Adagio for Strings
Batresh arranged to meet Seth in the lobby of the Chase Hotel.
She wore a black dress, tight around the hips, cut to just below the knee. A silver broach clustered with cut-crystal stones held the shoulder strap to a padded epaulette. She thought it odd that women wanted to have wide shoulders. She liked the black, velvet strap heels that went with the dress, and the white faux fur draped around her shoulders. She pulled her hair back into a retro style from earlier in the century.
She sat in a turn-of-the century chair, focused on the entrance to the lobby.
Then, she saw him - a young man wearing a casual jacket and dress trousers - his curly, black hair picked-out to a modified afro.
She smiled with excitement despite herself. She hadn’t been on a date since she dated Jerry in the early 60s. Of course, for her, it was only a month ago, even though it was 1977.
She gathered a black winter coat into her arms, checked herself in the mirror again, and descended the stairs.
He saw her and began walking towards her. He took her hands into his and pulled her close to him. “You look ravishing,” he said. He pulled her closer and detected the scent of peaches. He kissed her full-on the lips.
She turned her head and laughed.
“Shall we go to dinner?” he asked.
He extended his arm, and they walked through the lobby.
She felt uncomfortable; all eyes seemed to be on them.
“I can assure you no-one is looking at me,” he whispered.
It was snowing. She looked up into the dark sky and saw flakes fall like ashes from an eruption.
“We may get some accumulation tonight,” he said. He extended his arm around her waist, pulling her close. “Are you warm enough?”
She felt embarrassed.
He looked at her hungrily, as if he could have eaten her for dinner.
They walked to a shiny black car with a cream-colored interior. He opened the door for her and watched her, as she lowered herself onto the seat. Her skirt was tighter at the knees, so she swung her legs into the car carefully.
They drove eastwards on Lindell Boulevard. “I made reservations at City Cousin,” he said. She remembered a story from her downloads.
She turned to him, “As in Country Cousin Visits City Cousin?”
Seth laughed, “Yes, that is exactly right.” He turned to the left, into a small parking lot adjacent to a Victorian Gingerbread house. The snow turned the parking lot and other surfaces white. Streets were shiny and wet.
City Cousin would normally have been busy on a Friday night. But there weren’t many people here, only five other vehicles. They walked up a few steps to the front porch of the house and went in to the foyer. They were met at the door, by a tall, handsome woman, wearing a black pants-suit.
“Hi Seth,” she said, looking Batresh up and down.
Batresh blushed at the woman’s open examination.
“Lynn, this is Miriam, she just moved here from Mississippi,” Seth offered.
The tall woman extended her hand. “Welcome to our winter wonderland,” she laughed. “I have a table for you upstairs…You’re going to the symphony tonight?”
“We are,” Seth responded.
“We’ll get you in and out,” Lynn answered. She began walking towards a stairway leading to the floor above. She gave Batresh another glance and turned to the stairs. “Follow me,” she said.
The wallpaper and drapes were of similar colors and designs, oval shapes in gold and silver striped patterns. They passed a small dining room on the right. A fireplace cast warm light onto patrons having dinner and onto the polished floor. To their left was another dining room with two draped windows.
Batresh ascended the stair with Seth behind her.
They sat at a table a few feet from the entrance to another small dining room.
“Tom will be with you shortly.” Lynn nodded, turned, and walked back downstairs.
“Lynn and her partner own this restaurant,” Seth explained. “Her partner is the chef.”
Batresh took the linen napkin from the table and placed it in her lap. “This is such a beautiful restaurant,” she said, looking into Seth’s face.
“You will see these same people at the Symphony a little later,” Seth offered.
Batresh looked to her left, to another dining room, in which one of three tables was taken. Her eyes widened. Denny was sitting there. Looking at the man across from him. She expected to see Bob. An expression of concern passed over her face.
Seth looked to see what surprised her. He saw Denny sitting with another man from the chorus.
Batresh looked at the other man. Denny was having dinner with the Tlaloc hybrid.
Seth was talking but she wasn’t listening. She was focused on Denny and the Tlaloc.
The hybrid looked back boldly.
Denny turned around. His eyes were red as though he had been crying. He smiled weakly and turned back, facing the darker man.
“Excuse me,” she said, placing her napkin on the table. She stood and walked over to Denny’s table.
“Hi,” she said, looking into Denny’s face. She tried to discern his feelings.
She looked at the Tlaloc with determination. She wanted to convey a warning. She extended her right hand. “I think I have seen you in the Chorus, I am Miriam Kaplan.”
He took her hand roughly, interpreting her facial expression accurately. “Charles Moorehead,” he said. He stood, flexing his muscles. He squeezed her hand hard, causing her to wince. “I’m sorry,” he responded. “Sometimes, I don’t know my own strength,” he added sarcastically.
Seth walked over.
“I am sure you know Seth from the chorus,” she offered.
Charles took Seth’s hand more politely. “Are you headed to the Symphony?” Seth asked.
Denny started to speak, and Charles interrupted him, “Yes, I wouldn’t miss Semkov’s Beethoven.” He looked at Denny with disapproval. Batresh noticed Denny looked down.
Seth took Batresh’s hand, “It looks like our waiter has arrived.”
Batresh gave Charles, the hybrid, a threatening look. “Please excuse us,” she responded, turning back to the table.
Their waiter, Tom, a young man with exaggerated Italian features, dark skin, bushy black hair, and a handsome Roman nose, described the specials for them. He wore a white shirt and black apron.
Batresh noticed a wine stain on his collar. “Are you one of the cooks,” she smiled.
Tom nodded, “We are short staffed because of the snow,” he responded. “You’re looking at the sous chef.”
He looked at Seth, “So you’re are going to the Symphony.”
Charles raised his voice in the other room, the waiter looked in that direction, then back at Seth. “I wouldn’t advise going out in this weather,” he tried to laugh. “Would you like to order now?”
Looking at Batresh, Seth asked, “Are you kosher?”
Batresh shook her head negatively, grateful that her downloads had included an understanding of the term.
“I recommend the scallops,” he said, reaching across the table, taking her hand in his.
“Thank you,” Batresh responded, looking up at the waiter, “I’ll take it.” Although she knew what the term kosher meant, she did not know what scallops were.
The waiter took their order and turned back to the kitchen.
Seth looked at Denny and the Tlaloc, then back at Batresh. “What was all that about?”
She sighed and brought right hand up to her place setting. She straightened the knife. “I thought Denny was crying,” she whispered. “I wanted to make sure he was OK.”
“I saw you shooting daggers at Charles,” Seth responded.
She tried to smile. “I think Denny has had a hard life; I just hope Charles is not hurting him.”
Seth leaned forward towards her, “I thought he and Bob were dating,” he whispered.
“So did I,” she responded, finally looking into his face.
“Do you like Beethoven?” he asked, wanting to divert her attention away from Denny and Charles.
She smiled weakly, “I do,” she whispered.
“Semkov has put a lot of Beethoven in the program this year.”
Tom brought a silver wine bucket with ice to the table. Showing the bottle to Seth, he nodded and opened the wine.
“Tonight, we will hear the Seventh Symphony,” Seth tasted the wine and nodded affirmatively.
Batresh noted the formal dining rituals, happy to see the formality brought by her people to the ancient inhabitants of Kemet still remained after 5,000 years. But she felt nervous. She looked down at her purse and wondered if she should call David for help. She decided it would be awkward during her first date with Seth, to leave the table a second time.
She looked up and saw Seth was holding his glass towards her, above the table. She was confused for a moment, but then remembered that clinking filled wine glasses together was a way of honoring a particular event. So, she took hers and lifted it towards him. Seth brought his glass forward to touch hers.
The glasses made a musical sound when they touched together. “Lead crystal,” Seth smiled. “To our first date.”
“Yes,” she nodded, trying to focus on Seth rather than on Denny, “To our first date.”
Charles, the Tlaloc hybrid, slammed a fist down on a table in the next room.
Denny turned his head away from them, but they could see Charles clearly. His face was contorted with anger.
“I will ask Tom to move us,” Seth brought his napkin up to the table from his lap, “This is too distracting.” He stood to go find the waiter.
Batresh opened her purse and slid her hand inside. Finding the disc shaped weapon, she moved it to her palm. The weapon had been improved to function in different capacities and it read her thoughts. She concentrated on the cold blasting function, while keeping her hand closed.
The temperature in the room lowered. The fire in the fireplace flickered, while drapes moved in the breeze generated by the lowered temperature.
Charles looked at Batresh accusingly.
She released the disc, hoping she had delivered a convincing warning.
Charles looked tired but smiled at Denny, reaching across the table taking his smaller hand in his own.
Batresh took a sip of wine.
Tom arrived back at the table with Seth, ready to move them to the first floor.
As they descended the stairs, Batresh looked behind her and saw a small hallway with a public phone and two restrooms.
“Please excuse me, Seth,” she said.
He looked back at her with curiosity.
She pointed towards the restrooms, “I’ll be right back.”
He moved towards her and kissed her gently on the lips. “Don’t be long,” he smiled.
She walked back towards the Ladies’ Room and opened her purse. Withdrawing two quarters, she dialed David’s phone number.
“David,” she whispered, “This is Miriam.”
“I know who it is,” he answered roughly.
“Do you have plans tonight?” she asked.
“I do, but somehow I expect they are going to change,” he sighed.
“Please accept my apologies,” she responded.
“What do you wish me to do, Your Majesty?” he offered, not joking.
She sighed, “Thank you.” She was silent for a moment, “I want to ask you to come to the Symphony tonight.”
“May I ask why?”
“Denny is in danger,” she paused, realizing she had not explained enough. “I am sorry to throw you in the middle of situations you know nothing about.”
“Can you explain more?”
“There is a man with him who is abusive.” She looked forward and saw their waiter delivering bowls of soup.
“The man is an enemy of our people; he will attempt to hurt Denny. I would ask you to insert yourself into their time together tonight, flirt with Denny, anything, try to distract him.”
“I will do as you ask.” He paused, “Will you be there?”
“Yes, I am on a date with the manager of the chorus.” A man walked into the hallway, and turned to her right, entering the men’s room. “I will introduce you to him. Thank you, my dear friend,” she responded, hanging up the phone.
She went into the Ladies room. She turned, facing a mirror over the sink. Looking at her reflection, she freshened her lipstick, and reminded herself to focus on Seth. She sighed looking down at her shoes.
Seeing her reflection in the mirror, she had an image of herself at Kemet, before she’d been told she was Tayamni.
She thought of her Mother, the Vizier, the Priestess Saba, her cat Mau, those that she loved. They had been dead for 5,000 years. She looked up again at her reflection.
Tom, the waiter, saw her in the hallway. “Miriam,” he offered, nodding formally, “Let me show you where I have moved you and Seth.”
She followed him into a larger dining room, then turning to the right, to a smaller one. Seth sat at the only occupied table. Two bowls of steaming soup had been brought to them.
Tom pulled her chair out. “You may wish you were wearing boots before the evening is done,” he offered, looking at her shoes. “They are expecting a foot of snow.”
“Oh no!” she smiled, looking at Seth.
“I may have to carry you,” Seth said laughing.
She sat down. Looking at Seth, she smiled.
He reached his hand towards her. “Now, this is better,” he said. “We don’t have to witness the romantic errors of another couple.”
She looked into his face as he talked. He explained the upcoming season; the concerts the chorus would perform. His dark brown eyes, almost black, reflected the firelight from the adjoining dining room. She saw simple directness and honor in his face. He smiled broadly, revealing dimples on each cheek. His hair was curly and black, with almost blue highlights. Again, she looked at the hair on his chest, above his open shirt, thinking to herself how it would feel to stroke the skin there with her fingers. She sighed with relief, reflecting on the fact that she had help now. She made a mental note to enlist Bob to help her and David.
“Are you familiar with Samuel Barber?” Seth asked.
She shook her head. “I have heard his name, but…”
Tom pushed a cart to their table.
“The soup was wonderful,” Seth offered as Tom removed the bowls.
“I think you will like the scallops,” Tom responded, serving shallow, oval bowls of white disks in milky butter sauce.
Batresh looked at the dish in front of her, wondering what scallops were. She imaged a long, serpent-like beast, cut into disks. She watched Seth, to make sure she consumed them properly.
She placed a buttery disk in her mouth. It was soft, but firm. She enjoyed the buttery taste, and a taste of, what was it? It reminded her of the fragrance of the Great River at sunset. She smiled.
Tom came by again, “I am sorry, I don’t mean to rush you, but if you want to make it to the Symphony, you had better get going.”
“The Adagio for Strings is opening the concert. We don’t want to miss that,” Seth offered.
When they exited the restaurant, the snow was a half inch deep. They saw lightening in the distance.
“That’s not a good sign,” Seth said, as he opened the car door for Batresh.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
They heard a low rumble of thunder, “Lightening during a snow storm means lots of snow,” he laughed.
Seth drove slowly and carefully northwards. The street was still wet, but with patches of white. “We are lucky I live so close to Powell Hall, otherwise, we would probably have to cancel.”
Batresh looked at him with wonder. “Why would we cancel?” she asked.
“I guess it doesn’t snow much in Mississippi,” Seth laughed.
Batresh shook her head.
“Roads can become covered with ice; driving can be hazardous,” he continued. He stopped the car slowly at Grand Avenue, turning left. There were few cars on the street. “At least we will be able to get good parking.” He looked at Batresh with a smirk.
