This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. All rights are reserved by the author, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.
Product names, brands, and other trademarks referred to within this book are the property of their respective trademark holders. Unless otherwise specified, no association between the author and any trademark holder is expressed or implied. Nor does it express any endorsement by them, or of them. Use of a term in this book should not be regarded as affecting the validity of any trademark, service mark, or registered trademark.
The background images are: Northwest Escarpment Llano Estacado by Leaflet and Cove Mountain Trail tn4 by Brian Stansberry, both are covered by the Creative Commons rights. The trimming, manipulation, and adding of text is by Ernest Bywater. All rights to the cover image are reserved by the copyright owners.
4 May 2018 version
Published by Ernest Bywater
The titles I use are a chapter, a sub-chapter, and a section.
Drawing of the garage at Missionary Ridge in chapter 29 is also available in high resolution at
In 2005 Lazlo Zalezac published a story titled The Portal: Doorway To Adventure, and started the Damsels in Distress (DiD) Universe. It's with his permission this story was developed using the DiD universe. Both The Scot and Ernest Bywater pay tribute, and thanks, to the creator of this unique idea as well as his willingness for it to be used by other writers. It's with his approval this book reveals some of the history and purpose of the universe, as well as to further define and explain the rules which govern its existence. These refinements and explanations were never intended to diminish his original efforts, and we feel they don't.
The DiD universe consists of four planets: Cassandra, Crossroads, Earth, and Chaos. Some have speculated Crossroads is a space station in orbit around Cassandra or Chaos, but this is irrelevant to the story. The three planets of Earth, Chaos, and Cassandra are linked via portals, and all of the people are supposed to pass through Crossroads to reach any other destination. At the start of this story no evidence had been found as to who had originally set up the system or built the first portal, but some Earth families had been using their portals for many generations.
The portals have some very special features unique to them. First, no matter how long you're away from Earth only fifteen minutes passes at your point of origin. Second, only those healthy enough to suit the control system are allowed to use it. Third, weapons and most metals are unable to pass between the planets while approved humans, plants, seeds, and other animals can pass through the portals without a problem. Fourth, a ring with a sapphire stone is needed to activate the portal.
The key component in the DiD universe is the planet Cassandra. Their history wasn't clear as to what happened, or when, but at a time in the planet's past a war wiped out much of its population. Even worse, a side effect of the war caused the fertility and sex drive of the males to begin a steady decline. The situation soon reached the point where any male children produced are nearly always sterile. Without outside intervention the Cassandran people will soon be extinct, and it is the obvious purpose of the creators of the system to try to prevent this outcome happening.
Earth humans are sexually compatible with the Cassandran women, and they can impregnate them. The resulting child, male or female, is fertile, and without any of the genetic problems found in the Cassandran males. The females who want an opportunity to have a normal child enter a special lottery. If they're chosen they go to Crossroads for a basic education of the system, and are then sent to the planet Chaos.
The people of Chaos are human in appearance, but are stuck in a society like the European Middle Ages on Earth. It's a dirty, smelly, and violent place with little law other than the rule of 'Might makes right.' There seems to be something which draws the vilest of the local men to want to own the women from Cassandra. Whatever attracts these men to the women isn't sex because any sex with the women results in a severe burning pain on the man's penis which lingers for days.
Men from Earth are known as Heroes, and their role is to rescue the Cassandran Damsels then return them to Crossroads. There the two stay together until she's pregnant. When the pregnancy is verified both are quickly returned to their home worlds. The Heroes not only rescue and impregnate the women they also seek out others to become Heroes.
By word of mouth the pool of Heroes slowly increases, which also enables more Damsels to be sent from Cassandra, and thus expand the system and the number of births. The reasons men join this group varies, but they're generally in three categories: men who fight for the rightness of saving a world, men who enjoy the challenge and adventure of ancient combat, and men who consider the right to impregnate the rescued Damsel as a sufficient reason to risk their lives on Chaos.
On Crossroads there are Caretakers assigned to each Hero. Her role is a combination of mistress, researcher, intelligence officer, and mission planner. Companions are another member of the group, though less than half of the Heroes use them. The Companions also Earth humans, and they can be either male or female. The Companions are the functional equivalent of squires who help prepare meals while traveling, care for the horses, and perform the general camp duties. Companions are forbidden to fight, except to defend themselves and / or those in their party.
There are many more aspects and rules involved, but these will be revealed as the story develops. The purpose of this Foreword is not to tell everything, but to explain enough so the reader is not lost from the very beginning of the story, and they can enjoy the story from the start.
There are many other stories, by several authors, set in the DiD Universe, and they can be read at storiesonline.net while some are also available at www.lulu.com as print books and e-pub books.
Time: Many of the characters in the story are ex-military, and are used to using the military style 24 hour clock. To stay in character the 24 hour clock is used when dealing with those characters. For those who don't know it the 24 hour clock has 12 o'clock midnight as 00:00 hours; two digits for hours followed by two for the minutes. Noon is 12:00 or twelve hundred hours, and 1:00 p.m. is 13:00 or thirteen hundred hours, add 12 hours to whatever the hour is for the rest of the afternoon and evening; and minutes are given their actual number as well.
Author's Note: The first twenty-six chapters were written by The Scot between 2005 and 2011. When he was no longer able to continue writing, due to health issues, the story was taken over by Ernest Bywater in early 2012 with The Scot's full approval. The story was reviewed and revised by Ernest to change it from past tense to present tense, and a few corrections and extensions were made to the early part of the story. The rest of the story was written by Ernest. Effort was made to keep the flavor of the story the same in both parts, but a slight difference in style may be evident in places.
Improving health allowed The Scot to be involved in the review and editing of the final version, along with some additions he wanted to make. For over a year both writers cooperated in the editing to create this version. All corrections and revisions since then are by Ernest.
A very pleased Kyle Alexander leaves his last class of the week, and heads to work. He just turned in a major programming project that'll account for thirty percent of his final grade for the class, and he knows he aced it. Actually, he wrote the primary program over a week ago, but no matter how hard he tried he couldn't get it to successfully compile and run. Thankfully, this morning Ryan Kennedy, one of his closest friends and a business partner, reviewed the program then pointed Kyle to the simple error causing the problem. Once Kyle made the change to the program the full project ran flawlessly.
Kyle dons a light jacket while leaving the computer center because there's a cool winter wind bringing a mild chill to the sun-warmed El Paso, Texas campus. He walks to the front entrance of the campus to turn and walk down the street three blocks to stop at the corner. With much pride Kyle looks at the building before him. Four years ago it was an old grocery store which had sat empty and in disrepair for many years. Now, with its exterior painted white and trimmed in the university's colors of orange, blue, and silver, 'CyberFun' is a thriving part of the lives of many of the students who live or attend classes just a few blocks away.
What makes CyberFun unique is they really understand the typical student's short attention span, thus the business is built around the activities needed by many students in their daily life. In 'Sam's Café' a student can work the Internet over a soft drink, a regular or gourmet coffee, tea, or hot chocolate with a pastry or deli sandwich before going to the study area known as the 'Study Hall' for a couple of hours.
If and when a study break is needed there's the ability to join other students in The Mine, as well as with other distractions. 'The Mine' is a non-alcoholic sports bar primarily focused on 'The Prospectors,' the name of the various sports teams of the neighboring university. It offers the same deli sandwiches as the coffee shop, but it also features more serious food like hot wings, rib-eye steaks, shrimp, chicken, salads, and several choices of vegetables. A number of large flat-screen TVs are strategically set all around the room to enable different groups to watch the various sporting events at the same time. When a major event is broadcast several large screen sets are combined to make a video wall. This makes The Mine a very rowdy and loud place during Prospector basketball and football games.
On the other hand, if The Mine isn't what the relaxing student needs there's 'The Smelter,' the largest mixed gaming area in the state of Texas features everything from darts and pool to multi-player action video games. There's even 'The Bunkhouse' where a hammock and soft music allows tired eyes to take a break for a few minutes. By combining everything under one roof the students can move between the various activities with a minimum of effort with a maximum level of enjoyment of their time at CyberFun.
While approaching the building's front Kyle's eyes are drawn to the large color painting of the university's mascot of 'Ol' Sam and Mose,' a prospector and his pack mule. The painting almost fills the only large plate glass window left of the old grocery store, and the view causes Kyle to reflect on the past, and the origins, of CyberFun.
Kyle grew up in El Paso, living most of his life in a house backed up to that of his grandparents, Jonas and Wanda Alexander, and just a few backyards away from his two best friends, Ryan and Kathleen Kennedy. Because of the loving nature of Kyle's grandparents, and the volatile nature of the home lives of the three friends, the trio spent a significant part of their days at Jonas' house. It helped that Wanda also functioned as a nurturing grandmother to all three children.
Ryan, or 'Brain' - as Kyle nicknamed him, was the oldest by eight months, and Kathleen (KK) was just over two years younger than Kyle. The three weren't only drawn together by their physical proximity, but also as a result of their home lives full of discord and disrespect. The negative environment reinforced their care and concern for each other.
