Rogan was now lugging a massive backpack. The materials looked nothing like similar gear from Earth, but it was clearly a manufactured product, not homespun. Of course, Jack already knew that an unfamiliar and very non-primitive hand weapon swung from the man’s hip, and a military knife of modern manufacture resembling a ka-bar hung in a scabbard strapped to one thigh.
The backpack simply added one more weight to the scale, pushing him to wonder about the place from which these two people had come. Even in his trips overseas, he had shared a world and many of the same products in common with everyone around him. Not with these two. They connected to some other place entirely… not some theoretical ‘world of spooks’, but an actual alien world.
With that understanding, reality began to set in. He was the alien in this place. He had no connections here. He had no idea what sort of world he would see when daylight came or what help he could expect from these two or anyone else in this place getting him back home.
With nothing else to occupy his mind, still amped from the chase, Jack watched the big man cook them a simple meal of rehydrated stew spooned over hard crackers he called ‘biscuits’. He listened quietly as they ate and discussed various details of their case that meant nothing to him, peppered with comments about their quarry that hinted at far more frustration over his escape than their composed manner suggested.
They sat around the campfire afterward drinking odd-tasting tea. Except to say it was generally ‘night’, Jack wasn’t sure what time it might be in this world, but it appeared to him that the other two were now planning to sleep. Nam had already gathered the plates, cleaned them by some means Jack missed and slipped them back into the backpack.
He had known Rogan was considerably darker than the tanned Nam, but in the better light of the fire, his complexion proved far closer to African than Celtic, at utter odds with his Scottish accent. He and the woman both had pale eyes. In the firelight he couldn’t tell precisely what color. The woman looked a bit closer to Caucasian than the man, but both of them had features that reminded him more of the faces of South Asia, where he had spent much of his military career.
“So,” Jack ventured. “You’re from ‘Parha’.”
Rogan looked up from his tea. “Aye.”
“Which is a place somewhere on this world?”
Rogan grinned, perhaps a little sheepishly. “No. Sorry to confuse you. This world is Chald. Parha is on another world entirely, called Trin.”
Nam sat back down as Rogan leaned out to grab some more wood. She looked into the fire, reflecting for a few moments before explaining, “Rogan called Chald our home because we both were born here, a very long time ago. This is a deserted world now. Our people’s enemies destroyed all civilization here, seventy years ago.”
She looked over at Jack and gave a sad smile. “Rogan and I were not yet school-age at the time. Our people evacuated as many of their children and non-combatants as they could to the lands of our allies when the defenses began falling. Which is how we came to make Trin our home.”
Jack frowned. She looked and acted like a woman in her twenties, but she had just claimed to be his senior by well over two decades.
“No way,” he objected. He pointed at Rogan. “I could almost accept that he’s my age with a wild stretch of imagination, but there is no way you’re even close to being as old as me.”
She smiled back at him. A friendly smile, but with some amusement.
He insisted, “You’re closer to my daughter’s age.”
“Such a polite young man,” she observed sweetly “Rogan is only a year older than me. And I would guess that my older boy Hywel is about your age. His eldest child just turned twenty.”