As Seth predicted, the parking lot just south of Powell Hall was sparsely filled. Normally, this was the lot that filled first, being closest to the entrance. “Are you going to be OK walking in your heels?” he asked, looking at her with concern. “I will drive by the entrance, and you can get out. Then I will come back and park.”
He pulled up to the building. The sidewalk was sprinkled with salt.
She opened the door to the Hall and waited at the ticket counter for Seth to join her. Looking to her left, she saw the lobby was not so sparsely populated as she thought it would be. She looked for David, Denny, or Charles on the ground level, but did not find them.
Seth arrived with their tickets. She walked into the lobby of Powell Hall as if for the first time. The space was beautifully lit - marble floors, 19th century, cream-colored balusters and railings, crystal chandeliers, small shaded sconces, and now, elegantly dressed concertgoers.
Seth extended his arm to her and they walked towards the curving stairway. Batresh looked to her left and saw tall, arched windows covered with velvet drapery and sheer curtains. The curved bar, which had been empty at rehearsal, was crowded and serviced by three bartenders. The doors to orchestra level seating, behind the bar, had been propped open. Looking inside, she saw people in the aisles, holding programs, looking for seats.
Seth stopped to talk with a couple, he introduced Batresh and explained she was an Egyptologist. A woman, with curly red hair asked her whether she was going to Chicago to see the Tutankhamun exhibit. Batresh smiled. Thankfully, her downloads had included a brief amount of information on this Egyptian boy-Pharaoh who had lived 2,000 years later than her childhood at Sekhem.
“I am not sure,” Batresh responded. “I study the cultural transformations that occurred around 3800 BCE in what was later known as the Upper Kingdom.”
“Who was Pharaoh then?” the woman asked.
Batresh looked into Seth’s face for help. But he only smiled. “The period I study is before the Pharaonic era,” she said.
“Really?” the woman asked. “Did they have an organized government?”
“What would you like to drink?” Seth asked Batresh.
“A glass of wine,” she responded.
Seth looked at her inquisitively.
“Oh,” she began, “champagne?” remembering the delicious drink she shared with David at Herbie’s.
Seth headed towards the bar.
Batresh grew fearful of keeping her cover intact. She looked at Seth walk away.
The woman with red hair continued, “Did they have a ruler of some kind?”
Batresh tried to appear confident. “We believe the first governments may have been informally organized in a matriarchal structure,” she ventured, relying on what she knew from experience rather than historical information.
“Really,” the woman looked at her with suspicion. “I have never heard that.”
Batresh saw Seth talking with another man at the bar. “There is recent archeological evidence we are trying to piece together, before publishing our theories,” she responded, growing nervous.
“What evidence is there for a matriarchal government?” she asked Batresh, her eyes narrowing.
“Near the Karnak temple complex,” Batresh began. “Or, where it sits now, there was an earlier settlement called Sekhem.”
The woman shifted her position, pushing her hips to the left, and took a sip from the wine glass she was holding. “Named after Sekhmet?” she asked.
“We believe so,” Batresh responded. “The scripts have not been completely translated,” she looked at the bar, and saw Seth paying a bartender. “They are an earlier version of hieroglyphs, appearing to have a relationship to cuneiform,” she responded, again speaking from memories rather than actual archeological information. She looked towards the stairway, wishing she and Seth were walking upstairs.
The woman reached towards Batresh, touching her arm, “Are you saying that the Sumerians and the Egyptians from 3800 BCE had contact with each other?”
Batresh sighed, but noticed that Seth was walking back. “I believe that is inconclusive,” she responded, as Seth reached them. He extended the wine glass towards her.
“The champagne they had was awful, so I got you a Chablis,” Seth offered.
“Thank you,” Batresh responded, taking the glass from his hands. At that moment, she felt someone tap her shoulder from behind. She turned around and saw David standing there, beaming.
“Look who I found,” he offered.
There, standing a little behind him and to his left, was Denny.
Batresh looked into his face and saw a mixture of pain and relief.
David leaned closer to Batresh and whispered, “He got into an argument with his date, so I brought him down here.”
Batresh could not restrain herself. She took Denny’s hands in hers. “I am sure you will enjoy the program,” she offered, unable to think of what else to say. Then, she saw Denny look to his left, to the stairway.
There, standing midway, looking down at their small group, was the Tlaloc, just standing, looking unhappy.
“I am so lucky!” David continued, “I got a seat right next to Denny!”
Batresh’s smile grew wider. She sent a telepathic message to David, “Thank you, thank you, my beloved friend.”
Just then, small bells sounded. Batresh looked around but couldn’t find its source.
“We had better get to our seats,” Seth offered, taking Batresh’s hand, and pointing himself towards the stairway. “We’ll see you at intermission,” he nodded towards David and Denny. Batresh turned and saw the woman who had been questioning her, heading up the stairs ahead of them. When they reached the stairway, Seth turned to her, “Did you have a nice conversation with Suzanne?”
“Yes, I did,” she responded, not wanting him to know she’d been uncomfortable.
Once upstairs, they walked to a section where ushers were holding doors open, “We’re in the Dress Circle,” Seth offered. Batresh knew from the way he told her, he was proud to have gotten these seats. She followed him through a doorway that opened into the large, open, multi-layered balcony. They turned to the right, passing through an opening in short walls, to a kind of box, containing several seats, but separated from other compartments. They sat in the very front row. Since no one sat in front of them, they had a clear view of the stage and orchestra members. The elevated balcony, hanging in the air above the orchestra seats, gave her the feeling of flying in a spaceship.
Orchestra members were arranging sheet music, taking their places, tuning instruments.
She looked at Seth sitting next to her. He seemed happy to have brought her here. He leaned over and kissed her cheek. She looked into his open face. She thought him to be a beautiful man, kind, attentive. She reflected to herself that the woman who marries him will be fortunate.
The orchestra stopped tuning when the conductor walked onto the stage. The audience began to applaud, and she thought of her beloved Amun. However lucky the woman who marries Seth will be, she will not be as fortunate as I, she thought to herself. She thought of Amun’s face, his amber-colored eyes, his gentle touch, the way he kissed her.
The conductor bowed and gestured to his right. The first violinist nodded to him and to the audience.
Seth leaned over to her and said, “The first piece is Barber’s Adagio for Strings.”
The applause diminished and the conductor turned around, facing the orchestra.
He raised his baton and moved his hands slowly forward. The first sounds of the violins began a sustained, gentle chord. Other chords sounded. Strings vibrated the air, moving downwards and upwards through the key. Violins caressed Batresh with vibrating air. Bows slid across strings. The sound grew and diminished.
Batresh closed her eyes…Amun’s hands were on her body. She could feel his fingers sliding down her legs, encircling her ankles, his hands on her shoulders. She could feel his lips on her neck. His presence was palpable. She could sense him. She felt the scent of his body. Tears gathered at the corners of her eyes. This sound, the sound of violins, blending as one instrument, made love to her, touched her. Music invaded her, pushed into her.
Pitches rose, vibrations grew, climbing chord over chord, whispering. It covered her, pushed against her. She could feel music on her skin.
Sustained chords, growing louder, tense, vibrating against the air, against each other, against her – voices of the instruments shrieking a long, climactic scream of pleasure, sustained, on and on, until she opened her eyes in surprise.
Then, as gently as she’d been lifted, the sound lowered, grew softer, until it became a gentle caress.
Seth was looking at her.
She had been weeping.
She looked ahead, focusing on the cream and gold colored wall behind the orchestra. She had not expected to be overtaken by vibrations in the air, vibrations she could actually feel on her skin.
She had been ravished by beauty; removed from present circumstances and worries. For a time, she could not see anything around her. She only saw her Primary’s face, her beloved Amun.
The audience applauded.
During the noise of people clapping, Seth touched her hand, and she looked down. He was giving her a tissue.
She realized she must look frightful, with eyeliner running down her face. She opened her pocketbook and withdrew a compact to look at her reflection. She didn’t look as bad as she was afraid. She dabbed at the eyeliner on her face.
She looked back at her reflection in the compact and noticed, behind them, in the balcony a few rows behind, David, Denny, and the Tlaloc, were all sitting together. Denny sat in the center. David leaned closely against him while the Tlaloc leaned away. She closed the compact and looked at Seth.
“Wasn’t that beautiful?” Seth offered.
Batresh thought the word ill equipped to express what she felt. “I can’t thank you enough for bringing me,” she said. She realized she was looking at him sorrowfully. She attempted to smile.
Seth took her hand, “Music can have that effect on me as well.” He brought her hand up and kissed it, looking into her eyes.
She felt regret, knowing she would hurt him, as she had hurt Jerry at Tupelo. But she squeezed his hand. More orchestra members came onto the stage for the next piece. Batresh turned to look behind her. She saw David and Denny sitting together, but the Tlaloc was gone.
The next piece was Beethoven, the Seventh Symphony. This time, there were no applause before the piece began. The conductor raised his baton again. Batresh decided to open her program and find information about the piece. Before she found the correct page, the conductor moved his hands down sharply, and a short, staccato chord sounded, startling her. Then a silence, and another short chord. This piece was different. She sat forward, excited by the short, loud chords, and then, the progression marched upwards in pitch. She inhaled deeply.
Looking around, she did not see others reacting this way. She must not allow herself to become distracted. She must regain control and allow the music to move over her without appearing too excited. She thought of the times she had heard music from this period. But she had never heard a full orchestra, live. She had heard individual players but never a group of instrumentalists together. She looked around at the facial expressions and body movements of people in the audience. They seemed relaxed; some were focused. She even saw a rather large man sleeping. She looked at Seth, who was reading the program. She didn’t understand how the audience could be so unmoved by these sounds. But she must conform. She would not allow herself to become a spectacle.
Then, the first movement ended, Seth looked at her and pointed at the open program in his hand, smiling. “This is my favorite movement,” he said.
She saw the page read, Allegretto.
The conductor moved his hands forward; horns and woodwinds sounded...chords, repeating in short patterns then longer. The music was soft; lofty, blending... mathematics with emotion...chords falling away like emotional pain and loss. She felt longing, emptiness, sorrow...standing at the bed of her mother, watching her life slip away; speeding to the Lunar base, with her sister dying in the seat beside her; saying goodbye to Amun. She must find a way to shut this down.
She was being taken away, transported, distracted, moved out of herself. She must concentrate on other matters. Opening her program, she began to read. She sighed, feeling more in control. She sat there feeling safer.
Seth seemed to be focused on the string section.
She must listen and keep control of her emotions.
The music changed again, repeated chords -- longing. She was overwhelmed and looked at the program. Then, silence. The movement ended. She sighed with relief. Perhaps the programs were there so listeners to find a way to regain control of their emotions; perhaps that was their purpose.
She relaxed against the back of her chair and lay the program in her lap.
Batresh awakened, feeling an arm wrapped around her waist. Her head was pounding; her mouth was dry. She turned around on her back and became aware of a man, softly snoring, lying against her. They were lying on a soft pallet of blankets on the floor of a living room. Shades were drawn, and drapes closed. The room was dark; the stuffed leather sofa in front of her was enormous, like a giant beast, waiting for the right time to attack. She saw dim light coming from an open archway to her left. She didn’t know whether it was night or day. She remembered having three glasses of dry, bitter wine at the symphony.
Afterwards, they’d gone to Herbie’s. Seth brought glasses of wine to her. Each time a waiter walked by, Seth ordered another. They taught her how to do a dance called the bump. They went up and down the stairs to the small dancefloor a hundred times. Victor introduced a modification to the dance and called it the double bump. The music was loud; they could hardly hear each other. They yelled above the music. She heard Denny refer to it as Disco. They laughed and laughed; she remembered shrieking with laughter. She lost the broach that held the strap of her dress to the shoulder pad. She kept having to pull up the top of the dress to cover her left breast. She fell down a short stairway, breaking the heel off one of one shoe.
She remembered sitting on the stairway with Denny. Dancers going up and down to the dance floor, walking around them. A drag queen walked past and kicked her. Looking down, giggling, the drag queen yelled, “Get off the stairway, bitches!”
Denny was drunk and cried most of the night. He cried about his mother not returning his calls. He cried about his father hating him. He cried about Charles, the Tlaloc who took him to dinner; about being an outsider.
She forgot he was her Matriarch and saw him as an unhappy, sweet, innocent boy, from an abusive childhood -- like a babe lost in the woods, suddenly thrown into a world of adults.
She had no idea how much she drank. She remembered Victor giving her a pink Cartier cigarette in a long cigarette holder. She enjoyed holding it aloft and laughing. She imitated his walk causing hilarity among his friends. She had a fit of coughing after trying to inhale. Victor’s gay friends playfully grabbed her exposed left breast and giggled. She remembered Seth telling her not to let them do that, but she couldn’t bear to tell them to stop. She blushed remembering that she had fallen in the snow.
Denny threw up on the pristine, white powder.
Now, she was lying in a strange bed, next to a strange man, wearing nothing but panties and a man’s shirt. Her throat was dry; she began to cough, waking him.
“Let me get you a glass of water,” Seth offered. He faced her and kissed her on the lips. As he walked away, she noted his back, his full buttocks, the patterns of curly hair growing down his arms and his legs. She stared at him openly, as he walked back to the bed with three aspirin and a glass of tomato juice. He placed the aspirin and juice on the floor beside them and leaned over her.
