Avalon 8.12 Abomination, part 4 of 5

Metal skinned warriors though they were, the cyborgs took advantage of the rocks and boulders strewn on their side of the field.  What few trees there were also got utilized along with the trees on the hillside where the super soldiers hunkered down and returned fire.  Curiously, the super soldiers were not caught unprepared.  The power beams from their rifles split the trees and shattered the corners of the stone.

Sung Ao watched as one cyborg got blasted dead center.  It went down, but after a second, it started to get up again.  It got blasted a second time, and this time it stayed down.  Several super soldiers got struck and they tended to stay down.

Jai came up to Sung Ao’s shoulder and commented on the fight.  “This could go on for a while.”

“Maybe not,” Sung Ao said and pointed.  The cyborgs brought up their machine, or whatever it was.  It floated on a gravity bubble and Sung Ao tried to remember where he saw such a machine before.  He watched as the cyborgs kept the machine behind some rocks.  It appeared to be protected by screens of some sort, but they were not about to expose it until they were ready.  It came to him.  Of course, Kirstie only saw it after Sukki and Elder Stow melted it, but it looked like the photon cannon the Flesh Eaters used in Norway back then…  He wondered who Kirstie was, but then he had to concentrate on what the cyborgs were doing.  The battle was going about even, but there were more super soldiers on the hill than cyborgs down below.  That meant the super soldiers could lose half their men and still be victorious.  Sung Ao wondered if the photon canon might be used to sweep the hillside.

Jai tapped his shoulder and pointed to the wide cave up the side of the hill.  “A docking bay for their ship,” he said.  “The Sevarese used to park in the same way when they came to earth.”

“Of course,” Sung Ao shouted, and quickly looked back from where he hid behind a boulder.  The men in his camp all looked like they were drunk on something.  The bandits across the way looked the same, or even worse.  “The big bad is in the cave,” he concluded.

“That would be my guess,” Jai agreed.

Sung Ao heard a soft whine over the sound of battle. His eyes went to the photon canon.  The cyborgs pushed it out from the rocks.  He heard an answering whine come from the cave. Several cyborgs stood in front of the machine, like willing sacrifices.  They got cut down with two or three shots, but the photon canon fired before the ship in the cave had a chance to return fire.

Sung Ao saw the screens in the cave turn red and rapidly climb the color scale to purple before they blacked out.  Sung Ao ducked, and Jai ducked with him.  The cave exploded.  It was a massive explosion, but fortunately, mostly absorbed by the hill and mountain that contained it. The front of the cave completely collapsed.  Perhaps the whole cave collapsed.  The ground shook, and a few more good-sized rocks fell from the cliff.  Then only little wisps of smoke came out the cracks left in the cave entrance, and Sung Ao had to say something.

“Thanks.  I have to clean that up.”

Jai laughed.

The super soldiers collapsed.  The five remaining cyborgs checked them briefly before their feet fired up, their legs stiffened, and they sped away at a good clip about two feet off the ground.  They left the photon cannon where it was.  Sung Ao had to run out and turn it off.  Then he looked at his people and at the bandits.  They all appeared to be unconscious.

Hardly two hours later, Sung Ao and Jai saw a ship take off for the outer atmosphere.  “The cyborg ship, I presume,” Jai said.

Sung Ao nodded before he said, “God, I hope so.”

After another five minutes, the super soldiers woke up along with Sung Ao’s people and the bandits.  roughly a third of the super soldiers went to join the bandits.  They forgot their rifles but took their handguns with them.  The men returned to their positions to fight.  The bandits dismounted and prepared to do battle.  Sung Ao and Jai both looked at the collapsed cave.  They saw something slithering through the trees and Sung Ao swore.  He turned the photon canon back on, but it would need a minute to warm up.

The super soldiers in the field fired on the men behind the wall and boulders.  Some men died.  The super soldiers that joined Sung Ao’s people returned fire, and some men in the field fell.  A rain of arrows fell on the boulders.  More died or were wounded.  The men behind the boulders fired back and a few in the field got stuck, including a couple of super soldiers.  Then came the charge and more arrows from the boulders.  Super soldiers were firing in both directions, and Sung Ao saw Niccolo, Maffeo, and Marco pick up swords and run to get in the middle of it.

“No!” Sung Ao yelled, and curiously, everyone stopped, and all eyes turned on Sung Ao and Jai.  Sung Ao vaguely remembered this happening before, maybe more than once.

The nearest men yelled at Sung Ao.  “Why can’t I possess you?”

Jai put his hand to his head, but there was no way an abomination could possess a nature spirit, even in manifest form.  It might give Jai a headache, though.  Jai turned insubstantial so the abomination had nothing to latch on to.  “Forgive me,” Jai said to Sung Ao.

“Quite all right,” Sung Ao responded before he shouted to the trees.  “Even the gods of this world were not allowed inside my mind.”

“I am a god,” the abomination said through the nearest man, and it echoed among many men, bandits and super soldiers included.  “I am the god.”

He no sooner finished speaking and Boston and Sukki came from the trees, followed by Lockhart and Katie, Lincoln and Alexis, Decker and Elder Stow.  The wagon stayed in the woods with Nanette and Tony riding shotgun and Gan Ao driving the mule.  Nanette complained, if only she had her magic back.

Everyone got down right away and pulled their weapons.  Nanette and Tony whistled and got the horses back in among the trees.  People raced to get behind the rocks and boulders in the field.  Alexis pulled her wand and sent a great wind that scattered the bandits’ horses.  Boston laid down a line of fire to keep everyone back.  And Sung Ao yelled.

“Lockhart.  Go for the trees on the hill.”

Elder Stow got confused.  There had been a battle.  They were in a battle.  He thought to put the screens up against the people turning on them.  He thought to pull his weapon to rake the enemy with fire, or maybe his sonic device.

Katie and Decker figured it out right away.  They opened fire on the trees, and the bandits, Sung Ao’s men, and the super soldiers turned on the travelers, heedless of the wind or fire.  They heard screams coming from the people but did not know if it was screams of anger or pain.  They assumed it was the abomination verbalizing its pain.  Bullets were a new thing.

