erniewhiting@centurylink.net

Disclaimer: More scenes of graphic violence, as this deals with the massacre at Sand Creek

 

 

"Outlaws & Allies"

by Ernie Whiting

Chapter Eight

"It’s driving me batshit," Valerie said as she slowly massaged one temple with her fingertips. She and Sonja were sitting in Sonja’s sunlit living room with their feet propped up on the oaken coffee table and with glasses of red wine in their hands. After spending the rest of the night tossing fitfully back and forth, she had come here seeking help. Maybe Sonja could put her under hypnosis and get to the root of this dream; if not, then maybe she could suggest someone who could. "All I can remember is that I had a dream about some really ugly guy with crazy eyes and stringy blond hair staring down at me."

Sonja Belzac was the founder of the coven to which Valerie and Jasmine belonged, and if anyone in their group was capable of performing hypnosis, she would have known. What she said, however, was, "I wish I could help you, dear, but I just don’t know of anyone who does that sort of thing."

Valerie sighed in mild frustration. "Damn," she said softly, and then sipped at her wine.

Sonja thought it over for a long moment. "Have you thought about going to UC?" she finally asked.

"Pardon?"

"University of California--Berkeley, or Davis. Someone in one of the medical schools or something might be able to help out."

Valerie thought it over for a few moments. There was an idea there, she admitted. And then she thought, That’s a long damn pony ride. She might manage to borrow some wheels, though; after all, there was that cave in the lower southeastern part of the Territory where Allies had stashed a number of vehicles. Maybe she could borrow a truck or a jeep or something. (Now that she thought about it, Jasmine’s motorcycle--a stripped-down and buffed-out Triumph 650 muscle bike--was still there.) It might make for an interesting trip.

Of course, she couldn’t possibly omit Sierra and Jasmine from such an adventure; she thought that would be selfish, so that ruled out the motorcycle. After all, Sierra had never been outside of the Territory, and it could be quite an education to let her see what life was like out there--and to show her just how fortunate she was to be living a natural life in the natural world--the real world, as she called it--of Allied Territory. But on further reflection, "The City," as she lumped all cities together, was not at all a safe place. Not with all the crime, the pollution, and the political corruption, and she was reluctant, to say the least, to expose her to those dangers.

And then something else occurred to her. There was a lot of FLM infiltration in the universities--not just in the UC system, but in learning facilities throughout the entire country--and one could never tell for certain if a professor or a student, a doctor or nurse, or even an orderly or a janitor, was an Allied sympathizer or a Foundation informant, or just a neutral party. It was just too risky.

Screw it, she thought. She was not going to expose her daughter to any unnecessary dangers just so she could find out what her dream was all about. If it meant making a choice between leaving the Territory and taking a chance with her little girl’s safety, or staying at home with her in the shelter of Allied territory, she’d live with the mystery dream.

"I don’t know," she said at last. "What with all the Foundation infiltrations, how can you tell if you’re working with a straight-shooter or an undercover informant?"

Sonja looked thoughtful. "You really think there are Foundation informers working in the UC system?"

Valerie nodded once with an arched eyebrow. "Count on it." She drained the last of her wine and set the glass down as she prepared to leave. "I gotta scoot. I’ve got a bunch of errands to run that’ll keep me tied up all day, and my girls are gonna give me hell if I keep them waiting." She rose slowly. "By the way--one of these days, you and Viktor have got to come over again for dinner; Jasmine’s created a venison teriyaki dish that is to die for."

Sonja grinned in anticipation. "I’m looking forward to it."

***

She wasn’t going to make the trip, but she still couldn’t help thinking about it. Man, she said to herself as she and the horse slowly approached the house, that’s a long way to go. Berkeley was a lot closer, just sitting there by the Bay, but it was too strongly held by Foundation supporters--and its crime rate was way out of control. The Foundation was always talking about law and order, and constantly bragging about their widespread police presence, but it seemed to Valerie that the only law and order that the Foundation had brought to the major cities was that which applied to the honest citizens and not to the corrupt politicians who wrote those laws, or to the increasingly violent criminal element that didn’t give a damn about those laws. As a choice for medical and hypnotic facilities, Berkeley was definitely out.

Davis, on the other hand, was a smaller city. There was much less crime, she had heard, and it was still considered to be the "bicycle capitol" of the nation--in spite of the ever increasing automobile population. She smiled for a moment as she thought about how fun it would be to teach Sierra to ride a bike. Living in a forest, she hadn’t thought much about it before; there were too many winding dirt paths, and there were too many gears to mess around with--which meant steering mostly with just one hand, which wasn’t too safe with all those rocks lying around and waiting to trip you up. And you couldn’t carry nearly as many supplies and stuff in those little nylon bike bags, hanging on a spindly bike frame, as you could in a rugged pair of leather saddlebags slung across the sturdy back of a good, strong horse. But a lot of time had passed since the FLM had seized control of the government, and even Davis might have fallen into the same urban decay as had practically every other city. She didn’t want to expose Sierra to that, except maybe to provide her with an eye-opening, first-hand lesson as to what city life was like.

And then there was the strong possibility of Foundation infiltration; the last thing she needed was to wind up in their clutches. That damned FLM had spread like a cancer into just about everything.

Besides, it was a much longer pony ride.

Oh well, she thought with one more sigh of reluctant acceptance, I guess I’ll just have to live with it. Shrugging it off, she turned her mind to other things. Have to get some more bread, she suddenly remembered; they had already gone through those French loaves--damn, but they were good!--and she wanted to pick up some—

"Whoa!" she said out loud as another thought suddenly came to her. The horse came to a sudden stop. "No, not you," she said to it; she leaned forward and patted its neck. "Sorry--I was just talking to myself." She gently nudged it in the ribs with her heels, and they started forward again. Why didn’t I think of this sooner? she asked herself. The idea seemed so right to her!

She dismounted and guided the horse by the reins through the corral and into the barn, then returned to shut the gate. She walked briskly up to the house and through the sliding screen door. "Guys!"

Jasmine and Sierra were sitting on the sofa and reading from Edward Abbey’s book of essays "One Life At A Time, Please." They looked up when Valerie came in through the door. "Any luck with Sonja?" Jasmine asked.

"No, but I got another idea. You guys feel up to going back to the carnival?"

"Sure!" Sierra said immediately, and with a big smile.

"What have you got in mind?" Jasmine asked.

"I want to talk to that jeweler again--the one whose ring we almost had to buy?" She flopped down on the sofa next to Sierra and rested her arm across the back.

"Gina?"

"Yeah. She said her grandmother is a medicine woman, right?"

"So?"

"Well, maybe she can help out. I mean, I used to be an Indian in a previous life, and--"

Jasmine gave her a wry, skeptical smile.

Undaunted, Valerie continued on "--and maybe she can do, like, a vision quest or something."

"That’s really reaching, babe..."

"Hey, it can’t hurt to try." Then, with just a hint of a challenge in her voice, she added, "And since when did you become such a skeptic, ‘Mizz Drought-Buster’?"

In spite of herself--and somewhat embarrassedly--Jasmine grinned at the nickname. It had been given to her three or four years ago, after a spell she had cast.

She and Valerie and Sierra had been visiting friends at a distant commune in the middle of a broiling heat wave. Temperatures had been in the high seventies during the dead of night and well into the three-digit range during the day for a week and a half, with no relief in sight. Crops on several farms throughout the area were dying, streams and even a small river or two were drying up, normally festive and cheerful carnivals were austere and barren, and tempers were almost as short as the food supply. Radio reports had been announcing the approach of several storm fronts coming down from the northwest and promising relief, but those promises were never fulfilled; thanks to the immobile pocket of high pressure that had been sitting oppressively over their heads, most of the fronts had curved up and over them. The only one that had come in had delivered a thick layer of clouds that trapped the heat and humidity, but never delivered any rain.

