Look.  I have spent the last few months in love and getting married.  I don’t know anything about wars or peace or anything of the sort, and for my wife it is even worse.  You know how it is for women.  Total preoccupation.  At least it is a big deal where I come from.  I tell you, we had no idea we were anywhere other than in a field, under a clear sky with the birds singing.  What else do newlyweds think about?”

“Enough!”  The center judge shouted, but Jill saw that Ethan got through to at least some of the men in the jury box.  Maybe they had jumped to conclusions a bit too quickly.  Maybe this was a case of innocent people being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The prosecutor was not moved.  “And tell us about this strange black box.”  He said.  “A communication device?  A bomb of some sort?”

Jill had foolishly hoped that they would not ask.  Ethan looked at her with uncertainty in his eyes, so she stood.  “All right.  You have us,” she said.  It was a big risk, but Jill saw no alternative.  “But not in the way you think.  This is called a laptop computer, and it is something way beyond the technology of your world.  You see, we were visiting you, in a sense, but not on behalf of the Anglish.”  She stepped to the table, opened the computer lid and turned it on.  “The truth is, we are simple explorers, but something has gone wrong with our equipment so we are stranded here.  We needed the wire to fix our machine so we can go home, that’s all.”

Everyone in the courtroom looked stunned to silence.  Even the prosecutor stood speechless before the impossible fairy tale he was hearing.

Ethan went to join Jill, told her the sequence and typed in his password.  Jill continued to speak while the computer booted up.  “This device simply helps us gather and store information, and it will help us return home if we can get some copper wire that is thin enough.  In fact, if you had some telegraph wire right now, I could prove it.”  She put out her hand to invite them to let her give a demonstration.

Ethan held his breath.  Jill still had the dimensional watch in her pocket along with the metal plugs she had shaped.  The men who ran the jail decided not to frisk the woman, though neither she nor Ethan could imagine why not.  Now all she needed was the wire and a few moments to connect the laptop to the watch, and to type, and they were gone, at least theoretically.

“No.”  It was not to be.  The head Judge’s face blistered with anger, and Ethan took the next few moments to shut down the computer to preserve the battery, hopefully for a later time.  The judges did not confer so much as simply share a look.  They looked at the men in the jury box as well, but clearly discounted any dissenting opinion and did not ask for their opinion in any case.

“This court finds you guilty of spying.”  Despite the evident anger, the head Judge spoke in a very flat voice. “The sentence is death by hanging.  Sentence will be carried out at sunrise.  Court is dismissed.”  The judges left, together.  A few of the men left as well, but most stayed, like they were too stunned to move.  It seemed the men in the jury box were as surprised as Ethan and Jill, and so were the guards, and the defense attorney, and the witnesses.  Even the prosecutor had a look on his face that suggested that the sentence was excessive.

“Come.”  One of the guards got their attention, even as Ethan closed the computer lid and finished reloading all of the so-called evidence into his briefcase.  He carried the briefcase with him, and no one objected.

They were locked in again, and sat side by side on the cot in their cell.  They had everything they needed to get out of there except the wire; but Jill was not for giving up.

“Someone will come.”  Jill insisted.

“Did you see the stunned look on all of those faces when the sentence was pronounced?”

“Someone will come, and with the wire.  They will come out of curiosity if nothing else.”

“Want to make love while we’re waiting?”  Jill could not believe those words came out of Ethan’s mouth.  She hit him in his arm, but not as hard as the night before.

Guardian Angel-3 New Sweden, part 2 of 3

“Goodbye.”  Ethan shook Lars’ hand.  “And thank you for your hospitality.”

Lars just smiled but after they parted, Lars patted the gun at his side a couple of times before he nodded, and he waved until the couple turned the corner.

“I think if there is telegraph wire anywhere, it will be by the train station.  The telegraph lines parallel the trains,” Jill spoke to task as soon as she could.

“Good thinking, Sherlock,” Ethan responded.  Jill gave him a curious look

“Who?”  Her mind was focused on the wire.

“What, never read Conan-Doyle?”  Ethan looked surprised.  “I’m finding you a copy of The Hounds of the Baskervilles.  Heck, I can get you the complete Sherlock Holmes collection and maybe occupy thirty minutes of your time.”

“Ah.”  Jill remembered, but she changed the subject even as she took his arm.  “Tell me honestly.  Do you feel strange being in a world entirely different from any you ever experienced or imagined?”  It had been a long time since she had felt the wonder of strange new places.

“Yes,” he admitted before he looked at her.  “But I am glad I am here with someone who knows all about these sorts of things.”

Jill just walked for a second and took in those eyes before she shook herself, turned her head forward and spoke.  “The truth is we are lucky we don’t look too out of place.  This lab coat looks like a strange white dress, but it falls below the knees and that is important.  Your suit is not entirely out of place either.”

“Except I don’t have the stiff collar and one of those great ties.  They look just like a knot with some strings hanging down.”

“The truth is, if we look out of place at all it is because we are hatless.”

Ethan looked up.  “I hadn’t noticed.”  He looked around.  “But now that you mention it.”  A man tipped his hat for them and Ethan gave something like a salute and a smile in return.

“If we were planning to stay longer we would have to acclimate better,” Jill concluded.

“You mean, change our clothes and such.  Maybe put you in one of those flowery hats.”  He pointed.

“Appearance is ninety percent of the battle toward being taken as normal citizens of a given world.”  She affirmed with a slight downturn of her lips.  “But since we will be leaving shortly, God willing, we won’t have to bother with flowery hats.”

“What do you think our odds are of reaching your world this time?”  Ethan asked casually as he smiled for a couple where the man tipped his hat and said something that sounded like “Goot morgen.”

“Less than before,” Jill confessed.  She stopped walking and looked into Ethan’s eyes once again.  “To tell you the truth, I planned to come here.  But I did not plan to drag you along or come without my controller.”  She started them walking again.  “I think I really need to get you back to your own world.  I’ve been thinking about what you said about Doctor Grimly, you know, and I would hate to see the nice old man charged with a double homicide.”

