Avalon Pilot part I-3: Meanwhile, Back on Earth…

Three old men and one young woman stood in an open field somewhere in suburban New Jersey.  The green grass looked uncut and undisturbed, except where the corporate plane set down.  The trees that surrounded the perimeter of the field, mostly oak and maple, had just enough fir trees to break the monotony.  The trees looked well-spaced for easy passage, if anyone cared to walk through the woods to the field.  The sound of distant road traffic suggested civilization, not far away.  The sound of children playing among the trees suggested the three old men and young woman should leave before they were discovered; but first they had to watch.

A white light, bright enough to easily be seen under the noonday sun—a rectangle, door-like shape of brilliance stood before them.  They watched it rise about ten feet in the air.  A voice, like one might imagine the voice of an angel, came from the light.

“Remember, Lockhart, do not depend on those healing chits.  They are organic and will stay in your system for some time, but you do not have the seeds to grow more.  They will eventually die out, and you will again be vulnerable to the pains of age.  I am sorry.  I am not permitted to do more.  Maybe the Kairos can do more for you, but that is not my place to say.  Farewell friends.”

The light rose slowly in the sky even as it rapidly shrank in size.  It looked like it disappeared, but one of the three old men shook his head.

“It did not really go invisible,” he said.  “It just got too small to see and zoomed off to somewhere else in this universe or in some other universe.”

“We won’t see them again?” the tallest old man asked.

The first man shrugged.  “Who can say?”

The third old man turned on the first.  “But you are the Kairos, the Traveler in Time.  Don’t you know?”

The first man, the Kairos, shook his head as he replied.  “No reason I should know.  The future isn’t written yet.  Well, it is written, but I don’t have the record of every individual life in history.  Well, there is a record of every life in the Heart of Time, but I don’t have snap-your-finger access to the heart.  Besides, it only records what happened in the past, or rather, it is recording the present, but it has no record of the future.  True, I remember a couple of future lifetimes, you know, but I can’t say exactly what will be.  I mean, my future lives can’t be expected to remember all the intimate details in the life of every human being this far in the past.  Are you following me?  Am I making any sense?”

“None at all,” the tall old man said, and added a big grin, like this was not the first time the Kairos spoke in riddles, and he found it funny.

The Kairos shook his head and continued.  “Anyway, I mostly deal with events, and usually just the big things.  I have one hundred and twenty past lives stretching all the way back to about 4500 BC, though I don’t remember most of them.  I have twenty or more in the future, though I only remember a few of those.”  He stopped and shook his hands as if to say, don’t interrupt.  “Remembering future lives is the only way to explain it, because it comes to me just like any memory.  But, what I mean is, I have no idea what is going to happen tomorrow.  Tomorrow is just as much a mystery to me as it is to anyone else.”

The Kairos turned toward the corporate plane that started to rev its engines.  The tall old man looked at his own two feet as he walked, but raised his voice to comment to the young woman.

“Come along, Boston.  Don’t forget the wheelchair, which I no longer need.”  He smiled as he walked.

“Lockhart,” Boston complained while she lugged the folded chair as well as she could through the tall grass.  “It didn’t seem so heavy when you were in it.”

Lockhart nodded.  “It is a wonder I didn’t put on a hundred pounds given all the years I spent confined to that chair.”  He hopped, and tried to click his heels, but he nearly lost his balance in the attempt.  He remained sixty-eight, even if he could walk.  He did not suddenly become twenty-five, like Boston’s age.

“But Glen,” the third old man was thinking things through and stepped up to the Kairos.  “How are we going to find Alexis?  Don’t you know where my wife is?”

“Lincoln,” Glen spoke kindly to the man and touched his arm to assure him of his sincerity.  “We will go back to headquarters and I promise we will use every means available to find her.”

“But…” Lincoln started to say something, but he held his tongue and went wide-eyed instead when the old man in front of him vanished and a well-built young man in ancient looking armor appeared in Glen’s place.

“Diogenes,” Boston shouted the young man’s name, and smiled.  She normally smiled when the Kairos traded places, as he called it, with a different lifetime from somewhere in history.  Lincoln normally quieted and his eyes often showed his surprise.  Lockhart stayed busy enjoying the sensation of walking on his own two feet.  He noticed, but he was preoccupied.

“L-let me,” Diogenes stuttered.  He reached out for the folded wheelchair and picked it up off the ground.  He carried it over his head, awkward as that was, but in that way, he got it up the ramp and into the plane.  Lockhart and Lincoln followed, old-man slow.  Boston came last because she caught some movement in the woods.  A half-dozen children, the oldest being a girl of maybe ten years, stood at the edge of the trees, staring.

“Keep back,” Boston shouted.  “Keep the little ones back,” she added for the ten-year-old, and underlined the command with her most serious look.  Then she ran up into the plane and pressed the button to retract the ramp.  The pilot hardly waited for the door to close.  He took the stealth designed VTOL straight up into the air.  Seconds later, the Kairos, Lockhart, Lincoln, and Boston were headed toward a non-descript building in the Virginia countryside, outside of Washington.

Diogenes traded back with Glen.  This was Glen’s life, after all, and Glen sat his old body down on the couch facing a work table full of computers and an inordinate amount of paperwork.  Lockhart sat in the co-pilot’s seat until they reached cruising altitude, though he gave the impression that he wanted to stand on his newly repaired legs for a while.  Lincoln sat in the corner and fretted about his missing wife.  Boston sat at the table, but swiveled her chair around to face the Kairos.

“Glen,” she tried for his attention, but clearly did not want to disturb him if he was thinking about something important.  He looked at her.  “Can I go to Avalon some day?” she asked, sweetly.  One of the two young men working at the table handed her a stack of papers.  She griped.  Glen snickered, but answered.

“Someday, maybe,” he said.

“Grumble,” Boston verbalized as she turned and at least pretended to type.

Lockhart came back from the cockpit.  He faked a little soft shoe before he sat where he could face Glen, and Lincoln in the corner.

“So, Lockhart,” Glen asked a question.  “As the assistant director of the men in black, got any ideas how Bobbi can convince Colonel Weber and his intrusive marines to go back to Groom Lake and leave us alone?”  When the alien Vordan came to earth, they first targeted the so-called Men in Black in strategic locations around the globe.  Colonel Weber and his marines, supposedly under the authority of the president, invaded the headquarters building when the Vordan flattened area 51.  Weber came, presumably, to help provide security and defend the only organization that knew anything at all about aliens.  Glen objected.  The president had no such authority, but Colonel Weber said he figured the organization was so secret, who would know?

“I don’t suppose one of your godly lives, like Junior or Nameless would be willing to blink them back to Nevada.”

Glen thought a minute.  “No.  Colonel Weber is an ass, but not a threat to history.  The gods have strict limits on where, when, and how they are able to interfere in normal, everyday life.  But Danna and Amphitrite agree that they don’t like the man, if that helps.”

Lockhart shook his head.  Getting the marines out of Men in Black business would be a headache.  He would help Bobbi, the director, as much as he could.  He would probably have to come up with some ideas for her to at least try.

Boston spun around.  “Maybe you could tell them some Vordan got left behind and are available for dissection if they all fly out to their own place and leave us alone.”

“We try not to lie,” Glen scolded her, but smiled.  “Besides, Colonel Weber already thinks anything alien is there to be dissected.  Living, intelligent, alien person; it is all the same to him, and I don’t want to promote that kind of thinking.”  He waved his finger in a circle.  Boston made a sour face and turned back to the table and her work.

“PhD in electrical engineering and I’m nothing but a clerk…a cluck,” she said.

Lincoln scooted closer to the conversation and kindly asked about something other than his missing wife.  “What I want to know is what are you going to do about Emile and Mirowen.”