Tired and cranky, and unable to sleep, Jasmine’s patience had been running out. She lay on her back on the wide bed, naked and bathed in sweat, with one knee raised and her fingers laced behind her head. "Everyone bitches about the weather," she grumbled, "but nobody ever does anything about it."

Valerie, also naked and sweating, lay on her stomach, facing away from her with one side of her face pressed against the pillow. Sierra was apparently the only one not bothered by the heat; lying between them, she slept peacefully. "Please don’t talk about the heat," she softly groaned into the pillow. "Anything but the heat..."

She felt the bed move, and she raised her head and turned to see what was going on. Fed up with the heat, and clutching her small nylon backpack of ritual tools in one fist--and so angry that either she had forgotten that she was not at home or she just didn’t care--Jasmine was determined to go out to the yard and alleviate the situation. The storm fronts were out there; all she had to do was get a piece of one and reel it in.

Perhaps a dozen people, dressed in shorts, tank tops and bikini- or halter-tops, and having given up on getting any rest inside, had come out into the still and humid air in a vain attempt to cool off. Some sat in aluminum-framed chairs with nylon webbing, and some lay in matching lounge chairs, while others brought out pillows and open sleeping bags to sleep--or try to sleep--on the grass. Most of them sat with iced drinks in one hand and small fans in the other, gently fanning themselves. Soft, muttered complaints of "Hot night," "Can’t sleep," and "Sick of this heat-wave shit," were numerous. They were all silenced a moment later, though, as several heads turned and eyes widened in surprise to see an Asian woman coming out from one of the nearby houses. She had a beautifully sculpted hard body that was totally naked except for a small silver star that sparkled against her chest, and a dark, unlined tan. She was walking out to the center of the grassy clearing which bisected the two rows of houses and shops, and apparently unaware of the widespread attention she was receiving. Several people straightened attentively with growing smiles of disbelief while others struggled to see around them or over their heads. Some went inside to bring out family and friends--"You won’t believe what’s going on out there right now!"--so they, too, could see what was taking place.

Framed in the low window, Valerie knelt on the bed and leaned forward with her hands supporting her on the bottom of the low wooden sill. Watching with her eyes squinted against the burn of fatigue, she wondered curiously, What’s she doing?

The growing crowd watched as she dug into her bag and withdrew several objects; a silver cup, a clay bowl, a red candle in a glass star-shaped holder, and a wooden disk that had carved into it the same five-pointed star that she wore around her neck. She lit the candle and placed it behind her, and they watched as she poured some kind of powder into the clay bowl and lit it with a wooden match. Small clouds of white smoke rose from it and slowly dispersed, and scented the air with jasmine and sandalwood.

Valerie felt the bed moving again, and then Sierra was standing next to her. Trying sleepily to climb into the window, she asked, "What’s goin’ on?"

Valerie picked her up and held her. "I think Jasmine’s going to bust this heat wave," she replied as Sierra slipped her arms around her neck and laced her fingers together. Then she noticed how many other people were also watching. "It’s either that, or she’s gone crazy," she added with a grin.

Sierra said, "Oh." She slipped disinterestedly from her mother’s arms and went back to bed. Grinning like a wolf, and with her amber eyes suddenly sparkling merrily, Valerie settled down and leaned forward, and lay her folded arms on the windowsill. She rested her chin on them, and shook with silent laughter.

The crowd was watching silently. After lighting the candle and incense, the woman rose to her feet and clutched some kind of a knife in both hands as though it were a handgun, and pointed it at the sky. She stood like this for maybe half a minute before the blade began to glow. A murmur of fascination rippled through the crowd, and at least one faint voice could be heard saying "My God..." as the glow slowly spread from the knife to envelope her. The people watched, spellbound; not to voyeuristically spy on a naked woman, but to watch the magic she was weaving.

She stood as still as a statue as she let the blue-white light envelope and permeate her. In a few minutes she became an almost blinding orb of light, and many of those who watched had to squint or shade their eyes against its brilliance if they wanted to keep on watching, while others had to turn away from the unearthly brilliance. Then she lowered her arms until the dagger was pointing at the wooden disk that rested at the northern edge. Suddenly, a beam of light shot from its tip and harmlessly blasted at the disk; there were a couple of surprised gasps and suppressed screams, and a loud "Holy shit!!" or two, but Jasmine didn’t seem to notice them. Concentrating on the job with dark determination, she turned clockwise, keeping the knife pointed straight ahead of her, to draw a circle of flickering light on the ground. Once she completed her 360E circle, she approached the eastern side and drew a flickering five-pointed star that hung in the air as she muttered a soft invocation that no one else could hear. She did the same at the south and at the west, and finally at the north. Standing once more in the center of the circle, and surrounded by four floating pentagrams of flickering electrical energy--and a fascinated but distant crowd of on-lookers--she thrust the dagger at the sky. What kind of invocation should I use? she wondered. Nothing came to mind. As cranky and as tired as she was, she was in no mood to use any flowery, poetic or even cordial incantations anyway. So instead of using another formal invocation, this time she went the direct route by making it plain and simple: "RAIN, DAMN IT!" A brief moment later, when she remembered whom she was addressing--and after suddenly seeing herself being chased by lightning bolts blasting at her heels and narrowly missing her as she ran for shelter--she added, "Please."

As the crowd continued to watch, she nonchalantly banished the Circle; with the dagger still clutched in both hands and pointed ahead of her, she dismissed the floating pentagrams and turned counter-clockwise to take up the flickering circle of light, and channeled the energy through herself and into the ground. Then she knelt to snuff the candle and dump the incense onto the ground, and scattered the ashes with one hand to insure that it was out. Then, one by one, she put her tools away.

They watched her with mixed reactions. Some of them probably would have gotten a laugh, or at least a good chuckle, from watching these activities if they had not seen her in control of all that energy; instead, they continued to watch silently and expectantly, wondering what was going to happen next.

Distant thunder rumbled across the soft, gray, night sky. Faintly, at first, but growing louder like a bowling ball rolling down an alley just before it hit the pins. Then came the double blast, directly overhead--KA-WHAAMM!!--and lightning flashed with almost painful brilliance, shattering the clouds with jagged streaks of silver and shaking the earth with rumbling explosions. This brought forth another startled scream from someone in the crowd...

...and then Jasmine suddenly noticed for the first time that she was being watched by just about the entire commune. And here she was, without a stitch on. Oh dear, she thought. It was like being in a dream, where the dreamer suddenly discovers that the pool-party is most definitely not bathing-suits optional.

And then the rain came. Buckets of it. Torrents of it, dumping down in a massive, rushing curtain, like a tropical typhoon. There was more screaming and yelling; not in fear, but in surprise and elation. People snatched up their pillows and sleeping bags before they got soaked and ran indoors, while others bolted from their chairs and lounges, dropping their drinks, and dashed inside. Others still, who had been especially affected by the heat, gladly stayed outside to cool off in the refreshing shower and to welcome the storm with open arms.

Jasmine looked up at the sky as the rain sluiced down her body. Just as well I’m not wearing anything, she thought, otherwise I’d be getting soaked right now. With a wide grin and a polite wave to the sky she said, "Thanks," and strolled back inside, where Valerie was waiting for her with a towel to dry her hair. Trying not to awaken Sierra, they quietly laughed together as they remembered the madly sprinting crowd that dashed inside to avoid getting soaked--it had been a long time since either of them had seen anyone move that fast--and then they lay back to savor the relief from the heat. After a few minutes, Valerie slipped her arms around Sierra and hugged her close, and rolled with her to gently lay her on the other side of the bed. Then she rolled on top of Jasmine. "A spell like that deserves a special reward," she said with a grin. "Prepare to meet your maker, baby cakes; I’m going to eat you alive!" And with a soft squeal of delight, Jasmine happily surrendered.

