Avalon 5.2 Palace Intrigue, part 4 of 5

Artie, Lincoln and Alexis kept the horses.  They had left the open ground where they camped, giving the appearance that they intended to leave by the gate and continue their journey.  Huyak’s wife and daughters even came out to wave good-bye, along with Huyak’s married son, the chief gate guard, who eyed them suspiciously.

“The city has several gates,” Lincoln told them, having looked it up in the database.  “No reason Huyak’s son should expect us to leave the city by the same gate we entered.”

Lockhart understood, and when they crossed the main road bridge, it did appear like they were headed for one of the other gates.  They paused on the other side of the river, at the base of the bridge, where some stalls, no doubt dependent on river traffic, had some items of interest.  But in fact, they were looking to see if perhaps they were being followed or spied upon.

Katie pointed out that sending poor men to slink around the city and spy on enemies for the price of a small loaf of bread or a fish was not unheard of, even as far in the past as they were.  But soon enough, they decided the way was safe, so they cut off the main road and on to the back roads and alleys.

Elder Stow’s scanner pulled up a three-dimensional map of the streets.  It showed a red dot where there were people.  He saved a bright yellow dot for zombies.  “Yellow being the sign of stop, danger.”

“We use red,” Alexis said.  Elder Stow did not understand.  “Humans use red for stop and for danger,” Alexis corrected herself about the ‘we’.

“That is nonsense,” Eder Stow responded.  “Red is not a good color in the dark.  Yellow is a bright color that can be seen, even on the darkest night.”

Alexis shrugged as Boston spoke.  “Humans use red for danger.”

“Homo sapiens do everything backwards,” Elder Stow grumped.  “On my sensible map, red dots are people.  Yellow is reserved for the undead.”

“Some of those red dots may be dangerous,” Decker said, and to their unspoken questions, he said, “Daytime guards.”

Elder Stow guided them to a secluded place in the shadow between two buildings.  The warehouse and manufacturing place could be seen on the other side of a grassy area.  It appeared that the building had an open area all around and was isolated from the rest of the city.

“Ripe for making WMDs,” Decker said.

Lockhart got everyone to turn their horses around so they would be pointed away from the building for a possible quick getaway.  They still did not know what they might find, but they all had begun to strongly suspect gas canisters, probably glass balls like they had a hundred years ago, in Balor’s day, and gas making equipment.

“The formula for mustard gas is not hard,” Boston repeated herself.  “All it takes is for someone to discover it.”

“Sulfur is one thing,” Lockhart said.  “Worse would be if they combined it with charcoal and salt-peter.”

“The Masters try that,” Lincoln admitted.  “Several times throughout history.”

Alexis suggested she and Boston could become invisible and go to the building, unseen.  They could open a window to let the others in, but Lockhart nixed that idea.  He was not risking their healer.  She might be needed.  He said nothing about Boston, because he knew she would come, especially if he said she should stay behind.

“Besides,” he said.  “If the goddess is still around and watching, I don’t imagine you will stay invisible for long.”  Alexis did not argue.

“I could go invisible,” Elder Stow suggested.

“No.  We need you to be ready to put a wall screen up,” Lockhart said.  “Mustard gas is a slow creeper, but if there is gas in there, and it gets free, we should be able to get out, but it will probably be right behind us.  We will need the wall to keep it contained until we can ride free.

So, Artie and Alexis kept the horses, with Lincoln presumably watching over the women, and Elder Stow stayed behind to work on his screen device.

The wall in the building that faced the travelers had no windows.  The other three walls had several.  Decker and Boston crept along one side of the building to a window that would let them into a small room.  The shutters were closed and barred from the inside.  Boston got to pull her wand and magically lift the bar to let them in.  It was an outhouse room, but they held their breath.  Decker thought it smelled worse than the mustard gas, but he didn’t say anything.

Lockhart and Katie crept down the other side of the building.  They had to crawl under one window that was open, before they could get to the small room on their side of the building.  They also found the shutters closed, but not barred.  The hinges, no more than strips of leather, made no sound.  Katie got in easily, but Lockhart got half-way through the window when a man came into the room.  The man immediately shouted, but the shout got drowned out by the sound of Katie’s handgun.  The man collapsed, and Katie and Lockhart took a moment to ready Katie’s rifle and Lockhart’s shotgun.  They pulled back the curtain and Katie pointed her weapon to the left while Lockhart pointed to the right.

On one side, there were tables, equipment, and a very sophisticated looking furnace with a chimney that went straight to the roof.  Great glass and metal vats of various chemicals lined the wall, and several catapult-sized empty glass balls looked ready to be filled with a hand pump.  One man worked there at present.  He looked covered, head to toe, in something like burlap.

On the other side, where the big front doors stood at the actual front of the building, a whole rack of filled glass balls looked ready for shipment.  Katie could hardly guess where they might be used.  She imagined the gas would devastate some walled city, with narrow streets that would trap the gas at ground level, and take a long time to dissipate.  Men, maybe a dozen guards armed with big spears, came into the building from that side.

