Avalon 8.0 Confrontations, part 1 of 6

After 542 A.D. The Khyber Pass

Kairos lifetime 98: Sanyas, the Queen’s half-sister

Recording …

The campfire sent sparks into the cloudless sky while the sun slid behind the mountains.  The travelers would have another hour of daylight in the hills between the peaks, but the valley would be bathed in twilight before nightfall.  They had enough light for Alexis to finish cooking the sheep, or goat, or whatever animal it was that Decker shot.  Katie called it a Marco Polo sheep, but Lincoln looked it up and called it a mouflon.

“Afghanistan,” Lieutenant Colonel Decker said, and spat into the fire.  The seal-trained marine stared at the mountains.  “I recognize that ridge.  We are northeast of Kabul.”  No one doubted he did a tour in Afghanistan, and probably a couple of tours back when he was Captain Decker, special forces.

Nanette, who knew nothing about fighting in Afghanistan having fallen back in time from 1905, gently slapped Decker’s knee.  She loved the man.  She could not help it.  Aphrodite herself brought the two of them together as a last act before the dissolution of the gods some five hundred and seventy years ago, as Lincoln estimated things.  But she was trying to break his habit of spitting when he got his hands on some jerky to chew.  Spitting was not on her approved list of activities for a future husband.

“No spitting in the fire,” Alexis scolded the man.  She kissed her husband, Lincoln, who looked lost, reading in the database he carried.  It had all the relevant information on the time zones they traveled through as they slowly made their way back to the twenty-first century.  She basted the sheep-goat with some concoction of her own making and considered their predicament.  She was an elf who became human to marry Lincoln.  Her father could not handle that.  He feared she would grow old and die right before his eyes, so he kidnapped her and dragged her back to the time of her supposed happy childhood.  He tried to convince her to seek the Kairos and ask to be made an elf again so she could live her more reasonable thousand years and die well after he was gone.

Alexis looked at Lincoln.  The marriage would not have worked the other way around.  Benjamin would have made a lousy elf.

She basted and thought about when her father knew he got caught and would be in trouble.  He dragged her to the very beginning of history and pushed her into the chaotic void before human history began, hoping to get beyond the reach of those following.  All he did was screw things up.  The Kairos, the Storyteller, had to offer himself to the void in exchange for her.  Now, he is lost, and everything on Avalon is confused, and the time-connection between the many lives of the Kairos are out of sync…

“And we are stuck going from time zone to time zone, from one lifetime of the Kairos to the next, and it is a long way back to the twenty-first century,” she whispered to herself.  Of course, Boston heard with her elf ears.

“I don’t mind,” she said, as she pulled back her red hair into a ponytail.  “This way I get to see every life of the Kairos and love and hug every one that lived before my time.”  Boston pulled out the amulet that showed the way between time gates.  No doubt she wanted to check her direction for the morning.  After a moment, she moved to sit beside Lincoln so she could check her direction against the map in the database for that time zone.

Alexis sighed.  Her father disappeared, and likely died on their journey.  If so, at least he died before her.  Sadly, her baby brother Roland also vanished and is presumed dead, though don’t tell Boston that.  Boston went the opposite way Alexis went.  Boston was born human, though a wild child.  Lockhart called her a Massachusetts redneck.  She rode in rodeos, and hunted, including bear once in Canada, and grew up with brothers.  She was also a bit of a genius, getting her doctorate in electrical engineering by the time she turned twenty-three.  She already thought and acted pretty much like an elf before the Kairos agreed to make her an elf so she could marry Roland.  It felt doubly wrong when Roland vanished.

Alexis sighed and sat on the other side of Lincoln.  “What?” Boston asked and stuck her red head right between Lincoln’s face and the database.

“Nothing,” Alexis said.  It was better not to bring up Roland.  She changed her thoughts.  “I wonder how Elder Stow is coming along in fixing his screen device.  It has come in handy in the past.”