“Ah, yes.”  Ethan tried to hide his disappointment, but Jill felt it.  “And when you leave me there, I imagine it will be forever.”  Ethan sounded stoic, but his tone of voice forced Jill to hesitate.

“You like the idea of seeing other worlds don’t you?”  They reached the train station and stopped walking so they could face each other.  “What is it?  Is it like some explorer instinct?  You want to see what is out there?”

Ethan grabbed Jill by the shoulders and made sure their eyes met again.  “I like the idea of being with you,” he said.

A man came up to them and spoke.  He had to repeat himself twice to get Jill and Ethan to break their eye lock.  When they did, the couple noticed there were several men, and they had their guns drawn.

The first man repeated his words in his bouncy language but no one had to translate it into Anglish for Ethan.  The couple, hands raised, were escorted off to jail, and one of the men relieved Ethan of his briefcase.

Guardian Angel-3 New Sweden, part 1 of 3

Jill woke first and sat quietly to watch Ethan sleep.  She thought about what life might be like with something to hold on to other than her own wits.  She knew she should not think that way but she could not help it.  She had been alone for too long, an unhealthy long time, and she was unaccountably attracted to this young man, child though he was.  Full of youth and life, Ethan knew how to laugh.  Her life was so serious.  She longed to be able to laugh again.

Ethan opened his eyes, smiled at her and sat up on his elbows.  He winced and reached for his upper arm but that just made Jill’s smile deeper and stronger.  She did like him.  She could not help it.

“So what’s the plan?”  Ethan asked.  Jill changed the direction of her thoughts and put on her more serious face.

“This world had trains and telegraphs, but no internal combustion engines, and so no Wright Brothers, yet.  “About 1875,” she said.  She put the place in his time frame with the hope that his grasp of history would help.

“So we ought to be able to find the wire we need.”  Ethan concluded and Jill nodded.  She truly was glad that he was smart.

“So I was thinking, after graciously thanking our hosts for their hospitality, we walk to Hill Town.  It should be simple enough to get what we need.”

Ethan got all of the way up when they heard the front door close down below.  He stepped to the railing and turned his back on Jill to look over the edge.  “I decided last night that this earth hopping might be a tricky and dangerous business.”

“World hopping.”  Jill corrected Ethan’s terminology but did not disagree with the rest.

“Good thing my wife is the most brilliant and confident woman in the universe,” he said, and he reached his hand back for hers.  Jill could not see the expression on Ethan’s face, but decided that was just as well since it meant he could not see her face, either.  She gave him her hand even as she thought, how little he knows.

When the couple came down the stairs, Lars was going back out the front door.

“Ah.”  Lars smiled and paused.  “Our sleepy ones.”  He caught Jill’s eye.  “I should have gotten your husband up two hours ago for a ride to the fields to work off the toll.”  He laughed, stepped outside and shut the door behind him.  Jill suddenly felt embarrassed about sleeping so late, even if it was just seven o’clock.  She should have made more effort to conform to the culture.

“I hope we didn’t wake you last night.  I don’t think we got to sleep until late,” she apologized

“Auch!”  Angelica waved off the apology and went to the kitchen to prepare some food for her guests while Kirsten plopped down in her Papa’s chair.

Jill paused where she stood, part way between the front door, the kitchen and the fire.  She watched while Ethan took a seat in front of the fire and rechecked the contents of his briefcase, now that he knew how important the laptop was.  Poor Ethan, Jill thought.  She was sure this was the strangest first date he had ever been on.  She sighed for his sake before she had a truly impish idea.  She still looked at Ethan when she leaned over Kirsten’s chair and whispered in the girl’s ear.

“We didn’t sleep until very late.”  Jill pointed to her lip and bit it.

Kirsten glanced at Ethan and turned crimson.  Ethan raised a curious eyebrow.  Jill knew he would ask later what she said, but for the present, she just smiled at him and took the seat next to her girlfriend.  Ethan looked straight at her but shook his head in bewilderment and set down the briefcase between his feet.

Breakfast was good, all eggs, biscuits and plenty of bacon, but after breakfast they learned that Lars had loaded up the wagon and hitched up the horse for a trip to town.  They were going for a ride and Angelica and Kirsten were coming as well, to shop.

Jill caught Ethan’s nervous glance.  They both knew it could get tricky if they were asked too many questions about a town they had never been to; but she patted Ethan’s hand to reassure him and he nodded once to indicate that if it came up, they would think of something.  Jill knew that their explanations for things at times might get extremely thin, but she felt confident that Ethan’s experience in marketing and public relations would not let him down.

###

The road, if that two-rutted, rock-strewn excuse for a horse path could be called a road, left them all shaken.  Angelica sat up top beside Lars on the springboard, which shielded her, and Lars from the worst of the bumps.  Kirsten rode in the back with Jill and Ethan, and since Kirsten seemed to take her beating in stride, Jill tried to mirror that same attitude.

In only an hour of bumps and jumps, they started to see houses, neat wood framed buildings set out in straight rows on both sides of the improving road.  A short while later, they came to the edge of the town and crossed the railroad tracks beside the train station where two freight cars were linked to a steam engine that sent up occasional great billows of smoke.  Downtown was only one street long, but it was long enough to receive traffic from a dozen residential roads.  It looked to Jill like a picture out of some Victorian album.  She pointed out several things that were peculiar to Victorian architecture and Ethan nodded but held his tongue.  She was glad about that.  He was learning.

Lars guided his horse into a barn-like structure where a gangly young boy caught the horse by its bridal.  “Just water and a bit of feed.”  Lars said.  “We will be going home in the afternoon.”  The boy nodded and held the horse steady while Ethan and Jill followed Kirsten down and out of the wagon, slowly.  They were all bruised.

“I think we better go to the station first and see what time the train can take us back to New Amsterdam.”  Ethan suggested while he stretched out the kink in his back. Jill hugged Kirsten and gave her some womanly advice about marriage, and she hugged Angelica as well.

“I never expected to find an Anglish person here.”  Jill said.

