An Odd Meeting
One Saturday in January a few weeks after coming back from Japan I'm sitting in the mall finishing my lunch when Lia, my lead girlfriend, returns from the rest rooms with another girl. I smile, as it's like Lia to make new friends. Lia is giving me a very sweet smile as they walk over - so I know I'm in for some sort of trouble. She nods at her new friend, saying, "This is Meredith, you're taking her to her high-school dance in three weeks' time. But you have to ask her father for permission first. She'll take you to where he's at so you can ask him this afternoon." I glance at Meredith, and notice she's a bit concerned about all this.
Sometimes I wonder if my life would be better without a girlfriend, and this is one of those times. But knowing the way of the world, I take the simple way out, stand up, I smile at Lia and give her a nod. I look at Meredith and raise an eyebrow. She gives me a lopsided grin in reply, and starts to walk off - with me following. Lia calls out, "Kira will catch up with you there." Which leaves me wondering why she will. I just wave at Lia and the bulk of my entourage while I leave them. Two of the security guards go with me while the rest stay with Lia and the rest of my ladies going to the hairdresser today. The ladies go in two or three groups now, it varies with how many staff the hairdresser has at work - the rest of the ladies will be getting their hair done tomorrow.
About ten minutes later we're standing in the entrance to a fencing club while Meredith signs us in and we show identification. A member of staff escorts us to a medium sized training room on the next level up.
The five of us stand and watch as two of the club members finish a match on the special mats they have. I try not to laugh at the way the two men look in their safety gear with cords running out the back. The staff member tells me the suits they're wearing have sensors in them and they feed the information back to the umpire to assess when they score a point. This is literally a case of touché, where a single touch with the sword scores a hit and a win, regardless of if it's good enough to hurt or kill.
A few minutes later the one nearest us scores a hit and the match is over with his five hits to his opponents three. I guess the match was the first to five. They lower their swords, remove their masks, and shake hands before returning to their end of the mat to be unplugged. A little more work to disconnect and the man at this end walks over to us. The man hugs Meredith while he nods at the staff member, who leaves us; I guess visitors must be with a member or staff while in the club. The man glances at me while he says, "Good to see you here, Meredith. I thought you were shopping! Who is this young man with you?"
She looks embarrassed, so I step forward and hold out my hand while I say, "Al Adams, Sir. I'm here to ask your permission to escort Meredith to the coming school dance."
He shakes my hand, and says, "Well, you've passed the first test I set for anyone to take her to the dance, to politely ask me for permission to do so. That leaves only two more. Let's get the last one out of the way first. Will you get her a corsage and go in a nice car?"
I smile, "Certainly. A nice stretch job with driver. I'll even buy her a nice dress to wear if she wants a new one." She spins around and looks at me in surprise. I don't think Lia told her much about me. That leaves me wondering just what they talked about in the ladies.
He smiles back, "I'm forgetting my manners. I'm Joseph Martin, Professor of History at Hood College. Please call me Joe. Your accent gives away your country of birth. How long have you been a student at Frederick High School, how old are you, and how long have you known Meredith, my daughter?"
I grin at him, and say, "I don't go to Frederick High School. I'm seventeen year old. I've known Meredith about half an hour."
Now he's very surprised. He asks, "Has she told you what the other condition of taking her to the dance is?"
"Well, actually, Meredith has told me nothing. She and my number one girlfriend, Lia, had a long talk a little while ago. Then Lia told me I was taking Meredith to the dance and I had to come here to formally ask you for permission to do so. So here I am, as commanded."
He glances at a very red faced Meredith, and starts to laugh. After a few minutes he calms down, and asks, "How do you feel about swords? Do you know how to use one?" Now I know why Kira will be meeting me here, she'll probably bringing my swords to me.
"Swords are good tools that have their uses. Not only do I know how to use one, I own a couple. I suspect Lia arranged for someone to bring mine to me here." He grins, and so do many of the members.
"Good, because that's the last part. Being prepared to meet me on the mats with a sword, and having to score two points against me."
