He’d taken a photograph of his mother the day he left.
She wore orange stretch pants and a corded top. Plump and round, she leaned against the trunk of a 1973 Toyota.
Sending her first born off to get married, she had sighed with relief as he drove away. “At least,” she whispered to herself, “he won’t be one of them gay boys.”
The photograph, one that Denny would keep for the rest of his life, was taken on the day he drove away from Mississippi.
He’d found a way out of Tupelo, a way to escape his father, a way to leave. And why shouldn’t he?
His life had consisted of a series of survival strategies. He looked for triggers. The way he wore his hair, the way he moved his hands, the pitch of his voice.
Finding no realistic triggers, he found imaginary ones, the striped shirt he wore, the song on the radio, sunlight through the window.
He was vigilant.
His father had screamed Denny’s existence was an insult to him; his mere existence a blasphemy.
When Hurricane Camille hit, his father made him sit at the road naked.
When his mother bought bell-bottom pants, Denny was whipped with a water hose.
A curved scar on his right arm was from a tree branch. A jagged scar on his thigh was from being thrown onto masonry.
Denny was motivated to avoid him.
He had developed defenses, not aggression, not fighting back, but ways to protect. If he couldn’t protect his body, he would protect his spirit. He built a wall. The wall protected him and isolated him. Strong, thick, impenetrable to every outside force, the wall kept his father at a distance.
And like a stream of water can dissolve a mountain, there was but one force that could wear away the massive wall he’d built.
Bit by bit, like steadily flowing water, over years, this force would carve an opening. The trickle became a stream, the stream a river. The force found weak places in the wall, causing it to crumble. The force carved an opening, a gateway, a window through which Denny could see the other side, through which he could see himself.
The force was the strongest in the Universe.
It was the force of Love.
Denny lay in Bob’s arms wrapped in homemade quilts. Winter wind roared around the building. It was snowing.
“I ran away from home when I was 16.” Denny said. “My Daddy tried to make me read a book about gay men.” He was focused on the darkened light fixture on the ceiling.
“Did you read it?” Bob asked.
“No,” Denny whispered. “I thought he was trying to trick me.” He closed his eyes, remembering the cover of the cheap novel his father had thrust into his face. “I think he would have killed me if I read that book.
“He told me I was stuck up. He said I thought I was better than him.”
They were both silent. Then, Denny continued, “While I was eating supper, he hit me, and I fell on the floor.”
Bob kissed him again.
“He pulled me outside and threw me against the tree by the house.”
Bob caressed the young man’s arm.
“Then, he pulled me to the back yard and kicked me.”
“What did you do?” Bob asked.
“He told me it wasn’t my house anymore. He told me to leave. He didn’t want to see me any more.”
Bob reached around him with both arms, kissing his cheeks, his neck, and his eyelids. “Nobody will ever treat you like that again,” he whispered. “Nobody.” He continued, kissing him, whispering. “I won’t let them.”
That January night in Hazelwood, Missouri, just north of St. Louis, was Bob and Denny’s first date. Denny had arrived from the little apartment where he lived with Naomi. It was his first date with anyone.
When he arrived, Bob’s apartment was steamy from cooking. The door was unlocked. Bob shouted for him to come in. Denny was sitting at the dining room table when Bob walked out of the bedroom wearing a Brooks Brothers button-down-collar shirt.
Mozart played from the stereo.
Denny saw modern furniture, paintings, shelves of books. This was the world as it should be. He wanted to know about the real world. In movies he’d seen parents who loved their children. On TV he saw people being civil to each other. It was that world, mainstream culture, the world portrayed in movies and TV that he wanted to live in.
It was the world Bob inhabited.
He saw decorative tiles on the wall. On one tile, faithfully reproduced from the Raphael, St. George fought a dragon. Denny moved closer. Looking at the knight’s face, he saw Bob’s profile. Behind St. George, on her knees, prayed a beautiful young princess, a halo of light shining round her head.
“Where did you run away to?” Bob asked, pulling the covers over his shoulder.
Denny’s voice grew quiet. “It was nighttime, and I was scared he would come looking for me, so I went through the woods.”
“You ran through the woods at night?”
Denny nodded. “I could see the shapes of bushes, and trees. I fell a few times, but I ended up on another blacktop road.”
“What did you do?”
“I walked to Saltillo,” Denny responded.
“Was that a long walk?”
“I don’t know, a few hours,” Denny said.
“I walked to the back of a church in Saltillo, close to the woods. I slept there. I woke up with ants crawling all over me.”
“Where did you go then?” Bob asked, caressing Denny’s forehead.
“One of Daddy’s friends knew where I was.” Denny turned and looked into Bob’s face. “I don’t know how Jerry knew; he wouldn’t tell me. But he drove me to my Grandmother’s house, and she kept me.”
Earlier that night, after a dinner of coq au vin, an exotic dish for Denny, he and Bob cuddled listening to music.
Denny was full of questions.
Bob played a recording of HMS Pinafore, explaining the witticisms and the history of the time.
Denny absorbed the information hungrily.
They talked of Oscar Wilde, of Mozart’s symphonies, of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, all the while holding each other.
On the coffee table lay a glossy pamphlet with color photos. On front page, the title, St. Louis Art Museum, was emblazoned with gold letters. Bob picked it up. “Would you like to go with me? It’s coming up in a month or so.” He held it out to Denny.
Denny looked at the flyer with recognition, then looked up at Bob. He took the pamphlet hesitantly.
“They’re going to display artifacts from King Tut’s tomb.” Bob said. “Have you heard of King Tut?”
Denny was silent. He turned the pages reverently. After a moment, he looked up at Bob, his eyes wide. “I have dreams,” he whispered.
Bob moved closer. “I’m sorry, what did you say?”
His voice was unsteady. Denny whispered again, “I have dreams.”
Bob put his hand on Denny’s knee.
“Since I was little,” Denny said.
“What do you mean?” Bob asked.
Denny pointed to a photo, a drawing of a recreated ancient Egyptian scene. “I have dreams I am here,” Denny said.
Batresh slept at the dormitory.
To the east was a park with a golf course, an art museum, and a wooded area.
The pivotal event in St. Louis history, the 1904 World’s Fair, the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition, occurred at this very park. At that time, from the Art Museum high on a hill, one could observe the entire Exhibition grounds, the site for which was now converted to a golf course.
Celebrating the centennial anniversary of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, attendees of the 1904 event could experience working displays of every technological advance. The Palace of Electricity exhibited working dynamos, motors, X-ray machines, and the Finsen light used to cure Lupus. Contemporaneous accounts reported, “Nearly 120,000 electric lamps shed their rays at night…[making] the grounds of the Exposition as bright…as by day.”
Looking at St. Louis in 1977, one might ask why the GREAT herald of a boundless technological future, prosperous, and multi-cultural, occurred at St. Louis?
Batresh saw around her a city in profound decay, with crumbling structures, deeply segregated into black and white areas, inner-city neighborhoods crushed by benign-neglect while white suburbs glittered with extreme wealth.
At 1904, it was predicted that St. Louis, located at the intersection of America’s railroad network, would become the most populous, most prosperous city in the United States. Of course, turn-of-the-century futurists could not foresee the advent of flying machines.
Subliminally aware of events occurring more than 70 years ago, Batresh slept fitfully. Her mind swam with images from childhood. She dreamt of a Sekhem with paved streets, Beaux Arts buildings, electric lights, and canals. She walked down a sidewalk in this imagined city. Ahead of her, wearing a loin cloth, was her beloved Amun. He was walking away. She ran to catch up. But it was hard to run, as if she moved through molasses; she was barely able to move.
Now awake, she lay in bed as if paralyzed.