Glen thought again.

Emile Roberts, utterly human, was a physicist that should have been an auto mechanic.  His current specialty appeared to be taking apart two-thousand-year old abandoned alien spacecraft to see how they worked.  Mirowen, a former elf maid, got right in there with him.  She knew the little spirits of the earth were not supposed to make those kinds of attachments to mortal humans.  But she got attached to the man, and whenever one of Glen’s little ones got attached in that way, it felt like superglue.  They were very hard to remove.

Boston spun to face them again.  “But they are so cute together.”

Glen looked at Lincoln.  Lincoln’s wife, Alexis, had been an elf; but she gladly gave up being an elf and became human to become Missus Benjamin Lincoln.  The problem with Emile and Mirowen was Mirowen did not seem so anxious to become human.  Of course, Emile becoming an elf was laughable, so that was out of the question.  Right now, the couple appeared to be in a stalemate position on the issue, but Glen knew that was not what Lincoln felt concerned about.

“Don’t worry,” Glen told Lincoln.  “We will find your wife.”

Guardian Angel-23 Family Ties, part 3 of 3

Ethan rushed to Jill’s side.  “You’ll get better,” he said.  “We can heal you, can’t we?”

Jill shook her head.  She was not sure.  Her left arm, part of her abdomen on the left side was missing.  The bleeding had more or less stopped, but there was not much hope.  “I can’t regenerate so much from scratch fast enough.”  She tried to lift her good hand and she smiled at him as he knelt beside her.  Ethan caught the hand and pulled it to his cheek, and kissed her hand through his tears.  “We all have to die sometime,” she said.

Ethan tried to get hold of himself.  “But I can’t lose you.  We just found each other.  Please, don’t leave me.”  He pleaded and did not care how it sounded.

“You’ll find someone, someday,” Jill responded.  “I did.  And when you do, you must love her with all your heart.  I will not be happy if you love her less for my sake.”

“But I want to marry you, for real and forever,” Ethan said.  “I love you.”

Jill tried to nod as her smile grew.  “And I will marry you.  Kiss me.”

Ethan leaned over and put his lips to hers.  She hardly had the strength to kiss, but he gave her his personal chit and she gave hers to him.  “Once more,” she whispered, and he kissed her again, and she passed him her work chit, which had integrated all of Lela’s unfinished work.

“Do you mind?”  She asked.

“I’ll do it,” he said.  “I’ll make you proud.”  He kissed her hand again with his lips and tears.

“I was so lonely,” Jill said.  “For centuries.”  Her voice could barely be heard, but her smile would not quit.  “Now I am so happy.”  That was the last thing she said as she passed into unconsciousness.

###

“So I rushed over and grabbed Dominic’s key as fast as I could.  He didn’t exactly hide it.  I scooped up Jillian and got her in stasis.  She is still alive, technically, but I don’t know if I was fast enough.”  He paused to take several deep breaths before he continued.  “Then I went back for everything and everyone else from the Company floor so the Elders wouldn’t come along and get mad.  Then I encoded Dominic’s battleship to my pattern and put Dominic in the morgue.  You know, this ship is almost a little city.  It has everything.”

Ethan paused for one more deep breath and he looked away before he finished his thoughts.  “Well, I didn’t know if it was safe to go to Jill’s world—to go home, even if I figured it was the only place where she might be saved.  I did not know what else to do.  Since I got the contact information that you passed to Jill when you hugged her at the house, I thought I might find you.”

Diana looked up at him with the saddest green eyes.  They were eyes, which Ethan knew, usually overflowed with life.  “I’m glad you did,” she said.  “I don’t know if it is too late either.  She is safe for the moment as long as we keep her in stasis, but the heads back home will be the only ones who may know how to save her, if she can be saved.”

Ethan sighed.  “Dominic’s spare key is where it belongs, but I scrambled the key frequency for the ship in case someone like Archon made a copy.”

“You are not supposed to do that, you know.  The army keeps a copy of every key.”

“I know, but I also did a search for tracers in case Dominic’s father had a trace on his son’s activities.  I didn’t find anything, but I am not sure an internal check would catch anything,”

“It’s alright,” Diana said, and she did smile a little, like she could not help it.  “I scanned the ship before I pulled into docking bay one.  I didn’t find any tracers either.”  Ethan’s look prompted her to explain.  “I’m sneaky, and I don’t trust everyone or believe the best of them like my sister.  She gave too many people the benefit of the doubt.”

Ethan understood.  “Doctor Augustus, you don’t mind that we have parked on this side of the Hudson?”

“Not at all,” Doctor Augustus said.  “It gives me something to look at besides the ruins of New Rome.  That was really beginning to be an eye sore.  Besides, from what you tell me, this is not the normal sort of world to park Gaian ships.  The only way anyone would find your ship in my world would be by complete accident.”

“I think I will,” Diana said suddenly, and everyone looked at her and wondered what she was talking about.  “I think I will leave my ship in dock one and travel the worlds from there.  That way, if I run into trouble I can always call on my big brother and his big battleship to help me out.”

Ethan looked at the Doctor.  “She is four hundred years old but I’m the big brother.”  They laughed a little, even if Ethan did not feel like laughing.

“Coffee sir?”  Manomar came in with a tray, and there were cookies.  It had been a struggle, but Ethan finally got Manomar to stop calling him master.  Getting him to stop being a servant, though, was going to take a bit more effort.

“Only if you join us,” Ethan insisted.

“Hot coffee with a little cream,” Manomar said.  “It really is quite good.”  He took a seat.

They sipped in silence for a minute before Ethan spoke again.  “So now what do we do?” he asked.

“We take Jillian and Dominic home,” Diana said.  “Archon will not dare interfere with the meds if there is any chance of saving her.  He won’t be happy to learn that she killed their only son, and he might want her dead, but I don’t think he will be able to do anything.”

“Her son killed her first.”  Manomar growled.

“But will it really be safe?”  Ethan asked.   “Jill said Archon was never good at playing by the rules.”

Diana shrugged put down her cup and changed the subject.  “I know where the rebels are operating underground, now that Jillian’s house is closed up; but you might reopen the house.  That would be pretty cheeky, but it is your right, and it might give Archon something else to focus on for a little while.”

“I don’t know,” Ethan said.  “Not just now.”  He would have to think about it.

“Still.  It would be good for you to meet the planners and coordination team and I know they will be happy to meet you”

Ethan was not going to argue.  He could not hold on to Jill forever in cold storage.  Besides, he had her inside now, in her personal chit.  That was Jill in every meaningful way, and that would never be taken from him.

“But now, about my world.”  Ethan changed the subject.

“Level twenty-four multinational.”  Diana described it.  “A tricky call.”

“You have to establish a guardian for my world,” Ethan said.  “I’m too close to the situation to make an objective choice.”

“I like your sister.”

“What?  Not Melanie.”  He made a face.  “Besides she is too young.”

“She’ll grow,” Diana said.  “She is very nice, and smart, too.”

“Say!  How do you know my sister?”

“I told you.  I’m sneaky.”

“Hmm.”  Ethan looked at his new sister, presumably his new little sister.  He fully expected Diana and Melanie to start teaming up against him.  It was inevitable, but he thought that maybe he could locate Devon somewhere and even the odds a little.  Ethan imagined Devon had all sorts of information on Diana, and Viviane, too.  “Viviane.”  He said the name aloud as the thought just occurred to him.  “She will have to be told, especially if Jillian is, you know.”

Diana actually grinned, a sly, mischievous grin.  “Poor Archon will have his hands full if Viviane is the eldest.”

“I’m sorry?”  Doctor Augustus was trying to follow the conversation, but he did not know Viviane.

“Middle Sister.”  Ethan said.

