Avalon 8.12 Abomination, part 5 of 5

Jai the Mongol became substantial again as soon as Sung Ao fired the photon canon.  He leaped to cover Sung Ao when the canon got crushed just in case it exploded.  Sung Ao quickly checked it, but Gan Ao spoke.  “I thought it best that the weapon not explode.  I turned it off before it got crushed.  Sorry if I overstepped my bounds.”

“You did right as always.  I am very proud of you.  But what are you doing here?”

“I reserved a time for coming back should I be needed.  Apparently, I am needed now.”

“Sung Ao?” Lincoln asked.  He always had to know.

Sung Ao nodded, but then Lockhart had a question for Gan Ao.  “Who are you?”

The old man smiled as men started to revive all over the field.  They had headaches but would recover.  “I am not surprised you did not recognize me.  I am much older than I was when I traveled with my master, the great lord Zhang She of Xi’an, servant of the Great Emperor Guangwu of Han.”

“From Lydia’s day,” Boston remembered, and smiled, knowing who Gan Ao really was.  Sung Ao reached out and gently hugged Boston, then he said something strange.

“I am going to miss my hugs.”

Alexis and Katie knew who Gan Ao was and Alexis spoke before Boston could ask.  “Didn’t you go over to the other side?”

“I did,” Gan Ao said.  “But I can’t remember anything about it while I am here.  Funny how that works.”  He let go of the old man and became Tien Shang-di, king of the ancient gods, and son of the Kairos, the Nameless god of the north.

Lockhart nodded like he had forgotten.  He looked quickly, but the wagon was close by and Ghost, for once, was minding his own business.  Decker and Nanette were busy being lost in each other, and Lincoln and Tony were failing to comfort Sukki, who looked teary-eyed but maybe finally realized there were times she had to act even if it meant people had to die.

“The cyborgs are all dead,” Tien said.  “The super soldiers are all dead as well.  They were possessed for a long enough time so there was not enough of them to come back.  The rest should recover.  Their time of possession was brief.  So, you see, Elder Stow.  Now, you can report to your people that possession by an abomination does not kill a person right away.  The consciousness hangs on for some time, and the body continues to live, though yes.  I see how terrible that must be.”

“Anyway,” Sung Ao interrupted everyone.  “Boston.  I have someone for you to meet.  Jai.  He came a long way just to find you.”

Jai stepped up, and Boston knew he was an elf, like her, but she did not know who until he removed his glamour that made him look Mongolian.  Roland said nothing.  He did not get a chance.  Boston screamed and tackled him.  She kissed his face all over.  Then she began to weep great big tears, and Roland was not against weeping himself.  They stood as Roland’s sister, Alexis came up weeping as well, and joined the hug.  They might have continued for a while, but Lincoln shouted from a distance.

“Alexis.  Nanette.  We have wounded here who need help.”

“May I?” Alexis asked Sung Ao.  She felt a slight curtsey was appropriate.

“Of course,” he said, and turned as three men came to ask what they were doing.  Sung Ao put Niccolo, Maffeo, and Marco in Katie’s hands and said she could talk to them as long as she kept her mouth shut.  He went to find Timur the chief and the servants of the Masters.  Tien went with him and waved his hand while they walked.  All the cyborgs and super soldiers, the ship inside the cave and the busted photon canon with the wet spot that had been the abomination vanished.

“Sent to Avalon,” he said.  “To the alien island and museum,” he explained.

“Yes, thanks, but that does not explain why you are here.”

They found Chin Li alive and checking out the bandits.  He had a half-dozen men with him, just to be safe.  Timur, Bozarius and Hakim the Berber were all dead.  Timur got blasted with a super soldier gun and the other two were killed by the travelers. Bozarius got a shotgun slug in his middle.  Hakim got crisped by Sukki.  “No idea what their names were in this life,” Sung Ao mumbled to himself.

Timur’s son, Kohja, knew better than to stick around.  He promised to take the bandits home and not bother them again.  Sung Ao let them go.  Lincoln, who came up to watch the exchange, commented.

“He knew they were out gunned,” and added, “Sorry.”  He knew the Kairos was not a fan of clichés.

In this case, Sung Ao responded, “You were out gunned, but I am glad you butted into a bad situation anyway.”  Lincoln said no more, as they watched the bandits leave. They took their dead and wounded with them, so that was at least one thing they did not have to worry about.  Even so, Sung Ao thought to say something to Lincoln.  “You better go and check on your wife.  You don’t want her working herself to exhaustion.”

“Right.” Lincoln jogged ahead to the camp.

The travelers stayed that night with the Polos, but Sung Ao said it was best if they leave in the morning.  “We will head south, two days to Khotan.  We will rest there a week while our men heal.  You should be able to reach the time gate before we move on again.”

“But Father,” Alexis said, and Sung Ao and Tien took Alexis and Lincoln aside to speak with them privately.

In the morning, Roland stood beside Boston, holding her hand, and repeated what everyone already knew.  “Father is dying.  He never really recovered from his struggle with the ghoul master of the hundred.  Now he is dying.  I came to fetch Boston and Alexis so they could be with him in the end.”

Alexis came out of her tent, an elf again, and she explained for everyone.  “Time is still broken with the Storyteller missing.  Lady Alice can only move her own through the Heart of Time.  I have temporarily become an elf again so I can go and say good-bye to Father.”

“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” Lincoln said.  Alexis gave him a kiss and said she was ready.

Tien stepped up, and Sung Ao traded places with the Nameless god, Tien’s father, so the two gods could work together.

“I’ll miss the wagon,” Tony said.  Most of the travelers shook their heads.  They would not miss it.

“I’ll miss my hugs,” Boston said suddenly.  “And Strawberry, and Honey, but I will see you when you get back.  Sukki, sister, take care of the amulet and remember, I’ll be waiting for you.”

Sukki nodded, and Nanette said, “Good luck.”  Nanette carried Alexis’ bag, the one with the vitamins and medical supplies.

