Batresh meets a human man
Batresh planned to return to town after nightfall. She hoped to find a hotel, maybe go to restaurants and movies. She knew she should learn the local culture and connect with humans. She would need a car. She should understand the proper, respectable behavior of a single woman her age. Downloads had warned her about this time period. She did not want to attract the wrong kind of attention.
Sensors showed her that few of the houses in this part of the community were connected to electric power lines. She reasoned that people with no electricity would use oil lamps, and entertain each other by telling stories and playing instruments. This is how the people in her village had done. She had seen a guitar in the boy’s home.
She returned to the sensor display to find the boy outside. He was crying, scratched and bruised. His knee was bleeding. She moved to sensors inside the house. She saw the father asleep on his bed. There was a khaki cap on the floor. The same one the father had worn earlier in the day. On the cap, above the bill, was a brass colored, metal decoration. If she had looked closer, she would have seen speckles of blood on the metal.
She sent messages to the Elders, reporting her arrival. She asked for updates from the temporal portals. Timelines were unpredictable. A small event could have wide ranging ramifications. One could never predict consequences of actions. She knew her presence here might change nothing, but alternatively, could change everything. She would check for changes in the timeline daily. The presence of the Potacas, the little men from the day before, could certainly change the future. She hoped to counter their hostile actions, at least where the boy, Dennis, was concerned.
For some reason, a number kept coming to her awareness, something buried, not fully formulated -- pieces of information from the downloads, perhaps? The number 2032 — she kept seeing this. She found herself saying the number aloud, for no reason. Why was this significant? Finally, she sent a message to the Elders. Would something happen in 2032? What was happening now, at 1962, at this strange place? Were there any changes since her arrival?
She sat in the vessel, receiving information. The Jovian Temporal-Portal sent updates to her console:
* topography at the Yellowstone caldera bulged unexpectedly, Tayamni geologists were summoned
* the Potacas, had developed advanced technology, investigations were underway
* a riot at a southern university would instigate a new Civil War, specialists in Southern culture were arriving at Oxford, Mississippi
* the Soviets were working on an advanced weapon, and
* the boy Batresh is here to save, would die within three months
She sat forward, and focused on a branch moving independently from other branches in the forest. The wind was still, yet this one branch moved, as if it alone had caught a gentle breeze.
She knew her mother would not know her, in this new life, in the body of the little boy. The downloads prepared time travelers for various destinations. That is the reason her people traveled across the centuries, to stop catastrophes before they happened. But, surely she needed more preparation than simple warnings. She was a Nurturer, not a warrior or a scientist. How could she prevent a disaster? What if she failed? She was afraid.
She sent messages to her sister and to Amun. She didn’t know where they were, which time period, what they were doing. She didn’t even know whether they would receive her messages. She asked for more information about the boy’s death. But, she received scant replies. Either the Elders wished to withhold information from her, or they had no answers.
As night fell, a cacophony of insects and frogs obscured all other sounds in the woods. Placing her hand on a receiver, the ship read her thoughts and rose silently. Again, unnoticed by human communities beneath her, the vehicle glided back towards the fairgrounds.
It was just after dark, as she walked to the center of town. The heels that pinched her feet the day before were more comfortable now. Within a quarter of an hour, she approached a brick building displaying a pink neon sign that read, “Hotel Tupelo.” A billowed, circular awning protected the front door. She approached a middle aged woman wearing cat-eye glasses behind the counter. The woman examined her suspiciously, looking her up and down. “Are you from around here?” she asked, not smiling.
A short time later, Batresh reached the room, turned the key, and entered. A young black man carried her suitcase. He flicked on a light switch by the door. The little room was illuminated with yellow light.
She tipped the young man. “Thank you Ma’am. Have a good evenin’,” he offered with a smile. He closed the door and left her in the warm, airless room. Sitting on the bed, she felt isolated. She was alone in a foreign land. She opened her suitcase. Finding a fabric covered pocket on the inner lid, she located a panel hiding a small compartment. Within, several small disks were lit in blue colors. She whispered, “Show me the boy.” Immediately, a thin square of light appeared. It was a display showing her an interior room of the boy’s home. He sat on the floor watching his parents as they played guitars and sang, “You are my flower, that’s bloomin’ in the mountain for me.” The mother, Betsy, sang harmony and played rhythm, the father, Edward, took the melodies. The beast around the father was dimmed.