I laugh and shake my head. "Do I have to score against you within a set number of scores on me by you?" He shakes his head no. "Good! As I've never used a suit like you use. I'd find it restrictive." I stop when I see a staff member escorting Nadia, Kira, Tora, and two guards in. They have my sword case, Tora's sword, and my suit-bag with my combat gear. Joe is giving me an odd look, so are most of the club members. "Good, here's my swords now. Is there a table I can sit the case on?"
The staff member showing the girls in changes direction and heads to a table against the wall. Tora had carried her sword in a blanket, and she's unwrapping it while she enters the room. She now places the blanket on the table and Nadia places my sword case on it.
Crossing to the table I open the case, remove my katana, take it out of its shirasaya (storage sheath) and hold it out for Joe to look at.
He walks over and his eyes light up, "I see you follow the Japanese sword arts. It'll be interesting to see how it goes against our blades."
"Yes, it would be fun to find out. The only trouble is your blades are blunted for safety reasons, this is a fighting blade and is razor sharp." His eyes go wide, and he waves to another man.
The other man walks over while he pulls out a piece of cloth, saying, "Oh, I doubt it's razor sharp. Do you think you can cut this in half?"
I know his game, and it's clear he knows nothing about real Japanese swords. I nod, and say, "Yes. I know how very fine silk is hard to cut. But all these fighting blades are kept honed to a razor edge that's sharp enough to do the job." I smile, and nod at Tora and Kira. Tora has also taken her sword out to show them, and Kira is standing beside the case.
The man with the cloth grins and he tosses it in the air. I let it rise, and when it starts to open up when it falls I step forward as I swing my blade at it in an upward stroke. They all gasp when I cut the cloth clean in half and step back. As I do, Tora steps forward and slices across one half to cut it into half again. Turning while Tora strikes I hand Kira my sword and draw my wakizashi she's holding out for me. After cutting one half Tora steps back, and I've room to step up again and cut the other half with the shorter sword. All the members are shocked to see we carry three swords that are sharp enough to cut fine silk in the air.
The man who owned the cloth looks at me, "I've tossed that cloth out and had hundreds of swords try, but not put a mark on it. And you just slice it to pieces. How?"
I hold the sword up, "These are true combat swords and are made in a special way with an extra hard cutting edge. It takes a lot of work to keep them in good order, but they are literally razor sharp, as sharp as most medical scalpels. You won't find a sharper edge anywhere."
I return the wakizashi to its sheath and take my katana back from Kira. Moving out towards the centre of the room I nod at Tora, and she smiles while she follows me out. We take up positions a few metres apart and bow to each other. I say, "Standard training rules." She nods.
Some of the members start to move closer, until Kira says, "Give them room to move, or you may get hurt by accident." They stop the movement towards us, and some back away.
For a moment we stand still, then Tora attacks me. For a few minutes she attacks using the range of moves she knows, and I defend. After giving her a chance to demonstrate each attack I start to respond with some attack moves as well, and we've a nice little bout. At one point I'm just starting a new attack when Tora calls, "Still." We both stop.
I smile when I ask, "Why?"
"Master, I'd noticed a pattern in your last several moves and readied to deal with the next expected move in that pattern. But I moved too early, you saw I was ready and changed your attack to one I could not move to deal with. I saw my error and called a halt."
"Good. Nadia, what have you learned from this situation?"
"Master, I too saw the pattern, and saw you shift your attack. From this I've learned not to commit myself to a move that will only work if my opponent takes the expected action, because this leaves me open to a new attack while they've the initiative."
"Good. Tora, that error's worth four points. However, you gain two bonus points by calling a halt to admit the error so fast. A lot of the students at your level would try to adjust instead of admitting an error. Good, let us try two blades. You take my wakizashi and go through the attack moves while I use my tanto as the second blade to block you." She nods, and we get the other weapons. When I do this I notice most of the members have shocked looks, but Joe is smiling.
Joe asks, "Do you always train with live blades?"
"No, most training is done with wooden or bamboo swords. But we do some training with live blades to fine tune control since the practice swords don't move exactly the same as a real sword." He nods.
We spend a few minutes with Tora attacking me with both swords while I use my knife and sword to counter her attacks. After she's gone through each of the usual attacks, and added a couple of the new ones I've taught her, I start to attack using new moves that give me the maximum opportunity to use the knife to my advantage.