The three children also had an insatiable hunger to learn, and this need was aided and fed by Jonas, a history professor at the university. He stimulated their interest in life in the past, and he involved colleagues from other disciplines to help expand and round their young minds. Included in their education was martial art training, though Kyle's was more extensive and more intense than the training of his two friends.
Two weeks after Kyle's high school graduation the minor struggles and disharmony in his home life suddenly burst into a major problem. Robert, Kyle's father, was promoted to CEO of the oil company where he worked, Texas State Energy (TSE). When Robert told the family of his promotion he declared the whole family, including Kyle, would move to Houston. This dictatorial decree caused immediate hostility, and it ripped the family apart. Refusing to live in the hostile environment any longer, and in an act of defiance, Kyle moved his personal belongings into a spare bedroom at Jonas and Wanda's house then he went to the nearest Army Recruitment Office and enlisted.
Robert was really out of touch with his family, and was very shocked at Kyle's rebellion. Robert was still screaming and making threats three weeks later when he, Kyle's mother, Charlotte, and Kyle's two sisters, Felicia and Courtney, left El Paso for Houston.
Robert's rants, coupled with some increased tension in the Kennedy household, tightened and strengthened the trio's bond of friendship so much the bond held and supported Kyle through Basic and Advanced Training, and finally through jump school. Graduating at the top of his class Kyle joined the 82nd Airborne in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he became part of a scout team for the rest of his Army career.
When Kyle's enlistment ended he infuriated his father by rejecting Robert's plans for his future, and announced he would be attending the university in El Paso instead of some esteemed Ivy League school in the east Robert wanted for him. In addition, he stood fast in his refusal to join the rest of his family in Houston, living, instead, with his now widowed Grandfather. Robert had tried to use the 'money treat,' but Kyle just laughed at him because his savings, plus his military education funds, and the free rent at his Grandfather's, was more than enough to enable him to complete his education without receiving a dime from his father.
Kyle had come up with the general idea for CyberFun while at Fort Bragg, and he'd told it to his friends. They also caught the vision, thus the idea began to take shape in the form of a full business plan which they refined over time. A few months prior to his discharge Kyle was home on leave. During his leave this building was discovered, and the three friends approached Jonas for his opinion.
Jonas contacted Ed and Beverly Kennedy, the now divorced parents of Ryan and Kathleen, and the three of them spent an entire weekend going over the business plan while making many insightful observations and suggestions. At the end of the weekend Jonas and Ed had shocked the trio by offering to loan the trio the money to get the business started. Now, almost four years later, those loans are paid off, and the holding company set up to hide the youngsters' ownership in the operating LLC is flush with cash. This setup is part of Jonas' idea to imply to the rest of the world Kyle, Kathleen, and Ryan are nothing more than part-time managers and assistants to some off-site owner.
Kyle enters the front door while shaking off his reminiscing, and accepts an offered deli sandwich with a cup of his favorite coffee: a latté with fresh ground cinnamon and a dash of a black cherry liqueur. He heads to the office, throws his backpack on the couch, and sits at his desk. While slowly chewing his sandwich, and sipping on the latté, he reviews yesterday's activity reports. Ten minutes later Kyle is fully transitioned from student to businessman. So he leaves the office to wander through the rest of the building while talking to employees and customers along his journey of checking how things are doing.
Two hours later a short-handed Kyle is trying to cover the front counter until more of the part-time student employees arrive after their late afternoon classes. The word 'trying' is probably a euphemism, because the place is much busier than normal for this time of day, as well as being understaffed for its normal business activities at this time of day.
Someone shouting in the Study Hall is quick to get Kyle's attention as it's like a library, thus loud noises aren't allowed in there. He responds to it by racing toward the sound before others are too disturbed by it.
When Kyle gets closer to the area a vaguely familiar male voice shouts in frustration, "Nadia, I can take care of myself."
On opening the door Kyle finds a guy sitting in a wheelchair with a beautiful woman on her knees in front of the chair. Her face is turned down to the floor while she sobs in frustration and anguish. Using his normal calm approach to a crisis Kyle takes a quick look around the room while deciding on a course of action. In his scan he finds there are sixteen students trying to study, and they all seem to be waiting for him to remove the distraction.
He approaches the couple to warn them to be a lot quieter or leave the room, but Kyle soon recognizes the young man in the wheelchair from his Army days in Iraq. Fortunately, before he can say anything he feels a soft feminine hand on his arm. Intuitively he realizes KK is now here, and she followed him to the source of the noise.
Kyle smiles when he turns to the chestnut-haired Kathleen, and asks, "KK, will you take the young woman to the coffee shop, and help her to calm down? While you're helping her I'll quietly talk to her friend to see if I can straighten this out without any further disruptions to everyone's study time."
After nodding her understanding KK kneels by the crying woman, and comforts her until she's able to stand. Once the girl is steady KK leads her toward the Café area in the front of the building.
Turning to the man in the wheelchair Kyle asks, "Larry Martin?"
Surprised someone knows his name Larry looks up at the young man staring down at him. Kyle's face looks familiar, but Larry just can't place it. Not knowing anything else to say while in his current frame of mind, Larry snarls, "Yeah, want to make something of it?"
"Larry, I'm Kyle Alexander. We met in Iraq. I led a patrol that took control of a bunch of prisoners you and your group captured. How about us moving out into the hall so the others can study?"
Larry nods his agreement and the pair move out into the hall, to the great relief of the others in the room. Once the door is closed Kyle sits on his heels so the two can talk softly.
In this new position Larry looks intently at Kyle's face, and in a few seconds he recognizes Kyle. "Yeah, I remember you!" Larry says, "You led a scout team with the Eighty-Second. You had a huge black corporal named Andrews everyone called Amos."
"Yep, that was us. He claimed they were all a bunch of racists, but, inside, he knew they teased him out of respect."
The knowledge he's talking to a combat veteran he knows from 'the sand' helps Larry to begin to relax. After his face visibly softens he asks, "So, what are you doing here?"
Because the three friends don't want their ownership to be common knowledge Kyle replies, "I work here part-time, in addition to taking classes at the university. I'm a senior in Business Management."
Larry responds, "I was able to take some correspondence and on-line courses while I was still in the Corps, so I guess I'm a junior. I've always had a fascination for rocks so I chose to study metallurgy and geology."
"Larry, if I can ask, what was that outburst about earlier?"
"On my last mission I rescued Nadia from some rag-heads. She was a Russian journalist they'd kidnapped in an attempt to get 'Ivan' to give them some Strelas. While we're climbing into the chopper I took a bullet in the back from a guy we thought was dead. Since then she's refused to leave my side, wanting to do everything for me. I don't want anyone to feel sympathy for me, nor do I want her to feel obligated to me."
Note: A 'Strela' is a Russian shoulder-launched ground-to-air missile similar to a US made 'FIM-92 Stinger' missile.
"Hey, if I was bound to a wheelchair I can think of a lot of worse people to want to help me. Be glad she's not a Bulgarian shot-putter.
Larry laughs at that image, "Well, I guess that's one way to look at it. Though, at the same time, because of this injury it makes it harder ... I mean, more difficult for me."
"I picked up on that. Does she get embarrassed at your erection?"
Larry hangs his head, and mumbles something. Kyle doesn't hear the words, but from the body language he has a pretty good idea what the problem is.
In a casual manner Kyle responds, "So you've no feeling below the waist. What's the prognosis?"
Surprised at how quick Kyle is to guess the real problem Larry says, "They've tried everything they know to reconnect the nerves, including an experimental use of stem cells. At present the results have been nothing, nada, zilch. They say if I can move my legs in a normal manner the stem cells might work. But without feeling I can't move my legs. It's a classic 'Catch Twenty-two' situation."
"Is that frustration why you were getting angry at Nadia?"
"Not completely." Larry looks into Kyle's eyes, and confesses, "I'm afraid we're falling in love with each other, and she deserves better than to spend the rest of her life with a cripple who can't give her sexual satisfaction or provide her with children."
Kyle answers, "I understand your feelings. Why don't we join Nadia and Kathleen. I need to check on a few things, so can you wait with them for a few minutes? I'll join the three of you as soon as I can."
Larry responds with a sad, "OK."
At the front counter Kyle finds his part-timers have arrived, and two are now covering that area while a third is working the game rooms selling tokens. Satisfied both the areas are covered Kyle makes a quick tour of the rest of the building while advising his different employees he and KK are in the café, and they may be leaving early. He also reminds everyone Ryan should arrive within the next hour.
Once the tour is over Kyle joins KK, Nadia, and Larry around a table in the coffee shop. As soon as he sits down one of the waitresses brings him another latté. While he sips his drink Kyle has his first real view of Nadia. In his biased opinion she's beautiful enough to give KK real competition as to who's the prettiest female on campus. She's roughly five nine, and her figure looks well proportioned. It's obvious she works out on a regular basis. Her blond hair is almost white, but with streaks of gold, yellow, and brown. It's styled in the 'just loved look' made famous years ago by a poster of a middle level actress. Kyle begins to wonder if Larry has brain injuries as well as his back injuries.
