The door of the small craft closed with a hiss of pressurized gases, leaving Batresh standing on soft ground.
As her eyes adjusted, she saw white limestone rock and shards of glass scattered in front of her. It looked as if a blast had destroyed a great structure.
Four meters ahead, a bulb hung from an electrical cord attached to a pole, casting a yellow pool of light into the night. Winds buffeted the decaying structure arching above. Rusted connectors creaked and groaned against the January night.
The bulb, tossed by the wind, cast ghostly shadows.
Male voices laughed in the distance.
Wind howled around the structure. To her right, on twisted iron tracks, sat an engine, resting, like a beast from more prosperous times. Bleached by sunlight, unmovable, rusted onto metal rails, it cast a shadow northward.
Dried weeds blocked her way. To the left was another rail way, apparently still in use, free of brush, its shiny surface reflecting dim light.
A gust of wind struck her, pulling her coat open.
She looked towards the street in the distance. She’d been told a green station wagon would be waiting. But, there was no vehicle. She turned, pulling her coat closed, and walked towards the still functioning rail way.
Truck exhaust on Highway 40, a hundred meters away, fired like a weapon. Instinctively, she froze, her heart racing. She looked around her. It was not weapons fire.
Still, she stood motionless waiting for her heart to calm itself.
She looked back to check. Her vessel was safely hidden in twisted shadows, the collapsing roof of this ancient platform.
She moved through weeds, walking between warped metal rods, stepping carefully over gravel and decayed wooden slats. She reached a clearing. Looking ahead, she saw stone slabs, steps leading up to street level. She pushed a jewel on a wrist band. A light activated. Holding her wrist in front of her, shining light onto the ground, she stepped over an old tire and rusted rebar.
She reached the steps.
Ancient piping on the left seemed secure, so she grabbed hold of it to steady her ascent. She reached the top and stood on a side walk, looking down 18th Street -- still no station wagon. Turning, she walked towards Market Street, pulling her coat tightly closed. When she reached the corner, no longer protected by the building, the full force of winter wind hit her.
She had been warned but had never experienced cold like this. Thousands of sharp shards seemed to cut into her exposed skin. She looked across the street and saw statues, a man and a woman facing each other, the Meeting of the Waters, the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. The fountain was turned off for winter, a remnant of the faded glory of this abandoned station.
She heard the beep of a car horn and turned right. A dented, early 70’s station wagon pulled up.
She got into the warm car and looked at the driver. Sister Ahatu was elderly and thin. She wore a cotton shift and a plain, gray wool coat. On her short gray hair, was a modified veil, held in place by bobby pins. Her thin hands grabbed the steering wheel and turned sharply. “I’m breaking multiple traffic rules here,” she laughed as she made a U-turn, and headed west. “I don’t think you are dressed for St. Louis winter,” she added, reaching up to the dials on the dashboard, turning the heat up.
Batresh turned towards her. “I need a better coat.”
“Welcome to cold weather,” the sister responded, knowing Batresh had experienced only Upper Egyptian heat and one Mississippi summer.
Batresh admired the nun’s easy manner. She had been in the order for decades. She seemed completely human.
“Your audition is tomorrow afternoon at 4:00,” the nun nodded, smiling. The skin around her eyes was creased and wrinkled. Judging from the dark spots on her hands, she spent too much time in the sun. “Will you need to practice?”
Batresh shifted on the seat, sitting forward. “Not really, I’ll just warm up my voice before I go,” she responded. Looking to her right, she saw a four-story yellow building that could have been a factory or warehouse.
The sister turned onto the highway.
“I’ll drive you to Powell Hall tomorrow,” the sister added.
Batresh looked at her, “I am supposed to be Jewish.”
“Oh,” Sister Ahatu responded, realizing she would be recognized as a Catholic nun. “I’ll get one of the girls to drive you.” A park appeared on the right. Empty benches were fixed to the ground around a baseball diamond. To the left was an enormous parking lot, circling a structure with what appeared to be sawed off, shortened minarets at each of the front corners. On the front of the building were large letters that read, Checkerdome.
Ahatu turned on her signal light and exited the highway. “You can stay at the dorm tonight and get a room at the Chase tomorrow.” She looked over at Batresh and smiled, “It’s an honor to meet the Matriarch of the House of Uanna.” She continued looking, her eyes moving up and down Batresh’s body. “We have your clothes ready. I think we got the right size.” She stopped the car at a signal light.
To the right was a diner with floor-to-ceiling windows, brightly lit from the inside. “Of course, you can stay at the dorm the whole time, if you want.”
They turned to the right, onto Big Bend Boulevard.
After going a short distance, they turned again onto a small college campus, St. Hypatia College for Women.
Turning right into a U-shaped drive, Batresh saw three buildings, one on each side, English, Science, and Art, all, vine covered, rough-hewn, brown stone. Walkways between them were protected by green ceramic tile.
To her left was the library. Driving into the curve of the circle, Batresh saw a statue of a woman wearing ancient clothing, a long toga, and a drape covering her head falling onto her shoulders and down her back. Her palms faced upwards in traditional Tayamni greeting. A flood light, fixed to the ground in front of the statue, shown upwards onto an oval face.
There she stood, the Queen of Heaven, the Blessed Mother, the Matriarch of the First Ones, the Goddess Auset.