After a few moves I call a halt and we move to the sword case. We both put our second blade down on the case and remove a sharpening stone from amongst the ones in pockets in the case. When Tora and I start to run the stones along the edge of our blades to ensure they've a sharp edge Nadia picks up the wakizashi and the third stone - to hone it as well. While we return the fine edge to the swords I look at Joe, and say, "As you can see from that demonstration, the way I use a sword is very different to what you do here. Your fencing is based on a touch anywhere on the torso, while I train to kill. Many blows that would win me a match in my art would lose me a match in fencing as I can, and will, accept a mild cut to the arm or side to create an opening for a killing blow. The mild cut would register first on your system and I'd be denied having killed you in reply." Joe laughs, and nods. "In a real fight I'll add in hand blows and kicks to gain me an advantage as well."
Another member says, "I can't believe you just did that with sharp blades! Isn't that dangerous?"
I turn to her, "Yes, it can be dangerous. However, Tora trusts me to not let her harm me, and if I let her do so, then I deserve the cut for being slack. And she also trusts me to stop any attack from actually hitting her. She's my student and still has a lot to learn, but is doing well. There are many more strikes which we did not demonstrate since she hasn't been taught them yet."
Joe half frowns, "Student, but she's older?"
"Although I'm physically younger, and we both started training at the same young age, I'm a bit better physically and my training's been much more intense than hers was. So I've reached a point where I can train her and others; so I do it, because it helps in their protection."
Joe nods, "OK, we'll just have to fight free form using two of the other swords we have here in the club, and we'll have to use the remote sensor suits. Since you seem to be so good, I want to see if you can score twice before I make five touches."
"That should be OK. Let's look at what you've got, but let me finish this first, please." He smiles, and nods then he watches us put the fine edge back on the weapons then oil them. It only takes me a few more minutes to do my katana, but the girls take a little longer because they aren't as experienced with doing it as I am. I hand the stone I have over to Kira, and she starts on my tanto.
Leaving the girls, Joe and I go to look in the other rooms for suitable swords to use in our match. They've a very nice collection of swords from across all the ages and cultures, including some US copies of Japanese swords. We settle on the use of a pair of Roman short swords for our match, mainly because it's like nothing either of us has used in today's work. One of the staff promises to bring them from the display case for us. These are copies, not originals. We return to the first room.
A few minutes later we both don slightly different suits to those they use for the main fencing matches. These use a wireless unit stored in the protective helmet to send signals to the umpire. Also, they cover the chest and back in a set of zones, so the umpire can see where the strike is. Ground rules are agreed upon, and we get set. I'm allowed to be athletic in avoiding hits, but can't use my feet to kick or strike with. The girls have the swords packed away, so Nadia holds the case while Tora holds the unopened suit bag.
The umpire gives us the command to start, and we both stand there waiting for the other to attack so we can assess them. After a minute we both laugh at the situation. Since I'm technically the supplicant here I decide to start the attack, and am careful to keep my balance on my back foot as I take small sliding steps towards Joe. He smiles as I move forward. I swing my sword in front of me before we get close, and turn my wrist to make a powerful swing back across my body as we close. He has no choice, he has to bring his sword up between us to protect himself. My move forces his sword back at his torso, but he holds it.
When we break I move back and turn my wrist as I flick the tip of my sword back across his stomach before he can react to block it. The point touches his left side before he can knock my sword out of contact. The umpire calls a halt to assess the contact in light of our ground rules; they're enough different he has to check them with care. He declares a no score touch to me; a nick but not restrictive. Joe nods, and we get set.
This time Joe is more aggressive and attacks. I settle for countering the first few strikes, then step forward when he's expecting a retreat by me. I use my left arm to block his forearm because his sword is now behind me, and turn my right side a little away so I can have enough space between my right shoulder and his body to bring my sword in to make contact just above his heart with a thrust. The umpire calls a halt, and we part; he soon declares a death stroke by me. Joe nods again.