KK asks, "What's going on? I thought you worked until six."
"I was supposed to, but the boss says I need to take care of this."
A concerned Larry asks, "I didn't get you into trouble, did I?"
Kyle laughs, "No, far from it. Maybe KK and I will share more about that later. Now, would you and Nadia consider joining the two of us for a steak tonight?"
This question brings a smile with a nod yes from both Larry and KK, but Nadia only gives Kyle a puzzled look. Kyle immediately picks up on the lack of enthusiasm, and asks, "Nadia, are you a vegetarian?"
"I'm not sure. I was born on April fourth." Nadia's response makes KK laugh, but her laughter stops when Kyle gently rebukes her with his blue-gray eyes.
Kyle patiently explains, "Nadia, some people in this country make a choice not to eat meat. Some from religious beliefs, and others out of the belief meat, especially red meat, isn't good for you. These people are called vegetarians."
With a sly little grin Nadia replies, "Oh, we have such people in Russia. They are called peasants."
Kyle and the other two explode in laughter. The little Russian skunk had gotten them good.
"So you do eat meat?" asked Kyle.
"Definitely, but I don't eat a piece of wood."
"A piece of wood?"
"You said a stake. Is that not a piece of wood you drive into the ground as a marker?"
A smiling Larry explains, "Honey, that piece of wood is spelled S-T-A-K-E, while S-T-E-A-K is a special cut of meat from the cow. It's highly prized, and very delicious."
"Oh. I've had years of English in school. Do you think I will ever learn it all?"
KK replies, "Probably not. The language seems to grow, change, and evolve every day. Just look at it this way: you'll provide us many hours of joy while you learn. You're beautiful, yet you've the combination of the innocence of a little child with the mischievousness of a little puppy. In the short time I've spent with you, this afternoon, I've learned you're more beautiful inside than out."
"Thank you, KK. I can't say it gives me a lot of hope concerning my English, but it most certainly gives me a lot of warmth in my heart. I don't really care how intelligent I sound, as long as I don't become an embarrassment to Larry."
The two couples talk a while longer while getting to know each other better, as well as firming up plans for the evening. After discussing a few options the four agree to a meet at the Stetson and Spur, a quality steakhouse near the entrance to Fort Bliss.
After making reservations Kyle tells KK, "I'll pick you up at eighteen forty-five, and we'll meet Larry and Nadia at nineteen ten." He adds, "I hate to break this up, but I've got to take care of some things at home."
It's almost 17:20 hours when Kyle arrives at his grandfather's house. When he closes the door between the garage and the kitchen he hears his grandfather call out, "Kyle, is that you?"
While heading toward his grandfather's voice Kyle answers, "Yes, Jonas, it's me." After he enters his grandfather's office he goes and sits in a comfortable chair while he asks, "How was your day?"
His grandfather, a semi-retired professor of history, replies, "I think these kids get more stupid every year. Today one even asked me why it mattered if the South seceded from the Union."
Kyle laughs. He knows Jonas only teaches two courses now. One is European History of the Dark Ages, and the other is American History through the Civil War. Though not actually part of the War itself Jonas has been known to also include the Reconstruction Period which ended in 1877. They're both freshman classes usually being taught by a graduate student, but Jonas claims he tries to open up minds which have been left virtually blank, or distorted, by the watered-down and biased public education system.
"So how did you answer him?"
"I suggested a minimum ten-page paper reviewing the political, military, and economic situation of Europe at the time, deciding which country would have likely been the first to attack our divided and weakened nation, and what life would be like for us today if that country had succeeded in destroying us as a nation."
"I bet he loved that!"
"Actually, it was a she. I told her if I was pleased with her analysis I'd drop her lowest test score. I think even she thought it a good trade." Jonas leans back in his chair, and asks, "Now, how about your day?"
"I had a problem in my programming project due today, but Brain quickly pointed me to a line where I branched out to get a value for a variable I hadn't defined. This afternoon things got a little hectic at CyberFun, because we had way too many customers for the number of staff on hand. If this continues we may need to add some more people."
"Growth in a business like yours is good, though I'm going to miss our time together tomorrow."
"I will too, Jonas, but if this paint-ball thing does take off I'll hire someone else with a military background to run it. I've probably found the perfect person this afternoon, but he's bound to a wheelchair. He was a Special Forces officer I knew in Iraq."
Jonas replies, "It sounds like he'd be good. Put some thought into a solution because people like that need to feel like they have worth, even more than the rest of us need to."
"I've already seen that. He rescued a Russian journalist, but ended up with a bullet in the back from a wounded terrorist / kidnapper. She's devoted her life to taking care of him, and he keeps pushing her away. Jonas, she's one of the most beautiful women on this campus."
"Is it Nadia Konnoff?"
"Yes. How do you know?"
"There aren't that many Russian women on this campus, and she's in my European History class. She has a degree from Russia, but wants to get another one here. She's a delight to teach, and has a great knowledge of the Cossacks and their influence on Eastern Europe, especially Russia. You're also correct in your description; she's a very beautiful woman."
"Well, she and Larry Martin are falling in love with each other. Unfortunately, Larry is fighting the budding relationship because of his paralysis, and he's trying to push her away. From what he's said he feels less than a man due to his inability to perform sexually. As a result he believes she'll eventually despise him for not meeting her sexual needs or providing her with children. At the same time he's falling head over heels in love with her, and the conflict is driving him crazy. The result is he's frustrated by the situation he can't see a clear answer for."
"I can imagine. I know sometimes when I can't be around MariLynn I hurt so much I can hardly stand it. Then on Crossroads I sometimes get grumpy the last few days before we have to return to Earth."
Kyle chuckles. "I know because you usually take it out on me. I don't mind though, because I understand. I know I'll soon have my own Caretaker, and eventually I'll probably go through some of those same emotional struggles."
"It wasn't so bad when your grandmother was alive. She knew what I was doing, and supported me. When I lost her to cancer I went to Crossroads because I needed comfort from Maureen. Unfortunately she sent me on a mission when I wasn't mentally prepared, and it almost got me killed. That upset her so much she resigned as a Caretaker. Afterwards I chose MariLynn as her replacement, and our relationship now is much deeper than Maureen's and mine ever was. If anything, our love for each other may be even stronger than Wanda's and mine."
Kyle asks, "Speaking of MariLynn, can you talk to her to see if there could be a way to help Larry, especially if he agrees to become a Hero?"
Jonas says, "Sure, I can do that." He pauses for a moment to decide if he should say something that's on his mind. Finally he adds, "Kyle, before you start your journey as a Hero talk to Kathleen. It'll be good if she understands what's going on. I suspect she'll support your actions as a Hero, just like your grandmother did for me,."
"My dear grandfather, KK and I are just good friends and business partners. Why would it affect her?"
"Kyle, I've seen you with that girl since you were six and she was four. If you two don't love each other then there's no love in this world. That girl was made for you."
"Grandfather, we've never even dated."
"What about the hours in your old club house, the camping trips in the mountains, and the studying martial arts together? None of those were dates?"
"No! They weren't dates."
"What are you doing this evening?"
"Kathleen and I are taking Larry and Nadia out to dinner."
"And that's not a date?"
An exasperated Kyle answers, "No, Jonas, it's not a date!"
Jonas smiles at his grandson, and asks, "Does she know that?"
At this point Kyle realizes this conversation isn't going anywhere so he just ignores the question by saying, "I've got to get my shower and get ready. Will you be up when I get home?"
"I doubt it, because I want to be as rested as possible before I go to Crossroads and Chaos in the morning. I don't know how many more of these trips I'll be able to make. I know it'll be hard on both MariLynn and I when they stop, but I want to die here, not on some unknown backward planet. This family, other than you, may not be worth much, but I feel they're at least due that amount of respect."
Kyle responds, "I probably won't see you in the morning, either. The first group is due at the battle-ground at oh eight thirty, and we need to be set up before they get there. Brain and I are planning to meet at the shop at oh six thirty. I'll definitely miss our time tomorrow though, as it'll be the first mission I've skipped since I left the Army."
"I'll miss our time together as well. You've worked hard, and have been a very good student. You'll soon take your place as a Hero, though I'm hoping for one more trip together with you as my Companion."
After a short pause Jonas adds, "Kyle, if something does happen to me you know where most everything is hidden. My will is designed to keep the sharks off you, but be prepared if any of them, especially my sister, Lucille, smells any money to be grabbed. Just keep your cool, use your mind and the tools I've given you, and you'll be fine."
Kyle sits back down. He knows he'll be late, but feels the importance of the conversation.
"Jonas, you sound more concerned than normal. Is there anything I should know?"
"Do you remember meeting Gerald Jones?"
"Sure, we met on several of our trips to Chaos."
"Gerald and I have also known one another here on earth. He passed away a few months ago. Because of our respect for each other, and the similarities of our families, we modeled our wills and instructions to our individual attorneys after each others documents. We both wanted to protect and preserve our portals, with the biggest difference being his nephew, Sid, knew nothing about Cassandra, Crossroads, or Chaos prior to Gerald's death."