Boston said she was ready and looked up at Roland who merely nodded.  They vanished along with the wagon, their Roman saddles and most of their things.  Ghost stood with saddlebags that carried their spare horseshoes and necessary equipment.  They went back to carrying things in saddlebags and having their tents and extra blankets strapped to the back of their western saddles.  The Kairos said they could ride them again.  They were well into the Middle Ages by then.

Tien said good-bye to them all.

Nameless smiled for them and Sung Ao came back to wake up the Polos.

Lockhart spoke as they headed out.  “Sukki, you have the point.  Be careful.  Decker and Elder Stow still have the wings.”  He paused to look at Katie before he turned his head back to talk to Lincoln.  “So, where are we going?”

Lincoln had to look it up, while Katie shouted back to the ones behind.  “Tony and Nanette.  You have the rear.  Keep your eyes open for whoever or whatever might be following us.”

“Yeah,” Lincoln interrupted his reading.  “Watch out for dragons, little green-men, werewolves and vampires, ghouls and genies, witches, displaced people, space aliens and servants of the Masters, and whatever else I can’t think of right now.”  He returned to his reading.

Nanette took his words seriously, but Tony smiled and said, “Hut, hut.”  Ghost, who had his long lead tied to Tony’s saddle stepped up.  Tony did not want to have to drag the mule all the way back to the twentieth century if they should live so long.

END of Avalon, Season 8.

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

TOMORROW

Introduction to the twin tales of Wlvn and Flern, two lives of the Kairos separated by a mere 500 years.  They are genetic reflections, or as they say, identical twins of the opposite sex, and it gets them in big trouble.

*

Avalon 8.12 Abomination, part 4 of 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That would be my guess,” Jai agreed.

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

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

“Thanks.  I have to clean that up.”

Jai laughed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avalon 8.12 Abomination, part 3 of 5

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

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

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

###

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

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

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

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

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

“Abomination?” Katie asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“That must be horrible,” Decker said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

###

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

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

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

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

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

“I guess so,” Timur said.

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

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

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

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

Jai laughed.

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

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

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MONDAY

The showdown. Don’t miss it.  Happy Reading

*

Avalon 8.12 Abomination, part 2 of 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Have you mentioned it to the men?”

“I don’t want to frighten them.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

###

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thanks,” Lincoln grumped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avalon 8.12 Abomination, part 1 of 5

After 1245 A.D. between Kashgar and Aksu

Kairos 109: Sung-Ao, slave of Kublai Kahn

Recording …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

###

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

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

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

“Decker,” Lockhart called on his wristwatch communicator.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avalon 8.11 Tax Collectors and Other Thieves, part 5 of 6

By the time Boston, Sukki, Elder Stow, Lincoln, Alexis, and Tony driving the wagon arrived in Maunsfeld, surrounded by armed men, word had gone out and people, mostly wives and mothers of the men, waited in the street.  Lockhart and Katie were not far behind, and meanwhile, a young girl about thirteen, with platinum locks and hazel-light brown eyes came dragging a dark-haired, blue eyed young woman by the hand.  Two much older women followed the group until suddenly the thirteen-year-old dropped the young beauty’s hand and ran forward yelling.  “Boston.”  The red streak ran into her arms for a wonderful hug.

“You are young again,” Boston said.

“U-huh,” the girl nodded and dragged Boston to meet her friend.  “This is Marian de Furnival.  Her brother is going to marry my sister Maud.  I feel sorry for him, but what are you going to do?  They are in Looove.”

“Helen?”  Lincoln had to ask, and the girl nodded.  “Come on,” she said, but it was not that easy.  They had horses and a wagon to tend.

“You go on,” Lincoln told Alexis.  “Elder Stow, Tony and I will find a place for the horses.”  Alexis nodded, and she, and Sukki, followed Helen and Marian.

“Maid Marian?” Alexis asked and watched Helen and Boston nod.

“That is what Helen called me when we got stopped on the road and kidnapped, to be held for ransom.  She said it was safer.  It was for the men, to tell them they should not touch me.”

“And we all agreed with that,” one of the older ladies who followed spoke.

Helen took them to the tent where a man ran around like a wild chicken.  He had helpers, but he was obviously very busy.  “No time now, Lady,” the man said.  “I got hungry men to feed soon enough.”  They found two deer roasting over a pit and plenty of vegetables to go with it along with great loaves of bread laid out to cool on racks.

“This is Frypan,” Helen said.  “Four squares.  Sunup, noon, teatime or what they call dinner, and supper at sundown.  I don’t know who started three squares in your time.  It’s stupid. Three is a triangle, not a square.””

“Frypan?” Boston asked.

“Yeah,” Helen said.  “He is guarding me.  I am a prisoner, you know.”

“Does he have a name?” Alexis asked.

Helen shrugged.  “Frypan.  It is what everyone calls him.”

“You are being held for ransom?” Boston asked, intrigued by the whole idea.

“Yeah,” Helen repeated, and waved to a boy.  He looked to be about sixteen, and he came straight to her wave.

“Milch,” she named him.  “This is Alexis, Boston, and Sukki, old friends.”

“Oh? Pleased to meet you,” Milch said.  “Old friends?”

“Yeah.”  Boston imitated Helen.  “From about nine hundred years in the future.”  She grinned and turned her grin on Helen, who gave her a snooty face.

“Milch is the miller’s son,” Helen said, and touched the boy’s chest to identify him.  “Most of the flour for the bread comes from his father’s mill down on the river Leen, by Linby.  I call him Milch Miller, but he doesn’t sing so good.”  Alexis laughed.  Boston was not sure if she understood the joke.  Sukki had no idea what Helen was talking about, but before she could ask, Katie came up.

“Katie!” Helen shouted and turned to Milch.  “This is Katie.”

“I guessed.”

“This is Milch, the miller’s son.  And this is Maid Marian.”

“Maid Marian?” Katie said.

“I said the same thing,” Alexis told her, and Katie nodded.

“Oh,” Helen perked up and got everyone’s attention again.  “I need you and Lockhart to go with me and check something out.  We had the strangest thing, just three nights ago.  You missed it.”

