After 1760 BC, Kunlun Mountain, Kairos 58: Yu-Huang.
The gods of Mesopotamia, Enlil and Enki, brought the travelers to the time gate to help them avoid the army of Larsa that was gathering in their direct path. The travelers moved thirty miles in the blink of an eye and now stood before a glowing opening that looked like a hole in the world.
Lockhart and Katie felt uneasy as they looked up. The sun stood high in the sky. Since the time zones all ran on the same twenty-four-hour cycle, they generally waited until the first thing in the morning to enter a new zone. Noon was not the time they would have picked, but they both felt that Enlil and Enki wanted them to move on without delay.
Decker sat on his horse beside them looking unconcerned; but he had pulled his rifle and was fingering the trigger, some might say, nervously. Elder Stow waited behind them, next to Alexis and Lincoln. The Elder had taken out his weapon to play with the settings. Normally, he would have his scanner out to get as wide a reading as possible on their new location as soon as they entered the next place. Alexis and Lincoln whispered.
“I’m worried about Artie,” Alexis said, with a look behind them. Artie was the Anazi android they saved and set free from Anazi slavery. Boston named her, like a pet, but the android had shaped herself to fit in with the women, and Alexis was currently thinking of her as a substitute daughter. The Kairos had taken Artie to Avalon to try and separate her from her normal timeline. She could not otherwise move through time with the travelers without ageing fifty or sixty years every time they made the jump to a new time zone. The thing was, sending her back one time zone would have been easy. The Kairos did not know if she could send her ahead in time.
“If Artie is anywhere, she should be ahead of us,” Lincoln said, believing the best.
“I know,” Alexis responded with the sound of hesitation. “But I don’t want to look there”
Lincoln nodded. “What you call my suspicious instinct is seriously acting up.”
Behind them, Boston shivered, though near noon, close to the Persian Gulf, it had to be in the upper nineties. Mingus finally spoke to the group which appeared to be stalled before the gate.
“I have a bad feeling about this one. I don’t like going in blind.”
“Ready?” Lockhart asked, though he was not really asking, as they pushed forward through the time gate.
Katie and Decker immediately fanned out and sprayed bullets at the ghouls standing in the woods like guards. The ghoul that had his back to the time gate got blasted by Lockhart’s shotgun. Elder Stow flipped his weapon to wide angle and sprayed the whole campfire area just visible at the edge of the woods. Any number of trees got cut in half, fell over and burned. No doubt the same thing happened to any ghouls relaxing around the campfire.
Mingus and Boston combined their fire magic to melt one ghoul. Alexis used her wand to bring up a wind that lifted a ghoul off its feet. Lincoln managed to shoot the ghoul several times before Alexis’ wind drove it back to crash through the trees.
“Ride,” Lockhart shouted. He noticed a grass covered path that edged the trees. Though not a road, the grass covered path was as near as they would find to a road in that day and age. They rapidly got out of range, but soon had to slow as the trees once again closed in on them. The forest was juniper, pine and fir trees, and a tree that Alexis called Rhododendron.
“Wait, hold up,” Katie stopped them and pointed. A panda bear sat in a tree, slowly chewing something. It stared at the travelers as much as the travelers stared back.
“We are all tourists,” Decker decided.
Lockhart got them moving again, and picked up the pace where he could. Between them, they figured they killed eight of the ghouls. That meant there were two untouched from the normal pack of ten, and if they were joined by the scout that had been following them, that made at least three.
After the sun topped the sky and began to fall down the other side, they came out of the trees and on to a broad, grassy covered plain. The plain, really steppe land, appeared to stretch for miles. There were some flowers to be seen, but mostly it looked like flat, scrubby land, good, perhaps, for grazing animals, and the appropriate predators. There did appear to be dots, like animals in the distance.
“There, at the limit of my sight.” Lincoln pointed. “A blue streak.”
“River.” Decker had his binoculars out.
Lockhart was inclined to stop and check their direction with Katie and Boston. Up until then, they could have been traveling the opposite direction they needed to go and not know it. Besides, the horses were heaving for air. Clearly, they were at a high elevation, though the open land did appear to head slowly downhill.
“Wait.” Katie stuck her hand out to prevent him from moving forward. A big black bear, very different from the cute panda, rose out of the scrub grass. It was at least an eight-footer. It looked at the travelers, let out a short growl and walked on its hind legs back into the trees.