"OK, that makes sense. You want me to have the house to protect the Portal, and are using the rest of your assets to make sure your wishes are carried out."
Jonas nods yes as he answers, "Kyle, my boy, if I had my way you'd get everything. Unfortunately, if I did that Lucille and Robert would have my estate tied up in court so long your beard would be below your knees before you ever went through the Portal. You should be aware there are some surprises which are outside of my attorney's knowledge. They need to stay well hidden for a while, but, at the right time, a close friend will reveal them to you. My attorney, Stanley Patterson, has two life insurance policies showing you as the owner and the beneficiary, which leaves them entirely out of the estate. I've also arranged for the University to provide tuition and books for you, your future wife, plus your children, and this will even cover grad school, if you desire. With the insurance, the covered education expenses, this house, and your thriving business you should have a good start on the rest of your life."
A stunned Kyle replies, "Jonas, I have to say I hope it's a long time before any of that becomes relevant, but thank you for what you're doing. You're correct, I should have a good start, but I'd rather have you around for another thirty or forty years."
"Kyle, without Wanda or MariLynn those would be miserable years."
"I understand, Jonas. Is there anything else?" asks an emotional Kyle.
"Any other thoughts and directions will be in the hidden safe, but I suggest you keep as much money as you can in the corporation for a while. Stanley was very careful as to how he structured the CyberFun Corporation, so let him tell you how to take money out without calling attention to it or burdening you with excessive taxes. From what your mother's said your family thinks you're barely making ends meet, so it'll probably be a good idea to let them keep thinking that way. I sure haven't said anything to correct that impression."
Close to tears Kyle says, "Jonas, I'll definitely follow your directions and advice, but I guess I'd better get busy. I'm going to be late, as it is."
Kyle goes to his room, and carefully picks out his clothes for the evening. To his surprise he realizes he's unconsciously considering each item according to what KK will think of them. He considers this for a few minutes before he shakes off the thought, and enters the attached bathroom to shower and shave, then to the bedroom to get dressed.
In fifteen minutes Kyle finishes getting ready, and he takes a final look in the long mirror behind his bedroom door. The sandy headed image before him reminds Kyle how little he's changed since he returned to civilian life. Though his hair is somewhat longer, he's still the same fit six foot, one seventy five pounds, and there doesn't seem to be an ounce of fat anywhere on his body. Of course, between his walking around campus, his practice and training at the Dojo, plus his sword practice with Jonas his superb physical condition actually isn't very surprising.
Heading to the garage Kyle finds his grandfather in the kitchen. He gives Jonas a hug goodbye, and goes to the kitchen door leading to the garage. Pausing at the doorway he realizes just how badly his five year old Jeep Cherokee Sport needs to be washed, and the interior given a cleaning too. In fact, the vehicle is covered in so much desert dust he can find only a few small spots where its original dark green color is visible.
Making a quick decision Kyle reverses direction to step back into the kitchen, where he grabs two tall kitchen garbage bags. He returns to his car to quickly clean out the interior by putting trash in one of the bags and things to be saved in the other. Once he's finished Kyle moves the bag to be saved into the back corner of the garage and carries the other bag outside where he places it in the outside trashcan.
When Kyle starts his car he realizes the outside door is unlocked, again. He's expressed his concern about security to Jonas several times, but his grandfather refuses to keep it locked or install a security system. Jonas' reasoning is the sharing of tools with neighbors is common in this close knit community. In his view, since most of the community's residents are professors and others who work at the university, locking out neighbors who've lived around him for years makes no sense. It still bothers Kyle, but he realizes it's one battle he can't win.
Thinking further about the evening Kyle slips on his Bluetooth ear-piece, and tells his cell phone to call KK. He's passing her house when she answers to say, "Kyle, I just saw you drive by. Did you forget me?"
"Sorry, KK, that's why I'm calling. I need to take care of something, but I'll be back in a few minutes. Will you call the restaurant to leave a message for Larry to go ahead with the reservation? We'll join them as soon as we can."
"Sure. How long do you think you'll be?"
"Hopefully, not more than fifteen minutes."
"OK, I guess I'll wait on you. I haven't had any better offers for the evening. By the way, do you know a Barbara Haywood?"
"Ryan said she called the shop shortly after we left, and she wanted to talk to you. I have her number."
"Thanks. Let me pull over so I can write it down. And before you get jealous she's the new head librarian, and her husband's the assistant commander of the Army ROTC unit. I invited him to join the paint-ball party tomorrow."
With Kyle's revised perception of their relationship he can actually sense her feelings of anxiety diminish, even over the phone. She gives him the number, and they both linger on the phone, for a moment, with small talk before saying good-bye.
Minutes later Kyle pulls into a gas station, and selects the Ultimate Car Wash option. After filling up the over-sized gas tank he drives around to the automatic car wash. While the car-wash goes through its cycles he returns Dr Haywood's call.
"Doctor Haywood, this is Kyle Alexander. You left a message at CyberFun for me to call you?"
"Yes, Kyle. Marc asked me to call and let you know we'd love to participate with you tomorrow. Where and when can we meet you?"
Picturing the tall, graceful lady he'd seen in the library Kyle is shocked to learn she'll be a participant. For some reason he can't imagine her in old casual clothes covered in paint-ball splotches.
As a result Kyle almost stutters when he asks, "Doctor Haywood, you do understand what tomorrow entails, don't you?"
Laughing at his reaction she replies, "Kyle, Marc and I've done this for years. I'm very comfortable with firearms, and I usually hit my target."
"Good! Maybe, with your help, we can get more women involved with the sport."
"Are you sure you want that? A team of us girls might whip the men's butts."
"Actually, I think that would be great. I'd love to see more women with that kind of confidence and ability. The world would be a far better place."
Kyle's remark impresses Barbara, but she's distracted by the noise in the background. Finally, curiosity gets to her, and she asks, "By the way, Kyle, what's the noise in the background? It sounds like you're inside a dishwasher."
"You're close, as I'm going through a car-wash. I thought my date for the evening would appreciate being able to see my car's natural color."
"Oh. Who's the lucky lady?"
"Kathleen Kennedy, she's a senior in business management."
"Have you two been dating long?"
"I'm not sure we are dating, at least as a couple. On the other hand, earlier this evening my Grandfather, Jonas, implied we'd been dating since I was six and she was four."
"Jonas Alexander! Now that's not a connection I was expecting. I really like your grandfather. Despite his accent he reminds me of an old southern gentleman. He's a throw-back to a time and code this country will sorely miss."
"Thank you. Since he's helped raise me I try hard to emulate him, his attitudes, and his actions. Now, I hate to cut this short, but I've arrived at my destination. How about you and the Captain meeting Ryan and me in the back of CyberFun around oh seven hundred in the morning?"
"That's fine. Have a good time tonight. We'll see you tomorrow."
Kyle ends the call, and drives to the closest grocery store. He parks his car, and runs inside. In the florist department he quickly selects a single red rose in a pretty bud vase. The girl at the florist counter adds some fern and baby's breath, and wishes him luck. He pays at the front register, sticks the receipt in his pocket, and runs back to his car. Five minutes later Kyle pulls into KK's driveway.
She runs out the door, but stops short when she sees him standing there with a rose in his hand.
In a demure voice Kyle has never heard before Kathleen asks, "Is that for me?" When Kyle nods yes and holds it out to her the surprised young woman asks, "What's the occasion?"
"I think it's the kind of thing a guy is supposed to do to impress a girl on their first date."
There's hope in her eyes when she asks, "Is this a date?"
Kyle shocks her even more by using her real name, "Kathleen, I don't know if it's true, because we're just always together. Things changed tonight when Jonas informed me we've been dating since I was six and you were four."
Kathleen smiles while she replies, "I always thought your grandfather was an astute person; now I know so!"
"So he's right?"
"Most definitely! I can't remember a time when I didn't love you and dream of spending the rest of my life with you. Do you realize I'm twenty-four years old and I've never even had a date other than with you? I'll be right back, because I want to put this beautiful rose inside."
This shocks Kyle to his very core. KK is one of the most beautiful women in El Paso, if not the whole state of Texas. Her chestnut hair accents her emerald-green eyes and a cute button nose. She's tall at five-eight, and her slender body is more tomboyish than centerfold material. However, Kyle begins to realize, from her statement, Kathleen has never gone to a prom, football game, or anything else with another boy. It's an image Kyle's poor mind can't even fathom.
When Kathleen returns Kyle holds the passenger door open for her. When she starts to enter the Jeep it dawns on her he's washed the car since he drove past her house minutes earlier. In a surprised tone she says, "You washed your car! You never wash your car!"
"I felt someone as beautiful as you shouldn't have to ride in a filthy car. So I washed it."
An emotional Kathleen pulls Kyle close, and gives him a kiss on the cheek. She pulls back, and suddenly decides the first kiss wasn't good enough. She kisses him again, this time on the lips while she puts her heart and soul into it. She wraps her arms around him, and their lips and hearts merge, causing the toes on the feet of both of them to try to curl.
When they back away, this time, Kyle hands her his keys, and says, "I think you'd better drive. I'm not in any shape to safely handle the car at this moment."