Frypan heard and came over, wiping his hands on his apron.  Milch got excited to tell the tale, but Frypan beat him to it.  “A strange ball, not that big.  It came down so fast, people were afraid it was going to crash on their heads, but it stopped, all of a sudden.  It looked suspended in the sky, and it was smoking, like maybe it was on fire.  Big billows of smoke.”

“I saw it first,” Milch said.  “I told everyone.”

“Milch screamed the sky was falling.” Helen interrupted.  “I thought his screams might wake the dead.  Then I told him he should not steal Chicken Little’s line.  He said, who’s Chicken Little?”  Milch shrugged and Frypan picked up the telling.

“Helen here identified the ball as a kind of craft, she said like a big boat, but one flying on the air instead of floating on the river.”  He looked at the travelers to see how they reacted to that idea, but when he saw they had no trouble believing him, he continued.  “It came down maybe a mile or so from here, in the woods.  I know some men went to look for it, but they all reported they found nothing, like it vanished or something.

“It made no sound when it came down,” Milch added.  “I expected it to Crash! and make the ground shake.”  Milch shrugged again.

“So, Katie,” Helen took the conversation.  “I need you and Lockhart to go with me to check it out.  After three days, whoever it is may be in trouble.”

“Shouldn’t Elder Stow come?” Katie asked.

“Maybe, if we need to repair something.  But we need to see who it is first.  Alice has an idea, but I am not committing.”

“You are arguing with yourself?” Sukki asked and sounded surprised.

“What?” Helen said.  “You never argue with yourself?”

Sukki looked at the ground and nodded.  “I do.”

“Now hold on, missy,” Frypan said.  “I was left to watch you to make sure you did not escape and all that kind of thing.  I won’t be seeing you run off, or maybe getting hurt and me not being there.”

Helen clicked her tongue.  She was thirteen.  “I’ll be well protected, and we won’t be far.  I’ll take Milch with me.  He will keep me prisoner.”

“I’ll make sure to protect her and see that she doesn’t get hurt,” Milch said.

“Lady?” Frypan turned to Maid Marian, but she could only shrug like Milch.  One of the ladies spoke up.

“I’ll go and make sure she comes back in one piece.”

“Why us two?”  Katie asked.

“Yeah, why can’t we go?” Boston asked.

“Because…” Helen said and looked and sounded exasperated.  “This is Men in Black business.  You agreed to work for me, did you not?”  Katie nodded, slowly.  “So, baring the director, I need the assistant director.  Besides, I may need your elect senses to watch for danger and maybe to return fire.”

“What about Decker?” Katie asked.

“Nah,” Helen said.  “He is busy thinking about getting married to Nanette, and Lincoln and Alexis don’t need the complication right now, and Boston is too stubborn, and Sukki too scaredy-cat, and Tony still too new at all this, well, relatively speaking.  Besides, I don’t want a whole Scooby gang so whoever it is feels threatened.”

“No.  Miss Helen.  I forbid you to go,” Frypan said.

“You know I will go anyway,” Helen said.

Frypan nodded.  “But at least I have witnesses that I forbid it.  Now be careful.”

“But…” Boston wanted to object to something.

“No,” Helen said sternly, and Boston felt it in her gut.  “I order you to stay here.  Fat lot of good that will do.  Come on, Milch.  Let’s go find Lockhart.”  She reached for Milch’s hand, which made him smile, and she dragged the boy behind her just like she dragged Marian earlier.  After they walked around the corner, Boston spoke again.

“You are stubborn too.”

“Are you thinking of following her?” Sukki asked.  Alexis could not block Sukki’s mouth fast enough, so instead she dropped her face in her hand and shook her head.

“Well, I was thinking about it, but now that you said it, I kind of have to,” Boston said.  Marian caught it and laughed.  Frypan looked like he did not quite follow what just happened.

###

They found Lockhart in the barn talking with Lincoln and Little John.  Will Scarlet was in the corner, rubbing down his horse, or one of the horses.  “Robert,” Katie called him, and he came while she spoke to Lincoln.  “Alexis is by the cooking fires with Frypan checking out what is for supper.”

Lincoln nodded.  “I’ll catch her up,” he said.

“Supper sounds good,” Little John said, and they walked off.

Helen came in and got Will to help Milch saddle three horses.  “No, Will,” she said.  “You don’t need to come with us.  We are just going for a short ride.  Why don’t you find Boston and compare hair colors?”

“Too late,” Will said.  “I already tried that, and she turned me down, flat, elf that she is.”

“But I’ll have Lady Milpryd with me to keep me safe, and Milch will make sure I don’t run off.”

“I am sure he will keep you from running off as hard as he can,” Will said.  “But meanwhile, though I have known you but a week, I know your name is trouble.  If there is any trouble, you will find it and be in the middle of it.  Besides, if you got hurt it would break Maid Marian’s heart and Robin might kill me for that.”

“Ready?”  Katie asked, and everyone got up on their horses.

Helen saw the gang coming down the north road, and said, “Hurry.”  She saw Robin, and Decker and Nanette who were easy enough to see in the setting sunlight.  She saw someone else, and it took a moment to shout it out.  “Friar Tuck! Now my life is complete.  I wondered who was missing.  Just a feeling I had.”

“Hush now,” Katie said to try and get Helen to settle down.

“Good luck with that,” Lady Milpryd said.

Avalon 8.11 Tax Collectors and Other Thieves, part 4 of 6

Lockhart and Kate stopped a short way down the trail.  Katie made them bring their horses into the woods to hide them from the trail before they tied them off, and she whispered her complaint.  “These men are on foot.  We could have gotten the wagon out of range soon enough.”

“They have to have horses nearby.  Better they don’t follow.”  Lockhart whispered his response.

Katie was not going to argue.  She took the lead, and Lockhart followed.  She had the elect senses to pick up enemies and danger.  He had a policeman’s intuition, but hers were more like a superpower.

She stopped and signaled him to take a spot beside a tree.  One moment later, they heard voices headed toward them.

“That did not work well,” one man said.  “They ran out of range.  They did not stop to defend themselves.”

“You fired and gave us away too soon,” another man said.

“Well, the others should get them,” the first man said.