Lockhart turned with his shotgun and started blasting the men and super soldiers that got too close.  Those men forgot all about their bows, spears, and guns, and acted like animals that would only be satisfied with ripping the travelers apart with their bare hands.  Lincoln and Tony came up to join in the melee, shooting men at random when they came close.  Sukki finally reacted and threw out her hands.  The whole front row of oncoming men became like charcoal.  Sung Ao had one brief fear to lose the Polos, but by then, Elder Stow just about decided.  Sung Ao fired the photon canon, and the trees lit up, showing exactly where the abomination was located.  The abomination, however, figured out how to mentally project screens of its own, and they were strong enough to protect it from the photon cannon, at least for a bit.

“No!” Sung Ao yelled again and turned the canon back on.  He held the switch against the abomination turning it off again.  The abomination started to strain, and in a last effort, it ripped a boulder from the ground and heaved it at the machine.  The people scattered when the photon canon got crushed, but by then, Elder Stow figured it out.  He fired his weapon full blast at the thing in the trees.  It tore through whatever flimsy screen the abomination could project and fried the thing.  The men and few remaining super soldiers in the field collapsed again as the abomination rapidly burned to a crisp.  The trees there also burned and would soon be charcoal themselves.  It fell to the ground and appeared to shrivel up before it liquified, and Sung Ao pronounced it dead.

“Dead as a doornail,” Gan Ao said.  Sung Ao hugged the old man with a word.  “You should not be here.”

Avalon 8.12 Abomination, part 3 of 5

Sung Ao had his people camp up against a cliff face where it rose from a sparse grassland on the edge of the Taklimakan Desert.  Boulders sat here and there around the field, stones that fell from above at some time in the distant past, or perhaps got planted by glaciers long ago.  He made the men dig trenches between the boulders before dark.  They piled the dirt and added what fallen trees, branches, and rocks they could lift to make about a one- or two-foot wall.  It would give his men something to lay behind in case of bandit arrows.  And while horses could probably leap over the wall, any bandits on foot would have to pause and crawl over, making themselves targets for arrow fire in return

Sung Ao and the Polos camped in the corner beside where the cliff collapsed making the field full of stones and big rocks where no horses could go.  Sung Ao noticed a big and wide dark spot up that side of the hill, but he did not imagine anything would be there worse than a bear, and any bear would avoid such a large number of men.

They had a pleasant night.  The Polos argued.  Marco read and conversed haltingly with Chin Li after dark.  Jai the Mongol laughed with Sung Ao now and then.  The stars came out that night and the moon appeared nearly full.  Sung Ao expected no trouble in the night.  It was the morning he was worried about.

###

At dawn, Elder Stow’s alarm went off.  Lockhart, Elder Stow, with Katie and Decker who carried their rifles went to the edge of the screens Elder Stow set up.  It did not take long for three cyborgs to show up and face them.  One cyborg reached out to touch the screen.  He appeared to try several different energy pulses, but the screens barely registered that they had been touched.  The cyborgs had no way of getting through.

“You don’t belong here,” Lockhart said right away.  “This planet is off limits to space travelers.”

“We understand,” one cyborg responded in a relatively normal sounding voice.  At least Lockhart was surprised that it did not make a scratchy-metallic sound.  “We will not be here long.  The enemy has come here.  We will destroy the enemy and be gone.  Stay here until we have finished.  You will be safe.”

Elder Stow spoke.  “You know, there are limits on what a species can do with cybernetics.  You will not live forever, and the collective mind destroys things like creativity and initiative.”

“So we have discovered.  Our kind will not last, but first we must end the abomination.”

“Abomination?” Katie asked.

“The enemy.  They abused themselves in unnatural ways making horrors as evil as the Acca that we drove from our world.  They created the great abomination that ruled our world with its thoughts.  The poor souls have become no more, but our collective being found a way to block the thoughts of the evil one.  We destroyed it, and the lesser abominations it made, but one escaped.  It came here.  When we destroy it now, our work will be done.”

The three cyborgs turned and lifting slightly from the ground, they flew away.

The others turned back toward the camp but looked at Elder Stow for an explanation.  He had his own database out to read before he spoke.  “The Acca are Flesh Eaters.  The Flesh Eaters invaded their world and they drove them off by making super soldiers in one place and cyborgs in another.  The cyborgs have learned that there are limits on their ability to adapt and grow.  They will cease soon enough.  The super soldiers, however, continued to experiment until they altered their genetic code to create a massive world-mind that took over the planet.  The normal, original people on that planet got wiped out.  The super soldiers became its slaves, but the cyborgs, with their collective mind, resisted, maybe because some of them were off world using space technology made by the Flesh Eaters.  They discovered a way to better block the mind of the abomination, and the weapon to kill it.  The cyborgs then invaded their own planet and, at great loss, killed the super soldiers, the abomination, and the lesser abominations the first one made.”

“Thank God for that,” Katie said.  “Telepathic control?” she asked.

“Essentially,” Elder Stow nodded.  “It can project itself into the mind, memories, feelings, everything, and take complete control so the person is no more than a puppet.  Complete possession, though it is unclear in my record when the person dies.  One theory suggests they die instantly when possessed in that way, but most believe the consciousness continues for a time.”

“That must be horrible,” Decker said.

“Indeed,” Elder Stow agreed.  “Fortunately, this lesser abomination can only take over and control an area of several hundred miles radius.  It can’t take over the whole world.”

“I wouldn’t call several hundred miles fortunate,” Lockhart said.

Katie asked.  “When you say control, you are talking about possessing people?”

“People.  Animals.  Plants.  As far as I can tell from my record, the whole landscape and environment can be reshaped.”

“Wait.”  Decker stopped shy of the campfire, and everyone waited for him to speak.  “We have to be within the radius, unless Elder Stow’s screens are keeping the abomination out.”

Elder Stow shook his head.  “There is one screen set to block telepathic projections.  Yes, we have that, but it is not nearly strong enough to hold back anything as strong as an abomination.”