"What makes you think I'm in any better shape? I've waited twenty years for that kiss."
"Because you're a woman; women are always stronger than us weak emotional men." Kyle's response causes both of them to laugh while they climb into the jeep, and drive off.
When they pull out of the driveway neither one of them sees the living room curtains move back into place, nor do they hear the voice saying, "Well, it's about time."
Kathleen and Kyle are only fifteen minutes late to the restaurant. When they reach their table they learn Larry and Nadia have just been seated. It seems no one told the restaurant of the need for a wheelchair accessible table, and it took them a few minutes to clear an appropriate area to get one set up.
The waitress takes their drink orders, and Kyle adds a Desert Blossom, one of those batter-fried onion blooms, as an appetizer. When she returns with the drinks and the onion Kyle orders a fourteen-ounce rib-eye with baked potato and salad. KK orders the same thing, only a little smaller. Nadia has no idea what to order, and asks Larry to share his with her. Based upon her request Larry orders a twenty-eight ounce Porterhouse steak for two.
For the next hour the couples enjoy the food, the casual atmosphere, and, most of all, the company of the others. The dinner itself is an interesting study of conflicting emotions and interpersonal interactions.
Kyle finds himself divided between the emotions of learning KK is in love with him, and trying to help Larry and Nadia. Kathleen is also trying to help her two new friends, but her own emotions regarding Kyle are overflowing like Coke poured too fast into a glass full of ice.
Larry is trying to learn more about his two new friends, but, as the evening progresses, he finds emotional barriers and feelings regarding Nadia and his paralysis are being lowered.
Sweet Nadia tries to focus on Larry and their new friends, but she's repeatedly distracted by the sights, sounds, and smells which surround her during the meal.
Near the end of the meal Kyle and Kathleen move the conversation to the problems that caused the afternoon's outburst in the Study Hall, and, with KK's encouragement, Nadia expresses her feelings.
"It's true," Nadia confesses, "I've committed my life to help take care of my hero: the man who took a bullet to set me free. The problem is my feelings have deepened, and I'm definitely falling in love with him. Honestly, I don't care if he ever walks again, nor gives me children. All I want to do is be by his side to be the best wife and mate I can. Though I would love to have children, in my mind, caring for Larry is far more important than caring for a baby."
Larry responds, "I hear what Nadia is saying, but I can't see how she'll be happy, over the long term, with someone who's less than a man. Because of that I can't get past the idea that the only reason she wants to stay with me is pity or from a perverted sense of guilt. The idea she can truly love me as I am is beyond my comprehension."
Kathleen responds, "Then my suggestion is the two of you table any discussion of a long term romantic relationship for a while, and see how things progress naturally. At the same time, if either of you need a sympathetic shoulder or ear, please call us."
Kyle silently agrees with KK's suggestion. From one perspective he hurts for both Larry and Nadia, but he also knows he and KK have planted seeds of hope and a future. Now the seeds need time to sprout before they receive much water or fertilizer. In fact, he's certain if he and KK try to push the point any further tonight everything they've done to help this couple could soon become unraveled.
Thus Kyle changes the direction of the conversation by asking, "So Nadia, what did you think of the meal?"
"Honestly, I'm most pleased, and actually surprised, by the food. I've eaten at some of the finest restaurants in Russia, Europe, New York, and the Middle East, and by their standards this meal is considered too simple and plain. In fact, many of those sophisticated people would describe this meal as a throwback to the days of the caveman burning his food over a fire outside the mouth of his cave. If that's the case, after tonight I suspect man has not evolved as far from those times as those people would like to think. The meal was a delight to both my sense of smell, and my sense of taste."
Pleased with Nadia's comments Kyle actually enjoys paying the bill, and he makes sure he leaves a good tip. He mentally notes the waitress' name because she was attentive while also giving the couples space for quiet conversation. He plans to make a short note in his PDA to talk to KK about the young woman. She could be an excellent addition to their sports bar.
In the parking lot Kyle and Kathleen walk with Larry and Nadia to a specially prepared handicapped van. After their guests drive away Kyle and KK walk hand in hand back to his car, and drive back to Kathleen's house. Once they arrive the two sit in the driveway to kiss for several minutes before he walks her to her front door. They share one more of those deep, curl-your-toes kisses, and then a blurry-eyed Kyle drives the two blocks down the road to his grandfather's home. A few minutes later he's asleep in his bed.
When his alarm goes off the next morning Kyle is surprised to smell food being prepared. Still in his t-shirt and sweatpants he stumbles into the kitchen to find his grandfather putting a plate at his place. The plate contains a thick ham steak, a Spanish omelet, and home fries. A cup of light tan coffee sits next to his plate. Looking close Kyle sees fresh cinnamon floating on the surface. He sits at his place, and Jonas joins him at the table with a similar plate of food.
"To what do I owe this honor?" asks Kyle. "I don't think you've fixed my breakfast since before I was sixteen."
"I know you're facing a long, physical day, so I want to help it get off on the right track."
Taking a bite of the omelet Kyle savors the delicate flavor of the homemade salsa mixed with, and on top of, the fluffy egg concoction. It's truly a delightful way to start the morning.
"Well, it's sure appreciated."
Jonas asks, "By the way, how did things go last night?"
"Thanks to you I may have found my life mate. Did you know she's never had a date. She's been waiting for me?"
"Yes, I did. Her mother told me, a while back."
Though they talk while they eat Kyle mentally considers what he's learned in the past few hours concerning his lifelong friend. He's very disturbed he's been oblivious to the whole thing, and wonders how he missed it all. When he finishes eating Kyle walks around the table to be at his grandfather's side.
Jonas stands to give his grandson a hug, and says, "Kyle, I'll miss you today. Be careful, know I love you, and I'm very proud of you."
"I love you too, Jonas."
With that Kyle heads out the door. Ten minutes later he pulls up to the loading ramp at the back of CyberFun, where he finds Brain sitting in his car waiting for Kyle to arrive.
Kyle exits the Cherokee Sport, and walks over to his friend's Blazer. Brain rolls down the window, blasting Kyle's ears with a country and western tune, and asks, "Hey, what happened with my sister last night?"
"I kissed her, why?"
"She floated through the front door like she was on a cloud or something. I'd even borrowed something from her room, but she just shrugged it off. It was radically weird. Do you think she's got some disease or something?"
Kyle laughs, "I think it's the or something. Now let's get these trailers attached to our vehicles, and check to make sure we haven't forgotten anything. We've got guests meeting us here in a few minutes."
"Guests! What guests? We don't need no stinking guests."
Kyle laughs, and suddenly has an even funnier thought. "Brain, that Cheech and Chong line has become a part of our culture."
"Oh, it's more ingrained than you know. It was originally said by Humphrey Bogart in a nineteen forty-eight movie."
"Are you serious?"
A female voice behind them adds, "He's partially right, Kyle. The line does come from the movie 'The Treasure of Sierra Madre,' but it was spoken by Alfonse Bedoya, not Bogie. It was also used in other movies like 'Blazing Saddles.' Cheech and Chong may have used it in comedy routines, but it was never actually in one of their movies."
Kyle turns, and sees Dr Haywood is the source of the voice and the information. Her husband, Marc, is standing beside her. They're both dressed in desert camouflage BDUs (Battle Dress Uniforms). What really surprises Kyle is while he knows Marc is a captain, Dr Haywood is wearing the oak leaves of a major. Kyle introduces the couple to Ryan, and mentions his nickname is Brain.
Dr Haywood remarks, "Now the name begins to make more sense."
Kyle queries, "What name?"
She grins while saying, "The limited liability partnership that owns this corporation: 'Warrior, Pinky, and the Brain LLP'. It almost sounds like someone who wants to take over the world."
Kyle laughs at her reference to the cartoon series 'Pinky, and the Brain' while finding another interesting aspect of this complex woman who seems to want to be a friend. He can't imagine why she's even interested in CyberFun's ownership, but his biggest surprise is she's penetrated their corporate veil of secrecy. After a long moment of silence Kyle answers, "I won't confirm or deny that fact, but why the interest?"
"Kyle, a lot of what Marc does is top secret. When we get invitations for something like this we want to know who's really involved, and if there's any ulterior motive. I've done some research on you since you first extended the invitation, and I'm quite impressed with what I've found. The one thing I was concerned about was the ownership of the corporation. Someone went to great lengths to hide the real owners, and that raised a red flag."
"My grandfather had his attorney set up the corporate structure that way to keep my family from learning I was anything more than an hourly employee. I never thought about it causing others a problem."
"With that clue I don't think it's now a problem, and that makes me happy. Marc and I are both excited about being a part of your new venture. In fact, Marc has an entire group that'll be taking part."
"That's great, because we need at least twenty players to break even on this project. I wasn't sure we'd get that many."
Marc replies, "Some of my people have been challenging others. I won't be surprised if more than a hundred show up."
Ryan looks frightened when he says, "I hope not! We don't have the resources for that many people."
Kyle calmly responds, "Ryan, calm down. If it happens, we'll figure out a way to handle it."