“But now they know what’s what,”

Lockhart stepped from behind the tree.  “Hold it right there.”  Three men stopped where they were and stared at the giant of a man.  One turned, but Lockhart fired his shotgun into another tree, and between the thunder and shattered tree, he screamed and ran.  The other two also scattered to get lost in the woods.

“I didn’t even get to say the Decker line.  “Don’t make me kill you.”

Katie put all her sarcasm into her grin.  “Your idea did not work too well either.”

“We better get back to the horses before they disappear.  It shouldn’t be hard to catch up.”

“U-huh,” Katie agreed and wanted to take his hand but did not dare let go of her rifle.

They got to the trail in time to see about ten soldiers stopped there.  Clearly, they did not hide their horses nearly well enough.  Lockhart whistled, and Bay and Seahorse tried to break free of their captors, but Katie knew what she had to do.  “God forgive me, Friar Tuck,” she said, and began to shoot the soldiers.  She shot the ones holding on to the reigns of their horses, and after a few seconds, three arrows came from the trees.  One hit a horse, one a soldier, and one missed.

Lockhart pulled his handgun and he and Katie shot two more men while Bay and Seahorse trotted into the woods.  The soldiers did not stick around.  They rode off toward Rainworth Water and left one dead man and a wounded horse behind.

Katie and Lockhart met the three archers on the road.  They stared at each other for a minute before Katie smiled and one of the men stepped forward.

“We are travelers,” Lockhart said.  “Pilgrims, you might say.”

“Not ordinary travelers, I would say, with weapons like thunder,” the man said.

“I’m Lockhart and my wife is Katie.”

“Alan,” the man said and stepped to face them.  “Alan Odale.  My companions are Gerald the hunter and Giles our tinker.  Mostly, he goes by the name, Tinker.”  He looked up in the face of the big man, but Lockhart smiled and shook his hand.

“We better get off the road,” Katie said.  “How far to Maunsfeld?  We are looking for Helen de Lovetot.  Do you know her?”

“Her Dibs.  I should have guessed,” Alan said, and the other two snickered.  “She is safe enough.  This way.”  he led the way back to the road.

###

Boston and Sukki screeched to a halt in front of thirty or forty armed men who were mostly on foot.  Suki did not know what to do.  She prepared to panic, but Boston recognized these were not soldiers, so she guessed they were the thieves.  It might make matters worse, but she had to do something, so she shouted.

“There are soldiers on the road, and they are going to hurt my friends.  Hurry. We have to save them.”

The six on horseback rode up to meet the girls, and the big one, big as Lockhart and Decker, shouted back to the men on foot.  “On the double.”  The one dressed in a flaming red shirt with equally flaming red hair smiled for Boston’s red hair and indicate, after you.

###

Tony drove the wagon off the road.  Elder Stow had some discs ready.  He kept two, gave two each to Lincoln and Alexis, and Two to Tony while he moved to the rear of the wagon. They all went invisible, including Ghost and the horses, but they did not get the wagon before the soldiers arrived.  Alexis whipped up a good wind, blowing dust in the soldier’s faces, while Tony and Elder Stow attached the discs to the wagon and the wagon vanished.

The soldiers stopped.  “I thought I saw something in the woods there,” a soldier said.

“I saw something,” Sir Guy confirmed, but before they could check it out, the two women that rode out front came back with a bunch of thieves.  He did not like the idea of being outflanked.  He turned his horse and shouted to his men.  “Regroup.”  He started off, but some of the men were slow.

A sharp beam of light, easily visible in the afternoon sun, came from the woods and struck the road.  Something exploded.  Likely the road.  At the same time, Sukki raised her hands and produced her own beam of light, almost like she was responding to Elder Stow.  A huge old oak exploded on the side of the road and fell to block the way.  She shouted, “Sorry.”  She realized the tree might have crushed some men and horses, and maybe even her invisible companions, but the soldiers did not stick around to see.

The thieves stopped short, and after a moment of shock, the red head spoke to Boston.  “Name’s Will.  I love your hair.”

“Boston,” she said and smiled.  “I’m married and I’m an elf.”

Will pretended like he was just being friendly, but he knew that would not fly.  “We would have made flaming children.”  He turned to the big man who still looked to be in shock about the display of power in front of his face.  “Hey, Little John.  We got another one who belongs to her Dibs.”

“I should have guessed,” Little John said, as the travelers came back to the road and became visible again.  The rest of the men trotted up behind, but Boston turned to the men beside her.

“Will Scarlet?” she asked.

“Some call me that.”  The man nodded.

“And Little John?” she pointed, and the man nodded again.  She said, “Yes!”

###

After a short way, Decker stopped, so Nanette, and Father Tucker stopped with him.  “Keep moving,” he said in echo of Lockhart’s words.  “I can see the river from here.  I’ll catch up.”

“Decker.”  Nanette wanted to complain.  They could ride away and maybe escape, but he insisted.

“I’ll be careful and be right behind you.”  He heard the horses and got his rifle ready.

“Come on,” Nanette said to the priest, though she did not sound happy.

They stopped and got down beside the river.  It looked swollen and showed some whitewater.  They wanted to be sure it was safe to cross.  They got surprised by a handful of men with their weapons ready.  The leader stepped right up to them, a long knife in his hand.

“Well, well.  Here I was coming to fetch you, and you came to me.  And I crossed this river once to do it.  I hardly feel it is fair to make me cross it again.  Monk.  I think perhaps you should carry me across.”  Father Tucker looked at the horses.  “Oh, don’t worry, my men will bring your horses, but you only have two horses, you see, and I would hate to deprive the lady of her horse.”

They paused when they heard the rapid fire of Decker’s gun.  The man made another comment.  “Big woodpecker.”

“Biggest, meanest woodpecker you have ever seen,” Father Tucker said, knowing what made that sound.

The man turned again to the priest.  “No, no.  Bend over.  I will ride on your back.  I don’t want to get my feet wet.”

“Very charitable of you,” Father Tucker said with a scowl and bent over.

“Yours is the act of Christian Charity, being kind to a man and his poor, hurting feet.”

The other men laughed and helped Nanette and the horses across the stream.