“My guess is it is hiding from the cyborgs,” Lockhart said.

###

“Bandits,” one man shouted, and soon there were many shouts.  The bandits appeared on horseback, about two hundred, but a few rode in front of the others and got down.  They waited, like they expected the merchants to come out and talk.  Sung Ao, Chin Li and Jai were willing.  They took the time to set the men in the best positions they could to fend off an attack, and they came dragging the two that normally rode on the point.  Sung Ao made sure the three Polos stayed in the camp and kept the fire going.

Sung Ao hardly had to get close before he recognized two of the bandits.  He shouted ahead.  “Lord Bozarius and Hakim the Berber.  Sorry you had to be killed, several times I imagine.  You must be about out of lives by now.”

The men growled at Sung Ao, and one even said, “Kairos,” but they let a third man do the talking.  He was a big and ugly one that appeared to enjoy looking down on his opponents.  Sung Ao heard from the Princess.  She said he appeared very Xitides-like, and she wondered if he was actually mean or if it was all bluff and bully like Xitides.

“I am Timur,” the big man said.  “You cannot cross my territory without tribute.  Bring out your gold and the three foreign men you have, and I may let you go unharmed.”

“You mean Niccolo, Maffeo and Marco?”  He saw that was exactly who Bozo and Hakim wanted.  Timur stood and thought about it.  It looked painful.

“I guess so,” Timur said.

“But what do the Masters have to say?” Sung Ao turned to stare at the two men he knew were repeats.  Lord Bozo spoke.

“The Polos will not finish their journey.  The gifts from the Pope will never reach the Great Khan.  Europe will remain in darkness for ages to come.”

“Yes,” Sung Ao understood.  “The Travels of Marco Polo is one of a dozen books that impacted the history of the whole world.  Sorry.  No Venetians. But I do have three strangers for you to meet.  Slymer, Dragos, and Cruncher,” he called.  Slymer was an imp from the Taklimakan Desert. Dragos was a dwarf and Cruncher was and ogre from the Kunlun Mountains.  Timur stood shocked by the imp and dwarf, but he screamed when he looked up at the eight-foot ogre.  He turned and ran screaming, ignoring his horse who backed away from the smell.  His men grabbed their horses and rode after him.  Lord Bozarius and Hakim were the last to leave, and not without another growl.

“Thank you,” Sung Ao said, and waved his hand.  The three little ones vanished and went back to where they came from.  He looked at Chin Li and his men and pointed at the big man running away.  “We should change his name from Timur to Timid.”

Jai laughed.

Sung Ao and his crew went back to the camp and adjusted the defensive position a little according to what they saw among the bandits.  The bandits would argue, perhaps for hours before they did anything.  The Polos all asked but got told they had to wait.  “Stand off for now,” Sung Ao told them.

In less than an hour, laser-like weapons got fired in the direction of the rock pile beside the cliff face and the long cave in the side of that hill.  Jai moved the Polos to the other side of the camp in case a stray shot came in their direction.  Sung Ao watched closely.

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

MONDAY

The showdown. Don’t miss it.  Happy Reading

*

Avalon 8.12 Abomination, part 2 of 5

Sung Ao sat across the fire and laughed occasionally at the two Venetians.  Niccolo and Maffeo, two brothers, argued about everything from maps to lunch.  The hand gestures made it especially entertaining.  Chin Li, Sung Ao’s captain of the escort tried to ignore the two.  He usually ate fast and excused himself saying that he had to check on the men.  To be honest, he did not speak much Italian other than a few words like go, stop, and get down, so he couldn’t catch the humor.  Maffeo mastered comparing apples and oranges, and often made no sense whatsoever.  Niccolo mastered sarcasm as his standard response.

Sung Ao looked to the third man of the party.  Marco, sometimes called Il Milione, as his father, Niccolo sometimes got called Emilio.  Marco just turned twenty.  He had the good sense to let the older men argue without him.  He had the habit of reading and rereading the same three books they brought on the journey.  More importantly, he often wrote in his diary, what Sung Ao knew would one day be transformed into a book about his travels.  Sadly, Sung Ao had to avoid the young man to stay out of the book as much as possible.  He tended to talk to the older men and let Chin Li ride with Marco.  Both young men somehow had passable conversations in some combination of Turkic, Arabic, and Persian. They both knew some of each language.

Sung Ao knew enough Italian to communicate with the brothers.  He figured Alice of Avalon filled his mind with the language, and because of that, he also figured these three Venetians had to be important to history in some sense.  He got the word that he had to wait in Kashgar for Marco to arrive and escort him to the court of the Great Khan.  Kublai Khan sent him with the ambassadors to the court of Chagatai in Samarkand, but he had to let that mission go.  He had to wait and kept only the young commander Chin Li and his thirty men.

“Time to go,” Chin Li said as he finished his lunch and stood.  Marco also stood and put his book in his pouch.  This time, Niccolo got in the last word, and it was a doozy.  Sung Ao stood and laughed as men came to put out the fire.

The Polos and their hired men rode on horses, mostly Arabians.  The twenty men of mixed middle eastern heritage with them also brought a dozen pack animals to carry their supplies.  Chin Li’s men mostly rode on camels, which did not mix well with the horses.  But Li had seven on horseback as well, so they moved out in what was becoming a standard formation.  Two men rode out front to watch the road.  Sung Ao rode beside a third man, an old friend named Jia who claimed to be Mongolian, and who acted something like a sergeant to the men.  He also kindly spoke very little.  Niccolo and Maffeo came next, followed by Marco and Chin Li, and the four additional men of Chin Li on horseback.  Behind them were the men contracted by the Polos with their pack animals.  Twenty-two poor excuses for soldiers on camels brought up the rear dragging another ten camels that served as additional pack animals for Sung Ao and his men.

They hardly got started after lunch and Chin Li pushed up to talk to Sung Ao.  “I’m seeing men up in the rocks watching.  This is the second day I have seen them.  They appear to be marking our progress.”