Angelica took a quick step back.  “I used to be Anglish,” she said softly, and she looked down at her own dowdy boots and turned one toe in the dirt.

Guardian Angel-2 Elsewhere, part 3 of 3

As soon as they were up in the loft and heard the bedroom doors close down below, Ethan whispered.  “Okay, I would say you have some serious explaining to do.”

Jill looked hesitant.  There were two single beds in the loft and she sat on one and pointed at the other.  “First things first.  You sleep there or come the morning I’ll be a widow.”  She looked like she meant it, and Ethan was in no position to argue.  He felt disappointed, but he knew that was not the time for romance, so he sat on his bed and faced her.  He gave her a moment to collect her thoughts, but the look that must have appeared on his face prompted a second comment.

“Being married is safer,” Jill said.  “Some worlds still have slavery and worse, but marriage is considered sacred in most places.  Otherwise, the risk of being separated is too great.”

“Some worlds?”

“Earths.  Other Earths,” Jill said, and Ethan reacted.

aa-ethan-1a“But this is fantastic.”  He jumped up and spoke too loud.  He could not help it.  His mind filled up with the possibilities.  “I had no idea that Doctor Grimly was on to something so incredible.  No wonder he wanted to keep it quiet until he was sure.”

Jill shook her head so Ethan shut his mouth and sat back down despite his excitement.  “Doctor Grimly is a brilliant man, but there is a big difference between what he helped me do and what he actually knows.”  Ethan raised his eyebrows.  “I can’t believe that sweet old man wanted me to disappear right in front of your eyes.”  She frowned.

Ethan hardly had to think before he responded.  “I imagine he wanted a witness so he would not be accused of doing away with you and stuffing your body down the drain.”

Jill opened her mouth.  “I had not thought of that,” she admitted.

“Very lovely, by the way,” Ethan said.  “I would hate to see your body wasted down the drain.”  He grinned.

Jill’s hand stopped inches from Ethan’s cheek.  Ethan expected the slap, but Jill poked her finger on his nose instead.  “You can keep those thoughts to yourself,” she said.  Ethan was glad to see that she grinned more than frowned.  Then Ethan had a sudden insight as things came together in his mind.

“I take it you are not from around here, er, my Earth I mean.”

“No.  I am glad you are not stupid.”  Jill seemed to feel that was important.  “My Earth is a veritable Garden of Eden compared to yours.  If I had paper and pencil I could show you the math.”

Ethan cracked open his briefcase and showed her the paper and pens, but immediately closed up the case again.  “It wouldn’t do you any good.  I’m plain English, remember?”

“Anglish,” Jill corrected him, and genuinely smiled.  Then she nodded as if to say that she had come to a decision.  “I’ll give you the two-minute version, but then sleep.”

“Fair enough,” Ethan agreed.  He reached out to take her hand, to offer his encouragement, and she let him hold her hand for a minute before she pulled back.

aa-jill-3“On my Earth, the Greeks invented the steam engine in the ancient time.  I understand they did the same in your world, but the difference was in my world, there were some people who understood the implications of the discovery, and it was much earlier by about four hundred years.  Within a hundred years of the discovery, there were steam ships in the Aegean.  Alexander, the one you call the Great, he not only conquered the Persians; he ran rail lines from Ephesus to Susa, and all the way up the Silk Road to the land of the Ch’in.  By the time Christ was born, we had already set foot on the moon, and by the time Mohammed was born, we had faster than light ships and had explored half the galaxy.”

“No.”  Ethan breathed his sense of wonder, and it was hardly a breath compared to the storm of awe he was feeling.

“All right.  I am exaggerating a little, but you get the idea.  Anyway, we lived at your level of technology about two thousand years ago.  It was about a thousand years ago that our technology was able to break into parallel earths, what we call the worlds.  Doctor Grimly is at least a thousand years ahead of the curve on that technology, and we have had worlds technology for a thousand years beyond that, except I did not tell him enough for him to duplicate the work.”

“But how did you get here, I mean, there?  To my Earth, I mean?”  Ethan stumbled for the words and Jill looked sympathetic.

“I was stranded.  It was an accident.”  She shrugged.  “It happens sometimes.  I was the unfortunate one, but then I was lucky enough to be in a world where I could synthesize the means of escape in one way or another.  It was like trying to build a dimensional transfer unit out of paper and string, but it worked.”

“Except I don’t believe these people invented the steam engine in ancient days,” Ethan pointed out.  “I take it this is not your home.”

“No.”  Jill let out a deep sigh.  “Clearly we have not come to my Earth.  I calculated a ninety percent chance of that happening, and now we do not have the means that I intended to bring, so we may be stuck here forever.  God!  Grimly should have known better.  We were not ready to make the jump.  I did not have my other equipment finished, but I guess he was rattled by you being there.  That is a surprise.  Nothing usually rattles him.”

“What!”  Ethan shouted and stood again.  He just caught up with the idea of being stuck there forever.  He felt like shouting again, but he stopped his tongue, sat and returned to his quiet voice.  “What?  I saw you slip that watch thing into your pocket.  Isn’t that the control thingy?”

ab-briefcase-1Jill pulled it out and examined it.  “No, it is the power unit and field generator.  We need a computer of some sort for a controller.”

“Wait. Wait.  Wait!”  Ethan repeated himself over and over, as he fumbled with his briefcase.  Desperation made his fingers malfunction, but when he opened the case, he pulled out his laptop.  “Will this do?”  He asked.

Jill’s smile looked ecstatic.  She knocked Ethan to the bed, flung her arms around him and gave him a big kiss, right on the lips.

“Perfect,” she said and pulled her head back, but she did not vacate her position immediately.  She seemed to be thinking, which was a good thing because Ethan’s mind temporarily stopped functioning.  She apparently made up her mind and kissed Ethan again, and not without some feeling.  All too quickly, though, she was up.

“We need some copper wire.”  She spoke, but appeared to be thinking out loud.  “I need something I can turn into a USB plug.”