She heard a woman’s voice, a whisper. Opening her eyes, she saw a middle-aged woman with gray hair leaning over her. Like a projection, semitransparent. The woman looked at her with wonder, as if she didn’t know why she was here, or who Batresh was. As Batresh woke more fully, the woman dissolved.
She clicked on the lamp and looked around the room; orange, plastered walls, a large window, green linoleum. The woman was gone.
It was 4:00 AM. Batresh swung her legs out of bed and sat up.
She closed her eyes and prayed to Auset.
She looked out the window facing south. She remembered hearing people at rehearsal say they lived in South St. Louis. Someone mentioned there were apartments for rent.
It was snowing. The parking lot pavement was wet and shiny.
She walked to her suitcase, opened it, and slid back the panel. “Show me Denny.”
Immediately, a display resolved into an image of a double bed, in which a young woman and Denny slept. This must be Naomi, Batresh observed. Clothes were strewn on the floor. The streetlight, set close to the window, cast sterile slats of white through venetian blinds.
She terminated the display and went back to bed.
Falling asleep, she wondered how Tlalocs could function in winter.
The next morning, she went outside. It was warm. There was no trace of snow. Sister Ahatu, standing near the door, wore a thick winter coat.
“Miriam,” Sister Ahatu greeted her. “I would like you to meet Maude, she is studying theology with Dr. Duncan.”
Batresh nodded, “I am happy to meet you.” She turned to the old nun and asked, “Is there a car I can take?”
“I’m sure Maude wouldn’t mind driving you,” the Sister said, looking at the young woman.
“I would be happy to,” Maude said cheerfully.
“I need to find an apartment. It may take all day,” Batresh said.
“Why don’t you stay here with us?” Sister Ahatu repeated her invitation. Then, looking at the young woman, she continued, “Maude likes it here, don’t you sweetie?”
Maude looked up as if she were going to roll her eyes, but then stopped herself. “Not a lot of action around here,” she stated flatly.
“You are too young for action,” the Nun scolded.
Maude looked at Batresh with weariness and offered, “There’s a station wagon, if you want it.”
Batresh crinkled her forehead, trying to think of what a station wagon could be.
“…the car I picked you up in,” Sister Ahatu said.
Maude sighed and pointed to a large vehicle just a few meters from them. “Where are you from anyway?” she asked.
Batresh looked at Sister Ahatu before answering.
“Go get the keys for her,” Sister Ahatu ordered.
Batresh wore a brown leather jacket with a belt and decorative, slanted zippers. Her black boots reminded her of an environmental suit. She opened the door of the large, green station wagon and instantly observed differences. She was accustomed to driving large vehicles. For her, 1962 was only a few weeks ago. Sitting down, she placed her hands on the cold steering wheel and noted the padded dashboard.
She started the vehicle and pulled away. The car was easier to steer than the one she drove at 1962. She could turn the steering wheel with one finger. Applying the brakes also required less effort.
Turning onto Lindell Boulevard, she saw the park. On her left were Beaux Arts mansions, to her right, a golf course. Crossing over Kingshighway, she stopped at an intersection and noticed people walking on the sidewalks. There was activity on this street. She found a parking spot in a small lot.
Getting out of the car, she walked the short distance to Euclid Avenue. Looking left and right she saw signs of commercial businesses and more people than on other streets.
The sidewalk was uneven, damaged by thick roots. Century old trees pushed slabs of concrete upwards at sharp angles. There was an empty lot where she imagined a mansion once stood. She carefully made her way over uneven and crumbling rectangles of concrete. To her left was a large house, abandoned for decades.
She observed that most automobiles were smaller than in the 1960s. She walked southwards, past a hotel to her right, a dry cleaner, and a drug store. She saw a restaurant, with the words, The Majestic painted on the windows. The only women inside were waitresses. The restaurant was full of men.
She planned to have some breakfast. A tinkling bell sounded when she pushed the door open. She thought the men would turn to look at her, there being only two women in the restaurant. But they hardly noticed.
A short Greek waitress gestured to an empty booth.
The waitresses were busy, signaling their customers with gestures. The woman who invited her to sit pointed to a coffee pot she raised with her other hand. She looked at Batresh questioningly.
The waitress stopped to chat with a table of middle-aged men. They burst into laughter. She gave them a knowing look, a smile, and then rushed into the kitchen.
The other waitress sped around the dining room with a pot of coffee.
The first waitress appeared suddenly at Batresh’s table, with beads of perspiration above her lip. She had a pad and pen in hand, looking determined. But, Batresh had no menu. She quickly looked around and saw eggs and meat on white, scratched plates. “I’ll have that,” she said, pointing to the young man’s plate, sitting at the table next to her.
The waitress hurried to the kitchen.
“She’s a whirling dervish today,” the young man said. He was wearing a tight T-shirt and leather jacket. Batresh nodded. She couldn’t help but notice that the young man showed no signs of sexual attraction towards her. She was puzzled. In Tupelo, almost every man she met seemed to communicate sexual desire in some way. Perhaps it was the way she was dressed.
The waitress came by and quickly put down a cup of coffee, a metal container of milk, and a small glass of water. The coffee spilled a little puddle on the table.
The man who spoke to her laughed and offered a paper napkin. Batresh smiled back. Then, without asking or speaking, he simply took his coffee and breakfast plate, and moved over to her table, placing himself directly across from her. He looked into her face openly. “I haven’t seen you here before,” he stated.
Batresh shook her head. He was young, no more than 21. “I haven’t been here before,” she offered.
“What made you want to have breakfast with a bunch of Queens?” he asked, teasing.
She looked around the room. There were no Queens here, she thought to herself. Only men, and in a poor neighborhood. Why would a Queen come to this place? She looked back at the young man with confusion.
“You really are a newbie, aren’t you?”
She wondered whether American English had changed so much she no longer had facility in it. She looked at him with wonder.
The waitress came by and slung a plate of eggs and bacon onto the table in front of her.
“You have to look over her,” he said again. Then he shouted so that the waitress would hear him, “We only come here to be insulted!”
The waitress, already on the other side of the room, shouted back, “If you come to be insulted, then you come to dee right place.” She spoke with a Greek accent. This comment brought a burst of laughter from the men.
Batresh lifted her fork, but noticed the young man was not going to allow her to ignore him.
He wore a teasing smile.
She put her fork down, and responded, “Are you speaking English to me?” She returned his mischievous smile and took a sip of coffee.
“OK, OK,” he began, “I’ll be gentle with you.” He put his fork into his eggs and took a bite. “Where are you from anyway?” he looked to his right at some of the men laughing and talking. “…Ladue?”
She smiled mischievously and responded, “I am from a star system just a little more than 65 light years from here.”
“Ooooh, touché!” he responded, not knowing she was being truthful.
“You know,” she said, as she put a small forkful of eggs in her mouth. She chewed slowly. “I don’t normally tell a man I just met, where I am from.”
“Oh honey!” he exclaimed laughing. “I am just a small-town girl like you.”
Batresh must have looked confused, because he put his chin in his hands, batted his eyes mockingly, and moved closer to her, “So, you can tell me EVERYTHING.”
Batresh laughed openly.
“Actually, I AM new here,” she said, putting a piece of bacon in her mouth.
“Mmmm hmmm,” he continued.
“Perhaps you can help me,” she offered.
“It’ll cost ya,” he responded.
She looked back at him. “I am looking for an apartment.”
He put a piece of bacon in his mouth.
“I’m looking for something small and not too expensive,” she added.
“You are talking about an apartment, right?” he laughed. “Because I am both of those things.” he smiled then, “Why just last night…”
She interrupted him, “Do you have any ideas?”
“Well, yes,” he said. “But we are strangers. How do I know I can trust you?” He took a sip of his coffee.
“Miriam Kaplan,” she said, extending her hand to him.
