Avalon 4.11: Being Human, part 1 of 8

After 1820 BC, Babylon of Hammurabi, Kairos 57: Ishtara, Reflection of Ishtar.

Recording …

Lockhart and Elder Stow went east along the river to try and find a place to cross the deep water.  Decker and Lincoln went west.  Mingus took Boston into the woods.  Mingus felt there was so much he had to teach the girl about being an elf, and the time was short.  He had a bad feeling about the days ahead.

Alexis stayed in the camp to tend the fire and watch the horses and the tents.  She was not sure Alexiswhy she ended up the chief cook for the group, but as she thought about it, she decided Lincoln and Lockhart were the next best options.  Katie was learning.  Boston was improving.  That was a kind thought.  Major Decker could cook over an open flame, but Alexis imagined he killed his taste buds at some point early in his military career.  He could make anything edible, and eat it, but god only knew what it would taste like.  They never asked Elder Stow to cook.  To be honest, Father Mingus was probably the next best cook, but he was stuck in the eighteenth century in some ways.  That was the century when Alexis was born, and as head of the Avalon history department, he seemed to have gotten stuck there.  He still thought of cooking as women’s work, and there was no reaching him.

Katie also stayed in the camp, to guard the camp.  Captain Katherine Harper worked a Pentagon desk through graduate school and the first couple of years after getting her doctorate in ancient and medieval history and technology.  That might sound like an odd job for a marine, to study ancient and medieval things, but people dug up things all the time, archeologists and amateurs, and the Pentagon needed an expert to know, bluntly, what was human and what was not.  Alexis supposed it was inevitable that Katie get tangled up with the so-called men in black; not that anyone imagined she would fall in love with Lockhart, the associate director of the men in black.

Alexis looked up to the top of the boulder where Katie sat looking out on the open fields, the woods at her back.  She looked mostly at the river where the water meandered along, like her thoughts.  Alexis knew what Katie was thinking about.  She still had thoughts like that about Lincoln from time to time, and she and Benjamin had been married for more than forty years.  They had children and grandchildren.  When they ended up back at the beginning of time, they needed to go home the slow way—through the time gates.  Fortunately, the Kairos gave each of them a slice of the apple of youth, and made them young again—them and Lockhart.  Three old people wandering through time would have never survived.  Now, being young again, Alexis was thinking about having another baby.  That would have to wait until they got home in a couple of years.  Alexis supposed she might be thirty by then, but that was not too old.

Katie a2Alexis looked up at Katie again.  Katie was twenty-eight, and now Lockhart was an early thirty-something.  They made a wonderful couple, but one that never would have happened if Lockhart stayed sixty-eight.  Alexis wondered if the Kairos knew in advance what would happen.  She shrugged.  She gave up being an elf and became human when she married Benjamin, but she still respected the Kairos more than most mortals.  As an elf, the Kairos had been her god—not a God like God in Heaven, but near enough for all practical purposes.  She still remembered those feelings, and all of the lifetimes of the Kairos she had met thus far gave her no reason to believe those feelings were wrong.  Even now, she felt the Kairos was watching over her, and all of the travelers, even if the Kairos from her day had fallen into the chaos of the Second Heavens, before history began, and was at least temporarily lost.

“So we get to go home the hard way,” Alexis said out loud.  “At least until the Kairos makes it back to Avalon proper.”

Alexis looked again at Katie.  Katie was an elect—a one in a million warrior woman, designed by the gods of old to protect and defend the home, family, and tribe when the men went off to hunt or to war.  She was stronger, faster, and a better fighter than most men.  She loved the adventure of it all, and wanted to be out there with the others, on the front line, as Decker would say, but after some deep soul searching, Katie concluded that her literal ‘god given’ job was to defend the camp.  So she sat on the rock, her marine rifle cradled in her lap, and she no doubt thought about Lockhart, and maybe children.UFO battle 6

Alexis paused as she looked up at the sound.  Katie stood and grabbed her binoculars.  Something shot across the sky.  There were several somethings.  Katie looked fascinated, but Alexis worked back home for the so-called Men in Black organization.  Alien intrusion was nothing new in her world.  Sad, though, to have lost the innocent wonder of it all.