Namazu sat in the Captain’s chair on the Khufu, sipping tea. She brought the 18th century cup to her lips and closed her eyes, breathing aromas of cinnamon and ginger.
She’d been at the Transit, the Gateway to the Perseus Arm, since leaving Sol eight years ago.
Like all modern wars, she mostly waited for something to happen. Growing bored with the duties of a Commander, she had searched for the enemy herself, to provoke them.
She looked for Dusmanyu vessels behind every errant meteoroid. She’d even taken a shuttle through the vortex. Like ancient whirlpools, this peculiar gravitational feature of the Transit slung asteroids, comets, and even ships around like toys in a bathtub drain.
She ignored warning buoys and entered a vortex called Scylla and Charybdis after the ancient, six-headed sea monster thought to smash Greek ships.
Like a fluvial-bar where the mouth of an inland river meets the ocean, gravitational-vortices were unpredictable. Entering a vortex, a vessel could as easily be pulverized with boulders, as slung through the Transit in record time.
Her shuttle had been destroyed.
She barely had enough time to put on her helmet before an asteroid breached starboard-casings, blasting her into the whirling void. Gravitational forces flung her around like a rag doll. After 20 hours, she was thrown free and activated a homing beacon.
Afterwards, she chased the Dusmanyu, to the far side of the Transit. But, whether by accident or design, they eluded her.
She hadn’t seen Sagar in two years.
Now, in orbit at Kataru, she looked down and thought of her Primary. She imagined a tall, lanky blonde, sitting at the forte-piano, her hair tossed behind a shoulder as she played a Haydn sonata, the pale light of First Moon gently illuminating her face. She would be sleeping now, Namazu thought to herself, looking downwards almost as if she could see the city from this distance.
On the seemingly barren world below, planet wide deserts stretched across a sunlit hemisphere. Tidally locked, one side covered itself with shifting dunes, while the other smothered in thick glaciers.
Human fighters were to arrive in three months. Namazu arrived early, to greet the newest members of the Alliance.
As the ship descended, Namazu and her crew moved through a congested orbital-zone. They moved through what looked like a junkyard of damaged and abandoned vessels, space stations, and landing platforms. Every one of these structures was crowded with refugees, governments in exile, and diplomats seeking protection. The once pristine orbit of Kataru now teemed with cobbled-together ships, transport vessels, and refuse. There was barely enough room for the Khufu to squeeze through.
Lowering itself into the atmosphere, Namazu’s ship reached a dazzlingly clean layer, devoid of orbital junk. From this vantage, surface landforms and details came into view. Above it all was a tiny, sparkling diamond, shining in sunlight. The floating capital city of Sippar moved over Ankida.
The Twilight Zone, Ankida, was the only habitable land on the surface. It was a ring of lakes, rivers and forests, circling Kataru.
It was here, according to legend, where The Nine first arrived at Kaspum. This was the planet where Yasar, or Osiris, was murdered. It was here that Auset brought him back to life, and here where Seth, the God of Chaos murdered him a second time.
The location of the shrine and the holy river, Annil, into which Seth had thrown Yasar’s lifeless body, was lost, down there somewhere under thick glaciers.
In ancient times, the shrine was built to mark events central to the history of all Compatible Species.
From this position, Namazu could see dust storms on the sunlit side as they were pulled to the cooler dark side. Habitable stretches of land and water, between day and night, were populated by even more refugees fleeing the Dusmanyu war.
Namazu pressed a control, and a holo-matrix of blue light materialized above her arm rest, the Holo-Ghost, as she called it, sometimes intentionally mispronouncing the term as Holy-Ghost. It hovered, waiting for a command. “Dusmanyu status,” she whispered.
“No communications from Atmehytu,” a computer voice said, as a spherical map of Atmehytu systems materialized. Slowly, one by one, each of the eight planets was replaced by a red X on the holo-matrix. “Enemy communications increasing from Atmehytu systems.”
The capital planet, Atmehyt, no longer existed. Once, an ocean planet with a small continent at its equator, it was now a burned-out cinder. Like Clysma, the Tlaloc home world, Atmehyt was uninhabitable.
Namazu shook her head and sighed.
Atmehyt had been the last in the far-reaching Union of Atmehytu systems. Now that it had fallen, the Dusmanyu would focus on the next target, the Chava planet of Dilmun.
How long before they reach us? Namazu wondered.
The Sol System and Tayamni-Pa were also on the Dusmanyu menu.
As if answering her unspoken question, the map changed, showing a system of Chava planets. “Dilmun, presently under Dusmanyu occupation,” the computer voice continued.
Her Chava crew were, even now, making plans to leave the Khufu. They would go directly to Dilmun.
As Commander, Namazu’s role was limited. She would strategize, consume reports, approve deployments, oversee battle scenarios.
In berths behind her, she heard vocal sounds of a confrontation.
Her security officer stood quickly, turned and headed to the back of the bridge.
Too many, Namazu whispered inaudibly. Two hundred refugees, rescued from a convoy of Tlaloc transports, slept there in shifts. 200 were huddled in bunks intended for sixty. Upon landing at Sippar, they would join the ever-more crowded refugee Zone below.