Decker rode up a couple of minutes later and saw a man in the water, spitting water from his mouth, Father Tucker standing in the stream, and Nanette and some other men standing on the far bank, laughing.  He did not know what to make of it.

“Decker,” Nanette saw him and shouted across the water.

He crossed over and reported to his two companions.  “I left three soldiers dead.  The other six rode off, but I don’t guarantee they won’t be back.”

The man in the water immediately sent most of his men down the trail to guard it, and if the soldiers did not come back, to bury the bodies before they started to rot.  He paused to introduce the one who remained.  “George is the pinder in these parts.  He lives at the king’s house up the way.  Maxwell is our resident Scot, and George Whitehand.”  George Whitehand was a black man and he smiled for the couple.  “I have been given the ignoble name of Robin Hood.”

Nanette spoke before the others.  “I am Nanette, Decker is my fiancé, and the man who is going to marry us, your own personal horse, is Father Tucker, but the others have taken to calling him Friar Tuck.”

“It is the name by which I was first known and still am in many places,” Father Tucker admitted.  “But to you, it is Father Tucker, and now that I have found you, I can see that you and your men are in serious need of spiritual guidance.”

“Yes,” Robin said.  “We are all terrible sinners in these parts.”  He grinned and started them down the path toward Maunsfeld.

Avalon 8.11 Tax Collectors and Other Thieves, part 1 of 6

After 1180 A.D. Nottinghamshire

Kairos 108: Helen de Lovetot of Sheffield

Recording …

Boston felt peeved.  The time gate sat in inches of water just off the coast.  “Man!” she protested.  “A few inches that way and the gate would be on dry land.”

“Japan is an island,” Katie said, which only upset Boston more.

“I know, but still.  A gate in water always leads to a gate in water.  Lincoln, where are we going?”

Lincoln said it again.  “Great Britain.”

“Great… Britain!”  Boston complained again.  “From one island to another.  But, you know, inches of water here could be the middle of the North Sea there.”

“Not necessarily,” Lincoln started to speak, but Alexis quieted him.

“Come on, Boston.  Let’s check it out,” Sukki said and kept her horse Cocoa steady on the beach.

Boston let out a soft growl and spurred her horse ahead.  She liked to go through first and Sukki did not mind.  “Cocoa and Strawberry into the drink,” she shouted and disappeared through the time gate.  Sukki went quietly after.

On the other side, they came out in a gentle river.  In fact, the river almost did not move at all, like the tide was in a stalemate with the river, just ready to go in or go out.  What is more, the spot they were in appeared quite shallow, so it was easy to climb out of the water and on to the riverbank.  Sukki looked toward the sea which began just a few hundred feet from where they stood with no trees to block her view.  She wondered if the whole area flooded when the tide came in.  Boston looked the other way, toward a big building that looked something like a church and on which the men were still building.

“Sukki, you need to fetch the others,” Boston said.  “I’ll check out the church and see where we are.”

“Boston?”  Sukki said and paused to think about what she already thought about a thousand times.

“What?” Boston said, being as patient as she could be.

“What is wrong?”  She paused, but not long enough for Boston to say, “nothing.”  She looked to the side and spoke.  “You are not the same, like you changed or something.  You were happy and carefree and loved everyone.  You helped me out of all my bad feelings, and I am so much better now. But it’s like you have gone the other way.  Nothing is ever right or good anymore.  You complain and sound bitter and unhappy about everything.”  She paused very briefly before she blurted out the rest.  “You were going to torture that poor man if he did not tell you the truth.  I understand wanting to protect the Kairos, but that isn’t it.”  Sukki paused for a longer time, but Boston did not answer her.  They just stood there staring at each other, so Sukki started again.  “What is wrong?”

“Nothing,” Boston said at last as a kind of automatic response, but Sukki didn’t move, and Boston finally had to look down briefly.  “Do you really want to know?”

“You are my sister.  I will never tell anyone.”

Boston nodded slightly.  “I’m tired.  I’m anxious, depressed, and so unhappy.  I think all this moving around is finally getting to me.”

Sukki shook her head.  There was more.  She waited, and Boston turned her head to look at the sea.

“Don’t get me wrong.  I love all the adventure.  I love seeing the Kairos in each time zone, and my hugs.  I can’t do without my hugs.  And I love all of you and having sisters.  I never had sisters before.  And don’t tell me you won’t say anything.  Sisters tell everything about their sisters.  I know that.”

“I won’t tell, honest.”  Sukki sounded as honest as she could be.

Boston grinned and nodded and looked down.  She said it anyway.  “It’s Roland.  I’m afraid for him.  I’m beginning to think that maybe he did die, and I miss him so much, you have no idea.  And I think after all this time, I just want this journey to be over.  I just want to get home and find him.  I need to know.”  She began to cry, and Sukki did not know what to say.

“There, there,” a man said.  “Grief is a terrible thing, but it is healthy if you don’t let it take over.”

Sukki and Boston felt shocked and looked down at a priest, or monk, or whatever he was.  Sukki stiffened as was her way.  Boston immediately stopped crying and spoke to the man.  “You surprised me.  That is very hard to do, you have no idea.”

The man pointed to the building on the hill.  “I was sitting there looking out at the sea, meditating about life and the Word, and I saw you appear in the river.  I wondered if you were angels.  I thought to come and see, and I see that you are angels of a sort.”  He smiled, and it was a nice smile.

“What is that place?”  Sukki asked.

The man glanced back and answered her.  “Lincluden Abbey,” he said.  “It is not finished, but near enough.  I have been thinking of late that I may return home.  It is in the south, in England proper.  The abbot does not need my help at this point and there is much spiritual need at home.  Such trouble I am hearing about.”  He clicked his tongue and shook his head.

Boston whipped out her amulet to look.  “We are headed that way,” she pointed south.

“I think you mean that way first,” the father said.  “You are pointing at the Firth of Solway, unless you plan to walk on the water.”  He smiled again.  It seemed to be his natural attitude.  “My name is Tucker, Father Tucker.”

“I’m Boston.  This is Sukki.”