“Yeah,” Boston agreed and turned to nudge Sukki.  “How’s it going?”

Alexis considered Elder Stow, the Gott-Druk—the Neanderthal that traveled with them.  She remembered at the time of the flood, the Gott-Druk were given space flight, a great leap forward for a people who were just beginning to work in copper and bronze.  It seemed the only way at the time that the gods could save them from the global catastrophe.  That was maybe fourteen or fifteen thousand years before Christ.  Over those thousands of years, the Gott-Druk made the expected technological progress.  Elder Stow came from the same future as the rest of the travelers, other than Tony and Nanette, but he had all sorts of technological wonders on his person. He called them toys—mere trinkets such as a ship’s officer might carry.

Boston nudged Sukki again.  “Hey, Amazing Woman.  Earth to Sukki.”

Sukki turned her head.  “I think he has almost got it,” she said.  “Hush.”

Alexis thought how Sukki used to be a Gott-Druk, a very family-oriented people.  She came from those fourteen thousand years in the past, but spent all those millennia in suspended animation, or cryogenic sleep, or whatever it was called.  They found her about thirty time-zones ago, which was about two years ago, travel time.  Though Elder Stow agreed to adopt her as a daughter, she swore she never felt comfortable, being a Gott-Druk as part of a Homo Sapiens family.  She finally prevailed on the Kairos to make her human, as she said.  He—at that time the Kairos was a man—got a number of goddesses to do that, but the goddesses got a bit carried away.  They empowered Sukki like some sort of comic book superhero, and Boston wanted to give her a comic book name.

“Not Amazing Woman,” Alexis said, and Nanette agreed.  Alexis remembered that Athena at least gave Sukki a fundamental understanding of physics and astrophysics, so she could understand when Elder Stow and Boston got lost in all their technical jargon.

Katie and Lockhart stood.

“Where are you going?” Alexis asked. “Food is almost ready.”

“Just checking on Tony,” Katie said.

“Her elect senses are acting up,” Lockhart added, as they walked to where the horses were grazing.  Tony was there, brushing Ghost, the mule that pulled their pioneer wagon, sent with the horses back from the 1870s.  Tony had his eyes on the horizon, and Ghost kept nudging him for more attention.  Ghost turned out to be a big baby.

Lockhart said nothing.  As the Assistant Director of the Men in Black, he was the one charged with leading this unexpected expedition back to the future.  As a former police officer, though, he learned to wait until others revealed what was on their minds.  He doubly learned that lesson on this trip.  Charged with making the hard decisions, he learned to listen closely to the input of others.  He especially listened to his wife, and not necessarily just because she was his wife.

Major Katherine Harper-Lockhart, besides being a marine, and a doctor in ancient and medieval technologies and cultures, she was also an elect, a one-in-a-million warrior woman, who was faster, stronger, more agile, more capable in combat and tactics than most men.  She had a very refined intuition that could sense an enemy or danger to her home and family when the enemy was miles away.

“I’ve got that Rome feeling,” Katie said, and explained for Tony who had not been with them at the time.  “When we came into Italy shortly before Rome got founded, we found all the Latin and other tribes hating and fighting each other.  They all assumed we belonged to a different group, since we were strangers, so they wanted to fight us, too.”

Lockhart pointed up.  Something moved through the sky.  An alien ship of some sort.  It came overhead but did not stop.  Suddenly, it shot off to the east and quickly disappeared from sight.  “Our direction,” Lockhart said.  “Something to look forward to.”

Katie frowned but turned their attention back to the immediate problem.  Tony just pointed.  They saw the dust being kicked up in the distance.

“How many?” Lockhart asked.  Tony shrugged, but Katie paused to concentrate.

“About a hundred,” she said.

“Let’s get the horses in for the night.” Lockhart called for his horse.  “Seahorse!”  The horse looked up, but shook its head and stomped its foot like a child not ready to come in.  Katie’s horse, Bay, came right up.

