Guardian Angel-8 Undercover, part 2 of 3

“But you can’t turn us out.  It is almost dark.”  Jill got angry.  They had been to six places, and there was no room anywhere.  They had avoided the religious orders thus far, but it was beginning to look like they might have no choice.  Ethan had thought the Dominicans might be able to place them in a family home.  Many homes had been opened to refugees from the countryside, but Jill felt reluctant to take a Lutheran and a couple of Moslems into the heart of Catholic Central.

“At least it is not likely that we will be tortured,” Ethan pointed out, with a glance at Ali Pasha.

“Don’t be so parochial,” Jill scolded him.  “Many worlds have had their share of Spanish Inquisitions.”

Ethan understood, and he went quietly back to trying to figure a way out of their dilemma while Jill turned back to the innkeeper.

“But you must have something!”  She was about to throw a fit when Ethan had a thought.

“My wife,” he interrupted.  “She is pregnant, you see, and with all that we suffered getting here, I am afraid we may lose the baby.”  That at least got the clerk to look up.  “Tell me there is no room at the inn.  Don’t you have a stable, maybe a manger?”

The clerk chuckled.  “Now I have heard it all,” he said, and went back to his papers and to ignoring them.

All this time, Ali Pasha had blindly followed along.  He examined everything he could see and touch and paid no attention to what was going on.  This city, as he called it, was nearly Fifteen thousand people strong, and double that with all the influx from the countryside.  More importantly, it was full of wonders, from the cobblestone streets to the buildings and inhabitants that dwelt there.  Ali Pasha was particularly taken with a corner of the city they wandered through about an hour earlier.  It had been given over to Swiss-Bavarian architecture.  The people spoke a kind of German there, though most of the rest of the city spoke British.  Thus it was Elizabethtown rather than something German.  It was not named after the first Elizabeth, though, who was forced to suffer a marriage to Phillip II of Spain, but after the current beloved Queen who knew her place well beneath the Holy Roman Emperor. Yet, as with all times of wonder, a person must come up sometime for air, and when Ali Pasha breathed, he asked what was wrong.

“Here,” he said in Arabic after they explained to him what was happening.  He handed Ethan a bag of coins, all gold.  “It was all the money I had plus what I begged from my neighbors.  I planned to come and buy you at the slave market, but I suppose it may not have value in this place.”

“Not the coins, maybe,” Ethan agreed.  “But gold is gold.”  He pulled one out and shoved it under the clerk’s nose.  The clerk drooled.

“What?  You work for Appalachian oil or something?”  He took the coin and examined it on both sides.  “Mister, I wish I had room.  Hell, we haven’t even got a closet.”  He handed the coin back.

“We could eat.”  Lars shoved his nose into the conversation.  The clerk snatched the gold back.

“For another one of these, I’ll let all of you have anything you want off the menu.”  Ethan did not begrudge him another one.  When he handed the bag back to Ali Pasha, he added a word of caution

“Guard this with your life,” he said.  Ali Pasha understood and immediately handed the bag to Manomar.

Ali Pasha tried several dishes that evening, but he was a picky eater.  Lars and Ethan did not care what it was or what it tasted like.  They were hungry, and Jill was inclined to agree with them.  Manomar ate enough for two people, though there was a bit of a problem at first since he refused to sit at the same table with his Master.  Ali Pasha finally had to order him to do it, but it was clear that the big slave was not comfortable.

Supper consisted of boiled everything: beef, potatoes and vegetables.  There really was little choice.  No one around them talked about rationing.  Food could always be brought in through the port, but selection was going to be limited for some time.  At least the wine was good, and Ethan was thrilled to find coffee on the menu.  True, it was not the plain American coffee he was used to, but he was in heaven, regardless.  They were just about to try the sweets, a whole cartload of pastries, when Jill bumped Ethan’s leg and pointed with her head.

“We have company,” she said.  There was a man in a fancy army uniform at the front desk, and the clerk pointed straight at them.  As the man walked directly toward them, Ethan felt the need to pull Jill’s robe tight to be sure she was well covered.  Jill said nothing.

Guardian Angel-8 Undercover, part 1 of 3

It seemed a pleasant afternoon among the birds and trees.  The late afternoon sun warmed them nicely.  They hardly noticed it back when thy had to look through all the cooking smoke and haze in New Ark.  Jill felt content to hold Ethan’s hand and Ethan thought life could not get any better.  He was happy; until they stepped around a bend in the road and came face to face with a native dressed out in war paint.  The warrior sported a rifle with a full cartridge belt strapped hip to shoulder and the company of travelers were obliged to stop and stare.  The warrior stared back with hardly a blink.  When the warrior finally spoke, Ethan did not quite catch what the man said, but Jill immediately knew the tongue.  She responded in kind, and there was a rapid exchange of words before the warrior stepped off the road and vanished again into the woods.

“I am one quarter Cherokee,” Jill reminded everyone.  “Now we must hurry.”  She spoke, as she went into the lead and picked up the pace.  “The Cherokee have come up from the south and driven out the Delaware from this immediate area.  Quite a few farms have been burned.  They promised the Byzantines that they would lay siege to Fort Elizabeth, but it must be done before the Algonquin arrive to retaliate.”

“Byzantines?”  Ethan asked.  Jill nodded.

“Elizabethtown is Holy Roman,” she said.  “But the Cherokee are gathering around Mountainside and will be at the city gates by dawn.  This one came out to scout.”

“They are gathering near Hill Town.”  Ethan explained to Lars.  “Close to your farm.”

“Trailside.”  Lars nodded.  “It is a small village with a general store, a Lutheran Church and not much else.  I would not call it a mountain side.”

After a short way, they paused.  There was a terrible racket coming up from behind them and Manomar pulled the wicked looking knife he had hidden in his robe.  Lars noticed and unstrapped his six-shooter in case he needed to draw it rapidly.  Ali Pasha wailed, but softly.

“Is it a monster?” he asked.

“No,” Jill and Ethan responded together.  They both recognized the sound.

A moment later, a horseless carriage came chugging around the corner and ground to a halt about twenty feet away.  Ethan was surprised that it held together with the pounding it got on that rough, two-rutted road, though he admitted that the road was better than Lars’ farm road.  Most were.