Marc smiles at Kyle's calm, assured demeanor, and asks, "How can we help?"
The four of them discuss their different options, and determine a course of action. Kyle calls KK and one of his part time people to ask them to come in early to help. Barbara, as Dr or Major Haywood wants to be called when away from the library, offers to help KK in the kitchen preparing more sandwiches and other snacks for sale. The part-time girl Kyle called fills two more ice chests with soft drinks, juice, and three additional large thermos jugs with coffee. While the women are working inside Marc helps Ryan make sure all the paint-guns, masks, and supplies are securely loaded in the larger trailer while Kyle drives to his supplier to buy additional paint-guns, assorted ammunition, goggles, air bottles, and other related supplies.
Everything is finished by 08:25 hours, and, while they're a little late, they're much better prepared for the revised projected turnout for the event.
Kyle thanks everyone, and slips the part-timer a twenty as a bonus. He gives Kathleen a kiss that causes Ryan to do a double take and stare. After that KK returns home, and the Haywoods follow the two cars with trailers out to the battle site.
Just before ten-thirty of the Saturday morning Jonas enters the study attached to his office. He locks the door and goes to the hidden safe, opens it and removes a sapphire ring. He moves to the bookcase to the left of the doorway where he touches three small spots on the inside of one of the bookcases in a set order, and the entire bookshelf opens into another room. He enters, and presses the release to close the entrance.
This hidden room is a workshop where he repairs old weapons, and builds new ones. Underneath one corner of the workbench is a small almost undetectable switch. When he flips the switch the edge of a shelf unit extends itself out like a pocket door, but where the door normally is located there's only a frame. He slips on the sapphire ring from the safe because it's needed to activate the portal. Walking though the frame Jonas vanishes from the room. He feels the familiar twisting, and finds himself in the greeting room on Crossroads.
The scene before Jonas is very different from the bleak white walls he normally sees. A door opens, and MariLynn rushes into his arms. After they kiss and lovingly refresh their memories of each others basic frame, MariLynn leads him into the lounge room where he finds a small love-seat facing a fireplace. As they sit a fire starts itself in the fireplace, and MariLynn speaks to the empty room to order two black coffees.
Surprised at the new look Jonas asks, "What's going on?"
His Caretaker smiles, and asks, "Did you know Gerald Jones?"
"Yes. We were friends on Earth, as well as on Chaos."
"His nephew, Sid, discovered there are instruction books which we'd never seen. These have expanded our understanding of this place, as well as our role as Caretakers. There are instruction books for Heroes and Companions as well."
"I'd very much like to have the ones for Heroes and Companions. I also need to warn you Kyle's next trip will likely be his last with me as a Companion. I believe he's about ready to begin his own journey as a Hero, though there may be a complication. I believe he's just found his true soul-mate, and she has the power to stop him from coming. Fortunately, I don't think she will."
MariLynn's head is lying against Jonas' chest while his arms hold her tight against him. She gives a soft reply, "That's good, because we need all the Heroes we can get."
Jonas picks up fear in her voice. This is something he's never seen in all the years she's been his Caretaker. He pulls her face to him, and gives her a deep, loving kiss. When they release he asks, "MariLynn, is there something going on I need to be aware of?"
"It's something we were beginning to get a hint of before Gerald died. As the months have progressed we've learned we've a major problem with a slavery ring that involves as many as ten thousand. Since then we've lost six Heroes on Chaos, and two more on Earth. We doubt those on Earth are connected, but there does seem to be some question as to their actual cause of death."
"How are we going to handle it? No Hero can defeat those kinds of odds, and my understanding is Heroes are forbidden to work together."
"Right now we're doing a lot of analysis and planning. While you have Shiloh, which is similar to a Spanish Hacienda, Gerald had his Citadel, which is a fortified town set closer to the southern mountains. It'll now become his nephew's, and we're hoping to use it as a gathering place for Heroes, each of whom will raise their own army to lead it against the enemy. In your case we'd like you to use Shiloh to raise a cavalry unit. As for Heroes working together, there aren't any rules preventing the coordination of individual efforts."
"That makes sense, and so does the idea of cavalry. Other than the Rider Clan I've the finest horses on Chaos. We can scout, harass, and turn their flank in major battles. Also, their foot soldiers have never seen an organized cavalry charge with either lances or sabers. The one extra item I can see us needing is a company of archers equipped with longbows. That's something my grandson can do a great job in developing for us."
"Then I'm very excited. Come, let's go to bed, and discuss it more in the morning."
During the night the couple's lovemaking is slow and very gentle. Jonas takes longer than normal to prepare her, even though she's much more responsive and easier to stimulate than Earth women. After their first time they're both aware of his distraction.
"Jonas, you seem distracted. Have I done something wrong?"
"No, my dear, you've done nothing wrong. You're right though, I'm a little distracted. I apologize because you deserve all my attention, and that's been hard for me to give tonight."
Concerned, MariLynn asks, "Can I ask what's distracted you?"
"Certainly. When I came here this morning I was sure I'd only be able to go on three or four more missions. I was fearful of the time when I must stop coming because you are such an important part of my life. I love you so much, and tonight I realized just how perfect we are together. In spite of that, I can't stay here or go to Cassandra, and you can't come to Earth. I now feel my life will probably end soon after I stop coming to see you." He stops, in thought, for a moment.
He adds, "Unfortunately, MariLynn, your news regarding a slaver war brings new, and very different challenges for me to face. I've never been afraid of a rescue mission, but I'm now fearful I could die on Chaos and will fail in my mission."
MariLynn cringes at both thoughts, but realizes Jonas is probably correct in his initial analysis. He probably won't last long after he stops coming to see her, and suddenly she realizes her feelings for him are identical. At that moment she vows she'll study the Guidebooks with great care, and discuss the situation with her supervisor. Who knows? Maybe she can find a way for them to be together.
For the next few minutes MariLynn works hard to help Jonas shove those feelings aside so they can enjoy each other. When they're both satiated she snuggles close, and goes to sleep in his arms.
The next morning the couple pick up where they left off. After they finish their lovemaking MariLynn leads Jonas into the shower. Here they play a bit, as well as thoroughly washing each other.
At breakfast Jonas asks, "With everything happening involving the slavers is there a mission for me on this trip?"
"There is one we set aside just for you. It's close to Riverview, and involves a man named LaMas who's enslaved a Damsel named Bethany Bookkeeper. He's not actually a member of this Slaver Guild, but he's taking her to a slave auction run by the Guild. They'll pass through some woods along the river while searching for a hidden ford that's often used by the Guild. Because of the ford there's likely be Guild members in the woods, but you should be able to escape on your fast steeds. I'd suggest you have one of your ranch hands in town to grab the horses when you arrive at the bank. You can return here while he takes the horses back to Shiloh."
"And when should they arrive at the general area we're discussing?"
"Just prior to lunch tomorrow."
"Then, my love, I guess I must carry on. I need to get to the bank and to Shiloh today. When I return I've a potential Hero I need to discuss with you. His situation is rather unique, but he'd be a great addition to us, especially now. If there's anyone who can give us more answers it might be good to have them join us."
"I'll see what I can do. I love you, my Hero. Please be careful. Things are so mixed up and confused at the moment we're all worried. So please examine and plan everything well before you do anything."
Jonas dresses for Chaos, holds her close to give her a deep, heartfelt kiss before he turns, and goes through the portal.
In the bank in the town of Riverview, on a planet known as Chaos, Jonas sticks his finger in the appropriate slot, and seconds later a six feet by three feet by eighteen inch box appears on the table beside him. He opens it, and removes a sword resembling a cavalry saber. He takes out two twelve inch dirks, and places them in special sheaths built into each of his boots.
After acquiring the weapons Jonas begins to feel less vulnerable. He slips on a vest of thick leather and sheep's wool, plus a tunic of fine mesh chain-mail, and a leather shirt. He selects a heavier knife, and fastens its harness so the knife can be drawn by reaching behind his right ear. Finally, he pulls out a prepared money pouch, and attaches it to his belt, hiding it behind the silk sash he ties around his waist.
He goes to the door, and asks to speak to the manager. Moments later a well-dressed man enters the room. Noticing the weapons Jonas carries the manager becomes more attentive, asking, "How can I serve you, Sir?"
"Sir, I've used the services of your bank for many years, both with my account and with my storage box. Soon I may be making a long journey, and it could be years before I return, if ever. Is there a way to transfer my account and my box to my grandson?"
"It's an unusual request, but it has happened before, and there is a provision for it. Your account will not be a problem, but he'll need his own storage box. In such situation like this your box will be destroyed as soon as its contents are removed. If you will give me just a few minutes I'll set things up for you," the banker replies before he leaves the room to make the arrangements.
About five minutes later the manager returns carrying a medallion on a chain. He says, "If your grandson comes to me with this and gives me the code-word we'll transfer your account and move everything in your box over to his. Just have him ask for Klovus Hissup when he arrives. What do you want to use for the code-word?"
It only takes Jonas a moment to decide, "It'll be Old Sam and Mose!"
