Batresh finds the boy's house, the boy she has traveled across time to save
A dark, triangular shape glided across the sky. Turning north, it slid against the night over wilderness, fields, and creeks. Its destination, a wooded area near a small house where the boy lived. She wanted to learn more about the child whose life she was to save, the boy her Matriarch now lived within.
The vehicle’s systems applied topographical maps to navigational controls and knew where to land. Silently, it descended in the woods towards a sandy clearing. The craft touched down on soft, red clay. Its engines powered down. Restraining belts slid from around Batresh’s shoulders and waist allowing her to move freely. She leaned forward, looking through transparent coverings at the dark shapes of trees and brush. She would stay here for the night. Her chair unfolded and flattened into a bed. Reaching around behind her and unzipping her dress, she pulled it off her shoulders.
She cursed aloud at the difficulty of unfastening stockings from garter belts, tearing thin nylon fabric. She slid her fingers under tops of the stockings, and pushed them down from her upper thighs onto her calves. Reaching behind her, she unhooked her bra and sighed with the relief of binding releasing her chest. She wondered that women would wear such complex and uncomfortable clothing, simply to attract to men.
She thought again of the Potacas she had seen in the restaurant, and of the work ahead. She sighed, wishing she had not acted rashly by drawing the weapon. Now, they knew she was here. She had wasted any advantage she may have had in keeping her presence a secret. She tried to forgive herself, knowing this was her first mission.
She ran fingers through her hair nervously.
She had only arrived that morning, but was already yearning to go home. How long must she stay here? How long until the murder attempt? How would she know when it happens? The presence of Potacas would certainly complicate matters. She leaned over, holding her forehead in her hands.
Why did the Elders choose her for this mission? Was it because she was in line to become Matriarch? Were they trying to toughen her up? There were other Tayamni with more experience who could have done this job better. Namazu, her sister, was a warrior who had been on multiple missions. She would have been a better choice.
She shook her head, thinking of the Elders always going on about the Moral Code. Elders were the longest living Tayamni. At least one was assigned to each planetary mission. Some had been alive since before The Nine left Mussara, millions of years ago. Sagar, at Lunar Station, was the Elder assigned to the Earth Project. She appeared to be a young woman of 30. But, she’d known The Ennead before they left Mussara, making her one of the oldest of their entire population.
Elders were tasked with keeping the Tayamni missions on track, and making sure all activities were in compliance with The Moral Code. Batresh agreed with her sister, Namazu, the Moral Code was obsolete. It tied their hands and sometimes led to failed missions. Why did she have to comply with the Code while their enemies had no restrictions? Killing, for one, was forbidden. It seemed to her that any advantages the Tayamni had, advanced technology, military strategy, mental telepathy were muted by the Moral Code.
She raised her head, peering into the darkness outside. Her eyes adjusted. She could see moonlight reflecting off the surface of a pond. She breathed in deeply, changing her mind, deciding, after all, she may have done the right thing by using the weapon. She couldn’t simply sit there and allow them to claim more victims at TKE’s. She lay down and stretched her arms upwards, allowing blonde hair to toss about her face. She closed her eyes and brought her palms together, praying to Auset, one of the Nine, the Mother Goddess who helped women and children.
Batresh had been warned the Potacas’ biological weapons were growing stronger. She thought of the innocent people in this isolated community.
In front of the vessel, an ancient pathway, worn bare by native people, crossed the forest. Paths used for hundreds of years cut inches into the ground. Shallow banks arched above well-worn patches of sand. As she slept, she dreamt of a man wearing a loin cloth, carrying a bow, running along the path in front of her. This wilderness was once populated by the Chickasaw, their lands governed by Chief Piomingo. In a few short years, the pathways, black oak trees, and forests would be submerged by a reservoir named after him. This entire area would be called Lake Piomingo.
Now, the Chickasaw were gone. Their habitations, villages, and encampments were long lost to the wilderness. The pathways were used as shortcuts by more recent inhabitants. Descendants of those who arrived after the Chickasaw Session, the boy in whose body her Matriarch was placed, his family, aunts, uncles, and grandparents lived around these woods. They took these ancient footpaths from their poor homes to visit each other. Early that day, the boy’s grandfather had come to this very pond to go fishing.
The next morning would bring new tasks. Her vehicle began the work while she slept. During the night, the craft dispatched tiny, invisible sensors to a frame house, the house where the boy and his parents lived. Sensors made copies of themselves, so that by morning, they would be scattered in and around the house.
