Guardian Angel-12 Nelkorian, part 2 of 3

They reached the outskirts of Balazarius, the port city of the Byzantines, around eight the next morning.  Runners had gone out the night before so they hoped everything was in place and ready to go.

“I remember you telling me about your Fourth of July.”  Alexander explained to Jill and Ethan.  “I thought we might call it Cherokee Peace Day, or maybe Cherokee Pride.”

Ethan hardly had time to wonder what Alexander meant as the first rockets and fireworks cracked in the sky.  Soon enough, there were firecrackers and such going off everywhere, and quite a few Byzantines appeared to join in the fun while the crew closed in on the Governor’s Palace.

When they arrived outside the palace, Peter Alexander signaled someone in the crowd and a whole flock of children ran to the front door of the palace with flowers in their hands.  “Come and see.”  They shouted in their excitement, while they showered the guards with flowers and banged on the front door.  “Come and see.  Come and see.”  As was hoped, the guards from the entrance to the Governor’s gardens went to see.

“Now,” Jill said.  She dragged the crew across the street and straight through the garden gate.  If she had not insisted, Lars, Manomar and Ali Pasha would have stayed to see the fireworks.  Colonel deMartin, Ethan and Alexander each had to grab a man and drag them forward.  When they got inside the garden, Alexander swore.  The ship had been moved after all.

“Actually.”  The voice came from the porch where the same black headed man dressed in flowery clothes and sporting feathers, who had argued for war in the face of General Gordon, and who had berated the Cherokee in general, and Peter Alexander specifically as cowards, sat sipping what looked like sweet tea.  “My Master has sheltered the vehicle inside a covering to keep it out of the weather.”  He smiled and motioned with his arm to invite them in.  “Please,” he said.  “My Master is waiting for you.”

Lars looked mad at having been caught.  Ali Pasha and Manomar thought nothing of it.  But Jill and Ethan both looked at Alexander and Colonel deMartin.  Both men shrugged at the word “Master,” and Alexander whispered.  “Even the Byzantines no longer keep slaves.  Why should they when modern machines can do the work better, faster and cheaper?”

They went in.

A man with a glass of whatever that liquid was had his back to them, while the man they knew from the peace talk went to stand by the door and await orders.  The ship, meanwhile, was clearly visible through the back window in what looked like a hastily built garage without a front door.  Ethan stared for a minute, because the so-called ship looked like no more than a door.  It was a shimmering white slab of light, nothing more, and hardly what he expected.

“I made mine look like a British Police Box in London.”  Jill whispered.  “That was before I ever heard of the Good Doctor.”

“I remember that show.  I used to love him as a kid.”  Ethan whispered back hastily.

“Who?”  Ali Pasha wondered.

“Exactly.”  Jill and Ethan agreed, but quietly because the man by the window looked ready to speak.  He appeared first to take a large whiff of air.

“A Gaian,” he said.  “I had the last one’s head on a platter.”  He turned around and Jill gasped.

“Nelkorian!”  The man had no face; no eyes, ears, nose or mouth.  He had gloves on his hands besides, so no skin showed at all apart from the overly large head covered in motley colored gray-green and wrinkled skin.  “You freakish mutant.  We wiped you out.”

The Nelkorian raised a finger.  “You missed a few.”  Ethan felt the wicked smile.  There was no other way to describe it.  He saw features form on that bulbous head, but they did not quite look real to his eyes, and he wondered if his nano-chits were acting on his vision to be sure he did not forget the truth.  Then he felt something probe his mind.

“No!”  He fought it off.  “Psychic defense.  Psychic screen.”  He strained for a minute before he calmed.  Jill grabbed hold of him, but she seemed to be in her right mind as well.

“But he is not Gaian.  I am sure,” the Nelkorian said.  He took another whiff of air.  His lips had moved, but they looked to Ethan as if they were a little out of sync with his words.

“My husband,” Jill said flatly.  “Let these people go.”  She put some strength into her voice, and Ethan saw what was happening.  Colonel deMartin drew his gun as Lars drew his.  They aimed at each other.  Manomar and Alexander had their knives out and faced each other as well.  Poor Ali Pasha was confronted by the man at the door.  That man had drawn a gun and he aimed it point blank at Ali Pasha’s heart.

“He has no sensory organs, but a mind capable of taking over others and sensing things through them.”  Jill spoke hastily as Ethan watched the man across the way lift his glass.  The Nelkorian did not even bother to put the glass to his pretend lips.  Some of the liquid just vanished.

“Taking over others?”  Ethan asked.

“Possessing them.  Maybe thousands,” Jill responded.

“Ahh.”  The man sounded refreshed as if he had actually drunk some of the liquid.  “I do have sensory organs, only they are all internal and able to enhance the experience, shall we say.  But possession is such a nasty word.”

“Let them go, Nelkorian,” Jill demanded.

“Hardly.”  The Nelkorian laughed.  “I want to add your head to my collection, and your husband’s head as a matched set.”  He turned his back again.  Ethan figured with no eyes, the Nelkorian hardly needed to look at them to see them.  “I had planned to turn your ship into a flower pot, and I will as soon as I learn the secret to breaking in.  This is a fine world with much potential, don’t you think?  My brothers and I will enjoy living here, and by the time the husk of this world is all that remains, we will be numerous enough to invade all sorts of places.  Perhaps your husband’s world.  I caught quite a good glimpse of his Earth before the psychic defense of your nasty, inhuman bits went up.”

A young woman’s head, severed at the neck, lifted slowly out of a wicker basket and floated in the air right up to face the couple.  She was a very dead young woman, and Jill had to hide her eyes in Ethan’s shoulder.

“Being possessed by a Nelkorian slowly drains the life force.”  Jill whispered into Ethan’s shoulder while Ethan looked once again at his friends, who were ready to destroy each other.  Apparently, they had no psychic defense, or an insufficient one to fight the Nelkorian.

“The Elders will come,” Jill said.  She turned again to face the monster.  “You will be destroyed here as you were in your home world.”

“I think not,” the Nelkorian responded.  He turned and raised his finger again.  “I believe I have learned how to block even their tracers.  They will hardly know what is happening until it will be too late, even for them.”

Guardian Angel-12 Nelkorian, part 1 of 3

Ethan heard the shouts, and the laughter.  They surprised a young couple out in the woods, doing what young couples do.  “Paul Bear and Mary Margaret.”  Peter Alexander knew them and named them, and he gave them his best elder stare.

“Chief Peter.”  The young man also knew his elder, and the young couple hurriedly pulled themselves together.  “We did not hear you coming.  We thought no one was around here.”  The young woman hushed the young man so he held his tongue.  Ali Pasha and Manomar kept their composure, but Jill, Ethan and Colonel deMartin had to turn away to keep their laughter to a minimum.  Lars did not bother turning away.  He could not help the guffaw that escaped his lips.

