Batresh drives to Saltillo
Her dreams that night were a swirl of images and landscapes. More downloaded information came to her consciousness. Images materialized during sleep. She dreamt she was walking on the streets of Tupelo, but a Tupelo abandoned. She saw the Courthouse with decayed walls and a collapsed roof. Trees and wild bushes grew in the streets. Kudzu vines overtook buildings on Main Street. Her view expanded, but everywhere, she saw depopulated villages and crumbling buildings. Namazu’s beloved Alexandria, was claimed by marshes and desert sands, no humans. Then, she saw a small settlement. The creatures there created structures, the walls seemed technologically advanced, organic, windows shifting in shape and clarity, the creatures inside, blurred images, wearing environmental suits. And, hovering above the settlement, a creature of light and energy, the elements in the air sizzling around him, clothing him in swirls of mists.
She awoke feeling anxious, feeling as if she must do something, take action. But what? The room around her came into focus. Images from her dream did not diminish, but remained starkly clear. She moved her hand to her forehead, trying to understand. She sat in the bed for minutes looking towards the south facing window. Then, the number again, 2032. The scenes of devastation in her dream, they must be connected to the number 2032.
She recounted preparations for the mission, the downloads, discussions with others who had been to this time, precautions she must take to keep her identity secret. The warnings about travelling to time periods during humanity’s development came to mind. She knew if human cultures became aware of more technologically developed races, it could have catastrophic consequences, humans could stop working on their own development and instead want the superior technology. Human evolution could be severely impacted.
She considered her plans. She would to drive to her new house. She must do something, take action. She must remain focused on her mission to protect the Matriarch. She had to find out why so many Potacas were here.
She dressed and drove to a service station, as the locals called them. She had the vehicle filled with gasoline, contributing to the climate change, ironically, her own people were working to control. She talked with the service station attendant, a lanky man with a dark complexion. He held a toothpick between his teeth, moving it back and forth from each side of his mouth as he talked to her. She bought a road map of the area, and asked about the country roads that would lead to her house. The attendant washed the windshield, checked the oil, and winked at her.
She drove east where the road took her over a lower plain. During the spring and fall, when creeks and streams swelled to alluvial proportions, annual rains flooded this shallow basin separating the smaller eastern part of the town from Tupelo proper. Some people called this deserted plain, The Levee, referring to a raised bank of earth where Main Street passed. The ground was rich and dark, made fertile by topsoil from fields further north. Small bridges crossed two creeks running north and south. Batresh thought of the Inundation season at home, the season that created Kemet, the Land of Black Earth. Without the Inundation, her home would not be possible.
In later decades, these two northern Mississippi creeks would be deepened. Flood pools would be created further north, finally, putting an end to seasonal devastations. But for now, in 1962, it was simply a wide basin, crossed by an elevated levee that regularly washed away.
She passed a yellow-plastered laundromat. The building was in bad repair. Stained plaster had fallen from external walls, exposing cracked white layers beneath. From the street, she could smell the stinging odor of detergents. Following the service attendant’s instructions, she turned north onto the Old Saltillo Road. The automobile was comfortable, large and heavy on the road. She noted that there were no shoulder restraints. In case of an accident, her upper body would have bent forward violently. She was grateful for the open air. She had the top down, relishing whirling breezes.
Turning down a graveled road, small rocks clanged against the underside of her vehicle. She passed another car and was covered with powdered sand. She would remember to have the top closed on these dirt roads. She coughed, breathing the dust. She drove for a half hour, relying on directions from the attendant. These roads were not on the map. Finally, she drove down a steep, curved hill, crossing two decaying bridges at the bottom of a ravine. According to the directions, she should be close to her new home. She turned around a curve and saw the red dirt driveway that bent around to her house. Although no other vehicles were in sight, she turned on her direction indicator. She wondered why the downloads compelled her to do this, since no one was around, but she obeyed the instruction, nonetheless. She wondered how many of her choices were blunted by downloads. She pulled up to the front of the house. It was small and sat among trees and brambles. The house was built early in the century and was only partially painted. It had been empty for years, and was in need of repair. Walking up to the porch, she could see the floor had been replaced. The front door was missing, so she walked inside. A cool breeze from the east, blew through open windows.
Turning around, she saw a tree heavy with ripening apples, and another with peaches. She hoped to enjoy the fruit of those trees. Turning back again towards the inside of the house, she saw what must be a dining room, behind it, the kitchen. A stairway in the living room led upstairs. Walking through the house to the back door, she saw a small back yard, recently cleared, surrounded by weeds, and what looked to be the foundations of a small structure. She walked out onto the back porch and noticed a glistening to her left, the reflection of a lake through leafy trees.