“Allow me,” Ethan said.  His enthusiasm and sudden surge of adrenaline pushed aside his common sense and he rushed to the staircase and went downstairs before Jill could stop him.  He tried not to creak the wooden steps or floorboards more than necessary, but he straightened up when he found that Lars was awake and poking around the kitchen, looking for a little more supper.

“Hungry?”  Lars asked quietly and handed out the sausages.

Ethan shook his head, but he saw no reason to hide things.  “I need some copper wire.”

Lars looked very curious, but found some copper tubing in a cupboard.  He did not have to spell out what the copper tubing was for since the alcohol was mixed thinly with water both before and after dinner.

“I think something more like telegraph wire.  I don’t suppose you have anything like that around here.”

aa-lars-7Lars looked thoughtful.  “Not like that.  But what are you needing the wire for?”

Ethan smiled at his own cleverness.  “I’ve got to use something to tie the witch to the bedposts.”

Lars stood still for a minute, and then guffawed.  “I got rope,” he suggested.

Ethan shook his head.  “Copper wire works best.  Ropes burn.”

Lars guffawed again and then looked serious.  “I thought iron was for witches.”

Ethan grinned again.  “Got any iron wire as thin as the copper?”  He asked.  Lars shook his head.  Iron wire was not made like that.  “So copper it is.”  Ethan sighed and shrugged.  “But I guess I’ll just have to do my best without it.”  He returned Lars’ slap on the back from earlier that afternoon and hurried back up the stairs to the sound of one more guffaw.

Jill met him at the top of the stairs, and hit him in the arm as hard as she could.  “Stupid moron.  You are going to get us both in trouble.”  She growled at him and went straight for her bed, curled up under the big goose feather quilt and turned her back on him.  In a few minutes, Ethan heard her breathing change to the soft, slow breath of sleep.  He stayed up for a while, stared at her lovely head and hair, imagined thoughts he should not have been thinking, and tried to rub the pain out of his arm.

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

Next week: Guardian Angel 3-New Sweden, M, T, & W, published 8AM for a quick morning read to start your day…  Don’t miss it.

Guardian Angel-2 Elsewhere, part 2 of 3

“Auch!  But the Dutch Long Island is full of country.”  Angelica was still not convinced.

Jill pulled away.  “But it is so Dutch,” she said, to make a joke.

Angelica paused before she nodded.  “Aye.  That it is.  I do understand wanting to get away from New Amsterdam.  Too many people in too little space, and dirty.  Too very dirty.”

“New Sweden seemed inviting to us,” Jill said.

“And we had no idea we were on anyone’s farmland,” Ethan added and wondered again why he should be the one to keep quiet.  “We apologize for intruding.  I’m afraid we were not paying attention to where we were going.”  He reached out to Jill and pulled her to him in a lover’s embrace, and he smiled down at her.  To his delight, she did not resist him and appeared to return his smile and she did not seem to want to pinch him or kick him or anything!

“But why New Sweden?”  Lars came out from the back room.  “This whole country is nothing but one big swamp.”

aa-angelica-1“Auch!  My husband thinks only that the grass is greener in the next valley,” Angelica said.

“But New Sweden is extremely fertile, swamp or not.”  Jill spoke before Ethan could taste her lips again.  “You have a lovely garden.”  She smiled at Angelica and separated herself again from Ethan’s arms.

Angelica looked ready to respond to the compliment when a young woman came in the front door and interrupted them.

“Mama.  Papa,” the young woman said.  She was a big girl, with long blond hair like her father and dark brown eyes like her mother, probably not yet twenty, and she carried some flowers that she had picked and no doubt planned for the supper table.  She smiled, but paused on seeing the couple.

“Kirsten.”  Lars spoke up.  “May I present Mister and Missus Lucas.  They are Anglish and newly wedded.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Kirsten said with a little curtsey.  Her Anglish did not sound too good.  Lars obviously spoke the language.  Angelica was born to it, but clearly Anglish was not spoken much around the house.

“Jill,” Jill introduced herself as she stepped up to the young woman and let out a friendly smile.  “And we should get those flowers in some water.  They are lovely.”

The young woman returned the smile and led the way to the kitchen where they found a vase.  Ethan edged in their direction so he could eavesdrop even while he pretended to enjoy the fire.

aa-katie-2“You just married?”  Kirsten spoke volumes with her words and her grin.  “He is most handsome.”  She looked over at Ethan who turned his head to the fire so his spying would not be so obvious.  At the same time, he noticed Angelica leaning toward the kitchen herself.

Jill asked.  “So what’s his name?”

“Yon Veek,” Kirsten said before she began to whisper and Ethan could not hear anymore.

“So what is your work, Mister Lucas?”  Lars asked as he sat in a comfortable chair in front of the fire and pulled out a pipe to fill.  Poor papa, Ethan thought.  Oblivious to it all.

“Ethan, please.”  Ethan sat slowly on the couch, which also faced the fire.  He surmised the big fireplace was their version of a television.  “I’m a writer,” he suggested, having noticed a few books on a shelf by the kitchen.

“Auch!  An educated man.  Always a good catch for a young woman.”  Lars nodded.

“Our daughter has been through the grades, she has.”  Angelica spoke with a touch of defensiveness in her voice.  She came over to join them by the fire, though she kept one eye on Kirsten and Jill in the kitchen.  She sounded very proud of her daughter.

“Good for you,” Ethan said, not knowing what else to say.  It was finally dawning on him that things were very different here, wherever here was, and it would be too easy to say the wrong thing and get him and Jill in real trouble.  He briefly wondered again what Jill knew that he did not know.

“Aye.”  Angelica responded.  “New Sweden is not like New Angland.  There is not as much emphasis on education here.”

aa-lars-9“School education.”  Lars pointed out sharply, and he pointed his pipe at his wife in a kind of correction to his wife’s words.  Angelica nodded while Lars continued to speak.  “But here, as long as a man and a woman can keep the farm, turn a little profit if the Dutchman in the market doesn’t steal it all, and raise the next generation to be good souls and to fight.  Do you fight Mister Lucas?”