Peter Alexander kept a stern face.  “You need to fetch your fathers and the village council.  I will be along in a minute.”  The young couple stood and stared at the Chief.  “Hurry!”  Alexander shooed them off, and they ran, holding hands, like two deer running from a hunter.

Ali Pasha sighed.  “I see some things remain true, no matter the world.”

“Even across worlds.”  Ethan said with a grin, his eyes on Jill.  The men grinned with him, but Jill turned a little red.  “Oof!”  Jill pushed the briefcase into Ethan’s solar plexus.

“Here.”  Then she grinned at him.

“But they are married, yes?”  Ali Pasha turned to Alexander and pointed at the couple still visible in the distance.

“Not yet.”  Peter Alexander responded in a gruff tone that suggested they might as well be.

“But then this is not good.”  Ali Pasha looked up.  “Don’t you think, Manomar?”

Manomar paused and glanced at Lars before he spoke.  “I think since the Doctor was good enough to heal my, er, condition, I think the whole idea is very interesting.”

Lars guffawed again.

Ali Pasha puffed.  “Then I will get you a wife, and maybe several wives, and then you will think differently.”  Ali Pasha threatened the poor man.

“This way.”  Alexander interrupted, and the Colonel stepped up beside him as they started to walk.

“Quite right.”  DeMartin confided to the chief.  “Some conversations are best left alone.”

When they reached the village, some of the elders had yet to arrive.  Peter Alexander spent the time catching up on the actions of the other chiefs since his mysterious disappearance after the parlay with the Holy Romans.  There were a couple of unfortunate incidents during the withdrawal, and that suggested they were still a long way from real and lasting peace.  Colonel deMartin vowed he would reprimand the offending soldiers, but Alexander stayed the colonel’s anger.

“Our work must cut deeper than that,” he said, and the colonel agreed.  He could not reprimand every overly zealous soldier in the Empire.

The actual council meeting was brief.  As far as anyone knew, Lela’s ship was still in the garden of the governor’s house, but no one knew for sure.  Jill accepted that it was still there.  She knew no one in that world had the means to budge it an inch.  She told the Cherokee Elders that they needed a distraction to get her crew into that garden without being stopped.  That was not going to be easy, but Chief Peter had some ideas, and he, Colonel deMartin, and Lars stayed to discuss those ideas with the willing volunteers while the others got taken to rooms in the inn down the street.

As they walked, Ethan remarked that the village was not what he expected.  There were neat little row houses all along the street, with thatched roofs and gardens lush enough to make an Englishman proud.  There were several larger buildings in the town as well, including the Council Chamber and the Inn of the Green Crow where they were going to stay, and there was also a market square they traveled through, complete with an outdoor fountain topped with a statue of a warrior on horseback.  It was the kind of market square where goods were sold in the open as well as in the shops.

“Somehow, I imagined tents, deerskin clothing and infants squalling from papooses—Papoosi?”

“That is so Hollywood,” Jill said with a small laugh.  “But I think in this world, the Native Nations have learned from the Europeans rather than being overwhelmed by them.”

Ethan understood.  “But colonization started late here, if I understand it.  I imagine it will pick up as the Old World becomes more and more over crowded.”

Jill also imagined that was sadly true.  “But with immunization and early antibiotics, the Natives might not be devastated by foreign diseases in the same way they were in your world.  If this Earth parallels your Earth in that respect, then the Americas are far more populated than you might think.”

“Vespuccians.”  Ethan said.

“What?”

“You know.  Amerigo Vespucci.  God bless Vespucciland.”

“Stop.”  Jill giggled and reached for his arm.

Ethan slipped his arm over Jill’s shoulder.  “Kind of makes me want to come back some day and see what happens.”  Jill took his hand as she agreed.  Meanwhile, she was not going to let his arm escape.

“Outrageous!”  Ali Pasha complained when they finally reached the Inn.  “Nine gold coins for three small rooms.  Why, that is three coins per room for a single night.  Outrageous!”

“There has been inflation since your age.”  Ethan suggested with a grin.

“I should have introduced myself as Peter’s Cherokee Princess.”  Jill apologized.  “Maybe a little Cherokee blood would have gotten us a discount.”

“Never mind,” Ali Pasha said with a smile.  “It is not that important.”  He was honestly willing to shrug it off until Manomar spoke.

“It is only the money my Master borrowed,” he said this with a straight face.

Ali Pasha put his hand to his head and looked sick.  “No reminding me.”  He reverted to his old way of speaking.  Jill and Ethan laughed; but then they all settled down to a hot meal that did not come out of a vending machine.

Alexander, deMartin and Lars came in shortly, and the first thing Alexander did was get Ali Pasha’s gold back.  “I told the innkeeper to charge it to the army, and if the army did not pay his price, he could send a bill to my wife.”  Alexander laughed loudly.

“Eh?”  Ethan and Manomar looked up.

Alexander laughed again.  “We own the Cherokee Trading Post in Champagua.”  He pulled out a map of the Eastern United States that he had gotten to show deMartin.  Ethan saw no states, of course, only tribal territories whose boundaries looked rather fluid.  Alexander pointed to his city and Ethan, having recognized the outer banks, realized he was pointing to Charlotte, North Carolina.  “Our central city, what you might call the capitol.  We sell a little of everything at the Trading Post and cheaper than anyone else.”

“Wal-Mart,” Jill joked, as she took Ethan’s arm and leaned forward for a look at the map.

“But the innkeeper groaned when I said bill my wife.  She is a well known miser.”  Alexander laughed again.

“Mine, too, keeps a tight fist on her money,” Lars said, seriously.

“My former wife was only good for spending money, I think,” Colonel deMartin said.

They looked at Ali Pasha who threw his hands at them.  “You don’t even want to know.”

Ethan sat back and placed his hands behind his head.  “I have no money.  It simplifies things.”  They all looked, but Jill shook her head and paraphrased deMartin’s earlier comment.

“Some conversations are best left alone.”

Everyone laughed and ate while Alexander explained what they had in mind.

Guardian Angel-11 Trouble in Paradise, part 3 of 3

Things improved between Ethan and Jill after that, though there were still some difficult moments.  Ethan could not shake the idea that as soon as he was in place at home, she would leave him.  At this point, though, he did not let it control him.  He felt that every moment he had with her was blessed.

“Vulnerability is from the neck up,” Jill said in her teaching.  “We have a saying in my universe that everyone has to die sometime, but you can even survive a wound to the heart if it is not too extensive.  If your chits have time to repair the damage and keep the blood circulating to the brain, you will survive, but from the neck up you are irreplaceable.  Understand this.  Brain cells can be regenerated and memory can be restored, but only as long as your brain continues to receive blood and oxygen.  Four minutes is about as long as you will survive otherwise.”