She felt as if she must have him. She didn’t want to play the cultural game of discovering each other’s bodies or personalities. She wanted him now. And, she wanted him to do as she commanded. She had not felt these feelings before.
She imagined she would have him, and they would ravage each other, without niceties, without holding back.
He sensed how she wanted him. He kissed her deeply, closing his eyes, pushing his tongue into her mouth. He wanted to devour her. He pulled his head away from her and smiled. “Are you going to command me to make love to you again?”
“What?” she said, her voice raised.
“Are you going to command me, like you did last night?”
She drew breath in deeply and turned her head. “What do you mean?”
He chuckled, “That was my first time, being ordered to make love.” He laughed again.
“We had sex last night?” she asked incredulously.
He shook his head negatively, “Oh no. You were drunk. I knew that.” He paused, “You were funny.”
She sighed, thinking it had not been wise to go to Herbie’s.
He continued, “I don’t think you are accustomed to drinking so much.” He laughed again.
She was embarrassed, and not in the mood for a man to have the upper hand. She sighed, looking back at him. Her brows were drawn. She was suddenly annoyed. She reached over and took a sip of tomato juice. Suddenly, she was ravenous, hungry, thirsty. She completed the whole glass of juice in three gulps. “Please get me another,” she said, holding the glass out to him, and raising her left eyebrow imperiously.
Taking it from her, he chucked again, “Yes, your majesty.” He stood and walked again to the kitchen. She could see sunlight through the curtains.
“What did you call me?” she asked.
He walked back with a filled glass, and a carton of tomato juice. Sitting down in front of her, on the pallet of blankets, he continued, “You really don’t remember?”
She felt embarrassed again and took another drink of tomato juice. Finishing it, she handed it back to him.
“Another one?” he paused, smiling, looking at her mischievously. “Patesh?” He looked at her and laughed.
“Yes, please,” she responded coolly.
“Are you feeling better now?”
She nodded. “Batresh,” she corrected him.
“Princess Batresh?” he asked, trying to stifle a laugh.
She suddenly felt exhausted. No longer eager to hang out with new friends, but only to sleep. She lay back on the blankets. “You are a gentleman,” she sighed, looking at the ceiling fan above them. “Thank you for that.”
He reached down again and kissed her gently.
“By the way,” he continued, “Who is Amun?”
“Why do you ask?”
“You called me Amun a couple of times,” he said.
She looked away embarrassed.
“Something has been blinking inside your purse all morning,” he continued.
She sat up quickly. “Where is it?” she asked.
He reached behind him to a reclining chair and took her purse from the seat.
“Where is your bathroom, Seth?”
“Is everything OK?” he asked.
“Just fine,” she said with her eyes closed, not wanting him to know who she was.
He turned his upper body and pointed at the hallway. He looked at her concerned, “Just go left in the hallway. The bathroom is on the right,” he responded.
She stood quickly, too quickly, losing her balance. She began to lean towards the sofa.
Seth stood quickly, grabbing her arm, before she fell. “Be careful,” he cautioned. “I know you have not had so much to drink. Sorry, that was my fault. I kept buying you glasses of Chablis.”
She looked at him with wide eyes. “What?” she asked fearfully.
He chuckled again, “Just take it easy today. Let me get you some crackers,” he said, walking towards the kitchen again.
She bit her lip and walked quickly to the bathroom. Opening the door, she saw a fuzzy white rug lying between the toilet and the basin. There was a small window over the bathtub. A blue and red striped shower curtain hung from a chromed bar. Opening her purse quickly, she removed her wristband. She saw a red light was blinking. Something was wrong. She pressed a metallic square and waited.
Within a minute, Sister Ahatu answered. “Where are you? We are worried sick.” She blurted out.
Batresh smiled and sighed with relief. “So, nothing is wrong?” she asked. “The red light was blinking, I thought…”
Before she could finish, Sister Ahatu responded sharply, “What do you mean? Yes, of course, something is terribly wrong,” she paused, exasperated. “Horribly wrong!” She paused to take a deep breath. “The Matriarch of the House of Uanna was missing!” she said emphatically. “We didn’t know if you were lying dead somewhere in a snow drift.” She gasped to breathe. “We have just lost two Matriarchs,” she panted as if she were running, “I was afraid we had lost you as well.”
Batresh smiled at the old woman’s intensity, “Sister, I am so sorry, I just went out…”
Before she could finish, Sister Ahata blurted, “I don’t want to know, I don’t need to know.”
Batresh heard another voice in the background, “Did you find her?”
Sister Ahatu must have nodded, because she didn’t answer.
“I really must go,” Batresh answered, growing impatient.
“In future,” the Sister began.
Batresh interrupted, “Let’s address this later,” and she clicked off.
She saw her reflection on Seth’s medicine cabinet mirror. Her hair had completely come undone and was sticking out in places. Her eyeliner was smeared, causing areas under her eyes to look unnaturally dark. Her lipstick was gone. She sighed, promising herself never to drink so much again. She could not afford to lose control.
She heard Seth’s voice, “Are you OK in there?” he called.
“Yes, be right out,” she answered. She sat down on the toilet and held her head in her hands. She tried to analyze the feelings she had. Her throat was dry again. Her head was pounding. She was fearful that Seth and Sister Ahatu would hate her, and she was annoyed with them for being too concerned at the same time.
She opened the door and went back out to the living room. She sat back down on the blankets with Seth. “Why didn’t we sleep in your bed?” she asked.
“Well,” he paused, “I was afraid you might throw up again.”
She sighed with embarrassment and lay back down. “Do you have any more tomato juice?”
He shook his head and laughed. “Sorry,” he looked at his wristwatch. “I am going to have to do something with your clothes,” he added.
She looked at him puzzled.
“Denny threw up on you,” he paused, “all over your beautiful dress, your shoes, and your coat.”
“Oh no,” she said, looking at her hands with embarrassment.
“Who were you talking to?” he asked.
“Just Sister Ahatu from the college,” she responded nonchalantly. “She wanted to know where I was.”
“How did you do that?” he asked.
“How did I do what?”
“There’s no phone in the bathroom. There is one in the bedroom and one in the kitchen,” he looked at her with confusion.
She realized it was 1977. There were no mobile phones. Her thinking was muddled. She felt panicked, afraid she was giving herself away. She had to think quickly. She shook her head, “Sorry, I was practicing what I would say when I see her today,” she invented.
He looked at her suspiciously.
“You are going to have to wear my clothes until I get you home,” he added.
“You are kind,” she sighed, looking away from him.
“Whatever you say, your majesty,” he stood, not laughing this time.
He turned to go back to the bedroom, still talking to her as he walked, “I heard them plowing the streets this morning, so I should be able to get you to Fontainebleau,” he continued.
She stood and looked around the room. She could hear drawers opening and closing from the bedroom. Her clothes were nowhere to be found. She walked to the kitchen. It was a sunny day. She hoped the snow would melt.
He brought a shirt, some jeans, and a coat, “These were from my skinnier youth,” he laughed at himself. “They might fit you,” he continued. “Let me get you something for your feet.
She slid on the jeans. They were too large everywhere, but her hips, where they were too tight. The shirt slid over her frame easily and looked more like a cloth bag than a garment.
He returned wearing a robe himself, holding a pair of canvas shoes. “I know these will be too big, but at least you can walk from the building to the car.”
She looked up at him seriously, “I am sorry about last night and this morning,” she offered. “You are right, I had never been drunk before. I should have stopped.”
“You were cute,” he said taking her hands in his, he reached up to kiss her, when there was a knock at the door. He drew his eyebrows together, wondering who it could be on such a snowy day.
He walked into the living room. She heard the door open, then a voice, “Miriam?” Sister Ahatu shouted. “You must be Seth,” she said accusingly.
Batresh sighed with embarrassment.
Wars and Rumors of Wars
“It is mid-afternoon, and they have most streets cleared,” Sister Ahatu said, as she turned left onto Skinker Boulevard.
Batresh sat in the passenger side of the station wagon, looking at the elderly nun. “I think you have worried Seth.”
“Really! How anyone could name an innocent child, Seth,” the Sister responded.
Batresh smiled at her, “People at this time don’t have the same associations with that name. Besides, his name was Sutekh. Seth is Europeanized.”
“He killed Yasar,” Ahatu responded, referring to the God of the Underworld, Osiris. She swerved left to avoid a puddle of meltwater on the road.
“Some say we need balance, the good with the bad. Without Sutekh how could we have the inundation and the growing season?” Batresh said, referring to the ancient legends of battle between Seth and Osiris. “Osiris’ rose from the dead; the tears of the beloved mother flooding the lands; death, birth, resurrection. Osiris, the God of vegetation; of the harvest, the Inundation, the growing of grain and fruit.”
“To Hell with balance,” Sister Ahatu responded, grinding her teeth together. “Good should outweigh evil.”
They turned onto Forsythe Boulevard and came to a stop behind several cars. A snow plow was at work ahead. Batresh looked to her right at a statue of the poet Robert Burns. Ahead, behind the statue, was a brownstone structure, part of Washington University.
“Evil can reach a long way, even across millennia, Princess,” the Sister continued. “Have you felt an unusual shift lately? A change in the timeline?” she asked, looking at Batresh.
Batresh remembered the feeling she had while explaining to David that there were religious orders run by the Potacas. “Maybe, the other day. I was explaining…”
Sister Ahatu interrupted her, “That’s right!” She inched the car forward a meter, raising her withered face to look above the steering wheel. “We received confirmation from the Jovian Portal. Many changes,” she pulled forward a short distance again, “…many changes.”
Batresh drew her brows together. “Can you tell me?”
“Mmmm hmmm,” Sister Ahatu responded. “One minute.” She rolled down the window to look to her left. She wanted to see what was going on ahead. What was blocking them. “Looks like the snowplow is stuck in the snow,” she sighed, and looked towards Batresh. “Of course, you came here from 1962, so you don’t know.”
“Don’t know what?” Batresh responded.
The Sister sighed, “My dearest Matriarch,” she began, turning off the motor. “No reason to waste gas.” She sat back away from the steering wheel and looked at Batresh. “This Tlaloc War was not supposed to happen. When they came back, everything changed.”
Batresh was tired and hung over. Her head hurt. She wanted to sleep. She looked ahead and brought her left hand to her forehead, rubbing it hard, as if the increased pressure would lessen the ache.
“You know why these hybrids all have blonde hair and blue eyes, don’t you?”
Batresh looked at her, feeling annoyed. Of course, she knew. “The same reason Northern Europeans have blue eyes,” she responded, feeling thirsty again. She continued, “…decreased melanin production caused by evolving in restricted sunlight.”
“But, what about the Potacas? What color are their eyes?” Ahatu asked.
“Black, I think,” Batresh looked at her questioningly. “They have two sets of lids...”
“Never mind that,” the sister interrupted. “Hybrids have blonde hair and blue eyes because of Tayamni DNA.”
Batresh looked at her with confusion. “But we are not naturally blonde. Our DNA is selected at gestation. Most of us have DNA similar to North Africans at Earth. Blue eyes are just…”
“Back at your home, at Sekhem,” Ahatu interrupted again. She motioned for Batresh to give her the large black purse on the floorboards in front of her. “Did any humans at Sekhem have blue eyes?”
Batresh thought for a moment, “No, I can’t remember any.”
“Exactly,” Sister continued. “Blue eyes entered hybrid DNA from someone with set, fixed, stronger DNA, less likely to mutate.”
Batresh was confused.
Sister Ahatu opened her large black purse and withdrew a pack of Salem cigarettes. She pushed in the cigarette lighter on the dashboard. Putting the end of the cigarette in her mouth, clamping down on it with her lips, she continued talking, “About twelve hundred years ago, we had blue eyes showing up in hybrids.” She puffed on the cigarette aggressively. “Do you know why?”
Batresh waved the cigarette smoke away from her face. “Immigration?” she laughed.
“Wrong!” the Sister shouted, not acknowledging Batresh’s attempt at humor. “It was Erish…did you know Erish? The Tayamni Captain who defended,” she paused and looked at Batresh over her glasses, “…and lost,” She puffed on the cigarette again, continuing, “…the Solar Temporal Portal?”
“What?” Batresh asked, turning sharply.
“Didn’t think you knew,” the Sister said. The cars began to move forward ahead of them. “’course, when you got the downloads, it hadn’t happened yet.” She stretched her neck to try to see over the steering wheel, “It was in early 1963, our great Captains,” she paused sarcastically, then continued, “We lost more than a thousand at the Lunar base, and we lost every one of the ships under Erish’s command.” The Sister reached down to start the car again. She flung the cigarette she just lit out the open window to her left. “We lost Erish too.” She pulled forward slightly. “They stole Kurrunite technology.”
Batresh gasped. “The downloads didn’t have this information.” She looked down at her hands laying on her lap. She realized she was wearing Seth’s trousers.
“Sure did,” the Sister responded, jerking the car forward, then breaking hard. “Sorry, hon. Old nuns can’t drive,” she laughed at her own joke, and continued, “Don’t worry, they rebuilt Luna Station. But, the Potacas can travel through time.” She eased forward, looking at the right to take a look at the disabled snowplow as they passed. “Outdated technology,” she laughed, referring to the snowplow. “The Elders put out a call to send Tayamni from the far flung reaches of the Transit to help us. And, they put in orders for more,” she laughed again. “You know, to create more of us. We have triple the Tayamni now than we had in 1962.