“Such unusual names.  And you two women are traveling alone?  That would not be safe with robbers and thieves about.”

“We are not alone,” Sukki said.

“No.  No one is ever alone who goes with God, but still…”

“Sukki.  You better go fetch the others,” Boston said and got down to face the priest.  “You haven’t seen anything yet.”  Boston tried to smile for the first time and confessed.  “I’m not really grieving.  That’s the problem.  I don’t know what to do.  I don’t know if Roland is dead or alive.  He is home.  I just want to get home, but we have such a long way to go to get there.”

“Roland.  He is your husband?”

“Do I look old enough for a husband?”

“Hardly,” the priest smiled.  “But when a young woman cries like that, it is rarely for a father or brother.  It may be the man you love, but I suspect there is more to it, so I am guessing husband.”

Boston tried to smile again.  “You are a good guesser,” she said and looked away.  They watched Suki vanish through the time gate and the priest hardly gasped.  “I am missing him, terribly, and I am afraid he may be dead.”

“But you are not sure?”  He asked and Boston shook her head while the priest nodded.  “You may hope that he is alive and well.  You may believe that he is safe and waiting for you.  Faith and hope are good things when you are facing uncertainty, but better still is trust.  You don’t know the truth of it, and you can’t know until you get there.  But what you can do right now is trust that Almighty God is in control of the situation and he will work it out for good, ultimately for the best no matter the truth of it, no matter what.”

Boston nodded slightly.  “No matter what,” she repeated and sniffed, and turned her head to watch the others come through the time gate.  When they all arrived on the bank, Boston made the introduction.  “This is Father Tucker.  He is from the south, where we are going.  He has volunteered to guide us there.”

“I…”  He only said he was thinking about it, but he shrugged.  The opportunity was such that he imagined he might as well.  “I just need to collect my things and take my leave of the abbot.  I should be ready in about an hour if you care to wait.”

“He can ride my horse,” Tony spoke up from the wagon.  “Ghost has a hard enough time dragging this wagon across country as it is.  He doesn’t need the added weight of my horse dragging along behind.”

“Actually,” the priest said.  “There is a road over there that comes down from Dumfries and continues along the coast to join the North-South Road at the end of the Firth.  To be honest, it isn’t much better than going across the fields, as you say.  But the North-South Road is kept up fairly well.  It won’t be so hard on your wagon once we get there.”

“We can wait,” Lockhart said.  Father Tucker nodded and started back up the hill to fetch his things.

Avalon 8.10 Refugees, part 4 of 4

Half the people exited the screens, including Decker and Katie who went out on the flanks a little to make sure no samurai or super soldiers were following around to see if the screens made a complete circle.  The wagon took four discs, one for Ghost, one for Tony, and one front and back on the wagon itself.  There was overlap, but that was better than getting stuck on a corner.  Once they were all gathered, they hurried off toward the road, to catch up with the refugees and Hideko’s students, and to get out of visual range as soon as possible.

Elder Stow sat and between the screen device and his scanner, he watched the activity outside the screens.  He saw the super soldiers try handguns and one rifle.  He watched them try to concentrate fire.  It did them no good.

He saw the Japanese warriors.  Katie said they were not technically samurai yet, not that he knew what that was, but the others all called them that.  He watched them bang on the screens with swords, spears, clubs, stones, and a couple of arrows.  One noticed a bird fly right though the screens.  Elder Stow made the screens so they would not interfere with the living flora and fauna—at least birds would not be hindered.  Three men helped a fourth reach a tree branch.  He climbed to the same height and jumped where he thought the bird came through what he thought was a screen wall, much like a stone wall, but invisible.  He went further than he expected and landed, not nearly at the top of the dome, but up on the side.  Of course, he had nothing to hang on to, so he slid back to the ground down the gentle curve.  He seemed to enjoy the ride and maybe wanted to do that again.

“Ah…” Elder Stow said to himself out loud as the samurai and super soldiers met around the edges.  Three samurai met three super soldiers, and the three samurai fell to their knees and grabbed at their heads.  The super soldiers conferred while they held the three men in the grip of their telepathic power.  Then one soldier further back, fired an arrow. It struck a super soldier in the middle of his torso. Elder Stow noted, the Ouran heart was somewhere in the middle, where the human stomach might be.  They had more ribs as well, so it took a well-placed shot to damage the heart.  The shot was well-placed, or rather, lucky.  Of course, the two standing super soldiers fired on the samurai and made small explosions in the rocks and trees behind which the samurai hid.  One of the super soldiers immediately shot the three samurai at his feet, and then the two sides backed away.

Finally, the shuttle the super soldiers arrived in came close and fired on the screens with almost no affect.  Meanwhile, Elder Stow scanned the shuttle and found four more super soldiers aboard.  “So, there are eleven, well, now ten to contend with locally,” he said to himself, and then worried, because wherever the main ship was, it was out of his scanner range.  “And who knows how many soldiers the main ship may be carrying.”

Out in the field, Katie had a question.  “These blue-skinned Ouran.  Are they Bluebloods?”

Hideko, who borrowed Elder Stow’s horse to ride beside her shook her head.  “They can’t just plant their seed in a woman like the Bluebloods could.  They reproduce normally between the two sexes, otherwise I would not let them near my women.  But they are the result of a Blueblood incursion several thousand years ago.  They all carry Blueblood genes.  They are what I told you ages ago, what the human race would have become if the Bluebloods ever got a foothold on earth.”

Katie nodded and looked back.  Nanette and Hangaku seemed very animated in their discussion.  Lockhart tried not to listen.  It made Katie smile for the man.  Behind them, Lincoln and Alexis talked some, but Tomoe looked like she got saddled with her least favorite aunt.  She only talked when asked a direct question, and then it was short and to the point.  Tony had the wagon.  Decker had the rear, which was the only direction they expected to face any trouble.  Sukki and Boston still rode out front, but being on the road, Sukki stayed close, just behind the Ouran and women who walked at a good pace.  Boston still rode out ahead, but it was mostly to look for places where the wagon might have some trouble.

“So, what are you going to do about your brother?” Katie asked.  “You are technically living in his province.”