The restart has us both move around in a circle while we look for an opportunity. Joe has ceased underestimating my ability, and I know he's very skilled and able to adjust to new situations. The circle tightens and we clash blades several times while we continue to move. Then Joe uses a fancy little twisted wrist move that catches my sword near the tip and pushes it aside, leaving him with an inside track. He lunges. I can't avoid the hit, so I dive down and to the side to minimise the contact while I toss my sword from my right hand across to my left hand and I reach up to stab at his chest. Both swords make contact just before I hit the floor near his left foot and roll away. The umpire declares I gave Joe a severe cut while he gave me a disabling blow. If the fight had been real and back in Roman times we both would likely have died from the wounds. As it is, I get my two touches while he gets one. We smile at each other while we start to take the gear off.
I bow, and say, "I'll pick Meredith up to go have dinner at Pat's Place before the dance on the night." He nods, and I turn to Meredith. "You have Lia's phone number?" A nod. "Good, call her to arrange to go get you a new dress at my expense. Choose well, I can afford it." She looks surprised when she nods. I can see Joe giving me an odd look as I finish wiping the sweat off and hand the towel to one of the staff. With my clothes straightened, I go and shake hands with Joe, and start to leave.
I'm facing the door and in mid-step towards it when it opens and Mr Benson walks in wearing a set of fencing clothes. I didn't think fencing was that popular here in the USA, but I must be mistaken. He stops and looks at me, blinks, and smiles. He walks towards me and holds out his hand, "Mister Adams, I'm glad I finally get a chance to meet you. Please accept my apologies for the problem with that quote and your visit to my office. Things have changed. And thank you for allowing Small and Little to sub-contract all that work to us."
I smile while I shake his hand. "I never held you responsible for that problem, and you should thank Mister Little for the sub-contract work. I've not checked, but I think he currently has some work sub-contracted out to just about everyone in the industry in the city."
"Yes, there is that. However, it's all your work, and work that's well needed at this time. Most of us were reviewing who we'd have to lay off, not if we had to, but who to lay off. Then bang, you have us all working at a good pace for some months. And it looks like you've shamed the County Commissioners into getting a lot of overdue work done, too. So we should be right for a few years when your work ends."
"I know the delays with the county were due to funding. But the work I'm paying for is generating a lot of income, and thus taxes, so they now have the money to get on with the work. I struck a deal with them to not get billed for increases for ten years if I pay ten years in advance and the back taxes on the land I bought. They worked out an estimate for the land as developed and gave me a bill for ten years, and I paid it. I think we almost lost a couple of commissioners when I did that. They were very shocked to see it all paid as a cash transfer. But it's given them the funds to get some things done that needed doing, and kept local businesses in good shape, too." He smiles and moves past me to his appointment for fencing.
The whole room is quiet whiles we talk. When we part a voice I don't know asks, "Construction work. But the only major construction work is that big job out on Etzler Road. Are you involved with that?"
I turn, and nod, "Yes, my company is paying for the building work, and we're sharing costs for the road works."
Joe laughs, "Al, the car you're sending to pick up Meredith, is it one of your own?"
I grin, and nod, "Yes, I'll be in one of my armoured stretch Hummers to collect her on the night. So you can see, I'm not worried about costs."
He smiles, and starts to turn away, then spins back. "Al, that fancy ancient Japanese sword that was given to the people of Japan a few months back, that was you, wasn't it."
I look around the room and catch the eye of all present, before I say, "This is not for public discussion or dissemination; yes it was."
He nods, "If what I've heard is right, you killed an evil man in a sword fight to win it." I nod. "So killing with the sword isn't new to you, is it?"
I sense there's something else behind this line of questions, it's as if he's testing me for something, but I can't tell what for. I decide to be brutally honest, "No, it's not. I've killed several people with a sword, a few with a knife, some by hand, and even shot a couple who needed killing. In all cases it was a matter of defending myself or someone else against a bad guy on everyone's better dead list." A few in the room are shocked a person as young as I had killed a number of people, but Joe nods while his smile grows a bit wider.
No one else seems to want to talk much now, so I turn and leave.