“Princess Jillian.”  Peter Alexander had a question.  He often referred to her in that way, but everyone imagined that he was referring to her by her quarter of Cherokee blood.  “I am still unclear about the screens you speak of.  I understand how a particle screen can ward off small particles, but the energy screens confuse me.  I do not understand their purpose.”

Jill nodded.  “We have already been protected against the low level of radiation that lingers in this place since the war, but I know you cannot see that.  That is something I was concerned about, and so I concluded that another demonstration was in order.  Doctor?”

The Doctor got up from his seat as a student and turned to help teach.  “I was hoping we would not have to do this,” he said, as he picked up what everyone recognized as a rifle, though none had seen its like before.

“This is a Legionaire-47, a state of the art weapon in the war.  It fires a high concentration pulse of microwaves guaranteed to turn your enemy into toast.”  He lifted the weapon to his shoulder and pointed it at the target that had been set up.  The target was a straw man, like a scarecrow, dressed in clothes and a kind of makeshift armor.  “I hate these things.”  Doctor Augustus mumbled as he took aim.  When he pulled the trigger, the straw man burst into flame, and even the armor melted.  “As you can see, it works all too well.”

“And now the demonstration,” Jill said as she stepped forward, while Ethan put out the fire.  The Doctor checked to be sure the rifle was charged for another round, and then he aimed it right at Jill’s heart while everyone held their breath.  He fired.  Jill merely smiled.

“Even if you cannot see the microwaves, you can see that I remained unaffected by the weapon.  This is a rather simple weapon.  The energy screens will protect you from far more sophisticated and powerful energy sources, but do not depend on them.  There are some weapons strong enough to fry you like the straw man, despite the screens.  My own people have such weapons, and there are a few others we know of.  The nano-chits can only generate so much power.  Even the particle screen cannot deflect an arrow, spear or bullet head on, nor can it stop a knife or sword delivered directly with strength.

“Still, that is remarkable.”  Ali Pasha spoke up.  “May I see that rifle as it is called?”  Everyone laughed a little.  Ali Pasha wanted to see and touch everything.

When the morning session was over, Ethan found Jill in his arms.  “Are you ready to go?” she asked.  They intended to go to Peter Alexander’s world and attempt to retrieve Lela’s ship.

“Tell me again why I am going?” he responded with a question.

“Because I can’t do this without you,” she answered.  She was getting tired of answering such questions.

“Yes you can,” he said and gave her a little kiss.  “You made a transitional unit on my world out of paper and string.  I think you can do anything you set your mind to.”

“All right.”  She accepted the compliment.  “Then I don’t want to do it without you.”

“And I don’t want you to do it without me.”  He kissed her again.

Jill returned his kiss and then went to get her things for the trip and wondered why he could not just love her without hesitation and without all the questions.  She needed him, even if he thought she did not need him.  She loved him.  How many times and in how many ways did she have to say it?  She had been alone for centuries before finding Ethan.  In him, she found someone she could love again.  That was something she once thought she would never be able to do, after Archon.  She knew there was no explaining it, him being from a middle high Earth and her being from paradise, and as hard as she tried, she could not seem to convince Ethan that it was true.  But it was true all the same.  She loved him.  Why couldn’t he just love her in return?  She wiped her eye and put her smile back on before she turned to face him.

In a short while, Ethan and Jill were in the front seat of a hovercar driven by Doctor Augustus.  Peter Alexander and Colonel deMartin were in the middle buckets, Lars and Manomar with Ali Pasha squeezed between them were seated in the back, and they were all headed toward somewhere on the Maryland shore.

###

“This is a red area.  That is, a heavy radiation area.”  The doctor spoke as they searched around for some landmark, which might help Alexander get his bearings.

“I’m trying, but the landscape seems so changed,” Alexander said, and not for the first time.  “Even the coast looks altered.”

“I’m not surprised,” the doctor responded.  “The North Augustine Imperial Capitol was not far from here, up the Pontus River.  This place took a real pounding during the war.”

“There.”  Alexander pointed suddenly, though the Doctor could not see his finger.  “Those rocks are known to me.”

“That jetty?”  The Doctor asked.  It looked to him like a thousand others that stuck out into the sea, but he nodded.  It was almost directly over what had been the city of Balteninus.

“The Port of Balazarius,” Alexander said.  “The whole coast is covered with Byzantine farmland.  We will have to go inland to come down unobserved.”

“How far?”  The Doctor asked.

Alexander quickly calculated and translated at the same time.  “Ten miles should be enough.  We should arrive on Cherokee land.”  The Doctor turned the car and headed due west.  He brought them down to a point where they drove a mere ten feet off the ground.  There were no trees, bushes, or life of any kind to obstruct their progress.

“I can hardly imagine how you can see anything familiar in that landscape,” Colonel deMartin said as he sat back against the comfortable cushions.  The others nodded, but Alexander assured them of his certainty.

“I am positive,” he said.  “But even if I am a bit off, I know this is the right area.”

Ali Pasha tried to look out the windows, first around Lars and then around Manomar.  He could not see much, but it all looked like empty desert to him, and it all looked the same.

When they landed, Doctor Augustus hugged Jill and shook everyone’s wrists in his fashion.  “It was lovely having company.  I wish you good luck and Godspeed.”

“Are you sure you won’t come with us?”  Jill asked once again.  “There is no reason you should have to stay in your dead world.  I could find you a guardianship elsewhere, and it would save me the headache of having to find someone local and risk making a poor selection.”

“I am sure,” the Doctor said.  “There are more survivors than I let on at first.  There is a small farming community of some forty families northwest of the hospital, by the Darius River.  They survived the thirty-year winter with me in the hospital and only just moved to begin again.  I think I should visit them and see how things are turning out.  There are others scattered here and there.  I will be all right.”  He kissed Jill on her forehead like a loving father and turned back to his vehicle.

Jill wiped a small tear from her eye and found that Ethan had already wired the dimensional watch, as he still called it, and booted up the computer.  It only took a moment to type in the information.  “Everyone hang on,” she said, and when they were ready, she hit the enter button.

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

Next week: Guardian Angel-12 Nelkorian…a person more creature than human… Don’t miss it.

 

Guardian Angel-11 Trouble in Paradise, part 2 of 3

Ethan found himself on the roof.  He needed to be alone for a while.  The ambulance was parked there, and there were also a couple of benches for people to rest from their labors and a couple of tables for the staff to have lunch al fresco.  Doctor Augustus said the hospital was a hundred and fifty years in that place.  It had been built as close to the radiation area as they dared, originally to treat the survivors of that first bomb, the men and women with melted faces.  Curious, Ethan thought, the destruction of New Rome was no deterrence from all-out war, and somehow, he doubted Hiroshima would deter the determined madmen in his own world.