Sagmir, serving with Namazu since the Tlaloc war, spotted the transports, camuflaged in an asteroid field. The leading vessel had only enough air for a month. All were dead in one ship, half dead in another. The transports contained several Tlaloc species, but no warriors. Their de facto leader was a Nonan, a species descended from snake-like creatures whose duties included caring for the young. Namazu was scheduled to meet with Nantli, the Nonan leader upon arrival at Sippar.
A blinking light appeared on the console.
“Namazu here,” she responded.
“Commander,” a voice began. “A message from the Tutmose.”
“Put it through,” she responded.
She looked ahead and saw through repaired windows, they were approaching the city.
“Admiral,” the voice began.
“Commander,” she corrected, shaking her head. “Commander,” she whispered again with sarcasm, knowing the message had been recorded weeks ago.
“Taharqo here,” the voice said.
She nodded as if he stood in front of her. She recognized the voice.
“Must be at least 80 Dusmanyu vessels orbiting Dilmun,” he paused, took a deep breath, and continued. “They modified the atmosphere…heighted levels of sulfur cloride. They have not reacted to us...we swiped a Chava vessel. Zimudar is Chava, so maybe they are reading her. Will report later.” The message ended.
Namazu shook her head. Taharqo and Zimudar were now in enemy territory. She sighed both with the fear of their being in danger, and with jealousy that she wasn’t there with them.
Sagmir and Amrita were the only two Atmehytu still with her. When the Dusmanyu attacked the AUS, the Atmehyt United Systems, most left the Supreme Command to join comrades in arms. The first refugee vessels from AUS were, even now, arriving at Kataru. Agu, the pretentious captain Namazu had dealings with during the Tlaloc war, had stayed at the home world and died along with other inhabitants in the capital.
Batresh sat in a folding chair. From the second row of risers, she looked down at an empty first row.
She was nervous.
She thought the insecurity could be from downloads. The memories were not her own. She recalled an older woman, a chain smoker, with a rough voice. These memories were from a singer in New York City. The drapes behind the woman, the voice teacher, Ruth, were opened. Batresh could see they were in a skyscraper.
The person from whom the memories were copied felt surprise that the teacher, having such a damaged speaking voice, knew so much about singing. Even with a vocal liability, the person in whom the memories originated believed Ruth was the best voice teacher she ever had.
Batresh was brought out of her reverie by a woman sitting down in front of her. The woman had short dark hair, wore a black polyester pant suit and no make-up. More people were arriving. To her left, tenors would be seated, and to her right, altos.
The chairs were placed on wooden rectangular boxes, risers made by stage-hands decades earlier, scratched and worn by repeated stacking.
She looked out into the auditorium of Powell Symphony Hall. Empty audience chairs were covered with red-velour. The carpet was crimson, the walls, cream colored with gold-leaf ornaments. She thought it looked like the inside of a wedding cake.
A thin, elegantly dressed man, prematurely gray, wearing a navy pea-coat, sat down next to her. …a tenor, she thought to herself.
The man looked around the stage. “Well, here we are, on the stage of Powell Hall,” he said to her.
She laughed softly and responded, “I feel famous!”
He laughed. “Are you an alto?” he asked.
“According to Mr. Beckham, I am a contralto,” she referred to the conductor. “I always thought I was a mezzo soprano,” she said, remembering a conversation from the downloads.
“Let’s see,” he said, gesturing to her face with his left hand, “From your speaking voice, I can tell you would make a great Carmen,” he joked.
A man sat down to his left, “Hi Bob,” he offered.
Batresh looked to her right as more singers walked to the stage. This is a big chorus, she thought to herself.
At the entrance, walking with three other women, was a young person of indeterminate gender. He or she, had a beautiful face, with long, brown hair, brushed back. There were no breasts.
It’s him, she thought.
He walked with feminine gracefulness. Wearing yellow-satin, flared trousers, a gold sequined belt, and a loose white shirt, he was stylish for January 1977. He carried a green wool coat in his arms, along with a black folder holding sheets of music.
She couldn’t take her eyes off him.
He looked at her but didn’t recognize her.
He had not seen her since he was five.
Only two weeks had passed for her, but 14 years for him.
She had not been ready for her first mission. But, she had been successful.
This was to be her second mission.
Along with cultural downloads, Batresh was genetically modified. Her hair was no longer blonde, but black and tightly curled. Her skin was darker. She seemed to be Mediterranean or Middle Eastern.
Looking to her left, she saw the man sitting next to her, Bob, was watching the beautiful, young man approach.
Denny took a chair in front of them.
Bob, sitting next to her, placed his right hand on the young man’s shoulder. “Are you a tenor?” Bob asked.
Denny responded, “Yes, I am.” He blushed at the older man’s attention.
He extended his right hand to Denny, “Bob Miller, looks like we’re going to be neighbors.”
Batresh noticed from the way Bob spoke to Denny, the way his eyes lingered on the young man’s skin that he was attracted to him.
Denny smiled and shook his hand. But then, he turned back around, looking at the heavy man who stepped onto a podium in front of them.
While she had been at Sekhem, Batresh received downloads consisting of a decade of voice lessons. She was now an accomplished choral singer. Although not a soloist, she could sing and read music. And, she disagreed with Mr. Beckham, the conductor who stood in front of them. She believed she was a mezzo.