Alexis questioned what was taking the men so long.  She shrugged.  She imagined they would come racing back as soon as they saw the activity in the sky.  She shrugged again.  Men take forever to do anything.  She picked up a piece of wood to put on the fire, and screamed.

Katie turned and saw two Alexises in the camp.  She raised her rifle.  She felt the ghoul’s presence in her mind, but could not tell which Alexis was the real Alexis.  She dared not pull the trigger.

Alexis screamed again, but the ghoul opened its mouth so the scream sounded like it came from the ghoul.  Alexis stepped back, wondering why the ghoul did not attack.  She tripped over a rock.  She fell hard on her side and cut her hands even as she saw the lion.  It had waited, uncertain whether to attack the ghoul or the human.  When Alexis fell, it made up its mind.

lion roaringKatie fired her rife.  She figured the lion might be some ghoul trick, like an illusion, but she could not take the chance.  The ghoul Alexis turned toward the woods even as Mingus and Boston came running.  Boston had her wand out and gave the escaping ghoul a hot butt.  Mingus fired something more like lightning at the lion, which prevented the beast from seriously raking its claw across Alexis’ shoulder.  She got a bad scratch, but then Katie fired a series of shots on automatic, and the lion collapsed for good.

Mingus went straight to Alexis.  He gently helped her to get free of the rocks.  She had one hand on her bleeding shoulder, and the other elbow against her ribs where she imagined at least one was cracked.  Mingus made her sit on a rock and he carefully tended her wounds while Katie and Boston joined them.

“I don’t have my Beretta,” Boston reminded them.  “I would have shot the ghoul, but I lost my belt with my big honking knife and my handgun.  Sorry.”

“I saw two Alesixes,” Katie confessed.  “I didn’t know which was the real one or I would have shot the ghoul.”

“No, ladies.  It was my fault,” Mingus interrupted.  “I never should have taken young Boston from the camp.  There is a reason why we have three on watch all through the night.  A ghoul can affect only one mind at a time.  We should have stayed in the camp; the four of us together.”

“Father?”  Alexis noticed some tears in his eyes.  Alexis knew she was a natural healer.  Whatever was wrong with her, she would heal fast, like an elect; like Katie.  In the meanwhile, it certainly hurt enough.

Mingus finished bandaging her shoulder and shook his head as he spoke.  “The reason I kidnapped you, twice, was to keep you safe.  A daughter should not die before her father.”

Alexis took her good hand and touched his to say she understood.  Boston and Katie said nothing. fire Cooking fire 2 Mingus turned away and kicked the dead lion before he got out his knife to skin the beast.

“Lion steaks tonight,” Alexis said, and winced because of the pain in her ribs.  Boston reached out to her, but there was not much anyone could do.  Katie stirred the fire and Alexis finished her thought.  “Katie.  You and Boston will have to cook tonight.”

“I’ll cook it,” Mingus said, sharply.  “Lion is tough and full of gristle.  You have to know how to fix it to make it edible.

Katie went back up on her lookout.  Boston stayed with Alexis.  Lockhart and Elder Stow rode in after a few minutes.

“I heard gunfire,” Lockhart raised his voice, and they told him what happened.

“I burned the ghoul’s butt, but that was it,” Boston said in a voice somewhere between pride and an apology.

“I did not dare shoot.  It looked like Alexis,” Katie did apologize.

Lockhart gave her a quick peck on the lips.  “You did the right thing.”

Decker and Lincoln came in an hour later.  “What happened?” Decker asked.

“Benjamin,” Alexis called him, and he leapt down from his horse and ran to her.

Avalon 4.10: Into the Storm, part 1 of 4

After 1879 BC, New England area, Kairos 56: Taregan, The Chief.