Ethan shook his head.  He had his own worries at the moment.  He felt so afraid of losing Jill, but at the same time, he was driving her away and he knew it.  He just could not seem to prevent it.  He felt used, though he said nothing.  He assumed that it was obvious.  He simply could not get past the idea that she merely used herself and the knowledge of his feelings to get him to agree to be the Guardian for his world.  When he agreed, he imagined she would move on to her next victim.

Even so, he discovered that he was in love with her and he could not stop himself from wanting to be with her.  He would not leave her, as long as she was willingly by his side, but he saw his need for her as a weakness and he began to hate himself for it.

Ethan walked once around the edge of the roof and looked out over the empty homes where doctors and nurses once lived and worked, and where the forest was now establishing a new presence.  After thirty years of winter, he was surprised to see that enough trees survived to replenish the area.  There were also some birds in the trees, remarkably enough, and once he thought he saw a squirrel.  He stopped, then, when he reached the side that looked out from the town of Ridgetop toward the Eastern shore.  The view took him all the way to the ruins of great buildings on the island he called Manhattan.

“I have come here often.”  Ethan heard the voice before he turned and saw Colonel deMartin sitting on a nearby bench, taking in the same view.  He patted the seat beside him on the bench and Ethan went to sit next to the man.

“I bet it was a great view before the destruction,” Ethan said.

“One can only imagine.”  The Colonel responded without emotion.  “I imagine it would have given the people in my world a sight to behold, but between you and me, I would rather they look at the sight now.  That might do some good.”

“Do you really think so?”  Ethan asked hopefully.

“No,” deMartin answered with blunt honesty.  “I only wish it would.  I have spent a great deal of time over these last few days trying to understand the differences between this world and my own.  Doctor Augustus was gracious enough to share a chit in addition to the ones Miss Jillian gave me so I could read and understand his histories.”  Colonel deMartin put his hand on the book that rested beside him on the bench.  “But for all of the cultural, social, and technological differences between this world and my own, I can hardly see any differences at all among the people.  I think people are people and we have all sinned and fallen short, if you know what I mean”

“Oh.”  Ethan was unhappy to have his own feelings about his own earth confirmed.

“I would say, given the chance, this could by my own world in two or three hundred years,” he finished.  Ethan merely nodded and looked to the sky.  There were rain clouds forming, coming from the West.  It looked like a good blow brewing, but it would be rain.  He was still trying to imagine thirty years of winter.

“You are a lucky man,” Colonel deMartin said.  He interrupted Ethan’s thoughts.

“I’m sorry?”  Ethan did not know to what he was talking about.

“Miss Lucas,” he said.  “To be young and in love.  I was once, you know.”

“News flash,” Ethan countered.  “From what little I have been able to piece together, I would guess Miss Lucas is way more than two hundred years old.  That is not exactly what I would call young and in love.”

The colonel only looked a little surprised, but then he shrugged.  “Still, she loves you very much.  Everyone can see that clearly, regardless of what world they have come from.”

“If only I believed that,” Ethan said in a voice that was almost too soft to hear.

“Oh, believe it.”  The colonel caught what he said.  “But, if I may be frank, everyone is also wondering what is wrong with you.  Ali Pasha said he would give his left hand for the love of such a woman.  In my world, we do not speak in terms of losing body parts, it is more loss of fortune and privilege, but I well understand the sentiment.  Yet, you seem to be doing all of the wrong things.  What is it that troubles you?”

Ethan sat for a minute and let the question hang in the air before he answered.  “It is just that when I am settled as Guardian of my world, I am afraid she will move on and I will never see her again.”

“You think she is just using you?”  The colonel understood right away.  “That’s ridiculous,” he added, and after a moment, he added another thought.  “That woman is all business, more than most men I know.  I suspect she is not given to playing such games.  But I think you may lose her if you keep on as you have been behaving.”  He sighed, stood and picked up his book.  “But now, if you will excuse me, since my tour of duty in the new world, my new world, I have developed an addiction to coffee.  It is not as bad a habit as Lars and his pipe, but it is still bad enough.  I hear a cup calling out to me even now.”  He gave a half-hearted salute and walked off.  A moment later, Ethan heard another voice.

“Can we talk?”  Jill asked, and Ethan scooted down to let her sit beside him.  They sat for a long time in the still silence of that world as the gray clouds moved in to cover the blue sky.  The wind picked up, and it brought a chill to the bones.  Jill and Ethan snuggled for warmth, but as close as they were, both had questions that seemed to be pushing them apart

“I’ve been thinking I need to apologize,” Jill said at last.  Ethan felt curious, so he said nothing.  He took her hand, and she wrapped both of her hands around his and looked down at them as she spoke.  “You see, I have known you far longer than you have known me.  I knew you when you were in college.  I was working for Doctor Grimly even then at the Academy, I mean the University.  I don’t think you ever saw me, but I followed your career and had strong feelings for you even then.  When Doctor Grimly agreed to go to work for the Company, to get our hands on some state of the art equipment, I followed, of course.  When you graduated, I made sure you followed as well, and that was when I knew I was in trouble.”  She paused to laugh a little, like she made a joke, but the laughter was near enough to tears.  “Oh, but Ethan, if you don’t feel the same way about me, I understand.  You have not known me for very long, I mean really in the way I have known you.  Maybe someday.”  She stopped talking because his free hand had come up to stop her mouth.

“I love you so much, I cannot tell you and I am the one who works with words, remember?  But there are not words strong enough or beautiful enough to describe how I feel.”  He paused and found that now he was the one who had to look down at the rooftop.  “I’ve been afraid, that’s all.  I have been afraid that once we get back to my Earth, you will go home and I will lose you.  Jill.”  He looked up at her.  “I don’t want to lose you, but I keep screwing up.  I have never been good at relationships.  I’m sorry.  I think I am the one who needs to apologize to you.”

“You don’t,” she said.  “If you would just hold me, I will not ever leave you.”  He did, and after a while she added a thought.  “We are like two lost souls from worlds almost infinitely apart, but we have found each other.  Can’t that be enough?”

“Me the fool, and you the rebel with a heart as big as all the worlds.”

“You are not a fool,” she said.

If I let my fear drive you away I would be the biggest fool in all of the worlds combined, he thought, and they sat while the rain came, and continued to sit and held on to each other until they were good and soaked.

Guardian Angel-11 Trouble in Paradise, part 1 of 3

The next three days were rough for Jill as her relationship with Ethan became terribly strained.  They stayed together, but said little to each other.  They touched, even kissed, but it was not the same as it had been.  She felt as if something was broken and she did not know how to fix it.

Jill worried that she had pushed Ethan too fast; that despite what she felt for him, maybe he did not feel the same for her, or maybe he was not ready for that kind of relationship.