“Anyway,” the Sister continued. “We found traces of Erish’s DNA in all of them. Every single hybrid is a descendant of Erish. Don’t know what happened to her. We sent some people to investigate. We think 800s, Scandinavia. Couldn’t find her though.” She paused, then began again, “One group of Potacas went to your time at Sekhem, another to five years earlier, and others to four-time periods.” She looked at Batresh seriously.
“They abducted Erish?” Batresh asked astonished.
The Sister nodded, and turned slowly, carefully to the left, driving over rutted snow, pulling onto Big Bend.
“What are you saying?” Batresh asked incredulously.
The sister was driving very slowly down a steep hill, “Erish and the Potacas, they infiltrated the Saxons, and Bingo! Hybrids in Northern Europe.”
Batresh couldn’t remove her gaze from the old woman. “So, they activated her reproductive system?” Batresh asked recoiling.
“Looks like it,” the nun responded.
Batresh knew that every Tayamni woman with a human-like body had the ability to produce eggs and have children. But she also knew that Tayamni were created for specific purposes with desired characteristics. She had never heard of a Tayamni female with an active reproductive system.
They turned left onto Wydown Boulevard, then made a sharp right, pulling up into Fontainebleau’s campus. Pulling the station wagon into a snow drift next to the main building, the old woman sighed and turned off the motor. “Don’t know what happened to her, could be dead, could be alive. “We have whole populations of humans with Tlaloc, Potacas, and Tayamni DNA now,” the old woman said sighing, her eyes turned to light grey in the snow reflected sunlight. “Some populations have an increased predisposition to greed and war,” she said looking towards the statue of the Goddess in front of the Library. “It wasn’t this bad when you left, back in ’62,” she continued.
“Wars and rumors of wars,” she whispered, grabbing the door handle.
Batresh walked downstairs from her dorm room and saw most of the snow had melted. Most of the parking lot was submerged under pool-like puddles of water. She didn’t need her heavy wool coat. She saw Sister Ahatu standing at their station wagon with another nun. In the bright January sun, the rust on the fender of the station wagon was red against fading green paint.
The other nun turned around. Raising a muscular right arm deformed by hard physical work, she waved to Batresh, showing all the 75 years, she was allowed to age. Her back was hunched. Her black sweater stretched tightly across muscled shoulders.
Sister Ahatu shouted, “Good morning, Sleeping Beauty!” Then, she, gestured to the beautiful, blue sky, as if the warmer weather were a miracle. “So beautiful,” she proclaimed.
Batresh reached them and leaned down to the short, elderly, Sister Ahatu, hugging her. “Good morning, Sister.”
“Miriam, this is Sister Diotima,” Sister Ahatu offered. Batresh turned her palms upwards in greeting.
Sister Diotima looked left and right, placing her large hands over Batresh’s smaller ones, “We don’t really do that here,” she whispered. Her withered face wrinkled into a smile, and she continued, “We are in Cognito.” Then, she rasped with laugher, as if she had made a joke, her shoulders twitching. The pitch of her voice was centered on the break between falsetto and chest voice. If not for the modified habit she wore, she could be a living caricature of an elderly, upper crust British Lady.
“I am meeting someone out front,” Batresh offered, nodding at the older woman.
“I will walk with you,” Sister Diotima responded. Coming to Batresh, she took her hand and they walked towards a stairway leading up to the front of the college. Her eyes twinkled with delight. “You are Matriarch of your pero now?”
They reached the stair leading upwards. Then, Batresh looked into the nun’s face, “Frankly, I am not ready,” she said.
Sister Diotima shook her head and opened her mouth as if she going to scold her. But she stopped herself. Her mouth agape from the large breath she had taken, she responded exhaling, saying something entirely different than she planned, “We are never ready.”
They continued walking up the steps, holding hands. Batresh wondered whether the older woman needed held her hand to steady herself. The Nun added, “I knew your Mother well.”
Batresh looked at her with a confused expression, as they stepped into the dark shadow of the walkway covering.
Diotima continued, “She was not ready either.”
Batresh knew that Diotima wanted to calm her and help her to feel more confident. But her words were annoying. She looked into the older Nun’s face with dismay but said nothing. She began to wish she had taken an apartment. The sisters were meddlesome and intrusive.
At that moment, another Nun, more ancient even than Diotima approached them from the Library. Batresh looked down at an evergreen bush to the side of the sidewalk and sighed with frustration. Another one, she thought to herself.
Her gaze settled on a decorative stone on the ground beside the bush. A design was pressed on to it. She assumed the symbol, which she had seen in various places on campus, was an Ankh. But, looking more closely, she realized it was the Chi-Ro, the ancient Christian symbol formed by superimposing the first two Greek letters, chi and rho of the Greek word Christos. Then, she looked again, and was confused. From one view the design seemed to be an Ankh, but turning her head slightly, it was a Chi-Ro.
With a spark of realization, she gasped. There again, she saw again the statue of the Goddess. Her eyes widened. She had seen similarities between the Christian images of Mary and the Tayamni Goddess. But, now, she saw them as the same. She saw how these symbols, these Tayamni religious symbols had made their way into Christianity. She thought of the names for the Goddess that are used by Christians to describe Mary, The Holy Mother, The Queen of Heaven. She looked at Diotima with curiosity, looking into her face questioningly as the other nun approached them. Sister Diotima took the older Nun’s hand.
“Miriam, this is Sister Eudosia.”
Batresh looked at the elderly nun. She was small, thin, and hunched similar to Diotima, but she seemed infinitely ancient. White wisps of hair stuck out haphazardly from around her veil. Diotima continued, “You wouldn’t know it now, but Eudosia was a great beauty, and almost captured your Amun’s heart at ancient Earth.” Then, she launched into a raspy laugh again, entertained by her own transgression.
Eudosia drew her brows together and gave the taller Nun a dirty look. Eudosia looked into Batresh’s face, taking both her hands in hers. With a very sweet, wavering voice, she said, “We welcome you to our little school.”
An old Peugeot with faded blue paint turned into the drive. Bob had arrived and was approaching the curve where they stood.
Batresh sighed with relief, glad to have relief from these ancient women. But she had questions. Why were Christian symbols almost identical to the Tayamni symbols?
Eudosia turned round to see what attracted Batresh’s attention. Then, she turned back, looking into Batresh’s face intensely. “Your mother, the Matriarch, is here at St. Louis now.” Then, she leaned in closer, whispering, “This was all foretold. The Seven Hathors have planned it, all of it, even your being here, it was all planned.”
Diotima gasped and leaned down to her sharply, “Don’t tell her that! You know better!”
“It’s true! It’s true!” Eudosia hissed. Then, looking back into Batresh’s face, she continued, “Bring her here.” She looked around to see if anyone was watching. Then, she continued, “Your mother, I mean, the young man, Dennis, bring him here to study. We will help you. He must be guided, taught, he has a job to do.”
Diotima grabbed the ancient woman’s shoulder roughly. “You should not tell her that.”
Bob pulled up beside them in his car. Batresh tried to pull her hands out of the old Nun’s hands, but she was holding on. “Bring him here!” she hissed once more. Batresh finally broke free and walked to the car. She opened the passenger side door and looked back at the women. The smaller, thin nun still held her hands outwards as if she were holding Batresh’s hands. Her mouth open in mid-sentence.
Diotima looked flustered.
Batresh looked back towards the car and sat inside.
Bob looked at her smiling, “What was that about? Are they trying to convert you?” He laughed, as he turned out of the drive onto the street.
Batresh sighed and looked at Bob. She reached over, taking his hand in hers. “Bob, I have to have a serious conversation with you.” She could see he was tired. The area under his eyes was darker than the last time she had seen him. His face was careworn. “I will get lunch,” she smiled at him. “I want to talk with you about Denny.”
Bob’s smile vanished. He turned again, reaching down to change gears. He accidentally grated the gears against each other, “Damn this car!” he said. Finally, after several tries, he changed into the proper gear, and they jolted ahead. “I am sorry to tell you, Miriam, but Denny and I are not together.”
“I know,” she responded. “That’s what I need to talk with you about.”
He looked at her suspiciously. He had experienced close shaves but had never really had a relationship. He had his heart broken too many times, and he found the whole process to be painfully awkward. He was not eager to risk his feelings with Denny again. He shook his head, “It’s over Miriam.”
She looked to her right, at houses with stately, columned porches. “Do you know who he is dating now?”
He sighed, “I don’t really want to talk about it,” he asserted.
“Denny is in danger,” she said, gently.
Bob drew his brows together and turned right onto another street. “I’m listening,” he said.
“Denny is dating someone who does not have his best interest at heart,” she responded.
Bob pulled into a parking space and turned off the car. He looked at Batresh with sadness. “What does that have to do with me?” he asked.
“Are we here?” Batresh asked.
“The Clayton Coffee Company,” he said, looking at her. “They have a great Salade Niçoise.”
They walked into the restaurant, through a shop selling strangely shaped coffee and tea pots, decorative cups, and cookware. They sat at a table near the window. Clouds were beginning to obscure the sun.
“We had better share a salad, they are pretty big,” Bob offered. “What kind of danger is Denny in?” he asked looking down at the wood grain in the table. He knew he couldn’t fight this request now. He knew he would help him. He looked at Batresh with resignation.
“The nature of the Universe is not what you have come to understand,” she offered.
Again, he drew his brows together.
“I am going to tell you some things you will find hard to believe,” she said, as the waitress, wearing an apron emblazoned with the text, The Clayton Coffee Company on its skirt, came to their table.
The waitress took their order and walked away. Bob looked at her questioningly.
“This never gets any easier,” Batresh said, sighing.
Bob smiled and shook his head.
“My name is not really Miriam,” she began.
Another young woman brought glasses of water to them.
“My name is Batresh.”
Bob raised his eyebrows in curiosity. “That’s an unusual name,” he responded. “I don’t think I’ve heard it before.”
She was focused on his face. “You are not likely to,” she said. “If you were to research it, you would find that it is ancient Egyptian.”
The waitress placed glasses of iced tea on the table in front of them.
“You study ancient Egyptian history, don’t you?” he added, reaching over to take two sugar packets from a small wicker basket.
“It is my specialty,” Batresh responded, “although I have never studied it.”
Bob looked up at her curiously. “How could…”
Batresh interrupted, “You have studied anthropology, haven’t you?”
Bob nodded, shifting uncomfortably in his chair. “How did you know that I studied,” he began.
“Have you ever wondered at the speed with which Homo Sapiens developed after suddenly appearing in the Rift Valley?” Batresh asked him, ignoring his question.
Bob noted that her accent had changed. She spoke in a more clipped, formal manner. She almost sounded British, “I just assumed that the changes were,” he began.
She interrupted him again. “The DNA of Homo Erectus living in the Rift Valley was spliced with that of another race, a race much more genetically advanced.”
Bob stopped stirring his glass of tea and looked at her with concern. Then, he looked down and resumed stirring his tea. “This sounds like something I’ve read, what is that book? Oh yes, Chariot of the Gods.” He looked at her and narrowed his eyes. “What does this have to do with the price of tea in China?” He asked.
She looked at him with a confused expression. But, then, regained determination. “I am not familiar with that book,” she responded, reaching over for a packet of sugar. “But the theory such a title suggests, is accurate.”
A slow smile began to spread across Bob’s face. He looked up at her, expecting her to smile in the same way. He expected to hear the punchline of the joke now. He believed he was being set up for something.
But she wasn’t smiling.
His merriment vanished when he realized she wasn’t joking. He swallowed hard and looked into her face. “Are you trying to tell me something?” he asked.
“Those advanced beings were from the star cluster you call The Pleiades.” She lay her teaspoon down on the table and continued, “From a moon called Mussara, orbiting a gas giant called Nirgal.”
Bob pressed his lips together and raised his left eyebrow.
“Nirgal orbits within a binary star system, the two stars of which consist of a red star called Sandu and another, white star, called Sig.”
Bob swallowed hard and took in a deep breath. “I suppose you are going to tell me that you are one of those people,” he said. Then, he began to smile, again expecting to hear the punch line. “Are you telling me you are from the Pleiades?” He asked, as if urging her to get to the point. Then, he looked towards his right, through the window. A young man and woman were walking together on the sidewalk next to the restaurant.
“Let’s change the subject,” he offered.
“Bob, there is more, but I should give you time to absorb what I have told you so far.”
The waitress brought a clear, glass bowl of Salade Niçoise and placed it between them.
“Do you like olives?” Bob asked her. She smiled and nodded. He tore off a piece of bread and continued, “So, you’re not studying at Wash U?”
His facial expression told her he was simply engaging with her now to be entertained.
“No, Bob, I am not studying at Washington University. But you must not tell anyone that I have misled them,” she wondered how she could prove that what she was telling him is true.
He looked up at her again with a mocking smile on his face, “So, how do you know so much about Pre-Pharaonic Egypt?” He took a bite of salad. “I mean, I overheard you explaining things to Seth last week.”
Then, she remembered. Telepathy had worked well with David. So, she sent Bob a message, “I grew up in Pre-Pharaonic Egypt.”
Bob kept the same smile on his face, and then looked to his right, then, to his left. Then back to her, “You are a ventriloquist,” he stated flatly.
Batresh sighed, but kept her eyes fixed on his face.
Then, she sent him images from the palace at Sekhem, the Matriarch on her death bed, and of Denny when he was a small boy.