“David Lumpkin,” he responded, taking her hand in his. “I don’t see a ring on that finger,” he continued.
Again, she was lost. She looked at him with curiosity.
“Don’t you want to know what I charge?” he asked.
She removed her hand from his and took another sip of coffee.
“If you don’t have at least a boyfriend, I’m afraid the deal’s off.” He asserted.
She looked at him while chewing a bit of buttered toast.
“You will have to tell me all the juicy details of your relationship, that is my payment” he looked at her slyly. “But you don’t have a man.”
“OK,” she offered, “I will sign a promissory note, and vow to give you details when I find a man.”
“Hmmmm,” he responded. “I’m taking a big risk.” He looked out the window to his right, then back into her face. “OK, deal.” He extended his hand to her. Not having performed this custom, she brought her hand up to his. He took her hand and shook it as if he were making her acquaintance.
“I don’t have a car yet.” She stated flatly, playing his game.
“Ooooh,” he groaned mockingly, beaming with happiness. “You mean I have to drive you around too?”
She smiled at him affectionately. “I am using a big, ugly station wagon. Maybe you can help me find a car and an apartment!”
He clapped his hands together, “Goodie, goodie.” He took a sip of his coffee, not removing his gaze from her, “When do we start?”
She had been instructed and had also realized she would always need help on her missions. She would need the help of a human.
David paid for breakfast, “I have to lavish you with gifts, so you let me decorate your apartment,” he teased her.
They found a newspaper at the restaurant and located three apartments. The one she liked was located in a neighborhood called, Lafayette Square. There were houses from the 19th century, some crumbling but some restored.
A group of century old houses with Mansard roofs, arched windows, and brightly painted exteriors looked promising. One of them had an entire upper floor for rent.
St. Louis was bigger than Tupelo and Sekhem.
After a short time, she gave up trying to remember the streets and highways they drove over. He pulled onto a wide highway. She wondered at the layout of streets. How would she ever remember how to get from one place to another? Thinking of driving on these multi-laned highways frightened her. They took an exit from the highway to Jefferson Avenue, turned right on Lafayette, then suddenly they were there.
Batresh was nervous. “Maybe we should have called first.” She stated.
“Naaaah, come’on, I’ll handle them.” She waited for him to come around and open the door for her, as Jerry had always done in Mississippi, but David simply began walking up the sidewalk to the house. She opened the car door herself and followed him. He had rung the bottom doorbell by the time she caught up with him. They stood there together. The house was painted bright blue.
David rang the doorbell again.
She looked around at the yard and saw evidence of flowers, now brown and dormant. She turned and looked behind her at the park. It was manicured, although she knew she could not see much in the winter. There were clumps of trees, and meandering sidewalks. The door opened.
There stood a short, elderly woman who spoke in an accent Batresh could not identify. “We have come to look at the apartment,” David told her.
The old woman looked down at the sidewalk, then at David. She ignored Batresh. “Are you married?” she asked.
David laughed, “No Ma’am,” he turned and looked at Batresh. “My friend Miriam here, is looking for an apartment. She is a student at Wash U.” He turned and looked at the woman again. “She just arrived from the hinterlands.”
The woman looked annoyed. “From where?” Then, she looked at Batresh. “Can she talk?” the old woman asked.
Batresh walked up to her and extended her hand. “I’m sorry,” she looked at David scoldingly. “I don’t quite know the streets and highways around here, and my friend is driving me around.” The old woman took Batresh’s hand. She continued, “I’m Miriam Kaplan.”
“Ah,” the old woman said, looking into Batresh’s face, “…a Jew!”
Batresh looked concerned, “Is that a problem?”
“Oh no,” the woman began to turn to the stairway leading upstairs, “At least you can pay the rent.”
Batresh looked back at David.
“Come on upstairs,” the woman said. She made her way to the second floor.
Batresh and David followed her.
Once reaching the landing, the woman felt in her apron pocket for keys. She was grunting and breathing heavily. “Ah,” she groaned, and brought a key to the lock under the doorknob. She opened the door into a freshly painted room with shiny, varnished wood floors. “It’s the whole floor,” she pointed down a hallway, “…two bedrooms, a living room, and a kitchen.”
David walked in, examining details. “I like this color,” he turned to Batresh, “What is it? Sage?”
“Green,” the old woman corrected.
David pouted and turned.
Batresh followed behind him. The bedrooms were clean and freshly painted. One was small and the other much larger. “I can use the small bedroom as an office,” Batresh said.
“Smart girl!” David responded.
David went into the bathroom and gasped. Batresh hurried in, afraid he had hurt himself. “Real, 1950s, pink and green tiles!” He sounded as if he were going to weep with excitement.
“I’ll take it!” Batresh told him.
“What?” he responded. “Oh no you won’t… not yet! We have more apartments to look at.”
“But I like this one,” Batresh looked at him.
“You’ll take what I tell you to take!” He ordered, mockingly.
She had a moment of recognition, as if she remembered him from somewhere. He was a bit too familiar. His attitude bordered on insolence, but was combined with trust, a deep level of trust.
She felt affection for him, like the affection for an old, dear friend.
The old woman was making her way back to the entrance to the apartment.
“She will call you tomorrow,” David said to the woman.
“It may be gone,” she responded.
Batresh looked at David with irritation, then turned back to the woman. “I will call you this afternoon,” Batresh corrected.
They walked out of the apartment and descended the stairway. “You have got this dominatrix thing down,” he said laughing. “On to Arsenal...” he commanded, referring to Arsenal Street.
They got in his car, “Remember,” Batresh said, “I have to buy a car too.”
David sighed and looked at her, “You are SOOOOOOOO demanding!” he laughed.
A short time later, they were pulling up across the street from a row of houses that faced Tower Grove Park. “Isn’t the park divine?” David asserted.
Batresh was beginning to grow weary of his constant desire to entertain.
They took a look at the bottom floor apartment of a two-story house.
The hardwood floors were scuffed, the wallpaper old and stained. The only redeeming quality was the park across the street.
Disappointed, they thanked the aproned woman who showed them the apartment and walked onto the porch.
Batresh saw someone jogging down a pathway in the park.
“I just love those gazebos,” David said, looking towards a curving copper roofed structure in the near distance. “You know, they used to hold band concerts there.” Red painted columns supported a weathered roof.
“Now, to Soulard,” he stated. Batresh sighed and looked at him as he drove. He continued ahead as if he knew exactly where to go.
“Are you from St. Louis?” Batresh asked him.
He nodded but kept his eyes on the street ahead of them. “I grew up in the County.” He looked at her and could tell she didn’t understand. “That means the suburbs,” he laughed, looking back at the road. “But I just finished a master’s program in Chicago.”
Batresh looked ahead of her, wishing she had insisted on taking the first apartment. “What did you study?” she asked.
“Piano,” he responded.
She knew the instrument. In memories implanted by downloads she recalled voice lessons with coaches in different cities. The instructors all played the piano during vocal exercises.
“Will you play for me, sometimes?”
“It’ll cost ya!” He responded, then looked at her guiltily. “Sorry, I know, I should get off the stage.” He continued driving to an area where the streets were paved with brick cobblestones. He parked and they walked up to the house. There was no doorbell, so he knocked. Batresh could see her breath now. It was getting cooler. They stood there for a minute or two, and he knocked again. “You know, there is an open-air market near here.”
The door opened, and an older man with no shirt stood there. David began, “We are here to see the apartment.” Batresh and David detected the odor of unwashed humans and urine.
The old man turned around and yelled into the house, “Dorthee?” He turned away from them, facing a stairway that led upstairs. “Dorthee?” he yelled again.
David looked at Batresh, feigning fear. Apparently, Dorthee appeared at the top of the stairs. The old, shirtless man continued, “These two kids wanna see the apartment.”