“And, well.  As Jill’s husband, Ethan is technically the eldest, but you can be sure Viviane will give it a good run, him being from the worlds and all,” Diana said.

Ethan sat back and sipped his coffee.  He might have stayed there for a while.  He might have sat and sipped his coffee and cried for days if Diana had not jumped up.  She dragged him to the Main.

“Time to go,” she said.

Ethan wanted to argue.  He did not want it confirmed that Jillian was dead.  He wanted to put it off and keep his hopes alive, but if he had argued, Diana would not have argued back like a normal person; she would have just given him that “he has a hole in his head” look, so he kept his thoughts to himself.

“I am looking forward to seeing what I can of the Gaian home world.”  Doctor Augustus said as he moved to a nearby view screen.

“Hurry up.”  Diana nudged Ethan to activity and mumbled a last thought, “And Melanie will make a great Guardian Angel.”

END

Monday

Prepare for the retelling of AVALON, The Pilot Episode, in the newly revised and expanded second edition (version 0.4).  It will be posted, three posts per week over a seven week period.  Hopefully, you will enjoy the expanded version, and find it less jarring then the previous telling.

The pilot episode originally followed the prequel, Invasion of Memories, a book worth reading, but to be fair, the pilot jumped right into a bunch of characters–names and all that sort of thing, without the proper build-up.  Sorry about that.

As a writer, I try to make things as perfectly clear as I can.  Even so, the questions and comments I get sometimes makes me think I am speaking Greek.  For example, three posts per week means a post on Monday, a post on Tuesday, and a post on Wednesday.  A person should not expect to read only the Monday posts and keep up with what is going on……………..sigh.

On the other hand, I like to think reading (like watching) one full episode is enough to understand something about the characters, what motivates them, and how the story-line basically works–a journey through time, where people lost in time travel from one time gate to the next, slowly working their way back to the twenty-first century.  It isn’t all that complicated.

After, I say again, after the revised and expanded pilot episode posts on this blog, two things will happen.  One, the pilot on Amazon, Smashwords, B & N, Apple, Sony, Kobo, etc., will be reduced to Free: that is, Zero dollars and Zero cents.  I would appreciate you picking it up on a legitimate site, rather than a pirate site, so I can keep track of numbers.  (That’s my OCD talking. Don’t mind me).

Second, Avalon, Season 5 will begin posting on this blog.  That’s okay.  You are allowed to start with season five if you have not read any of the earlier seasons.  One episode is enough to follow along, remember?  Enjoy.

 

 

 

Guardian Angel-23 Family Ties, part 2 of 3

“The explosion was within two hours of our leaving.  Whoever did it must have had a plant in the room, like Diana’s plant in the house.  Obviously, they noticed when we escaped out into the worlds,” Jill explained.

“And after that they followed, and the gunfire started,” Ethan said to remind her of the attacks in Ali Pasha’s and Alexander’s worlds.

“And at the house,” Jill added.

“But is the tracer still there?”  Ethan asked.  “Will they know we have come back here?”

“I don’t know,” Jill said as she backed up for a second and pulled two stick pens out of her pocket.  They were energy weapons, and Ethan knew how to use them the minute he saw them.  “I pulled these out in case we needed them against those soldiers that I thought might come to the house.”

“Good of you to share,” Ethan said.  He took one and looked at it closely.

“I didn’t want to worry you in case my fears turned out to be groundless.”

“But these are empty.  There is no charge in them.”

“What?”  Jill took back his and then examined her own.  “Damn!”  She swore.  “It must have happened back in the house.  Whoever blew up Lela’s ship must have seen them on my person and drained them from a distance.”

“They can do that?”  Ethan asked, and he immediately knew that someone could do it with the right adjustment on the projection device.

Jill looked up at him and might have smiled if she was not so upset about the loss of Doctor Grimly.  “They still have their back charge,” she said.  “All you need to do is tap the end against something hard and a single charge will load, so make it a good shot.”

“Eh?”

“They were developed for travelers as a precaution against sticky fingered locals or a world with a technology that might try to drain them like they have been drained.”

“One shot?”

“Tap and shoot.  Lars might have called it a seven shooter, only the expected six bullets have already been spent.”

Ethan nodded and put his in his pocket.  He took Jill by the arm again and went back to the elevator.  “The best thing for us to do is leave this world altogether, just to be safe.”

“Absolutely,” Jill agreed, and they tried not to think about having left an injured Manomar with the equipment down in the room where the tracer would be located.  They hurried, but tried not to panic.

They got as far as the hallway that opened on to the reception area outside the research and development doors before Jill halted their progress with a sharp tug on Ethan’s arm.  Someone stood lazily outside the R & D doors, waiting for them.

“Hold it right there.”  They heard the voice behind them.  Randy was there with Tahsa, Big Mary, several others, and a security guard, and the guard had his gun out.

“Damn.  Randy moves fast,” Ethan whispered.

“Down!”  Jill dragged Ethan to the ground.  The man by the research and development doors pulled out a pen-weapon of his own, but his was fully charged and a baby blue light went over their heads.  The security guard vanished, and they heard the killer speak as they scooted behind the reception desk.

“I hate the police.”  The killer stepped out from the doors but kept his weapon pointed in their direction.  He maintained about ten feet between them, and seemed to want to talk first.  “Out of there,” he said, and Ethan could not help looking.  He recognized the man.  He was not surprised to see that it was Dominic.

Jill stood up beside him as Ethan pulled his own weapon and pointed it at their assailant.  He thought the man might not know, but that thought got dashed when the man laughed.  “Not much good an empty pen is going to do you,” Dominic said.

“What are you doing here?”  Jill stepped out from the desk and spoke boldly.  “Does your father know you are here?”

Dominic laughed.  “No way, mom.  Dad wants you dead.  He tried three times, but your Elder buddies kicked his butt.  Now I had another idea.”

“How did you change my destination code?”  Suddenly, everything in Jill’s mind made sense.

“Easy,” he said.  “I had your spare key.  It told me what dead world your ship was hidden on and everything.”  He laughed.  “Boom.”  He indicated what happened to her ship.

“Dominic!”  Jill scolded him with her voice as surely as Ethan’s mom had scolded Melanie when she kicked the table.

“Hey!”  Dominic spoke defensively.  “Dad wanted you dead.  I was being nice stranding you on a world, junky though it was.  I even checked on you from time to time.”

“Bingo.”  Ethan breathed, and Dominic laughed again before he turned deadly serious.

“But then you started tinkering with that Grimly guy and it looked like you might eventually find your way out of the trap, so I found your buddy Lela and fed her to the Nelkorian while I made a copy of her spare key.  I figured you would come and find out what happened to her, and if you survived the Nelkorian, you would take her ship.  With my key copy, I followed you everywhere.”

“Including to the house in Lyoness.”  Ethan said in a more normal voice.

“So who is the jerk?”  Dominic did not appreciate the interruption.  “Your latest squeeze?  Mom, you’re a slut.”

“Ethan is my husband,” Jill said.  “He is my real husband.”

“Real husband?  What?  As opposed to my father?  You are nothing but a whore.  I think dad was right.”  He fired.  Jill shoved Ethan and twisted, but the blue bolt disintegrated her left arm and a long scrape off the left side of her body.  It was a wonder that she did not die instantly.

“And now for the jerk.”  Dominic said.  “Ow!”  He yelled.  He had a long knife in his shoulder.  He turned and Ethan saw Manomar collapse in the research and development doorway.  He turned again toward Ethan, his face distorted in anger as he reached up to pull the knife out of his shoulder.  Ethan did not hesitate.  He tapped his pen against the reception desk and fired where he thought to do the most good.  Dominic’s forearm vanished, and the hand holding his pen-weapon fell to the rug.  Dominic howled, but calmed after a moment, and he held Manomar’s long knife in his good hand.  He grinned at Ethan.