“Yes,” Sung Ao said calmly.  “The bandits are watching and reporting back to their leader and his men.”

“This is not good,” Chin Li said.  “I have only thirty and the Polos have but twenty more.  If there are a hundred or more bandits in the mountains, we will be in big trouble.”

“Have you mentioned it to the men?”

“I don’t want to frighten them.”

Sung Ao shook his head.  “Your men are not cowards.  Better they be prepared if the bandits decide to try us.  Better they are not caught off-guard.”

Chin Li dropped back.  He would have to think about that.

About an hour later, Marco shouted.  He was the kind of man who noticed everything, and he looked around at the scenery all the time, though the desert and mountains never really changed.  “Up.  Overhead.  What is that?”

Sung Ao knew right away what it was.  A scout craft, and he heard from Alice that it was a craft of super soldiers.  When he hoped that there were no cyborgs around, Lady Alice promptly told him that they were, and the travelers were just over a day away right in the middle of them.  “Damn,” he said, probably in English.

“You know what it is?” Niccolo asked.  Maffeo, Chin Li, and Marco all wanted to know as well.  Jia, his Mongolian sergeant laughed.

“I hope not enemies,” Sung Ao said, and he began to look for a defensive position where they could camp for the night, even though it was still too early to stop.

###

The travelers found an oasis in the desert where they could stop for the night.  Lockhart went to Elder Stow and asked about the cyborgs.  Elder Stow anticipated the questions.

“Yes.  They are easy to trace carrying so much metal.  There are twenty that have moved out from their ship carrying what I would guess is a weapon of some sort on a gravity bubble.  They appear to have stopped, possibly for the night, but when we get back to the road in the morning, they will be ahead of us.  We will be between them and their ship.  Not generally a good position to be in, I would say.  I can set the screens for the night, and the scanner alarm in case they should be tempted to come and check us out.  After that, we will not know until morning what is what.”

Lockhart nodded as Katie came to fetch the two of them.  Supper was ready, and Boston was talking.  That was generally a good sign.  Boston had been quiet since the last time zone when all that business came up about Roland being in the future and her being stuck in the past, assuming Roland had not died.

“I bet those helmets are to protect the cyborgs from some mind-numbing thing, like the Vr energy,” Boston said.

“The Apes wore helmets against the Vr energy,” Sukki said in support of her sister.

“The super soldiers showed some signs of telepathic ability,” Decker said.

“Oh, yeah,” Tony remembered.  “They tried to get inside my head and gave me a headache.”

“We are hedged by the ancient gods against that,” Alexis said.  “To keep people from reading about the future in our minds.”

“Your father Mingus used his mind magic to totally confuse you,” Lincoln said.

“Just my memories,” Alexis said.  “I knew who I was, and I knew my father, but I did not remember much.  I had no choice but to believe what he told me.  But eventually it came back to me.”

“I think the gods later corrected that part,” Katie said.  “With your memory suppressed, you might have been fooled into revealing all sorts of things about the future that ears don’t need to hear.”

“We started with ghouls making us see and hear things that were not even there,” Decker said.

“I know for fact that got corrected,” Boston said.  “Tien himself helped to fix that one.” she explained for Nanette and Tony who were not there at the time.

“Then there was the genie,” Alexis said.  “The big bad genie got down deep in our personalities and messed with our self-perceptions.”  She explained like Boston because Tony and Nanette were not there, and Sukki.  “He had us all thinking we were Amazons and put us all in a position where we had to defend ourselves, and without our guns.”

“Zoe started the correction on that one,” Katie said.

“I am sure plenty of others contributed,” Lockhart added.

“I’ve thought about this a lot,” Lincoln said.  No one looked surprised.  Alexis smiled and said he worries about these sorts of things.  Lincoln returned Alexis’ smile and continued.  “I’m no expert, but I can’t imagine any other way someone can get into our heads.  We have memories, personalities, and illusions all covered.”

“Projected illusions,” Boston corrected.  “I can still put a glamour on myself, like now to appear Asian, and you see it too.  Plus, invisible.  You can’t see invisible.”

“Thanks,” Lincoln grumped.

“Even so,” Alexis said.  “I don’t see how those things could help someone get inside our heads.”

“I do,” Nanette said.  “Someone could disguise themselves as Boston and get me and Sukki to talk about things without realizing it.”

Sukki grasped the idea.  “Any one of us could be a pretend person and not the real person at all.”  People looked around the circle.

“Like the Were—shape shifters taking on the appearance of one of us,” Boston said.  “I could be back in Khotan under a spell and some alien may have taken my place.”

“No,” Katie said.  “I asked about that early on, and Danna herself explained it to me, and to Lincoln.”

Lincoln agreed.  “According to the database, the Were could become animals, like wolves or bears, but the gods made them unable to transform into other people for that very reason.”

Katie nodded.  “Danna said the hedge of the gods covered all that, knowing how sneaky some of the gods could be.  No squirrel, or someone invisible, or someone wearing a glamour will hear anything.  She said we were covered against hypnosis, or drugs, or anything like that.  All they will hear is garbled noise, so it won’t do them any good.”

“Good to know,” Lockhart said, and Decker nodded.

“Anyway…” Elder Stow interrupted and looked up from his scanner. “The cyborgs will certainly never fool anyone.  They have definitely stopped for the night.  I don’t know their sleep pattern, but maybe they are not inclined to move at night.  They might need light or some way of moving in the dark, and that might give them away.”

Lockhart stood.  “Standard watch,” he said, and he and Katie went into their tent.  The old man Gan Ao finished eating and said nothing.

Avalon 8.12 Abomination, part 1 of 5

After 1245 A.D. between Kashgar and Aksu

Kairos 109: Sung-Ao, slave of Kublai Kahn

Recording …

They met the old man Gan Ao at the inn in Khotan on the Silk Road.  Gan Ao said he was waiting for them.  “You are headed for Osh, are you not?”  The people nodded and looked at each other.

“Maybe further,” Lincoln said.  Their examination of Boston’s amulet and the map in the database was not clear.  The Kairos appeared to be headed in their direction, though where the time gate might end up was a question.