They didn’t hear her say anything, but the man turned back to them, sighed, licked the lips surrounding his toothless mouth, and stated, “Come on in.”
David hesitated, but, Batresh walked on.
“Ya’ll married?” he asked.
Batresh answered, “No.”
David shook his head negatively.
“Well, we are Christians here,” he looked at them disapprovingly. Batresh saw a cross wrapped in cobwebs above the open door. “We don’t allow no shackin’ up!” He continued.
We are just friends, “Batresh continued, as she began to walk up the stairs. There was another unpleasant odor she couldn’t quite place. She wanted to turn and leave the house. But she thought mischievously, she would make David walk through this unpleasant house as punishment for not allowing her to take the first apartment. She ascended the stairs, feeling the soles of her shoes stick to the linoleum. She hesitated to put her hands on the railing. Glancing back, she saw he held his hand over his face.
“Come on in,” they heard a woman at the top of the stairs tell them. Batresh reached the top and turned to the right. A middle-aged woman wearing a bright yellow tank top and jeans stood in a small living room. Afternoon sunlight streamed through dusty windows.
The woman wore foundation a few shades darker than her skin, blue eyeshadow, orange rouge, and red lipstick. Batresh could smell vinegar. The woman had been wiping the surfaces in this room with it. She swiped in the air at house flies.
David came into the room behind Batresh.
The woman continued, “They’s one bedroom, and a bathroom. The kitchen ain’t ready yet.”
Batresh nodded her head.
David interjected, “Thank you so much. I think we have seen enough.” He took Batresh’s hand. “We will call you later when we’ve made a decision.”
Batresh smiled, happy to have annoyed him.
David brought his hand back over his face and led her to the stairway. Once there, he moved his face close to hers and whispered, “I’m going to throw up.”
Batresh laughed, as they descended.
After they left the house, David looked at Batresh squarely in the face, “I need a drink. And, I think you do too.”
Batresh was silent, she was growing tired and annoyed. It was late afternoon and she didn’t feel like looking for a car.
“Let’s go to Herbie’s.” He backed out of the parking space and turned the car. “How will I ever get that stench out of my nostrils?”
Batresh was not looking at him or speaking. He turned on the radio. A man with a low voice was talking with a saxophone playing in the background, saying “Let’s just kiss and say goodbye.”
“I love this song,” David said, growing tired of being the entertainment all day. “I’m sorry,” he looked at Batresh.
She looked back at him with a weary smile.
“I have this effect on people,” he said.
Batresh smiled and looked out the window. It was rush hour; traffic was increasing.
“I’ll be good, I promise,” he whispered. Changing the subject, he added, “I’ll bet you like classical music, don’t you?”
Batresh didn’t really know what he meant.
He switched the radio station where an orchestral piece was playing. “I bet you like this.”
Batresh noted mathematical rhythms and intervals, convoluted patterns, repeated, turned upside down, rearranged.
She drifted off to sleep and only awoke when David switched off the car.
He leaned over to her, very close and whispered, “Let’s have one little drinkiepoo then I will take you back to the Chase. That is where you are staying, right?”
The sky was beginning to cloud over. It was even colder now. They walked across the street saying nothing.
Batresh pulled her jacket tightly over her chest. She noticed a wig shop across the street. Chipped-plaster heads wearing blonde and brunette wigs were attached to unrealistically long necks.
David opened a shiny, gray door. Inside was a small vestibule. A blonde woman wearing a tailored suit greeted them. Beside her sat another woman, wearing a tight leather jacket and skirt. She sat, cross legged in an art-deco, fan-backed chair. The seated woman stood, “Welcome back, David.” She kissed him on each cheek in the European manner.
“This is my new friend, Miriam,” David said.
The blonde woman shook her hand gracefully, “I’m Adelaide, welcome to Herbie’s.”
They walked inside. Across from them was a gray, curved bar, dimly lit from above, Patrons nurtured drinks resting on a glass surface lit from below. Five men and one woman sat at the bar, smoking cigarettes in a manner Batresh remembered from downloads. She saw memories of movies, Bette Davis holding a cigarette in a gloved hand.
David pulled her to the bar. He leaned his left arm on the glass surface and looked into her face. “Will you ever forgive me for that last apartment?”
Batresh looked to the right, then back at David, “I will try,” she smiled.
The bartender, a handsome man with a blonde, closely trimmed beard approached them. “What can I do for you?” he asked.
“You know what you can do for me,” David smiled and blushed. “But, in the meantime, we will have a bottle of champagne, the good stuff.”
“Shall I bring it to your table?” the bartender asked, smiling at David’s flirtatious manner.
Batresh looked around. At the front of the club, facing Maryland Avenue, was a bank of seats covered with gray velour. Small, round, chrome tables were placed in front of the bank of seats. On the other side of the tables, were green rattan chairs. Male couples sat at tables, drinking and smoking. A marble stairway led upstairs to a dance floor. On the outer side of the stair was a chrome railing with geometric patterns.
David took her hand and led her back to the restaurant portion of the club.
They walked up two steps to a carpeted area.
She remembered seeing lighted, 19th century paintings of men, when driving by with Bob.
David sat down on a benched seat.
She sat across from him.
“We might as well have an early dinner. How does that sound?”
David stretched out his hands on the table in front of him. “So, what brings you to St. Louis, from such a distant star system?” he joked.
She reached her hands out towards him, placing them on top of his. “I’ll tell you,” she replied with a knowing smile. She sent him an image of Denny from the rehearsal the night before.
David quickly withdrew his hands. He moved away, against the back of the bench seat. “What,” he tried to speak. “What was that?” He seemed to know that the image came from her.
Batresh drew in a breath and looked through large, plate glass windows to her right. “The young man I am here to protect.”
David placed his hands on the seat, as if he was going to get up. He prepared to stand, turn, and leave.
“You asked,” Batresh offered.
“How did you…” he began, confusedly. He looked at the table surface in deep concentration. The images she’d sent him formed a short film clip of a young man, sitting on, “…the stage of Powell Hall?” he asked incredulously.
“You know that building?” she asked, looking into his face. Now, she sent him a few words, telling him, “I can send words and images to you, but you can’t send them back to me.”
He looked into her clear eyes, seeming to ask whether this was really happening. He was holding his breath.
Batresh leaned forward, reaching her fingers towards him. She sent another message, “Don’t be afraid.” She said, trying to be comforting. “Take my hand,” she told him.
Hesitantly, he reached his hand forward.
She took his hand gently in her own. Now, she spoke aloud. “You have told me a lot about yourself,” she began. “I trust you; I know you,” she continued.
Tears rose to David’s eyes. He looked to see if anyone else was watching. What was happening?
Batresh held onto his hand, gently. “Don’t worry,” she whispered. “Don’t worry.” She stroked his hand with her own. “Everything is OK.”
A waitress walked up to their table, holding a silver bucket of ice. In her other hand, she held a bottle of champagne. She brought the bottle of champagne to David, so he could approve. As he looked up at her, a tear spilled from his left eye.
“Is everything OK?” the waitress asked.
“Everything is fine,” Batresh said softly; comfortingly. “Everything is fine.”
The waitress, young, athletic, with black hair tied behind her head, placed a white cloth napkin over the top of the bottle of champagne, and began to twist the cork. They heard a “pouf” and she withdrew the napkin, pouring a small portion of the clear, bubbling liquid into the glass in front of David.
“Sir?” the young woman asked.
David looked up.
“Sir?” the woman asked again.
Finally, he realized she was waiting for him. He whispered, “Just pour.”
She placed the bottle in the bucket, turned and walked away.
David reached over and took the bottle of champagne, filling his glass completely. He drank it in one gulp.