Bob looked confused. Then, he looked into her eyes as if he were trying to peer into her eyes.
She sent him another verbal message. “Yes, I sent you those images. They are of Denny.”
He froze. He had been in the process of putting tuna on his fork. But he froze in the middle of the movement. Bob swallowed hard and drew his brows together. He lay down his fork. He looked again towards the window. The clouds had grown thicker, the light grayer. The winter sky was becoming more threatening.
Batresh could tell he was afraid.
“I apologize for this…intrusion,” she offered, “but I need your help.”
Bob swallowed again, “I wish I could duplicate this dressing,” he added. “I have tried it several times, but I can never,” he did not finish the sentence. But he looked straight ahead of him, towards the door to the restaurant. His face was suddenly pale. There, entering the restaurant, was the muscular man Denny was dating.
Bob sat back against the back of his chair and looked into Batresh’s face, then, back to the door.
“Who is there?” she asked him telepathically. She did not want to turn around.
Bob opened his mouth to answer, as the large man walked to their table. He stopped, standing beside them. “Mind if I join you?” he asked, his voice a deep baritone. He stood with his pelvis thrust forward, in a powerful stance.
Bob put a false smile on his face, and stood up, extending his right hand to the man. “Please join us, I think I have seen you in the Chorus. Is that right?”
“Indeed, you have,” the man responded. The waitress brought another chair to their table.
Batresh looked at the man coldly. “Did Denny come with you?”
The man suddenly looked concerned. “No,” he looked towards the door. “I have not been able to get hold of him. I saw you through the window and I thought you might know where he is.” He turned the small, wicker chair around backwards, sitting on the seat and folding his arms over the back. He rested his chin there. “I thought you were friends of his,” he continued.
Bob offered, “I am close to him,” Bob looked at Batresh knowingly. “We are dating.”
Batresh knew she had reached him. Bob was on her side. He would help her.
The man straightened in the chair, moving his hands down to his thighs. He looked at Bob with concern, “I thought I was dating him.”
Batresh looked down at the table. She pretended to stifle a laugh. She looked back up into the man’s face, “Well, I believe you two are engaged in, what I would call, a competition.” She smiled, “I am Miriam, and this is Bob. I’m sorry I don’t remember your name.”
“I gave you my name earlier in the week,” he responded, displaying aggression in his voice. He cleared his throat and responded, “Charles.”
Batresh looked down at her lap, pretending again to stifle a laugh. “I’m sorry,” she offered, “I thought I almost heard you pronounce a name that sounded vaguely Aztec, like Quetzalcoatl, or something like that.”
The man’s face changed dramatically. He suddenly lost all pretense at being social. He looked at Batresh with a coldness that was meant to be threatening. He nodded affirmatively. “That’s fine,” he said, his voice more aggressive, and lower in pitch. “I also know who you are.” Now, he looked sharply at Bob. “Take care who you associate with, human,” he commanded. “You may meet their fate.” Then, he rose roughly and left the restaurant.
Bob’s mouth was ajar as he looked at the door through which the man excited.
Batresh turned back around to face him. She sighed.
Bob looked into her face with wild eyes.
“Now, you know,” she added. She put her fork into the salad, and looked back up at him, “He was following us. That little visit was not a coincident.” She brought the fork to her mouth. “He is being punished, that is why he is here, among humans, appearing to be a human himself.” She placed an haricot in her mouth, and bit down on it, making a crunching noise. She continued, “This is the ultimate humiliation for him. I don’t think we have much to fear. His words were probably mostly bravado.”
She reached down and tore off a piece of bread. “And, He really doesn’t know where Denny is.” She took a bite and chewed. “You know; this is really quite good.”
Bob didn’t know what to do. He was hyperventilating.
Batresh reached across the table, taking his right hand in hers. “Calm down, sweetie, this will all make sense,” She took a sip of iced tea, and continued, “eventually.” She looked into his eyes with concern. “Denny is with my friend, David. He is helping us.” She took another bite of tuna, covered with dressing. She closed her eyes, enjoying the rich, tart deliciousness.
Denny sat at a wooden desk that was as old as he was. The surface, a small flat piece of wood, was barely wide enough for his notebook. He looked towards the front of the room where an elderly nun pointed to a map.
The nun, Sister Ahatu, looked into the young man’s face. She had awakened early that morning terrified. In her dream she was at mass. A frail man, wearing papal robes and a miter, processed down the central aisle. He glanced at her. She saw pale blue eyes flash yellow in candlelight. His bald head was too large for his thin body. When he reached the altar, he turned forcefully. His robes flew around him. Looking at her, raising a bony finger, he pointed, shouting her name, “Ahatu!” Pale, veined skin began to form on his face, his eyes glowed yellow. With a broken voice he shouted, “Maledicti!”
Standing at the front of the class this morning, pointing to the map of ancient Sumer, she remembered this image. She felt faint. The dream sapped her. She felt dark energies, even here at Fontainebleau. The dream she had contained a vision of a new Pope. In her dream, a sinister, mitered hybrid glared at her from jaundiced eyes. The timeline was changing; she felt it. The future Pope would not be fully human.
Hybrids were all around her. She had seen one, a student, sitting in a desk against the wall.
She continued looking at Denny. Knowing he was human calmed her. She must complete the sentence.
She cleared her throat and began again, “The religion of Moses absorbed so many characteristics from the Babylonian religion, that it was completely transformed.”
She looked down at the floor then back up into Denny’s face. “The lake of fire, angels, demons, Noah and the Ark,” she continued, “all came from the Babylonian exile.”
The woman to Denny’s left, as tall as him, pale, with long auburn hair pinned up loosely behind her head, opened her palm to the professor.
“Yes, Miss Hudson?” the nun asked.
“What happened when they returned from exile?” she asked, looking over at Denny, smiling as if she knew a secret.
“You know the story of the Good Samaritan?” the nun responded.
Maude Hudson nodded.
“Remember, the Hebrews who had been taken to Babylonia had been leaders, the most educated, the most powerful, the wealthiest members of society. When they returned, almost a century later they assumed it was the Jews who remained behind that had changed. They didn’t realize it was they who had changed.” She paused, then continued. “Of course, this is speculation, scholarly speculation,” she paused again, clearing her throat. “It is speculated in much the same way as circumstantial evidence is speculation. There is evidence, but not conclusive.”
She cleared her throat again and looked at the students to make sure they were listening. She continued, “Those returning from exile condemned those who remained behind. They believed those who remained had become apostates. They became untouchable. That is why the story of the Good Samaritan is so powerful. Jesus taught that a Samaritan, an untouchable, the descendants of those who remained behind, could be good.”
The young man sitting next to Denny pushed his foot to Denny’s chair.
Denny looked down at the flare bottomed jeans and the young man’s outstretched leg.
The hybrid appeared to be about Denny’s age, but thin. His head too big for his body, his blue eyes a little too large. His pale skin and wispy blonde hair gave him a sickly appearance.
The hybrid rolled his eyes dramatically.
“Young man,” Sister Ahatu asserted.
He pretended to ignore her, looking at the empty chair beside him.
The blonde man turned around, looking at her vacantly.
“Do you have an opinion you’d like to share with us?”
His eyes widened as he looked at her. He was trying to create a defense. Finally, he drew his lips together in a pout and assumed an air of superiority. “That’s not what we learned in Sunday School,” he responded.
Sister Ahatu’s face flushed and she pointed at him. “Are you in Sunday School now? Or are you in college?”
The class of mostly young women burst into laughter. The young man blushed.
“What’s your name?” the nun asked, waving her hands, trying to get the young women to quieten down.
He was looking down at his textbook again.
“What is your name young man?”
He looked up at her with a languid expression, tying to insinuate that he had already forgotten about the incident.
“Buzur, isn’t it,” she offered, knowing full well what his name was. She looked at him accusingly. “Yes, it is.” she paused for dramatic effect, “An old word. A seed thrown on the ground. A weed, a weed that threatens all other plants around it. That’s what your name means, isn’t it?” She pretended to laugh, as if she had made a joke.
Again, looking unconcerned, almost as if he were drunk, he responded nasally, looking through the window with a nonchalant air as he pronounced his name, both wrists limped forward in front of his face. “Buzzy,” he looked around defiantly at the girls; his lids half closed in derision, “Buzzy Letcher.” His femininity was artificial and exaggerated. “You can call me Buzzy,” he offered.
“I suggest you bend your overly studied, grandiloquent head to your studies if you wish to do well in this class,” she asserted, flipping the ends of her modern veil with a movement of her head, as if the veil were an extension of her hair. She turned back to the map. She could feel it more strongly now. There were more of them. They were here at Fontainebleau.
“Class dismissed,” she said.
Denny closed his notebook. Standing, he held his books in front of him like a girl. Buzzy walked on one side, Maude on the other.
“What do you think of that old bat?” Buzzy asked.
Denny looked at him with wide eyes. Feeling so fortunate to go to college, it had not occurred to him to criticize those who were helping him.
“I think she’s brilliant,” Maude responded. “I love this class. It turns everything the Church taught us on its head.”
Denny simply held his books, walking to the next class.
“I don’t believe her,” Buzzy stated.
“Why are you in the class then?” Maude asked.
“I need the credits,” he responded.
They walked a little while further. “Want to go to Herbies after school today?” Buzzy asked.
Maude looked at him with wide eyes, “Don’t you have to be 21?”
“Not if you know how to work the system,” he responded slyly.
“You know, it’s a gay bar,” Maude responded. “Didn’t you tell me you have a girlfriend, somewhere,” she gestured with her right hand, as if somewhere were so far away as to be non-existent.
Denny looked ahead, walking between, not looking at either of them.
“Doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy lying in the gutter occasionally. Sodomites can be quite entertaining,” he asserted.
Maude looked at Denny to get his attention.
He looked at her furtively.
“I’ll go if Denny goes,” she said. “But, only to protect him from you,” she smiled sarcastically.
Buzzy sipped a cup of coffee. He sat at a small table in the corner of the dining room of the Parkmoor. He didn’t like meeting here. The windows were too large; it was too well lit. Anyone driving by could see him.
“Ilyapa,” he whispered, rolling his eyes. How could somebody, ensconced at a time over 30 years ago, give orders to the future and the past? He’d never believed in her existence. He’d even grown to be suspicious that Potacas, other than hybrids like himself, ever existed. “I mean,” he’d told his tutor, Fosca, “I’ve never seen one.”
Fosca had raised him as his own child, had taught him the new ways, the new laws of behavior. Fosca had trained Buzzy to value profit above all else. He’d taught him that, before the Tlaloc war, the Potacas had sold biological weapons to species throughout the Spur.
As a child, Buzzy had believed him. But now he was an adult.
Leaning back in the chair, he watched a delivery man take packages from the back of a truck. He sighed and smiled. “At least they’re paying me,” he whispered. He appeared to be a young, thin, human man of 20. Even though he’d been born before the Tlaloc war, he had no memory of it.
In 1962, when he was a small child, Fosca talked of the upcoming war as if it had happened in the past. “Timeline changes,” he’d explained, dismissing the whole matter with a wave of his hand.
Buzzy understood his assignment. He’d been told his people were succeeding. They occupied influential positions in government and included movie stars and senators.
But his tutor didn’t quite look as human as those famous hybrids. Fosca seemed too alien, even thinner than Buzzy. He wore baggy clothes to hide his appearance, and that rug on his head? Buzzy wished he would at least throw it in a washing machine.
Buzzy watched the entrance to the restaurant as Fosca struggled with the heavy glass door.
A dark young man reached over and held it open for him.
When Fosca sat down, Buzzy noticed he looked different. He was not so pale as the last time. Apparently, he saved his payments for genetic upgrades. There were wisps of hair on his bald head.
The dark young man entered with Fosca and sat down next to Buzzy. He appeared to be Middle Eastern and wore a noble Mesopotamian nose.
“I moved the payment to your account,” Fosca said, looking at Buzzy. Gesturing to the dark man sitting beside him, he continued, “Allow me to present the famous, Tecpatl. I’m sure you’ve heard of him.”.
Buzzy pretended not to see them. He continued flipping through St. Louis magazine, looking at an advertisement for a steak house. He studied a photograph of a rare steak that seemed to lie in a thin puddle of blood.
“Did you hear me?” Fosca asked.
“You will receive another installment after you go to Herbie’s.”
Buzzy looked up at the dark young man. “Yes, I have heard of you,” he paused and looked at Fosca, then back at Tecpatl. “I suppose YOU are a hybrid too, like us? I heard you were here before the timeline change,” he offered.
Fosca sat back in his chair.
Buzzy continued, “I heard you were at Luna during the attacks,” Buzzy continued. “You escaped from a Tayamni prison?”
Fosca looked towards the plate glass windows on Clayton Road, then back at Buzzy. “You don’t need to concern yourself with that.” Fosca gestured to Tecpatl. “He will help you. Actually,” he paused. “He is your competition.”
Buzzy slid his forefinger around the rim of his coffee cup languidly. “Competition?”
“If you can’t complete your job, he will do it for you,” Fosca said.
Buzzy looked up into the older Potacas’ face. “How so?”
“You are each to endear yourselves to the young man.”
“What do you mean?” Buzzy said, looking into his eyes intensely.
“You are to become his lovers. Then, he will be easier to manipulate,” Fosca said.
A slow, wicked smile spread across Buzzy’s face. “The Tlalocs work for us now, don’t they?” Buzzy asked.