Thomas Beckham had worked with some of the most famous choruses in the United States. He recently came from working with Robert Shaw. He was excited about this high-profile project. He was the first conductor of the St. Louis Symphony Chorus.
Tonight, was the first rehearsal.
He looked over the chorus with curiosity. He spoke softly.
Batresh could feel his spirit -- compassionate. …a good environment for Denny, she thought.
Mr. Beckham began, “Welcome to the first rehearsal of the St. Louis Symphony Chorus!”
The chorus applauded. There were cheers.
Batresh looked back at the singers. There was a mixture of ages and races.
“Let’s open the Prokofiev,” Mr. Beckham offered. “Page five, penultimate measure.” She looked down.
Denny was calmly going through music.
Jerry did a good job, she thought. Denny, even considering his difficult home life, had made it further than many would have predicted. He had grown beyond the culture he was born into. Nothing gave away his humble, Mississippi origins.
She looked to her left towards the men, the tenors and basses. She saw, at the edge of the men’s section, a tall man, thickly muscled, very handsome. She looked down at the floor to hide her shock. He was a Tlaloc hybrid, an Icnotl, an untouchable, modified to appear human.
Looking back, she saw he watched Denny from the corner of his eye.
Chords sounded from the long, black, concert grand. The conductor lifted a baton into the air. She opened her music.
Rain fell hard against slanted windows of the small freighter. Since the Dusmanyu climate change, it was always raining.
“I cannot do that,” Zimudar hissed, referring to her inability to send telepathic communications.
Too dangerous, Taharqo replied telepathically, meaning it was too dangerous to speak aloud. Dusmanyu troops swarmed the city. Look, he said telepathically again, pointing to the screen. The freighter, an unadorned, rough, tradesman’s tool, more a space faring tractor-trailer than space ship, was parked in an industrial area of Mari, a city covering the entire northern continent of Dilmun.
“DNA readers,” he said aloud. Two Dusmanyu with readers approached.
“I’m part Chava,” she whispered. “What will they do to us?”
“I’m not,” he responded, wondering how the Dusmanyu would respond to detecting Tayamni DNA. Don’t worry, he said telepathically. Be calm.
A female screamed.
Looking at the walkway, Zimudar’s eyes widened.
Two Dusmanyu shot a woman on the sidewalk and walked away, leaving her unconscious.
Zimudar looked at Taharqo with fear.
Stay calm, he ordered telepathically. We’ll figure it out. He fingered the weapons disk in his palm.
No sooner had he sent the message than two Dusmanyu appeared at the door. They were identical. Same mask, same clothing, same cybernetic enhancements. Only a mark near the right shoulder distinguished them, a kind of hieroglyphic sign.
“Get out, stand in front of the vehicle,” a mechanical sounding translator attached to the Dusmanyu on the left announced.
Lightening flashed in the north momentarily showing red, electrical implants, serving as eyes, behind her mask.
Taharqo opened the doors and stood out of the vehicle. “What happened?” he pointed to the dead female lying on the sidewalk.
“We do not clean the streets,” the other Dusmanyu said.
Tarharqo and Zimudar walked to the front of the freighter.
Both Dusmanyu appeared to be mammalian females. They had small breasts and wide hips.
“Hold out your palms,” one of them ordered.
Taharqo held out his empty, left palm.
Zimudar did the same.
The one on the right passed a device over Zimudar’s palm. “Chava,” she said. “From Ditallu,” she continued. “Mixed with three species, non-aquatic.”
Zimudar looked down at her feet, wondering what she meant by no aquatic. She was afraid to ask.
The one on the left passed her reader over Taharqo’s palm.
Taharqo looked at her with an expressionless face.
She looked at her Dusmanyu companion. “Strange,” she said and passed the reader over his palm again.
“You are Dusmanyu,” she said to him. “But, you are male?”
He drew his brows together in confusion.
“Why are you here?” she continued. “There are no Dusmanyu males.”
“I,” he said and paused, thinking quickly. “I am not Dusmanyu.”
She passed her reader over his palm again. “This must be reported. You are not cyborg. What is your designation?”
He looked at her with confusion.
“What is your name?” she asked again, clarifying.
“Taharqo,” he said.
“Your planet of birth?” she asked.
He didn’t want to suggest new targets, so he lied. “I am also from Ditallu.”
“You lie,” she said. “You have no chemicals from Ditallu. Where are you from?”
He paused looking aside at a Dusmanyu fighter lifting off the wet surface of a nearby landing pad. “I am from Ditallu,” he said again.
The Dusmanyu looked at each other. Their masks unreadable.
The one on the left pressed the device into his palm and injected a sensor. “You will not leave this planet until we determine your origin,” she said. “Attempt to leave, and you will be destroyed.”
“Why did you kill her?” he pointed to the woman lying on the walkway, in the rain.
“Aquatic,” she answered. “Aquatics must be removed.”
“Atmehytu?” Taharqo asked.
“Yes,” she responded. “You are Taharqo, of the Dusmanyu. We must know why you are here.”
He looked down at his feet.
“The Chava female is free to go,” the one on the left, the leader, ordered. “You must remain.”