Recording …

Everyone slipped and slid and yelled.  “Get down.  Slippery ice.  Spread the weight.  Listen for cracks.  Go easy.”

Boston got carefully down from Honey’s back and gently coaxed her horse out of the snow drift.  Most of the lake looked snow covered on top of the ice, so it was not impossibly slippery, for the humans.  The horses were trickier, to get them safely to shore.ice lake 2

The travelers spread out.  Both Lincoln and Decker heard the ice crack beneath them, but no one fell through to the frigid water.

It started to snow as soon as they reached the trees that grew down to the lake’s edge.

“Boston and Mingus, get a fire started,” Lockhart said.

“Everyone, get the tents out and use them for horse blankets,” Katie added.

“Where are we?” Alexis wondered.

“Let me try to get the lay of the land,” Elder Stow offered as he pulled out his scanner.  “Maybe a weather report,” he added, softly.

“That’s a big lake,” Boston shouted.

“Where are we?” Katie echoed Alexis

“A minute,” Lincoln said.

“The north pole,” Decker offered.  “Can’t you tell?”

“Lake Champlain,” Lincoln offered.  “Maybe Lake George, but probably somewhere in Vermont.”

“Where are we,” Mingus asked Boston, and after a moment of thought she pulled out her amulet.

ice fire in woods“Lucky.”  She pointed.  “We are headed away from the lake.  The next gate should be in New Hampshire, or maybe Maine or Massachusetts.  Hey!  Maybe it is located in Boston.”

“Boston isn’t there yet,” Lockhart said.

“It is a big storm,” Elder Stow reported.

“I don’t know if the dried grain we got in Yadinel’s time is still good,” Alexis interrupted.  She checked their supplies.  “Not much else for the horses to eat around here.”

“Let me see,” Elder Stow said.  He had his scanner in his hand and quickly pronounced the grain acceptable.

“The grain may technically be a hundred and fifty-years-old,” Lincoln suggested.  “But it moved those years in about three weeks.  It didn’t sit all those years exposed to the elements to get moldy or anything.”

“At least the horses won’t go hungry for now,” Alexis agreed.

Lockhart turned to the fire where Mingus was laying on a big log and Decker found a place to rest.  “What can you two tell us about the area?”

“Not much,” Decker admitted.  “The whole area is well forested, and as you know, it is hard to see beneath the trees.”

“I sent Boston to see where there might be little ones, locally,” Mingus said.  “She needs to learn.”snowy woods

“By the way.”  Elder Stow joined them.  “The snow storm is bigger than my little scanner can read.  I imagine it will snow all day.”  He touched something on the scanner and the snow over their head stopped—blocked by the screen he put up.  “I should be able to get another time zone or two out of that charging equipment I got in Yadinel’s time zone.  The equipment is well made, but it doesn’t age as well as living grain.  I figure in three hundred years it will be useless, but we might as well use it while we have it.”  He pulled out his sonic device and what looked like a knob to a small door, and began to fiddle with the scanner.

“Explain something,” Lockhart asked.  “The Database and the amulets are powered by Reichgo 10,000-year half-life batteries.  The Kairos suggested originally that they would have enough charge for the journey.  But you Gott-Druk are an elder race.  I can’t imagine the Reichgo have better batteries.”

Elder Stow stopped tinkering and everyone looked at Lockhart, and then the elder.  “Battery life depends on usage,” he said.  “The Reichgo batteries are so primitive, they would hardly power my devices for a day.  I might get one blast from my weapon, if the Reichgo battery did not explode.  Decker has a couple of spares for his recording device, which I might use in an emergency.  But, you know, data doesn’t use much, and neither does the Amulet.  My scanner doesn’t take much, but the screen is a heavy drain I could avoid if you don’t mind being snowed on.”