“Didn’t mom teach you anything?  I can heal these wounds, and in a couple of days I’ll have my arm back, good as new.”  He brandished the knife in Ethan’s direction to keep him away while he bent down to get the weapon out of his own decapitated hand.  He kept his eyes up and on Ethan, and he only looked at Jill when he heard a “click.”  She had her pen weapon in her remaining hand and it was pointed right at Dominic’s head.  It was a good thing the man was leaning over, because Jill could not lift her arm any further.

“Mom?”  Dominic mouthed the word before his head vanished.  His body fell to the rug.

Guardian Angel-23 Family Ties, part 1 of 3

The ceiling fell on Manomar’s back.  He had pushed Jill and Ethan down and covered them with his body, and now, to avoid crushing his master and mistress, he screamed and stood which strained and almost broke his back in the process.  The bits of ceiling fell to the sides, but he collapsed.  Ethan checked.  There was still a pulse, but it was light.  He turned and saw Jill with the transitional watch in her hand and the laptop open and booting.  Fortunately, the watch was still wired and only needed plugging in.

“Damn software.”  Jill whispered in her softest voice before she began to type furiously.  Ethan heard someone in the room, rooting through the rubble.  A blue streak of energy shattered the glass in the case over Jill’s shoulder.  Ethan and Jill ducked to escape the flying glass

“Ready, set, go.”  Jill grabbed Ethan by the arm, just like the first time they hopped from one world to the next, and Ethan still held Manomar by the hand.  He expected the light flash this time, but instead, he found himself floating in a kind of space or non-space.  He felt squished to a pin and a hundred feet long, not tall.

“The house.”  Jill spoke in a dreamy voice.  “My instructions were to send us back to the Company location if my ex-husband sent troops and blocked our passage to Lela’s ship.”

“I thought you said there were some things he dared not do.”  Ethan countered.  He listened closely to his own dreamy sounds, which he hardly recognized as his own voice.

Jill shrugged not unlike her sister, except Jill’s shrug rippled across Ethan’s mind.  “Archon was never good at playing by the rules.  God willing, he will get in trouble for this.”

“Is he behind this?”

Jill shrugged again even as they landed on someone’s front lawn with a thump.  “Maybe.”

“What did we just go through?”  Ethan asked, ready to stand up and look around.  She kept him seated.

“Worm hole,” she said, and she let go and began to type again.  “But they will trace it and be on us in a second.  Hold on.”  She grabbed him by the elbow once more while he continued to hold Manomar and then she hit the enter button.  Ethan heard the words.  “Dimensional shift is much harder to trace,” and then the light came and they landed.

Ethan got up this time.  They were in Doctor Grimly’s lab room, or one just like it.  Evidently, she had planted those coordinates in her chits and pulled them out when needed.  “But how can we be on the third floor?”  Ethan asked the obvious question.

“The transitional unit has some capacity for spatial movement,” she said, as she stood more slowly with Ethan’s help.  She had held the watch.  “Keeps us from appearing inside a tree trunk or in the middle of a wall.”  Of course, Ethan had not realized that before.  He was sure his own nano-chits would have told him as much, but he felt there was so much he still did not know because he did not know what to ask.

Manomar moaned, and Ethan bent down while Jill turned on the lab lights.  It was near enough to the end of the day, so they were not surprised to find no one in the room, but then they did not expect to find the room empty and spotless either, as if no one had been there in weeks.  Jill paused.  She did not understand what she was seeing.

“Are you alright?”  Ethan asked Manomar.

“My back.”  Manomar winced as he tried to sit up.  Ethan helped the big man lean his back against the lab table.  He wanted to help Manomar stand, but Manomar was in no condition for that yet.

“This isn’t right.  It’s eerie,” Jill said.  “We need to find out what is going on?”

“Won’t Grimly find us?”  Ethan asked.  “If he is the guardian of this earth, he has to have noticed our shift into this world.  Shouldn’t we just stay here and wait for him.  He won’t be long if he is in the building.”

“No,” Jill said.  “This isn’t right.  Something happened here, and we need to find out what.”  Ethan questioned her with his eyes, so she explained.  “The man never kept a neat office, certainly nothing like this.  It looks like no one has worked here in some time.”

“I don’t follow.”

“I don’t either,” Jill said as she bent down to Manomar.  “Your chits will have you back on your feet soon enough,” she told him.  “We won’t be gone long.  Just enough to get some answers, depending on who is still at work.”

Manomar grabbed her by the wrist.  “Be careful, my Lady,” he said.  She nodded as he let go and she captured Ethan’s hand.  Ethan was thinking about parading around the company halls dressed in a mini-skirt.

They found no one in the hall outside Doctor Grimly’s door, and that actually made Jill feel a little better, to think that it was not just the Doctor’s room that was empty.  The other research and development lab rooms were all empty, too.  She checked.  It was Wednesday and not a holiday.  Still, she could not imagine where everyone went until Ethan suggested that maybe someone had something ready to show.  That usually attracted a crowd.

“Like Doctor Martin and her light processor,” Jill said and understood.  If everyone was off seeing some demonstration, that might explain some of it.

When they walked past the reinforced research and development doors and into the main part of the building, they heard some conversation down the hall by the nearest restrooms.  Jill got ready to head straight for the voices, but Ethan grabbed her.  He did not have a good feeling about things either, and he thought he might go up to Marketing where he could access a computer in more private surroundings.  He guided her to the elevator and waited for the doors to close before he spoke.

“Something is not right.  Grimly should be on our trail by now if he is anywhere near, unless his chits are damaged or something.”

“Not possible,” Jill said as the elevator doors reopened.  Ethan looked first, and then he guided Jill to the copy room beside the break room where a computer sat in a back corner.  He sat her down.

“Try the bulletin board and then the internet,” he suggested.  “I’ll be right back.”  He had caught sight of someone out of the corner of his eye.  He saw Randy Marlow, the office gossip and all around jerk, and trapped the man in the back of the break room.

Randy backed up and banged into the refrigerator with a very curious comment.  “You’re supposed to be dead,” he said.  “Please don’t hurt me.”

“Why would I hurt you?” Ethan asked.  “I’m just looking for a little information, that’s all.”

“Just because I took Susan out on a couple of dates, that doesn’t mean there is anything between us.”  Randy spoke fast to save his own skin from some perceived retribution on the part of Susan’s jilted lover.

Ethan shook his head.  “What are you talking about?”

“But what are you doing here?”  Randy asked.  He lowered his voice to a whisper.  “You’re supposed to be dead.”

“Randy.  I am not dead.  I have just been away.  What made you think I was dead?”

Randy relaxed a little, as much as any office gossip on the edge of the story of the year could relax.  He started to guess.  “Toga party?  Go to the Islands?  Some uptown sex club?  Man, look at you.”

“Randy.  What made you think I was dead?”  Ethan had to repeat the question.

“The explosion.”  Randy blurted out even as Jill walked into the room and Randy’s eyes almost fell out of his head.  “Woah!  Hill, how did you manage that!  Jesus!  Wait ‘till Susan hears.”

“There was an explosion the day we left,” Jill said.  She completely ignored the little man.  Her eyes were red and Ethan reached out and held her while she cried for the man she had known and cared for over all those years.

“Jeez!”  Randy could hardly take his eyes off the beauty, but he scooted past them and shot off down the hall before Ethan could stop him.

Guardian Angel-22 Paradise, part 3 of 3

It was nearly noon when they selected a case for the laptop and dimensional watch.  Ethan was reluctant to part with the equipment, but he understood that it ought to be preserved as a piece of history.  No one had ever done such a thing before, and Jill said she wondered if her baby brother Devon might still be out there somewhere, only in a world that was not advanced enough for him to escape.