Batresh began to laugh. “I’ll explain things to you,” she paused, then added, “slowly.” She smiled at him. “You need time to adjust.” She took the glass of champagne in front of her and clinked it against his. “Cheers!” she offered. Then, she took her handbag, and prepared to stand, “I am going to call the landlord at the first apartment we saw today.”
“There’s a pay phone at the top of the stairs,” he whispered.
Batresh stood, wondering whether she’d done the right thing. She felt she could trust him. She would need a human from this time period, from this city, to help her. She wondered whether the Hathors had arranged this meeting in some way. It would be like them to do something like this.
She stepped down onto the main level of the club and looked towards the stairway. She could see through the windows at the front of the club that the sun was lower in the sky. The day was fading. More people were here, having drinks, waiting for dinner companions. She reached the stairway and looked up.
There, descending the stairway was a tall, thin, young man who could have easily stood in for Joan Crawford. He held a pink cigarette in a long, vintage cigarette holder. He wore flared tan trousers and a beige shirt with a large collar, but he could as well have been wearing a satin gown from the 1930s.
He saw her and looked away, regarding the other customers at the bar as if they were his audience.
She stopped at the bottom of the stairs and turned, allowing him to glide past her. I must know him, she thought to herself. She turned and ascended the stairway, making her way to the pay-telephone.
When she returned to the table, she saw David ordering another bottle of champagne from the waitress. “I think I just saw a film star from the 30s,” she offered.
David looked at her and pressed his lips together, “Oh, you saw Victor,” he responded.
She turned to see if she could still see him. “I called the landlord; the apartment has been taken.”
“Who are you, anyway?” he managed to blurt out.
“You’ll see,” she responded, “Who is Victor?”
“Oh,” David answered, still shaken from Batresh’s telepathic message. “She’s a mess!”
There was a history between David and Victor. She looked up as the waitress brought dinner menus.
“Our special tonight is boeuf tournedos,” the waitress began, “served with a red wine and mustard sauce.”
Batresh looked into David’s eyes as the waitress continued describing the evening’s specials.
He was afraid.
Amun stepped into a darkened room.
Through the hoop, light had been distorted, sharpened, intensified. Before stepping through, he could make out not only walls, but blue handprints near the floor. Standing in the room now, he could hardly see at all. The room was windowless.
He turned to look back, but there was no hoop.
He heard scampering, running feet, like the sound of mice or small animals on the floor above. He shook his head and sighed with frustration. He detected the odor of unwashed bodies, cheap perfume, excrement, urine.
He walked to the wall and traced his hand along cracked plaster, feeling for a frame or molding, anything that might show him an exit. He walked around the perimeter of the room like a blind man, each step causing the floor to creak and groan. The dried wood floor sounded as if it would give way.
Dragging his hand along the wall, he observed the room was rectangular, five by seven meters in size. There was no door.
His eyes began to adjust.
He saw a dark rectangle on the floor. It was a stairway leading down.
He heard the muffled sound of children laughing. His first step on the stairway produced a loud thwack as if the whole structure would collapse. He took another step on worm eaten boards. He was able to descend slowly, pushing his hand against the wall to steady himself, carefully testing each step.
He heard a male voice. The words were slurred. Was it Greek?
There was a platform below, better lit than the stair. Reaching it, he looked to the right. A lit oil lamp stood on the floor near a torn chaise lounge. Feather stuffing pushed through ripped seams. The man wore underwear, shorts but no shirt, and seemed to be on the verge of sleep. His vacant face turned towards the ceiling; an extinguished cigarette hung between the two fingers of his left hand. A child, wrapped in sheets, slept on the floor.
Amun took the hallway to his left and walked four meters to another short stair, leading up. He saw a door, dim light seeping underneath. He pushed gently and the door swung open.
In front of him materialize a deserted street. Morning rain had left puddles in mud. Burned heaps of trash and ash littered the passageway. The scent of sesame, cigarette smoke, and perfume filled the air.
Amun leaned against the door frame, and saw the sky begin to lighten.
In the distance, a gentle, barely audible baritone sounded. In the morning air, he heard song, a chant, a prayer he’d not heard in decades, “I praise the perfection of God.” Amun closed his eyes as if to drink it in, the melody, the solitude. He smelled the scent of the ocean, saltwater in air. The voice arched and fell, importuning the faithful, “…The perfection of God, the Desired, the Existing, the Single, the Supreme: the perfection of God, the One, the Sole...” Amun smiled and moved his lips to the Arabic, “…guide us on the path of the blessed.”
Hearing the motor of a large vehicle approaching, he glanced to the right. Twelve meters to his right, a silver, gleaming, a 1938 Rolls nosed its way into the morning.
He knew where he was.
The waitress took their dinner order and went back to the kitchen.
David sat against the back of the bench seat, trying to push himself away from Batresh. “Do you mind if I smoke?” he asked nervously.
Batresh noticed someone standing next to them. It was the apparition of the film star, Victor.
“Gimme a cigarette doll,” David whispered.
“I didn’t know you smoked,” Victor said in a nasal contralto. He reached into the handbag at his shoulder and withdrew a flat, chromed box. It opened with a soft click. He withdrew a cigarette with a shiny foil-filter.
“I don’t,” David responded, as he took the cigarette.
Victor leaned over the table and flicked a chromed lighter.
“Did you meet Miriam?” David asked as he inhaled smoke.
“Why no,” Victor responded. He bowed at the waist and took Batresh’s hand in his, bringing it to his face. He brought her hand to within an inch of his mouth and made a kissing sound. “Enchanted,” he added.
Suddenly, Batresh looked at David and sent a harsh telepathic command.
Unplanned, unconscious, telepathically blurted out, it was simple, just three words, “Don’t tell him!”
But there was another layer, something unintended, something she didn’t know she was doing. Tayamni elders had this ability.
As with a primeval instinct she sent not only a message but a kind of firmware update. She unconsciously reprogrammed the decision-making center of David’s brain, his control panel.
His eyes widened and glazed over. He sat back.
“Are you having dinner?” Victor asked.
Batresh looked up at Victor and saw foundation on the inside of his collar. “Yes, we are, she responded,” trying to calm herself.
David remained focused on her, frozen in mid-gesture.
“Would you like to join us?” Batresh asked.
Victor looked at the bracelet on his wrist and responded, “My last bus leaves in a few minutes, I had better go, or one of you will have to drive me home.”
Batresh looked at David, who seemed unable to move.
Victor sighed, “I see Prince Charming is not listening.” Victor smiled, turned and began to walk away, but shouted, “I turn into a pumpkin in exactly ten minutes.”
David was shaken. She sent another message, telling him not to be afraid. She reached her hand over his gently. “I will not hurt you,” she whispered.
Slowly, he moved his gaze to the table’s surface. He focused on the texture of the black painted metal for a full minute. Then, with a darting movement, he reached over to the champagne bottle. Lifting if out of the ice bucket, he filled his champagne glass and downed it in one movement.
“You are going to get drunk if you keep that up,” she told him.
“That’s the point!” he responded.
She remembered those same gestures, and the same look of surprise in the eyes of her Vizier at Sekhem.
The waitress brought over a dish of bread and softened butter.
“Could you help me choose a car tomorrow?”
“What about the apartment?” he asked.
“The apartment that you lost for me?” she teased, looking into his face, attempting to comfort him. She continued, “I might stay at the dorm.”
“At Wash U?” he asked.
“I’m staying at Fontainebleau,” she responded.
He sat up and leaned in, “How boring!” he said, recovering his previous manner. “Isn’t that a girls’ school?”
“Back to purchasing a car,” she stated. “Will you help me find one tomorrow?”
David looked at her, regaining control, “Is that an order?” he asked.
“Yes, your majesty,” David said. He reached over and tore off a piece of warm bread. Examining its texture.