“Like a faithful puppy,” she said, and doted on the horse.

The travelers camped in a rock hollow on the side of a hill, not far from the stream in the valley.  They stretched out Decker’s rope and had enough room to tie the horses and Ghost for the night, plus room for their tents and a fire.  They had to leave their wagon outside the entrance from the stream-fed meadow, but otherwise, they felt secure in what Katie called a good defensive position.  Katie, with her rifle, and Lockhart, with his shotgun cradled in his arms waited out by the wagon.  The others looked over the top of the rocks.

“I sense nomads, a scouting party, well prepared to fight, if necessary,” Katie said.  “I don’t sense it is a war party.”

“Tony said they are probably Huna people, though they might be Turks,” Lockhart responded.  Tony was a graduate student in antiquities in 1905 and might have been expected to know things like that.  Of course, Katie had her doctorate, so Lockhart asked, “Huna?”

“Huns,” she said.

“Great,” Lockhart said, sounding like Lincoln when he got sarcastic.  All he could picture was Attila and a hundred warriors coming to do a clean sweep of the area.  “You know, for people who are trying to not disturb history, we use these guns far too often.”

Katie could only nod as the Huns or possibly Turks stopped on the other side of the stream.

Avalon 7.2 Ides of March, part 3 of 6

The following afternoon, the travelers came to the city gate.  Lockhart and Lincoln put on their best salesman smiles, but it turned out to not be necessary.  The guards knew Evan and Millie and welcomed them back to the city.

‘You’ve been in Capua these last two years?” one guard asked.

“With these friends of mine,” Evan said, not exactly lying.  “And how is the leg?”

“Fine.”  The man limped a little.  “I busted my leg, wide open…”

“Oh, here we go,” one of the other guards mumbled.

“The bone stuck out that far.  I’m not lying.  The Lord Evan fixed me right, he did.  I can walk and got no green.  Yes, sir.  I’m no good running on the watch, but I can hold the gate just fine.  I feared I would have to beg for my bread, but I got a real and proper job, and I can take care of my wife and children just fine.  A man doesn’t forget a thing like that.”

An old man chose that moment to march up, and the gate guards quickly straightened.  The old man ignored the guards but smiled for the travelers.  “Lockhart.  Good thing you got here.  You are almost out of time.”  He opened his arms to the red-headed streak.

“Gee,” Boston said.  “Last time I saw you, you were a cute little four-year-old girl.  Now, you are a big old man.”  The man just smiled for her.

“What do you mean out of time?” Lincoln had to ask.

“Come.  I’ll explain.”  He led them through the streets of Rome to the market where a pottery shop sat alongside a rather modern-looking house.  The house appeared to have been modified in several ways, like a new fireplace added; but it still had wires on the outside where the electric connected, and a metal pipe that once brought in the gas.

“We were lucky,” Evan said.  “It was not just the house, but the property that got sent through time.  That meant we got the back yard and the septic tank, thank God.  It took several years before we got connected to the public sewer system.”

“Professor,” Bodanagus knocked on the door.  A pretty, young black head emerged, before the girl shrieked and ran to hug Evan and Millie.  The shriek attracted a young man, one with dark brown hair, dark brown eyes, not too tall, but a sparkling white smile.  He also had on an apron, and dried clay on his hands, like he might have just come from the potter’s wheel.

“Nanette, you know, sort of,” Katie whispered to Lockhart, but did not exclude Lincoln and Alexis, in case Alexis forgot.  “Anthony Carter’s mother came from Italy and still had family around Rome in 1905, which attracted Anthony to join the expedition.  The Professor is Professor Fleming, the academic head of the expedition that went in search of information regarding the transition from the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire.  They got more than they bargained for when they got transported, house and all, to Rome in this time zone.”

“Ashtoreth,” Lockhart nodded and named the culprit.

The old man came last to the door, hacking and coughing along the way.  “Guests?” he said.  “You know I don’t like guests.”