Hideko shook her head.  “The school is over the mountain, so technically in Iga province, which is not technically his.  But who pays attention to technicalities?  Kiyomori has set his path, I think, and it does not look like a good one.  He lusts for power and control, and he will eliminate anyone who gets in his way.  I am not surprised he wants to see me dead.  He makes alliances and promises only to break them when they become inconvenient.  He forces others to do what he wants and does not even leave his own children out of that mix.  I see only ruin for my family.”

“I’m sorry,” Katie said.  “I know something of the struggle and political turmoil of these days here in Japan, but I don’t know details.  Most of my graduate work was in the west—the advent of gunpowder and that sort of thing.”

“Ancient and medieval technologies,” Hideko said, gathering the information from somewhere in time.  She gave the horse his reigns and used both hands to pull her long, gray hair into a ponytail.  She curled it and used a piece of leather she wore on her wrist, and a stick she pulled from her armor to tie it up.  “I am forty-nine,” she said.  “The war that is coming, that looks inevitable, will hopefully be my last in this life.  My brother is forty-two, and I have younger brothers.  My brother also has sons, and one daughter, Tokuko.  She is five.  I worry about that girl, being the only girl, outside of her submissive mother, around so many men.  I fear she will become what men do with girls, a political pawn, and she may come to no good end.”

“You sound like you have a handle on events.  How do you come by your information?” Katie wondered.

“I have spies,” Hideko said with a straight face.  “I train spies, young and old, common people and nobility.  I know about my father’s illness and pray that he rests in peace.  I cannot go there to see him, though.  To do so would be to invite my own death.”

Katie understood.

It was almost an hour later when the super soldier shuttle approached.  People got off the road and into the woods with only a few screaming.  They had supposedly prepared for this.  Katie took Sukki’s horse and Sukki rose up into the sky to meet the ship if she could.  She went invisible, which suggested Elder Stow was close and kept her disc tuned to the invisible spectrum.

The shuttle got off one shot.  It made a big explosion and hole in the road near the front of the women and refugees.  A few were injured.  Alexis feared Boston, who undoubtedly rode back, might be injured.  But after that, the main gun of the ship melted under Elder Stow’s weapon blast, and the back end of the shuttle exploded where Sukki trained her power.

“Sukki,” Nanette called as the shuttle shot straight to the ground like a rocket where it exploded again in a much bigger explosion that shook the earth where they stood.  Sukki became visible when she arrived, and Nanette and the others all sighed their relief at seeing her, unharmed.  Elder Stow’s voice came over the communication device.

“Just making sure none survived, though I don’t see how any could have survived,” he said.  “I’ll catch up.”

Katie lifted her arm to respond but glanced back and saw that Lockhart already had his arm up, so she lowered her hand.

“Roger that,” Lockhart said.  “Don’t be long.”

“Out.” Elder Stow said.

The travelers, refugees, and women finished the journey without another incident.  When they arrived, Hideko went straight into action.  The school had a six-foot wall all the way around a very large area that included a half-dozen buildings.  Two of those building were quite large.  One looked like a simple farmer’s hut.  “My home,” Hideko called the hut.  “The hut of the old woman on the mountain, and now I am becoming the old woman.”  She smiled.

“Where do you want us when your brother’s samurai show up?” Lockhart asked her.

“Available,” she said, and went inside her hut.  She came out only a moment later with her face painted white as a ghost, her lips blood red, and dressed in the armor of the Kairos with as much hardware as she could carry.  “You know,” she said.  “I used to paint Leonora’s face in the same way when she got into her harlequin costume.  It was what we came up with to be sure neither her father, nor her uncle the Doge of Venice would find her or recognize her if they did find her.”

They waited until about two hours after dark.  When the samurai arrived, they began with a charge at the front gate.  The travelers killed most of them, though after their initial shock at the guns, the men and women on the wall got to practice their archery skills and killed some.  There could not have been more than a dozen that escaped back to the woods.

Hideko thanked the travelers and told them to get off the wall.  She sent teams of three into the woods to rout out the remains of the warriors and end their threat.  She checked on her Ouran refugees, saw them fed and bedded, and reassured the chief that she could repair their ship and send them on their way.

“What will you do about the main ship of the super soldiers?” Elder Stow asked what was on his mind.

“Burn that bridge when I come to it,” Hideko said.  “Not your concern.”

Then the women gathered with Hideko, the two Gozens, and a few others to throw Nanette an informal bachelorette party while the men got pampered.  Hideko had a few girls from lesser houses in the capital of Kyoto who needed to practice their tea, song, and dance.  They ate well and toasted Decker time and again.  Elder Stow found the sake made him giggle, and the sound of a Neanderthal giggling made everyone laugh.  Of course, for the next ten days, all the way to the next time gate, they had to watch Elder Stow hold his head and hear him complain about the evil drink.

“I thought it was a kind of fruit juice,” he said, over and over.

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MONDAY

Back to the regular schedule.  Episode over two weeks.  3 posts per week.

Episode 8.11, Tax Collectors and Other Thieves in Nottinghamshire, England.  Until Monday, Happy Reading.

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Avalon 8.10 Refugees, part 3 of 4

Aiko sat on the log Decker pulled up to sit by the fire, though the fire had been put out.  He stared at the ring of stones that surrounded where the fire had been and imagined other stone circles he had seen, some with big stones that no man could lift.   He also stared at Elder Stow, the Neanderthal, and wondered if the man lived in Hokkaido among the primitive people there.  But he shook his head.  The flying woman of power had the same look, and they had no such people living on Hokkaido, unless the scholars were all mistaken.

“Ready,” Elder Stow said, and Boston turned to the man.

“Why have you and your men come to the mountain?” she asked plainly.

Elder Stow touched his device, one he had not shown before.  Aiko jumped from the slight electrical shock that struck him.

“Let’s try this again.  Why are you here?” Boston asked.

Aiko shook his head more vigorously, and the electrical shock was a tad stronger.  He jumped again and opened his mouth.  “The lady does not know about her father being sick and dying.  I told you the truth.  Her brother sent us to inform her and bring her to see him, if she is willing.”