She did her best in those days to teach in the hospital auditorium, and Ethan tried to sit and listen, but it was hard for either one to stay focused.  He looked so sad and lost.  He looked so alone, and she felt at a total loss.

On the third day, Jill set up a demonstration on the natural healing abilities of the nano-chits.  “The Doctor and I can talk to you all day about fighting disease, but there is nothing like a practical demonstration.  Please come close.”  As she said this, Ethan let the others move up front while he kept a little to the back.  Jill laid her bare arm on the table.  “Whenever you are ready.”  She spoke to the doctor.

“I would say, rather, when you are ready.”  Doctor Augustus responded, and when she had shut her eyes and nodded, the Doctor pulled out a knife about six or seven inches long.  Jill shut her eyes tighter as he pushed the knife right through her naked arm.  They all heard it thunk into the table, even above the shrill sound of Jill’s cry.  Peter Alexander shut his eyes.  Lars cried out with her.  When the Doctor pulled the knife out again, Jill’s eyes filled with tears, and she bloodied her lip as she bit it to keep a second cry at bay.  Ethan could hardly watch and soon turned away.  The others looked too stunned to move.  Then Jill’s face turned calm again, and she spoke without the least waver in her voice.

“I have instructed my chits to temporarily deaden the nerves in the area to end the pain.  The arm is now numb, like with a powerful anesthetic, and I cannot feel a thing.  You will also note how the wound has stopped bleeding, and it is already closing.  I have instructed my chits to completely heal the wound and restore the arm to perfect working condition.”

“I can see.”  Ali Pasha verbalized his amazement in his markedly improved English.  “The wound is already closing up.”  In only a few minutes, there was no longer a sign of any cut on the surface.

“It will take longer to heal the internal destruction to the muscles and all, but within an hour, certainly, it will be as if nothing ever happened.”  Jill finished speaking and raised the arm, pointed to the chairs and invited the others to sit.

“And these chits can be projected through the hands for the benefit of others?” Ali Pasha asked.

Jill nodded, “but only a few will be available for that at any given time.  You can heal some things by the laying on of hands, but not many people before you become depleted and exhausted.  Then the chits will need to grow again from the seeds within you.”  Jill looked up.  Ethan was not there.  He had left at some point and she had not even noticed.  Doctor Augustus, an old-time doctor with an excellent bedside manner, knew immediately what was happening.

“I think that is enough for today,” he suggested.

“No.”  Jill shook her head, but the doctor interrupted.

“Jillian.  Give your arm the time it needs to heal from the trauma.  You have given your charges more than enough to think about for one day.”  Jill did not argue.  She had reached the point where she wanted to cry, but it had nothing to do with her arm.

Guardian Angel-10 End Game, part 3 of 3

Most were silent in the afternoon.  The food vendors were functioning and well stocked, so there were no worries there.  Lars and Ali Pasha received their nano-chits by injection, but Jill opted to put her teaching off until the morning.

“They need the time to make the adjustment,” she said, but it sounded like an excuse.

She admitted that she was too upset to teach, and no one argued with her.  Colonel deMartin spent the afternoon in quiet contemplation.  He considered his family’s “Long and distinguished military service,” as he put it.  Manomar simply stayed quiet.  He found a block of wood and spent the day until dusk, carving with his long knife.  Even Ali Pasha’s passion for new things seemed blunted as he struggled to imagine what it must have been like.  Peter Alexander spent most of the time in the hospital chapel in what he called a Cherokee custom of remembering the dead.

Ethan avoided Jill, which did not help matters with either of them.  They needed each other, but Ethan was feeling used and he could not shake the feeling.  When the evening hours signaled that it was time for bed, Ethan felt a little surprised to find Jill in his room.

“You don’t have to pretend to be my wife in this world,” he said.

“I don’t want to pretend.”  She sounded honest enough.  Ethan smiled, but in his heart, he doubted.  He imagined he was just another selection, another Guardian, and having thought about it all afternoon, he decided that he was willing to guard his home world, whatever that meant.  As for Jill, he imagined that she would move on soon enough and leave him to his world and his work.  He curled up with her that night, but he talked about other things.

“So, do we have any allies in this work?” he asked.

“Yes and no,” she answered.  “Last I knew we had only found four groups that had been world hopping longer than ourselves, and only two whose technology might be called superior.  None of them are concerned one way or the other, and we are only glad that we have not run into a troubling group with better technology than our own.  Three other groups are enthusiastic about the idea of guarding the worlds from external intrusion, but two can do little to nothing about it.  One, in particular, really stumbled on transitional technology before they were capable of handling it.  In one world, the technology itself has become a hotly divided political issue.  There are others, but to be honest, most worlds are self-committed.  Do you know what I mean?  The ones that we stand against and worry about would be just as quick to fight each other as fight us.”

“It sounds like everyone is just into themselves,” Ethan said, as he had another thought.  “So how many think they are the only real world and everyone else is sort of a poor photocopy.”

“There are a few that think that way,” Jill said.

“But basically, everyone is parochial to the extreme.”

“Yes and no.”  Jill repeated the phrase.  “There really are only two options for the worlds.  One is not to interfere with other worlds in any way.  There are some who explore and visit, but bend over backwards to leave no imprint.  The ones ruling my Earth, at this time, feel that is the way we should be.”

“You don’t agree?”

“No, of course not.  Given some of the groups already traveling across the dimensions, sticking your head in the sand is not an option.  Isolationism will not work because no one has figured out how to keep others out of your own world.  Eventually, the bad guys will catch up with you.”

“But you said two options.”  Ethan yawned.

“Well, the other option seems to be to exploit the worlds.  Some seek better technologies.  One steals art and artifacts.  Some seek to control, even enslave other Earths.”

“That’s where you draw the line.”  Ethan suggested.

“I don’t like exploitation of any kind,” Jill responded honestly.  “But if we don’t stand up and help worlds like the ones that Lars, Ali Pasha and Alexander come from, they will soon be under someone’s thumb.  Wouldn’t it be a big surprise to the rulers if suddenly all of the Muslims in Ali Pasha’s world became slaves to grow food for the Megaron, or if Colonel deMartin suddenly had to defend his Christian world from a highly advanced Islamic Jihad?”

“I see,” Ethan said and yawned.  He did see, but his doubts about Jill’s intentions and their relationship in general was clouding all of his other thoughts.  “So what is with those Neanderthal?  That is what they are, isn’t it?”

“Oh.”  Jill spoke softly.  “Yes, they are, and they style themselves as a sort of dimensional police.  They do not like the transfer of any technology, as if keeping it out of certain hands is going to prevent them from developing it themselves once they know it is possible.  On the positive side, they have agreed with our seeding the worlds against the advent of the Chernobyl, and they have even turned a blind eye to our establishing Guardians for the worlds, as long as we select, or as they say, as long as we only corrupt one or two people.  I think the Guardians are different for them and they can accept it because we are giving our technology away in a strictly limited sense rather than someone trying to take it.  For the most part, though, they are against the importing and exporting of technologies across the dimensions.”