“Don’t follow,” Elder Stow interpreted the growl.
“Good eyes,” Lockhart praised Katie.
“The bear looked blue, not black,” Boston argued with Lincoln. Alexis interrupted as Katie looked at her amulet, pointed, and the group began to walk their horses.
“The blue bear is a rare sight in our day,” Alexis said, meaning in the future.
“Did you see the way it walked on two legs?” Boston asked, but of course, they all saw.
“At higher elevations, some scientists have claimed they may be the reason for yeti sightings,” Alexis continued. “They do walk better on their hind legs than most bears.”
Barely a second passed before Lincoln said, “But they aren’t the yeti, are they?”
“The yeti are a type of proto-human. They were removed from the earth the same time the Elenar and the Gott-Druk were taken off into space.” He pointed at Elder Stow, the Gott-Druk out on the wing. “But bigfoot was taken off world through the underground. Don’t ask. It’s complicated. Needless to say, they found their way back to the earth, and presumably a hundred other worlds, not to repopulate the earth, but you might say, to haunt the high places, the Rockies, Andes, Himalayas, Alps. They might wander on a few isolated islands and shores now and then. As I said, it is complicated.”
Mingus fell silent when they heard a distant roar. Alexis thought it was a leopard. Boston imagined a tiger. Mingus said it was just an Asian cat, maybe three times the size of a house cat. Lincoln preferred not to listen.
The travelers arrived at the river as the sun started to set. The water was dirty and full of silt, but the river was wide and not too deep, so they crossed to put it between them and whatever ghouls might be following. They made camp beside the only tall bush in the area. Alexis refused to call it a tree.
Lincoln checked Alexis’ bandages and pronounced her safe from infection. Her wounds were all closed up.
“It has even passed the worst of the scab time,” she confided to Boston. “It doesn’t itch so much anymore.”
“We should leave it uncovered at this point,” Mingus said. “But you might keep your fairy weave on top of it to cushion it if you bump it.”
“Boston,” Katie called. “Distance is hard to tell on this prototype amulet,” she confessed to Lockhart.
“It’s not easy on the upgraded version,” Boston admitted as she got hers out and began to study it.
“Elder Stow is setting the screens for the night,” Decker reported.
“Yes,” the elder said. “It would be best to not let the horses roam too far in this range land with predators about.
“I’m not worried about lions, tigers or bears,” Lockhart said. “I am more concerned with ghouls.”
“They can go invisible,” Katie reminded everyone.
“They can go insubstantial and sink into the ground where they can move, slowly, but move through the earth and maybe come right up beneath our feet,” Boston said.
“But the screens set up a ball of force that reaches equally under the ground as over the ground. They won’t be able to come up from beneath us without our knowing.”
“True, but something registers when the screens are disrupted,” Elder Stow said, and smiled for Boston to relieve her worry. “I noticed that all the way back in the migrant camps when Mingus first moved through, or phased though the screens, as he calls it. I have now set the screens to give an alarm if anything phases through above or below the ground. We will know.”
“Decker?” Lockhart asked.
Decker held up a handful of Elder Stow’s discs that would allow him, his horse, and anything he might catch to pass through the screens. He was only waiting for Lincoln to join him.
“I better go with you as well,” Lockhart decided. “Three is better in case there is a ghoul scout out there. They can only confuse one mind at a time, and at this point it seems we can all feel the metal attack when it comes.”
“Which reminds me,” Katie said. “I didn’t feel anything scratching at my mind back at the time gate. I figured we surprised them by coming out at noon rather than first thing in the morning.”
“No,” Mingus stepped over from the fire, which only needed the food to start cooking. “I’ve been thinking about that. I suspect Enlil and Enki knew what was on the other side. I believe that is why they urged us to go through the gate at the unexpected hour. I also suspect that they may have put a further hedge of protection around our minds. But here is the thing. Even the gods are limited to three or four days of time distortion. If we have move our typical fifty or sixty years forward in time, whatever protection they gave us will likely wear off in three or four days. Count three to be safe.”
“But it is possible the ghouls around the time gate were surprised, and by the time they realized what was happening, we were out of range,” Lockhart countered.
Mingus paused before he nodded. “Possible.”
“Maybe some ghouls will show up tonight and test your theory,” Decker said.
“Decker. Major.” Boston and Katie reacted.
“Bite your tongue,” Boston added as Decker grinned.