With varying degrees of intensity, ranging from misting drizzles to torrential downpours and back again, it had rained non-stop for three days.

"Yeah, well, that was different," Jasmine said in dismissal while fighting to suppress her impish smile.

Valerie noticed the look. "Different, my ass," she said with a grin.

"Your ass most definitely is different."

If Sierra hadn’t been sitting between them right now, Valerie would have playfully whomphed her with a pillow. Instead, she said, "So what do you say?"

Jasmine shrugged thoughtfully and replied, "Couldn’t hoit."

***

Gina Windsong was standing behind her table at the carnival. The difference today was that there were very few rings and other pieces of jewelry left, and there were even fewer painted t-shirts. When she saw the trio approaching, she said in cheerful surprise, "Hi, guys!"

"Hi, Gina." Jasmine eyed the small number of goods that remained. "Looks like business has been pretty good."

"You wouldn’t believe how good it’s been; Mike and I are going to have to work our butts off to keep up with the demand." Then she looked down at Sierra. "And who do we have down here?" she inquired with a smile.

"This is our daughter, Sierra Tanaka Ryan," Valerie replied. "Sierra, this is Gina Windsong."

Sierra reached up as Gina reached down, and they shook hands across the table. Gina was surprised to find that Sierra had a pretty strong grip for someone so small and young. "Are you a real Indian?" Sierra asked with restrained excitement. After having seen "Dances With Wolves" a dozen times or more, she wanted to be an Indian, too.

Valerie could feel the heat of embarrassment rising to her face. She had always taught Sierra that it really wasn’t very polite to inquire into one’s ethnic background. It wasn’t exactly impolite, but...well, some people could be kind of defensive about such questioning, to one degree or another; but most people seemed to be quite willing and he even happy to speak of their heritage. Even so, Valerie had always been a little uncertain how someone would react to such an innocent inquiry, so she had decided that it would be safer not to ask at all. On the other hand, she could also understand Sierra’s innocent curiosity.

Before she had a chance to mildly admonish her, Gina replied with a big smile, "I sure am. My mom and her family are Lakota, and my father and his family are Navajo."

"Way cool! Mom used to be an Indian, too!"

Gina’s smile became a wide grin. Used to be? she wondered. But what piqued her curiosity was how Valerie had referred to Sierra as their daughter. Not "my daughter" or "Jasmine’s daughter," but theirs. When she had first met them, Gina had figured that Valerie and Jasmine were merely buddies, since she had not seen them holding hands the other day; now it dawned on her that their relationship was much more involved. With an inward shrug she decided, That’s cool. As an American Indian, she knew what prejudice was all about; she had been a victim of it for much of her life, and she had sworn to herself long ago that she would never prejudge anyone.

And then she noticed how strongly Sierra genetically resembled both women (How the hell did they manage that? she wondered). She had Valerie’s amber eyes and Jasmine’s straight, satiny black hair, and was as darkly tanned as both. When this kid hits puberty, she thought, she’s going to be attracting boys like moths to a flame.

And then she remembered Valerie mentioning that she thought she used to be an Indian "a real long time ago." All she could think of in response was, "Really?"

Valerie shushed the girl by distracting her from her line of questioning with a brisk ruffling of her hair. "Well, that’s kind of what I wanted to talk to you about," she said. "You mentioned that your grandmother is a medicine woman, and I think I need one in regards to a spiritual problem. It all has to do with a past-life experience."

Gina remembered the Triple Moon headbands they had worn the other day. They were gone now, but the two women still wore sparkling silver pentacles (and so did Sierra, she noticed) so Gina figured that they were Witches, or perhaps some other kind of Pagans. And being Pagans--regardless of their nationalities--they were moderately akin to American Indians in that they respected Nature and believed in its spirit, and didn’t squabble uselessly over whose way of worship was the "best" as the six hundred-plus different kinds of Christians and the innumerable kinds of Muslims did with their respective religions.

"Mostly what I’m looking for is a third opinion," Valerie said. "Mizz Drought Buster here"--she indicated Jasmine with a thumb--"is still kind of skeptical."

"Yeah, yeah, that’s right," Jasmine said with a good-natured grumble, "make me out to be the bad guy."

"What do you say?" Valerie asked.

Gina smiled and said, "Sure. Grandmother would love to have more people she can tell her old war stories to."

"Can we give you a hand loading this stuff up?" Jasmine asked.

"Sure. Come on; the wagon’s this way."

***

Sarah Two Knives was originally given her name in playful jest. When she was a young girl of eight years, her mother had given her a hunting knife--sharp as a razor along one edge and serrated along the other--that was quite similar to Valerie’s Parker-Imai hunting knife, but was much older since it had been handed down from generation to generation. Her uncle had also given her a knife--a brand-new Guardian II combat dagger made by Gerber, Inc., with a matte-black, double-edged blade and a forest camouflage hilt. She greatly appreciated both gifts, but she didn’t know what she was going to do with two knives. Her uncle had jokingly suggested calling her Sarah "Two Knives" Greene, and Sarah had liked the name so much that she dropped her European name of Greene.

They were sitting in the living room of Sarah Two Knives’s mobile home. It was located on top of a hill with the living room facing east so she could see the sunrise every morning, when she got up just before dawn, and her bedroom faced west where she could watch the sun set every night. At the bottom of the hill there was a small stream that provided water for drinking, cooking, and--away from the house and farther downhill--for bathing and washing clothes.

The living room was painted a pale shade of desert sand, and was well-lit, thanks to the skylight that took up nearly the entire roof. The west wall was decorated with a pair of reproduced Lakota war shields, and a pair of crossed war lances of the same nation--lances that looked old enough to be authentic--decorated the east wall. On the southern wall there were pictures of Red Cloud and Geronimo, with an ancient leather quiver of arrows and a longbow with an eagle’s feather tied to its top between them, and on the northern wall was a bright, red-and-black-and-white Navajo blanket that was flanked on both sides by wooden Zuni lightning symbols (while Sarah was a full-blooded Lakota, she liked to have artifacts from all Indian nations to demonstrate her alliance with them). Hints of leather, sage and sweet grass scented the air.

Sarah Two Knives was sitting in one corner of the sofa with a foot tucked beneath her, and her granddaughter Gina sat at the other end. She was slim and sixty-five years old, with long straight black hair that surrounded her face in an oval frame and was streaked with white, and she had to walk with a cane on account of an old bullet wound in her right ankle (she had not come through Wounded Knee II completely unscathed). Her face was tanned and seamed like soft old leather, but her dark brown eyes still showed the spirit of a lively and alert young woman and a scrappy fighter twenty years of age. And she still spoke with a strong voice. "Gina tells me you’re interested in a vision quest," she said.

Valerie and Jasmine sat in a pair of recliner chairs, and Sierra was slowly wandering around the living room with her hands tucked behind her back, careful not to touch anything that might be fragile, as she examined the numerous artifacts that decorated the room. "I don’t know quite how to explain this," Valerie said. "About seven years ago a friend of mine put me under hypnosis and regressed me to a previous life in an effort to get to the bottom of a dream I was having; a dream of being burned at the stake during the Spanish Inquisition. It turns out I’ve lived several lives, one of them being that of a Cheyenne woman from Sand Creek. Lately I’ve been plagued by another dream that I can never remember, so I figured that since...well, since I was once Indian..." Her voice trailed off, and now she began to think that this whole thing sounded kind of lame even to her. "...well, I kinda thought it appropriate to seek out a vision quest." Then she cast a sharp look at Jasmine. "Stop that giggling."

Jasmine gestured slightly with one hand and quickly suppressed a smile. "Did I say anything?"

Sarah smiled; she was already beginning to like these two. She thought for a few moments, and then finally said, "One does not need to be an Indian--or a former Indian, for that matter--in order to seek a vision. If you wish, I’d be most happy to be a guide."