Decker’s and Boston’s heads peeked out from a curtain on the other side.  Decker fired at the men, so Katie added her fire from the other side.  The guards fell rapidly, though the two did not fire long.  Some of the guards survived by ducking behind the mustard gas glass balls.  Not smart.

The man by the work table picked up a small glass ball, but Boston had her Beretta out and shot the man just before Lockhart blasted him with his shotgun.  The little glass ball fell and broke, and no one doubted what the sickly green gas was that seeped out.

One moment of silence followed, and Decker filled it with his shout.  “Get out.  Grenades.”  Boston’s head disappeared.  Katie and Lockhart ran to the window, and did not stop until they reached the horses.  Decker lobbed one grende toward the work area, and the other toward the balls ready for shipment, balls that were probably already cracked by the bullets.  He dove out of the window, and joined Boston, who deliberately ran slow so Decker could keep up.

They all heard the explosions, one, then the other.  The end of the building facing the group collapsed, and they all imagined the gas seeping out and chasing them down the road.  But they mounted and rode.  Elder Stow never had to activate his screen.

When they reached the gate, they found Huyak’s eldest son there with many guards, prepared to block the way.  Katie, up front, raised her rifle and fired several five-shot bursts of bullets as she rode.  The guards either fell or jumped out of the way of the galloping horses.  The travelers burst into the open, but Huyak’s son had men on the walls.  Fortunately, Elder Stow came at the back of the pack, and he switched on the wall screen as they exited the city.  The men on the walls fired on the travelers, but the arrows bounced off Elder Stows screens.  Then they got in the clear.

“The Kairos?” Lockhart asked.  He knew they would have to confess what they had done before they left that time zone.

“My prototype amulet is no good for that,” Katie said.

“That way,” Boston pointed.  “And he appears to be coming our way.”

“She,” Lincoln said quietly.

Boston and Alexis went out front for the time being.  Lockhart and Lincoln switched places with Katie and Artie so they could bring up the rear while Katie and Artie stayed in the center.  Of course, Decker and Elder Stow still had the wings.

Artie talked as they rode.  “That was exciting, and scary, and dangerous…” she thought of every way she could describe the events, and Katie just smiled.  Lockhart smiled, too, but he tried not to show it.  Lincoln went back to reading in the database.

Avalon 5.0 Invading Armies, part 2 of 6

Alexis, Lincoln, Boston, and Lockhart stayed up with Ed and Artie while the others slept and the sun went down.  After sunset, Boston wandered the perimeter of the camp now and then, to let her refined elf senses reach out into the dark, just in case.  They half expected an Anazi rescue ship in the dark.  Elder Stow set the screen device in his scanner to deploy impenetrable screens as soon as something came in overhead.  Organic material, like birds, would be ignored, but anything else in the air would trigger the screens.  Boston and the others felt safe enough, but Boston walked all the same.

Artie, with a little help from Alexis, explained everything she could think of to Ed; too much, really.  She talked, sometimes rapid fire, and everyone saw plainly both how human, and in a way, how female Artie had become in the months since being liberated from Anazi control.

Apart from many questions, and not grasping certain concepts, Ed seemed most taken by the idea that he should be male.  Lincoln and Lockhart tried to fill in things from a male point of view, including when they confessed they did not understand how women saw some things the way they did, either.

“I think I best be male,” Ed admitted at one point.  “It seems much less complicated.”  Then he offered a free thought, something he just started to learn how to do.  “I accessed the program in my system that includes your faces and specifications on several occasions, since we came here to your earth.  Most of it made no sense, even when I had contact with humans like you.  But now, having met the living images, and having scanned you, and most of all, having spoken to you…” he paused before he continued.  “…and listened to you, freely, it begins to make sense.”  He paused again, and everyone waited, having seen that same expression on Artie’s face.  He was thinking, or reviewing data as Elder Stow insisted.  Even Artie waited patiently for him to speak again.  “I say, I felt more attracted to Lincoln’s face and form than any others.  There is no explaining it.”

“Thank goodness for that,” Decker interrupted as he came out of his tent.  “It was bad enough when the Shemsu among the Olmec people carved my helmeted head in giant blocks of stone down in the Yucatan.  Now, to have a bunch of androids running around the universe bearing my image.  No.  That would be too much.”

“Did we wake you?” Alexis asked by way of apology.

“Shift change,” Decker said.  “Midnight.”  Decker cradled his rifle and pulled up a seat by the fire.

“Well, I’m tired,” Boston said with a yawn.  She had become a light elf, not given to night hours like a human.  But then, she slept alone in her own tent, since her husband Roland went missing, and her father Mingus disappeared in that great flash of light, and Katie opted to room with Artie.  Sometimes, the prospect of being alone kept Boston awake.  Lockhart, Decker, and Elder Stow also slept alone.  Elder Stow, in particular; at first because no one trusted the Gott-Druk, but later because he snored so badly.

Boston imagined she would be rooming with Artie.  She had thought Katie and Lockhart would be together by then.  She watched when Katie got up to take Alexis’ place beside Artie, even though Katie and Artie did not have to be up until the three to six in the morning shift.

