I got sick. Much else happened, of course, but I want to emphasize this. In a swamp populated by chameleonic apes, carnivorous fish, and, oh, yes, leviathans, I fell prey to the military’s most ubiquitous companion: the medical malady. That my illness turned out to be exotic does not detract from the historical lesson. I was a stranger on foreign soil. I was exhausted and malnourished and running on very sparse fumes. I took no precautions and knew nothing of the environment. So of course I got sick, and soon enough was little good to anyone. Thankfully, I had by that time accrued enough people predisposed to being good to me.
Including Nogilian, it would turn out. That was not his real name, of course. It was the name of the land to the south of here, a vast plain that fed, so far as I could recall, most all the population of this world. The Guardian of that land had been defeated there and retreated to refuge in these swamps. He’d fallen defending the floating cities, failing there as well. I understood. I respected his desire, and called him what he chose. I also thought wistfully about alternative names for myself.
Nogilian told me what to do. “Everyone,” he said, when he finally stood. “Find everyone like me. The swamps are strange. There are chemical vents that heat the water that make this steam. You’re standing over one. Others fallen around them may be preserved. You will find no shortage of those. And you’ll need everyone you can find.”
I allowed that I hadn’t told him exactly what I wanted to do just yet.
He looked at me as though I’d suggested the sun might cause daylight. “You’re no Auger. You wear no armor. But everyone looks to you to know what to do. But they lack your martial bearing. So you have your staff. Now you need your army.”
Practical man, that Nogilian. I had to tell him where I was from because he did not ask. He was not impressed.
“Earth came here,” he said. “They fought in the skies over these cities. They fought while we died defending this place. And then they fled, before the battle was over.”
Well, no getting out of that one. “I commanded that fleet,” I said. “My captain died just before we arrived. So I ordered the attack. And I certainly signaled the retreat.”
Nogilian regarded me again. Then he shrugged, too. “We walk the corridor between the walls of the future and the past. Do as I say, and you will find your army.”
He started to slog toward the others.
“I don’t have a ship,” I said, “this time. I took a one-way ticket. I’m here for the duration.” I didn’t tell him about the fleet, or about one hundred days. He did not seem a man prone to irrational exuberance.
He also did not seem to be saying anything else.
“We’ll get you a boat,” I said.
I turned and started giving orders. I had to cut through a certain amount of awe and admiration. They had not seen anyone revived before. But they could do whatever I could. So I repeated Nogilian’s instructions, including the addendum about the kiss. Everyone got moving. I had already had us searching the swamps by grids. There seemed no reason to discontinue.
We poled. It occurred to me that three million dead might not be exaggeration. We hit Profusionist metal everywhere we poked. Must have been a heck of a battle. Course, what does it take to bring down cities with sufficient energies to hold themselves aloft? Even on Earth we didn’t have those.