Valerie sighed softly with relief.

"So tell me about this other dream," Sarah said. "The one you can never remember."

She thought it over. How was she supposed to describe a dream she couldn’t remember? "I can’t," she replied. "I mean, all I can remember from it is some blond guy hovering over me; a blond guy with stringy, greasy hair and this really wild look in his eyes. That’s all."

"And..." Sarah said with a slight nod, encouraging her to try to continue.

She thought some more. For nearly two full minutes it was almost uncomfortably quiet. Valerie didn’t want to sit here in silence, yet...yet she had the feeling that Sarah was patient enough to sit here all night, if necessary, to wait for her answer.

Sudden realization came gently to her, and she looked at Sarah. "But I get the weirdest damn feeling that my life in Sand Creek and this dream are connected somehow."

Sarah nodded very slightly, and there was a little bit of a smile in her eyes. "They could be," she agreed. "It certainly is worth exploring. You said this has been troubling you lately; what do you think triggered it?"

Valerie sighed thoughtfully and deeply. "That’s a good question," she replied. "I never had it until..." She had to give it some thought. "...until the night after the carnival."

Sierra was standing in a doorway that led down a short hall, peering curiously inside. Jasmine noticed her and said, "Sierra, honey, come back over here."

Sierra pulled herself away and started back toward the adults. She knew she really shouldn’t be snooping like that; even if she did stay in the same room, she felt as though she was being a little nosey. At least, that’s probably what her folks were thinking.

"Gina," Sarah said, sensing the child’s curiosity, "why don’t you take Jasmine and Sierra on a tour of the place? Valerie and I need to talk some more."

"Sure." She turned to Sierra. "Have you ever seen a barrel race?"

Barrel race? Sierra thought as visions of people pushing barrels down a hill, competing to see who could roll the most in a given amount of time, went through her mind. Or did they climb inside of those barrels and roll downhill, with the help of a well-placed kick, to see who could tumble and bounce their way to the bottom of the hill in the shortest time? In some ways the latter sounded kind of fun. Weird, but fun.

***

They found Sierra sitting on top of the wooden corral fence, cheering Jasmine on as the latter, riding a horse at almost break-neck speed, rounded the barrel for the last time and headed back for the starting line. Sitting next to her was Michelle Windsong, Gina’s daughter, and on her other side was Gina, standing and resting her arms on top of the fence and holding a stopwatch.

With a thundering of hooves and a cloud of dust, Jasmine pulled the horse up to a stop at the starting line, and Gina clicked the button and gave her her time.

"Damn!" she said, disappointed with herself yet still with good nature. "Well, at least I’m improving."

"You’re doing better than I did on my first time out," Gina said. Then she indicated her daughter with a thumb. "But we still got a ways to go to catch up with Michelle here."

Michelle tilted her cowboy hat back on her head and smiled quietly from behind her Foster Grant sunglasses. Dressed in jeans and boots, and a red-and-white Western-styled shirt, Sierra thought she looked more like a cowboy than an Indian.

"So, who’s winning the race?" Valerie asked as they approached the fence.

All three indicated Michelle.

"You have to watch her," Sarah said. "She’s been riding since she was three, and when she gets on a horse she becomes a part of it."

"Come on guys, it’s time to go," Valerie said. "We have to get ready to come back tomorrow." Then she turned to Sarah and said, "I guess we’ll see you in the morning."

***

The small, dome-shaped tepee behind the house was in reality a sweat lodge. It was early morning, just after sunrise, and Jasmine and Gina were outside, tending the fire that was heating the stones while Sierra and Michelle were watching with great interest; watching and learning because some day they, too, might be taking part in similar ceremonies. They watched as, one by one, the hot stones were carried inside on a shovel and deposited in a round circle of more stones, near which a wooden bucket of water and an aluminum ladle rested.

Valerie and Sarah were already inside, with towels wrapped skirt-like around their hips and sitting cross-legged, and between and in front of them near the ring of stones there rested a small bowl that contained a dozen grayish-green cactus buttons that Valerie quickly recognized as peyote. She remembered reading somewhere that peyote was originally used only by southwestern Indians, but over the years its use as a sacrament in the Native American Church began to spread throughout the country to other Indian nations (until the United States Supreme Court, shortly before the advent of the FLM, had outlawed this activity in 1990; Native American vision-seekers then had to continue this practice underground). The two women made small talk and exchanged a few anecdotes as they watched the stones come in, and when the ring was filled Sarah reached over and pulled the flap of the tepee shut.

Valerie’s stomach grumbled with hunger--she had not eaten this morning as part of her preparation for this ceremony--and the heat was already drawing the sweat from her skin. And then Sarah dipped the ladle into the bucket and poured water onto the stones, and explosive clouds of hot steam billowed upward and filled the lodge to make Valerie feel even hotter and sweatier. Sarah began to sing softly in Lakota, offering her prayers for a successful vision quest, and Valerie began to softly chant her own invocations. After a while she noticed that her chant had taken on the same rhythm as Sarah’s singing, and her voice began to shift from a speaking voice to a singing chant that sounded much like the old woman’s; the only difference was in the language.

Still singing softly, Sarah lifted the bowl in both hands and offered it to Valerie. Valerie had never used peyote before, and she didn’t know what to expect from it. She had heard a lot of old stories about peyote being an addicting "narcotic" that sent one off on wild hallucinations which resulted in the user trying to either fly from a roof-top or pluck out his own eyes, but she had never believed those tales. As far as she was concerned, they were nothing more than unsubstantiated rumors--or, more likely, outright lies of the Foundation and its supporters. The same thing had been said for decades in the mainstream press--or the official media, as Jasmine called it--about every illegal drug in the country, including marijuana, in spite of all the research that had been conducted. By the early 1980s, after some twenty years of research of the long-term effects of cannabis in particular--and not finding the desired evidence to support the government’s justification of law enforcement’s policy and budget for the war on drugs--the government’s response to the marijuana question even before the Foundation had seized power had been, "We need more research."

She trusted Sarah, though, and with barely a moment’s hesitation she selected a button and popped it into her mouth, and slowly chewed. She grimaced in surprise at how bitter it was. Her first reaction was to spit it out, but that was unacceptable, so she continued to slowly chew and finally swallowed it with another slight wince.

"You’ve never chewed before," Sarah said with a slight smile.

"It shows, huh?" she responded with a slight smile. She picked up the ladle and sipped some water to wash it down and rinse the taste from her mouth. Then she took up her own chant again and took the bowl from Sarah’s hands and held it in both of her own as Sarah took a button.

"Should you ever chew again, at least it will go down a little more easily," she said, and ate the button.

Handing the bowl back to her, Valerie could not imagine ever wanting to eat this stuff again. It was god-awful bitter, and just from one button alone she was tempted to throw up--but she managed to control herself. Not only that, she even managed to get a second one down. But she wasn’t quite sure of how many to take; there had been a dozen to begin with, and since Sarah had conducted many of these ceremonies she ought to know what would be needed for a novice. So Valerie figured that half of these were for Sarah and the other half was for herself. Relinquishing herself to what lay ahead, she thought, This is going to be an interesting trip.

Sarah picked up the ladle and poured more water onto the stones, and steam billowed once again like clouds of smoke from a volcano. It was like a sauna in here, only hotter and closer. The steam was hot and wet, and the sweat poured out of her and down her ribs from her armpits, and trickled between her tanned breasts and down her back as though she had just stepped from a hot-tub. She shifted to one side and pulled the towel from around her hips, and wiped her face. It was a wasted effort; almost immediately, the sweat poured down her face and forehead again. She ran her hands through her hair, brushing it back across the top of her head and out of the way; her scalp was soaked with steam and sweat, and her hair was damp and lank.