Ethan was quiet.  “By the way, I rigged up an AC plug to recharge the laptop.”  Ethan’s only response was a deep breath.  He had fallen asleep.   Jill looked long into his sleeping face and whispered.  “What have I done to make you so unhappy?”  She laid her head against his chest and soon enough, she also slept.

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

Jill and Ethan enter a difficult time.  Jill needs to teach and Ethan needs to learn, but it is hard when feelings get in the way…  Monday, Guardian Angel 11, Trouble in Paradise.  Don’t miss it…

Happy Reading.

Guardian Angel-10 End Game, part 2 of 3

Everyone stopped walking.  It was a very hard concept to grasp for anyone who had not at least seen old film of an atomic blast.  Jill continued to explain while everyone contemplated the magnitude of such a weapon.

“Of course, that bomb fell eighty years before I got here, and I was here about eighty years ago.  No telling what happened since, but keep in mind the increase in their destructive capabilities, given another hundred or hundred and fifty years to work on things.  I hope it never came to war.”

“Hoping?”  It was Ali Pasha who verbalized for everyone, even if he could barely frame his thoughts into the Englander tongue.  “Such war is not for thinking!  Madness!  To destroying with such greatness, it is not war.  It is madness!”

People nodded, including Ethan, when they heard the dim sound of a slight whine in the distance.

It turned out to be a ship of some sort, or maybe a flying car or truck, or an ambulance, Ethan decided as the vehicle came closer.  There was something like a red cross on the side of the vehicle, and he associated the snakes on poles with the medical profession.  The vehicle was definitely air-born and moved like a helicopter despite having nothing as crude as rotor blades.  It set down in a clearing not too far from their location.  Jill led them straight to that place where they saw a man in the same kind of white lab coat Jill used to wear.  He got out and waved to them.  He invited them to join him.

“Come.”  The man said in a language only Jill and Ethan understood.  “This area is still designated orange and I only have a limited supply of Ronolion to treat radiation sickness.”

The man opened the back of the ambulance and Ethan motioned for the others to get in since Jill’s arms were both still busy holding him upright.  “And don’t touch anything!”  Ethan commanded as a precaution.  He looked especially hard at Ali Pasha and sought Manomar’s agreement, which the man gave with a nod of his head.  Jill helped Ethan get into the front seat where he sat between her and the man who drove the vehicle.  He did his best to remain upright without leaning on her too much.

“Good to see you again.”  The man started up the conversation right away.  “I expected you to come back about sixty years ago.”

“There were complications,” Jill said.  “I got stranded in another world for a time and lost my ship.  I picked up a husband, though.”  She hugged Ethan and Ethan hardly knew what to think, except that maybe this charade had gone on long enough.

“I thought you said one husband in a lifetime was enough,” the man responded with a fatherly glance in her direction.

“I changed my mind.  Ethan, this is Doctor Flavius Augustus, surname Galias.”

“Flavius is sufficient, or Doctor Augustus,” the Doctor said, and he stuck out his hand.  Ethan reached for the hand, but the man shook his wrist so Ethan responded in kind and tried not to feel foolish at having gotten it wrong to start with.

“Doctor?”  Ethan made the word a question.

“Medical.”  The man gave the one word answer.

“I selected Doctor Augustus to be Guardian for this world.  It was one of the last contacts I had before being stranded on your world.”

“I take it Ethan’s world did not have the technical expertise to repair whatever happened to your ship,” Doctor Augustus said.

“No more than your world,” Jill responded.

“But we have advanced in the years since you have been gone, you know.  And we proved it by nearly wiping out the human race.  I am glad you did not come back sixty years ago.  The war happened.”

Jill and Ethan sat in stunned silence for a minute.  They tried hard to absorb the news.  Doctor Augustus spoke again after a moment.

“What the war did not kill, the thirty-year winter did.  I can safely say that this was a war without winners.  There are some people still alive, mostly in equatorial regions like deep in the Amazon and the Congo where the winter was not so bad and where the level of civilization did not warrant destruction, but most of them cannot read or write.  Civilization is completely wiped out.”  With that comment, he brought the ambulance down to a dock on top of a large building in what was obviously a ghost town.  Jill spoke when he turned off the engine.

“Doctor, you can come with us to another place if you like.”

“No.”  The Doctor shook his head.  “There are still people here to protect, and who knows, perhaps over the centuries they may make a better show of things than we did, if there is someone here to give them that chance.”   He got out like an old man who had spent too much time in the ambulance service.  Jill and Ethan got out as well.  Neither knew what to say.  They let the others out without a word and went down into what was obviously a hospital.

The building appeared well kept, but most of that was automatic.  The doctor had rigged up some long-life generators that he said would run for ten thousand years, and he seemed to spend a lot of time repairing and tinkering with the mechanicals, as he called them.

When they went down off the roof and went inside the upper reception area, Jill spoke again.  “Doctor, two of these men are volunteers for their worlds.  I need two serum preparations for nano-chit injection.”

“I can do that,” the doctor said, and he added a note as he walked off down the hall to the lab.  “I wish them better fortune with their charges than I have had.”

With that, Jill had to tell the others what happened.

Guardian Angel-10 End Game, part 1 of 3

Ethan awoke to the sound of arguing.  Lucky he was not awake to hear Colonel deMartin’s first words, which were enough to turn anyone’s ears red.  Lars of the quick draw and Manomar of the long knife disarmed the man, so at least there was no chance for him to start shooting people out of fear or panic.  Still, he sounded far from calm, and Alexander and Ali Pasha tried their best to explain the inexplicable and somehow bring the man back to his reasonable senses.  Jill, meanwhile, hovered over Ethan and when he opened his eyes, she kissed him several times and let a tear fall.

“I was so afraid for you.  Lars got knocked on his back and he did not actually touch the unit.  I was afraid you were not strong enough yet to hold it,” she said.  She helped him sit up.

“I’m not,” he admitted and shook his head.  “But I couldn’t leave you to face being hung, tortured, burned at the stake, shot by a firing squad and fried by some Neanderthal ray guns without me.”  She kissed him again as he hoped she would, and then she helped him to his feet while he listened to what was going on.

“So, what you are telling me is this is some completely different world, not only not on the map, but not even in the universe.”  Colonel deMartin at least sounded rational.

“We are in a universe,” Lars said.  “It is just not your universe, and not mine either by the looks of things.”  Ethan followed that cue and looked around, but he saw only stunted trees and bushes trying to grow in an impossibly dead and dry environment.  The grass looked all scraggly and he saw no sign of birds or animals at all.

“Paradise?” he asked Jill, with a frown.