“What are you doing?” Katie came over and asked why Elder Stow was tinkering with his equipment.

stow e2“Ah,” Elder Stow said.  “It has occurred to me that the screen is good to keep out the snow and rain as well as wild animals, and sometimes especially humans.  The screen itself is invisible, of course, but I thought it might be a good thing if we were all invisible.  I am trying to attach my invisibility device to the screen generator if I can, so whenever I activate the screen, whatever is inside becomes invisible.”

“Good thinking,” Katie praised him.

“No good in the forest,” Decker countered.  “Someone on that hill there would just see a big empty spot by the lake.”

“But in the desert or on the grasslands it would be most effective,” Elder Stow said.

“What recording equipment?” Lincoln asked.

Everyone stopped again to look at Lincoln and then turned their eyes on Major Decker, except Lockhart who looked at Captain Katie Harper.  Elder Stow spoke.

“I’m sorry.  I thought you knew.”

Decker touched his hand where he had a ring.  Katie pulled her necklace up to show as Decker explained.

“A Reichgo digital recording device.  It is about forty percent full.  Captain Harper and I have been making a rather skewed recording of our journey since the beginning.”

“Colonel Weber?” Lockhart asked, accusation in his voice.

Katie 4“That’s right,” Katie said.  “But I can see that already there are probably a number of things we have dealt with and encountered that Area 51 does not need to know about.”

“I suppose I could delete the whole thing,” Decker said, with a sigh.  It sounded like he would be giving up his last connection to the twenty-first century, or “the real world,” as he sometimes called it.

“Oh, but the history,” Katie pleaded with Lockhart.  Lockhart, Lincoln and Alexis shared a glance, but none seemed too concerned.  Lockhart made a decision.

“Record what you want,” he said.  “I am sure the Kairos knows and hasn’t objected so far.  I think we can safely let the Kairos decide what to do with it when we get back home.”

Boston came running up at about fifty-miles-per hour.  She phased through Elder Stow’s screen automatically, though she felt it and it caused her to pause.  Fortunately, her fairy weave clothing came with her, but her wand and the leather case she made to carry it against her thigh did not.

“Putz,” she said, and had to reach back to consciously bring the wand and case inside the screen.  She started to yell as soon as she got near the fire.  “Something big is moving through the trees.  It isn’t human or an animal.  It feels creepy.”

ice lake 1Mingus paused to concentrate before he named it.  “Ghoul.”

People reached for their guns.  Decker, who already had his rifle in hand, Mingus, and Elder Stow stepped to the lake side of the camp, which was where Boston pointed.  They saw it come out from the woods as the others joined them.  It stepped carefully on the snow covered, frozen lake, and appeared to be headed for the time gate they just came through.

“Scout,” Mingus called it.

Boston had a different thought.  “Can they swim?”

Mingus nodded.  “It will swim the thirty miles to the island in the last time zone without trouble, and probably scare off or eat any sharks it passes along the way.”

“They seem to have some way of knowing where the time gates are,” Katie whispered, though they had all figure that out some time ago.

“Well,” Decker put his rifle on automatic and fired even as Elder Stow let loose with the sonic device, which was still in his hand.  The ghoul let out a death wail as the ice beneath it cracked, gave way, and the ghoul vanished in the frigid water.

Decker groused.  “It would have been better to kill it.”

“I think you did,” Katie said.

Decker 2“Anyway,” Mingus spoke up as he turned back to the fire.  “Ghouls are like all of the Djin.  They are primarily creatures of heat.  They normally avoid the cold, and I suspect the icy lake water would finish it if you didn’t kill it.”

“I would rather see the green and purple smudge to be sure it doesn’t live to eat another day,” Decker finished.

“Pack up,” Lockhart said once they got back to the camp.  “The other nine are probably on their way.  Boston, we need to move, but off the direct line to the next time gate.  Hopefully, we will pass them by.”