The soft singing began again. It was impossible to tell how long it went on, but eventually--perhaps only twenty minutes later and perhaps as much as a couple of hours later--they stopped from simple fatigue. They sat quietly, staring into the clouds of steam, and meditated.

Valerie didn’t know what to expect. She was pretty sure, however, that since she had fasted before this ceremony the peyote would probably take effect before too long. Trying not to think about it too much and to just let it happen, she sat quietly and watched Sarah for a while. Sarah sat with her eyes closed and her shoulders slumped forward slightly with her arms resting on her knees, and smiling ever so slightly. She must be incredibly at peace with herself, Valerie thought; I sure wish I could be that serene. She continued to watch her, and then began to wonder about the previous generations of her family. Wow, she thought; here’s a woman whose family went back some twenty thousand years, if not longer, all the way back practically to the beginning of time. At least to the beginning of Man’s occupation of North America. Man’s occupation? she suddenly thought. Not Wo-Man’s, or Mankind’s, or Humankind’s? How did all these sexist terms come into common use? she wondered. Why doesn’t someone do something to change that? It ain’t fair, goddamnitt, she thought, it ain’t fair to give credit to "Man" all the fuggin’ time (Why am I saying "ain’t" all the time? she asked herself. She never spoke like that). What a sexist and biased bunch of horse--

She realized she was digressing. Never mind all that stuff right now, she told herself, stick to the issue at hand.

Speaking of hands, check this one out. She held it before her, palm out, and spread her fingers. Wow, look at the way it works, she said to herself as it began to ripple the way an object seems to when seen lying at the bottom of a swimming pool, only in slow-motion. And I don’t even have to tell it what to do! And then she had to stop it from floating right up into her face. Stop that, she silently told it, and it stopped. She flexed her fingers and turned it over, and was acutely aware of all of her movements and the graceful way in which bones, muscles and tendons all worked together... That’s a hell of a design, she thought, and her thoughts began to simultaneously swirl and blend together like dazzling syrupy colors, and to slowly echo through her head like a lone voice inside the Grand Canyon. "Wow," she said aloud in fascination. It came out long and drawn, like a slow-speed recording. It sounded funny to her; she couldn’t help but smile at herself, and her smile just kept on spreading until she had to tell it to stop, too. Grinning happily, she slowly waved her hand back and forth, and then in figure eights, and it left a trailing rainbow after-image.

"Far out," she said, in stoned fascination.

She shifted slightly to re-settle herself, and she felt as though she could float up to the top of the tepee. "Whoa!" she said suddenly as she tried to grab at the ground. And then a moment of lucidity came back to her; she knew full well that she couldn’t float in mid-air, and she grinned embarrassedly at herself. She glanced at Sarah and found her to be watching her with an amused look in her eyes. "I’m making a fool of myself, aren’t I?" she asked.

Sarah grinned and shook her head as if to say, "Of course not," yet said nothing.

Valerie grinned also, and then began to look around the tepee. Something was crawling on the canvas wall just behind her and near her head; either a spider or a scorpion, or a crab. Whatever it was, it sure was ugly, and she didn’t want to have anything to do with it. She shuddered in mild disgust, and moved away from it. Then she turned to focus her attention to her immediate surroundings once more, and found a lizard--a full-grown iguana, some three feet long and a brilliant lime-green with a black-ringed tail--lying in front of her near the ring of stones. She knew full well that iguanas were not indigenous to northern California, but here it was anyway, and in wide-eyed fascination she watched it as it tasted the air with its flickering black tongue. It then cocked its head to one side, and Valerie tilted her own, trying to keep the image in a straight and level perspective. Then it turned to look at her, cocking its head to the other side, and Valerie slowly tilted her own head the same way. And then it smiled at her in amusement as it watched this human unconsciously imitating its movements, like a primate in a zoo that imitated the visitors who gawked at it...and Valerie smiled back as she suddenly perceived the joke. Then the lizard winked at her, letting her know these antics were all in good fun, and as her smile spread into a wide grin Valerie winked back at it.

She turned to Sarah and said, "Did you see--" and then broke off when she discovered that Sarah had disappeared. Sitting in her place was a lean, gray coyote. She flinched and stared at it in astonishment, and then quickly looked around for Sarah as the coyote watched her with mild interest. She hadn’t seen her leave; she certainly would have noticed her departure, and she most definitely would have noticed the arrival of a coyote. She sat there for a long moment, staring at it again in wonder. Then, with a slight scowl, she leaned forward slightly, and softly inquired, "Did you see where Sarah went?"

The coyote grinned at her.

Valerie’s scowl disappeared as she grinned back at it, and then she slowly raised her hand and touched the wolf’s tooth earring that dangled from her right ear. "What’s up, cousin?"

The coyote stood and passed like a ghost through the tepee’s wall, and Valerie continued to sit there in fascination. How’d she do that? she wondered.

The coyote came back inside and gently took Valerie’s wrist in its teeth, urging her to rise and follow it outside. Valerie quickly rose and followed the coyote, passing through the wall like smoke through a window screen, and stood outside.

The tepee was gone. So were the mobile home and the corral. She found herself standing naked in a deserted dry plain, and the coyote was sitting next to her. It yipped once and took off toward the distant hills. Not wanting to be left alone in the middle of this dry, weed-encrusted and barren nowhere, Valerie shouted "Wait up!" and leapt forward. She hit the ground with her front paws and took off after it at a rapid lope.

Traveling on four legs is so much easier than on two, she thought as she fell into a comfortable rhythm, and she wondered why she had never thought of doing this before; she felt as though she could run like this all day. Of course, being a wolf meant she was bigger than a coyote, and that meant she could not squirm her way under the thick bushes as easily as the coyote did. Instead, she squeezed her eyes shut and plunged through them, and burst through the other side in an explosion of bright green foliage, untouched by the tiny twigs that snagged harmlessly in her thick, brown/black fur.

The coyote cast a quick glance over its shoulder and saw that Valerie was still in pursuit, and closing in fast. It cut a sharp turn to the left and quickly dashed through an opening under a fallen tree to scramble out of the other side, playfully taunting her with an unvoiced, "Let’s see you get through this!"

Valerie knew she was too big to squeeze through it, but she was not going to give up the chase. She quickly came up on the log, and just as it looked as though she would plough head-first into it she threw her head up and raised her upper body; at the same time she pushed away from the ground with her hind legs. Stretching herself to her full length, and grinning a playful lupine grin, she effortlessly sailed up and over the log, letting the fur on her belly just barely graze against the rough, dried bark. She came down on the other side, catching the coyote off-guard, and gave it a playful nudge that said, "Let’s see you top that!"

The coyote smiled back at her, and then it’s mood darkened as it turned to look toward the small village of tepees. Throughout the village there were patches of snow on the ground and there were strands of tall, dry bunch grass that surrounded some of the dwellings, and a thin, waist-high mist was creeping silently through the small Cheyenne hamlet. Standing once again on two legs, Valerie strained to see the large tepee that stood in the center of the village; hanging above it on a tall lodge poll was a limp, motionless American flag.

"Dear Lady," Valerie said in quiet awe and instant recognition. A sudden chill ran through her, making her shiver involuntarily. "Sweet Mother Goddess, this is Sand Creek!"

The coyote took a few steps forward, and then sat. It looked at Valerie once, and then at the village, and then at Valerie once more.

"I should go down there?" she asked. She gazed at the village with mixed feelings; a part of her wanted to go, yet she was also afraid. She had died here once before, and she had no desire to witness the slaughter that was soon to come. But, she suddenly thought, if there was anything she could do to change it--or maybe even prevent the massacre--she had to do what she could. To stand by and let it happen again would be reprehensible.

With sudden cold determination, she turned to the coyote. "Wait here," she told it, "I’ll be back."

