The passengers in the back of the truck, along with the four marines of the escort, disembarked for what was expected to be another round of the toll game. Weis's warning was ignored.
"Who's turn is it?" Victor asked, helping Bodil down from the high bed of the truck.
Bodil let her hands linger on the bodyguard's shoulders for half a second longer than was necessary. She smiled up into Victor's eyes.
"Mine I think."
Amy and Cybil shared a look and hid their smirks.
Victor held out an arm in the direction of where the locals were hidden by the front of the truck
"Off you go then."
Bodil stepped forward but was stopped by an arm held out by Dr Awolowo.
"Wait, Professor; these are not Gu-Nar, or the Nor Folk."
Bodil pulled up short. She could see the group now. These weren't the normal grinning villagers they had become used to.
There were about six of them, hard to tell because all but four of the group were hiding in the roadside foliage.
More strangely, they were all children; the oldest being a boy who couldn't have been more than fourteen-years-old. One of the others behind him could only have been about ten.
And they were all heavily armed with pipe rifles.
From above Bodil, in her position in the turret on the truck's roof came the sounds of Ellie's voice accompanied by the cocking of the machine gun she controlled.
"Take it easy, Professor, these kids aren't looking for candy."
Behind her came the sounds of other weapons being cocked, by scientists and Rangers alike.
Bodil, not taking her eyes off the nervous looking gaggle of mainly boys, spoke to Dr Awolowo out of the side of her mouth.
"So, who are they?"
The anthropologist licked his lips.
Victor had quietly moved forward slowly, so as not to alarm the Bru-Mei kids, to join Bodil and the doctor.
"There's another one in the trees off to the left. This one's an adult though."
Dr Awolowo moved just his eyes, following the line of trees until he spotted the bru-Mei soldier. Then he understood. The kids in the road, the man in the trees watching.
A quick glance back at the nervous looking fourteen-year-old confirmed it. He and the soldier in the shadows both wore a necklace of feathers.
He reached out a hand to Victor, who was checking his weapon.
"I know what this is. This is a tribal manhood party. A rite of passage."
Victor cocked his weapon, the sound repeated behind them.
"I don't care what it is, we can take them out. Professor, you and the doctor get back behind the..." Which was as far as he got before Bodil tuned he ice-blue eyes on him.
"Take them out? These are children."
Bit Victor was already putting himself between the two scientists and the group of Bru-Mei in the road.
"Children with guns..."
Bodil spun him around to face her.
"But they are still just children!"
Awolowo separated the pair by putting his arms between them and gently pushing them apart. He turned to Victor.
"The boy on the road with the feather necklace is taking part in a ceremony, the other children are his friends who are here to support him."
Victor and Bodil were still locked eye to eye so the bodyguard didn't even glance at the anthropologist.
"And the guy in the trees?"
"He is the boy's father. He is there to watch how he leads the others. That's all." He turned to the group in the roadway. "Look at them.
They are scared, see how they look to the boy with the necklace. My guess is that they only expected to come across a civilian convoy. Hold them up, take a trophy and be on their way.
Instead, they got a heavily armed Ranger patrol."
Bodil joined in.
"They're terrified Victor, terrified children with guns... Don't turn this into a massacre."
Victor was watching the group, especially the boy with the feather necklace. What the doctor was saying started to make sense. He put himself in the place of the nervous teenager.
You are kid, trying to me a man. Your friends are watching you. Your father is watching you. You are out gunned, outnumbered and way outclassed. Victor could see it in the boy's face.
Every fibre of common sense is telling you to back down, but you can't. You can't because they would think you a coward, unworthy to be a man. The boy was in an impossible position.
Victor still staring at the boy held out a hand to Dr Awolowo.
"What do we do, Doc?"
The doctor stepped close, spoke into Victor's ear.
"Give him something, a trophy... something good enough so that he can retreat without losing face. A weapon maybe?"
"I will not give this boy, or any Bru-Mei one of our guns. Too big a chance of it being turned against us."
"Give him something... something that will boost his credibility in the tribe."
Victor slowly raised a hand to where Ellie was watching the scene over the sights of the machine gun.
"Miss Ellie? Hand me down a box of 9mm."
Ellie looked at him. She was about to ask if he was sure, but she had known Victor for over a century. He was going to be sure.
Ranger Weis sitting in the driver's seat, was ahead of her.
By the time Ellie had reached down a hand and snapped her fingers, Weis was already holding up a box of fifty 9mm pistol rounds, perfect for the pipe weapons the tribes used.
Ellie passed the box down to Victor.
Gesturing for everyone to remain where they were, Victor put down his rifle and walked slowly towards the group of kids.
He heard their weapons being cocked, but had expected that and didn't even pause.
Sure enough, Feather Boy had spotted the box of ammunition in the uniformed man's hand... and reached the right conclusion. He hissed and made an arm gesture.
The weapons his little group held were lowered and he stepped forward, placing himself at the head of the group and the closest to the Ranger.
Ellie glanced at the boy's father on the edge of the woods. Even from this distance, the relief on the Bru-Mei soldier's face was obvious.
Victor reached a point half way to the Bru-Mei, about ten feet in front of the boy. He squatted down and placed the box of bullets on the floor, then stood up and took a step backwards.
Which was then that he noticed the youngster's eyes flick down, not to the immensely valuable ammunition,
much more powerful than the black-powder bullets manufactured by the tribe but to the large combat knife Victor wore at his waist. The Ranger smiled to himself.
Sure, the bullets were more than sufficient to allow the boy to fall back with grace. But the bullets would not remain in his possession for long.
The boy wanted, needed something more personal, something he could show off with. Something he could crow about having taken it from an enemy.
Victor stopped and unbuckled the belt with, not only the big Bowie-knife, but a canteen and, in its own pouch, a handy-dandy multi-tool perfect for helping strip a weapon.
Victor dropped it to the ground and continued to step backwards until he reached the others.
The ensemble watched as the Bru-Mei boy walked up to the offering and stand up with the knife held high. He whooped loudly and then gestured again and the Bru-Mei children melted into the trees.
Victor paused and then turned to look for the adult Bru-Mei. The tribal soldier had not moved. The two men locked eyes. Then the Bru-Mei father nodded once and disappeared to join his son.
The journey rumbled on for several minutes while Dr Awolowo and Victor were congratulated for their handling of the potentially lethal situation. Bodil had her own thoughts.
The meeting with the Bru-Mei coming-of-age group, or whatever the hell it was,
was one of those moments in the archaeologist's experience that had put her in direct contact with the history she spent her life immersed in.
It was triggered by the sight of those half dozen children carrying guns. Carrying them comfortably, familiar with them like the infants of her own time would be familiar with their toys.
Yes, they had been scared. But being scared didn't deter them from preparing to fight. All it would have taken would have been a word from their leader.
Is this what the children were like seven hundred years ago? Bodil knew all too well that life back then had been brutal, too. More civilised, true.
But the people of Hope Springs and New Flagstaff were likely closer to the warring tribes of Grande Bretagne than they were to the people of Brasilia, or even Oz,
which most of her contemporaries thought were borderline savages anyway. She looked across the bouncing bed of the truck to where Victor part shouted, part mimed conversation with Gregor.
If, like the handsome Gallic bodyguard claimed, he and Gregor had been there at the time of the signing of the peace treaty at Los Alamos, they would be worth talking to about it.
Their experiences of those days might help those of the team who knew nothing but the safety-conscious world they had been lucky enough to be born into.