“He left Kashgar and is headed south along the edge of the desert toward us,” Boston said, but hesitated to say more.

 “I am an expert wagon driver,” Gan Ao said, and smiled.  Several of the travelers figured he could not be that old.  He still had his teeth.  “Besides, I know the road well and can guide you safely.”

“Looks like we have another passenger,” Katie said.

“We have had mixed luck with that so far,” Decker said, and patted Nanette’s hand.  She had her arm intwined around his arm and smiled for him.

“Don’t tell me,” Gan Ao said.  “Newly married.  He smiled for the couple and so did the rest of the travelers.  Curiously, none of the travelers questioned the man closely, and much later, looking back on it, they realized that should have felt very odd.

The next morning, the Mongol officials in the gate went through all the things the travelers carried.  The travelers had no choice.  They entered the Chagatai Khanate from Yuan land.  Though they came through the time gate on the far western edge of Yuan lands and traveled five long days to get to Khotan, it made them suspect.  Their disguise as peaceful merchants did not sound convincing.

The Mongols were not impressed with the western saddles and skipped right over the stirrups, not knowing what they were or what they were used for.  They did not know what to make of the horseshoes, and no one was going to show them the bottom of their horse’s feet.  They did like the nails, however, but they could not imagine such small nails would be of much use.  The foodstuffs were no big deal and beginning to turn in the heat.  The tarps were interesting, but they left them alone.  They did not find the last two big bags of coins because Elder Stow and Sukki held the bags and Elder Stow managed to make them invisible just in time.

The chief stared at the travelers again and shook his head.  “Your leather is good, but I doubt you will sell any saddles in Samarkand.  They look awkward.  Your metal work is good, but I do not understand why you form it into such an odd shape.”

“To show the ability of our craftsmen.  We would challenge the local metalsmiths to make the same and of the same quality,” Lockhart said.

“Uh,” the chief nodded before he shook his head.  “Your guns look interesting.  I have seen real guns.  But yours are so thin.  I would fear they will explode in your hands.  Besides, you have no powder or shot for them.”

“We had some,” Lockhart said.  “But the road is not free of bandits and not safe for peaceful travelers.”

The chief nodded to that one and stopped the hand of his soldiers.  “No.  Leave their mule alone.  A fine beast, but they do not breed, and it will be old soon enough. These wretched people have far to go to get to Kashgar.  Here.”  He returned the few coins he found, the ones the travelers deliberately left in the wagon to be found.  “It is not my way to beggar the wretched souls.  Good luck.”

The travelers quickly moved out from the town, but Boston, with her good elf ears, heard what the chief said.  “We will likely find their bodies somewhere between here and Kashgar.”

Lincoln said one thing.  “I’m surprised they did not take anything, or everything.”  Alexis nodded.

Katie looked back and responded.  “Trade is the lifeblood of towns like that. They would probably all starve if they got a reputation for stealing from traveling merchants.”

Gan Ao smiled at the brief exchange.  He snaped the reins and Ghost responded remarkably well for the stranger.

###

Two days later, late in the morning, the travelers halted beside the mountains.  The road edged closer and closer to the Pamir Mountains all morning, and they at last came to a stretch where they had a choice of scrambling though the rocks or crossing the desert’s edge.  Of course, they did not risk the horses on the rocks.  They rode on the sand, but they roasted from doing that.

Elder Stow came in from the wing.  Lockhart imagined it was because he had no safe way to travel out among the rocks, but in fact Elder Stow picked up something on his scanner that he found troubling.  He looked to the sky as soon as he arrived.  Everyone followed his eyes and saw a large ship of some kind shoot across the sky and land somewhere ahead of them.

“Something to look forward to,” Lincoln got to say it.

“Decker,” Lockhart called on his wristwatch communicator.

“I saw it,” the answer came right back.

“Very fast,” Gan Ao said.  “A big bird?”

“No,” Tony answered.  “But we always hope they may be friendly.”

Elder Stow spoke up.  “Judging from the energy traces used, my guess is super soldiers, unless they are cyborgs.  They may still be around in this age.”

Sukki came riding back but slowed when she saw the rest had stopped.  “You saw,” she said.  “Boston is riding ahead to see if she can spy on them.  They came down in a gully beside the road.”

“Boston,” Katie yelled into her wristwatch, but then quieted, thinking Boston might be close and she did not want to be responsible for giving her away.  She saw Alexis put her wrist down, like she was about to yell the same thing.

“Arm up,” Lockhart said, and they began to move again.

After a short way, Decker came in from the desert side.  Elder Stow stayed with the group.  He rode to the rear and tied off his horse so he could ride in the wagon and work on his screen device.  Decker came in behind, in the very rear, where he could protect them from whatever might come up behind them.  Attacking from the rear is a tactic all people use, human or otherwise.

It did not take long to catch up to Boston.  She had started heading back to the group at a good clip, and she appeared to be excited.  She also appeared to have lost a bit off the end of her hair on one side.  Everything she said came out fast and loud.

“Cyborgs.  I thought they were Cybermen, but they are more like Borgs with big metal helmets that cover their whole head, face and all.  I saw some flesh in their hands and arms.  I bet they picked up traces of my horse and fired at us, but I got Strawberry out of there as quick as I could, and they did not bother to follow.  They look like they are unloading equipment.  I don’t know what they are here for, but I bet there are super soldiers around, or some other enemy.  That is one fight I would not want to get into the middle of, but I checked the amulet, and it looks like the Kairos is continuing to move in our direction from Kashgar.  He is about two days away.  If his group keeps moving, we should run into him in the morning, tomorrow.”

Katie looked up at Lockhart.  “We could stay here and maybe avoid the cyborgs.  We could wait for the Kairos to get to us.”

Lockhart shook his head, and most agreed with him.  “For all we know, the cyborgs may move in this direction.  The enemy they are after may be behind us, around Khotan.”