“Ethan.”  He spoke more firmly.  “And no.  Not if I can help it.”

Lars looked a little disappointed, but Angelica smiled.  “An educated and sensible man,” she said.  “A double fine catch for a woman if you ask me.”

“I think so.”  Jill agreed and joined them even as Angelica got up to head for the kitchen.  Jill took a seat on the couch beside her pretend husband and snuggled close, though not as close as Ethan might have liked.

“Our Kirsten will marry soon.”  Lars pointed his pipe toward his daughter who was now helping her mother with supper.  “As soon as I decide on which young man it will be.”

Jill tightened her grip on Ethan’s arm, and Ethan agreed with her.

###

During supper, there was hardly a chance for a misstep, until Ethan let slip that he was from Rhode Island.  He had family there, but it was a place the Hjorth’s never heard of.  Jill stomped on Ethan’s toe, but despite that, Ethan dug the hole a little deeper.

ab-dinner-2“I could show you if you had a map.”

Lars and Angelica eyed each other.  Something unspoken passed between them.  Jill pressed hard on Ethan’s toe, but Kirsten took him at his word and fetched a book.  It was one of her reader history books and it had some printed maps, including a map of the current state of the world.  Ethan was fascinated by the map, but mostly relieved when Jill lifter her foot and snatched the book from his hands.  Ethan had no idea Jill could read Swedish, and everyone stared as she started at the beginning and flipped through the pages at an alarming rate.  She seemed to grasp the information with only a glance at each page.

“It’s a gift.”  Ethan explained, nervously, believing that what he said must be true.  “That is why she married a writer, I suppose.  Who else could keep up with her?”  He felt a light tap on his toe, but Lars and Angelica laughed, if a bit nervously.  Kirsten had another thought.

“Auch!  If I could read like that I would be the smartest girl in the world.”

When Jill finished, she said, “I see,” several times.  Ethan got the book back, found a map of New Angland and pointed to one of the islands about where Rhode Island ought to have been.  The Hjorths accepted his word that Rhode Island was the local name for the place.

Then Ethan took a long look at the current map of the world.

Europe was divided into hundreds of little countries and city-states including any number of strange place names like Amorica, Burgundy, Westphalia and Muscovy.  The Turks, Arabs and Moors held the Middle East and North Africa, but they looked pretty well divided, too.  Turning to the new world did not help Ethan’s confusion, though he did have a thought in the back of his mind that said, “no empire builders.”

Eastern Canada was Danish, called Vineland.  New Angland covered approximately New England with some of Canada, and there were English, or rather Anglish in a small state in Virginia as well, but south of there, there were small chunks of land carved out by the Normans, the Belgians, the Venetians and others.  Apart from those places, and New York State, which was marked Iroquois with Tuscarora in parenthesis, and approximately South Carolina, which was marked Cherokee, the rest of the Eastern United States beginning with the Middle Atlantic region and stretching all of the way to Wisconsin was Swedish.

ab-dinner-1“Here.”  Ethan handed the book back to Kirsten when he realized that everyone was staring at him.  “Sorry,” he said.  “I’ve loved maps ever since I was in school, and I see your Swedish cartographers do excellent work.”  Everyone appeared to accept that explanation, and with the book put back up on the shelf, the conversation drifted back to talk about the farm before bed. Ethan was more careful in his conversation after that.

Between gaslights and farm life, the Hjorths did not stay up much past sundown, even with company.  Jill and Ethan got the loft

“I am a sound sleeper.”  Lars whispered with a nudge and a wink to Ethan before Ethan and Jill went up.

Guardian Angel-2 Elsewhere, part 1 of 3

Ethan shot his hands up into the air before he nodded toward the woman at his feet.  The man on horseback relaxed and waved his gun casually in the woman’s direction.  Ethan bent down slowly, and lifted Jill’s head from the grass.  “Miss Lucas.  Jill.”  He spoke softly, and while he held her head up with one hand, he set down his briefcase to put his other hand on her cheek in a soft caress.  Jill fluttered her eyelids before she opened them.  She saw him and smiled before she screamed.

The horse bucked. The man on horseback had to turn the animal to keep from trampling the couple even as he grabbed tight with his knees to keep his seat.

“What are you doing here?”  Jill clenched her teeth in an attempt to whisper.

“I don’t even know where here is!”  Ethan shouted before he also whispered.  “We have company.”  He shook his head in the big man’s direction as he helped Jill to her feet.  He noticed she slipped the watch-thing into her lab coat pocket.

aa-lars1The man quickly settled his horse like an expert rider and kept his gun at the ready the whole time.  He said something in a bouncy language and then added, “You are Anglish?”

“Yes,” Ethan said.  He raised his hands again the moment he was upright.  He felt the nervous perspiration that covered his hands, and the cool air chilled the sweat on his forehead.  It made him feel like he had a fever.  Oddly enough, his tongue felt completely dry.

“How did you come to cross my farm?”  The man shut one eye to scrutinize them more closely.

“Accidental,” Jill said as she stepped to the front.  “My name is Jill Lucas, and this is my husband, Ethan.”

“Husband?”  Ethan blurted the word.

“Husband?”  The man on horseback’s question came a second later, even as Jill stepped back and slipped her arms around Ethan.  Ethan had to lower his hands, but otherwise he thought this was a wonderful idea.  She felt as warm, comfortable and exciting as he had imagined.

“So you are married?”  It seemed the man wanted to be sure he understood the language properly.

“Just married.”  Jill emphasized the “just” and gave Ethan a kiss on the cheek.

“Only a week,” Ethan added.  He was unable to contain his smile until Jill pinched him in the back to tell him to be quiet.

“You came out from New Amsterdam on the train?”  The man on horseback looked thoughtful.

Jill nodded, so Ethan nodded.  “But we don’t know your name,” Jill said, sweetly.

The man thought for a minute before he holstered his gun.  “Lars Hjorth.  It is too late to walk back to Hill Town tonight.  Come.”  He turned his horse around, and they were obliged to follow, having nowhere else to go.  Besides, Ethan was not about to argue with a man who carried a six-shooter.