Lockhart thought to step forward and introduce himself.  “Robert Lockhart, assistant director of the Men in Black organization, Washington, D. C., from the year 2010.  My wife, Captain Katherine Lockhart and Major Decker are both United States Marines.  Benjamin and Alexis Lincoln work for me…”

“Men in Black?”  The Professor interrupted.  “I have heard of such a thing, but they are a myth, like elves and fairies.”

“Like the Abominable Snowman?” Katie asked, with a big grin.

“Precisely,” the professor responded, with a second look at the blonde before him. “A woman marine captain, and a darkie major?  2010?  What has my nation come to?”

“We got smart,” Decker said.

“We grew up,” Katie added.

“Boston,” Lockhart hollered.  Boston started showing off for Nanette and Anthony.  “Mary Riley works for me, too, though most call her Boston.  She grew up in Massachusetts.  Elder Stow and Sukki are Gott-Druk, from a place you probably never heard of.”

“Somewhere in the east, like in Austria-Hungary?” the professor guessed.

“A bit further away than that,” Elder Stow said, kindly enough.

“Millie and Evan, you know,” Lockhart finished.  “We thought we would bring them home.”

The professor grunted and began to cough again.  He pulled up some phlegm and spit.

Meanwhile, Millie showed off her friends to Nanette and Tony.  “Boston is a real, live elf,” Millie said.  Tony raised an eyebrow to say he did not believe that, but Nanette shook Boston’s hand.

“I love your red hair.”

“Thanks,” Boston said.  “I used to have it short like yours, but I’m growing it out.”

“And this is my friend, Sukki,” Millie said.

Tony butted in front and reached for Sukki’s hand, much to Sukki’s delight.  “Japanese?” he asked.

“No,” Millie said.  “She isn’t even human.”  Sukki found some tears on hearing that.  She covered her face.

“She is human,” Elder Stow noticed, and went to comfort his daughter.  “She is just not Homo Sapien.”  Sukki began to cry and turned away from the group.

“Well, human or not, I suppose you better come inside,” the professor said.

The travelers found places to tie off their horses and trooped into the house.  Everything looked worn and used, but the living room had comfortable, cushioned chairs, a genuine couch, and what had been a plush carpet.  The dining room had a table to seat twelve, and fancy china in a glass-fronted hutch.  The kitchen had been completely rebuilt, but the travelers expected that.  The toilet paper felt as rough as sandpaper, either that, or they had a sponge to use, but the travelers could hardly wait to take their turn on a genuine toilet.

“So,” Lincoln started like a dog with a bone.  “What do you mean, almost out of time.”

Bodanagus nodded and took a deep breath.  “I am nearly sixty, if I am not sixty already.  I would guess Judith lived about sixty-four years, but that never happens, and women live longer.  Normally, for me, sixty years is the limit.”

“I don’t know why he talks that way,” Nanette scolded Bodanagus ever so sweetly.  “The Lord alone knows the measure of a man’s life, and he will not die a moment too soon.”

“Fine and well,” Bodanagus said.  “But the professor has warned Caesar about the ides of March, and we are at the end of February, 44 BC, by the Professor’s estimate.”  Bodanagus stalled the talk and questions with his hands.  “Don’t tell me what happens.  There is a reason I don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow, or for some years to come.  If I know the details in advance, I might be tempted to change it and thus screw up history forever.  So, hush!”  People hushed, and he continued.

“All I can say is I don’t expect to outlive Caesar.  In fact, I am surprised his political opponents haven’t tried to remove me already, and in this day and age, removing me normally means getting me out of the picture, permanently.  I have already sent young Octavius to Illyria, to a military school, in anticipation of trouble.”

“So, what you are saying is you have reached your age limit,” Lockhart summed it up.  “That means we need to move as fast as we can to the next gate, just to be safe.”