“That is not entirely true,” Boston said, her truth detector being on high alert.

“Mostly true, but some part is a lie,” Elder Stow agreed, and Aiko got a larger electrical shock.  He shrieked, and Alexis came over from helping Lincoln hitch-up Ghost to the wagon.

“What are you doing?” she asked, demanding an answer

“Trying to get the truth,” Boston said, never taking her eyes off Aiko.

Alexis raised her voice.  “We do not torture people.  I can’t believe you.  What are you doing?  Leave the man alone.”

Decker and Tony arrived, and Decker immediately spoke up.  “Do you want me to kill him?  That would solve the problem.”

“Decker!”  Nanette followed Alexis to the group, and she did not hesitate to yell, but Decker just grinned, albeit, looking a bit like a shark.  Aiko withdrew from the grin and the fact that Decker was black.  He never saw a black man before, and it made him think frightening thoughts.

Boston came out with it.  “You and your men were sent to kill Hideko.  Why?”

Aiko broke down and covered his eyes.  He felt frightened and ashamed and would not look at anyone.  “My lord, Kiyomori is afraid of her.  She is the eldest and he fears she may claim this whole province as an inheritance.  She has proved herself a worthy and formidable leader of warriors, and this place is separated from the other provinces he controls.  He fears she may succeed in taking the land and men, and he wishes to keep all of the land and the warriors under his control.  He has plans.  But please.  I am only a soldier.  I do not know what his plans are.”  He appeared to weep a little.

Lockhart interrupted the scene.  “I need three of those discs.  We have three visitors.”

Boston took the disc she got back from Aiko.  She stuck her hand out and Tony and Decker gave her theirs.  She handed all three to Lockhart who turned around, having decided he did not want to know what was going on.  He would hear all about it in a moment.

“We don’t torture people,” Nanette yelled again to get back on topic.

“We would not have hurt him,” Elder Stow said, quietly.  He got interrupted by Lincoln who came over with Sukki.  “Everything packed and saddled.  We are ready to go.”

“I’m ashamed of you people,” Alexis concluded.

“Go ahead,” Boston said to Elder Stow.  He had his weapon out and seriously worked on the controls while he watched his lie detector.  He turned the power of the weapon down to almost nothing.  He hesitated, but only for a second before he shot Aiko.  The man collapsed.

“Elder Stow!  Boston!”  Alexis scolded them again and checked the warrior.  “He will live, but I imagine he won’t be moving for quite a while.”  She gave the two a hard look but could not imagine what else she might say.  Nanette appeared to be silenced as well.  Fortunately, Katie and Lockhart soon showed up with their three guests, and Lincoln broke the tense silence.

“All packed up and ready to go,” he reported.  He even tried to smile.

“Good,” Lockhart began to respond, but Hideko interrupted him.

“Boston.” she opened her arms, and Boston ran for her hug, but it felt half-hearted.

“I may have gone too far again,” she said softly and backed up.  “But not,” she insisted.  “He has a hundred warriors down the hill, and they were sent by Kiyomori to kill you.”

Hideko merely nodded and introduced her companions, Tomoe the elder Gozen and Hangaku the younger.  Then she looked at Aiko and spoke to everyone.  “You may have just delayed things.  If killing me is what he has been commanded to do, he is honor bound to succeed or die trying.  If he fails and survives, Kiyomori will kill him.  There are times in the history of this nation when suicide seems the only honorable way out after such a failure.  Stupid.  I much prefer your American solution to failure.”

“What is that?” Tony asked.

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

People did not know what to say, so Lockhart changed the subject.  “What else did you find out?”

Elder Stow spoke up.  He appreciated the change in subject.  “I have been watching my screens.  We have seven Ouran who I believe are the genetically modified super soldiers we were warned about.  They are blocked by the screens, but I imagine they know what screens are.  It appears they may bring their shuttle craft close to try and blast through.  Meanwhile, we have a hundred warriors, as Boston reported.  They have come up to the side of the screens and I imagine they have no idea what it is, but they are trying to see if there is a way around.  I suspect they will run into the super soldiers any minute now.”

“Recommendation?” Decker asked, though it was not really his place to ask.

Elder Stow nodded.  “I was thinking, you can take the discs, probably in two shifts.  There is a road that direction,” he pointed.

“Where we are going,” Hideko said quietly to Katie.

Elder Stow continued.  “I can stay here and keep the screens up.  When you send the word that you are away, or if these Ouran try to follow you, I can turn off the screens, go invisible and fly to catch you up.”

“I can stay with him,” Sukki said, but Elder Stow shook his head.

“Not this time, daughter.  You are the only one with the power to take down the shuttle if it should suddenly fly off to pursue the group.  You remember how to take out the engines and can cause them to crash, whatever else you might do.  I will stay until I hear from you.  I will be all right, and I have my personal shield if something should go wrong.”

“Be careful,” Tony said.  “These super soldiers appear to be telepathic.  They tried to get into our minds but were kept out by the hedge of the gods.  I assume you are equally protected, but I do have a bit of a headache.”

“I was just going to say that,” Decker said.

“Yes sir, Colonel,” Tony responded.  “But I pay attention to magic and all that stuff.  Elder Stow thinks more like you, in terms of logical, scientific explanations, but the universe can’t always be explained in that way. Sorry.”

“Fair enough,” Lockhart said.  “Let’s get going.”

“I will ride with Katie,” Hideko said.  “Tomoe, you ride with Alexis.  I want you to hear good things about making peace.  Hangaku, you can ride with Nanette and hear all about her wedding plans.”  Hideko smiled for the couple who quickly looked at each other.

“I didn’t say anything,” Decker said, and held his hands up.

Nanette looked down, like she did not want to look at anyone.  “He asked me to marry him, and I said yes.”

The women cheered and took turns hugging Nanette.  Elder Stow and Tony said congratulations and shook Decker’s hand.  Lockhart, Lincoln, and Decker passed glances.  Lockhart backed away and Lincoln looked like he wanted to say something, but kept his mouth closed for once.

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Don’t forget Thursday’s post to finish the episode…

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