Jill let go of Ethan the minute Lars’ back was turned, but Ethan picked up his briefcase and took her hand, and since they were pretending to be newlyweds, she could hardly deny him.   He smiled as he looked around and thought that this was his first real chance to examine this God-only-knew-where place.

aa-ethan-2He was surprised at what he saw.  The oaks and maples with the occasional birch and pine looked remarkably like the trees back home.  He saw a robin in flight, a squirrel that might have lived in the tree outside his own house, and the bushes were just bushes and the grass was just not suburban mowed.   When they walked downhill, he saw a field of stubble in the distance that he guessed was freshly harvested corn—plain, ordinary corn, and he felt the urge to risk a whisper.

“Hill Town?”

“Hush.”  Jill responded rather firmly, squeezed his hand, and Ethan hushed and thought that for all the familiarity in the setting, he would never walk back home at the rear end of a horse.  He turned up his nose and felt very confused about what was going on.

“Besides,” Lars spoke up loudly over the tromp of his horse and the swish of their walk through the tall grass.  “You haven’t paid the toll.”

“Toll?”  Ethan spoke before he could stop himself and Jill squeezed his hand extra hard.

Lars turned his head to eye the couple and closed that one eye again to look close.  “Half price for newlyweds.  Two gold crowns would do, though I should charge double for Anglish.”  He snickered and said no more.

In a short while, Ethan saw a simple log cabin with a brick chimney where smoke promised a snug fire against the chill in the air.  They had to wait at the door while Lars tied off his horse by the big barn that stood off to the side of the house.  It stood, separated from the house by a tremendous vegetable garden protected by a wire mesh, designed to keep out the free range chickens that clucked and ran around the rest of what passed for a front yard.  A few pigs wallowed in a nearby pen, and a bull in a fenced in area promised cattle somewhere.

aa-lars-3aEthan thought about the cows and decided that Lars looked like a cowboy.  The big man came complete with cowboy hat, boots, chaps, a lasso tied to the saddle and a six-shooter at his side.  Maybe Ethan felt confused about where he was, but he could not deny the reality of either the place or the big man who stepped up to the door and slapped him on the back hard enough to make him wince and rub his shoulder.

“I see you have luggage.”  Lars pointed to the briefcase clutched in Ethan’s hand.

“My work,” Ethan responded and he noticed that Jill barely kept her foot from kicking him in the shins.  Obviously, she wanted him to shut-up.  He looked at her closely and wondered what she knew that he did not know.  Sure, she was Grimly’s assistant, but as far as he knew, this was her first trip to God-only-knew-where too.

“Angelica!”  Lars hollered from the doorway and then turned to the couple when they came into a living room with a cathedral ceiling that was lit up by a great fire and several oil lamps.  A kitchen, and a long table for eight sat at the far end of the room, and a hallway in the middle of the back wall led to some back bedrooms.  A staircase on the back wall led up to a loft that overlooked the high-ceilinged room and was open, but for a railing.  The loft looked full of junk, as far as Ethan could see around the great bearskin rug that hung over the railing.  “My wife was Anglish once,” Lars explained, regaining Ethan’s attention.  “Angelica!”

Ethan heard a door click shut in the back of the house and the shuffling of slippers on a plain wood floor in the hallway before a round, older woman came into the room.  She tried to push back a long strand of hair that had escaped the bun on her head.  She said something in that singsong language, and Lars responded in kind while he hung his hat and chaps on hooks by the door.  He looked once at the couple and squinted with that eye before he took himself and his gun down the hall.

“You are Anglish?”  The woman looked directly at Ethan.  “And what business has brought you into New Sweden?  My husband said you came out from New Amsterdam.”  She had a welcoming smile, but she was clearly not satisfied with what she had heard thus far concerning their sudden appearance.

aa-jill-9Jill stared at Ethan for a second.  “My wife had better explain,” he said.  He set down his briefcase and stepped over to the big fireplace to warm his hands while Jill smiled.

“We are newlyweds, but we found the city too stifling.”  She sounded so reasonable as she spoke, Ethan wondered how anyone could question her.  “My husband and I wanted to spend some time in the country, just the two of us, and the train ride to Hill Town was fun.”  She stepped over to Ethan and curled up in his arms.  Ethan was so pleased with this charade; he could not help acting like a lovesick puppy.  He kissed her, smack on the lips, and she was obliged to kiss him back.

Guardian Angel-1 The Company, part 3 of 3

“You’re the accountant?”  The security guard got up from his desk, opened the big research and development steel doors, and frowned.  Ethan had to fight to keep a frown from forming on his own face.

“Ethan Hill.”  He stuck out his right hand to shake and shifted his briefcase to his other hand.  The briefcase held his all-important supplies: a couple of blank notebooks and pens, and his laptop.  “Marketing.  Not accounting.”  The guard who blocked the doorway to the hall shrugged as if it made little difference in his book, but after he examined Ethan’s identification, he opened the door wide enough for Ethan to squeeze through.

“The powers that be want to be prepared with information for the select committees.  Reelection time, you know.  But it is with the understanding that nothing will go public without say-so.  All kept hush-hush.”  Ethan tried to keep his smile while he babbled, but his guide seemed too dour ab-grimley-lab-1for hope.  The guard opened a door down the hall and Ethan got ushered rudely into a room that had the look of a high school science classroom, with a big lab table in the middle surrounded by stools, and some charts on the walls.  Whiteboard covered large portions of the walls.  The door closed loudly behind him, but Ethan looked up to see an older man and the woman he had been dreaming about for the last two days.  The old man returned Ethan’s smile, which still covered his face in the vain attempt to penetrate the grumpy face of the security guard.

“Come in.  Come in.”  The old man came close and took Ethan by the hand.

Ethan felt the warmth of the old man’s reception even as he noticed the frigid stare from the young beauty.

“Doctor Grimly?”  Ethan knew who it was.