They went over difficult passages in the Prokofiev, and then quickly through the Quattro Pezzi Sacri. The downloads she’d received helped Batresh appreciate the conductor’s knowledge. He coached the tenor section, helping them to relax their chins and neck muscles. He taught them to allow the stream of air to be established before engaging the vocal chords.
Within a short time, the soprano section was blending. Batresh began to understand why he wanted her to sit next to the tenors, her ability to sing low, blended with the first tenors. She noticed Bob began to bring more chest resonance to his high notes.
She felt almost as if she’d had a voice lesson.
The conductor understood the human voice.
After an hour, he announced the chorus would take a break. The singers rose from their chairs. She overheard conversations and realized some had been singing together for years. She saw the Tlaloc hybrid head towards a stairway that led down from the stage to the auditorium. Several men watched him. Men who were sexually attracted to other men were organizing politically and more openly expressed themselves.
She smiled, thinking of the Vizier at Sekhem.
She saw Denny’s eyes follow the handsome Tlaloc.
“Want to walk out to the lobby?” Bob asked the young man.
Denny smiled, “Thank you.”
Batresh saw Denny stand with the grace of her Matriarch. She realized movements, facial expressions and even vocal intonations, remained with her Matriarch’s Ka, expressing themselves now in the mannerisms of this young man.
Batresh noted, even though he had only left Mississippi a few months earlier, his accent was refined.
Bob walked towards Denny and touched his shoulder. “Let’s take this stairway,” he said, gesturing to the right, on the other side of the auditorium from the Tlaloc.
A voice to her left, caused people to look around. A young, freckled woman, wearing a T-shirt and jeans made a vulgar joke. Some people blushed and turned away, but a few, including Denny and Bob looked towards her smiling.
Someone touched Batresh’s arm. She turned and saw a man with curly, black hair. His black eyes shone behind round wire-rimmed glasses.
“I want to welcome you to St. Louis,” he offered, “I am Tom’s assistant.” His smile was genuine. She saw the pink skin of his bottom lip under a bushy mustache. He extended his right hand, “Seth Neuman.”
She took his hand and looked into his eyes. Her reaction to him was strong, she wondered, as she had with Jerry, whether feelings of attraction were the result of downloads.
“Of course, you know already, I’m Miriam Kaplan.” She laughed, blushing. She realized that she looked Mediterranean. The downloads had informed her of the large Jewish population at St. Louis, so she chose a Jewish name.
“Where are you from?” Seth detected her scent and moved closer.
She had not thought to create a history for the character she played here. “I have moved here from Mississippi,” she said, referring to the only modern place she had lived.
He was so close she could feel the heat from his body. He wore a black, silk shirt, the two top buttons of which were unbuttoned. His sparsely spaced chest hair looked as if it had been carefully arranged by human hands. His legs were thick, straining against tight, cream colored trousers. People in this time were more sexually open than in the early 1960s.
“Oh,” Seth looked a little confused. He had not detected a Southern accent. He looked at one of the chairs, then back into her face. “There is a young tenor who just moved here from Mississippi too.”
The conductor looked at the two of them, “Seth?” he called.
“Excuse me,” Seth looked at Batresh and nodded. He walked towards the conductor.
Batresh looked into the auditorium but did not see Denny and Bob. They must have gone to the lobby already. She turned and walked towards the stairway they had taken.
She made her way between chairs in the auditorium. When she reached the back, a man she saw earlier, a baritone, opened the door for her. She noted dimples as he smiled. “Thank you,” she offered. She stepped onto the white marble floor. Her heels clicked on the hard surface.
Denny and Bob stood at a curving stair that led to the mezzanine.
She walked towards them.
Bob was introducing Denny to his friends.
Batresh noticed the Tlaloc-hybrid stood at the unattended bar, talking with another man.
“Want to get something to eat after rehearsal?” Bob asked a woman pulling a mink around her shoulders.
She nodded, while tall, thin man next to him said, “That sounds like fun!”
Bob turned to Batresh, “Ah, here is our Carmen,” he smiled playfully. “I’m sorry, I didn’t ask your name.”
Batresh extended her hand, “Miriam Kaplan,” she responded.
“Are you from St. Louis?” Bob asked.
“I just moved here from Mississippi,” She looked into his hazel eyes. She felt he was kind.
A rotund woman opened the door from the auditorium and motioned for them to come back inside.
Bob touched Batresh’s arm, “Would you like to join us at Llewellyn’s after rehearsal?”
“I would love to, but you’ll have to tell me how to get there.”
“Why don’t I drive,” he responded. “You can come with us. I’ll bring you back to Powell Hall.”
“Perfect,” she responded.
They headed back to the stage. Bob was extroverted and knew many of the chorus members.
She walked up the steps to the stage and saw Seth.
He watched her as she stepped onto varnished planks.
The conductor looked over the sea singers, “We have a Russian coach with us tonight.”
There was an older, stooped man, wearing a Scandinavian sweater standing behind a music stand. He squinted at the sheets of music he held in his hands.
Looking at his face, she thought of her Matriarch’s sister, Lamma. She had been in the Soviet military in 1962. The last Batresh heard was the announcement at the Lunar base in 1962. Lamma had announced, in caverns below, that the Tlalocs were helping the Soviets develop an anti-matter weapon.