“I figure they are going our way, toward the Kairos,” Boston said.  “I bet the Kairos will get in the middle of it, like always.  But we can help,” Boston said, and looked back and forth between Lockhart and Katie with pleading in her eyes.  Lockhart and Katie looked eye to eye, and Lincoln offered a suggestion.

“Maybe the cyborgs and their enemy behind us will get in a stand-off until the Kairos arrives.”

Gan Ao spoke up.  “If it helps, I know a way around the gully where young Boston found the aliens.”

People looked at him.  They generally forgot he was there. They did not ask how he knew Boston found the cyborgs in a gully, or Boston did not think to ask.  And no one questioned his use of the term, aliens, which as far as the travelers knew, no one had mentioned to him.  Tony thought it odd. He knew he never mentioned the word to the man, but he shrugged it off, thinking someone must have said it earlier.

Lockhart and Katie both seemed to nod.  “We go around,” Lockhart said, and that settled it.

Guardian Angel-16 Dealing with the Details, part 1 of 1…only 1

“Catching flies?”  Jill could not believe he said that.

Ethan shrugged and caught her.  She wanted to pull away, but he kissed her and she kissed him back.  “What am I going to do with you?”  She asked more softly.

“Let me love you?”  He made the suggestion, but she still slapped his arm on principal, only not too hard.

“Where are we?”  Ali Pasha asked the couple, not meaning to interrupt, but he had a feeling that his travels might be at an end.

“Not yet.”  That was all Jill said to the man before she turned toward Ethan.  “Follow-up,” she explained.  “I cannot stress how important that is.  So much trouble would be avoided if people would just follow up.”

They appeared in a massive city that covered all of New York City, Long Island, most of Northern New Jersey, Southern New York State and most of Connecticut.  Ethan could not tell if there was a border, anywhere.  The buildings were as tall as any he had seen and the air was full of flying vehicles that followed strict lines between the skyscrapers.

Jill flew their nickel all out of sync with the traffic but it was safer that way.  They were of a size not to be noticed at all, but they were big enough to rip through some vehicle if they had a chance encounter.  It would not have bothered them in the slightest, but it would have torn that unsuspecting vehicle to shreds.  Fortunately, the ship’s speed and systems were more than capable of avoiding all such encounters, no matter how full of vehicles the sky became.

“The space port.”  Jill pointed it out on the screens for the others.  “That building with the do not enter sign on the roof is where the transitional technology is housed; that is the building that has a red circle with a white line through the middle.”  The building was a relatively short, squat building, being only about twenty stories tall, but it looked big enough to contain Captain Rawlings’ entire battleship, and maybe a second one beside it.

“Aren’t we going there?”  Ethan asked.  Jill let them hover overhead for a minute while the others watched a spectacular lift off of a ship, which Ethan surmised, was on a trajectory for Mars, or possibly deep space.

“Look.”  Jill pointed to the Main.  Ethan immediately noted that the world did have a Guardian, but he was presently on the other side of the globe.

“Shouldn’t they be here, where the transitional action is?”  Ethan asked.

Jill’s eyes said of course.  She did not have to speak out loud as she shifted their position to where the Guardian was apparently hiding.  There was another Gaian ship in the vicinity, and as Ethan surmised, the Gaian over that world had already made an appearance.  Jill projected her and Ethan into the small underground chamber, though she kept them invisible for the moment.

“Professor Schrom.”  The Gaian tried to speak, but he kept being interrupted.

“I don’t care what you say.  Yes, I designed the cyborg components to fight the Vordan.  I know I am not supposed to do that sort of thing, but I could hardly let my world be overrun with aliens.  I didn’t give them any advanced weaponry.”

“Only because you deemed that it was not necessary,” the Gaian said.

The professor nodded and sighed.  “Yes, I would have if I calculated it as necessary.”

“And now they have escaped into the worlds.”  The Gaian was scolding.

“I know.”  The professor sat heavily in the chair beside the simple table.  “But really, how was I to know the Vordan were working on worlds technology?  And how was I supposed to know the cyborgs would steal it?”

Jill manifested their presence in the room.  The Gaian took one look and went to a knee, bowed his head and waited for his princess to speak before he spoke again.  The professor jumped up.  His chair fell backward to thump against the rug.

“Duncan.”  Jill acknowledged the Gaian before she spoke to the local.  “Professor Schrom.  We have no law against you defending your earth with every means at your disposal, as long as you do not inherently advance your people beyond their capacity.”

“I – I”

“The monstrosities you made went above and beyond, professor, and you know that full well.”

“I – I’m sorry.”  The professor dropped his eyes.  “I saw no other choice.”

“Your choice was to call Duncan and ask his advice.”  Jill was not to be argued with.

“But the Vordan were not an intrusion.”  The professor pleaded innocence.  Jill just looked at him with eyes as hard as steel.  “Okay.  I admit it.  I wanted to destroy those alien slugs.”

“Duncan.”  Jill spoke again, and Duncan touched the professor.  The professor immediately collapsed to the floor like a rag doll.  Duncan caught the man’s head and laid it softly on the floor.  He began to run his hands up and down a few inches from the man’s body and spoke as he worked.

“Your highness.  I am so glad to see you alive and well.  I saw Dominic about a week ago and he told me the good news, but I hardly believed him.”

“And did he mention Ethan, my husband?”  Jill asked.

Duncan paused to look at Ethan.  He bowed his head slightly.  “My Lord,” he said, and went back to work without answering the question.

Jill frowned a little.  “Are your travelers watching?” she asked.  When Duncan nodded, she took Ethan’s hand and spoke to Duncan’s people as well as her own crew back on her own ship.

“Professor Schrom is asleep, and Duncan is removing the Guardian chits from his system.  You have every right to defend your worlds from aliens as you do from any intruder, but only in so far as it does not interfere with the natural development of your world.  Otherwise, you will become guilty of the very thing we are sworn to protect against.  Each world that you defend must rise or fall on its’ own without interference, and that includes interference from you.  Professor Schrom is guilty of breaking that sacred law in two ways.  First, he advanced this world by creating the cyborgs and the pulse emitters designed to incapacitate those cyborgs.  Second, even though he argued that he could not have known in advance, he allowed his cyborgs to escape into the worlds where they risk corrupting more earths than his own.  Learn that lesson now.  We are not omniscient.  None of us can know in advance the consequences of our actions.  To claim that he did not know the Vordan were working on worlds technology nor that the cyborgs would steal it is no excuse.”