She took off in a sudden sprint and shape-shifted again to leap over the hurdles of tall, dead grass. It was less than half a minute before she reached the sleeping village, and when she reached its edge she took human form again to shout in warning at the top of her voice: "Wasichus! Wasichus!" She approached the lodge of Chief Motavato and reached for the flap of his tepee. "Wake up--soldiers are coming!" Her fingers brushed against the buffalo skin, and it suddenly dissolved, passing through her fingers like smoke. Her heart froze. "What the hell?" she wondered in shock and dread as she stared at her hand and then at the tent flap. She reached for it again, and she found that it was not the buffalo skin that dissolved, but rather her fingers. An even stronger sense of dread washed over her. "Oh God," she thought, and then that dread turned to fear. She stepped toward the tepee and her body--as insubstantial as a shadow--passed through it. "Motavato!" she called out. She saw him lying under a buffalo hide blanket, sleeping peacefully. She quickly went and knelt in front of him. She urgently reached forward to shake him awake, but her hand passed through his shoulder. "Motavato!" she screamed. In response, a deep snore caught in the back of his throat; he rolled over onto his other side, and then sighed as he continued to sleep in peaceful, uninterrupted bliss.

Her fear was quickly turning to terror. She could not awaken him, and the soldiers would be here at any moment.

She rose to her feet and went through the tent wall, stepping out into the cold air that did not affect her. Dear Lady, she thought, not certain of which way to turn. Dear Lady, what am I going to do? How can I...

She spied another beautifully hand-painted tepee only a few yards away. On it were painted a crescent moon and the face of a wolf, and she suddenly knew whose tepee it was. She ran to it and passed through the wall, and found the two women sleeping in separate beds and absolute serenity. They were both tall, and both were slim and athletic, but one was unmistakably pregnant. Valerie went to kneel next to her. "Wake up!" she screamed. "Damn it, girl, wake up!"

Surprisingly, the woman flinched once and came awake. And when Valerie saw her pale, clear amber eyes, she knew it was herself, a hundred and fifty years ago.

Suddenly filled with hope, Valerie urged her on. If she shouted loudly enough, maybe she could make herself be heard. At the same time she realized that she could also be changing history--but so what? If it meant saving her village, she would gladly give up her present life. "Yeah, that’s it--get up! Wake up the others!"

But then, what would happen to her daughter? What would happen to Jasmine? Would they ever meet in her next life? This sudden question made her stop and think. Gods, she thought, oh dear Lady, I’m not sure of what to do... Yet she felt she had to prevent the slaughter.

And then she heard the thunder--thunder that came from the ground rather than from the sky.

She struggled to sit up. Her rounded belly, swollen with child, made it difficult to rise and lean back on her elbows to listen. "Buffalo?" she whispered to herself.

"No, damn it!" Valerie shouted. "It’s the fucking soldiers!"

It couldn’t be buffalo. The scouts and the warriors, who had been out on the hunt for the last three days, would certainly have seen them long before now, and would have returned to warn the rest of the camp of any impending stampede.

She threw off her blanket, a coarse gray wool blanket with a US ARMY logo stenciled into the fabric, and Valerie stepped out of her way. She accompanied her with her every movement, almost hovering over her. She stood next to her and watched as she shook her sister awake.

"What is it?" asked her sleepy voice.

"I am not sure," she replied with a whisper. Nor was she now certain of why she was whispering. She wasn’t afraid of waking anyone; the people in the other tepees were far enough away so that no one would have been disturbed even if she had spoken in a normal volume. For a moment she was afraid that some stalker outside might hear her, but that didn’t make any more sense than her first thought because there was no one in the camp to be afraid of. But something instinctive told her that it would be best to be wary.

"Good! Yeah, that’s it; get up and go look outside," Valerie urged her. "Come on, get up!"

She cautiously struggled to her hands and knees, and crawled quietly toward the flap of her tepee. She gently parted the flaps with one finger, and peered outside.

The tepees at the edge of the camp were dim, ghostly shapes against the white fog, and beyond the edge of the camp nothing could be seen. The sky was white and the air was cold and damp, with the kind of chill that permeated one to the bone and settled there like an unwelcome, possessive spirit. And the rumbling waves of sound continued, sounding even louder now.

Closer.

Annoyed, Quiet Eagle Watches asked, "You do not know? Then why did you wake me up?"

Valerie stared at her and tried to tell her again, "It’s the goddamn soldiers, goddamnitt!" And then she peered at her more closely. Her eyes widened in near shock and her jaw dropped. "Jasmine?"

Wolf Eyes Woman remained where she was, standing on her knees and wrapped in her buckskin dress, peering outside. As she brushed her long black hair back over her shoulders, she saw a few other people emerging slowly and cautiously from their own tepees, puzzled and curious about the sounds. No, stampeding buffalo definitely did not cause it; with the accompanying metallic jingling it sounded more like horses. Perhaps the hunters were returning with some ponies stolen from the Pawnee. But if that were the case, why weren’t they announcing themselves?

She turned, and her pale amber eyes looked back at her sister. "Something is wrong," Wolf Eyes said. She could feel it in her blood.

"Finally," Valerie said with only mild relief. At last, she seemed to have gotten through to her. "Get out there and warn the others!"

"You worry too much," Quiet Eagle said. With a sigh, she lay back down on her side.

"GET UP!" Valerie screamed, helplessly standing by. She wanted to grab her by her dress and haul her to her feet, shove her toward the flap, and give her a kick in her seat—but she knew she couldn’t, and this heightened her frustration a thousand-fold.

***

"What the hell’s going on in there?" Jasmine asked Gina. The screams sounded urgent, and she was starting for the sweat lodge.

Gina gently lay a hand on her arm. "You’ll have to wait," she said. "They’re in the middle of a vision."

"But the screams--"

"You cannot enter into an inipi without invitation," Gina told her. Jasmine fully understood, if somewhat grudgingly; it was the same as with a Circle. "Please; you will have to wait."

Reluctantly, Jasmine sat back down with worry in her eyes.

***

"I do not worry too much," Wolf Eyes Woman replied as she regarded her younger sister with an annoyed look. "There is--" She noticed that she was not listening to her, so she lashed out with a foot and gave her a sharp kick in the ankle.

"Oww!" She sat up and glared in surprise and anger, and rubbed her bruised ankle.

"Get dressed; I am going outside to see what is happening." She crawled through the flap of the tepee and got to her feet.

Valerie stepped through the tepee’s wall. She could see several people emerging from their tepees, curious about the sounds and speaking softly to one another. Others were already outside, standing motionlessly as they listened and wishing that the thick white curtains of fog would part and reveal their secrets.

Valerie ran toward them, screaming like a madwoman. "Soldiers are coming! It’s the soldiers, damnit! Arm yourselves!" But their ears were as deaf to her dire warnings as were those of the two women whose tepee she had just left. She started to cry in terror. "Please," she said, "you’ve got to hear me!" She took a ragged breath. "Please, dear Goddess, don’t let this happen again..."

And then the soldiers came out of the fog, like blue-clad demons emerging from the sulphurous mists of Hell, catching the Indians by surprise. Old people, women, and children screamed in terror and scattered in all directions, while the soldiers gave chase, whooping and cheering in mad, frenzied revelry and firing indiscriminately with rifles and pistols.

A pair of mounted soldiers lassoed the top of one tepee and pulled it down. In a blind rage, Valerie shape-shifted again and took off toward them. In wolf form, she jumped at one of the soldiers, stretching out full-length with the intent of knocking him from his horse and tearing his throat out with her teeth. Instead, she passed harmlessly through him and landed on the other side. She turned to stare back at the soldier who was totally unaware of her presence. "God damn you!" she screamed in rage and futility as she regained human form. "God damn you to Hell!"