“Yes, yes.”  The doctor brought Ethan to the side of the lab table that looked covered with a mess of electronic parts.  Ethan could not even guess what most of those parts were good for.

“Ethan Hill.”  He gave his full name and Doctor Grimly looked up and raised an eyebrow, but Ethan hardly noticed.  He kept looking at the young woman in the hope that she might add her name to the mix.  She declined.

“Lovely to have you here.”  The doctor said, as he went back to concentrate on his work.  He scribbled in the margins of a notebook and fiddled with a wristband of some kind that looked something like an old wristwatch with an enormous dial.

aa-grimley-1Ethan stood quietly and watched, his eyes fastened on the beauty, his mind as blank as a new sheet of paper.  Suddenly, he did not know how to get things started.

Jill got up from her stool at the table and brought something to the doctor.  She set the piece down beside Doctor Grimly’s watch-thing rather firmly, frowned at Ethan and returned to her stool where she appeared to be working on a similar device.  The doctor stopped, looked at the piece and then looked up as if two and two finally made four in his mind.

“So, who are you exactly, and why are you here?”

“Ethan Hill.”  Ethan tried again.  “Didn’t you get the memo?”

“Memo?  No.  I never bother with that sort of thing.  Miss Lucas intercepts them anyway to keep me at my work.”  He waved generally in the direction of his assistant.  “She is a slave driver, that one.  Brilliant.  But a slave driver.”

“Mister Hill.”  Jill started to speak.  Ethan thought her voice sounded as beautiful and enchanting as her gray-blue eyes, and he hated to interrupt, but he did.

“Ethan.  Please.  I am not here to interfere with your work.  I just want to know what you are doing to see if any of it, with your permission, might be worth squeezing a few extra dollars out of the budget committee.  All of the departments are cooperating, only I am sorry to say, you’ve got me.”  He shrugged, sheepishly.  It was his cover.  “I will try not to take up more of your time than necessary, though I’m afraid you will have to explain things slowly and in plain English, if you don’t mind.”

“Mister Hill.”  Jill tried again, and once again, Ethan interrupted.

aa-jill-c1“Ethan, please.”

Jill took a deep breath.  “Ethan.  What I am trying to say is at present there is nothing I can tell you.  It is just research for now, not good for anything in this world.”

“Perhaps, Miss Lucas, but I know you are not just driving down roads at random.  I am sure you have some final destination in mind.”

“No end yet in sight.”  Jill shrugged and smiled in a friendly manner.  She assumed that should end the conversation, but Doctor Grimly, having carefully added that last piece to his watch, took the jeweler’s lens from his eye, stood, and grinned broadly.

“Not exactly true.  It worked well enough on the rabbits.  Bilbo Baggins.  There and back again.  Eh?  I believe we are ready.”  He held out the watch, and Miss Lucas gave Doctor Grimly a look intended to wither the man’s mouth.

“Rabbits?’  Ethan asked.  “Ready?”  He jumped on the word.

“Yes,” The Doctor said, as he forced the watch on Jill.  “It should confine to body plus six inches or so to account for clothes.  Maybe further, I am not exactly sure, but not less for sure.  Can’t send you out naked, my dear.”

“Mister Hill.  I’m sorry.  Ethan, if you don’t mind you can see we are at a critical point.”  Jill took the watch but at the same time, she took Ethan’s arm to escort him to the door.  Ethan gripped tight to his briefcase.  “Now is not a good time for interviews.  If you would not mind waiting outside, or better yet, perhaps tomorrow.  You come back tomorrow and I will be glad to sit down with you and explain everything.”

aa-lars1“Wizard of Oz?  Go away and come back tomorrow?”  Ethan got more curious than ever.  He sensed something important was about to happen, and he craned his neck around his escort, while she held fast to his elbow and pushed him toward the door.  Doctor Grimly slipped around the table to a computer console.

“Now, you will see something, Mister Ethan.”

Ethan got out the word, “Hill,” and Jill shouted over him, “No!”  The brilliant flash of light came which Ethan knew would leave him seeing spots.  He felt Jill let go of his arm, even as he raised a hand to rub his eyes.  When he could see again, he shouted.  He found himself standing in that open field with grass beneath his feet.  Jill had fainted, and a very large blond man on horseback rode up and pointed a gun at him.

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

Guardian Angel chapter 2-Elsewhere, M, T & W of next week, 8AM post.  Don’t miss it.

Guardian Angel-1 The Company, part 2 of 3

Jill swiped her card, and the big steel doors at the entrance to the research and development wing clicked open.  It did not have far to go from there to her lab, but she hurried because she had been gone for a while.  When she opened the door, she saw Doctor Grimly dutifully working away.  She caught her breath and hoped he would not say anything.

“I got you a coke.”  She set the can down on the corner of the lab table.  Doctor Grimly looked up, but she ignored the look on his face.

“I think someone was checking up on her young man.”  Doctor Grimly grinned.  Jill hated it when he grinned like that.  He looked like a school kid teasing the girl with the pigtails in the front row.

“I just wanted to make sure everyone was all right.”  That was as much as she was going to admit.  “That dimensional jump was a bad one.”

“Not as bad as the first,” Doctor Grimly responded.  “Sadly, I have no idea how to correct the area of refraction.”

Jill found a clean sheet of paper and wrote a few quick equations.  “Here.  I think I have worked it out.  This needs to go into the field generator program.”

Doctor Grimly picked up the paper and studied it for a minute while Jill went back to ignoring him.

steven weinberg“I don’t see…”

“Just—.” Jill caught her tongue before she said something she didn’t mean.  “You wouldn’t understand the math.”

Doctor Grimly tilted his head toward the woman, like he might look over his glasses, and he put on his most serious stare.  It would have been a very effective stare if he wore glasses. “You are the only one I have ever known who could think Einstein under the table.  I am sure this Ethan fellow would like that.”

Jill imagined the same thing and turned away as she felt her cheeks turn red.  “Not a good idea.”

“No fraternization?”