“So, what will happen to the professor now?”  Ethan asked for everyone.

“He will wake in about an hour and not remember that he was guardian for this world.  He will not remember us, the Gaian, at all.  Unfortunately, we cannot go back and undo the technological advancements he gave to his people, and we can only watch to be sure his people remove the Cyborgs from the worlds to which they have been scattered.”

Duncan raised his hands by the professor’s mouth and the professor let out a great breath.  Ethan could see the chits in their hundreds and thousands come streaming out of the man and attach to Duncan’s hands to be reabsorbed into his own system.

“It is done,” Duncan said, and he stood but continued to look down at the man as if deeply disappointed.

“And now that this earth has broken into the worlds, what will you do about a guardian?”  Ethan wondered out loud.

Duncan looked up.  “I’m sorry.”  He spoke first to Jill.  She nodded as if to say not to worry about it.  It happens.  “I will have to find another,” Duncan said.  “It will be a thousand years yet before there are enough travelers through the worlds to insure the safety of the worlds.”

“Safety in numbers where there will be enough travelers to watch and police each other.”  Ethan got the concept.

Jill nodded.  “And another thousand years after that, we may be able to let go of the guardian program.”  She shrugged, and added some substance to her projection so she could give Duncan a hug as was her way.  Ethan simply shook the man’s hand.

“Lord, Highness.”  Duncan acknowledged Ethan but turned quickly to his Princess.  “It has been difficult at home since you disappeared.”

“I am sure,” Jill said, but she was already withdrawing herself and Ethan.  They did not stay in that world any longer.  “I have confidence in Duncan.  He will do what must be done,” she said, and then she said no more about it.

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Next Monday, a return to three posts, (Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday), where Ali Pasha returns home in Guardian Angel-17, The Examiners.   Until then, Happy Reading

.

Guardian Angel-15 Lars Hjorth, part 3 of 3

Lars and deMartin had their men cease firing and watched as men in strange green uniforms with high collars and big brass buttons began to round up the cyborgs.   They looked to Ethan like the Prussians when they fought against Napoleon.  They touched the cyborgs with a portable vibrator of some sort and then bound them at the wrists.  When it was safe enough, deMartin noticed and later remarked, the ship’s cowardly Captain and First Officer, escorted by several men with weapons at the ready, came to speak to the human defenders.

Lars, meanwhile, had his eyes on the farmhouse, and when he saw Angelica and Kirsten emerge, unhurt, he was greatly relieved.

“I doubt they will be able to understand us.”  The First officer remarked as the foreigners approached the people on the edge of the little woods.

“Nonsense.”  The Captain responded.  “Certain things transcend language.  These people need to be commended for holding their own against impossible odds.  I only hope they aren’t too overawed by the battleship and our sudden appearance.”

“The Cybees didn’t overawe them.”  The First Officer pointed out, but the Captain was not really listening.  Lars and deMartin came to meet them.  Yohanson and Jill’s favorite Sergeant and his ever present two troopers followed.

The Captain immediately smiled and held out his hand.  “Very good show.”  The Captain said as Lars and the Colonel willingly shook that hand.

“Early gunpowder.”  The First Officer made a spot assessment.  “No later than twelfth century, I would guess.  That was something we had not considered in the cyborg design.  Good thing the Vordan did not figure that out.”

“These Cyborgs are yours?”  Lars spoke.

“Ah.  Well said.”  The Captain praised Lars and shook his hand again while he turned to his officer.  “The man speaks the Lord’s tongue.”

“Are these Cyborgs yours?”  Lars repeated the question

“The Cybees?  Yes, I am afraid they are.  Renegades though.”  The First Officer was kind enough to answer the question.

“I am Lars Hjorth.  This is Colonel Orlando deMartin.”

“A military man.”  The Captain spouted and shook deMartin’s hand again.  DeMartin’s translation chit was slowly catching up with the conversation.  Lars, with far more sophisticated chits understood the Captain and his officer from the beginning.  “But, of course, you would have to be.”

The First officer interrupted with the introductions.  “This is Captain Rawlings and I‘m Lieutenant Chin, Naval designation if that means anything to you.”

“Chin?”  DeMartin noted the man’s features.  “Nestorian?”  He asked, and then he wanted to take back the word.  The Man could be anything, being from a different Earth.  Lieutenant Chin shook his head.  He did not understand the reference.

“Well.”  The Captain interrupted that awkward exchange.  “Good thing we came along, eh?  No telling what you would have done if we hadn’t.”

“Called in back-up,” Lars admitted.  “Though I would have felt bad about having to do it.  Keeping this world free of other world pests is my job.  Well, our job.”  Lars looked around at his militia unit.  He felt very proud of the men who fought at his side.  “To be blunt, we were in the process of throwing these Cyborgs out when you came.  I hope your intention is to collect them and leave.”

“Rather cheeky, eh, Chin?”

The Lieutenant nodded.  “That is our intention, and I, for one, apologize for their being here in the first place even if it could not have been helped.”

Lars accepted that.  “You are welcome to visit if you come quietly and without a show of advanced technology.  You can even settle if you wish to live a so-called primitive life.  This world is not yet overcrowded.”  Lars looked at Chin and glanced at the Captain.  “But you cannot bluster in here with airborne battleships.  This world needs a chance to rise or fall on its own merits, and I will not permit any outside interference on that score.”

“Permit?”  The Captain started, but waited when Chin touched his arm.

“You are the Gyan Guardian for this world, aren’t you?” he asked.

“Gaian.”  Lars corrected the man’s pronunciation.  “And yes, newly appointed.”

“That’s three for three.”  The Lieutenant told his Captain who suddenly appeared to take things a bit more seriously.