"That's a strange code-word, but it's not one easily guessed by others, which is good. Is there anything else I can do for you?"
"Yes. Who can I see about transferring title to land?"
"Is it around here?"
"It's less than a half-day's walk."
"Then I can handle it. Do you want it also to go to your grandson?"
"Yes, I will."
Klovus replies, "Then have him bring the existing papers, and I can do it at the same time."
"There could be a problem as the papers are maintained elsewhere. He'll likely have to open his new account, and move the contents of my box first, then bringing the papers on the property in at a later time."
"I don't see a problem with that. Anything else?"
Jonas answers, "No, and thank you. You've been most helpful."
Klovus leaves the room while Jonas closes the box lid, which sends the box back into storage. He stuffs a small ball of scented bees wax up each nostril to ease the stench of the medieval town, and exits the bank.
Jonas walks down the dusty street to the stables, where he finds an old man moving fresh straw into empty stalls. Approaching the old man Jonas asks, "Joseph, how's War Bonnet?"
"Oh, Master Jonas! I didn't know you were back. He's doing fine. I paid off my niece's indenture with the money you left for that purpose. Because of your help freeing her she makes taking care of her savior's horse something very important, and she's been exercising and brushing him every day."
A pleased Jonas replies, "Can you have her saddle him for me?"
"As soon as she gets back. I sent her to the store for some saddle soap, but she hasn't returned yet."
Sensing concern in the old man's voice Jonas asks, "Is she late?"
"A little, yes."
"Joseph, if you're concerned please feel free to ask for my help."
"Yes, Sire." After pausing to get the wording correct he asks, "Master Jonas, would you please check on my niece, and make sure she's safe?"
"Yes, Joseph, I'll be glad to."
Jonas walks back into town. When he approaches the store from the opposite side of the street he notices two thugs loitering around the entrance. He cautiously continues his stroll down the street, appearing not to give the store or the men a glance. This is especially hard when he hears one of men mention the name LaMas. At the next alley he turns to the right, and moves back toward the store's rear door. Jonas is not very surprised to find it's also guarded. Staying in the shadows Jonas backs away. When he reaches the entrance to the alley he moves further away from the main street, and jogs back to the stables.
When Jonas arrives back at the barn with concern on his face Joseph asks, "Master Jonas, is anything wrong?"
"There's something going on at the store. I need an old blanket, some old sandals plus a big, well-worn hat like a poor old man would wear. I also need one or two youths we can trust to keep watch on the men in and around the store." He pauses for a moment, "Please send a rider to Shiloh for Nathan or one of his sons. I need whoever comes to wait for me at the inn, but they're not to acknowledge or approach me if any strangers are in the room. If he's unable to meet with me in the tavern he'll need to slip upstairs to the back room when no one's looking."
Concerned, Joseph replies, "I'll take care of these things for you. Will my niece be all right?"
"I'll do my best, old friend. Do you still have the big box I gave you to keep?"
Joseph points at a side room while he replies, "Yes, Master Jonas. It's in that room, under the old saddles and things in need of repair."
Jonas walks to the rear entrance of the stables. Its double doors open out into a large pasture area. Though he doubts the bird even exists on Chaos he whistles a perfect imitation of a whippoorwill. Moments later a fine looking stallion, black with three white stockings and a white star on his forehead, breaks away from the other animals to trot to the barn. The man and beast greet each other almost as lovers.
The horse edges as close to Jonas as he can. In response Jonas gently rubs the star on War Bonnet's forehead, and strokes his neck. While Jonas talks to him the horse keeps rubbing his shoulder against Jonas' body, and nuzzling his nose against Jonas' neck, arm, and hand. It's obvious there's a very special bond between them.
Jonas whispers into War Bonnet's ear, "Oh, you've missed me, have you? Well, I've missed you too. Now, my four-legged friend, we've much work to do for the next few days." The horse excitedly nods, as if he understands every word. Who knows? The way he anxiously shifts his weight from one foot to another and back again, maybe he does!
When Jonas breaks away and heads to retrieve his hidden box War Bonnet follows close behind. Carefully moving the broken items Jonas finds the long wooden crate he'd previously left with Joseph. This hidden cache is one of the secrets to Jonas' years of success. He has many loyal followers, like Joseph, whom he's helped in one way or another, and many of these hide weapons and money for his future use. Jonas also helps these, and others, by either purchasing a stable, inn, or other business or farm or investing in their existing operation, giving them an opportunity to make improvements or to expand. For those like Joseph, where Jonas is the real owner, he accepts only a small portion of their earnings as his rent.
Opening the box Jonas sorts through different items until he makes some decisions. Picking up the first item he fastens a leather band on the outside of his left upper arm. It contains three throwing spikes with razor sharp points at either end. A similar band with five spikes goes on his right thigh. He removes the knife from his right shoulder, and moves it to his front chest with the handle angled down for easy access by either hand. From the box he removes a similar knife, and attaches it to his belt. It's put horizontally in the small of his back with the handle pointed toward his right side. These knives were made by Jonas at the ranch's forge, and they're the closest thing to a real Bowie knife he could make based on the materials and technology available to use on Chaos. They're slightly longer than fourteen inches, including the nine-inch blades, but the knife’s balance makes its almost three pounds feel like a few ounces. The primary and secondary cutting edges are like a surgeon's scalpel. The large guard above the handle has an upward curve at the top, and a downward one at the bottom. They're designed to either capture the opponent's blade or to angle it away from the body of the knife wielder. There's also a strip of soft brass running down the knife's spine from the end of the secondary, or false, edge to the guard. This will often catch the opponent's blade, even if only for a part of a second, thus throwing the enemy's timing off just a bit to make the attacker vulnerable to a counter-attack for a brief moment of time.
Jonas takes off the chain with the medallion Klovus the Banker gave him, and puts it in his pocket. He removes a metal chain necklace and medallion from the box to place the necklace around his neck. The medallion looks like an image of the sun, but is a shuriken: a Japanese throwing star. The chain also has some unique characteristics, it fastens behind the neck with two small pieces of wood. When grabbed correctly the necklace becomes a garrote with the two pieces of wood forming the handles which fit between his fingers.
The last items Jonas removes from the box are a small but unusual crossbow, along with some extra bolts. The bow's effective range is less than twenty-five feet, but it's actually three bows fitted together. He attaches the leather band containing nine bolts to the left side of his belt, and hangs the crossbow from a lanyard he stretches from his left shoulder to just above his belt on his right side. If he lets his right arm drop naturally the crossbow is at his fingertips.
Jonas packs everything else back into the box, and is returning it to its original hiding place when Joseph returns with the things requested.
Joseph immediately notices the weapons changes, and he becomes very frightened. He asks, "My master is preparing for war?"
"Joseph, when you don't have sufficient intelligence on the situation you prepare for whatever the enemy is capable of, not for what you think he's likely to do." While throwing his saddle on War Bonnet's back Jonas asks, "Do you have a pewter mug I can use?"
"Yes, Master Jonas. I'll bring it right away."
Jonas finishes saddling War Bonnet. From one of the saddlebags he takes a black silk piece that fits comfortably over War Bonnet's upper forehead, hiding the star and giving the horse a more formidable look. There are also four matching leg pieces. These cover the three white areas on his lower legs called socks. Finally, he removes an object from the back of the saddle. Unrolling what looks like a bedroll he reveals a black silk cape with a scarlet red lining, and a black, wide-brimmed felt hat. Jonas fastens the cape around his shoulders. Donning the hat he pulls it low on his forehead; thus hiding his face in the shadow. When Joseph returns with the mug he almost drops it. His Master is none other than the legendary Warrior, a man so feared by his enemies, and revered by his friends, that his name is seldom spoken, other than in a whisper.
Jonas takes the blanket, and cuts a hole in the middle, making it into a poncho. Placing it over Joseph's head he ties a piece of rope around the waist, and places the hat low on Joseph's face. He removes a piece of cork from his saddle bag, and goes to the forge area. Here he burns the end, and smears several strategic streaks on Joseph's face.
Deciding it's the best he can do under the circumstances, Jonas instructs Joseph about how he wants him walking slumped over while keeping his eyes focused downward with his face hidden by the wide brim of the straw hat while he shuffles along the street not saying a word or acknowledging anyone.
"Joseph," Jonas explains, "I want all in the town to see this shuffling, weak, old man wandering around like he doesn't have good sense. If someone thinks you're a poor beggar, so much the better. When the sun's dropped one hand you're to be behind the inn waiting for my signal."
"I'll try, Master, though I don't understand."
"Joseph, I won't lie to you. I'm pretty sure your niece, as well as this town, is in major trouble. My success in freeing both will depend on your acting ability. When everyone's convinced you're a harmless old man we'll trade places. It's called role camouflage, letting the enemy see what he expects to see. Now go start your walk through town."
After Joseph leaves Jonas places the mug in his bedroll, fastens his saber to his saddle, and checks everything. To add to his disguise Jonas picks up a few handfuls of dust, and spreads the dust over War Bonnet's velvety black coat as well as his own clothes. When he's satisfied he and the horse look like they've been on the road for days he checks out the back door for anyone watching.