He took a butter knife from beside his plate and spread butter on the bread. He looked at her, and stated, “You already know that I will, don’t you?”
Batresh couldn’t help herself, she threw back her head and laughed, assuming he was joking. Then, looked into his eyes, “Of course I do,” she responded.
Neither of them knew what had just happened between them.
David put a piece of bread in his mouth. “Oh, do you expect me to spread butter on the bread for you too?”
She took a piece of bread herself, “We wouldn’t want people to believe that you were beholden to me, now would we?”
David looked at her with fear again. He chewed another piece of bread.
“Let’s eat,” Batresh commanded. She smiled at him confidently.
David narrowed his eyes, “Why do I feel like a mouse swatted by very large claws.”
He pushed his fork into a thin slice of beef and looked up at her. “You didn’t tell me who you are,” he said.
She sighed heavily.
He placed his fork down on the plate, as if he were waiting for a fatal blow.
“David,” she began. “I have not known you for 24 hours. But I feel there is a bond between us.”
He looked down at the beef on his plate. “A bond?” he said. “Is that what you call it?” He was sarcastic.
“I don’t want to make the same mistakes I made the last time I told someone,” she said, looking to see if anyone was nearby. Remember when I told you I was from a system 65 light years away?”
He backed away from her again. His mouth opened, as if to gasp.
David paid the bill, and Batresh looked up at him, “Can you drive me to my car? It’s too cold to walk.”
Without saying a word, David stood, and offered his hand. He looked at her mournfully, and stated, “You know I can’t have a romantic relationship with you.”
She looked back at him, “Do you think that is what I expect?”
“I have no idea!” he said, opening the passenger side car door for her.
“I am already mated,” she responded.
“But you told me you didn’t have a boyfriend.”
“I don’t,” she looked at him as he shut the car door.
When he entered the car from the driver’s side, he looked at her questioningly.
“My Prince is not here now.”
David shook his head, “Neither is mine!”
He only had to drive a couple of blocks to the parking lot. “What time shall I arrive in the morning, m’Lady?” he asked with sarcasm.
“Why don’t you pick me up at 9:00.” She smiled, reached over to him, and kissed him on the cheek. “I adore you; you know.”
As Batresh walked to the station wagon, she felt a vibration in her handbag.
Once in the car, she removed the bracelet from her bag, and put it on her wrist. “Yes?” she responded.
An unfamiliar voice responded in the Kemetic language. Then, she recognized it. It was her Matriarch’s voice, but younger. A display appeared above the bracelet, showing the Matriarch in an environmental suit at the Solar Temporal-Portal.
“My daughter,” the message began, “You are receiving this message because you are now on your second assignment, and because I have moved on to another life.
“I assume that by now, I have traveled to a time, wisely chosen by the Seven, that will allow me to continue my work. You have, no doubt, discovered, that your sister has been working on missions many years longer than yourself.” The Matriarch paused, looking at workers behind her.
The message continued, “You know you are twins, you and Namazu. You were created together, at the same ritual, from the same offerings, the same vibrations. But you diverged.”
Batresh wondered when this message had been recorded.
Her Matriarch continued, “Namazu is, in some ways, stronger than you. She is a warrior. She can and will defend those she loves with wildness and determination. She will not fail.
“But she will need you.
“Her great physical strength will leave an emptiness within her, an emptiness that will fill with loneliness. Your strength is internal. Your love will help fill the emptiness she feels. And, you will need her strength to protect you. In this way, you are each half of the whole. You need each other for completion. What you lack, she has in abundance. And, what she needs, you are able to give her, from a bottomless well of love.
The Matriarch looked younger than Batresh remembered. This message must have been recorded while they were children. The message resumed, “You were created to be my heirs. One day, you will be Matriarch of the Kemet Mission, my daughter.”
Batresh looked at her reflection in the rear-view mirror.
The Matriarch’s voice continued, “Our house, our Pero, the House of Uanna, was created for this purpose. We have been at Earth for 200,000 years. We are here to bring humans to Genetic Compatibility, while allowing them to develop their own separate and unique cultural characteristics.” Her mother stopped and smiled at the recorder, as if picturing in her mind, her daughter, an adult hearing this message. “Their human journey will be painful, full of glorious accomplishments, and horrendous failures. But we will be here to help, to guide them.”
Batresh nodded, as though her Matriarch were with her, here now, in this station wagon.
“Wherever the Seven have placed me, I will use what I have learned during my time here at Terra. There are others like me, other Tayamni, who have allowed themselves to die, so they can pass on to live at other times.” The Matriarch paused then continued, “We will be placed in the bodies of those who are despised at the times they live; those who are oppressed and hated. But, through our actions we will demonstrate the power, the transformative force of Love.”
Batresh inhaled deeply, thinking of Denny.
“Humans are capable of the highest forms of love we hold holy, while at the same time, such cruelty and hatred that you will be horrified.
“You will find, in your early missions, that there are other species who wish to take this system as their own. They will work to destroy everything we have built.” She paused and looked aside as if distracted. “But our warriors, Tayamni like your sister, will defeat them. We will be successful. We are an older race. Our technologies, and our experience will defeat our enemies. There will be failures. Some of us will die.”
Her voice grew quieter, and she moved her face closer to the recorder, “In my next body, I will not know you. I will not remember our family life together. But there will be sparks of recognition, memories, dreams. When I see you, I will, on some level, recognize that I love you and that you are important to me. When that life ends, I will return to you, as I am now, my beloved daughter.
“Be strong, have confidence, believe in the goodness of humanity. We ourselves were once where humanity is now.”
Batresh whispered word to herself, “…compatibility.”
The Matriarch continued, “Humanity will one day be where we are now. They will have missions and work to bring the power of Love to other races in the Multiverse. This work will continue without end. All beings will come to know the blessings of Love.
“Until I see you again, take care of your sister. Help her to know she is not alone. Stay beside her. She will need you,” the transmission ended.
Batresh sat there, in a station wagon parked on Lindell Boulevard at January 1977, still looking at the jeweled wrist band. She was unable to think. Did Namazu receive a similar message? Where is Namazu?
She caressed the bracelet, as if it were her mother. “So,” she whispered to herself, “I will see her again, as she was?” She turned looking at the window, facing north. It was snowing again, and the wind was stronger. She held her braceleted wrist up to her chest.
She remembered Denny. “Yes,” she whispered, “yes.” She shifted in the seat, wiping tears from her eyes. She whispered to the wrist band. “Where is Denny?” she asked.
A pale blue display materialized above the band, resolving into an image of Denny, sitting on a sofa with Bob. Above the sofa was a drawing humans considered to be modernist, thick, black curving lines, connecting with each other via horizontal bars, almost like the DNA double helix.
Bob was talking, “Queen Victoria herself attended a Gilbert and Sullivan opera,” he held Denny’s left hand in his. “When she realized that they were ridiculing the upper classes, she stood, famously announcing, ‘We are not amused!’ and walked out with her entourage.” Bob and Denny both laughed. Batresh recognized her mother’s laugh, the way her eyes closed, her crooked smile.
She sighed with relief, realizing that her Mother was right here, right now. She would see her at rehearsal again in a few days.
The Anila Gate
Hurin was at Navigation talking to the helmsman.
They were whispering. She reached over and tapped the console, gesturing towards the spherical map.
She’d made over 20 trips here, delivering refugees, her helmsman navigating into this same narrow space at the bottom of a ravine.
Parliament ordered refugee ships to come directly to Processing on the surface. At this location, rock on each side of the ship would hold it off the ground in case of anti-grav instability. Since refugee ships were frequently brought back into service after being junked, their reliability was in question. Instead of taking hundreds of shuttles from orbit, it was timesaving to bring transports directly to the surface. Supporting rock walls protected refugees as they exited, but it was a tight spot. Each time, the Khufu Helmsman, Dumuzi, scraped rock walls with the sides of the vessel. Once, the ship became wedged so tightly that nacelles had to be removed before it could lift out.