“Isn’t there a way to contact him?”  Ethan wondered as he pulled the dimensional watch from the briefcase.  Jill had explained that she came up with the idea for the dimensional watch by considering how the elders moved around by tapping their wristwatches.  This was a technology no Gaian ever tried before, but it worked, Ethan was happy to say.

“Now there would be, yes.”  Jill answered the question about contacting Devon.  “I can leave a chit with the coordinating committee and contact them if I get stranded somewhere.  Their chit will download the necessary information to pinpoint the exact Earth.  But that is something that has only been developed in the past fifty years, or so.  We could contact ship to ship, or ship to home, of course, but a general wave direct contact person to ship, or to person, or to home never came to mind.  I guess we thought no one would ever be foolish enough to be out there separated from their ship.  Personal tracking did not exist when I was stranded on your Earth, and it certainly did not exist when Devon disappeared nearly two hundred years ago.  An incredibly obvious oversight, I am sure, but no.  There is not any more chance of contacting him than there was to contact me on your world.”

“But the guardians can contact their Gaian, like Kera Ann contacted Lela,” Ethan said

“On a single direct wave only.  It was an oversight.”  Jill spoke sharply, before she took Ethan’s hand and calmed herself.  “No one thought that way until Devon got lost, and then me.”  She changed the subject.  “You know; I was not even supposed to go to your world.  It was not on my route.  I was sidetracked, somehow.  I don’t know how.  Of course, that meant that no one could find me by tracing my route, which is the way they tried to do it, because I was not on my route.  When my ship exploded in the London blitz, though I still cannot understand how that was possible, I got stuck until I could repair the transitional unit.”  She held her hand out and Ethan gave her the watch.

“Sounds like someone wanted you out of the way.”  Manomar suggested the obvious.

Ethan nodded and pointed at Manomar.  “What he said.  Someone has certainly been following us and firing at us, and they might have gotten us, too, if the Elders had not shown up.”

“Yes, that did happen once,” Jill agreed.

“Twice,” Manomar corrected.  “The Elders were first on my world and then on Alexander and deMartin’s world.”

“Yes, twice,” Ethan agreed again as he took the laptop from Manomar and turned it toward Jill.

“Still.”  Jill shook her head.  She touched the laptop, but she did not take it.

“Someone blew up your ship, and I doubt it was the Germans.”  The idea of that was absurd, given the fact that the ship was in another dimension and shielded by screens powerful enough to ward off an atomic blast, or several atomic blasts and then some.

“But who would do such a thing?”  Jill pulled her hand back from the laptop.  “And how could they find me when no one else could?”

“I would guess it was the same person who misdirected you,” Manomar said.

“Exactly,” Ethan agreed again and held out the laptop again.  “The person that misdirected you would be the only person who knew where you were.”

Jill touched the laptop again and pulled her hand back again.  “But that is impossible,” she said.  “The ship was keyed to my person.  No one could enter alternate coordinates, at least not without me knowing.”

“Unless your ship had two keys like Lela’s ship.”  Ethan thought out loud.  Jill’s eyes got big and they heard a voice echo through the room.  It said, “Bingo,” before there was an explosion and fires everywhere.

Guardian Angel-22 Paradise, part 2 of 3

“Jillian.”  The woman spoke first in a rather haughty voice.  “Can’t say as I’m surprised.”

“He had me declared dead!”  Jillian shot the accusation as sharply as any weapon ever thrown or fired.

The woman’s eyes turned just as sharp.  “Your son.”  She started to speak, but Jill interrupted.

“I’m not talking about my son.  This is about Barf-on,” she said.

“Jillian!  You should not talk about the Tyrant in that manner, especially now that he is a poor widower.”

“He is nothing of the sort!  We were formally divorced!”  Jill’s anger reached a peak.  Ethan wanted to hold her, to help her calm down, but he feared for his life.

The blond woman shrugged.  “You know people.  Most people believe what they are told and reality rarely interferes with that.  Who remembers your divorce?  That’s ancient history.”

“But it hasn’t been a hundred years.”  Jill’s approach turned from anger to clever.  “I can’t be declared dead until I am missing at least a hundred years.”

The woman shrugged again.  “The Senate went along with it.  I suppose you could take it to court.”

Jill picked up a vase and threw it at the woman.  It went through and shattered against the floor and far wall while the woman merely shrugged.  “Still the same old Jillian.  You were always one for physical violence.”

“And don’t you forget it or I’ll find where you are and come and knock your brains out.”  Jill waved her fist at the woman and Ethan finally felt it was time to move.  He caught her in his arms, and she turned into his chest and cried a little.

“And you are?”  The woman looked at him, and Ethan was not about to be nice to her even if he figured out who she was.

“Ethan Hill.  Jill’s husband for real and forever,” Ethan said.  “And that makes you my little sister, doesn’t it Viviane?”

The woman was almost fazed by that.  It took her a second to regain her haughty composure.  “I suppose, if marriage to a non-person can be counted as valid.”

Jill swung around again, a lioness defending the pride.  “He is one of us by every chit of adoption and inclusion.  That case was decided by the courts ages ago, and if I choose to marry him, what is it to you?”

The woman shrugged a third time as if to say it meant nothing to her.  Then there was another shimmering image, and a younger woman, dark haired like Jill but with bright green eyes came into focus, and this one took on some substance, ran to Jill to hug her, and cried as she ran.  “Jillian.  I knew you would come.  I never quit hoping.  Oh Jillian.”  The poor young woman wept.

After a minute of Viviane rolling her eyes at the domestic scene, Jill introduced her youngest sister, Diana.  Ethan said hello and he was going to shake hands after his fashion, but he decided a hug was better.  As he hugged this little sister, she whispered in his ear.  “Don’t let Viviane bother you.  She is really a witch in disguise, you know.”

Ethan nodded.  “I figured that out.”  He returned her whisper.

Diana turned, then and took both of Jill’s hands.  “I am so happy for you.  He seems very nice.”  She hugged her sister and cried some more until Viviane had enough.

“Is there anything else?”  Viviane interrupted.  “I mean anything important?”

Jill set Diana in Ethan’s hands and stepped up to confront her sister.  “Yes,” she said.  “I have restored my presence in the house banks and sent my presence to a large number of friends with instructions to catalogue the truth so no amount of cleaning the house banks will change things.  You go back and tell Ass-on that he has ninety days to have me declared undead or I will take his throne and give it to Ethan.  And you know me, Viviane.  I don’t make idle threats and I don’t kid about things like that.”

Viviane drew herself up to her haughtiest height and vanished.  She left only a smoky image for a second before she was gone altogether.  Ethan swore he could smell the sulfur in that smoke.

Jill reached back for Ethan’s hand, which he gave, even though he was going to have something to say later about this throne business.  Diana faced her sister again and spoke first.

“Did you really mean that?  Do you really love him?”

“Yes,” Jill said.  “To both questions.”  She came close to Ethan and touched his cheek.

“Maybe someday.”  Diana sighed, and looked longingly at Ethan.

“But where are you?”  Jill asked her sister.

“Ah, I left the house bugged for your return.  Right now I’m on another world.”  She rattled off the information like a machine gun in operation.  “And you were right.  You were very, very right.  There is so much going on in the worlds, and some of it is very bad and needs to be stopped.  I am almost finished with my trip line, but I am going to go back for more.  So far, you should be proud of me.  I have only had to remove two guardians who turned the wrong way.  That’s not bad at all.”

“I am proud of you,” Jill said without comment on the removed guardians.  “But I worry about you, too.  It is dangerous out in the worlds.”