From the hallway, opposite the kitchen, were two rooms that could be bedrooms. She saw the builders were constructing a bathroom between them. She walked towards the front of the house again. Reaching into her purse she retrieved a small, floral box. Opening it, she removed tiny sensors and dropped them onto the porch. The sensors would copy and position themselves around the property allowing her to monitor the progress of the construction from her hotel room.
Getting back in the car, she pressed a button on the dashboard, closing the top. Looking to her right, she noticed a mailbox laying in the ditch. Even though it was rusting and partially buried in silt, she could make out lettering, Route # 2, Saltillo, Miss. The S in Saltillo was written backwards. She turned right, driving deeper into the country. Ahead of her, a black snake slithered across the road. She was grateful for cooler breezes reaching her from the wilderness on each side. Continuing north, she passed a sun-bleached house covered with red asphalt shingles. An elderly woman wearing a bonnet from the last century sat on the porch, a small stick projected from her toothless mouth. Batresh continued driving north. She slowed as she approached the boy’s home. The driveway was empty. It was possible no one was home. She continued, wondering if the Old Saltillo Road actually led to the town of Saltillo. She turned into the uncle’s driveway, and headed back. An abandoned temple sat on the right. The unpainted, boarded structure sat on crumbling brick columns. The wooden door was slightly ajar, but fastened to a door jamb with a rusting chain. She continued towards Saltillo, turning right once she reached another road.
She passed houses in various states of repair, some well-maintained with manicured lawns, while others were abandoned and crumbling. She saw women wearing cut off trousers, men with no shirts, and dogs lying in the sun. Most people she saw waved to her. When she passed oncoming vehicles, drivers raised their index fingers, as if to say “Hey There!” She passed over plank bridges, fetid creeks, and clear streams.
Finally, she reached a stretch of railroad that ran between the road, and the town of Saltillo. Stopping at one of the few signal lights in this village, she turned left. She detected an odor like diesel fuel and burning paper. The pungent odor of a cotton gin permeated the air. Looking to her right, in front of a tall, metallic, inverted cone, she saw a tiny building with a police car in front. On her left, a wooden sidewalk, remains from the 19th century, covered by a tin roof, abutted decaying, 19th century looking shops. She stopped at a stop sign, and heard someone calling out, “Sheila! Hey, Shelia!” Looking in the direction of the voice, she saw Jerry on the sidewalk. She felt embarrassed at her excitement to see him. She pulled over to the side of the street and parked. Now, she wondered whether she drove to Saltillo hoping to see him, or if this was simply a coincidence. By the time she had taken her purse in hand, and placed her left hand on the door handle, Jerry was there. “Hey there!” he said, with a big smile.
“Hi Jerry,” she responded, trying to hide her happiness.
“Nice car!” he proclaimed. Examining it, he looked back over the chrome to the short fins at the back.
“Thank you,” she smiled. “I thought it was pretty.”
“A convertible too! Hell yeah!”
“I had to put up the top, I got covered in dust a while ago,” she laughed softly, trying to brush the dust off her skirt.
“Is it yours?”
“I bought it yesterday, in Tupelo,” she responded, unaware that people were beginning to gossip. The salesman at the Chevrolet dealership, and the real estate agent, both talked of the beautiful blonde from Virginia, who paid cash for a car, and a house in the country.
Jerry let out a slow whistle! “Yer somethin’ else!” He announced. “Want to take me for a ride?”
Before Batresh could respond, she heard a voice from the sidewalk, “Jerry?”
Looking towards the sound of the voice, she saw a young woman wearing a thin, white dress. She was hunched, and wore no make-up. Jerry looked at the woman and yelled, “Just a minute!”
Looking back at Batresh, he frowned, “Sorry, I am taking my sister to the store. I forgot when I saw you.” He smiled mischievously. “I want to ride in your car!”
“That would be wonderful, Jerry,” she answered with a sigh of disappointment.
“I’ll see you later, hunny,” he said, winking at her.
He turned away, and walked towards the other woman. Batresh waved as she pulled away, noticing the other woman seemed to be pouting.
Batresh drove down Mobile Street to the concrete highway that led back to Tupelo. She didn’t relish driving on the dusty, country road again. The hot day reminded her of home. Except, here, the air was intolerably humid. At home, even on hot days, she could sit in the shade of a willow tree and feel comfortable in dry air. She looked towards the sky, and saw the moon, a full, gray disk, partially obscured by haze, moving higher in the sky as evening approached.
She remembered another day like this one. She was a girl, sitting under a tree near the chambers she shared with her mother. Cool breezes wafted up from the river. The Matriarch, returning from the gardens, bent down to kiss her forehead. She sat on the ground beside Batresh and pointed to the dim disc of the moon, growing brighter in approaching evening. She asked if Batresh would like to go visit there.