“No,” she answered.  “A different place altogether.  Twenty-second century in your terms, maybe twenty-third.”

“A world you have been to,” he guessed.

“I had to take us somewhere to maybe get rid of the trace.”  Jill nodded and started to let go, but grabbed on again as Ethan began to fall.  Alexander came over to help and on Jill’s instructions, he repacked the laptop, which she had shut down.  He also, carefully put the transitional unit in the briefcase.  Lars and Manomar came back from their little scouting expedition and reported no signs of life.

“We must go west, and quickly,” Jill said.  “We are too close to the ruins across the Hudson.  Heavy radiation area.”  She added that last word for Ethan’s ears only, not that the others would have understood.

“Come, my friend.”  Ali Pasha helped deMartin to his feet, and they started to walk as quickly as Ethan’s feet and deMartin’s mind could handle.  As the day wore on, the flora that surrounded them improved until it appeared almost normal.  Then Lars and Colonel deMartin both found the remains of bricks and burned wood in several places.

“This area used to be all towns and villages, about a hundred and fifty years ago,” Jill said.  “The scientists who came here after the bomb was dropped on New Rome used to say they were walking on graves.”

“Bomb on New York?”  Ethan asked, catching up with what she said earlier about radiation.  Jill nodded.   “It went off just above the Hudson.”  She explained as they walked.  Ali Pasha and Peter Alexander began to walk very carefully.  They were put off by the idea of walking on graves.

“More than the colonel’s world, and more than Ali Pasha’s world, this world truly evolved down to five great empires that covered the globe.  The Persians conquered Greece, or they were handed Greece after Phillip of Macedon and his son Alexander were both murdered.  I thought of here when you suggested that the other day.”

Ethan nodded.

“The Persians might have gone on to take the whole world at that point if the Greeks cooperated, but the wars of subjection, actually subduing the Greeks, is not called the two-hundred-years war for nothing, and what this did was allow Rome and Carthage the time they needed to grow strong.”

Ethan nodded again.  He followed her thus far, but he could not yet talk and walk at the same time, so he held his tongue.

“Carthage and Rome joined in a Pax Romana, as it was called, and stood together against the Persian threat.  While in the East, in India, the Mauryan Empire got seriously started under a man named Asoka.  That was near the same time, between two and three hundred years before Christ, and in China, the Ch’in took over under the First Emperor, and never relinquished power.”

“Holy Romans?”  Alexander asked, but Jill shook her head.

“By the time I came here, the whole globe was covered with one or another of those empires, but they were ahead of all of your worlds, even yours, Ethan.  With Persia in the middle to act as the ultimate merchants, things like Gunpowder, paper and printing spread fast.  Trouble came to this continent when the Roman Colonies, thirteen originally, coincidentally, vied for their independence.  It was something about taxation without representation.  The revolution did not last long.  It ended when the Romans dropped the first bomb on their own people in New York, or rather, New Rome.”

Jill turned to Ethan.  “This all happened about when your America was suffering through a Civil War.”  Ethan understood about how long ago that was, and he was a bit concerned that the radiation was still strong enough to be a danger.  Jill picked up the story then for everyone.

“Since then, since the New World got fully settled and there were no more frontiers for the excess populations.  The Empires lived in a shaky peace, constantly realigning in new, alternate alliances, and constantly nibbling at each other’s borders.  When I was last here, Carthage and the Chin were the outsiders aligned against Rome, Persia and the Mauryan in the middle, and it looked like the true World War might finally happen.”

“I do not understand.”  Colonel deMartin interrupted.  “How many bombs did they drop on that city and why should it affect the countryside to this distance and after all this time?”

“Exactly.”  Lars had been wondering much the same thing, but he hardly knew how to frame the question.  “How many bombs?”

“Just one bomb,” Jill said.

Guardian Angel-9 In the Trenches, part 3 of 3

Mid-afternoon, Jill finally came back.  It seemed improbable that there would be fighting on that day, though the colonel gave orders in case the enemy tried to come in the night.  As they came close, Ethan broke ranks and ran to Jill. No one made a move to stop him.  The Cherokee warrior was with her, and they seemed to be conversing freely in a language Ethan could not quite grasp.  He recognized that he was getting better at catching languages, even if he did not know how, but he was not there yet.  When he grabbed Jill, he felt surprised by the strength of his feelings.  She looked happy to see it, though, and responded freely, while the native kept still and waited.

General Gordon arrived and surprised everyone with his announcement.  “The Cherokee have agreed to withdraw, over the objections of their Byzantine Masters.  But they say there has been too much bad blood in this world and they plan to make restitution to the Delaware.  Whether or not the Algonquin nation will accept compensation for the dead remains to be seen, but for the present there will be peace, because the Byzantine cannot raise a large enough force by themselves.”

“Praise God.”  That was heard all around the area where the general spoke, and there were prayers of thanksgiving sent up to Mary and any number of saints.

“This remarkable young woman and Chief Peter Alexander were the primary movers in the negotiations.”  General Gordon told the colonel.  “Apparently, they met before.”

“Ethan.”  Jill spoke in that same strange language that Ethan had never heard before, but by then he understood it.  “Let me introduce Peter Alexander.”  She indicated the man in war paint.

“Alexander is sufficient,” the man said. as he shook Ethan’s hand.  Ethan looked close, and despite the fact that Alexander was young and handsome, he could not have been one of Jill’s people.  He looked too Cherokee.

“A native to this world?” he asked his question out loud.

“Yes.”  Alexander answered forthrightly.

“Lela is dead as I feared,” Jill said and took Ethan’s hand for support.  He gave it to her, even if he did not know who Lela was.  “I sent her out, but her communications ended in this world.  I became concerned about her when I got stranded, and I see that I was right to be worried.  The Byzantines beheaded her as a witch, but not before she passed the Guardian nano-chits to Alexander.  He has been waiting here since then for someone to come.  Since his Guardian chits are adjusted to alert him when someone world hops into this place, though he did not know this, he felt us arrive and came to see with his own eyes.  He guessed rightly that I was of Lela’s people.”

“And so now we have another passenger to take with us.”  Ethan finished the thought.  Jill nodded and looked at Alexander with a wide smile.

“I told you he was bright.”  She took Ethan’s hand and kissed his shoulder, and then she introduced Alexander to the others, and in so doing, she said something that Ethan did not expect.  “Alexander has already received his chits and has agreed to guard his world, though he has not yet been trained to the task, so he will be going with us.”  Ali Pasha, Lars and Manomar all nodded as if they understood what she was saying, and Ethan looked at Jill.  He felt suddenly very cold toward her.

Jill touched his arm, gently.  “We need to talk,” she said.

“About what?” he asked.  He did not respond to her touch and did not look at all happy.  “About being another one of your flunkies?”