She walked across the room, and opened the window, allowing the night air to enter. She breathed fresh air hungrily. Turning towards the mirror, she pushed the hair up off of her neck, sighing with pleasure as the breeze cooled her skin. Wearing a white, low cut blouse and dark cotton skirt, she went downstairs to the lobby. Once there, she saw one of the small men from the previous night sitting in a leather chair, accentuating his small frame. She assumed he was here to spy on her. She didn’t know he was as curious about her as she was about him. She nodded as she passed by his chair, noting that, even though he was completely bald, he seemed to have facial hair. Black stubble growing on his chin, made his skin look even more pale. The downloads taught her that the Potacas were completely hairless. Facial hair was a recent modification. He returned her friendly gesture with an expressionless face.
The young black man who carried her suitcase earlier, opened the door that exited from the lobby. “Are you going out for the evening Ma’am?”
She asked him if he could recommend a restaurant nearby for dinner. The small man, a Potacas she was certain, scrutinized her every word and gesture. “Yes, Ma’am,” the bellman responded. “They’s a restaurant just a couple a blocks ovah.” He pointed to the street that led westwards from the hotel. “You can prolly folla them folks walkin’ that a way now.” She saw a couple getting out of a car and a single man walking in that direction. “Ain’t no otha place they could be going. I buleeve it’s called Rick’s.”
“Do you like that restaurant?” she asked.
The young man smiled and looked down at the floor. “Well, now,” he paused. “They don’t let us colored folks go in them places.”
She was confused. It took her a moment to understand what he was saying. Then, she blushed. Looking down at the floor, she remembered. At this time, laws referred to as Jim Crow, forbade the races from mixing. She recalled white supremacists referring to the practice as separate-but-equal. It would take protests, marches, and years longer before white populations understood that separate is never equal. She remembered colored was a term used to refer to people of African descent.
She thanked the bellman for his advice, and went out to the sidewalk. She suspected the pale man would follow her. As she walked towards the restaurant, she saw several people on the street, a young, bare-headed man, wearing suspenders, the couple from the car talking to each other in hushed tones, and a tall man wearing a jacket and tie. This man would not have seemed out of place, except for the small man who accompanied him. The two made a comical sight, one so tall and the other so short. The couple looked at them and the woman giggled. Batresh noted she had seen at least four of the little men since she arrived yesterday. Why were they here? She wondered if they knew the Matriarch was here, and whether they knew the reason why she, herself, was here. Could the Potacas somehow bring about the event she came to prevent? She rubbed her forehead worriedly. How could she know when? How could she prevent it? She was not ready. She was not ready. Looking at the people on the sidewalks around her, she saw they were walking in the same direction.
She sat at a table on the opposite wall from the counter. The couple she saw on the street sat at a booth across from her. The man wearing suspenders sat directly ahead, facing her. After a time, a middle aged woman, wearing a white dress and apron came over. Batresh spoke to the waitress while noticing a small man at the counter was focused on her, another Potacas, like the man in the lobby. But the tall man mystified her. Looking around the dining room, she noticed at least three other Potacas. She looked down at the surface of the table, not wishing to show she was worried to see so many. Were they here because of her? She remembered they didn’t risk being exposed to humans. Surely, they would not risk anything here. Just then, the Potacas from the hotel lobby entered the restaurant. She tried to be nonchalant, not wanting to show she felt threatened. Opening her purse, she slid her hand inside and found the disk. Holding it in her palm, she felt it activate. The energy from the weapon did not go unnoticed. The small men turned away from her.
She was finishing her meal, when one of the small men, the one seated at the counter, rose from his seat, and walked towards her, holding his hat in his hand. She tried to be calm. She had studied their history, but had never seen them before arriving at Tupelo. Until recently, they were seen as more of a nuisance than a danger. They first appeared at Kemet during the reign of the Pharaoh Akhenaten, testing biological weapons on humans. So far, the weapons were not effective on her people, the Tayamni. If it were not for the Tayamni Moral Code admonishing her people to harm no living creature, her sister Namazu would have already dispatched them from this system with deadly force. Batresh looked down at the food in her plate, holding the fork in her right hand, considering how it might be used as a weapon.
“It is good to see you again, Ma’am,” the little man offered upon reaching her, his accent an aloof combination of Southern and British.
Aware that people were looking, she smiled and responded, “I’m sorry, I don’t believe we have met.” She looked up into his eyes, but could not read him. Some men in the room noticed her discomfort, and were listening, eager to protect a young woman from an aggressor. The man wearing suspenders, sitting at the table facing her, was attentive.