“You both work for me,” Fosca said. “And I work for Ilyapa.”
“The mythical Ilyapa,” Buzzy sighed dramatically.
“You don’t believe she is real?” Fosca asked.
“She is real,” Tecpatl interrupted. “I know too well.”
“I find it hard to believe that the only Potacas with non-human DNA sits at 1941, giving orders to all of us,” Buzzy said.
“It is not your concern,” Fosca said. “Do your job.”
“I intend to. I just want to know why removing the young man, this Denny, a sodomite, is necessary. Isn’t there something more important? I mean, really. He’s weak and effeminate. He’s scared of his own shadow. My gifts are wasted.”
“You do not understand who he is, who he will be,” Fosca said.
“Enlighten me,” Buzzy said, leaning in.
“You are aware the Tayamni are, at their core, beings of pure energy?” Fosca continued.
“I have heard, but where is their brain? How do they store information?” Buzzy asked.
“Lattices of light, or so I’m told. They can travel through time,” Fosca continued. “The lattices are what they call their Ka…”
Fosca stopped in midsentence and sat back in this chair. “You realize I’m not giving you this information for free.”
A waitress stopped at their table and looked at Fosca with surprise.
He waved her away.
Buzzy smiled condescendingly, looking at his old tutor, “Listen to me, you useless old codger, I will drop out of that women’s college right now, if you don’t tell me what I want to know.”
Fosca looked into Buzzy’s face. “The order to destroy the boy came from high above, some say from Ilyapa herself.” He gestured toward Tecpatl. “He is in the Symphony Chorus; they’ve been on a couple of dates. He is getting closer. Denny is protected by the Sisters of Hypatia, that’s why he’s at Fontainebleau. Could any more proof be necessary?” He paused, looking at the dark young man sitting next to him. “Tecpatl tried to destroy him 15 years ago. But, failed. The Tayamni are protecting him.”
Tecpatl looked at Buzzy. “They’ve got superior technology and warriors protecting him. That’s how they do it,” he said.
Fosca interrupted, “If Tecpatl gets rid of him before you do, the payment will go to him.”
Buzzy looked back down at the magazine.
The older man looked up at the plastic light fixture hanging down above the table; a fanciful flower, designed in the 1960s; its yellow petals opened, allowing a pink bulb to extend downwards towards them, a stamen, ready to pollenate. The bulb was lighted. Still looking up at the chandelier, he continued, “The Tayamni core, their Ka, can be bound to a physical body. This creates a unique being, the physical body influences the Ka.” He lowered his gaze to look into Buzzy’s face. “If the physical body dies, the Ka can be bound to another body. But the person will be different. Each body changes the character of the Ka.” He paused, then, continued, “Denny doesn’t know who he really is.”
“Why are you telling me all this, old man?” Buzzy spat out.
“Because you asked,” Fosca said. “The young man you have been assigned to remove is important to their mission, the Tayamni mission. Otherwise they would not expend so many resources to protect him. Ilyapa and Tecpatl failed 15 years ago.”
Buzzy sat up, his eyes widening. “Ilyapa was here?”
“We’ve intercepted messages,” Fosca continued. “This young man will do something that will be very bad for us. He will be instrumental in a big cultural change.”
“What? That little faggot? What will he do, exactly? What can he do?” Buzzy asked.
“I have not been told,” Fosca replied.
“How can a weak, vulnerable kid like him defeat us?”
“That is information we do not have,” Fosca responded. “It is a timeline we must prevent.”
Buzzy was silent. He looked up for the waitress. He wanted more coffee. Without changing his gaze, he offered, “My price has tripled.”
Fosca looked down at the surface of the table.
“So, what name are you using?” Buzzy asked the dark young man. “I’m sure you’re not going around telling people your name is Tecpatl.” He smiled sarcastically.
“Charles,” he responded. “Charles Moorehouse.”
“How long have you been dating Denny. He’s never mentioned you.”
“We are taking a break,” Tecpatl said.
“Why didn’t you kill him in 1962?” Buzzy asked.
“They’ve got Tayamni females helping him, warriors. They stole our weapon...used it against us,” the dark young man responded. “One of those women is here now, still protecting him. She’s at Fontainebleu.”
“Who?” Buzzy asked.
“She changed her appearance. She looks Mediterranean now, tight, curly hair, dark skin,” Tecpatl said.
"That’s why you are working for us now!” Buzzy responded sarcastically. “You failed,” he laughed. “So, all your people are gone? The Tlalocs left you here alone?”
“Only human hybrids are left,” Tecpatl responded. “Don’t know what happened...ships, everything, all gone.”
“So, here we are,” Buzzy said with a large effeminate gesture, indicating other people in the restaurant. “Human, Potacas, and Tlaloc hybrids, left here, trying to take this planet with no direction, no information, and no good reason.”
“I just gave you a reason,” Fosca said gruffly. “And be quiet. We do not announce our presence to the world.”
“And just what do we call this rag-tag assemblage of hybrids,” Buzzy asked.
Fosca leaned in close and whispered, “Ilyapa calls us, The Family.”
“What are you majoring in?” Maude asked.
“American Literature,” Buzzy responded. “Who knew that there was such a thing?” he looked aside towards another young man sitting at a table next to them. “I mean, aside from T.S. Elliot, who is there worth reading?” He smiled pretentiously.
The young man at the adjacent table was looking at Denny.
Denny sat there silently, nurturing a glass of Chablis. The wine tasted bitter to him, but he thought he had to like it. He wanted to be sophisticated, like Buzzy.
“But Elliot lived so long in England, he should really be considered English. Of course, that would leave the subject of American Literature without anyone worth reading,” Buzzy smiled haughtily. “Give me one of those pink cigarettes, darling.” he motioned towards Victor. He looked out towards the west, layers of yellow and pink clouds were lit from underneath. The sun had slipped below the horizon. He held the cigarette aloft, stretching his arm upwards. With his other hand he took Maude’s arm, turning her towards the plate glass window. They were clustered around a small table in the bar at Herbie’s.
“Just look,” he directed her, gesturing to the window. “Soon, it will be evening.” He looked down at Maude in time to see her roll her eyes. Unfazed, he continued, “Let us go then, you and I,” he switched his gaze to Denny’s face. His smile disappeared. He continued, “… when the evening is spread out against the sky,” now looking at Denny and wrinkling his nose, his voice dripping with sarcasm, “…like a patient etherized on a table.”
Maude, Victor, and Charles applauded. “Hear, hear,” Victor proclaimed.
Buzzy bowed from the waist. This is just too easy, he thought to himself, designating himself leader.
“You know, there is a cave in the woods, south of the city. I used to go there with my friends from high school all the time. It is so secluded. We could go there and smoke some reefer. I got a four-finger lid I’m saving for a special occasion. Who wants to go?” he asked. He took a couple of steps and stood next to Denny. With a dramatic, sweeping movement, he sat down next to the young man, bringing his lips to within an inch of Denny’s mouth. “Have you ever smoked reefer?”
“Buzzy is one of them,” Sister Ahatu whispered, looking through the open window of the station wagon.
“How do you know? You can’t tell by looking,” Sister Diotima responded.
“I can tell.” Sister Ahatu puffed on her cigarette. “A child could tell. Haven’t you seen him?” She paused, flicking her cigarette out onto the pavement of the parking lot. “He is too skinny, and that head!”
Diotima looked out at a squirrel scurrying along the naked branch of an oak tree.
“He has the attitude.”
Ahatu reached over to her open handbag and felt around inside.
Sister Diotima sighed with frustration.
“Damn it, I’m out. You got a cigarette?” Ahatu asked.
“You know I don’t smoke,” Diotima responded.
Ahatu looked slowly upwards into her friend’s face.
Cataracts were forming around the edges of Ahatu’s blue irises, even in the dim light. She seemed to have tears in her eyes.
“He is getting too chummy with Denny,” Ahatu continued, reaching over to the ash tray. She retrieved a half consumed, bent cigarette. She brought it to her lips. “They know who Denny is.”
Diotima looked at her sternly. “Maybe we shouldn’t have brought him here.”
“We can keep our eyes on him. If he wasn’t here,” she brought a lit match to the end of the cigarette, puffing aggressively. “…they may have already killed him.”
“We should tell Batresh,” Diotima said.
“Yes, yes,” Ahatu said.
“Batresh is here to protect him,” Diotima said. Evening was falling fast. Trees visible in early evening light, had now disappeared into darkened clumps.
“She is here to learn,” Ahatu let out a big puff of smoke. “She is learning how to be Matriarch.”
“The Jovian Portal said something about a forest, or a wooded area.”
Ahatu nodded. “That Potacas boy,” she paused to wave at a young woman walking on the other side of the parking lot. “I heard him say something about a cave. He asked Maude to go with them.”
“When?” Diotima asked.
“Don’t know, soon,” Ahatu responded. She looked at Diotima. Her lips were pressed together around the cigarette. “We must strategize.”
“What are we going to do?” Diotima asked.
Ahatu looked her up and down. “You are a big woman. If we put you in a uniform and give you a gun, you could be a forest ranger.”
“A forest ranger with a gun?”
Ahatu reached over and started the car engine, turning on the headlights. “Or Batresh’s friend, what’s his name?”
“No, no,” Ahatu shook her head. “I don’t think he could pull it off.”
Ahatu slowly pulled the large, green station wagon to a parking spot on the other side of the lot, next to the dormitories.
“Why haven’t they been assessed?” Namazu demanded, balling her hand into a fist.
“We are processing them,” E5 began. “Resources are strained. There aren’t enough of us…there are too many. Medical facilities here at Anila will open in a few days.”
“Anila?” Namazu asked. “Don’t you mean Abullu? This is Abullu, right?”
E5 shook his head. “People are calling it Anila. Archeologist have confirmed it’s probably the landing site,” he said, referring to the site where the Nine first stepped off their ship. “We will call it the popular name, Anila.”
“The Nile,” Namazu muttered.
E5 tilted his head as if he did not understand.
“Anila is the ancient name for the Nile at Kemet,” Namazu said. “It means ‘the wind.’ Wind blows south from the Mediterranean, against the direction of flow.”
E5 looked at her for a moment as if searching for something on her face. “Oh yes,” he said, as if verifying her remark. “Shall I take you to the medical facilities? We will begin caring for the wounded tomorrow. Agu and Etana7 will be first in line. We apologize for the delay,” E5 said.
“Why are they so dirty?” Namazu asked. “They are filthy, probably rife with infections. What kind of facilities are they living in?”
“Again,” E5 said, shaking his head. “Five planets, billions of people have died. They arrive here daily, already filthy, burned, gravely wounded. Only 12 planets are left. They are concerned about survival; they are not able to help refugees. If falls to us…”
“I know,” Namazu interrupted. “I know. Of course, there are millions more arriving.”
E5 looked down at the ground and was silent. Finally, he looked up at her and continued, “I will take you to the medical facilities. A landing pad opened there this morning.” He took her hand in his. “I will give you a tour.”
“You will need more than one city,” Namazu began.
E5 nodded, sighing. “We are looking for additional sites.” A hydraulic door opened in front of them. “The strip is narrow,” he said, referring to the Ankida strip. “And, it is moving towards the cooler side in this hemisphere. Storms have gotten worse. The desert encroaches, glaciers move west. Permafrost takes a while to melt.”
He stopped and turned to face her. “Many of the refugees are reptilian, the colder ground is not appropriate for them. We hope to move them to the Southern hemisphere. But, of course..”
Namazu interrupted him, “…there’s no infrastructure.”
They walked onto damp ground. The wind was strong. Lightning flashed in the east. Namazu’s cloak whipped around her.
Walking around a large earth mover, they saw it. A flat field whitened by frost and dusted by snow, stretched out before them. A muddy, rutted road stretched into the camp. On each side of the road were derelict vessels, even sections of crashed space stations. Against the junked space craft, sheets of composite metals leaned against each other. Tents made from insulation blankets, metal drums used to contain fire - all were clustered around thick, tall, metal ruins. Electrical cords looped down from living quarters high above the ground.
Sitting on makeshift benches, old casings, pipes and boxes where the inhabitants of the camp. Those who were not sitting, walked around in a daze, like inhabitants of a city after an earthquake.
E5 saw Namazu staring.
“Ancient technology, wrecked vessels, we bring whatever may be of use. We are in desperate need of housing,” he said.
To their left were a series of disabled ships and a transport vessel large enough to hold an entire village. Smoke billowed from makeshift piping attached to the transport. Most used fire for heating and cooking.
E5 pointed to the right, “There, a vessel has set down on our new landing pad. It looks Tayamni. I want to show you something.”
They began walking over. A large, rear door serving as a ramp to the rear of the vehicle was open. Inside were Tayamni bringing supplies for refugees. A woman with dark skin, her hair twisted into tight braids stood in the hatch. Holding a pad in her hands, she checked off items from the manifest.
“Excuse me,” E5 shouted.
The woman looked up.
Namazu gasped, “Berenib?”
The woman looked at her with confusion.
“Is that you?” Namazu began walking up the ramp.
A broad smile spread across the woman’s face. “Admiral,” she responded.
Namazu reached her hand out, but Berenib grabbed her, hugging her tightly.
“Admiral Namazu,” she said again. “No, you are Commander now.”
Namazu spun around. “E5, this is my Sovereign, our Berenib.” She turned back around to see Berenib glowering.
“We have met,” E5 said weakly.