Near the site were the ruins of a small village, now converted to a refugee camp. Among the ancient structures, archeologists found foundations anchored deep into bedrock. Being a frugal and practical people, the Amelu elected to perform an archeological analysis, then, to make use of foundations still viable.
Months ago, construction bots were digging support foundations for the refugee city, when, cutting through permafrost they detected signals. Thirty years early, plate tectonics shifted the planet’s position slightly, bringing areas recently covered in ice into more direct sunlight. Glaciers melted, ancient ruins were exposed, and signals were detected.
Directly beside the site, the Amelu were constructing a refugee city, Abullu, presently, a collection of construction sites and a camp populated by bots, archeologists, physicians, and refugees.
Namazu and Hurin had been asked to visit an ancient wall, recently exposed by melting ice. It was thought the wall, bristling with ancient technology, had been built in an effort to keep a glacier at bay. At the base of the wall were the ruins of a shrine.
The signals had been detected from behind the wall in an area still covered in ice.
The Amelu wanted vid-photos of the ruins with Namazu and Hurin in the foreground. They were eager to promote their plans to settle refugees on the surface, hoping other planets of the Alliance would follow suit. They planned to rehabilitate ancient technology still viable and reconstruct portions of the ancient city for refugee populations.
“What is that sound?” Sagar asked Namazu.
They were talking via holo-phone, Sagar, already at the landing pad, Namazu in her office on the Khufu.
“Scraping rock,” Namazu responded. “Why we can’t park this behemoth somewhere else is beyond me.”
A deafening crack disabled phones for a moment.
“I think we just lost a nacelle,” Namazu said.
“Can’t wait to see you,” Sagar said, switching off.
“My implant is going haywire,” Hurin said. In her head, she heard a thin, high pitched, continuous pinging. The sound changed pitch and volume at regular intervals. “Sounds like communications,” she said.
Behind them, at the edge of a wall of ice and rock, towered a clean, gleaming, chromium wall, its surface, smooth and silver. One would never guess it had been covered in glacial ice for eons. In front of the wall, and behind them, were more rocks and boulders of water ice.
They were warm in their environmental suits, but for show, they’d been asked to wear cloaks.
“Just talk with each other like you are discussing the ruins,” a reporter in faux furs directed.
Namazu and Hurin looked at each other with distrust.
Hurin pointed towards the wall. “We have to find out what’s making that infernal sound,” she said.
“There’s equipment in the shuttle,” Namazu responded. “This is ancient technology,” she muttered shrugging her shoulders. “Something for the archeologists.”
Hurin drew her brows together as if she didn’t like Namazu’s response. “Aren’t you even curious?” she asked.
“It’s ancient…has nothing to do with us,” Namazu responded.
Hurin sighed with exasperation.
“Come on,” the reporter interjected. “Act like you like each other.”
Hurin tried to smile. She gestured to the wall behind them. “We should call it The Anila Gate,” she said. “Don’t you think?”
Namazu looked at her as if she didn’t understand. Then, scanning the small crowd watching the event, she smiled, “I’m done.”
Standing at the front, wrapped in a woolen cloak was Sagar, wearing such a broad smile she seemed to shine. Namazu looked away from her, smiling to herself. “Like looking into the Sun,” she whispered.
A high male voice screamed from the crowd. Namazu turned quickly.
Amelu guards were trying to keep a group of refugees contained, pushing them back. It was a group from the camp.
Namazu ran over. “What’s going on?” she asked.
“Commander,” she heard a shrill voice exclaim. “Commander…Admiral…” the voice trailed away.
“He claims to know you, Commander,” the Amelu guard said.
The crowd parted, allowing a legless man, on a makeshift anti-grav platform, move towards them. He was covered with burn scars. Namazu noted a fragment of horn protruding from the back of his head. He had two hands, but only one arm was functional. The platform drifted towards her and stopped.
“You don’t recognize me?” he rasped.
Then, Namazu noticed a female who had accompanied him, walking behind. “Etana?” Namazu whispered, referring to the Atmehytu lieutenant she’d worked with so closely during the Tlaloc wars.
“Yes, Admiral, I mean…” she pronounced the words with difficulty. “…Commander.”
Namazu saw one side of her face was burned. Where the jeweled cabochons once decorated the crown of her head, only depressions in her skull remained.
“…I mean, I know you are a Commander, now,” the woman continued. “Yes, yes, it is I. I am Etana7.”
Namazu looked at the disfigured man on the platform as if to ask a question.
“This is my captain, or what remains of him,” Etana7 said. “…Agu.”
A flash of memory, an image of a proud man, came to mind. Namazu remembered a tall, pretentious man, consumed by profit and his own importance. She remembered him strutting around the meeting room with other captains, obsessively complaining about the cost of the war.
The creature in front of her bore no likeness to the Agu she’d known a decade ago.
She tried to sleep. Her mother had looked so young; her voice so strong. The vocal quaver she’d developed in later years was not yet apparent. She spoke the courtly language of Kemet, the language taught to the Tayamni by the Nine, the sacred language.
Snow was falling again. The steam-radiator pinged delicately.
She opened her eyes again. There, bending over her, was the middle-aged woman, the apparition from the night before. This time, she was less transparent. The woman wore a Soviet Military uniform. It was Lamma, the woman executed at Kiev.
Batresh sat up, expecting the apparition to vanish. But, she did not. She remained standing in front of her.
“Lamma,” Batresh whispered.
The woman, moved closer, looking at Batresh closely, as though she were trying to remember something.
“You are Lamma,” Batresh said again. The woman looked at her with surprise. Her mouth opened, as if she would speak.
Batresh stood and walked to suitcase. “Contact the Elders,” she ordered. The display resolved, and an image of a woman in Tayamni costume materialized. “I have seen Lamma,” Batresh offered excitedly.
“Is this Batresh?”
“Yes, my Aunt. My mother’s sister, the one the Tlalocs executed.”
“Where?” the Elder asked directly.
“Here, in my room.”
“Have you seen her only once?” the Elder continued.
“I saw her last night as well, but I thought it was a dream.”
“You are her family,” the young elder pressed a disk on the platform in front of her. “It makes sense she would be drawn to you.” The Elder was looking at a corner of her display, communicating with others. “Place sensors around your room. Let us know if she appears again.” The young woman looked up, above the screen, as if she was communicating with someone standing in front of her. “The Hathors will arrive tomorrow.” She paused for a moment looking into Batresh’s eyes. “Have you located your human helper?” she asked.
“I believe I have found him,” she responded.
The woman smiled and the communication switched off.
Lamma’s core was not destroyed. The Tlaloc weapon damaged her, killed her body, but did not destroy her.
Batresh went to the bed and sat down. She pushed her hair away from her face. “Two Matriarchs in one night,” she said to herself, remarking on both her mother’s communication, and her Aunt’s appearance. She sighed and lay back onto the bed.
The next morning, she was awakened by the phone on the nightstand.
“Your majesty?” David asked sarcastically.
Batresh sighed, “Oh, right.”
David was silent for a moment.
“I’m standing downstairs with two nuns who say they know you.”
Batresh and David stood against the wall of her dorm room. Two tall nuns wearing modern habits stood on the other side of the bed. Although it was mid-morning, the southern sky was dark and cloudy. Yellow lamp light cast eerie shadows onto the walls.
“Are they Sisters of St. Hypatia?” David whispered, referring to the habits the women wore. Batresh sent him a telepathic command, telling him to be silent.
The women held small, rectangular boxes, with screens on the side turned towards their faces. One of the women looked at Batresh, then at David. “This is your human helper?”
