“Four days straight, that I didn’t detect any touch downs.” Xen frowned. “As best I can tell, we were each dumped fifty kilometers apart, on a grid. But they weren’t terribly methodical about it. Me here, Jiol and Karl due south, fifty and a hundred kays respectively. Then Kali zipped through and hit fifty kay’s north. I wonder if they deliberately jumped back to the south because of that unusual occurrence?”
Sam sighed. “And why would it matter?”
“Because then I might have a better idea of where to look for other survivors.”
Jerry frowned. “Other . . . well . . . sure. I mean, they’ve been transporting criminals and undesirables for centuries. There are bound to be other people who survived.”
Connor grinned. “Mind you, they probably didn’t have anyone as competent as Xen or Karl, but . . . Wow. Maybe even women.”
Jerry perked up, then deflated. “You do know they transport more men than women. By an order of magnitude.”
“None-the-less, I’ve a mind to check . . . westward, I think.”
Karl looked wishful, but nodded. “I had probably better stay here. How long before we start worrying about you?”
“Oh . . . I’ll head due west fifty kilometers, and look for any sign of anyone trying to get by.” Xen eyed the mountains to the southwest. “Then another hundred. Then I’ll cut south fifty, and come back. Five days at least. More likely, seven.”
“How about a pile of rocks and an arrow? Something we might find and know we’re on the right track? Especially if you have a reason to deviate from your plan?” Karl grinned. “I know, it hurts to think you might need to be rescued.”
“That’s appallingly sensible. I’ll give it a try.”
Two days later he was eyeing a thin column of smoke to the northwest . . . and started stacking stones on a hill, and added an arrow pointing northwest.
He hustled, pushing his endurance. He stayed in the open, but paralleled a stream that headed off the right direction.
And three days later a man stepped out the woods and hailed him.
/// Γεια σου. Ποιος είσαι? Έχεις κανένα νέο; ///
“Geia son. Poios eidai? Ekheis canena neo?”
Xen paused . . . Was that . . . Ah shit. Helaos.
He waved back and raised his voice to hale him. “Hello!” He walked toward the man, and spoke as he got closer. In the not-really-Greek he sort of remembered. “I am Xen . . . Xenocrates. I’ve been here for five months. How long have you been here? How many of you are there?”
“Only nine of us left, now, and four children born here. Eleven damned years.”
“Chaos! Before or after Helios was destroyed?”
“Destroyed? Destroyed how? We were taken during a battle.”
“When we merged with the primitive world? And that dammed Disco brought an army to fight us?”
“Yes, we were in a building that was collsping . . . and then we were somewhere else.”
Xen spread his fingers, the vocabulary beyond his thin veneerof the language. “A huge bowl of metal . . .” Dammit, if I could remember more, and Karl said . . . “A man and a woman . . . did they ask you questions too?”
The man’s lips thinned. “The demons got inside our heads. They could see our memory of the demon killing the doctors at the medical center, killing the old men waiting for treatment . . .”
Old men waiting to merge-kill the young men they’d kidnapped . . . so Boozy Jaejong and AnnaKarina’s view of us is through the lens of the Helaos. No wonder if they have a very negative first impression.
“They destroyed Helios. Killed every one on it. We all live on Neo Helios now. The demons mostly leave us alone. Finally.”
Unfortunately the man’s eyes were narrowing, and he brought a heavy spear around. “You’re him! Damn you!”
“Yes I am. I helped rescue thousands of people you lot would have merge killed. Once my people find me,” or I find them, “I will endeavour to get you all to Neo Helios.”
Xen turned and walked away, reaching for Speed . . . Have I gotten it back yet?
But he could feel the kenetic energy of the thrown spear, and pull that energy even as he spun and snapped the spear out of the air.
The Helao had been poised to rush him, and jerked back in shock. “Spit on the Devil! What are you?”
“Right now? Just a man wandering around, exploring.” Xen pointed northeast. “There’s a small river, decent water flow, if your stream dries up. I’m camped near it.”
The man nodded.
Of course it’s not news to people who’ve been here for eleven years.
“Have you met other people?”
“A few, now and then. Two who joined us, early on. More that we ran off. Common criminals. And you?”
“I came alone. A month ago, I found four men from the world that snatched me. Rebels, to a minor extent. Useless City Boys, but they’re learning fast.”
Don’t think I’ll mention women.
“Tell them to stay by the river, and away from us.”
Xen nodded. Tossed the spear to the side and headed north. This time the Helao didn’t move.
He angled away from the stream, and climbed a hill for a survey.
Upstream there was a clearing in the trees, and with his distsnce vision, he could make out a stockcade and several roofs.
Right. So I’ve met the neighbors, and however much I’d have preferred someone, anyone, else, it does explain a few things.
He loped down the far side and kept going north east. Once he was sure he wasn’t being watched, he’d cut south for home.