“What are you doing here?”  The man in the passenger seat stood.  The top of the convertible was down, or missing.  He shouted at them in an English with strong French overtones.  “Where did you come from?  I thought we had all of the farms accounted for three days ago!”  His words were difficult, but not impossible to understand.  These were apparently soldiers from Fort Elizabeth, a Sergeant, his driver and a rifleman in the back.  They were out doing some scouting of their own, though Ethan could not imagine how they expected to see anything when their vehicle, limited as it was to whatever road they could find, announced their presence miles in advance of their position.

“Everyone hush.”  Jill spoke quickly to Ali Pasha and Manomar in Arabic, and then to Lars in Swedish.  “We must pretend to be native to this world,” she insisted.  “I will tell them that our farm is in the far west and we barely escaped with our lives when we were burned out.  I hope Iberia and Scandinavia are part of the Holy Roman lands; but in any case, it is better to say nothing than say the wrong thing.”  She shook her finger sternly at them and did not spare Ethan from her determined look.

“My tongue is held,” Ali Pasha responded.  Lars and Manomar simply nodded.

“I am learning to trust my wife,” Ethan said with a grin of surrender, which encouraged Jill to slip her arm around his waist.  She softened her look, and then she spoke to the soldiers as the man in the passenger seat and the rifleman, who sported a rifle like the one carried by the Cherokee warrior, came up to face them.  The driver stayed behind the wheel.

Jill told her sad tale of their farm, embellishing very little, leaving the men to make assumptions on their own, and only adding that they did not come in earlier because they thought they were far enough away to not be caught up in the fighting.

“We got out with just the clothes on our backs,” Ethan added.  “Or not.”  He shrugged, being naked from the waist up.

“I found your shirt,” the man from the auto said.  “I expected to find you a bloody mess.”

“The shirt was shredded in the barn while we were escaping.  It was a miracle that my husband’s back was not shredded as well,” Jill said.

“Backed into the bailer,” the soldier with the rifle suggested and laughed.  Most likely a farmer himself,  who got drafted for the emergency, if not the duration.

“Something like that,” Ethan agreed.  He engaged his sheepish disguise.

“Praise God and Mother Mary for their tender mercies,” the rifleman concluded.

“Well, you better hop on,” the Sergeant interrupted with a frown, not fully satisfied with the explanation of their appearance.  They did hop on; but then they had to hold on for dear life as the vehicle chugged, bounded and bounced its’ way along at the remarkable speed of about ten miles an hour.  When they arrived at Elizabethtown, everyone was bruised, and this time Ethan did not hold his tongue.  The Sergeant merely laughed and pointed across the square where Napoleonic looking cavalry were trooping across the road.

“You may be able to find some rooms at one of the inns in town, but I doubt it.  Otherwise, the convent of Santa Theresa or the Dominicans may be able to find you lodging.  The walls around this town are non-existent, and even the fort is only half stone, not much good against artillery.  We clear the streets after dark, though, so you only have a couple of hours to find shelter.”

“Thank you kindly,” Jill said.  “I feel much safer now.”

The man looked up from his passenger seat and frowned once more.  He waved his arm forward, and the auto lurched off across the cobblestone streets.

“My guess is he thinks we may be Byzantine spies,” Ethan whispered.  Jill nodded and Lars let out a soft, “Auch.”

Ali Pasha had another thought.  “Can we be riding on one of those machines again?  That was most wonderful.”

Everyone, including Manomar, looked at Ali Pasha like he had a loose screw.

Guardian Angel-7 Gun Diplomacy, part 3 of 3

“Gunfire?”  Jill was the one who recognized the sound and snapped Ethan out of escape mode.  They turned and saw Lars run up.  Ali Pasha was right behind him while Manomar protectively brought up the rear, and he had the briefcase held tightly in his hands.

“Behind crates.”  Ali Pasha shouted, and they got behind as several arrows came close.  Lars shot his last shot in the direction from which the arrows came, but whether he hit anyone or not was hard to tell.  Obviously, the man was a good shot, which reinforced Ethan’s image of the cowboy.  There were three men down in the yard, though they all still appeared to be moving, if in pain, and Ethan had no doubt the two guards at the gate were also either dead or near enough.  Ethan turned away from the yard to look at Jill

“You must be taking me.”  Ali Pasha insisted and he would not let Manomar hand over the briefcase until Jill agreed.  Jill looked put out, but not too much.  Ethan imagined that for some reason she was willing enough to take the scholar along.

“All right, but hurry.”  She groused as Manomar relinquished the equipment.  Jill slipped the dimensional watch on her wrist and turned on the laptop.  She wired the watch to the machine while the machine booted up, and she cursed several times while she waited on the software when something entirely unexpected happened.

A beam of baby blue, laser-like light came from the back of the house, scorched the grass and set some of the nearby wood on fire.  It came from a bad angle to reach them, but whoever fired that shot would surely have them in sight soon enough.

Another streak of light, this one thick and almost pure white came from the direction of the wall and gate, and Ethan all but surrendered.  He thought that they were caught in a crossfire and doubted that a few old wooden crates would protect them from whatever power was being unleashed by those weapons.  Lars corrected Ethan’s thinking.

“Looks like we have some friends.”  He pointed, and it did appear to Ethan like several men were hunkered down behind the gated wall, and they were firing their own laser-like weapons at the ones behind the house.  When he looked a second time and more closely to be sure, he drew his breath in sharply because the men by the front wall were not men at all.  They had every appearance of being Neanderthals and with that revelation, Ethan just decided that all of this was getting much too weird when Jill yelled.  “Hold hands.”

Ethan grabbed Jill’s hand.  Lars put his big hand around Ethan’s other hand, the one that now held the briefcase.  Ali Pasha took the free hand of the big Swede and made a face like he wondered if this was going to hurt, while Jill’s finger hovered over the enter button.  She dared not wait any longer.  The baby blue fire started coming too close.

“Ready, set, go!”  She shouted in one breath, just before the next stream of fire struck. There was a terrific flash of light and Ethan’s voice said, “Damn!”  He forgot to close his eyes again.