Satisfied he's not being observed Jonas climbs astride War Bonnet, and moves to just outside the back doors of the stables. He makes another a quick check of the area, and urges War Bonnet into a canter. When they reach the rear of the pasture the gallant steed speeds into a gallop to sail over the fence, and race down a trail through the woods. This little used trail goes around behind the village to meet the main road on the other side of the village. A short time later Jonas reenters the town, but from a different direction.
The horse and rider stop in front of the inn, Jonas gets down from War Bonnet, and ties him to the hitching post. Removing his saber from the saddle he places it on his belt. He loosens the saddle's cinch, and strides through the front door. At the sight of the black hat covering his eyes, and the black cape with red lining the place goes dead silent. He walks to the innkeeper, and says, "I need a room, some food, and beer."
The inn keeper responds, "I've only one room available. It's upstairs, in the back. It's one quad a day, including food and drink."
After handing the innkeeper the coin Jonas takes the offered key, and says, "I'll take it. I'm tired, hungry, and thirsty. Can you please have the food and beer brought to my room as soon as possible? Also have someone take my horse to the stable."
"Right away, Sir."
An exhausted-looking Jonas starts toward the steps. Turning back to the innkeeper he says, where everyone can hear, "Please hurry with the food and drink. I'm hungry, I've been riding for a long time, and I'm exhausted. I want to sleep till sometime tomorrow. Woe to the man who disturbs my sleep." Jonas resumes his trek up the stairs, and down the hall to the last room on the right.
What no one else knows is this is his room. It's never rented to other guests because Jonas is the innkeeper's partner; it was his money that helped the man get started. Unlocking the door Jonas goes inside the room, where he removes his cape, hat, and boots. He takes the crossbow from the lanyard, and lifts the lanyard over his shoulders. Finally, he removes the saber, and puts it on the bed. After pulling a rocking chair over near the bed Jonas sits down in it, propping his feet against the bed frame.
A few minutes later there's a knock at the door. Removing the Bowie knife from his back Jonas asks, "Who is it?"
"Your food, Sir. Also, Nathan is here to see you."
Jonas unlocks the door, steps to the side away from the opening, and uses his left hand to open the door. The innkeeper and Nathan, his ranch manager, enter the room, and close the door. "Was the hallway clear?" Jonas asks while he bolts the door.
Thomas, the innkeeper, nods yes in response, and he asks, "What's going on, Master Jonas? You walk in with that cape and hat, and most of the people want to crawl under the table. Then you act like you don't know me or anyone here."
Jonas takes the tankard of beer, and sits it on the table next to the rocker. Using a spoon he begins to eat the excellent stew and bread, while he replies, "Thomas, it appears we've got a serious problem here in Riverview because I suspect slavers are trying to take over the town. Have any strangers arrived in the past two days?"
"Yes, Sire. Three men brought a young woman in, and met with four other men who were waiting in the tavern. The leader and the woman are in the middle room, with the two who traveled with him in the front. The four they met are in the room next door. Other than being a little rough with the woman none of them have caused any problems."
Jonas looks thoughtful before he says, "Unfortunately, I think that's about to change. Three of them have taken over the store, and appear to be holding at least one woman inside."
The frightened innkeeper asks, "What should we do?"
"Thomas, you know who the good men in this town are. Cautiously advise them to send their wives and daughters to stay at Shiloh. It'll have to be done quickly and carefully with no one looking like they're taking a trip. There should be plenty of provisions at Shiloh, including bedding and clothes."
Nathan adds, "We can withstand a siege for several months."
Jonas continues, "Good. As for the men, Thomas, the best riders and archers should try to slip off with the women. Some of the men can appear to be going off on a hunt, but, for the others, I suggest no one take anything more than he normally takes for a walk."
Turning to his foreman Jonas asks, "Nathan, have our riders seen other strangers in the past five suns, especially near the river?"
"Yes, Sire. In the past two days they've counted twenty men moving around the forest near the river. They seem to be trying to quietly wait for someone, like ..."
"Like an ambush?"
"Yes, that's the word you taught me."
"Good. If I don't get to Shiloh this trip please tell the boys they did a good job."
"That will please them, Sire. You're good to your people, and they appreciate it. They all desire to add to your happiness, and to make you proud of them."
"I'm glad they feel that way. Normally I just try to treat people like I would want to be treated. Now, did you come alone?"
"Dana rode in with me."
"How is your son? He must be sixteen summers, now."
Nathan smiles at his lord remembering, "Yes, Sire, you're correct. He's already a man, well trained for battle, yet wise enough to know when to fight, and when not to."
"Nathan, you're indeed blessed to have such a son. I wish my own son was such. Send him back to Shiloh to warn your wife and our men of those coming. He'll need to take the ridge trail. When he's on his way find old Joseph behind the inn. He'll be wearing an old poncho and hat. Have him remove his disguise, and bring it when you slip him in here. I'll want you and Thomas to join us."
"I will take care of it, Sire."
"Thomas, get started with the men and women, but come back to me as soon as you've told Sara. You're blessed with a very good wife, as is Nathan, so use her to help you. Women gossip frequently so it'll be less noticeable for them to whisper on the street than for men. When you return please bring me another serving of everything. It was excellent."
"Yes, Sire. I'll talk to Sara immediately. Because Nathan came in we can say someone at Shiloh needs her help."
Jonas carefully lets the two men out, and quietly sits there, deep in thought, Twenty men set an ambush in the same location where Crossroads had told him to find the Damsel. Add to that the fact the ones he's looking for came here to Riverview rather than crossing the river. Something is definitely rotten in Denmark. The thing that bothers me the most is their blatant actions at the store. Are they that arrogant, or is something else at work here? And if there is something else going on, what is it, and why?
A few minutes later there's another knock at the door, and Thomas says, "Sire, I've the additional food and beer you requested." Jonas opens the door, and the three men slip inside. Thomas adds, "I'm going to need to hurry. Things are really picking up downstairs with many strangers, and several are very upset there are no beds available."
Jonas replies, "I understand. Did you get the women out?"
"We're working on it, but Sara is trying to fix plenty of food before she leaves. We've sent word to the miller, asking for his two sons to help serve. Ten women and six men have already slipped out of town."
"Good, then I need to quickly explain something to the three of you. When I finish Thomas can return downstairs. Then the rest of us can talk for a few minutes longer."
Jonas pauses while he scans their faces, and says, "What I want to cover is Kyle, my grandson. Nathan is the only one of you who's met him because he's spent quite some time at Shiloh. Unfortunately, I've never introduced him to you. He'll soon start traveling here, and is to be treated as you would treat me. In addition, if he tells you I've gone on my final journey all the property and agreements need to be transferred over to him. When he arrives he'll come either here or to the stables."
Joseph asks, "But how will we know him?"
"Picture me thirty years younger with a fresh shave, sandy hair, and blue-gray eyes. He's a little shorter and lighter than me, but you can definitely see the relationship. The first time he comes here he'll be wearing buckskin colored like the season. If it's winter it'll be natural and rough, spring will be green, summer will be a lighter tan, and fall will be reddish like the leaves on the trees. Also, if you look behind his left ear or under his left arm you'll see a scar."
"Then we shouldn't have any problems spotting him."
"Good! Thomas, you need to return below, but keep a listening ear."
Jonas unbolts the door for Thomas, re-bolting it after he leaves. Jonas listens at the door for a moment before returning to the others. Sitting back in the rocking chair Jonas says, "Joseph, find the young men you had watching the store, and very quietly bring them here."
"Nathan, ride like the wind to Shiloh. Bring back two smaller riders wearing gray hoods and capes with someone about my size with one of my spare capes and hats. I also want ten archers on horseback. The archers are to be stationed in an ambush at the bridge about three miles from where the road north takes a sharp left turn. I also need you to bring me two matching hoods and capes for the women, and similar horses. If I don't answer the door leave the clothes on the horses, and tie them up behind the inn." He pauses to think, and adds, "You need to hide in wait at the turn to watch for us because we should leave here sometime before dawn. We'll meet you around the turn, and follow you into the trees. Our replacements will continue down the road, leading our pursuers into the trap. Instruct the archers to shoot no more than twice and then to disappear, along with the decoys. The four of us will split up on the way back, with you taking Joseph's niece to Shiloh and me taking the other woman to a place of safety. By the time any of the survivors are able to return to town the girl and I should be long gone from Riverview."
"It is a good plan, Sire, but why all the caution?"
"There's something going on that greatly bothers me. I don't know all of the truth yet, but, from what I suspect, all of this activity was set up to have me killed. They may yet succeed, which is why I went into the details concerning Kyle." Removing the chain and medallion from his pants Jonas adds, "Hold this for him, Nathan. There's no one here I trust more than you, and this is the key to the kingdom."
"I will do as you say, Sire. Do you think we've war coming?"
"Nathan, my friend, I'd bet on it!"
"Then I'll start expanding our operations and increasing our riders. My Clan is very interested in having some of our people learn from you. We'll find hidden areas in the hills to grow food, and move all of the excess into the ice caves."