It's the second Saturday in February and everyone is getting ready to go out, except me. I'm staying put because Lia asked me to have the morning off to meet with someone. I wonder who it is. Last night was the Frederick High School Junior Dance I took Meredith to, so it can't be Joe to tell me to behave myself; which I did anyway since Meredith was very new to going out with boys. She looked great in the outfit my ladies helped her organise at my expense. We went to Pat's for a great meal, and on to the dance. We spent the night talking and dancing. Both of us spotted how surprised a lot of the other girls were to see Meredith there with such a nice dress and a lovely orchid corsage. A lot of the boys seemed surprised at how well she dressed up. I don't think she'll have much trouble with boys being interested in taking her to the senior's dance when she's old enough for that one.
All the ladies leave to do some shopping, and I sit at my computer working on the next book. About twenty minutes later one the guards tells me a visitor is on his way up. I finish the sentence I'm writing and close the file before heading for the lounge room.
I smile when I walk in and see Joe; I wonder why he's here as I walk over and shake his hand. He holds up a small bag, and says, "I'm told I need to ask for special dispensation so we can talk in the spa for privacy, and you'll be relaxed." I nod, smile, and wave him towards one of the rooms to get changed. When he walks into the room I head to my room to find a pair of swimmers; I have them, but rarely use them.
A few minutes later we're sitting in the spa relaxing with some fruit and sandwiches to eat and juice to drink as we talk. I lean back, asking, "Right, what do you want to discuss that needs me to be relaxed?"
"Since we met a few weeks back I've been seeing what I can find out about you, and it's all good, very good. I've a proposition you may be interested in. It involves dangerous work, but helps people out. You face danger and run a real risk of being killed, but the weapons are limited to those in use around the middle ages, a crossbow is the most complex."
"It sounds interesting, but why should I get involved?"
"Because you're a perfect fit for the job, that's why. Also, you'll be helping out lots of people on two planets." Now that really gets my attention, two planets? I must have shown some interest, as he smiles at me. "Yes, two planets, and neither is Earth. You also get to spend a lot of time making love to some lovely ladies." I raise my eyebrows at him.
Joe takes a deep breath, "OK, here's the deal. There's been this odd arrangement going on for centuries that links some planets. A long time ago a planet had a major war and now has a problem with the males on their planet not being up to repopulating the planet. There's a system where they import human DNA in a semi-controlled manner by having Earth Heroes rescue Damsels in Distress. His reward is he gets to have sex with her until she shows up pregnant, and her reward is she gets to have a very healthy baby and bragging rights about the father." I've a real issue taking this in, as it's like a fantasy. "There's an intermediate planet or station called Crossroads where the operation is coordinated from. Women from Cassandra enter lotteries to be able to take part. Once selected they go to this medieval planet called Chaos and are soon in a situation where they need to be rescued. The Heroes go to Chaos and save them. Some of the women aren't saved in time and die, some of the Heroes aren't up to the task and die, there are very real dangers for all parties. No one knows what the distress situation will be until the woman is in trouble. Some can be on Chaos for years before they qualify as being in distress, while some others only stay free for a few minutes after arrival. There are rules and other aspects, but I won't go into those unless you're really interested in becoming involved. On Crossroads you'll have an assistant called a Caretaker, and her job is to find suitable rescue operations that are within your resources, skills, and abilities to manage. Oh, part of your job is also to have sex with the Caretaker to keep her happy and on the job. They get bragging rights as well. They brag about the Hero they serve, and they can only serve the one Hero. If he dies their career is over. Once you go to Crossroads you can't return to Earth without completing a rescue. Once you make your rescue you can return to Crossroads and they can fix anything as long as you reach them alive. Some time distortion effect has you being gone from Earth for only fifteen minutes, no matter how long on elsewhere."
The whole thing sounds like a teenage boy's fantasy game. But Joe is dead serious and seems real concerned I believe him. I lean back and relax while I think about all this. If it's true it sounds very interesting - but is it true. I know I'd enjoy the fighting and such, but am concerned for my family now I've found a new family. "Joe, that all sounds good, but I'd have to talk it over with my family because I'll be running a risk. To do that, I'll have to lay it all out for them. Can you give me the other rules about the place now?"