###

Ethan’s eyes adjusted more quickly this time, and without the need for rubbing.  He chalked it up to the nano-chits, and looked around.  They appeared to have landed in a forest.  Apart from Ali Pasha having taken over his eye rubbing routine, Ethan noticed Manomar was also blinking wildly and holding tight to his master’s collar.  Obviously, the big black slave was not going to let his master go off without him.

Lars got on the ground to help Jill sit up while Ethan closed-down the laptop.  He noticed the battery life was down to fifty percent, but he was not worried yet, even if this place was clearly another new world.  He felt certain about that, though the bit of forest they were in provided no evidence.  He bent down.

“Are you all right Missus Lucas?”  He asked and she gave him a look.  He shrugged.  “If you like Lucas, I’ll accept that.  I figured whatever makes you happy.  What else are husbands good for?”  Her look turned into a wry smile.

“Just fine Mister Lucas,” Jill said and she let him and Lars get her back on her feet.  Jill explained while they put the laptop and the transitional unit back in the briefcase.  “You called it a dimensional watch, but it is not really made to touch the skin.  The forces associated with travel through the worlds needs insulation.”

“So it’s like a massive electric shock.”  Ethan suggested.

Jill nodded.  “I temporarily short circuited.”  She took his arm, Ethan smiled, and Lars patted them both on the shoulder for reassurance.

“You make a fine couple,” he said.

“But where are we?”  Ali Pasha interrupted and reverted to his native Arabic.  “I do not recognize this place.”

“Same place, different world,” Jill responded.  She tried to answer Ali Pasha more thoroughly while Lars and Manomar began to scout around.

“A couple of good horses would not hurt,” Lars said when he caught up with the Moor.  Manomar agreed, but since they were on foot, they separated to cover more territory.  A few minutes later and they came back.  They found a rough dirt road out beyond the clump of trees, and that seemed their best option.  When they arrived on the road, Jill wet her finger, held it up in the air, and pointed in one direction, north.

“Magic?”  Manomar asked, and Lars scoffed.

“An affectation,” Jill answered, and they were ready to go except Ali Pasha said, “Wait.”

Ali Pasha took his robe and laid it around Jill’s shoulders.  She was practically naked.  “Forgive me,” Ali Pasha said.  “This may be a different world, as you say, but humans are humans and naked female flesh is to be avoided in public.”

Jill nodded and accepted the cloak gracefully, while Ethan chose to drop the remains of his shredded shirt.  Jill gave him a look, which suggested that she would not mind if he took everything off.  Ethan was not at all embarrassed by the idea until Lars guffawed.

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

Next week, since the two have become a team, they need to become inconspicuous, if possible.

Free read beginning Monday:  Guardian Angel-8, Undercover.  Until then, Happy Reading

Guardian Angel-7 Gun Diplomacy, part 2 of 3

Ethan and Jill got dragged outside and tied to two of the five poles, which looked like permanent fixtures in the yard.  They had to wait while the executioners lazily collected firewood.  Not expecting to have a chance to get Jill alone again, Ethan started right in with the questions.

“So what did you infect me with?”  He waited, and while he could not see her face, exactly, he imagined she winced.

“Nano-chits,” she admitted.

“Chernobyl?”  He remembered.

“No.  Never.  These are organic based, not silicon nightmares.  That they have successfully restructured to match your unique genetic and psychic patterns is evident by the fact that they have been effective, but they are not intelligent and they have no capacity to develop intelligence.  In some ways it limits their abilities, but it is safer when they are not self-directed.”

“But I was able to understand Ali Pasha’s Arabic without thinking about it.”  Ethan spoke while two men tied him to the pole in the yard.

“Well, they are very sophisticated in their programming, you must remember.  Think of your computer, it allows you to store and retrieve masses of information and allows you to perform numerous tasks like calculations that would otherwise take days, if you knew the math.  But your computer is not self-directed.  It is only as good as the information it receives.  You hear Arabic and in a very short time, the chits allow you to understand and respond.  In time, if you hear enough Arabic from enough people, you will be able to pass yourself off as a native.”

“But I needed to think the pain away and think my healing from the whip.”

“Of course.  The chits are not a panacea for life.  They will never automatically erase any pain or pleasure, except that they are antibiotics which no known bacteria, virus or sub-virus can overcome.  Listen, thousands of men and women continue to seed worlds against the expected Chernobyl plague and those organic chits will function automatically.”  Jill paused for a moment in case Ethan had a question, but Ethan could not think what to ask, so she continued.  “But for things like setting yourself free from bondage, you must think it to happen.  Now.”

With that last word, Jill stepped free of her pole, and Ethan looked up.  All of the executioners were over at the woodpile or getting straw to start the fire.  She smiled for him as she walked behind his back.  “I will help you this time,” she said.  “But next time I will expect you to do this for yourself.”  Ethan was instantly free.  It was much quicker than if she had tried to untie the knots that bound him and much safer than if she had used a knife.

“Hey!”  One of the men by the straw noticed.  “Ahmed, you fool!”  The man shouted, and Ethan guessed that Ahmed was the one who had tied them to the poles in the first place.

Ethan grabbed Jill by the elbow as she had once grabbed him, and he ran with her toward the exit, but as they neared the gate in the stone wall, Ethan remembered the guards just outside the gate.  The commotion of pursuit was beginning behind them, so he had no option but to redirect their path on the only open route—back toward the house of torture.  There was shouting, and two shots fired in the distance.  As they reached the side of the house and ducked behind a number of crates that were lazily stacked there, they heard three more shots.

###

Lars ran from the docks as fast as he could.  The sailors, who were concerned first about their captain, lost him in the crowd when he got to the marketplace.  Lars ducked into a doorway and checked to be sure his gun was loaded.  When he was ready to run again, he took off back in the direction he had been taken, which was toward the slave market.  He hoped he was not too late to pull Jill and Ethan to safety, and he worried especially that Jill might not be able to break free as easily as he had.  He hoped they were all right.

Some commotion started behind him.  Someone shouted about an escaped slave, and he knew the masses would be after him any minute.  He was not surprised that the people in this world reacted as they did.  They could not afford to have their slaves even think about freedom, much less get away, since the slaves outnumbered the freemen.