She was beginning to realize she was not like her human friends. That evening, as the sky darkened, the Matriarch took her out onto the smooth, rock surface at the top of the cliffs. Batresh was surprised to see, hidden by bushy tree tops, a stairway that led down into a fissure. The Matriarch held her hand, as they made their way down. She heard a rushing creek beneath them and felt growing humidity as they descended. The Matriarch pushed thin, leafy branches away, and pointed towards a structure. She remembered how the structure shined with silvered, gleaming metal and glass. A long, metallic walk way, suspended in midair, led from the rocky stairway to a platform where a vehicle was parked. At first Batresh had thought it was a gigantic insect. But, the Matriarch explained it was a chariot they could take to the Moon. As they approached the vehicle, the doors opened. The Matriarch helped Batresh inside.
Batresh clutched the sides of her seat with fear as the vehicle climbed into the darkening sky. Her mother explained that their people had come to this land in vehicles like this one. As they ascended higher, Batresh could see the village of Sekhem beneath them. She could see the river as it snaked north and south. The dark, fertile earth on each side of the river was still flooded in low lands. She saw the red deserts beyond. As the ship flew higher. She remembered how cool and blue the planet looked as it shrank away.
During her drive back to the hotel that night, driving south on highway 45, it occurred to her that the Potacas would probably be waiting in the lobby. She realized that they must be monitoring her, trying to discover why she was here. She was afraid her presence would lead them to Dennis. She focused on the painted lines on the center of the highway drawing her eyebrows together with concern. How would she prevent them from harming him? She was afraid her inability to make the right decision, to deploy the right strategy at the right time, would be disastrous. From her own inability to act, the Matriarch’s suffering, death and sacrifice would come to nothing. And, she felt another danger, peering from her sub-consciousness, something from the downloads. She searched her memory, trying to feel and understand images from her dreams.
She looked up into the southern sky again, and saw the moon, rising higher, smaller and brighter, beginning its journey across the firmament. Her shoulders were tense, she leaned forwards towards the steering wheel. Her throat was dry. She tried to relax. She sat back against the seat, and looked up. The unknown danger taunting her from behind dark corners caused her shoulders and neck to tense. She tried to slow her breathing to relax. She thought of home, of Sekhem, the warm, dry nights, the clear skies. But here, the Moon was partially obscured. Under the humid, mist filled skies of Northern Mississippi, much of the night sky was clouded, while at home, the moon shone almost as bright as the sun, casting silver light over hills, sands, and fields, reflecting off the undulating surface of the Great River. She remembered sleeping on the roof of the palace on hot nights. She saw the Galaxy arched far above, the glow around it creating a milky cloud, like the actual haze covering the Moon here in Northern Mississippi.
Soon, she reached the hotel.
As she suspected, when she entered the lobby, she saw the same Potacas sitting in the green leather chair to the right of the entrance. She also noticed that no one else was in the lobby except the old, black man called, Willy. He sometimes operated the elevator. She passed by the chair, then turned around to face the Potacas. “Good evening,” she offered. He looked up at her with his customary expressionless face.
Bending down closer to him, she whispered, “I know who you are.” She was nervous, unsure of her new strategy.
Feigning being insulted, he blurted, “I beg your pardon?”
“But why,” she paused, “Why are there so many of you here?” She looked at the entrance to the lobby, as if she expected someone to enter. “I will have help here soon,” she lied. Gently, she placed her right hand on this left shoulder, applying invisible sensors to his jacket, “I am sure we will be able to find you.” With that remark, she could sense his confusion as he pulled away. He placed a cool, pale hand on her wrist in an effort to push her away. She sensed hostility from him. She straightened, and whispered, “You won’t be happy to meet my friends.” She didn’t realize that he also had a strategy. He held something in the hand that grabbed her wrist.
As she walked to the elevator, she heard him rise from his chair and exit the lobby. She quickened her step, eager to see what the sensors she placed on his shoulder would reveal. The old man at the elevator, looked at her accusingly. Apparently, he heard parts of their conversation and misunderstood.
Sitting on her bed, she felt dizzy. Looking around at the room, she felt blood leaving her head, as if her blood pressure dipped. She bent over, placing both hands on her knees, until she felt the blood return and the dizziness diminish. She straightened, sitting up. She believed she had been hyperventilating. Viewing the display from her suitcase, she stated, “Show me the Potacas.” Immediately, she could see the view from his shoulder. He walked hurriedly towards the Court House. As he approached the building, she saw people on the lawn of the structure, and on sidewalks. There was a celebratory atmosphere. This area was more socially active than she thought. She saw his destination, a group of five Potacas gathered under a magnolia tree near the building.