“I suppose I better get to bed as well,” Lockhart said, and looked at his tent.

“So, where are we in the discussion of life, liberty and all?” Katie asked, looking at the fire.

“Goodnight,” Lockhart said, turning toward Katie, but making a general statement.

“Goodnight,” Katie said, more-or-less in Lockhart’s direction, but just to add her voice to the chorus.

Katie and Lockhart appeared to pause, but then Lockhart went into his tent, Katie sat by the fire, and Boston, an empathetic elf, went to bed, sad.


Around three, Katie walked.  She had taken up Boston’s routine of walking the perimeter now and then, just to be sure.   As an Elect, a one in a million-warrior woman, designed by the goddesses in ancient days to protect the home and families when the men went off to war, her senses and intuition were highly refined.  She could sense danger and an enemy at a great distance, and what she senses at three triggered a red flag in her mind.  She yelled.


In only minutes, something buzzed overhead.  Alexis and Boston got up, groggy, but managed to combine their magic and form a magical disguise around Artie and Ed.  They had no idea if the glamour would fool the Anazi scanners.  Alexis suspected it would not.  She suggested it would fool an Anazi’s visual perception, but probably would not even fool other androids.

They waited.

The ship, a transport looking thing, stopped overhead.  It got a good look at them and their camp, though Elder Stow had activated the particle and energy screens around the camp in case the Anazi ship took a shot at them.  Everyone felt surprised when the ship rose in the sky, turned around, and left the area.

Something crashed through the treetops.  It landed some distance from the camp.  Artie shrieked.  Elder Stow tuned his scanner quickly to examine and study the crashed object.  He swore, something he never did, and adjusted the screens accordingly.

I made the screens extra-large and solid,” he explained.  “I sliced through some trees on the outer edge, but made it tall enough to take in the camp, horses and the trees in the immediate area.”

“Won’t those cut trees on the edge fall on us when we turn it off to begin moving in the morning?” Katie asked, as she moved several steps in one direction, but heard what Elder Stow said.

A second something overshot the camp.

“We won’t be going anywhere for a while,” Elder Stow said, and frowned

“Gas.”  Ed said the word a moment before Artie could identify it.

“What you call mustard gas,” Elder Stow agreed.  “It will fall to the ground and creep along for several hours before it dissipates, but the screens should easily keep it out.”

A third something fell behind them all.

“Not very good shots,” Artie concluded.

“They don’t have to be with mustard gas,” Katie said.

“Let me look,” Decker suggested.  Katie pointed in the direction she sensed was the source of the gas.  Decker nodded and stepped aside to a place where he could sit and meditate.  He let his spirit rise-up, carried by his eagle totem.  He saw no sign of the Anazi ship.  It had vacated the area.  From overhead, he spied a small catapult, moon lit, and a dozen men using it.  He saw the wagons, but as he circled around, he saw other men, more like thirty with chariots, about to charge the catapult.  Decker figured the catapult men were shooting in the dark, assuming the campfire belonged to their enemies.  They were in for a rude awakening when the chariot men charged.  Decker came back to earth in time to hear Katie squawk.

“Who the hell is making mustard gas in seventeen hundred, BC?”

“Not the Anazi.  We may never know,” Decker said, to verbalize Elder Stow’s shrug.

“Should we wake the others?” Artie asked.

“Why?”  Decker responded with the question, while Katie retook her seat beside Artie and spoke.

“The others need a chance to rest, and as Elder Stow said, we won’t be going anywhere for a while.”

“You ask these humans and do what they say?” Ed sounded surprised, even if he had not yet figured out what surprise was other than in a military context.

“Oh, yes,” Artie said.  “I have learned.  We act as a team.  Everyone has things to contribute, and these humans have knowledge and abilities that we do not have.  The best judgment is not always a simple weighing of the facts.  There is wisdom in listening, and these people have much experience that again, we do not have.”

“But to do what someone else says?  Is that not slavery?”

“Not when it is a free choice,” Artie responded.

“Only an immature child always wants his or her way,” Katie added.  “Elders can be wrong at times, but wisdom says the young should listen to their elders, and not resist them, especially those that care about you.  That is how children learn.”

“I have over fifty years of experience to draw on,” Elder Stow said.  “I understand Lockhart has seventy years of experience.  We have determined that Artie has about five years of experience, though she does not count the four years she lived under Anazi domination.  I suspect you are also about four or five years old.”

“Young soldiers listen to their seasoned sergeant and their commanding officer,” Decker added.  “Not only because they have pledged to listen, but because listening to their experienced words, and obeying orders, is the way young soldiers stay alive.”

“And you have not listened much to Lockhart, my mother,” Elder Stow spoke to Katie who he called the mother of the group, after his Neanderthal fashion, as he called Lockhart the father of the group.  “It seems he is an elder worth listening to.”

Katie said nothing, so Decker mumbled, “Only a child always wants her way.”

Katie stood.  “Excuse me.  I have a perimeter to walk.”  She left the fire and Artie spoke.

“Love is something I am still working on.”  She turned to Ed.  “It is very, very complicated.”