Bodanagus nodded, but Professor Fleming interrupted with a coughing fit and a word.  “Apparently, I have reached my age limit as well, at sixty-eight.”  This time he held up his hands to finish what he had to say.  “Doctor Mishka herself has diagnosed cancer, in the lungs and elsewhere.  She says I have limited time but won’t say how long.  I take it you are from the future and have some means of returning there.  Take Nanette.”

“No,” Nanette protested.

“Now, now,” the Professor said.  “You are no good to me in this condition.  My time is over, but you have a mother and family in the future who deserve to see you again, and a chance to get there.  You are going, and that is final.  No arguments.”  The professor sat heavily in his chair, all out of breath.

“Nanette,” Tony spoke up.  “I can go with you, to see my mother, too.  You don’t have to go alone.”

“Don’t worry, Nanette,” Millie said, as she came from the kitchen and sat on the arm of the Professor’s comfy chair.  Evan came with her and placed one hand on her shoulder for support.  “We will take the best care of the professor.  Evan and I have decided to stay here and have a family, if we can.”

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

MONDAY

Two men are preparing to die.  One couple is hoping to have children.  Nanette is being tossed from the nest like a baby bird, and Sukki is unhappy about something.  This is life, and they haven’t even told Bodanagus about the brigand/Roman soldiers on their tail.  Until next week, Happy Reading

*

Avalon Pilot Part II: Missing Person

Present day outside Washington DC.  Kairos 121:  Glen, the Storyteller.

Recording…

Glen looked at his silent companions while the plane landed.  Lincoln looked distressed over his missing wife.  Lockhart probably thought about his miraculous healing.  Boston tried not to think about the paperwork.  All seemed right with the world, as the pilot shut down the engine, until Lincoln reached out to grab Glen by the arm, as if Glen had no idea what the man wanted to say.

Lockhart stood up and stepped out of the plane on his own two feet.  He took a deep breath of fresh air and let it out slowly through his smile.  He couldn’t help it.  He spent the last fifteen years in a wheelchair and had come to dread retirement.  Now, healed and free, he stood on his own two feet and tasted the good air.

Glen scooted past, but paused long enough to repeat the earlier comment.  “Don’t start depending on those healing chits.  That is a good way to get yourself killed.”  Lockhart nodded, but then they saw Lincoln rushing to the door so Glen hurried off.

Boston followed Lincoln.  She lugged the folded-up wheelchair.  “I guess this goes back in storage.”  The young woman groaned as she lifted it over the lip to the ramp.  Boston and the old man walked side by side toward the main building where they saw people running toward them.  Boston thought to say one more thing before they got swallowed by the crowd.

“I will miss pushing you around in this thing.”

“Me too,” Lockhart responded in all seriousness.  Then he had to stop walking to hug Bobbi, the director of the Men in Black.  Bobbi cried big tears; while Lockhart had to be touched, praised and congratulated for getting his legs back by any number of others as well.

Glen got as far as the door to the main building before Lincoln caught him, grabbed his arm and spouted again.   “My wife has to be out there somewhere.”

Once again, Glen tried to reassure the man.  “Don’t worry.  Up until now there were a few other things pressing, like fending off an alien invasion and finding you, for instance.  But Alexis is now my top priority.  Oh no.”  He said that last because he saw Mirowen and Emile Roberts racing toward him.  “Lincoln is one.  This is two.  Trouble does come in threes,” he mumbled.  “I can’t wait.”

“Hey you!”  The shout came from further down the hall as Mirowen and Doctor Roberts hustled up to the front door to hide behind Glen.  A marine followed and only stopped when Glen held up his hand like a traffic cop.

“Go tell Colonel Weber to meet me in the lunchroom in thirty minutes.”  The marine looked ready to object, so Glen repeated himself.  “Go.”

That just made the marine mad.  It looked like he was going to say “Who the hell are you?” but when Glen vanished and an absolutely stunning young woman in an outfit both tight and short stood in his place, it came out, “What the fuck?”