He sits, and thinks for a few minutes. "OK, I'll lay out the other basic rules. Heck, I can even take you along on a mission as a Companion so you can see what it's like for yourself." I nod for him to continue. "You will need to build a portal of your own, but I can let you use mine for a while. If you decide to be fully involved you'll need to select your own Caretaker as well. Then you need to see about organising a base of operations on Chaos so you can develop some resources and back up. Rules; well, no weapons can be taken from here, nor metal items, none of the explosives work there for some reason, not even Chaos made gunpowder. They've metal and you can make swords and the like, so they're common weapons, mostly European style swords. They've a form of currency, but most day to day stuff is done by barter. The cash is a clear disc with gold dust in it, it's called a pinch. Then four pinches to a quad, with four quads to a shell, and fifty shells to a conch. A shell is about a normal day's work and two quads will pay for a room and meals, breakfast and dinner. A pinch will usually buy a meal or a jug of watered wine." I think on this while he speaks, it sure sounds like someone has been putting some modern concepts into an old society and changed a few things to make it work. "Your Earth portal will take you to Crossroads and your Caretaker will brief you on a mission. They've a portal that'll take you to Chaos, where you arrive in the bank. You also leave there through the bank portals. But you can't leave without the Damsel you went to rescue. You can take a Companion, but they can't directly help in the rescue of the Damsel. You can't just attack someone, you have to act as a Hero within a code like the Knights of the Round Table. Once you defeat or kill someone all they have is now yours, so strip them of what you want or can use. You can't have sex with anyone on Chaos, except a Companion - if you have one. You can't have sex with your Companion on Crossroads." He stops to think.
We both take a moment for a drink and a bite to eat. He adds, "You don't have to have a Companion, but they can watch your back and do work with making the camping on the road easier. The bank, you can rent a storage box at the bank to store any weapons and things you win in them, that'll make them available to you on your next visit. But don't put anything alive in them, I'm told it's very messy. Don't even think about attacking someone for a criminal reason, that'll get you banned. That's about all I can think of, except Chaos is truly a society of might makes right."
One odd thing I notice is the way he speaks of heroes, caretakers, and companions, you can hear the capital letters as he says the words. After a few minutes thought, I ask, "You said I can't take weapons or metal, can I take plants, wood, leather, paper, cloth, and animals?"
"Yes, you can. Animals are deemed to be Companions for some odd reason, but you can take them and leave them there. Due to the time rate difference they'll age faster than you do, so do the locals. A good Hero will set up a strong base of operations and be treated as a local lord. Due to the time rate changes a Hero will be served by generations from the same family. At my own bases I've set up a nice operation to make better quality steel weapons and improved crop management. It all helps to make the people who work for me have a better life."
We spend the next couple of hours just talking while we snack and drink. Most of the time Joe is talking about his adventures on Chaos, and they do sound very interesting. Towards the end of our chat, about when we're expecting the ladies back, he says, "Just after we first met I mentioned you to my Caretaker since we're always looking for Heroes. She told the higher ups and they were worried about your age. On my next visit they were anxious to recruit you. It seems you come from some interesting stock that's supplied many great Heroes in the past. And they'd like to have you involved. They even managed to get some information on your security people and would like to see some of them recruited as well, but will leave that up to you to organise after you're set up." I think on all this for some time, then we get out and shower as the ladies are due back. We're back in the lounge room when they arrive home from their shopping trip, and Meredith is with them.
My ladies put their things away and come back into the main room. I turn to ask Lia about lunch, and she smiles as she points to the door. Almost as if by magic, which means someone gave her the sign it was time, the door opens and the hotel staff bring in trolleys of food. It takes just a few minutes for them to set up the round table and serve our lunch. There are times I feel over organised, but there are times like this when I appreciate all the work my girls put in to keep things going.
We all sit down to eat. Just after we start Sharon gives a brief on the new residence. Everything is ready and we'll be moving in next week. The main shift of gear will be while I'm at school on Monday. The hotel will be vacated by Wednesday, allowing her a couple of days to move everything and clean up. The people to install the heliport will start on Thursday, and expect to be finished in a fortnight. Which is good, as the bookings for the high security penthouse with its own heliport are high, despite the charges being four times what they were before. The first of the new tenants will be moving in two days after the heliport is set to be finished, so the work crews better be on schedule. Some work is still to be done inside the main residence, mainly because we haven't yet said what we want in those areas, and some of the outbuildings are still under construction. The other major buildings are done, as is the special garden. On that note: all my ladies were invited to be involved and are happy helping out in the creation of the huge domed garden.