Diana nodded and looked serious for all of a second before her perfect smile popped out again.  She was just too happy to contain herself.  “I have to go, but I’ll be here in ninety days.  Did you really mean it?”  She asked again.

“Yes, sweet.  I really meant it.”

“God!  I can’t wait,” Diana said, and she vanished too, though Ethan imagined the smell of rose petals in her mist.

“Bundle of energy.”  Ethan described the woman as Jill turned into his arms.  With that, all thoughts of the sisters vanished.

“You said you were my husband already,” Jill softly reminded him.

“I will be, as soon as football season is over, if you will have me,” he responded.

“Football season?”  She looked up into his eyes.

Ethan nodded.  “I thought you might let my dad give you away, unless you have a favorite uncle or something.”

“Oh, Ethan.”  She spoke in a rather foolish voice, and the two became lost in each other’s arms while Manomar looked quietly out the parlor doors and studied the gardens.

Guardian Angel-22 Paradise, part 1 of 3

Ethan woke up when he felt Jill rise.  The overhead showed the dawn just coming up, and while in days past he would have grumbled at the early hour, he now felt rested and ready to rise, and loved.  What could be better than that?  Jill had told him with the chits he needed less sleep than he used to need, and with the Gaian built bed, he needed even less sleep to be rested, but he still enjoyed his time in bed, and he might have lingered if Jill had not thrown clothes at him.

“Hey!”  He shouted, but there was love in his voice.

“Up!”  Jill shouted back, and her love sounded just as strong.

Ethan sat up and looked.  Jill was dressed in a white linen mini-skirt and sandals.  It suited her, and he got all sorts of thoughts just looking at her.  They must have reflected in his eyes.

“No time,” Jill said, as if she read his mind.  “I decided you need to meet my family as well, dysfunctional as they are.”

“What?”  Ethan sat all the way up and saw that Jill had tossed him a kind of white mini-skirt of his own, and sandals that tied up to just below the knees.  He dressed while she got breakfast from the ship’s system.  It was bread and olive oil instead of butter, a kind of oatmeal mush with some unknown fruit, and milk for herself.  She allowed him his coffee.  He thought that this could not be the food of paradise, but she assured him that it was.

“Welcome to my Earth,” she said.

When they went to the control room, Ethan found Manomar tugging at his short skirt.  He did not mind wearing a dress, so much.  That would have not been too different from what he wore back home.  In his case, it was the shortness of the dress that bothered him.  Ethan was not sure about the dress itself, even if Jill said he had nice legs.

“So where are we?”  Ethan asked generally as he looked out the screen.  He saw pine trees and palm trees side by side, and just beyond those, he saw the ocean crash up against a bolder strewn shore.  When he squinted, he imagined another landfall in the distance, but there had to be miles of ocean in between.

“Lyoness,” Jill said.  “My private domain.”  When Ethan and Manomar looked at her, she said more.  “My father was tyrant, remember, and I was his eldest.  My ex-husband is now tyrant, what most people call Emperor, and he has been for the past two hundred or so years, though his power is very limited.”

“Yes,” Ethan interrupted.  “Aren’t you on the most wanted list?  Isn’t your picture in the post office?  I mean, is it safe to be here?”

Jill came to stand beside him.  “Archon’s power is limited.  We are a representative republic, very complicated, but there are certain things Archon would not dare on his own.  He would not even be in his position if we had not married and if my baby brother Devon had not disappeared.  Even now, he leans on the fact that we were married.”  She took Ethan’s hand and spoke to Manomar.  “I married him when I was a hundred years old, when the people were beginning to wonder if I was ever going to marry.  We had a son, but by the time my son was twenty-one, I had long since realized what kind of man Archon really was.  We were not together since then, and within days of my father’s death, Archon and I formally divorced, but by then he had already set himself up as Tyrant, and I was too busy with the guardian program to do anything about it.  I guess I didn’t care, since he seemed to represent the feelings of most of the people, I thought it was only just to let him have most of the headaches.”

“So your private domain?”  Ethan brought her back to the present.

Jill turned their view angle and they saw what could only be called a magnificent palace resting on a hill.  The land fell away on both sides to the ocean’s waters.  “We are at the tip of the peninsula,” she said.  “And this is my home.  Much of the guardian program was conceived and directed from this place.”

“And Archon did not shut it down?”  Ethan asked.  He knew the guardian program was technically illegal

“No,” Jill said.  “I told you, there are certain things he would not dare do on his own.”

Ethan slipped his arm around Jill’s shoulder, and she responded with her arm around his waist.  He spoke.  “I am only sorry I did not have a chance to meet your mother and father,” he said.

“Me, too.”  Jill sniffed back some tears.  “They would have liked you.”  She broke free and returned to the Main.  In a second or two, their door rested in the front hallway of the palace.

“Manomar?”  Jill turned to look.  Manomar lifted Ethan’s briefcase without a word; but Ethan looked curious, so she spoke.  “I thought we might find a display case of some kind.  It was a remarkable feat to escape your world as we did.”  She finally admitted it.

“So where is everyone?”  Ethan asked.  He changed the subject and looked at the emptiness of the hall.

“That’s what I was wondering,” Jill said.  “They should have picked up our approach last night, and surely by now they should be filling the hall to see us and welcome us.”

“They?”

“We employ servants.  They are well paid and come and go as they please.  Most don’t even need to be servants, but many choose that profession, often because their families have served the royal house for centuries.”  Jill flipped the view to any number of places in the building, all empty, before she landed on a living room—a sort of lounge area with plenty of books in bookcase walls, soft and inviting furniture, a couple of desks, and a few trophy cases along with various works of art scattered about.  Everything looked expensive, and the art, in particular, was no doubt priceless.

“I don’t like this,” Jill said.  “The Guardian team ought to at least be on hand and watching.  Come on.”  She took Ethan’s hand again and they stepped out on to a luxurious rug, Manomar in their wake.  Ethan took a moment to pinpoint the source of the lighting.  There were windows, or parlor doors of some sort along the far wall, which led out to a patio, which overlooked one of the garden areas.  They were well tinted to limit any possible glare from the sun.  Instead, the light seemed to be diffused sunlight, and it came in through the ceiling tiles.

“I imagined your ultra-futuristic world would be white and sterile looking somehow,” Ethan said.

“Hollywood!”  Jill scoffed.  “And boring in the extreme.”  She took him over to one of the desks.  Manomar followed quietly and looked around at everything like his old Master Ali Pasha would have done.

“And so?”  Ethan asked, after Jill touched the screen on the desk.

“I don’t understand.”  She shook her head and dragged him to a couch where she plopped down and drew her legs up to her chin.  “I thought the library annex would be a good place to rest for an hour.  Our chits have been updated, but it will take a little time to integrate everything, like when we upgraded in Lela’s ship.  We now have the most current information available.”  She paused to think.  “I see the exploration of the Horsehead Nebula is continuing, and one group plans to make the first venture to Andromeda.”

“That will be a long trip.  Hope it is worth it,” Ethan said.  He saw the same information in his mind, even as she mentioned it.

“But there is nothing on why this house is empty.  Even the house banks have been cleaned, but.”  She stopped and Ethan watched her face turn dark red.  He almost backed away.  “Why that Ass!  That creep!”  She jumped up and returned to the desk where she ran her hands with abandon across the screen.  She paced and would not talk either to Ethan or Manomar until there was a shimmering beside the desk.  A woman, a beautiful blond woman took form there, and Ethan immediately noticed the family resemblance.

Guardian Angel-21 Home, part 3 of 3

Later that night, when Jill and Ethan settled into the Captain’s Cabin and Ethan turned down the lights to let the image of stars and the moon glow softly above their heads, both had some thoughts.  Ethan asked and Jill answered, but Jill seemed very distracted the whole time.