“Auch!”  Lars said to himself.  He was going to save his friends, and woe to anyone who got in his way.

When he arrived at the slave market gate, he was not sure which way to go.  He wasted precious time and risked being seen when he stopped to think through to his best option, but he knew it would do no good just running in blindly.

At that same time, Ali Pasha came out from inside the market and he seemed in a terrible hurry.  “Sveeden!”  He shouted on seeing Lars and stopped dead in his tracks

“Where are Jill and Ethan?”  Lars asked quickly as he ran up.  Manomar looked around the street and hastily threw his robe over Lars’ shoulders.  The robe had a hood, which he also pulled up to cover Lars’ blond locks.

“Disguise.”  Manomar said.  Lars ignored him and concentrated on the scholar who appeared to be out of breath.

“I have money to be buying you from market, but taking time to raise money.”  Ali Pasha breathed heavily.  “Now you already selling, and Jill and Ethan taken to Examiners.  Come, we must be hurrying.”

“These Examiners are not nice?”  Lars guessed.

“Torture.”  Manomar said the one word, and held up the briefcase.  “Maybe we can send you home.”

Lars ran with them, but he managed a guffaw.  “I hope not.  I haven’t hardly traveled anywhere yet.”

When they came to the wall and the gate outside the house of the Society of the Mahdi, there appeared to be some commotion inside the gate.  Lars caught a glimpse of Ethan and Jill as they neared and suddenly turned away.  One of the gate guards looked about to take off after them, while the other presented his pike to the three approaching in order to stop their forward progress.  Ali Pasha went into conversation mode, a man prepared to demand entry, but Lars and Manomar both knew that this was no time for talking.  Manomar held back his master and went for his knife.  Lars was quicker and did not have his hands full of scholar and briefcase.  With two bullets, he put two guards out of commission, and Manomar left his knife where it was.

They began to run again, but as soon as they entered the yard, Lars saw Ethan and Jill headed toward some crates, three men on their heels.  It took a careful eye to stop those men without hitting his friends, but Lars was up to the task, and on seeing their fellows dropped by a thunderous crack! and what looked like magic, the other men in the yard decided not to challenge their visitors further.

Guardian Angel-7 Gun Diplomacy, part 1 of 3

“I speak Swedish, Anglish, er, Englander and a little Netherlander,” Lars said.  He could not understand what he was being told, and it was very frustrating.  The man who bought him led him along with a rope tied in a noose around his neck, and he talked to his two fellows and ignored Lars but for the occasional tug.  Lars decided it was not yet time to resist since they were still too close to the guards in the slave market.  He figured the opportunity would either be forced on him or present itself in due course.

“Sveedish.”  Lars understood that much and the rest was gibberish, but the men knew what they were saying.

“I just know he is a sailor.  I would not be surprised if he guided the boat with his friends all of the way from the Old World.”  The captain spoke first.

“As you say, Captain.  You always did have a good eye for crew,” the first man said.

“Almost as good as for the ladies,” the second man said.

“Did you see that black-haired beauty?”  The first man’s eyes, hands and mouth all praised her.

“Only a glimpse,” the captain admitted.  “But I saw enough to know she is too much for the likes of you.  I am sure she will be some rich man’s first concubine soon enough.”

“I would guess a very rich man,” the second said, and they all agreed and laughed as they came to the port.  New Ark was not a very big place.

A small boat rested on the bank, one just big enough for two oarsmen and a couple of passengers.  It pointed at a much bigger boat in the kill, which had large lateen sails, but looked to be of a shallow draft, like a ship designed for coastal sailing.

Lars stopped walking when the men stopped, and he grabbed the rope to keep from being choked when they were ready to go.  He tried to think how he could get out of going any further.  The two men with the captain were getting that small boat ready, so Lars knew what was coming.  He would have balked at being taken aboard any ship for fear of losing his ticket home, but then he saw something that caused him to blink.  He shouted.

“Kirsten!”

The girl stopped what she was doing, looked up and wrinkled her nose with a most curious expression.  “You know my name?”  She asked, but Lars did not understand a word of the language she spoke.  Lars responded to her quickly in Swedish but the girl shook her head.  She looked curious, though, as if she grasped something of what he said, because she kept squinting at him.

Lars felt a tug on his rope necktie.  The Captain, who had paused to see what captured the big man’s attention, looked ready to go.  The others held the boat and were prepared to shove off.  Lars tugged back hard enough to rip the rope free and fling the Captain to the ground.

“That’s my daughter.”  Lars spouted in Anglish, even if the Captain could not understand.

“Papa?”  The girl put down her netting and came close.  At least she spoke Englander.  “But Papa, you died ten years ago.  How can you be here?”

“Your mother, Angelica?”

Kirsten’s eyebrows went straight up.  “She died in Devon, back in England when I was taken and sold.”

At once Lars realized his mistake.  He remembered where he was and that this was not his daughter after all, but he marveled at the subtle changes that made the world what it was.  He also noticed the Captain fumbling for the rope and the two mates getting back out of the boat and sporting knives.  Lars began to run.  He had to find the others.  He had to get home, to his own Angelica and to his own Kirsten in his own world.

Guardian Angel-6 Into the Fire, part 3 of 3

The chamber turned out to be a large, ground level room filled with what Ethan expected, instruments of torture of every kind, some of which he could not even imagine how they were used.  “No collar.”  Ethan whispered and pointed at the man holding the branding iron.  That man looked like he had gotten too close to his own fire more than once.  His face and arms were full of boils and scars, or perhaps the man had once been on the wrong side of an unmerciful beating.  Ethan rather hoped that Jill would hush him, but instead she added her own thoughts.

“Probably doesn’t need a collar.”

Ethan understood that the world was full of men and women who did not need much encouragement to be cruel.  He realized, sadly, that was probably true of most, if not all worlds.

Jill got stripped to nothing before she got tied to a table and covered with a sheet.  Her bare flesh remained available to who knew what possibilities.  Ethan got tied with his face to a wide column that supported the ceiling.  His arms had to hug the column so his vision was limited, but he could see Jill.  Ethan sweated.  He felt afraid of what was to come, but Jill seemed so calm about it all, he could hardly panic.