“Princess,” Mirowen, the elf, lowered her eyes in a sign of respect for her goddess.

“Crude.”  The Princess stared down the marine before she gave both Lincoln and Doctor Roberts a sharp look.  She grabbed Mirowen by the arm.  “We will be in the ladies’ room so too bad for you Lincoln.”  It remained the one place Lincoln could not follow, and she could get some peace, even if Glen could not.

Once inside the women’s room, the Princess turned immediately to the mirror.  She understood the reflex, an automatic reaction to see how she looked.  The main part of her mind focused on the elf, and she spoke.  “So Mirowen, what have you and Emile decided?”

Mirowen curtsied, and gracefully, despite the fact that she stood dressed in greasy overalls.  “Lady.  Emile is reluctant to become elf kind, and we have researched it.  It has not seemed to us that you have done that very often.”

“Not often,” the Princess responded in an absent-minded way as she examined her eyes in the mirror.  “But one of my godly lifetimes like Danna or Amphitrite might arrange it.”

Mirowen curtsied a second time and looked at the floor.  She spoke softly.  “I understand.”

“But Mirowen, what about joining Alexis in the human world?”  The Princess turned from the mirror to look at the elf, the lovely elf.  The Princess had no doubt she would make an equally lovely human woman.

“I am prepared for that.”  Mirowen dropped her eyes again but she did not sound convinced.  “Oh, but Colonel Weber is threatening to drag Emile back for trial for stealing property from area 51.  But it was my unicorn.  I was just getting her back.”

Boston came to join them at that point, and also went straight for the mirror while the Princess turned again to face Mirowen.  “You know if you stay as you are, he will grow old more rapidly than you can imagine while you will hardly change at all.  You will lose him, and he will lose you in the end.”

“One of us will likely go first in any case.”  Mirowen sounded forlorn, and she would not look the Princess in the eyes.

“I could do that,” Boston interrupted.  “With Lockhart, I mean.  He is such a snuggle bear, and a good kisser too, I bet.  If only he wasn’t such a father figure.”

“Grandfather figure,” the Princess corrected her, and Boston did not deny that truth.

“Oh, but did you hear Lincoln’s concern for his missing wife?” Boston asked.  She spoke to Mirowen and the Princess without putting together in her mind that the Princess and Glen were essentially the same person.  “I never met her, but I understand Alexis was an elf once.  He must really love her.”

The Princess nodded for Boston, but she spoke with an eye on Mirowen.  “And she really loves him and would do anything for him.”

“Two peas in a pod.”  Bobbi, the director came in, a marine on her heels.  The director caught the tail end of the conversation.  “And that is why we need to find Alexis if we can.  Is it crowded in here or what?”

“Women’s conference,” Boston suggested.  The marine grimaced as she set down her briefcase and took a turn in the mirror.

“Yes, well, Mirowen, we will talk more, later.”  The Princess took back the conversation.  “Meanwhile, I had a hard time at first getting a lead on Alexis.  She became too human, I think.”

“She still has the magic,” Bobbi noted.

“Yes, but so do any number of humans these days, and more so as the Other Earth waxes toward full conjunction.”

“What about the Lady of Avalon?” Boston suggested.

“Alice?”  The Princess closed her eyes.  “Yes, that is how I found her.  Alexis is there in Avalon, or was, and I suppose I knew that all along.  She was just not the priority because she did not appear to be in any danger.  Her father Mingus took her out of fear that she was getting too old and would soon die and leave him grieving.”  The Princess sighed.  “I guess we have to go fetch her.”

Bobbi touched the Princess on the arm and the Princess started to move over, but Bobbi had a request first and only glanced briefly at the marine before she spoke.  “Can I go to Avalon?  All these years I have worked this operation and in these last few years I have kept it all running, and I have never been to Avalon.  Not even once.”