DeMartin took that moment to try his grasp of the language.  “I was just passing through myself when I thought my friend Lars could use a little help.”

The Captain rubbed his jaw.  “A fellow traveler,” he said.  “There’s a first, but I would not think your people would be sophisticated enough to travel in these parallel dimensions.”

“The worlds,” Lars interjected.

De Martin shook his head.  “Just a passenger, I’m afraid.”  He let his voice rise.  “And one who I hope is not in too much trouble with a certain gracious lady.”

“He’s not,” Jill said and looked up at Ethan.

“Tell me about these Gaian.”  The Lieutenant asked, taking the trouble to pronounce it correctly.

“Yes, what is a Gyan?”  The Captain asked as well.

“Gya was the ancient Goddess of the Earth,” Chin said.

“Mother Earth,” Lars added.

DeMartin shook his head, gravely.  “A wise and mysterious people as far beyond your understanding as you are from us,” he explained.  “They have taken one native from every world and made them guardians to be sure that every world has a chance to pursue its own destiny.  They are a heavenly people, quick to love but fierce to their enemies.”

“There is undoubtedly a guardian on your world, only you don’t even know it,” Lars suggested, and the Captain and Lieutenant Chin both paused in surprise.  They had not considered that possibility.

“And how long have you been traveling in the Worlds?”  DeMartin asked.  Their ignorance about the Gaian had raised his suspicions.

“This is our third world since decoding the Vordan registers.  You see, it is not even our technology.  It is alien, but the cyborgs stole it during the war, and when the war was over, they used it to escape and avoid being dismantled.”

“Why must it always be war?”  Lars asked, grumpily.

“We fought the Vordan to a standstill.”  The Captain’s pride was evident.  “Thanks in large part to the development of the cyborg regiments, but when the war concluded and the peace was signed, some refused to be returned to normal life.  The cyborgs, some anyway, actually considered their monstrosities to be an improvement and refused to give them up.”

“They escaped with the stolen Vordan equipment,” Lieutenant Chin interrupted.  “But their milti-destination codes were captured in the system.  It took us a long time to figure out what happened, but now we are trying to clean up our mess.”

“And we imagined the Vordan were the most brilliant creatures in the galaxy.”  The Captain laughed.  “I can’t imagine these Gaian you speak of.”

“Time to go,” Jill spoke to Ethan.  She tweaked the projector so their images would be dressed in heavenly white, as she called it, even as she said, “Bless deMartin.  I think if we put a little of the fear of God into these people right at the beginning of their journey through the worlds, it may save us considerable trouble somewhere down the road.”

“Don’t laugh.”  Ethan threatened Ali Pasha, Manomar and Peter Alexander.

“Don’t stick your foot in your mouth,” Jill said.  “I’ll be giving our projection some substance and your foot won’t taste very good.”  It was something like an out of body experience.  There was a flash of light and two figures appeared as if out of nowhere.

“Captain Rawlings.  Lieutenant Chin.  How good to meet you,” Jill said ever so sweetly.  “May I present my husband, Ethan.  I am Jillian of the Gaian.”

Even the gregarious Captain did not offer his hand for a shake.  He was too busy staring, as was the Lieutenant, and in fact people all over the field stopped and stared at this vision of purity, almost holiness.  Lars, deMartin and some of deMartin’s men knew better, but they kept quiet.  Angelica, who was just coming close, knew better as well, or thought she did.  Kirsten cried out and came running.

“Oh Jill, he’s gone.  Jill, he’s gone.”  She flew into Jill’s arms and Jill hugged and hushed the girl quietly.  Ethan picked up the slack.

“Colonel deMartin.  It is time for you to take yourself and your men back into the doghouse.”  Ethan tried to look stern.  DeMartin tried equally hard to be humble without laughing.

“Gracious Lord,” he said, affecting a terrific and most chivalrous bow.  “Most kind and gentle Lady.”  He did the same for Jill while Ethan, who was actually still back in the ship, touched the main and a white light shimmering door opened close by.  DeMartin made a show of turning to his troop that had already gathered up the dead and wounded and he marched proudly through that door of utter whiteness to disappear from the world.  When the last one entered, the door vanished.

“Lieutenant.”  Ethan spoke in the meantime.  “Please tell your Captain to close his mouth.  I am afraid he may start attracting flies.”

Jill had just finished reassuring Kirsten that everything would be all right, and just finished returning her to her mother’s hands, when Ethan spoke, and she wanted nothing more than to stomp on Ethan’s foot with all her weight.  Instead, though, she said a last word to Kirsten.  “Your father needs you, too.”  She shooed her off.

“Lars.”  Ethan called him over after the man had a chance to hug his daughter.  He shook Lars’ hand.  “I guess I have to speak for everyone when I say Godspeed.”

“I was thinking I might try to convince the powers that be to make peace with the Anglish before it is too late, that is if my wife will go with me.”

“I think that would be a wonderful idea,” Jill said, and she stepped in to give the man a hug.  “You did well.”

“Er, I think next time I will study the enemy a little more carefully and move a little more cautiously.”

“Wise.  But we will never be far away,” Jill said, and she held out her arms for Angelica who thought for a minute before she accepted the hug.

“Peace is better than war,” she said.  “And I was Anglish once myself.”

With that done, Jill turned to the Captain and his first officer.  “Now gentlemen, we know of the Vordan technological prototype by which you travel.  It is not our way to condone stealing, but since you have let your ill begotten creatures out into the worlds, we will not interfere, provided you collect them and remove them from their many earths.  Yes, we know the worlds to which they have gone, so we will be watching.  After your work is finished, you will not bring a warship into a world whose technology does not equal or better your own.  Am I clear?”

“Godspeed to you too.”  Ethan said, and the projections of Jill and Ethan began to rise from the ground, shrink and glow more brightly until they touched the nickel spot of their ship, and in one final flash of light, their nickel-sized ship vanished from that world altogether.

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Monday–only 1 post next week–Monday

Guardian Angel-16 Dealing with the Details:  One quick trip the cyborg world, and only 1 post for the week… Happy Reading…