I smile, because this period of my life is coming to a close, an unexpected and happy close.
Lia gets everyone's attention, and says, "I don't know the full details; Joe has a proposition for Al that'll require him to undertake some high risks, but will also allow him to help a great deal of people while he gets his adrenalin rushes catered to at the same time. He does run a real risk of dying, but won't be hurt otherwise. Al's skills with weapons and combat greatly improve his chances of survival. He'll also be saving the lives of many people while improving the living conditions of many others and doing away with bad people. Joe isn't allowed to say more to me, due to security concerns. Joe has been talking to Al about this today, and we now have to think about how we feel about Al taking the risks involved. I'd like to be able to give them both an answer today."
I now learn Joe is a lot smarter than I thought, because he'd spoken to Lia about this a couple of weeks back and she's been talking to the rest of my ladies about it. Lia hands out papers for people to vote and they all make a vote. I smile when the unanimous vote is for me to take on the work Joe is proposing. Lia counts the votes, and says, "Al, I don't see this work as being any less important or more dangerous than the stuff you do for John. So please do it for Joe." I see a frown cross Joe's face at the mention of my other dangerous work. He turns to me, and I give him a small smile and a little shake of the head.
Looking around the table at my group I smile and thank them for their vote of confidence in my ability to stay alive in bad circumstances. Taking a small plate of sliced fruit I go to my office and shut the door. I sit down and call John. While I do I wonder if he ever leaves the place because he's always there when I call.
He answers the phone, "Al, it's a good thing you called. What the hell are you getting involved in now? I've had a couple of dozen people asking about you, from both here and overseas. It's a very odd mix of people to be asking about anyone."
I smile because I now know what some of the checking up has been. "John, I've been asked to get involved in a special project. There are some high risks involved, but it'll help a lot of people and have great rewards. One aspects of it is there'll be times I'll be totally out of contact for about fifteen to twenty minutes at a time. High security meetings, you know what they're like. They should only be one every week or two, not sure of the frequency or how often, because they'll depend on other factors." I can hear him tapping his fingers on the table.
I almost die of shock when he says, "Hmm, well that shouldn't cause me any Chaos, but it's amazing where we end up on life's Crossroads, isn't it?" I can hear the capitals in his voice. "OK, I think that explains a few of the odd inquiries, but it makes some of the others even odder. A very interesting situation. Well, whatever you get involved in with this, make sure you examine and plan things before you act the Hero, OK! I need you as well, as do your ladies."
"Thanks, John. Your support for this is much appreciated." I hang up, and think hard while I sit there for a moment, before returning to the table, lunch, and my family.
When I sit down I look around at my people, and say, "John wishes me well in this endeavour, whatever it is, and supports it. I get a feeling he knows a lot more about this than I do. But his support speaks well of it." Joe is surprised at my comments, and my ladies smile.
Well, it's now official, I'm about to become a Hero.
After lunch I take Joe into my office and we talk about a few things. I make appointments to see him and to practice with the sort of swords they use on Chaos, and for him to brief me on what Chaos is like. He also gives me the details of the sort of clothes to wear, because I want to get my own made up to take with me. In three weeks' time I'll go with him on a trip as a companion. Soon after that he leaves to go home, taking Meredith and her shopping with him.
In the afternoon I ring the lady who made my formal Japanese clothes and ask her about people who can make certain types of clothes. She offers to bring them around to see me, and we agree on tomorrow in the afternoon. Next is to hit the Internet and the history books to study some things, and think. I resurface about dinner time, after sending out many emails asking about getting things made for me. I'm sure I've found ways to make things a lot safer for me to do this work.
The next three weeks pass with a lot of teaching by Joe, and a lot of learning and training by me. Also, the many items I want made for this trip are done in plenty of time, too. I've others that I knew would take longer, and they should be ready for my second or third trip.