Lunch did not last long, and they stopped in a green field when they had plenty of daylight for the horses to feed. The day remained cold, but the winter there still produced some green feed by the river.
When Lincoln finished his duty, helping to tend the horses, he pulled out the database, and after reading for a bit, he reported his speculation. “There, on the hill, or in those hills, should be the city of Ephron. Tomorrow, we should pass Pella in the morning and reach Amathus by afternoon. They should all be on the other side of the river from the way we are traveling. We should be able to wave and pass right on by.”
“How close to the border of Judea?” Katie asked.
“Um,” Lincoln figured. “Based on the information I gathered in Philoteria, I would guess the Maccabees have not yet moved out of Judea. That narrows the time frame to early in the rebellion. I would guess we should cross into Jewish territory about lunch on the next day, about a half-day from Jericho.”
Katie nodded. “That is the day we will have to watch carefully. Both the Syrians and Jews may have men guarding the border, and they may not be too happy with people crossing over, one way or the other.”
“True enough,” a woman said. People looked, expecting Tama, or maybe Aleah to appear. Instead, Anath-Rama, the goddess of the Amazon paradise appeared, though it took the travelers a minute to figure it out. Katie was the first to speak.
“I’m not dead yet,” she said. “And I was told I don’t qualify as an Amazon.”
“And you are correct,” Anath-Rama said. “But you carry three who are dead. I thought it only right to apologize for burdening you with them.”
The travelers looked at each other and asked, “How so?”
Anath-Rama took a seat between Katie and Alexis before she spoke. “The Jews are kept in a place apart. Not even the gods know that place. Since Alexander, things have become muddied. Baal, Hades, Erishkegal, and many other cathartic gods from here in the east all the way to Egypt have argued at times on just where some people need to go. Some spirits have had to wait for years to be placed. These three, however, were different. No one wanted them. No one dared take Jews into their place. But the source did not take them, either. No one knew what to do with them.”
“That is terrible,” Alexis said.
“To have to wander that town, without hope, for more than five hundred years.
“Five hundred and sixty-eight years. But they were not alone. I broke down and took them in so they would not have to be alone. Your adopted android daughter, Artie, prevailed upon me, kind heart that she is.”
Lockhart looked up before he turned his head to the flames. Katie stiffened, before she confessed, “She got her kind heart from her father.” Lockhart kindly did not say anything. He remembered how they found Artie crashed to the earth, and how Elder Stow was instrumental in setting her free from all the restraints her Anazi makers placed on her. He remembered how he and Katie adopted her, long before they actually married, and how she became transformed at one point into a human, so she became like a real daughter to the couple. But in the end, she transformed back into an android so she could set her people free of their Anazi slave-masters. He knew she was gone but felt glad to know she continued among the dead. He remembered Anath-Rama volunteered to watch over the spirits of the android dead until what they called the time of the dissolution of the gods. He felt grateful to know Artie was in good hands, but thought he better listen, as Anath-Rama picked up her story.
“Once that became settled, the gods prophesied. These three, a man, a woman, and a child, would be a sign for when the days of the gods would end. You may have noticed the gods are not around as much as in the past. It is said, when these three reach Jerusalem, the time will be two weeks and two days. By dead reckoning, that is one hundred and sixty years. The Gods have that time to finish their work and go over to the other side. When the time is up, the day of the gods will be over.”
“Dead Reckoning, good pun,” Decker said.
Anath-Rama smiled for him. “Thanks. I saved it for years.”
“But wait,” Lincoln spoke up. “Not all of the gods are anxious to end their days. What if one of them tries to stop us?”
Anath-Rama shook her head. “These three are protected by the full power and might of the gods. Any attempt would send the offending god or spirit instantly to the other side. You will be left alone.”
“The other side?” Millie asked, quietly.
“Death,” Alexis explained, with equal quiet.
“So, I am sorry to burden you, but when you came through the time gate, I felt—no—I believed you were the answer we were waiting for. I am glad you don’t mind.”
“Mom? Dad?” The voice came before Artie appeared.
“Artie?” Katie jumped up and opened her arms. Lockhart stood and watched Artie the android race into Katie’s embrace. Katie and Artie started to cry, and Lockhart slipped his arms around his two girls, and without the awkwardness or embarrassment he used to show all those centuries ago. After a while, Artie talked.
“Mom, my people are all gone now.”
“I know,” Katie said as she took her hand to brush Artie’s hair. “But you lived a good, long time, and your people lived free.”
“We did,” Artie said, and began a new round of tears.
“But where will you go when the gods have all gone?” Lockhart had been thinking.
“We are not sure,” Artie said, and with a glimpse at Anath-Rama, she added, “No one is sure. But most believe it will be a great adventure.” Artie grinned, and looked at Boston, who returned the grin. “And mom,” Artie said, and waited.
“I am here,” Katie said.
“My big sister, Sekhmet, wants to say good-bye, too. She says she will see you at the time gate in Suez.”
Katie, Lockhart, and Artie hugged again, and then Artie and Anath-Rama began to fade, until they disappeared. Evan waited until they were gone before he asked.
“The Egyptian lion goddess, defender of the upper Nile,” Katie admitted.
“I’m not sure how we adopted Sekhmet,” Lockhart said. “I suppose she sort of adopted us.”
Katie nodded, and said, “But I don’t mind.”
“No, I don’t mind,” Lockhart agreed. “She is a good daughter. Both of them. We had two good daughters.” Katie nodded in agreement as Millie turned on Evan.
“I want a daughter.”