Why were Tlaloc-hybrids still here? The warrior caste had gone. Had the hybrids organized? Were they simply living out their lives as humans? She remembered the term, untouchable, Icnotl. The hybrids were outcasts.
In the war the Potacas had worked for the Tlalocs. Looking at the outcome, however, it seemed the Potacas had manipulated the Tlalocs for their own ends.
With the Tlalocs’ help, they had travelled through time. They acquired kurrunite technology. Potacas hybrids were now spread throughout human history. For the first time the Potacas had a leader, Ilyapa. She consolidated the far flung Potacas cells and devised a strategy. It was suspected she ruled the entire Potacas effort from a hide-a-way in the mid-1930s. Signs of her strategy reached back to ancient times and into the future.
Batresh had a realization and looked at the Tlaloc-hybrid sitting with the Baritones. Could he be working for Ilyapa now? What did they know about the future of Earth?
He looked back at her with suspicion, as if he wondered who she was, why she was here.
Batresh looked away quickly.
The Russian coach began, “Vstavaitia, ludi Ruskia…” reciting the libretto. He asked the chorus to repeat his words.
“Nya slavni boi, nya smertnyi boi…”
Batresh knew Tlalocs had been with the Soviet military. But, recently learned that the Black Sentry, the impenetrable technology orbiting Terra, had moved to a position over Kiev as the Soviet weapons developers moved closer to production.
“Vsta vaitya ludi volnya…”
The Tlalocs and Soviets worked together developing the weapon. As they readied themselves to begin testing, a beam emanated from the Black Sentry, striking the weapon and computers used to develop it, destroying not only the weapon, but all data.
“…za nashu ziem lu, chyess nu yu!”
Lamma had been accused and convicted of destroying the anti-matter weapon.
The Tlaloc-hybrids executed her with ceremony, before the leadership of the Soviet military. They intended to show Soviet leadership their resolve to destroy the United States and all who would work to preserve, what they considered to be, the arch-enemy. To execute her, they used the same weapon fired at Namazu. However, Lamma had no shields, no protection. She died on-impact, her nervous system, disintegrated.
When a Tayamni’s physical body dies, the Hathors are called to find the spirit, the core of the Tayamni identity, the Ka. But, now, years later, Lamma’s Ka could still not be found.
The Hathors employed the help the Sisters of Hypatia to find her.
Some believed the Tlaloc weapon had destroyed her Ka as well.
The chorus worked on pronunciation for the rest of the rehearsal.
At 8:45, Tom, the conductor, made another announcement. “Tonight, we have second treat,” he looked around the chorus, at their faces. “Claudine Carlson, our soloist, is here to sing what is, in my opinion, the most powerful solo of the piece.”
The pianist began a slow, mournful melody, as a tall woman, unnoticed earlier, slowly stood, as if rising from tortured pits under the Earth. She rose from a position behind the chorus; standing slowly, looking beyond the interior of Powell Hall, to a distant battle field.
Batresh felt the coldness of Russian winter. She saw wives, mothers, and sisters searching for loved ones in the snow, the bodies of a defeated Russian army.
Ms. Carlson began, low, sobbing, “Matnaya Russ…” Mother Russia…
Bob drove Batresh and Leslie, the freckled woman, to the Central West End in his old Peugeot. Denny followed in a car he had bought from his father. They parked in an alleyway behind buildings decorated with carved stone panels. Bob pointed out two gay bars within one block on Euclid Avenue. At one end was an art deco gay bar called Herbie’s. He pointed out that Herbie’s was one of only two gay bars in the U.S. with clear glass windows. The oppression of gay people in the U.S. had been so severe that most gay bar owners protected their patrons by either blacking out windows or choosing buildings with no windows at all. The windows at Herbie’s were large, clear sheets of glass.
Looking to the interior of the bar, Batresh could see Victorian era oil paintings on the wall. Potted palms dotted the floor of the restaurant. Shining, silver bordered table tops reminded her of images from the 1930s. Vines hung from horizontal planters placed high over windows.
Batresh saw a white and silver, stained glass window, suspended from chrome chains attached to the ceilings.
Bob told her it was an authentic stained-glass window from the Normandy.
Along a barrier separating two halves of the dining room, chromed, nude female figures held bowls from which flowering vines fell.
At the other end of the block, at Euclid and McPherson, was another bar, much older, with blacked out windows, shabby and ragged, The Potpourri. They walked east from Euclid towards a brightly painted red dragon on a sign hanging over the side walk, that read, Llewellyn’s.
Once inside the dark, crowded bar, they squeezed around a table set against the wall, Bob, Denny, the middle-aged woman wearing mink, Leslie, Seth, and three other women.
“Miriam is from Mississippi too,” Bob said to Denny.
Batresh could tell they were holding hands under the table.
Denny looked into Bob’s eyes as if he had found someone who would save him from his nightmares, reminders of an abusive father.
Bob looked into Denny’s eyes as if he would battle the devil himself to protect this young man.
Batresh realized Bob was falling in love.
Leslie could have been a stand-in for Barbra Streisand.
After the gap of not knowing who Elvis Presley was in her first mission, she was careful to make sure the downloads covered more details of popular culture.
Seth looked at Batresh with excitement. “Why are you in St. Louis?” he asked.
Batresh had to think quickly. “I’m at Washington University.”