“Yes, we have,” Berenib responded with steel in her voice. “And now, everything has gone to hell.”
Namazu looked at her with confusion.
“If we don’t stop these damned cyborgs,” she began, looking at E5. “No insult intended,” she continued. “There won’t be any civilizations left to protect.”
The New World
Denny awoke in a panic, shivering. He pulled blankets up to his chin.
Having spent his whole life in Tupelo, his first winter in St. Louis was a shock. During the day, the sun melted snow and ice. At night it froze again, coating streets, sidewalks and stairs with a slippery sheen.
Like the wind outside his dorm window, howling, tearing around corners, night-terrors tore at him -- fear, anxiety, dread. In later years he would be diagnosed with PTSD. At night, as if his father were in the room with him, anxiety did not let him rest. The long shadow of his father blotted out the light.
He had believed removing himself from the source of torment, moving away from Mississippi, he would find tranquility, he would build a life of harmony.
But the pain had worsened.
It was as if living with his parents, in the midst of the horror, he successfully created a boundary, an airgap, an insulation. During the long years of violence, he’d learned to protect himself. He did not think about who his parents were as people. He dared not look into that reality. Without knowing it, he viewed them as two-dimensional. They had not been real. Part of his unconscious survival strategy had been to diminish their power.
He developed other survival mechanisms. He made plans to flee. He created a world peopled with different versions of himself, different faces, different realities, different futures.
During beatings, he had learned a secret. He found a safe place, a place no one else knew, a different dimension populated only by himself. When his father picked him up and threw him against the floor, he observed patterns in the carpet, colors of the thread, the bright blue of his father’s eyes, the raw-meat redness of his face.
He retreated to a platform from which he could observe, from which he could analyze, a platform he could escape to. He had not been present.
Living away from the source of pain, living in St. Louis, the safe place, his insulation from reality, had vanished.
He found, living in St. Louis, other protective mechanisms got in the way. He wanted to connect with others but didn’t know how. There were new fears, new anxieties. Accustomed to seeing all conflict as a matter of life and death, small disagreements took on enormous portent.
His parents and the adults around him had worked menial jobs. Some were on government assistance. They lived lives of misery and poverty, suspicious of anyone who was different. The people Denny grew up with, his family, blamed everyone else for their misery.
Denny’s plan to avoid their fate and to escape from torment had been simple, to graduate from high school. Then, he would leave Mississippi. Until then, he endured. Afraid that he would never graduate if he ran away, he would endure the pain until that day. He would live with his parents until that magical day, the day he would graduate from high school, his day of liberation.
It was now, during his first semester at college, that he made another plan.
It had been only a few days ago, while sitting alone in a café, that a man approached him.
“Excuse me, Ma’am,” he said. “Do you mind if I take this chair?” The man took the back rail of the chair, preparing to drag it to another table.
Denny looked up at him, “What?”
“Do you mind if I take this chair?”
“You called me Ma’am,” Denny said.
The man stood there, waiting for the response to his question. “Are you waiting for someone?” he asked.
“I’m a man,” Denny mumbled.
“I’m sorry, what did you say?” the man responded.
Denny sighed with resignation. “You can take the chair,” he said looking down, giving up.
As the man dragged the chair away, Denny concentrated on the texture of the table.
He looked at the surface, the grain of the wood, and thought of his future. He imagined himself standing on the front steps of Fontainebleau looking across at the Library as he had earlier that day. He looked at the statue of the Virgin Mary. There she was, wearing a toga, a wrap over her shoulders, a drape over her head, her palms upwards in invitation.
In order to make use of his new prospects he must present himself as a masculine male. Who would hire a feminine man? Who would take him seriously as he was?
He must push all thoughts of living openly gay aside. He must appear to be a heterosexual man.
He would watch his gestures, his voice, the way he stood. He would examine everything, every detail. He would be vigilant.
He didn’t know that the way he carried his books, the way he stood, his soft voice, his gestures, all his mannerisms betrayed him. At Herbie’s, Buzzy had proclaimed Denny to be the most feminine man he’d ever seen. And, to top that off, a lesbian flirted with him, telling him he would be a beautiful woman.
Later that day, Dr. Abkemeier, Denny’s Linear Algebra teacher called him to her office. “You are jumping ahead. You are making connections the other students don’t make. It is great for you, but distracting for them.”
“Oh,” Denny looked down.
“It’s good you enjoy it. It’s obvious you are excited by the subject. But, slow down just a little, OK?”
“I will. I’m sorry.”
“You might want to consider more advanced courses,” she said smiling. Then, she turned and left.
He looked at the black board affixed to the wall behind her desk. There were geometric drawings and mathematical formulas he did not know. He walked closer, seeing curved lines accompanied by formulas. During high school, he’d hated mathematics. But, now, something had clicked.
Two women were talking in the next room. Their voices grew louder. He heard one of them say his name. It was Miriam from the chorus.
“No, he can’t major in mathematics!” another voice cautioned. “That’s a dead-end timeline. I checked with the Portal. He’ll get bogged down in scholarship. He’ll teach at a university.”
“What’s the difference?” Batresh responded, or as Denny knew her, Miriam. “Math is giving him confidence. We had no idea. He is a natural mathematician.”
“Conceptual thinking,” the voice interrupted. “We must expand his conceptual abilities.”
“It’s Sister Ahatu,” Denny whispered to himself.
The elderly nun continued, “He will change people, culture, the whole human trajectory...he needs logic, granular thinking...He has to understand the business world, capitalism, politics.” She paused. “He needs to study computer science. He will work in the business world.”
Denny’s eyes widened. He looked at a curved line on the blackboard and whispered to himself, “Timeline?”
Amun sat on a frayed rug with his eyes closed, his legs folded under him, his hands resting on his thighs.
It was brilliant day outside, but without the dim light of an oil lamp, darkness in this sweltering room would have been complete.
He breathed deeply, allowing his breath to escape before bringing vocal cords together, producing a soft, droning, baritone - a chant.
He was searching.
An onlooker would have seen a man calmly sitting in a darkened room. But to his internal vision, guided by his particular DNA -- his physical programming, a different scene unfolded.
A blade of light flashed through him, cutting through the core of his being. Light sliced him, illuminating his mind. With eyes closed, looking inwards, his thoughts acting as a prism. light split into colors, yellows, blues, reds. He watched it, welcomed it, invited it. Vibrations shifted at the edges of color-bands; colors transforming from one to another.
His inner core - lattices of radiated photons - acted as a kaleidoscope, flashing shapes and colors onto his cerebral cortex.
The light opened him.
With a loud clap, a bang, a sound of cymbals crashing, he was there.
An opening, a rent, a rip appeared, and behind his heart he felt the Unstruck vibration, the Anahata, the heart chakra.
Light spiraled into him, pushing energy outwards.
He was at Sekhem. He heard incense sizzling in bronze bowls. He saw reflections of torchlight on polished granite. Before him, framed by strands of vapor, of burning incense, stood the jeweled, bronze statue of Anpu - Anubis.
Since arriving at 1941, he’d had visions. He’d heard voices. He’d seen images.
Someone was trying to reach him, someone who wanted to do him harm.
Amun sat in darkness in an abandoned, rat-infested structure in the Arab Quarter.
He made low, guttural sounds, slow, disjointed syllables. He spoke involuntary language.
He could see where he was, in this dilapidated structure in a forgotten section of Alexandria. No Europeans walked here. The dilapidated structures provided housing for the forgotten, the sick, the criminal, those on the fringe. Amun saw the people. He felt their poverty, their disease, their hunger and their rage.
Another person’s memories flooded his cortex.
He had accessed her, a female, an alien…she who hunted. She was Potacas. He saw through her eyes. He watched her hands move over a screen. He watched her send orders.
He saw Potacas swarming over the quarter. Hiding their appearance, they wore contemporary clothing. They could not cover their pale skin, their large, black eyes, their lack of hair. Most wore burkas, covering their bodies and faces.
Inhabitants of the Quarter believed they were the Ifrit, the death spirits.
Then, another scene, dead bodies brought to the desert. Executed, the Potacas had been dragged to battles-sites where their deaths would not be suspect.
The female through whose eyes he now looked, made a decision. She formed a strategy.
He saw her in Potacas clothing, a black environmental suit, a breather attached to a frame around her neck. Hairless, breastless, a turned down snout leading to a tiny mouth, dark skin around enormous eyes.
With his eyes closed, he moved his lips, pronouncing her name… “Ilyapa.”
Purely Potacas herself, she ordered the execution of all others like her. She would be the only Potacas with pure DNA; only hybrids would remain.
He saw Erish. She lay on a cot, a cloth draped over her naked body, a feeding tube in her esophagus, tubes attached to points at which blood vessels were most accessible, her hands, her inner elbow. A device, technology was attached to her pelvis, tubes and a mechanism reaching up inside her.
They were harvesting eggs.
The shock brought him out.
He stood abruptly.
Erish was at a northern European region. She’d been there for months. Amun saw snow, spring, summer, fall, and another winter. Humans were dressed in rustic clothing.
He extinguished the lamp and looked into the darkness of the room, as if looking for information.
Her abduction was the key. She was why it happened; an influx of hybrids. She was why the timeline changed. Her descendants, hybrids, had spread throughout Europe and the Northern Hemisphere.
And now, these hybrids were part human. The Tayamni mission to protect and sustain humanity must now include these hybrids. This is what the Potacas did. The moral code, the Tayamni Moral Code was their primary weapon. The Potacas used the moral code against them.
Amun turned sideways to walk through narrow passages between buildings. Some were collapsed, some barely erect, all were the result of neglect and poverty.
Cooking smells filled the air, roasting pigeon and baked bread. The sun was lower in the sky. Sea breezes cooled hot surfaces around him.
Ten meters ahead, a figure ran across the street, blonde hair and lighted bracers. The bracers lit by panels, blue read-outs.
Amun ran toward the figure.
It was a woman, her hair disheveled, her face and suit dirty, her hands scratched. She flattened herself against the wall, regarding him with wild eyes.
Amun held out his hand. “It’s OK,” he said in Arabic.
She wore a jacket with a flared collar, tight trousers, and boots extending to the knee. The fabric was copper colored, the threads metallic. She was covered with perspiration.
“Are you OK?” he said. “Do you speak Arabic?”
“Who you?” she said in a strange dialect.
Her accent was odd. A mixture of American English and Chinese, he thought.
He continued in English, “I am Amun. This is 1941. Where are you from?” He held both hands out.
She looked at the street and back at him.
“Don’t run. I can help you,” he said. He wondered whether the unstable temporal hoop had brought her here.
She sat down on the ground, putting her face in her hands.
“I can help you,” he whispered. “You are from the future.” He sat down beside her.
She was crying. Slowly, she raised her head and looked into his face. “Why?” she murmured. “Why bring here? Why?”
He touched her dirty hand. “How long have you been here?” he asked.
She looked at him again but did not respond.
“We must get you food and water,” he said. “You must wash. I will find contemporary clothing.” He paused, looking into her face, Northern European descent, slender, mid-50s.
“Nyala. I, Nyala.”
He took her hand gently. “You must come with me.”
Amun stood back and looked at her.
He’d obtained a wig, a dress, and shoes. The dress was light cotton, buttoned up the front and cinched in at the waist. The shoes were sandals with heels.
“I naked,” she said. “Too much sexual.” She gestured at her feet. “How to walk? No.”
“At least you look like you belong at 1941,” he said.
Walking along Rue Fouad, Amun began to ignore her constant complaints. She kept saying something about her feet. He also ignored familiar sites, buildings, even people. He looked down at the sidewalk, hoping no one would recognize him.
He looked back at Nyala. She was no longer wearing shoes.
They walked to a sidewalk café, crowded with military men. Temporary walls, knee-high, dividing this café from adjoining ones, had been removed. Even the walkway between the street and the café was crowed. Cigarette smoke hung in the air. He smelled crushed chrysanthemum and whiskey. Accents of the English shires sounded around him.
Men at the café glared at Nyala. Her bare feet were dirty. Her breasts moved freely under her dress. She glared back at them. This was Au Petit Coin de France, “A Little Corner of France,” a café frequented by Tayamni. In the past, Amun had spent time here with Berenib, with Namazu, and even with Erish. But there were no Tayamni here now.
They walked on to Baudrot, the café frequented by Cavafy, the poet. Amun stepped from brilliant sunlight to cool shade under the awning. He walked inside, but again, no Tayamni.
They continued on to the Esplanade, the Corniche. Breezes were stronger here, the air cooler. Small craft bobbed in the harbor. Looking behind, he saw Nyala was limping. They walked to the Cecil Hotel, still fairly new at 1941.
There, he stopped in his tracks. The Berenib was standing in front of him. Leaving a meeting, or perhaps just tea, she was crossing the street at the Cecil, looking very much like any other human at 1941. Her hair was cut to the shoulder and curled in the current style; her dark skin was stark against the white dress.
She looked up and him, smiling, “Did you forget something?” she asked. Then she noticed Nyala. She looked her up and down. “Are you alright?” she asked her, noticing her filthy feet. Looking at Amun, she continued, “What happened to her shoes?”
“I must speak with you,” Amun said. “This is Nyala.”
“What happened?” she asked again. She took his wrist. “Come inside.” She gestured to the Cecil.
They walked up the front steps. “What’s wrong?” she continued, looking back at Nyala again. “Is she hurt?”