Apparently, their technology had improved. They were wary of the sensors her people so liberally applied. She could see them, but she could not make out what they were saying. They simply stood in a loose circle, facing each other. Normally, the sensors would translate their telepathic communications. But, now, nothing. She wondered how their technology was advancing so quickly. As a group, they looked towards the street on the north side of the building. An automobile was parked there with a big man at the steering wheel. They all walked towards the vehicle. Once there, they got inside. It was a large automobile, and they were relatively small. Still, they crowded to get in. The Potacas with stubble on his chin seemed to be their leader. He sat up front next to the driver.
Switching sensors, she had a clear view of their route through the windshield. After winding through streets of the town, they made it to Gloster Street, and turned north. They must have continued communicating telepathically, because they were silent, except with the large man who drove the car. They spoke to him in a language she did not know and the sensors could not translate. There seemed to be hissing sounds and clicks. The driver occasionally looked at them, and responded in the same language, but had more facility. After a short time, Gloster Street became Highway 45, the same highway she took in the opposite direction earlier. Night was falling, so the driver switched on head lights. They continued to drive north. She thought they were headed to Saltillo.
They turned onto a smaller, dirt road, to the west of the highway, headed away from town. Then, slowing down, they turned left, off the road into the woods. Small plants and bushes growing on the ground, making swishing sounds under the vehicle. After 100 meters, they came to the flat wall of a hill, covered with vines. They drove through the vines, and were in a tunnel. The tunnel dipped downwards, and she knew they were underground. The vehicle continued until they reached a large, open space. Without speaking, they exited. Now, she could see, in the middle of the large room, a ship. She had not seen this style of ship. It had sharp blades that thrust outward from it, arching backwards. The exterior covering glowed green. The Potacas and the large man walked towards the vehicle. It was not big, probably just big enough to carry a crew of ten, not intended for long voyages. She watched them from one of the sensors still in the automobile. As they approached the ship, a ramp descended from it and an opening appeared. She was eager to see inside. Maybe she could tell its origin from the controls. She switched to the sensor on the Potacas leader’s shoulder. He ascended the ramp, and the image grew dim. She had not seen sensors malfunction this way. The Potacas turned to watch the others as they entered. She saw the opening close behind them, then the image went dark.
She gasped. Was their technology more advanced? Were they aware of her sensors? Who was the tall man?
Again, she felt unbalanced. Her mind was swimming. She looked across at her reflection in the mirror. Her face was pale, her lips tinged with blue. What was happening? Her attention was drawn to the display. The screen showed a small, green, blinking light. She knew the sensors had switched to limited functionality. An aerial map of the region materialized. The blinking light showed where the vehicle was on the map. She sighed with relief knowing they were probably not aware of the sensors, otherwise they would have disabled them completely. Maybe the materials of the ship’s hull blocked communications. She would report this. She watched the map, as the blinking light moved. It moved east over wilderness and farms. It was moving towards the boy’s home. Would they try to abduct him? She must get to her vehicle as soon as possible.
Closing her suitcase and locking it, she looked around the room frantically for weapons. She stood, and stumbled. She tried to concentrate. She realized that her purse contained her weapons. As she left the room, with her purse in hand, she wondered why her thinking was muddled. Of course, she knew everything she needed was in her purse. She closed her door, taking care to lock it. She walked quickly, but did not want to appear panicked. She went to her car, thankful night had fallen, and she could travel unnoticed. Driving to the fairgrounds, she went through a signal light, not noticing it was red. She found a small service station across the street from the fairgrounds. It was closed for the day. She pulled into the parking lot, turned off the engine and exited the automobile. Running across Main Street quickly, she realized, again, her thinking was cloudy. She felt tired. She couldn’t remember where she was, or why she was here. She stopped inside the fairgrounds. She placed both hands on her head, and tried to concentrate. She turned to her left, walking towards the craft. Finally, she sat into the flying vehicle, relishing the cooler, dryer air. Reading her mental commands, the vehicle ascended slowly, then, once above the trees, darted quickly to the boy’s home. On her display she could still see the location of the foreign ship. As she approached the destination, she saw the alien vessel seemed to be deep in the woods across the road from the boy’s home.
Her vehicle descended in the same sandy clearing as before. Sensors scanned the area, including the area where the alien ship was supposed to be. It wasn’t there. Looking at the display again, she asked, “Please present the target elevation.” Immediately, the display showed her that the alien vehicle was 10 meters under the surface. She realized that there must be another underground space. “But, why here?” she said aloud. Again, her thinking seemed clouded. She struggled to focus on the tasks at hand. She tried to plan her next step, but could only think about the coolness of the air. Everything around her was darkening. She leaned back and closed her eyes, losing consciousness. She didn’t know her vehicle’s protective, electronic shielding activated. The chair on which she rested, moved restraints around her shoulders and waist. Weapons systems whirred on and initiated. Her display showed a woman, another Tayamni, speaking, “Batresh?”