“Really,” Seth responded. “Are you working on a PhD?” He saw that she was a bit too old to be a college student.
Batresh nodded her head affirmatively, “I am working on the early history of Egypt.” At least, she knew something about this subject.
Seth ordered a Guinness. “I’ll have a coke,” Batresh told the waitress.
Denny was explaining to Bob, “I came here with a woman, we were going to get married, but that didn’t work out.”
Bob couldn’t help but laugh. “Aren’t you a little young to be getting married?”
Leslie interjected, “Aren’t you a little gay to be getting married.” She laughed at her own joke.
Bob and Seth blushed.
Bob tried to stifle a laugh and looked down at the young hand he held in his own.
Denny looked at Leslie with a smile and responded, “Yeah, I guess so.”
“I know so,” Leslie told him. “When I saw you, I didn’t know if you were a man or a woman.” She leaned over to Denny and gave him a kiss square on the lips. “You are beautiful, ya know!” she continued.
Bob squeezed Denny’s hand.
Their drinks arrived. The bar was busy. Batresh wondered that a restaurant and bar would be so crowded on a Tuesday night.
Denny picked at a salad. Batresh could see that he was observing everything and everyone, taking in all the information he could, happy to be in a more sophisticated environment than Tupelo, Mississippi.
Several middle-aged men sat at the bar, watching sports on television. Every now and then, the men shouted, raising their arms in the air.
Seth moved closer to Batresh. Faintly, she could see genetic markers, signs in his face, showing that his distant ancestors were from her homeland at Kemet. In intervening centuries, his ancestors had lived in Northern Europe. His complexion was pale. He was educated in European art and history. Her recent downloads included information about the Jewish people, including information not widely accepted.
Two thousand years after she lived at Sekhem, a Kemetic leader, a Pharaoh, would attempt to wipe out the ancient religions her people practiced. She knew this Pharaoh would establish the worship of one God. She also knew that he would be poisoned, and that his first son would restore the reverence of ancient Gods and Goddesses. Another of that Pharaoh’s sons, the son of a wife of secondary importance, would be committed to the monotheism of his father. He would be ostracized and banished.
That Pharaoh’s son, a fierce leader of Egyptian armies, a ruthless military tactician, would take with him the fiercest soldiers his father had gathered round him. These fighters, drawn from adjoining regions, revered the murdered Pharaoh. They were brutal, efficient fighters. This son of Akhenaten would take the fighters to their homelands, where they would establish a new kingdom, and the religion of his father would evolve into what would later become Judaism.
She would not speak of this to her new friends.
Denny gasped, reaching his right hand forward, “I am so sorry.” He blushed with embarrassment and looked at the woman wearing the mink.
She was wiping something off the stole with a paper napkin. She looked angry.
“I apologize, he offered.” Apparently, Denny put a small tomato in his mouth, and bit down, causing the tomato to explode, shooting pulp and seeds onto the woman’s mink. She tried to wipe it off her treasured possession. She dipped a paper napkin into a glass of water and dabbed at the stain. She looked at Denny disapprovingly.
“I have to go home to get this off,” she stated. She stood, pulling the mink tightly around her shoulders, and walked to the aisle between the booths and the bar, quickly making her way out of the restaurant.
Watching her leave, Batresh noticed the Tlaloc from rehearsal sitting at a table near the front window. He was watching Denny.
Batresh wondered if he intended to harm Denny. Did they know her Matriarch would help humans evolve? Did they plan to kill Denny as they had killed Lamma?
Seth stood, to allow Bob and Denny out from behind the table. They were leaving.
Batresh took her handbag and stood as well. Seth took the opportunity to take Batresh’s hand in his, as he moved back into the aisle.
Bob and Denny turned and headed towards the front door of the bar.
Seth and Batresh followed. When they reached the sidewalk outside, the unseasonably warm winter night had cooled. “You don’t have a coat?” Seth asked.
“I didn’t think I would need one tonight,” Batresh tried to laugh.
Seth removed his leather jacket and placed it on Batresh’s shoulders. She smiled at him. “Thank you.”
The four of them walked to Euclid and turned left. “I don’t know much about Ancient Egypt,” Seth offered. Batresh thought was ironic for him to say such a thing, since clearly, his ancestors arose there.
“My concentration is in the Kemetic culture before the Pharaohs,” Batresh responded. She noticed that Seth looked confused. “Many scholars debate where knowledge of architecture, agriculture, and writing came from.” She looked into Seth’s face, and felt affection for him and his people. His dark eyes belied an innocence, an honesty she had found appealing in Jerry as well. “The culture appeared quickly, almost overnight. The ancients themselves believed their culture came directly from the Gods,” she looked at his face to judge his reaction. She continued her statement, “…before the first Pharaohs.”
Seth looked at her with renewed interest. He had not expected her to be beautiful and educated. He was thrilled by her meticulous pronunciation of words. They looked ahead of them towards Bob and Denny, who had turned right into the alley. They continued on towards them. “May I see you on the weekend?” Seth asked her.
“That would be nice,” she smiled. “I’ve only recently arrived. Right now, I am still with friends at Fontainebleau.”
Seth looked to the west, expecting to see the Chase Hotel, but his view was obscured by shorter buildings. “Fontainebleau is a Catholic girl’s college, right?” he asked.