“No.”  Jill pointed to the paper in Grimly’s hand.  “You just work those equations into the program while I work on the controller.  We have rattled the cage twice now.  I need to be gone.”

“Yes, your highness.”  Doctor Grimly returned to work.  Unfortunately, the grin also returned to the man’s face, and after a while, he added the word, “Chicken.”

Guardian Angel-1 The Company, part 1 of 3

The flash of light made Ethan see spots.  His stomach flew up into his chest.  He felt dizzy, disoriented and weightless, like he did when an airplane got caught in sudden turbulence.  That feeling vanished when the imaginary plane hit the runway, hard, and Ethan’s vision cleared.  He found himself sitting in a field of tall grass under a perfectly blue sky, and he did not appear to be alone.  Something went pop in the distance.  It sounded like a gunshot, but then his desk and cubicle returned with another bump and brilliant flash of light.  He heard Randy, the office jerk, run for the men’s room, no doubt to throw-up.  That made Ethan smile.

“Ethan!”  Tasha called from the next cubicle and scampered around the corner.  “That’s twice.”  She tried to keep her voice down, but did not entirely succeed.  She stared at him, wide-eyed, as if he should produce an explanation.  All Ethan could do was shake his head.  “Well?”  Tasha sounded impatient.  “My clothes are getting grass stains.”

“What do you want me to say?  I don’t know any more than you do,” he responded quietly, while his mind searched for answers that did not exist.

Tasha grinned.  “You can’t fool me.  I know you did investigations before you started to work here.  I know you started poking around after the first time.”

aa-ethan-8“Shh!  Not so loud.  I only studied investigative journalism at the university.  One class.”  Ethan hushed her and then raised his voice in case anyone might be listening in.  “Now I do marketing and public relations, same as you.”

“Bull.”  Tasha spoke softly, but with determination.

Ethan sat up straight and frowned at his co-worker.  “What do you want me to say?”  He repeated himself quietly before he raised his voice again.  “You know we aren’t even supposed to talk about it.  Upper management said they were looking into it.” Ethan shrugged.

“Bull.”  Tasha also repeated herself, but now the word came out as a whisper.

This time Ethan grinned.  It occurred to him, if he pushed the right button, Tasha might help.  She worked for the Company for years and had plenty of contacts that he did not have.  “Don’t you remember the Company’s oath of secrecy, that thing we all signed when we were hired because of the government research and all?”

Tasha frowned and stomped off to her own cubicle while Ethan noticed that his computer had crashed.  He cursed.  How was he going to find out what was going on if he could not access the company database?

When Tasha returned, she wheeled her chair into Ethan’s doorway to block his only avenue of escape.  “Look,” she spoke as she sat.  “I’m not talking to the big wide world out there.  I’m talking to you.  So far, I have heard everything from alien technology to Bigfoot; but I know you are looking into this, for real.”

Ethan shrugged again before he let his grin return.  He made a show of looking around as if he was about to divulge some great universal secret.  He figured Tasha wanted the secret, spy routine, and he even whispered to enhance the effect.  “It’s only a hunch, but I hacked into certain company records.  I also talked to Big Mary in accounting and found out that Doctor Grimly down in research and development has spent twice his budget in just the last three months, and his power use is off the scales.”

aa-tasha-1“I figured R&D had to be involved.”  Tasha whispered her agreement in return before she backed up and a playful look spread across her face.  “Are you sure this doesn’t have anything to do with Jill Lucas?  You talk about her in your sleep.”

Ethan’s private thoughts turned his grin into a smile before he defended himself.  “I don’t sleep at my desk.”  He picked up a pencil and tapped it a couple of times against his keyboard while he considered his words.  “Doctor Grimly’s research assistant is only a bonus.  Seriously, Doctor Grimly is the only anomaly I have been able to find.  The trouble is, the people in research and development are totally secretive about their work.  I think it is a holdover from the cold war.”

“I hear that.”  Tasha nodded in full agreement.  Public relations tended to be a nightmare in a company where no one knew what was going on.

“If I could figure out a way to get in there I might come back with some real good information.”  Ethan planted the seed, and Tasha responded.

She looked pensive at first.  “That might not be so easy.”  Then her face brightened.  “I’m gonna call Big Mary myself.  Maybe we can do some brainstorming.”  She picked up her chair for the return trip.  She became a woman on a mission.

Ethan stood, stretched and called after her.  “I’ll be in the break room in case your brainstorm produces some lightning strikes.”  He let his feet move slowly across the carpet, and he rubbed his eyes as he remembered the flash of light just before he went God only knew where.

Someone pulled one chair in the break room up to the lone, dirty window.  Ethan sat there so he could stare out on the parking lot.  No field of grass in all that pavement, he thought, before his mind asked the question:  So what do I know?

Doctor Grimly left the university the same year Ethan graduated, but Ethan never had a class with the man; not that the man did not have teaching assistants for that sort of thing.  He never met the man as far as he could remember, and in fact, he could not even think of any fellow students who studied physics.  That was not his crowd.

He paused and looked up when he heard a sound.

aa-jill-9Jill Lucas stepped into the room and turned to the coke machine even as Ethan felt an involuntary smile spring to his lips.  She had on her long white lab coat, but it hid none of her beauty.

Jill got her coke and turned briefly to smile at him.  “Hello,” she said.

“Hi,” Ethan responded, and their eyes met.  They had been dancing with their eyes for several months, but neither had taken the next step.

Jill left before things got awkward, but Ethan could only think, God!  Just to look at her made his every sense tingle.  Then he reacted, but it was too late.

“Damn!  Why didn’t I say something?  That was the perfect opportunity to weasel in on Grimly.”  He felt like banging his head on the table, but refrained when he had a second thought.  In another world, she would be mine.

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Welcome to the first post of Guardian Angel, the story of two people who cling to each other as they travel the worlds–other earths, alternate universes–and face terrors too big for one universe to contain.

Guardian Angel will be posted, each chapter in three parts: Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday over the next 23 weeks at 8AM, a quick shot to start your day.   Enjoy, and Happy Reading

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