“So, where do we go from here?”  Ethan began.

“There are a lot of worlds,” Jill answered.  “I am very behind schedule, and Lela did not finish, either.”

“Lots of choices, I guess.”

“Mmm.  We will have to take Doctor Grimly with us so he can go through some experiential teaching.  There are some lessons that can’t be taught in a classroom.”

“I wouldn’t say that too loud to an academic.”  Ethan teased and Jill let out a little laugh, but it was a small one.  “No, I was thinking Grimly set us up.”  Ethan shared the thought that had crossed his mind more than once.  “Did you talk to him about us, I mean, about your feelings?”

Jill shifted a little to a more comfortable spot.  “He couldn’t have,” she said.  “I mean, he is brilliant, but the technology was just too far beyond him.”

“Guardians don’t have chits that explain transitional technology.”  Ethan understood, and he remembered wiring the dimensional watch all of those worlds ago.  He hardly had to think about it.  He knew what he was doing like it was second nature.

“Guardians only have the chits necessary to do the job.”

“And a few dormant ones just in case, like the psychic ones,” Ethan said.

“Mmm.”  Jill fell silent, but she was not too sleepy.  Her mind got preoccupied with something.

Ethan spoke again after a moment.  “I am not sure what kind of a teacher I’ll make.  I am new at this, you know.”

“You can help,” Jill whispered.

“I am not sticking a knife in your arm,” Ethan said sternly.  “You’ll have to get Manomar to do that.”

“Mmm.”  Jill did not really respond that time, so Ethan finally asked.

“What?”

“I think your mom liked me,” she said, seriously.  Ethan kissed the top of her head.

###

Three hours later, in the wee hours of the morning, Jill got up carefully and went into the control room.  They had planned to visit the Company offices the next day, to see if Ethan still had a job and to get Grimly to take a leave of absence so he could travel with them to the next several places, but first Jill had one more thing in mind.  She made the dimensional shift and sat for a long time just looking out the view screen.  She easily pierced the darkness of the night with her screen-enhanced vision.  Even so, there was nothing to see, but she imagined someone would notice her eventually.  An hour would tell.  When nothing happened after watching for so long, she felt it was safe to finish her night’s sleep.  She went back, curled up again in bed, and told herself that they would see what came in the morning, but she did not sleep again right away.  She felt anxious about the morning.

Guardian Angel-21 Home, part 2 of 3

“Come, Jill dear.”  Ethan’s mom handed her a plate of cookies to set on the coffee table.  The plastic looking smile on the woman’s face said it all.  Jill returned a genuine smile, but she felt pummeled by the woman’s stiff formality as much as the woman’s words and attitude.  It would not have been so bad if the woman did not keep trying to give Jill orders disguised as sage advice.  “When you reach my age,” the woman kept saying, and Jill kept biting her lip.

Jill walked from the kitchen to the dining room and slowly let her breath out through gritted teeth.

“Cookies!”  Melanie shouted.

“Wonderful!” Ethan’s dad heard the word “cookies” over the sound of the football game.  In Jill’s mind, Ethan’s dad balanced things a little with his Lazy-boy approach to life.  “I love those cookies,” he said and leaned up to grab a good handful.  “Do you like football?”  He crunched and said how lucky Ethan was for the millionth time, though his eyes remained attached to the big screen.

“Dad likes anything with sugar.”  Ethan’s little sister, Melanie had planted herself on the couch between Jill and Ethan and acted much like the referee for everyone in the room.  Ethan mostly kept his mouth closed.  That was probably for the best.

“So how is work?”  Ethan’s dad asked during one commercial.

“Fine,” Ethan said.  “I’ve been working with new stuff lately, and that keeps it interesting.”  He knew one word would not suffice, but as he told Jill, he also knew he did not have to say everything.

“Do tell.”  Dad leaned in Ethan’s direction.  “Wait, commercial’s over.”

“Just as well.  Nothing I can talk about,” Ethan said.

“Ooo.  Secret stuff.”  Melanie nudged her brother.  She heard, even if Dad did not.

“And what do you do, dear?”  Mom sat in the comfy chair that put the coffee table between herself and her husband.  That was on Jill’s side of the couch, like it was the women’s side of the room, and it was where Mom could innocently grill Jill down to the bones.

“Research and Development,” Jill said, and then paused with a look at Ethan and one hand on a cookie.  She did promise to work on her honesty so she needed to give it her best shot.  “I am presently working on a Guardian Angel program designed to protect places from unlawful intrusion.”  Ethan looked over and grinned.  She would have done well in public relations if she ever decided to switch jobs.

“Hmm.  Government money I suppose,” Mom said.  She hated to hear about how the government spent money and she always thought it was all a waste of her hard-earned tax dollars, no matter the cause.  Even if she never really worked a day in her life or hard-earned anything herself, it was still her hard-earned tax money they were wasting.

“No,” Jill said pleasantly.  “My work is privately funded.”

Melanie nudged Ethan as he reached for a cookie, but he still held his tongue.

“I see,” Mom said, a bit miffed at having her thunder taken away.  “And what is it you do?  Secretarial?  Administrative assistant?  You must keep the men on their toes.”  She tried to suggest that even lowly work could be seen in a positive light, and she assumed that Jill had to be doing some lowly work, like she was a file clerk or something.

“Mom.”  Ethan just had to interrupt at that point.  “Jill is the project director.  She has advanced degrees and even taught at the University, er, briefly, before coming to work for the Company.”

“I see.”  Mom’s whole face pulled back a little.  She had something to think about now.  She had to find a new avenue to approach this intruder in her house and into her son’s life.  This woman had to be put in her proper place, somehow.

Ethan wiped his brow as Jill avoided giggling nervously by nursing the punch in her hand and keeping it by her lips.  She hardly looked old enough to have spent years teaching at the University, though she did.  Ethan almost let too much slip, but it was a nice recovery.

“You run things?”  Melanie looked up.

“Yes.”  Jill admitted.  “And when you are older, maybe Ethan and I can take you with us some time and show you.”

Ethan waved his hands to suggest that it would not be a good idea, but Melanie, all of twelve years old, kicked the coffee table and got everyone’s attention.

“Hey!”  Dad shouted without shifting his eyes from the television.

“Melanie!”  Mom scolded Melanie just by saying her name in the right tone of voice.

“Why is everything when I’m stupid older?”  Melanie flopped back and folded her arms even as there was a knock on the front door.

“Door!”  Dad shouted.  He was not getting up when his team was in the red zone.

“I’ll get it.”  Mom got up and gave her husband a look which said he should darn well get the door after dark and she did not care if his team was in the pink zone.  “Can I help you?”  She stared at the strange, big black man, and stepped back a little.  It was not what she expected.

“Evening.”  The man said as he tipped his hat.  “I am Doctor Lucas’ driver.  The Doctor and Mister Hill have a big day at the office in the morning, mam.”  Manomar had practiced that speech a thousand times that evening.

“Mister Manomar.”  Ethan stood and rushed for his and Jill’s coats.  Jill got caught by surprise.  “Come on honey, we have to go.”

“Hey, Hey!”  Dad shouted.  His team scored, but he gave up the instant replay to get out of his chair and give Jill a genuine hug.  “Welcome to the family,” he said with all the warmth and sincerity that was in him before he rushed back to his chair.  Ethan and Jill had said they were engaged, which technically they were.

Mom put her hand on Jill’s shoulder in something in between a hug and making sure that Jill did not get too close.  She puckered her lips and made a sound, but never touched Jill’s cheek with her kiss.  “Wonderful to meet you.  Come again,” she said in a voice that dripped with politeness.  Jill refrained from grabbing the woman by the collar and slapping her around while yelling, “Snap out of it!”  She did not think Ethan would appreciate that, and besides, Melanie was hugging her.