“Yes, Ma’am. I am certain I know you.” The room grew hushed. “I believe we met a long time ago.” He put his small hands into his pockets and rocked backwards on his shoes. “What fortuitous event brings you to our fair city?”
She sighed, realizing he was telling her he knew she was Tayamni. She cleared her throat and lay her fork down on her plate. “I am here on personal business,” she responded.
He brought his right hand up to his temple and tapped it, as if he had just remembered. “Oh yes!” he asserted. She grew more uncomfortable. “We met overseas,” he looked to his right through the paned window at the front of the restaurant, then back at her. “Where was it?” Now, all eyes were on them. It was not every day that someone in 1962 Tupelo, Mississippi, mentioned visiting another country. She looked into his face trying to show annoyance. He placed the fedora on his bald head, nervously. The hat shifted to an unnatural position.
She tried to put on a sarcastic smile, “Now, I know you are thinking of someone else.” She looked back at her plate and picked up the fork again, “I have never stepped a foot outside the South.” She noticed signs of pleasure from others in the restaurant. Her accent was more authentically Southern than his.
“I am sorry to bother you, Miss. I must be mistaken.” He nodded briefly, removed his hat, and returned to the counter. She sighed with relief and realized she was perspiring. Taking a sip of ice tea, she was grateful he had not risked exposing his true nature. Of course, she thought to herself, they want to be free to conduct experiments and test weapons without resistance from their victims.
Wanting to convey distrust, she crinkled her forehead and cast a resentful eye towards the small man. She saw him look around at her. His expression was blank, as if he neither saw nor felt anything. She took money from her purse and laid a fresh bill on the table.
At that point, the man sitting in front of her, rose and walked towards her. She could see a small patch of skin through an opening in his tight shirt. The buttons strained to cover him completely. “I couldn’t help but see you leave the hotel a while ago, Miss.” She looked at him with false calm. “Would you like to have an escort walk you back? It is safe around here in the daytime, but at night,” he looked towards the small man at the counter.
“That is kind of you. I would be grateful,” she whispered. She wondered, looking at his dark skin, that he was not considered to be colored. She didn’t understand the criteria used to separate the races. Several people in the restaurant were dark from working outside. Clearly the darkness of skin was not the only criteria for defining a person as colored.
“Let me pay my bill, and I will be right back.” He said, looking at her significantly.
The two walked slowly in the humid, Mississippi night. “My name is Jerry Means. I live in Saltillo.”
Having already chosen an old family name, she smiled at him with gratitude. “I am Shelia McCombs. My people settled in Saltillo a long time ago, when it was Kyle Hill.” They walked in silence for a few moments. “My grandmother moved to Memphis in the 40s. But, she passed away. I am here to deal with her property,” Batresh offered, creatively.
He smiled, reaching into his pockets. “You know, I got kin folk buried at Kyle Hill. You got people buried there?”
Then, to her surprise, unbidden facts about people buried there, their names and histories came to her consciousness. She was still not accustomed to the way downloaded information could suddenly, without warning, appear in her mind. She took a deep breath, and responded, “Yes, my great grandparents are buried there, along with my grandfather, James Brookshire.”
“I’ve seen their tombstones!” he exclaimed. “We might be kin to each other,” he laughed. They’s some Means buried there too!” He looked down at the concrete sidewalk, and shook his head in disbelief. “Ain’t that sumpthin!”
They reached the hotel. Jerry Means opened the door for her. “You have to be careful around here at night.” He looked at her full lips, then added, “Are you sure you’re going to be alright?”
“I will be fine. Thank you, Mr. Means.”
“Call me Jerry.”
“Thank you, Jerry.”
“I hope to see you again.”
“I would like that.” She offered her hand to him. He took her hand eagerly, squeezing just a little too tight. She looked at her hand and winced.
“I am sorry, sometimes I forget.” He grimaced with insecurity and looked down at the floor. Gathering himself, he ventured, “Good night, Miss McCombs.”
She smiled in an effort to convince him not to feel bad about squeezing her hand. But, he was already walking away, shrugging to himself.
Batresh, turned into the lobby. She noted that no one was there, not even a worker behind the counter. She walked to the elevator feeling exhilarated. Her thrill at being close to him surprised her. She wondered whether what she felt was natural, or the result of downloads.