“You were seen appearing out of nowhere.”  The Examiner did not even look at them as he spoke in a flat, everyday voice.  “This can be very simple or not as you choose.”  Ethan decided that the man’s tone of voice suggested he was just doing his job, like this was a daily occurrence.  “I have three simple questions.  Where did you come from?  How many slaves came with you, and where are they hiding?”

“Don’t answer.”  Ethan spoke quickly.

“But we have nothing to hide.”  Jill spoke up with a remarkably calm and steady voice.  “We came from an entirely different world.  Only one man came with us and no one is hiding.”

Ethan turned his head to look.  He could not understand how she could be so relaxed about it all.  He saw the man with the collar point at him, and the man without a collar appeared to grin, wickedly.  That man went to get something that was behind Ethan’s back where he could not see, and Ethan, at least, began to sweat in earnest.

“As you wish.”  The man with the collar spoke in his flat, everyday voice.  Ethan felt his shirt ripped, and a moment later, he felt the sting of the whip.  He let out a little shout.  He could not help it; but then he heard Jill’s voice, still calm, loud and clear, as the ugly man paused to get a good grip on his instrument.

“Ethan.  Think to deaden the nerve endings against the whip so there is no pain.  Think no pain.  And think “Instant healing.”  Think it as hard as you can, Ethan, as if your life depends on it.”

The second stroke came and Ethan let out another sharp shout.

“Ethan!  Think it!”  Jill commanded in a much sharper voice, and Ethan hardly needed the encouragement.  He began to think “deaden the pain” and “instant healing” as hard as he could.  He got surprised to find that as the strokes fell, he felt them less and less.  By the time his back should have been a bloody mess, he felt no pain at all, and he felt no evidence of blood.  His tormentor stopped the whip and looked at the instrument, like he was wondering what was wrong with it.  The man with the collar came close to examine Ethan’s back.  Ethan tried to crane his neck to see with his own eyes, but all he saw was the man rise up, look him in the eye and frown.

“Witchcraft,” the collared man said flatly as he turned away.  “The woman.”  He pointed, and Ethan’s concern doubled as he craned his neck in Jill’s direction.

The other man put down the ineffectual whip and got a different instrument.  It was a hot iron, pulled straight from the red-hot coals of a brazier that stood at Ethan’s back where he could not see.  He felt the heat of it as the man went by, and he shouted.  “No!”  He would kill them if they harmed Jill in any way.  He had to get free to stop them.  He began to tug on the chords that bound him, while his head turned toward Jill and looked on in horror.

“How many remain in the wilderness, and where are they hiding.”  The man with the collar spoke as the iron came close to tease Jill’s face.

Jill responded with calm grace.  “I have told you.  There were only the three of us.”

Ethan imagined in that moment that she must have been the most courageous woman who ever lived, and he tugged on the ropes and became frantic for her sake.

The iron touched Jill’s face, and there was a moment, a slight whimper that escaped from Jill’s lips, but nothing more.  Then torturer backed away, now clearly afraid.  The iron made the cheek red for a second, but then nothing, as if he had never touched the face.

Sorcery,” the torturer said, as the man with the collar bent over to take a closer look.  Ethan saw him bend down to touch Jill’s cheek and he tugged viciously on his chords.  Jill had her eyes closed, but as the man drew near, her eyes opened suddenly and she reached up and grabbed the man’s collar.  Ethan wondered how she managed to free her hand, but just then, his own hands came free, and his concern shifted to disabling the man that was still holding the hot iron.  He grabbed the first thing that he could.  It was the brazier with the hot coals, and he picked it up from the base and tipped it sharply to throw the coals at the man’s face.  The man dropped the iron and raised his arms to fend off the fire, and that gave Ethan a chance to swing the brazier for the man’s head.  The sound of metal and bone crunching rang out, and their tormentor collapsed in a bloody mess.

By the time Ethan turned to Jill, she was up and the examiner was leaning heavily against the wall.  He choked, grabbed at the collar around his neck as that swamp-green collar of his appeared to melt.

“Hurry.”  Jill took Ethan’s hand and barely glanced at the bloody body sprawled at Ethan’s feet.  She tugged him toward the door before Ethan could think too hard about what he had just done; but their flight was short.  The guards, who ran at the first sign of witchcraft, came rushing back into the room with reinforcements.  A little man dressed in rich robes stepped to the front once Jill and Ethan stopped still.  The guards parted respectfully to let him through, and Jill squeezed Ethan’s hand and took a step back in response.

The little man looked at them briefly out of eyes that were both deep and dark.  The stony face sported a moustache that was waxed to points and reached for his ears.  Ethan thought if there was a real sorcerer anywhere, surely this was it.  The man could not have been more than five feet tall, but he projected an aura of self-confidence and cruelty that made his own guards tremble.  Jill, however, did not tremble in the slightest, and that helped keep Ethan calm.

After a cursory look at the couple, the little man looked at the Examiner who slid down the wall to sit on the floor.  He held pieces of his collar in one hand and gasped for his breath.  The poor man’s collar was hardly more than sludge elsewhere.  The man himself looked haggard and drained, like a man who would live, but never very well.

“Too bad about the collar.”  The little man spoke in a wheedling little voice to match his stature.  “They are hard to come by.”  He spun around, to let his robes fly with the wind in a dramatic motion.  “I am Ibin Mohamed Abbass, Lord of the Society of the Mahdi in this dung heap of a place,” he said.   He seemed to read the questions in Ethan’s face.  “Our sacred task is to maintain the purity of the faith and the orderliness in society.  You have shown yourselves to be evil wizards worthy of the severest punishment as proscribed in the Holy Koran.  You appeared out of the regions of Hell, and enchanted the scholar and his household with wild tales of unbelief.  You were heard speaking against enslaving infidels and unbelievers, and speaking of equal rights, tolerance, and other seditious and anti-religious ideas.  You are hereby declared witches of the worst sort and will be burned at the stake immediately.”  They were dragged out.  That was their trial.  They did not even get the option of further torture, which Ethan felt was just as well.