Looking to her right, Batresh saw Bob and Denny kissing. “Yes,” she paused as they looked at the couple embracing. “But, they recently changed their policy. They allow boys too.”
Seth looked towards Bob and Denny and smiled. “I won’t take such liberties.” He squeezed her hand gently. “Yet,” he smiled. “May I drive you to the college?”
“Thank you,” Batresh offered. “But, Sister Ahatu will come to pick me up at the Chase.” They continued walking south on Euclid.
“That’s an unusual name,” Seth responded. “I don’t think I have heard of Sainte Ahatu.” Seth knew that Catholic religious took the names of saints.
“Neither have I,” Batresh chuckled.
“So, what do you know about ancient Egyptians?” Seth continued, as he slid his arm around her waist.
Batresh looked into his eyes, and thought to herself, I know you are a descendant of them. But, she did not say this, instead, she responded, “They came to the Great River from the Sahara and the eastern deserts as droughts became more continuous and severe.” Now, she could see to her right, the tall hotel against the night sky. “They were looking for food and water.” They turned towards the right. She looked into the sky and saw The Winter Hunting Scene constellation, and Orion’s belt, which she knew, humans originally saw as Osiris, or Yasar. His belt had originally been seen as his penis, the holy phallus with which the Holy Mother impregnated herself after Osiris’ dismemberment.
Batresh could see her breath now in the cool air. “There are petroglyphs in the Sahara depicting wild game, fish, and fruit trees.” They reached the hotel.
Seth looked at her.
She knew he wanted to kiss her. She stood on tip toes and kissed him quickly on the cheek. “You can find me at Fontainebleau’s dorms, until I find an apartment.”
Seth stepped back and nodded. She turned to go into the hotel.
Amun at Sinai
Amun remembered this cave. He’d been here before.
When he was here last, there had been a spring of fresh water in a lower compartment, even sign of human habitation, dust covered coals, the remains of a campfire. He walked further into darkness, allowing his eyes to adjust, dragging his hand along the rock wall.
As he walked further, he could hear the sound of running water.
As his eyes adjusted, he picked up speed. He knew they would follow him.
He double checked to make sure the weapons disk was adhered to his palm.
It was so much cooler in the cave than in the desert, he began to feel cold. He walked faster, wishing he were wearing an environmental suit. He clicked a raised disk on a wrist band activating a dim light that shone from his palm.
Ahead, he saw two boulders had fallen, narrowing the passageway and dumping gravel and sand on the floor.
He had to turn sideways to squeeze into the chamber.
He found himself in a sort of hallway with rock walls, ceiling, and a floor that was swept clear of sand. Someone had been here recently. Turning around, he pulled a cylinder from a compartment in this belt. Wedging the cylinder between two boulders, he stepped back.
There was a flash of light and a snapping sound. The boulder holding the passage open, fell. Three other boulders, now dislodged, fell into the passageway. Sand and small rock poured from the space where the boulder had been onto the floor of the space. He stepped back, clear of falling debris. Dust clouded his view.
That’ll slow ’em down, he thought to himself.
He stood still, listening, waiting for the sound of falling gravel to subside. He licked his lips. His throat was parched. He must find water.
Looking down, he saw a small footprint in dust, as if a child had been here. But, it wasn’t a child. It was a human-Potacas hybrid. There were no purely Potacas aliens at Earth anymore.
Then he knew it. This was the cavern he’d been looking for. He turned and found a set of stairs, leading downwards. The ceiling was low. He had to stoop to enter the curving stairway.
He wondered, Why here? Why did the Potacas leader choose this to be their center of operations? Perhaps because it was well hidden.
It was suspected they wanted to thwart the upcoming peace accord between Egypt and Israel. In 1979, Egypt would make a separate peace with Israel, diffusing a potentially apocalyptic war between the east and the west. Even now, there were obvious hybrids working around Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian president who would make the agreement with the nemesis of the Arab world, the fledgling state of Israel.
All was quiet. He heard nothing now except his own footsteps and the sound of flowing water growing closer.
Finally, he reached a large open, rounded space. Pale blue light lit the chamber from displays around the walls -- consoles and screens around the perimeter. No one was here. Looking towards the center, he gasped.
There was a temporal hoop. It looked to be functioning. At each side of it were rods of kurrunite, about 100 of them. Amun walked closer.
Under the rods were consoles and displays. Amun saw clear temporal settings. It looked as if someone had travelled to a time more than 30 years earlier. But how could the device operate without a strong gravitational source. The Earth’s gravity was too weak.
He wondered. The settings would have taken the time traveler to the late 1930s.
He heard noise from behind him. The rag-tag band of Palestinian fighters who had followed him, clearly led by Potacas-hybrids, had found his discarded ATV.
Amun was here to prevent the assassination of Anwar Sadat, who had been president of Egypt since 1970. The hybrids, able to pass messages through time, knew of the potential, future peace between Israel and Egypt. They wanted to prevent peace at all costs. They needed war to destabilize the region, and major governments of the planet. Amun knew their leader, Ilyapa, directed this effort. But, he did not know where she was, or which time period she directed hybrid efforts from.
He smelled burning, melting rock, and knew the hybrids were using lasers on the debris