Batresh sighed knowing this would make David nervous. She looked at him, “Yes,” she said aloud.
David’s eyes widened.
“She was here,” the other woman stated. “We will alert the sisters.”
“Will she resume her duties as Matriarch?” Batresh asked. She glanced at David, and noticed that even though the room was cool, he was beginning to perspire.
“You are Matriarch of your Pero,” the other woman responded. She walked over to Batresh and placed her aged hand over hers, “Lamma must be retrained. She will need a new body. The whole process will take,” she broke off, sighing, then continued, “…a long time.” She nodded, and looked down at the device in her hands, “We will transmit these readings. We’ll send equipment to hold her Ka.”
Both women looked at David and Batresh, “Of course, she will be taken to Mussara,” the woman to David’s left responded. They both walked towards David, who moved flat against the wall. They held devices up to his face.
“Hmph!” the one to his right exclaimed. Then, they both turned and left the room.
The door to the room closed behind them.
David turned to Batresh, “I am your human helper?” he asked, his eyes growing wider.
Batresh walked in front of him and took his right hand in hers. “I’m sorry about that. I had meant to prepare you.”
He looked at the mirror at the end of the room and saw the frightened expression on his own face. Then, he looked back at Batresh, “You had better explain. I’m having a meltdown.”
She took his hand and they sat down on the bed.
“Who were those women?” David asked.
Batresh looked at him and seemed to be embarrassed. “They are my people,” she looked at him seriously. “I am the same as them.”
“But they are nuns,” he responded.
“Are you familiar with the order of nuns who formed this college?” she asked.
“Do you know the history of the Sisters of St. Hypatia?” she continued.
David shook his head negatively.
“Do you know who Hypatia was?”
David looked up at the ceiling, “Wasn’t she the ancient Greek who taught the Earth rotated around the Sun?”
Batresh nodded. “Do you think it’s odd that Hypatia, who was murdered by a mob of Christians for being pagan, is a saint in a Catholic order?”
David looked into her face. “I didn’t know.”
Batresh looked down at the floor, “Have you seen ancient statues of the Egyptian Goddess Auset?”
David looked at her with confusion, “Where are you going with all this?”
“Our religion was suppressed,” she explained, looking through the window at the sun peering through clouds. “But we were successful in keeping, or inserting, elements of our religion into Christianity.” She turned and looked at him. “We don’t want to just tell humans who we are. We cannot disrupt your normal, natural development. So, we must be secretive. We have to let you evolve to your full potential…”
Standing there, with her face in shadow against the large window, he saw the sun shining dimly through the clouds behind her head, creating a halo.
“When humans take some kind of action against us, we must let it take its course,” she said, walking closer to the bed. “Christianity is a kind of container, holding and hiding elements of our religion until the right time,” she said.
“Until the right time for what?” he asked.
She walked over and sat down next to him. “Until it is time to reveal ourselves to you.”
David looked scared again.
“St. Hypatia was called St. Ekaterine of Alexandria, the Ever Pure, by the early church,” she continued. “In 1969, the Vatican came to the conclusion she never existed.”
Batresh stood and walked over to the double doors of a closet on the opposite wall. “But, by then it was too late. The order of the Sisters of St. Hypatia was already flourishing. It began in Paris in the 12th Century.”
“What does this…” he began.
She interrupted him, “David, St. Hypatia, Hypatia herself was one of us. She was Tayamni.” She paused and walked closer to him. “The sisters of this order, all of them. They are Tayamni.”
David’s eyes grew wide.
“We are trying to help humanity evolve,” she said. She walked towards him again. “But it is a battle. There are others, aliens, hostile creatures who have also formed orders. One of them will soon become Pope.” As she made this statement, she had a strange feeling, a kind of queasiness in the pit of her stomach. It was as if, in thinking about the activities of hybrids, she had conflicting memories. She sat down again to calm herself. “Human hybrids of these creatures have begun to create a political movement in the United States.” She paused. “They are using a different kind of Christianity as a weapon, a political weapon.”
David’s face was perspiring. He swallowed hard.
“They have done this before,” she said. “In India in the 19th century.”
She looked out to the sun temporarily hidden behind clouds. “We are fighting for the future of your species,” She took his hands in hers. “This is enough for now.” She smiled trying to calm his fear. “Let’s go look for a car,” she said, standing again. “I need a car.”
David was silent as they descended two flights of stairs to the ground floor. There were no students here today. The semester would begin in two weeks.
When they stepped outside David turned to her, thinking of what she had told him, but addressing her statements. He spoke slowly, as if he had to find each word he spoke from its own hiding place. “I’m thinking you can get a Toyota Celica, a used one.”
Batresh looked at the empty parking lot, feeling pessimistic.
Reaching his car, he opened the passenger door.
When he got into the driver’s seat, he looked at her as if to ask a question, then back at path ahead of them. He looked at her again, as if he expected her to say something. “Can you tell me more?”
Batresh sighed and looked at her hands. “Those two women, those nuns, arrived here, just this morning, from a base that is not on Earth,” She offered.
He pressed his lips together, and she saw beads of perspiration appear again, above his lip. She continued, “They came here to investigate a report I made.” She looked to her right, as they passed over Highway 40. She saw cars passing beneath them as they drove across the overpass. “We are led by Matriarchs. After my mother died, my Aunt, her sister, became Matriarch until I could assume the position.”
He looked straight ahead.
Batresh continued, “My Aunt disappeared in the early 60s. But I have seen her in my dorm room for the last few nights.” Batresh sighed. She could feel his discomfort. She knew that he believed her on some level. Now, she sent him an image of ancient Sekhem.
He swerved almost hitting the curb to their right. He turned back sharply into the lane. A driver in the car to his left honked. He looked at Batresh with exasperation. “Don’t do that while I am driving!” he said strongly.
She looked to her right, as they ascended a hill, passing empty shops and warehouses.
David slowed, and pulled into a parking lot on their right. This had once been a hardware store. He looked at her with tears in his eyes, afraid he was losing himself, becoming someone else. He was afraid this experience with Batresh was changing him in ways he couldn’t understand. He tried to speak, “I,” then, he began sobbing. He continued looking at her, speaking through his tears, “I am David Lumpkin.” He brought his right hand to his forehead. His face was turning red, “I am David Lumpkin. I went to Parkway West High School.” He tried to wipe tears away from his face. “I have a master’s degree in piano from Northwestern. And,” He reached for the keys, calming down some. “And, I am a homosexual.” He looked at Batresh and tried to smile, “A trendy homosexual, but a homosexual.”
Batresh couldn’t help but laugh. She looked at him.
Now, he began to laugh too. He was wiping tears away from his face, laughing. He pulled back onto the street.
They turned left on Chippewa Street, and drove east. “By the way,” she said looking at him. “Can you sing?”
He looked confused again, then back at her, “You are not going to hit me with something else, are you?”
She chuckled and shook her head negatively.
“I’m not a soloist, but I can sing,” he responded.
“Perfect,” she said. “I need for you to be in the St. Louis Symphony Chorus.”
He looked at her, “Why?”
“I want you to help me protect, Denny.”
“Who is that?” he asked, dreading her answer.
“He is the young man I am here to protect.”
They stopped at a signal light. He looked over to her and raised his eyebrows, “Why are we protecting him?”
“He is my mother,” she responded, “…the previous Matriarch,” She looked out the window at a large woman walking down the sidewalk.”
David looked at Batresh with horror.
“She is working to spread the sacred force.” Batresh added.
Turning right onto Gravois Avenue, David looked at her. “Is that why I am here?”
She smiled, “I am not really sure, but I think so.” She looked ahead of her at a young couple crossing the street. “I think you are here to help me protect him.”
“There it is,” he said, pointing ahead of them on the left.