The Princess smiled and hugged her friend.  “Soon.  Not this time, but after you retire, and no, you cannot retire today.  I need you to keep Colonel Dipstick away from Mirowen and Emile while I am gone.”  The Princess turned toward the marine.  “So, do you work for Darth Weber?”  Colonel Weber’s name was properly pronounced “Vay-ber.”  The marine picked up her briefcase and smiled, but just a little.

“I don’t do typing pool gossip,” she said, and left.

“Humph.”  Bobbi harrumphed, but not in a sour way.  She stepped up to the mirror, touched her gray hair, looked at Boston who was maybe twenty-five, the beautiful elf, the incredible Princess, and harrumphed again.  “What am I looking at?  I am way past the age for mirrors.”

All the women paused to give Bobbi love hugs before they exited the women’s room together.  They had a real conference to attend, and they had to get Lincoln’s wife back.

Avalon 3.7: part 4 of 5, Day of the Moon

“Ambush,” Decker pulled his rifle as Roland came back from the front and Elder Stow came in from the other side.

“How do you know?” Lockhart asked, while he pulled the shotgun and Katie got her own rifle.

Decker looked at Nuwa. “One of your guys came up and said, “hoop, hoop,” and pointed.”

“Any Pendratti?” Nuwa asked. Decker shook his head.

“Not that I saw.”

“Options?” Lockhart looked at the two marines, but Elder Stow spoke first.

“I could set a screen to the side that arrows and such cannot penetrate, that is, if we can ride past them.”

“Can you make it one sided so we can shoot them?” Decker asked. Elder Stow nodded, and Decker explained. “We need to hurt them so they don’t try again, further down the road.”

Lockhart frowned, but he did not say no.Nuwa 4

When the were ready, they did not move very far before the arrow barrage came from the rocks. The arrows all fell short when they hit Elder Stow’s screen. Decker and Katie returned fire, but Katie stopped after a moment. Lockhart had to tell Decker to stop and follow, since he was falling behind. Elder Stow left a parting shot with his sonic device. He loosened some rocks overhead and started a bit of an avalanche. He said something to the group about it.

“It was a good idea when they tried it.”

Nuwa got down from behind Katie once the were in the clear. Katie and Boston walked their horses, with Lockhart near. Roland went back out to the point and Decker and Eder Stow went again to the wings. Lincoln and Alexis appeared to take up where the left off the day before. No one knew what the were talking about, but it felt like a private conversation.

Boston started the questions this time. “So who are these Qinjong?”

“Western people. The live in the Qinghai and the Kunlun Mountains around the headwaters of the He, and they are not Longshan people. They were a quiet, peaceful people all my life until recently. If they were migrating, moving in, becoming part of the people, that would be one thing, but I know of no reason, drought or pestilence or disease or anything to make them change their ways or move out of their place. But in these last few years they have come into our land like a bunch of Saxon raiders, burning whole villages and carting people off as slaves. You don’t understand. They are hunters and gatherers. They have no use for slaves. That is just another mouth to feed. So I thought to find out where the people are going, and I actually did check the mountains first. That is where I found Tien. And now I am checking the south side, on the edge of Tibet.”

Nuwa silk road 2“I think we are close,” Katie said. “If you were off base, they would not be trying so hard to stop you.”

“Not much room here, all things considered. We cross the highland peaks to our right and we end up in the Tarim basin, where the desert is. Go far enough to our left and we run into the Himalayan Mountains.”

“What will you do when you find the Pendratti?” Boston asked.

“I can’t say,” Nuwa answered. “You never know who might be listening in.”

###

That evening, as people relaxed around the fire, Nuwa thought to talk to the couples present. Lockhart was telling old jokes, and Katie was laughing at them like they were brand new. Nuwa thought there was something to be said for the generation gap between those two, but she knew they were simmering and hardly cooked at all, so she moved to the old couple. Alexis and Lincoln were married longer than their present ages. After nibbling on the apple of life, Lincoln turned twenty-nine or so. Alexis could not be older than twenty-five.