“I haven’t seen you for over a decade,” Amun said.
“What do you mean?” Berenib asked. “I had coffee with you this morning at Le Petit Coin. You’ve been here for months.”
“I arrived four days ago. There are two other versions of me here,” Amun said.
She frowned. “How?” she stammered.
She paused to smile at the Maitre d. “We’ll have drinks,” she said, taking Amun’s hand, pulling him to a table.
The Maitre d looked at Nyala’s feet.
“Surely you know the danger,” she whispered to him.
“I have to get back to 1977,” Amun said. “I’m not supposed to be here.” He turned and gestured towards Nyala. “She’s from the 23rd century.”
The Berenib sat down and gestured to the other chairs. “Come, sit,” she said to Nyala. “Why are you here?” she asked. Then, gesturing to Amun, but looking at the waiter, she continued, “Scotch, rocks. Water for our friend who lost her shoes.”
Amun smiled weakly. “I am here from 1977.”
“…trying to prevent an assassination,” he continued. “Hybrids were chasing me. They flashed an EMP, took out my ATV and suit.”
The waiter set a glass of scotch in front of him, and a glass of gin in front of Berenib.
Amun gulped the cool drink and placed the glass back on the table.
“I ran, no weapons, no shelter, no water. I ran into a cave. It was one I remembered from this time,” he said. “We hid weapons there, from the Nazis.”
Berenib nodded, “Yes, I know of the cave.” She took a sip of her drink. Placing the glass back on the table, she opened her handbag and withdrew a silver, filigreed cigarette case.
“There was technology there, in the cave. The Potacas,” he paused. “You don’t know this, but in the Tlaloc War, the Potacas abducted Erish and stole Kurrunite technology.”
“What?” she said, sitting forward. “I know about the war, of course, but not about the abduction.”
“That’s why there are so many hybrids now,” he paused and took another sip of scotch. “They changed the timeline. They have a leader.”
“Who has a leader?” Berenib asked. “What do you mean, ‘so many hybrids?’”
“The Potacas,” he responded. “They have a leader, Ilyapa. She ordered the execution of all Potacas with pure DNA.”
Berenib looked towards a walnut paneled wall, then back to Amun.
“And her,” he pointed to Nyala. “The Potacas’ temporal hoop is unstable. Portals are opening up all over the place in the Arab quarter.” He looked at her again. “She must have stepped into one from the future.”
“The timeline change,” she whispered. “We must find Potacas hoops and destroy them. This is going to cause problems.”
“Major problems. The projections change so quickly, it’s going to kill people, probably already has,” Amun responded.
“Where’s Erish?” Berenib asked.
“The middle ages, somewhere in Northern Europe,” Amun whispered, looking at his hands.
“How do you know all this?” she asked.
Amun looked directly into her eyes and sent her, telepathically, images he’d received during meditation.
Berenib inhaled deeply and sat back in her chair. Looking aside again, she inserted the cigarette between her lips. Then, she looked back at Amun.
You have meditative and spiritual gifts most of us lack, she said in a telepathic communication.
The waiter walked to the table and lit her cigarette
She inhaled the smoke deeply and closed her eyes, feeling the nicotine surge into her body.
“You are addicted,” Amun whispered.
She opened her eyes, looking directly at him. “Since there are three versions of you here, now, you must leave. Having two of you here is dangerous enough. We will send someone else to find Erish.” She opened her bag again and withdrew a small rectangular device. “Summon Namazu,” she whispered, and placed the device back into her handbag. Then, pointing towards Nyala, she continued, “What are we going to do with her?”
“I was hoping you would know,” Amun said.
“Where is she from geographically?” Berenib asked.
“I can’t get a straight answer. In the new timeline, the religious wars destroyed much of what was the United States; coastal cities are all submerged. She told me where she was from, but it makes no sense,” Amun said.
“Get her to Luna Station. They’ll educate her, give her some downloads. That might help,” Berenib responded.
“Must leave,” Nyala said. “Get real clothes.”
Amun and Berenib looked at her. Amun shook his head.
“Namazu will take care of Ilyapa and the hybrids. We must send you back to 1977 and her to Luna,” she continued. “Let’s go to the British Legation. The Ambassador is one of us. He can help.” She stubbed her cigarette out in the ash tray and stood. “Namazu will meet us there.”
“Namazu is here, now, at 1941?” Amun asked.
She nodded and began walking towards the door. “You know she can’t stay away from Alexandria,” Berenib tried to smile.
“Where is Erish now, at this time?” Amun asked.
“Hopefully, Namazu will know. The timeline has changed. They are using the Code against us, as usual,” she began walking towards the door. “…their favorite weapon.”
The taxi dropped all three of them off further east on the Corniche. The wind was picking up. The sky was pearl gray. Three large, European, steel military vessels were anchored behind the harbor bar.
“You remember Michael from your time here?” she asked, referring to Ambassador Berryhill.
“We have a technology-cavern in the desert between here and Cairo. Michael will drive you. You can take a shuttle to the Portal, drop Nyala off at Luna.”
Amun opened the heavy glass and metal door at the Legation.
“Have you any idea where Ilyapa might be?” she continued.
“Their portal, if you could call it that,” he looked at her seriously. “…opened in an old structure in the Arab Quarter. It’s one way. There was no way back.”
A thin, middle aged man entered the foyer. “Lily,” he said, using the name Berenib had chosen. “How wonderful to see you. You are here to see the Ambassador?”
She nodded. “We are expecting a friend to join us. Do you mind if we wait?”
“The Pavilion,” he gestured to a glass door. “It’s cooler there. The Ambassador should arrive back from his luncheon shortly,” he said, looking down at Nyala’s dirty feet. “May I get the young Lady something for her feet?”
“No shoes,” Nyala said.
“Thank you, Errol,” Berenib responded. She, Amun, and Nyala walked into the adjoining room, not more than an open-air porch with large windows. Harbor breezes cooled them.
Berenib took another cigarette from her purse.
Amun looked at her with concern.
“I will quit,” she looked annoyed. “It helps me blend in.”
Amun shook his head.
“Back to Ilyapa,” she said.
Amun walked to the window. From here he could hear tennis rackets thwacking in the hot afternoon.
“I think Ilyapa is at the Arab Quarter,” he said. “There, they can hide more easily. She wears a burka in public. They are watching for me. They know I am here,” he said.
“They may try to bring the three versions of you together,” she suggested. “Hoping to create an anomaly.”
“At my time, 1977,” Amun began. “…there are no Tlalocs or Potacas with pure DNA. The Tlalocs left to protect their home system, and the Potacas,” he paused. “We didn’t really know what happened to them.”
Berenib walked to the window. “I think Namazu is here.”
“When I entered the cave, I found a chamber with Kurrunite technology, and a temporal portal. But it was damaged,” he paused again, watching her exhale a stream of cigarette smoke. “It may never have worked properly,” he continued. “And there were dead Potacas at workstations. They’d been shot.”
“But why?” she asked. “Why would they execute all those with pure DNA? Simply to fight us more efficiently? What about the Tlaloc hybrids?”
“The Icnotl,” Amun responded.
“The Tlaloc hybrids need a master, a leader, a commander. Ilyapa has taken on that position.”
Amun turned towards the door, hearing Errol speaking in the other room.
“Ilyapa has taken up residence here, at Alexandria, probably copying configurations from our temporal portal,” he said.
The door opened and Namazu walked in. Her hair was waved, as was the fashion. She wore a white, linen top and a long skirt, reaching almost to her ankles.
“Fancy meetin’ you here,” she said looking at Amun. “Especially since I just saw you at Café al Aktar.” She looked at Nyala. “Who’s this?”
“Nyala,” Amun said. “This is Nyala. Her language is a bit different. She’s from a future timeline…”
“We need your help,” Berenib interrupted. “Amun, this Amun, must go back to 1977 immediately. But there are problems here that must be resolved immediately.”
“Just don’t send me to another time period where I already exist. I hate all this anomaly crap,” Namazu said. “Gimme one of those cigarettes.”
“Not you too,” Amun said.
Namazu ignored him.
Amun was silent, watching the women light their cigarettes. “There is one more thing,” he began.
Both women looked at him.
“Ilyapa is using Kurrunite technology to send messages to the past. She directed Erish’s abduction.”
Namazu dropped her cigarette. “What?”
Berenib took her hand. “Amun will fill you in. Erish will be abducted thirty years from now.”
“Did you hear me?” Amun asked.
They looked at him again.
“Ilyapa is sending orders to the past, and to the future. She has ordered the execution of all purely bred Potacas, at all time periods, save for those whose DNA is used to create the hybrids.”
Berenib looked at Namazu, “Looks like your job just got more complicated.”
Namazu sighed heavily and looked down at the floor. “What about the war?” Namazu asked. “What about those tanks in the desert?”
They heard voices nearby. The Ambassador had arrived.
Namazu’s whisper was more like a hiss, “If you think I’m going to chase Potacas around the Arab Quarter while a war is going on in the desert, you’re…”
Berenib held her hand up, silencing her. “One of the other versions of Amun who is here will take care of that,” Berenib said, snapping her handbag open. She withdrew another cigarette.
Namazu looked at her, arching a brow.
Amun stood at the car in front of the Legation. Nyala was safely sitting in the back seat. He looked out at the sea as he waited for Ambassador Berryhill. The tide was high. Dusk was approaching. He leaned against the vehicle and looked towards the harbor. Crepuscular sunlight had colored buildings and wispy clouds. It was as though remaining light was filtered through lemon. The darkening sky was orange mauve. He could smell pavement slaked with water. He remembered living here in ancient times.
Alexandria had not fared well. He remembered dust tormented streets, flies, beggars. This time of year, everything was covered with a coat of gum. The camphor scented air was harsh with static electricity.
But, Namazu loved it. The labyrinthine streets, alleys, and pathways of the Arab Quarter would be difficult for anyone to master. But, not her.
Namazu knew the city like the back of her hand.
No one riding up the coast could know the derelict structure had once been a fort.
Crumbling plaster, bleached by sun and cooled by sea breezes had cracked, fragmented, and fallen from mud walls. Desert sand, forming into dunes, had obliterated the stables. The 19th century structure lay in a curved pectoral of dune, not 300 meters from the sea, inaccessible by road. One would need a small boat to cross narrow inlets curving around the ancient fort.
But Ilyapa had arrived by shuttle.
The Bedouin avoided the deep desert, believing the sand to be haunted by evil spirits, djinns, and efrit. Everyone avoided this little structure. Rumor confirmed it to be frequented by demons. As evening fell, one could see blue light emanating from within, shining through cracks in the wall, through slats covering windows. The fool hardy, adventurous enough to draw within sight, claimed to hear screams.
On this night, light coming from the crumbling exterior was white, not blue.
Thin, bony fingers slid over a small console, pressing controls. In her other hand, she reached into the air and drew arching, circular shapes. Her long, thin neck seemed hardly able to support such a large head. Her face formed a kind of triangle, with two enormous eyes. Emerging from between them and extending downwards for half the length of her head was a flat, narrow projection or beak, at the bottom of which was a slit serving as a mouth. Her pale, white skin, heavily veined with darker grey colors, shone in lamplight. Not being mammalian, she had no breasts. Not having had to rely on sexual means to reproduce, her species had become asexual.
A moan sounded from behind her.
Turning, she stepped over to a man lying on a mechanized bed. Four platforms connected and slanted upwards elevated his upper half. His eyes were closed. He was pale, his head a bit too large for humans. Unlike Ilyapa, hair grew on his head in patches. He even had facial hair. She looked to another bed where an identical man lay.
A squeaking sound emanated from her beak as she looked to a nook, hidden behind a half wall.
Two men wearing orange jumpsuits rushed to stand near each of the men on the beds.
She’d instructed them to attend the men who lay unconscious.
“Their heads are still too large,” she said. “DNA sequence!” she shouted to the air.
Projected into the space between them appeared a DNA helix with text and diagrams underneath. She reached up to one of the diagrams and made an arching movement. Another image appeared.
“Here,” she said pointing to a section of line. “The sequence is wrong!” She turned to look at the workers directly. “Sloppy work,” she said. “I won’t pay you.” She looked down at a nearby console, then up at the men again. “They’re ruined. I need two more.”
The breather around her neck emitted a puff of chlorine. She inhaled and felt the blood in her veins quicken. “…should do this myself,” she whispered.
She walked back to the console and punched the empty space in midair with her forefinger.
“Wait,” one of the men who’d been lying on the cot murmured. “Why are you doing…?”
“Shut him up,” she said, not removing her gaze from the image projected from her lenses.
She turned and looked to her right. There, humming gently, was a circular hoop. As it activated, it began to spin, to emanate blue light.
She picked up an electronic pad and punched a control. Frames holding formations of various crystal shapes moved into position around the hoop. A blurry, liquid substance began to form inside the hoop. She leaned forward to look through it. The liquid thickened then clarified. It was as if she looked into the surface of a pond, turned vertical. An image began to resolve. Brightly painted structures appeared in the near distance.
She was looking into the ancient past.
In time, she would perfect the hybrids.
They would become identical to humans in almost every way. She found injecting Potacas DNA into humanity was no small task. She would suffer setbacks.
She’d sent hybrids to the ancient cultures Europe and Mesopotamia. She could already see results. From reports, she saw humanity, especially those at Northern Europe had become more selfish, prone to anger, murder, and greed.
In other words, they had become more like the Potacas themselves.