When she awoke, she gave a vocal command, and a rectangle of light materialized in front of her. Her bed divided and transformed back into a chair. The rectangle of light, remote viewing technology, resolved into a display on which she could see the boy. He was sleeping in a narrow bed. A cardboard square, displaying an image of a woman in a cowboy hat, hung on the wall above him, the only adornment in the room. Using other sensors, she saw the yard around the house, a wire cage holding three chickens, a burnt pile of garbage, and a homemade swing hanging from a frame.
The boy’s father sat at the kitchen table, his head in his hands. But something was different. There was a transparent darkness around him. It moved like an animal. It encircled him and squeezed him, pulsing. Even though this creature was invisible to humans, she saw its cold, dark throbbing on the display. The transparent biological weapon, or beast, as Tayamni called them, pulsed with energy.
The father’s face was closed and drawn. The small men at TKE’s intended to release seedlings for these weaponized creatures the night before. The beasts, a Potacas biological weapon, injected hormones differently, according to the responses of their victims. But, the effect was the same, intense paranoia, rages, and superhuman strength. The application of these beasts alone, had led to wars, murders, and suicides.
Batresh thought to herself, “This is why the father murders the boy.” It would be caused by the Potacas weapon.
Checking the placement of sensors around the house, she resolved to return to town after nightfall. Looking back at the father, she saw him rise from the table and go to the room where the boy slept. A bottle of red liquid was positioned on a makeshift nightstand next to the sleeping child. A spoon lay beside it. It was a bottle of medication. Red syrupy liquid ran down the side of the bottle and was dried on the spoon. A name on the bottle, “Dennis Shields,” was barely discernible through smudged printing. Just under the name, “3 times daily,” and under that “Juvenile …” something hard to make out. Sticky liquid covered the text. She assumed he must have an illness. That would explain the dark circles under his eyes.
The father stood in the doorway. He flexed the fist of his right hand, then, turned and left the house. As he walked out to the road and turned north, Batresh saw lettering on the mailbox, “Mr. and Mrs. Edward Shields.” The sensors attached to the boy’s father, made copies of themselves, dropping duplicates along the dirt road as he walked. On the display in her small ship, she saw the environment around him clearly. Dust covered blackberry bushes grew along the edge of the road, along with cattails and tall grasses. To his right, a red clay bank rose two meters high. Dry grasses thrust out over the edge. Water-oak trees grew in clusters, while to his left, small pines, planted by government agencies, were intended to hold eroding soil in place. Edward’s red face, shaded by the bill of a cap, glistened with perspiration.
He had not walked far when he came to another small house. This one was covered with black tar paper attached to exterior boards by tacks. Their wide, circular heads, gave the house the appearance of being decorated by sparsely spaced sequins. He walked up the rutted clay driveway to the house. Edward Shields’ brother, Denny’s uncle, lived here. A tall, thin man, walked from the kitchen to the small living room. Another beast was attached to the uncle, almost as strong as the one feeding off the father. Both men were unhappy, blaming failures on wives and children. She wondered how long beasts had been attached to these men.
The tall man, wearing worn coveralls and a faded shirt, sneered, exposing brown, ruined teeth, “I done told ye, I ain’t got ‘na more!”
Edward turned quickly, slamming the door as he left. A rusted car passed in front of the house, leaving a thick cloud of dust in its wake. The clanging of gravel against the undercarriage of the car popped and crackled. The uncle opened the front door to see who was driving, but the vehicle had already disappeared around a curve. Batresh wished her technology could show a map of beasts in the area. She wondered how many here were tortured by these weapons.
The boy’s father continued north. He walked around a curve, past the ruins of a burnt house. To his left, on a small hill, was an abandoned driveway, overgrown with weeds and washed out by rains. Among the ashes glistened ruins of flowered tea cups and delicate plates. Flower beds had turned to weeds, and a peach tree dropped its fruit, unmolested by humans. The father looked towards the house and the beast around him dimmed. This was the house where his parents had lived. He remembered his mother, aged beyond her years, her mind dimmed with pain as she rested on a sofa. She lay there for months in the tiny living room. Open lesions on her sun-browned skin exposed tissue beneath. She died from an unknown disease. Unknown, because she had not been to a physician.
He looked back towards the road, his forehead creased with regret and shame. As he walked past, Batresh saw on the display, bits of charred wood washed into the road.