Avalon 4.5 part 3 of 6, The King’s House

Rebecca took Lockhart, Katie and Father Mingus with her.  She said same group as in Babylon, but she left Boston behind because Boston was up to her elbows in deer blood.   Tel-Aram walked beside Rebecca, and it looked to Katie like that was where he wanted to stay.  Lockhart imagined Rebecca and Tel-Aram were living in a kind of truce.  The guards around them supported that idea by leaving the strangers plenty of room.  It was likely they had learned not to crowd Rebecca’s friends, and maybe learned that lesson the hard way.

The king’s house was not especially larger or more opulent than the other houses around the square, but it did appear to be actually two houses stuck together.  Katie remarked that the royal family probably lived in one house and conducted business in the other.  There were two front doors and Tel-Aram stopped his men outside one of them.chldean village 1

Rebecca paused to speak to her friends.  “King Nabrabel is a stuck-up, prejudiced old man with no tolerance for anything other than abject obedience.”  She touched Tel-Aram’s hand, which made him smile.  “Tel-Aram and I will prostrate ourselves, but it may be best if you did not.  If you do, he may wish to lay claim to your horses and who knows what?  I will present you as poor travelers who will be moving on as soon as possible.  Hopefully we may have a few days to relax.”

“Too bad,” Lockhart said.  “After the last time zone I started thinking it was no skin off our nose to bow, if called for.”

“Maybe next time,” Rebecca said.  “Here, to submit gives him ownership, at least in his mind.”

“This may help,” Mingus said.  He removed the glamour that made him look human.  The guards gasped and stepped back, but Tel-Aram nodded, like he understood something about Rebecca’s friends.

Rebecca clearly thought about it, but said nothing.  “You have your handguns with you.  Let us hope you don’t have to kill anyone.”

“Let us hope?” Tel-Aram wanted to object to the idea, but Rebecca moved inside.

The downstairs of that house was one big room with a raised ceiling supported on a half-dozen posts.  In the back, there were stairs that no doubt went to some sort of second floor.  To their right and toward the back there were double doors which no doubt led into the house next door.  On a two-foot-high platform at the back, there were three chairs.  A gruff looking old man sat in mes king 3the big chair in the center and glared at them as they walked forward.  The woman seated to the king’s left was no doubt his wife.  She smiled a little.  The man seated to the king’s right was no doubt the son.  He looked like he was trying to imitate his father’s glare.

There were several other men in the room, and several guards, but they kept back so the strangers could approach the throne.  Rebecca and Tel-Aram went to their knees and their faces, briefly, before they stood again.  The strangers did no such thing.

“Woman?” the king spoke, and it was not a nice sound.

“These are travelers come from far away Babylon,” Rebecca said.  “They have further to go, but after many days in the wilderness, they thought to stop here briefly to see the greatness that is Ur of the Chaldees, as they call it.”

“You know of our home?” the Queen spoke out of turn.

“Only by reputation,” Katie responded woman to woman.

“Enough,” the king waved his hand at the women and the queen shrank back.  “I see one is a beast of the wilderness.”  The king pointed at Mingus.  It was hard to tell exactly what the king thought about that, except it was not anything good.

“That may be,” Mingus said.  “But even in the wilderness we know how to be hospitable to the strangers and wayfarers that come among us.”

Lockhart quickly interrupted.  “I am only sorry we will have to move on so soon and will not have the chance to enjoy your full hospitality.”

“See that you do,” the king said, hearing only that they would soon move on.

The son spoke.  “Ur-Baal belongs to the Kaldu.  We have no room for wild ones or for strange looking people.  We have Arameans who serve us, and that is enough.”

“But she has yellow hair,” the queen blurted out what most astonished her.

“Enough,” the king growled this time.  He looked ready to tell them to go away, but his eyes got big and his mouth looked like it could not close.  The king stood and backed away, knocking over his own throne.  He pointed at the strangers and stuttered.  “uh—uh,” before he screamed.ghouls 3

Mingus and Katie reacted to the evil in the room.  Lockhart, with his police trained instincts drew his revolver only a second after Katie pulled her M1911A2.  Mingus pointed at the stairs and yelled.