***

Jasmine started again, and then checked herself. Gods, what’s happening in there? she wondered. She wanted desperately to go, but what Gina had told her was true; whatever was going on in there, she could not interrupt. Valerie was just going to have to ride it out on her own.

Reluctantly, she sat back down and continued to worry.

***

Soldiers on foot set fire to the lodges with flaming torches. Others raced their horses between the beautifully painted buffalo-hide tepees, and mercilessly trampled fleeing Indians to death as they frantically emerged from their lodges. Unencumbered by law or any military code of honor, or even by simple human decency, Colonel John Chivington’s Colorado Volunteers ruthlessly butchered every Cheyenne man, woman, and child within reach.

And Valerie could do nothing but stand helplessly by, cursing in rage and crying in despair, with her face twisted in torment as she was passed by racing horses and swallowed by their dust.

Then she saw a blond soldier as he pulled his horse up outside of her tepee and quickly dismount. She saw him draw his revolver as he reached forward and pulled the flap open. She dashed after him and passed into the tepee in time to see him enter it and find two women inside, clutching at each other and screaming in fright.

She recognized him immediately as the man from her dream.

She could see everything in painfully slow motion as the two women screamed in terror. Momentarily paralyzed with horror, she saw him cock the hammer back on his pistol, and then instinct made her lunge at him as they screamed. She leaped forward and grabbed for the gun, but again her hands ineffectively passed through him. And then she screamed in horror with the other women as, with a cold smile of hatred and conquest, he pulled the trigger and shot her sister in the face. Quiet Eagle’s head snapped backward from the impact of the bullet--the back of it blew out against the tepee wall--and she slumped lifeless in her sister’s arms.

Valerie watched helplessly as Wolf Eyes Woman lashed at him with both feet, screaming and kicking in a vain effort to fend him off. He pushed her legs aside with little effort and flipped the pistol around nonchalantly, and caught it by its barrel. He swung and slammed it against the side of her head, and Valerie flinched in reflex. With a yelp, she saw herself slump unconsciously.

"Bastard!" she screamed uselessly. "You fucking bastard son of a BITCH!"

He slipped the pistol into his holster and knelt in front of her. He unbuckled his belt, opened his trousers, and slid them down to his knees.

"God damn you!" Valerie cried as she finally accepted the fact that she was helpless to stop this malignant insanity. She slowly sank to her knees. "God damn you to whatever Hell you believe in!" And then she watched helplessly as he spread her legs, positioned himself between them, and viciously raped her.

Valerie wanted to turn away, but she couldn’t. She stared in horror, and then went beyond horror as she saw him reach for his bayonet. He clutched it tightly in one fist, and her eyes widened again in shock and terror just an instant before he slammed its blade into her vagina. They both screamed--Wolf Eyes in agony and Valerie in sheer horror--and he grinned a diabolical grin as he twisted the blade. He pulled it up and forward, cutting open her belly and slitting her uterus, and he plunged his hand into her and pulled out the bloody, limp, eight-month-old fetus. He held it up before the dying woman’s eyes and grinned malignantly, and what he did next was unspeakable.

Kneeling next to them, Valerie covered her face and turned away, trying to blot out the grisly spectacle before her. But those final screams of agony and terror would echo forever in her mind.

"Valerie?"

Her eyes flew open as she snapped erect. She was sitting in the sweat lodge, bathed in perspiration in the damp and nearly suffocating heat, and when she turned toward the direction from where the voice had come she found Sarah Two Knives kneeling beside her with a hand on her shoulder and watching her worriedly.

"Are you all right?"

"God!" She let her shoulders slump and tried to force herself to relax. Her hands came up to wipe the sweat and tears from her face. "Dear Goddess," she said, and took a deep, steadying breath. "I was there, Sarah! I was there! I saw it all happening again, and--" Her voice caught in her throat, and for a moment she couldn’t go on. Her hands went to her face and she slowly shook her head. "I tried to help her," she sobbed, "but I couldn’t! God damn it, I couldn’t do anything!"

"Who couldn’t you help?"

She started to answer her, and then stopped. Instead, she looked up at her with a combination of anguish and puzzlement in her amber eyes. Who couldn’t she have helped? The women in her vision? Herself? She stared at the glowing, steaming stones that rested before her, as though they might help to provide her with an answer.

"As Wolf Eyes Woman, you did all you could," Sarah quietly told her. "And as Valerie Ryan, you did not exist. So what could you have done? You were not there just as an observer; you were also remembering from outside of your body something that has already happened to you. You were a victim; yet you did everything you could to defend yourself and your sister, and your child." She took her hand and squeezed it reassuringly.

Valerie took a deep, ragged breath and asked, "So why do I still feel like shit?"

"You have no reason to," Sarah replied. "You wanted to help, but couldn’t; what’s done is done, and you cannot change that." She thought for a moment. "Funny thing, about guilt; what most people don’t realize is that they choose to feel guilty as a form of self-punishment. I guess people think they ought to share some of the same pain they were unable to prevent." She moved in a little more closely so that their knees were touching, and she continued almost conspiratorially. "They think they ‘should have’ done this or they ‘should have’ done that...obviously, people would have acted differently had other choices occurred to them at the time. What makes me crazy is that others will impose a guilt trip on them by telling them they ‘should have’ done something different; they will imply that a hapless victim of circumstances ‘should have’ been able to see the future. While there are some obvious cases in which one can foresee the consequences of their actions, that is not always the case; if it were, this would be a much nicer planet to live on. Other people beat themselves up for not having seen or predicted an unforeseen and unpredictable occurrence. Whether or not they realize it, people choose to take these self-imposed guilt trips, just like you’re doing. If you ask me, it’s a form of psychological self-flagellation; and as a Witch, you must remember that flagellation was inspired by a combination of religious fanaticism and some warped form of auto-eroticism."

Thanks to Sarah’s diversion of her attention away from the vision, and thanks to the still-potent effects of the peyote, Valerie forgot all about her spiritual torment for a moment. "You mean, some people actually get off on guilt?" Including me? she silently asked herself. She wasn’t taking it personally, but rather accepting it as a lesson to be learned.

"Weird, aren’t they?"

"But why do they do it?"

Sarah shrugged and sighed. "I’ve given that a lot of thought," she replied. "Based on personal observations and many vision quests of my own, and based on much thought and reflection over these many years, I have come to the following inescapable conclusion..."

Valerie watched the medicine woman carefully, expectantly awaiting an answer of incredible insight and remarkable wisdom. "Which is...?"

Sarah shrugged once more and replied, "People are goofy."

***

It was perhaps an hour or two after sunset. Jasmine and Gina were sitting outside in white molded plastic chairs at a square wooden table over which a blue-and-white striped canvas umbrella stood, with cans of diet Coke sitting before them, while Sierra and Michelle were inside playing video games on the TV set.

Now Jasmine heard them laughing. "Sounds like things have improved a little bit," she said to Gina.

"Apparently the visions are going well now," Gina said.

"How long do you think it will be before they come out of there?"

"Hard to say. They’ll have to come out soon; hyperthermia and dehydration could become a problem after all this time."

Jasmine drummed her fingers nervously on the scarred wooden table with an anxious sigh. And then she saw movement; the flap of the dome-shaped initi flipped open and Valerie came out first, with the towel wrapped once again around her hips, and was followed by Sarah. Valerie staggered once, and Sarah caught her, and they both laughed again as they started toward the table near the house. Jasmine could hear Sarah saying, "That was some fancy bit of shape-shifting you did; I’ve never seen anyone learn it so quickly before. You must have a strong wolf spirit with you."

"For the last seven or eight years I’ve had a strong affinity with wolves," Valerie replied. She fingered the wolf’s tooth earring that hung at her right lobe and added, "Which is why I always wear this."

Jasmine stood and approached them. "Are you okay?" she asked Valerie.