Guardian Angel-6 Into the Fire, part 2 of 3

Jill and Ethan got separated as soon as they arrived.  Ethan found himself tossed into a wooden cage, much smaller than the jail cell in Hill Town and without so much as a cushion to sit on.  He tried the wooden bars as soon as he was alone, but he found them as sturdy as the iron bars of the jail.  “Jill!”  He called, but there was no answer.  “Lars?”  He tried again and there was nothing, until he heard a low moan.

“My head.”  Ethan could hear Lars, but he could not see him since the solid side of the cage blocked his view.

“Are you in one piece?”

“Aye, but I hit my head bending down to get into this little thing.  And I think the guards helped.”  Lars sounded like he was trying to find a comfortable spot, which might not have been possible for the big Swede.

“You are a big man in this world.  You probably scared them.”  Ethan suggested.

Lars laughed.  “If I had thought of that, I would have made faces at them and given them a real scare.”

“I liked your jail better.”  Ethan told the man.

There was a pause before Lars answered.  “I can see that traveling can be a dangerous occupation.”

“Aye.”  Ethan echoed Lars’ word.

After a moment more, Lars had a question.  “What do you think they are going to do with us?”

“I don’t know.  I would say just save your strength and get what rest you can for now.  I am sure we will find out soon enough.”

“Aye.”

###

Ethan had a terrible time stretching out after the cramped quarters of the cage.  Soon enough turned out to be shortly before noon and he was starved, but there was nothing he could do about that.

He looked around in the brief moments the guards gave him, but saw no sign of Lars.  To be sure, he imagined the big Swede could take care of himself and his real concern was for Jill.  He felt afraid that she might have been raped, or worse, and he already started thinking of ways he might get his revenge.

As it turned out, he should not have worried about her.  Up until then, Jill had been pampered: bathed, perfumed, and she generally enjoyed herself with sweets and a little female companionship, even if the local women were all airheads.  It was a deliberate act by the slavers who hoped to raise as much value in the woman as possible; and everyone knew that Jill was of remarkable value.

Instead, Ethan should have been worried about Lars after all, because Lars had already gone up to the auction block and presently he was in a holding cell with three debtors, waiting for his new Master to come and collect his prize.  Those men gave the big blond plenty of room, but Lars still felt very cramped, and after being sold, which he figured out even if he did not understand a word that was spoken, his mood turned terribly sour.  He growled occasionally and the men with him pressed themselves a little further into the back bars of the cage.

Ethan stretched again and looked at the men who came to fetch him.  They gave him plenty of room as if they might be a little afraid of him.  But no, Ethan changed his mind.  They were afraid of something else.

“Move.”  One of them finally became blunt and pointed with his pike, a sharp looking instrument with which Ethan was not about to argue.  “Come.”  The man spoke and Ethan walked.  He understood the man’s words, though he knew the man spoke a mix of Moroccan and Arabic.  He would ask Jill how this was possible when he saw her, and this time he would not let her distract him.  And he had better see her, he said grimly to himself.

Ethan fully expected to be put up on the auction block and natural curiosity drove him to wonder what price he might fetch.  He never found out.  The men with the pikes told him he was being turned over to the Examiner, and they made it clear that by the time the Examiners were finished with him, he would beg for slavery.

Jill, likewise, was ripped from her luxury and dressed quickly in a robe that covered her head to toe and whose veil could not be pulled down since it was sewn into the fabric of the robe.  She was roughly handled, like the piece of meat she was in that culture, and despite her protests, she got dragged across the street.  She considered kicking the guards, but refrained when she found herself again at Ethan’s side.

“Are you all right?”  Ethan whispered.

Jill nodded.  “Fancy meeting you here.”  She whispered back, and her hand pushed against the robe.  Ethan saw and caught it, and he would have held on for dear life, but a guard grunted and slapped the butt end of his pike against their hands to separate them again.  It stung like hell.

They came to a gate in a stone wall and saw two guards standing at attention.  Inside the gate, they found a yard full of chopping blocks and stakes driven deep into the ground.  Ethan did not want to think about it too hard.  They went into the main building.  It looked to Ethan like an old-fashioned office, with shelves of books, which happened to be scrolls, and a big desk and chair where a man sat studying an open scroll.  They stopped before the desk and patiently waited for the man to acknowledge their presence.  Ethan looked close.  The man had a sickly looking green, ever so slightly glowing collar around his neck.  Somehow, Ethan was not surprised.

“These are the ones?”  The man in the collar asked, though he clearly knew they were.  “Bring them to the Chamber.  There are several questions.”

The guards nudged them, and grinned, even if they were afraid of the place, themselves.  Jill and Ethan did not resist.  Resistance at that point would have been futile, and maybe deadly.

Guardian Angel-6 Into the Fire, part 1 of 3

Jill and Ethan went to their room for the night looking forward to spending some time together; but as per his growing habit, Ethan had some questions.

“So, how is it that I was listening to you and Ali Pasha talk this afternoon and I actually understood part of the conversation?” he asked.  “Come to think of it, yesterday I understood your Swedish comment to Lars about not revealing his gun.”

Jill smiled, but her response surprised Ethan.  “Hold me,” she said, and he was happy to do that very thing.  Then she kissed him like she was trying to wipe all the questions from his mind in a single blow.  She nearly succeeded.  He felt the tingling all the way down to his toes.  “I’ve been so alone.”  She added when they parted.

“You were abandoned?”  He spoke tenderly and held her just as tenderly.  He remembered what she said before, but he made it a question.

Jill shifted into a comfortable position deep in his arms before she spoke.  “Not exactly,” she said.  “You know I said we sent thousands of volunteers into the Worlds?  Well, I was one of the ones who planned the routes so there would be no overlap.”

“Yes, I meant to ask how thousands of people could cover trillions of Alternate Universes.”

“The worlds.”

“What?”

“The worlds.  It is sort of alternate universes, parallel earths shorthand.”  Ethan merely nodded.  He kept forgetting, but he said nothing because Jill seemed to be thinking hard about something.

“The volunteers select a local person and empower them in certain ways so they act as a kind of Guardian for that world.”  She sat up.  “Please understand.  Even if we had millions of volunteers it would not be enough to cover all of the Worlds.”