“There.”

It was only a vague shadow, but Mingus threw a fireball even as Katie and Lockhart fired.  Bullets struck the head and chest, and when the fireball hit the stomach, the ghoul became fully visible.  It had no time to howl before its middle exploded, scattering pieces of ghoul parts around the room.

Mingus stayed by Rebecca and kept his senses wide open as Katie, Lockhart, Tel-Aram and several guards ran to check on the creature.  It had begun the characteristic meltdown that would leave a green and purple smudge on the floor.

“The scout,” Katie said.

“That means there are nine more out there,” Lockhart agreed and looked around the room while Tel-Aram’s eyes went wide.

“Nine more?”

“We probably have twenty-four to forty-eight hours before they show up,” Mingus shouted, having heard from across the room.

“Woman,” they heard the king again, and it sounded angry, and afraid.  The son looked lost.  The queen still had her hands over her eyes.

“Good thing my friends arrived,” Rebecca yelled.  “No telling who might have been eaten if they weren’t here to stop the ghoul.”  It was some fast thinking.

The king visibly paused.  “Get out,” he hollered.

“Katie.  Lockhart,” Rebecca called.

“You heard the king,” Mingus added, and moved them toward the door before the king thought of something else to say.

Once outside, Tel-Aram repeated his question.  “Nine more?”

“They travel in ten-packs,” Lockhart said.

Rebecca 4“Good thing you are here,” Rebecca said.

“They possess the mind,” Mingus explained.  “Generally one at a time, but I would guess the king was possessed and he saw us as ghouls.”

“I bet the ghoul wanted him to yell to kill us, but the king was too scared to say anything.”

“Why are you glad we are here?” Lockhart asked Rebecca as they started back to Rebecca’s house.

“Because I am sure the Kasdim would blame us, the Arameans for this plague of ghouls.”

“Instead, they will blame us,” Lockhart said.

“And they wouldn’t be wrong,” Katie added.

“But, what can we do?” Tel-Aram sounded a bit desperate.

Rebecca smiled.  “Get your men.  Search the town in groups of three.  Listen for screams in the night.”  She stopped, slipped one hand on the man’s shoulder and kissed him on the cheek.  “You captured a Blob.  A few ghouls should be no problem.”

Tel-Aram stood in shock for a moment before he ran back to gather his men.

The travelers moved on with a comment.

“We should leave first thing in the morning.”

“I’m sorry,” Rebecca said.  “I was looking forward to you staying a few days.”

###

Tera’s family lived next door, and the other Arameans beyond.   While the supper cooked, Tera’s sons, including Abram, took the remains and uncooked meat to the people to share the wealth.  When Rebecca, Lockhart, Katie and Mingus returned to the yard, there appeared to be a real party going on.  That got cut short when Lockhart told the others about the ghoul.

“Mingus says we may have twenty-four hours before the other nine get here,” Katie said.  “But we should leave in the morning, just to be safe.”  The others were disappointed.  They were looking forward to staying for a while as well.

“Maybe Pluckman and his band of merry dwarfs will get back in time to help,” Rebecca said.dwarves a1

Tera moaned and Leah rolled her eyes.

“Yes,” Lincoln sat up.  “I was going to ask.  Where is he?”

“I sent him out to find me a left handed smoke shifter,” Rebecca said with a straight face.  “Now, everyone, wash-up for supper,” Rebecca added nice and loud.  “The smell of that rump roast is starting to drive me crazy.”

“I covered it with flour and garlic,” Boston said with a big grin.

“Oh, I’m sorry.  I should have checked it,” Alexis said.

“Hey!” Boston protested.

“You do have a mixed bag when it comes to cooking,” Alexis said.

“Don’t worry,” Decker said.  “I got flank steaks and some fillets cooking.”

“I’m starved,” Lockhart said.

“I would think a giant would be starved all the time,” Tera said, but he added that he felt starved, too.