“No!”  She said the word in a tone which protested that he would even think such a thing, but before she could say anything more, Alexander let out a screech.

“Eeeee!  Quickly.  Everyone get down.”  He turned to the colonel, the general already having taken transport back into town.  “Incoming,” he said.

“Incoming!”  Colonel deMartin shouted without hesitation, and the word echoed down the line as Jill and her men made a rifle shot for the nearest trench.  They no sooner got down, when Ethan heard the last noise he expected.  He looked above his head and saw the flash of baby blue laser light and then he covered his head as a nearby automobile exploded.

“How did they find us?”  Ethan asked.  Jill was already going for the laptop and the transfer unit.

“I don’t know!”  She shouted.  “Maybe they have a dimensional tracer of some kind.”

“Who are they?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” she answered as she began to type and Ethan wired the watch.  Curiously, he knew exactly what to do, but he did not think that odd at the time.  Indeed, he could hardly think at all.

After the first salvo, Ethan heard rifle fire as the men of that world tried to return fire, though they hardly knew what they were firing at.  Then there was another sound, and Ethan braved a peek above the trench rim just to confirm the Neanderthal behind him.

“The other side has arrived,” he told Jill.  She hushed him while she typed frantically.

“Almost out of power,” she said as if thinking aloud.  “I think I know where we can go to scramble any dimensional trace.”

Colonel deMartin jumped into their trench after the return fire slackened off, and just before it became a flame on flame all-out battle.

“What the hell is going on!”  He yelled.  “Who are you people?”

No one answered him because Jill interrupted.  “Everybody hold hands.  Be sure to touch flesh.”  She added that last comment because Alexander wanted to hold her hair.  He touched her neck while everyone else grabbed on.  Jill only waited a moment and looked briefly to be sure before she hit the enter button.  This time, Ethan closed his eyes, but he was holding the transfer unit, and he felt the shock everywhere and temporarily passed out.

Guardian Angel-9 In the Trenches, part 2 of 3

It was Colonel deMartin, not Captain deMarcos who collected them for their shopping spree.  The clothes they found were rather plain, but Jill had no trouble finding a dress that fit well.  There was no reason to hide her figure, and the dress certainly did not hide much, but then the matron of the shop made her get an apron to wear over all, and it made her look a bit more dowdy.  This upset the men but that was no doubt the matron’s point.

Ethan, on the other hand, proved a little more difficult.  He willingly gave up his suit pants for plain brown pants and added a white shirt with some ruffle in the front along with a plain brown vest with pockets.  There were also socks for his feet, and a western style hat for his head, which Lars picked out.  All of that was simple enough, but then he needed some sturdy boots.  Finding two boots, a left and a right that actually fit and matched took time, and Ethan saw that Jill spent a lot of that time talking with Lars and Ali Pasha when she was not schmoosing with the colonel.

When they were finally ready, the colonel graciously laid out some coins.  “I think the army can afford to pay for clothes for a couple of refugees, so no arguments.”  Then things got interesting as a soldier came bounding into the shop with a message.  He whispered in the colonel’s ear.  The colonel eyed Jill.

“Bring them,” the colonel ordered sharply, and the entourage encouraged the travelers to follow the colonel who set a wicked pace across the town to the outskirts.  Ethan was glad that he and Lars had made a strap for the briefcase and their all-important equipment, and that he was presently carrying it across his shoulder and on his hip like a woman might carry her purse in a crowded shopping mall.  In fact, he had no intention of letting their means of escape leave his side ever again, if he could help it.

When they approached the front lines that strung out along the edge of town, they found field batteries and what looked like a couple of real, modern artillery pieces.  There were hastily made bunkers of a sort, some being no more than bricked in houses that happened to be on the outskirts of town and so first in the line of fire.  Ethan wondered if the army compensated the people for those houses as easily as they bought his boots.  Somehow, he doubted it, but maybe the people got something.  Further out in the fields, the trenches began, and they could see where trees and other obstacles had been cut down and removed so as not to obstruct the line of fire.  In fact, from what Ethan could see, it looked like a whole warren of trenches had been carefully dug, barbed wire got laid out, and the fields beyond were cleared for some distance.

“The trouble with early nineteen-hundreds warfare is the way it devastates the environment,” Jill said sadly, framing things for Ethan to understand.

“World War I?”  Ethan asked, getting the gist of the time-period clearly in his mind.

“World War III,” Lars corrected, not otherwise following their words.

Colonel deMartin came bounding out of a tent.  “Come,” he said.  “You speak Cherokee.”  He spoke to Jill.  She looked up.  “There is a delegation of the enemy come to talk and as near as we can figure out, the chief has asked for you.”  Jill said nothing and stood, but Ethan and Lars both stepped up beside her, protectively.  Ali Pasha and Manomar kept the rear guard position.  “I could just as easily have you all shot, you know.”  DeMartin was blunt.  Jill patted Ethan’s hand to offer encouragement and followed the colonel.

They found the Cherokee off one section of the front line, within shooting distance of both the trees and trenches.  Two Natives and two soldiers of the Holy Romans had guard positions at the four corners of a square, and held similar weapons at the ready.  There was a native seated on the ground inside the square.  There was also a man who clearly looked like a Byzantine, if one had a guess.  His dress was full of flowery patterns and feathers, his black hair, almost as curly as Manomar’s, suggested a Middle Eastern origin, and he appeared to be seated on a folding chair.  Facing him was a man who had to be a Holy Roman officer of some sort, and he had a guard with him as well, perhaps a lieutenant, but that man stood.

“General Gordon is expecting you.”  DeMartin spoke sharply to identify the officer as he pointed at the gathering in the center of the field.  “If you are a spy or betray the General, your friends will be instantly shot.”  He raised his hand.  Men with rifles surrounded the others, and the bayonets looked very sharp.

“It will be all right,” Jill said to assure everyone.  “Ethan knows what to do.”

“That isn’t the point.”  Ethan spoke quickly before she could add, “If I don’t come back.”  He caught her and kissed her hard, right in front of everyone.

“I’ll be all right,” she insisted when they began to part.  “But don’t lose your place.  We will pick up where we left off, later.”  She turned, rushed into the field, and then slowed to a walk while the others could do nothing but watch.  As she approached the gathering, the native stood.  Then they began to talk, and that left Ethan and the others completely in the dark as to what was happening.

They waited.  The General sent his man back to fetch lunch for everyone.  Ethan felt totally frustrated by then, beyond his ability to hold his tongue, and beyond the ability of the others to comfort him.  “What is taking so long?” he shouted.  Colonel deMartin looked at him and shrugged.

“I feel for you,” he said.  “But I would guess you are not spies or something improper would have happened by now.”

“Unless we are very, very clever,” Lars said, and Ethan and Manomar took Jill’s part and hit him to shut his mouth.