“No, I get it.”

Jill settled down again.  “Anyway, I helped plan the routes and made a few trips to some more difficult situations and locations.”

“I bet the powers on your Earth would love to get their hands on you.  Your head must be full of secret information about the resistance.”

“It’s not a resistance.”  Jill started to protest.  “But, yes it is, sort of,” she admitted before she continued on her own train of thought.  “Anyway, I came here, to your Earth I mean, during a war. Unfortunately, my mobile transfer unit was irreparably damaged by a bomb in some way.”  She sat up again so she could turn to face him.  “To this day, I don’t understand how that could have happened.  I have gone over it and over it, but it happened, and though I got out alive, I had to salvage what I could from the unit and self-destruct the rest.  The wrist unit contains most of the parts from my original flyer.”

“I see.  So you got stuck on my Earth with no way to go home.  But when did all this happen?”  He thought hard and reviewed recent history, but he could not imagine that she came through somewhere in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Jill hesitated before she spoke.  She laid her head snugly against his chest and refused to look him in the eyes again.  “London, September ninth, nineteen forty.”  Ethan tightened.  He could not help it.  She kindly waited a minute before she spoke again.  “Does it bother you?”

“No.”  He said, and as he thought about it a bit, he slowly relaxed.  “And I know better than to ask how old you are, but there is one question if you don’t mind.  If I am out of line, tell me to shut-up.”   He paused, but since she held her tongue, he asked.   “Any children?”

“Only one.  A son.  But he grew up ages ago.”

“Fair enough.  I am not sure what kind of a step-dad I would be anyway.”  She looked up at him then and he smiled.  “But if you are willing, then as long as I am able, you won’t have to be alone.”  He meant it.  Jill put her head back down and Ethan found out that she was not above a few tears.

###

In the early hours of the morning, there came a terrible knocking on the front door.  People shouted along with the knocking, and everyone in the house woke up.  Jill bit her lower lip while she dressed, suspicious of something she chose not to share.  Her own clothes were dry by then and Ethan followed her lead, though his white shirt was still damp around the cuffs and collar.

“What’s afloat?”  Lars came sleepily out of his room and met them in the hall.  They all went downstairs together.

One ugly man had a half-dozen guards at his back and he looked like he was trying to control himself.  “I have my orders,” he said and shoved some papers in Ali Pasha’s face.  “Your prisoners are to be added to the list in the slave market.”

Ali Pasha tried equally hard to be polite and control his own voice.  “They are not prisoners.  They are my guests, and you cannot come here in the middle of the night and put a black mark on my hospitality.”

“My orders say prisoners.  The community guards in the wilderness only bowed to your authority because it was your ill-advised expedition, but since returning, they have filed a proper report with the authorities.  The guards captured these people and they are to be turned over immediately.”

Jill translated and Lars guffawed at the last comment and added his own take on the matter.  “They captured no one, especially the guard who fouled himself when he first saw us.”  Ethan said nothing because he followed the conversation perfectly well without the need for Jill’s translation, and he remembered the question he asked earlier, which Jill never answered.  He frowned at her, but she would have to answer later.

“But these people are not slaves.”  Ali Pasha protested.

“You are mistaken!”  The man responded sharply, but took a deep breath before he continued.  “The Mullah has determined that they are escaped slaves, but since it would waste their flesh to get them to tell who their owners are and they would become of use to no one, he has determined that they will be sold again with the proceeds going to the mosque.”  The ugly man waved his men inside.  He was not going to argue further.

Manomar came from the back with three other men.  He had his hand on his sword hilt, ready to draw the weapon on his Master’s word.  Even as the guards came pouring in the door and turned out to be more like twenty, Manomar looked like he would have taken them all on at Ali Pasha’s bidding.

Jill, Ethan and Lars were quickly surrounded.  Jill placed her hand over Lars’ gun, which the big Swede was itching to draw.  “Hold on.”  She spoke in Swedish.  “You may find it more useful later on, but I hope it won’t come to that.”

Ethan had a terrible thought and shouted in his best Englander.  “Manomar, look after the equipment.  Be sure it is not taken or damaged.”  Manomar nodded that he understood.

“Please go good.”  Ali Pasha turned to the three and urged them not to make trouble.  “Most mistaken here.  I be straightening.  Very sorry, but I be straightening.”

“Thank you for your hospitality.”  Ethan said perfectly in the Ali Pasha’s own language.  “I am sure everything will work out.”  Jill took his arm and stayed silent, but she grinned as they were carted off to the back of the slave market where there were cages waiting for them.

Guardian Angel-5 Intermission. part 3 of 3

“There are some blonds here.”  Lars pointed this out to Manomar as they looked down on the muddy streets from the roof.  The roof was flat and set up for sitting out on sunny days, and that day was one Ethan called an Indian summer day.

Ethan could only eavesdrop on the conversation, because Jill and Ali Pasha were engaged in a heated discussion in Ali Pasha’s native tongue.  Curiously, Ethan understood some of what they were saying, but not enough to follow along, so out of frustration he listened to what Manomar had to say.

“Slaves, workers, eunuchs come from all places,” Manomar explained.  “There are all together some five thousand people in this colony, and five times that many more across the river on the islands and the Long Island, but they are mostly on farms.  In many ways, and because of the good portage, New Ark has become the market town.  The port is why the people moved here across the river.  The slave market is here, and also the Examiners.”

Lars shook his big head.  “I do not condone slavery,” he said.  “It is one thing if a man contracts for service, for pay, or works to work off debts.  We understand obligations to King and Country and Community, but slavery is going too far where I come from.”

“I understand.”  Manomar nodded.  “But here, the Examiners have spies everywhere to insure the purity of the faith, to be sure that the name of the Holy Prophet is not abused or overthrown in favor of strange ideas.  If a man’s heritage is found wanting or his faith is suspect, he is not allowed the freedom to rule and corrupt others.  Slavery is only one option, but it is common.”

“Money talks here as everywhere,” Lars blustered.  “You can’t fool me.”

“Indeed it does.”  Manomar agreed with a slight bow of his head, accepting his correction gracefully.  “Thus, there are Christian communities all across the Old World which are allowed some room to live apart.”