“I like you much better than Susan,” Melanie whispered.

“I like you, too,” Jill said, and it was true.

“Call me.”  Mom spoke to Ethan from the doorway as Ethan hustled off with Jill and Manomar.  “You could call once a week at least.  It wouldn’t hurt.”

“Bye.”  Jill, Ethan and at least Melanie waved.

“Hey, Hey!”  They heard the noise from the other room as they walked around the corner and out of sight.  The team must have made the extra point.

Manomar led them a short distance down the street, as if the car was parked there.  “Was that acceptable, masters?”  He asked.

“No masters here, remember?”  Ethan said.  “And that was about perfect timing.”

“You set this up?”  Jill understood well enough.

“My family needs to be taken in limited doses,” Ethan suggested.

Jill took his arm.  “I like your sister,” she said, with a grin.  “She told me all of your secrets.”

Ethan made the door, and the three entered the ship.  “Yeah,” he said.  “And some of them may even be true.”

Guardian Angel-21 Home, part 1 of 3

They encountered no problems secretly letting the three hundred, now only two hundred soldiers from deMartin’s brigade off at their Elizabethtown Barracks.  Several grumbled that now they would have to go back to army food.  Some items were stolen – a few pillows and blankets, a dart board and a couple of decks of cards—but Ethan said nothing and Jill did not seem to mind.  The molecular system could always make more.  It took a little longer to convince the women and children of the hundred left behind on Doctor Augustus’ Earth that their husbands were moving them to another world.  They picked up Colonel deMartin for that work, but soon enough they were ready for one more trip to see Doctor Augustus.

“Hug Peter Alexander for me.”  Jill told the colonel.

“Certainly,” he said.  He recognized that this was her tradition.  “I have been invited to visit him at his trading post since the general has posted me as envoy to the Cherokee.”

“I hope the general is not trying to brush you under the rug with the posting,” Ethan said as they shook hands.

“Alexander and I have plans to make, and I think the general will not find me so easy to brush,” Colonel deMartin responded.

“Oh,” Ethan said.  “And I hope the army reimburses you for our bit of clothes,” he joked.

“Best money I ever spent,” the colonel said, and he left them, rode off on horseback, and gave a shout over his shoulder.  “And I should know.  My wife used to spend a lot of my money.”

###

Three days later, Jill and Ethan were up on the hospital roof in Ridgetown, watching the light fade on the distant ruins while the sun went down at their backs.  It felt like their place.

Ethan had been fairly quiet for those three days, not so quiet that Jill worried, but thinking hard about several things.

“The anti-Chernobyl are learning fast,” Jill remarked, casually.  “It is amazing how having the children here have helped them grow up.”

“They are about at the same developmental level I would guess,” Ethan said without really focusing or shifting his eyes from the risen moon.

“I don’t know.”  Jill was thinking, too.  “Their cognitive functions were well used, and also their short-term memory.  I don’t think it will take them nearly so long to grow up as it would a normal child.”

“Maybe,” Ethan said, like he was half listening.

“What is it?”  Jill finally asked.  She had given him some space over the last few days, but she felt it was time to ask.  “Is there something still troubling you?  Do you want to go home?”

Ethan looked at her.  “I don’t think I will ever be able to go home again,” he said.  “Not that I mind,” he added quickly.  “I really wanted to do investigative journalism.  I never really wanted to get stuck doing marketing and public relations.”

“So now you don’t have to,” Jill said, and scooted in just a bit closer.  “And there are certainly plenty of worlds left for us to investigate.”  She tried to be positive, and he responded by giving her a small kiss, but that was not exactly what he meant.

“I should go see my folks,” he said.

Jill looked down.  Of course, both of her parents were gone.  “I would like to meet your mom,” she said.

“That ritual usually takes place before marriage.”  Ethan joked.  He slipped his arm around her and she snuggled into her comfortable spot in his shoulder.  “But that was not really what I was thinking.”

“Oh?”

“I kind of don’t know how to say this.”  Ethan looked hesitant before he just came out with it.  “I’ve been feeling a little uncomfortable lately with all the lies we’ve been telling, and all the ways we have been manipulating people.”

Jill pulled away a little before she settled in again.  “I don’t lie.”  She said and reached up to hold his hand so he could not escape.

“What?”  He spoke softly and stroked her hair.  “Like the farm we have in the west?  Like telling Lars on the very first day, almost the very first moment, that we were married?”

“It was what I wanted, and besides, I spoke the truth when I said married couples are less likely to be separated.”  Jill squirmed a little.  “You work in PR.  You know all about how to spin things and that is all it is, really.  I was just trying to keep us from standing out in whatever world we were visiting.”

“Spin, yes.  Lie, no,” Ethan said.  “I am usually very careful with the facts.”

“But you don’t have to tell everything you know,” Jill said.

“No,” Ethan agreed.  “You don’t have to tell them everything, but then there is the manipulation, too.”

Jill squirmed a little more.  “What do you mean?”

Ethan waited until she settled down again.  “I mean making us appear like angels, putting the fear of God into a new group of dimensional travelers and bringing that poor Byzantine Colonel to his knees.”

“But that’s not manipulative.”  Jill pulled away to look up into Ethan’s face.  “It is who we are.  DeMartin was right.  He did not see half of what we are capable of.  There was nothing fake in what we did.”

“Angels?”

“Well, like enough as far as they are concerned.  At least I like to think so.  Guardian Angels, and anyway, it is just what we can do based on who we are.  We are Gaian, and you are too, now.  You can call it manipulative if you like, but there is no need to always hide behind the limits of the world we are visiting.  Sometimes we need to show ourselves a little.  It is better than having many scalps taken.”  She smiled and Ethan let out a little laugh at their joke.

“You are Gaian,” he said.

“You are too.”

“Maybe.  But I am still an immigrant.  I did not grow up in your world, don’t forget.  And I am sure I still have some cultural baggage from my world to work through.”

“Does this really bother you?”  Jill asked softly.  She let her nervousness out by rubbing the hand she was holding.  In a minute, Ethan knew she would start squeezing it.  She leaned again into his shoulder.  She needed his assurance, and he understood.

“Some.”  He had to be honest since the subject was honesty.

“I’ll try to be more careful.”

“I’ll work through it.”  He caught sight of her incredible gray-blue eyes.  He thought he could work through anything as long as he could be with her.

###

Doctor Augustus and Captain deMarcos were on the roof to see them off.  Manomar stood silent, waiting, ever vigilant, watching over his two charges as they said good-bye.  Ethan shook the hands of Augustus and deMarcos, and Jill, in her usual fashion, gave each man a hug.

“You have a new world to build,” Ethan said.

The Doctor nodded.  “And with our new additions, the odds of rebuilding this world successfully have gone up dramatically.”

“I’m glad,” Jill said.

“It is an adventure,” deMarcos admitted.  “Probably more than I need at my age, but I feel it will be worth it for my children and grandchildren, God willing.”

“Captain, you can’t be that old.”  Jill smiled.

“Nearly fifty,” the Captain said.  “Older than you, I guess.”

“Try another thousand years,” Ethan whispered.

“Eleven hundred in twelve years and thirteen days, I think,” Jill said.

“I’ll have to start planning the surprise party soon,” Ethan said, and Jill just smiled and kissed him.

“I love surprises.”

Doctor Augustus suppressed his grin when he said his final good-bye.

Manomar was more serious when he followed them through the ship’s door and back into the control room.  “So where are we going?” he asked.

“Back to my Earth,” Ethan said.  “Jill is going to meet my parents.”

Jill looked up at Manomar.  “And you have no idea how nervous I am,” she said.  The big man just smiled.