“We’ve been married thirty-five years,” Alexis said. “I know it is hard to think this way, especially for Benjamin, but I would like to have another baby.”

“Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad,” Lincoln said, softly, and Nuwa knew she had to intervene.

“I hope you can hold off until you get home,” she said. “Now is not the time to be having a baby. Alexis, you will never make it through your last trimester the way you are moving through time, not if you face any trouble, and more importantly, when the baby is born, it will be time locked in that place. You won’t be able to bring it into the future with you.”Moon 2

Alexis and Lincoln looked at each other like this was something they never considered. then they all looked up at the sound of a distant howl. Lincoln looked for the moon, but Alexis did not doubt it was their werewolf, the one Katie called Bob.

“The sound might travel for miles in this scrub and rocky land,” Lincoln suggested.

“It might,” Nuwa said, and she excused herself to talk to the young lovers.

Roland and Boston were being very quiet. “I thought you two would have walked side by side these last couple of days. What gives?” Nuwa took a seat by the fire where she could eye the both of them

“We’ve been arguing,” Boston admitted. Nuwa said nothing, so Boston looked at Roland and he explained.

“I am now one hundred and twenty-seven years old, if estimates are correct on how long we have been traveling in the time zones, and I have spent months in the company of humans—ordinary humans, an unheard of thing for an elf. What is more, I have had a chance to observe humans and human ways up close, even in these days long before my time, and I have come to appreciate how complex and diverse the human—the homo sapiens race really is, and how fragile it is in the face of a hostile universe. What is more, I am in love with a human and I can’t seem to help it, great sin though it is for my kind.”

“I am ready to become an elf, if you can do that,” Boston interrupted.

“No,” Roland started to protest, but paused when Nuwa held up her hand.

Boston 3b“Very elfishly spoken,” Nuwa said with a smile for Boston. “To interrupt a Bean in the midst of a heart-felt confession.” Nuwa grinned, and Boston grinned with her. “But it is never wrong to be content with who you are. Much of the evil and confusion in the human race is due to people who are unwilling to be who they were born to be.”

“My parents and brothers already think I’m an elf, or a fairy, but I never had a desire to fly. Even Alexis says I have more elf in me than she has.”

Nuwa shook her head. “That is not how you were born.”

“No. I am prepared to become human, and work for Lockhart and the Men in Black,” Roland responded, mostly to Boston. “And no matter how long or short my life, I don’t mind as long as I get to live it with you.” Boston just shook her head and gave Roland an elf grin.

“I’m not going to be responsible for killing your father,” Boston said. “I like him.”

Nuwa held her hand up again to speak. “I accept your application to work for the Men in Black. Report to Lockhart in the morning.” Roland smiled, because he thought she was going to grant his request and make him human. “And Boston, The Almighty, my God will never abandon you, but you are asking for another layer in between your life and Heaven. Are you prepared to have an ordinary human being as your goddess, or god as the case may be, to love you and care about you, and in my own stumbling, fallible human way, to watch over you and direct your steps. You know, I am not Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. I am not always in a good mood.”

Boston nodded. “But I have never met you in any life where I was not drawn to you, and cared about you, and anyway, you are Lockhart’s boss, so I figure most of it won’t change. As for heaven, I trust in the Lord, and I trust in you too, already, so again, I don’t see much changing. And sometimes you scare me already, so that probably won’t change.”

“Everything will be different,” Roland objected. “You have no idea.”

“I’m willing and ready,” Boston said.Alexis 3

“I’m the one to change. I know what I am getting into.”

“You don’t. You can’t” Alexis interrupted her brother. “You have no idea, either one of you.”

Boston and Roland heard, but ran out of things to say, so they stared at Nuwa to make a decision. Nuwa simply stared back before she decided something. “Sleep on it,” she said. “Things may clear up in the morning. Wait until daylight.” She rolled over to sleep, and said nothing more.