“As long as they are not looted,” Lars said, grumpily, before he turned his eyes again to the crowds.  “But the blonds.”  He pointed again.

Manomar shrugged.  “My Master says that the way we are breeding, it will not be long before there are only two people in the world, lighter skinned Lords and the slightly darker skinned slaves, and the blonds will be swallowed up among the slaves.”

“Selective breeding and a poor man’s caste system,” Ethan mumbled, but by then it was time to go down into the house for evening prayers and supper.

The food was wonderful, and so was the conversation except for a couple of innocent comments by Ali Pasha.  “I do not mind eating with womens like many.  I have also breaked bread with Christians many times.”

“Some of my best friends are Christians.”  Ethan quipped.  Jill stepped on his toes and squished them into the tile floor.

“No Renaissance, no Enlightenment, no Industrial Revolution, no technological revolution,” she said.  “Still a late medieval world.  What did you expect?”

“No women’s lib?”

Jill removed her foot and kicked him in the shin, but gently.

“Stop it.”  Ethan turned to her.

“Stop what?”  Jill said, coyly.  Ethan did not answer in words.  He leaned over and kissed her on the lips, determined to taste the sweet honey of those lips again.  They had not kissed since Lars’ log house.  Jill did not resist him.  In fact, she had been asking for it.

Guardian Angel-5 Intermission. part 2 of 3

Morning came with the sound of Lars’ big voice ringing through the tent.  “Come on you two.  The lazy bug got you?  We are moving today, going to the colony on the coast, but you better hurry if you want to eat before the long ride.  Up!”

Ethan woke with Jill’s arm across his wrinkled white shirt and the rest of her snuggled up for warmth.  There had been a chill in the wee hours that remained evident at dawn.  He looked down and saw her smile.  Neither was the least bit uncomfortable just as they were; but Ethan had a thought and pulled back a little.

“I need a toothbrush.”

Jill’s smile broadened as she pulled herself up.  “And a hair brush,” she added as she pulled her long black hair back into a ponytail.  “And a shower, and a change of clothes.”  Ethan just nodded as he got up and put on his suit jacket against the cold.

They got Arabian ponies for the trip.  Lars needed something bigger.  Fortunately, Manomar had a spare stallion, and those two men rode most of the morning side by side, while Jill did her best to keep Ethan in his saddle.

“I’m gonna be sore and bruised worse than riding in the back of Lars’ wagon,” Ethan insisted.  Jill just laughed.

It turned out Manomar’s “Englander” was far better than Ali Pasha’s, and he spent from that time on translating most of his Master’s words for the others.

“I had a son.”  Lars explained to Manomar when they stopped for lunch.  “Two sons, but they both died young.”

“I am sorry,” Manomar responded honestly enough.

“But I have a living daughter.  I would not take all the gold in the world for her, and I am not sure if I will let her marry that Yon Veek, but I am afraid her mother has already decided.”  Lars shook his head, sadly.

Ali Pasha laughed, knowingly, while Manomar spoke.  “That is one headache I will never have to worry about.”

“How do you feel about that?”  Ethan asked before Jill could shush him.

Manomar paused for a moment before answering.  “My feelings do not matter.”

“Everyone’s feelings matter,” Ethan said.  Jill nudged him then so he kept quiet, but he honestly felt that everyone’s feelings mattered and he could not help saying that.

They reached the colony around three that afternoon, having seen only small wild animals en-route, and no sign of people at all.  Lars had imagined they were going to Hoboken, the Dutch outpost on the Jersey side of the Hudson River.  “You know,” he said.  “The place where the trains run.”  But in fact, the colony was called New Ark, an allusion to Noah’s Ark.  It looked like a fort, a strong, sturdy compound of wood which protected the port and a whole parcel of land from the surrounding countryside.

“Once we are having fighting with savages.”  Ali Pasha explained.  “Some are thinking Jihad on the savages would be working well, but some say cost in gold and men is too much for worth.”

Ethan noticed the guards at the gate sported rather large and sharp looking pikes.  Some also had compound bows.  They were ready for a fight if it ever came, but Ethan imagined that after a few bloody noses, the Native Americans rather chose to give the place a wide berth.  The Moors and Arabs were always good on the battlefield.  Tours was not an easy battle for Charles Martel, even in those worlds where he won.

Ali Pasha’s house was two stories and full of fireplaces.  He said he was just using it for several months while the sea captain, the home’s owner, traded down in the islands.  When the captain returned, Ali Pasha’s time would be up and he would pack up his wives and head for home in Malaga, Andalucía.  Meanwhile, he was free to pursue his inquiries, which Ethan finally admitted were like scientific studies.  As Manomar translated Ali Pasha’s theories on why New World deer differed from those of his home, or Englander deer for that matter, Ethan felt prompted to call him a Darwin in the making.

“And we will see how Darwin sits with the Koran in this world,” he cast an aside to Jill.  “Bet they have a very different sort of monkey trial.”

Jill did not argue.  “Islam is a very low tolerance religion compared to Christianity, especially when it comes to change.”  They spoke quietly to themselves.

In all, it was a pleasant day.  Ali Pasha had so many questions, but Jill and Ethan only answered his questions in the most general terms and offered no information on their own.  They also convinced Lars to do the same.  It seemed Jill and Ethan were well practiced at not telling everything they knew.  For Ethan, it was standard practice for public relations work.  It was harder for Lars, but even Lars understood that people had to learn for themselves and in their own time and way.  It was not healthy to be handed things on a silver platter; and in fact, Lars understood that very well.

Ali Pasha was not dissatisfied.  He had more information and new directions for study than he ever imagined gaining in a lifetime.

That afternoon, Jill put on something provocative and paraded around, playing with her veil.  She dressed Ethan up as an Arabian Prince while the scullery washed their clothes.  True, Ethan barely saved his dry clean only suit from the water in time, but the rest needed washing.  Lars, on the other hand said he was good, and Jill and Ethan laughed together, and fell into each other’s arms, laughing.  That laugh stopped suddenly, and they separated quickly, but there was something definitely there, even if neither was ready to talk about it.