"I’m okay," Valerie replied, tired and wrung out, yet in good spirits. She rested her hands on Jasmine’s shoulders for a moment and looked into her eyes, and for a brief moment she saw Quiet Eagle Watches.

Jasmine was still a little worried. She watched Valerie carefully for a moment or two, and took note of her crooked smile and the dilated pupils of her red-rimmed eyes. She had obviously ingested or inhaled some kind of drug, but the expression in her eyes had nothing to do with any chemically-induced altered state of consciousness. "Why are you staring at me like that?" she asked.

Sweet Lady, she thought as she gazed into Jasmine’s emerald, almond eyes. Her face was almost totally obscured by a field of tiny, vibrating red spots that floated before her in the darkness, yet she could still see her clearly. Sweet Lady, she thought again, she even sounds the same. She gave her a kiss on the lips, and then hugged her tightly. "I love you," she said.

She sighed with relief; yet at the same time, she was also caught a little off-guard by this sudden emotional declaration. "I love you too, sweetheart," she said with a puzzled smile as she slipped her arms around her, "but you’re covering me in sweat."

Valerie bubbled over in laughter. She let go of her, and then took her face in her hands and gave her one more quick kiss.

"So how’d things go in there?"

"I promise I’ll tell you all about it. But right now, I need to get down to the river and cool off."

"Sounds like a good idea," Sarah agreed. "I’ll go get some more towels."

***

Jasmine had been half-tempted to join them, but it had been a little chilly out. Valerie and Sarah had been sitting in a sauna for hours, and their body temperatures were considerably higher than normal, so the cold water had not bothered them. Jasmine, however, had elected to remain dressed and stayed up on the shore with Gina, and joined in on their conversation. She listened attentively, wanting to learn all she could about this ceremony, while watching Valerie for any signs of a possible bad reaction to the peyote.

Valerie had been fairly quiet. She responded to questions, but she also seemed preoccupied with her surroundings. At one point, while standing hip-deep in the gently flowing river, she had muttered, "My world," as she slowly passed her hands through the water, just below the surface. She raised them and watched the sparkling water run like liquid silver from her cupped hands and down her arms in rapt fascination. "I am Leviathan," she said softly, and then she slowly spread her arms wide. "I am Neptune and Poseidon. There is no land here, only water." Then she turned and asked, "What do you suppose it’s like to live on a planet that’s totally covered in water?"

Jasmine shrugged in puzzlement and replied, "I imagine it’s pretty wet."

Valerie tilted her head back and gazed at the starry night sky. Then she took a deep breath, cupped her hands around her mouth, and howled.

"It’s time for that girl to go home," Jasmine had declared. "Is she going to be like this all night?"

***

Riding toward home in the wagon, Jasmine held the reins while Valerie sat next to her with one arm slipped through hers and with the other one around Sierra, who was fast asleep. "You’re not driving in your condition," she had ordered. "Sarah says it’s going to take a couple or three days for this stuff to wear completely off, so you just take it easy and don’t try to operate any heavy machinery."

Valerie looked disappointed. "No bulldozers?" she asked.

"No bulldozers."

Crestfallen, Valerie quietly said, "Aw, shit...."

On the other hand, Jasmine had noticed how much more affectionate--and amorous--Valerie was behaving. Her vision must have been a powerful and meaningful one. And maybe it had a little to do with the effects of the peyote, she thought with a tiny, amused smile. Maybe this peyote stuff wasn’t such a bad idea after all, she told herself.

To Valerie, the wagon wasn’t moving forward; it was gently rocking and swaying back and forth like an amusement-park ride on a platform, and the forest slowly approached, surrounded them, and then passed them by.

"The whole thing was as real as this is now," she said with quiet enthusiasm, careful not to awaken Sierra. "We were sisters, Jas! And Sierra was there, too! All three of us were at Sand Creek, and we were killed by some redneck son of a bitch." She suddenly shuddered. "Just thinking about it gives me the creeps all over again. It gives me the creeps, it scares me to death, and it pisses me off like you wouldn’t believe."

"I almost wish you hadn’t told me about it," Jasmine said.

Valerie looked at her in puzzled surprise. "Really? How come?"

"Because if I wanted to go on my own vision quest or be regressed hypnotically to a previous life, and if--I emphasize if--I experience all this stuff you mentioned, how will I know that I’m not just being influenced by everything you told me? How will I know if my vision or memories are really my own?"

She has a point there, she silently admitted. But then she said, "Oh, this was real, baby cakes. There’s no doubt about it, it was real. We really were all together there, a hundred and fifty years ago. But we’re back now; we’re back and together again, the way we were meant to be, and that soldier is dead and long gone--and he can’t hurt us anymore."

Somehow, that sounded disturbingly self-delusional, even to her.

And hauntingly familiar.

 

Chapter Nine

Erskine was sitting on the open tailgate of his dusty gray Dodge Ram pickup and counting his two hundred thousand dollars again. Then it suddenly occurred to him--and he looked up at the three people as they transferred the crates of contraband guns from the truck to the back of a mud-splattered blue Ford van--how easy it would be to have them all killed right now. He smiled a grim smile of contemplation, at first, and as he went back to counting his money it turned to one of satisfaction.

This whole venture had started out a couple of weeks ago when he ripped off this ratty little school down in the San Carlos Indian reservation in Arizona. The school wasn’t much more than a couple of adobe buildings, a battered corral with a dilapidated barn, and a couple of outhouses. And it would have taken a hell of a lot more than the ten grand he had found there in a small lock box to fix it up. The money wouldn’t be much use to them, and Erskine had much better plans for it. At one time he would have thought it had served them right to get robbed; after all, if they wanted to teach a lot of that New Age crap, they should at least be able to defend themselves against intrusion by the State or by someone like himself. It isn’t education they were doin’ over there, he thought, it’s a lot of disloyal horse shit. Not that he cared all that much for the Foundation; but at least they weren’t full of what he called "those goddamned communists and devil worshipers." Nowadays, though, he didn’t care about the New Agers or the Feds. Fuck those new age nitwits, he thought, they deserved to get robbed. And fuck the Foundation, too. Fuck ‘em all.

With that ten thousand dollars, he had gone on to bribe the soldier. He had met with him in a tavern one evening, a soldier who was assigned to an assault weapons depot and who had been possessed by a strongly entrepreneurial spirit. He persuaded him with that ten thousand dollars to be somewhere else, checking on a fictitious activity outside the back fence and far from the warehouse, involving a dark motor vehicle with its headlights off, two occupants, and a funny-smelling cigarette. The other five soldiers on duty at the depot that night also had been alerted by the entrepreneur to the narcotics violation taking place, and in their zeal to apprehend the two druggies--possibly AIDS-infected addicts, since all drug users (thanks to Foundation propaganda), were considered to be HIV-positive and highly contagious--the soldiers’ sudden disappearance from the depot had guaranteed that no one would be around to disturb Erskine and Jorgensen for about twenty minutes. It wasn’t a lot of time, but it was all they could get. And in that short time they helped themselves to as many weapons as they could lay their hands on.

They managed to snag fifteen crates, with ten weapons per crate. They were of a wide variety which included, but certainly were not limited to, AR-15s, Uzis, AK-47s, Heckler & Koch MP-5s, and Galils. They were mostly semiautomatic, and a few had been converted to full auto. They had been kept in this warehouse, one of several that were called "assault weapons depots" since the mid-1990s, under the supposedly watchful eye of the authorities after they had been confiscated from gun shops, sporting goods stores, and private citizens under the Federal Assault Rifle Ban. The ban had been imposed on the claim that these were the weapons of choice among gang-bangers and drug dealers and other criminals in spite of evidence previously gathered by the FBI, even before the Bureau had been taken over by the Foundation, that had shown otherwise. But the Foundation was currently engaged in a war on drugs and crime, as they liked to call it, and since martial law had already been invoked during the bio-war--or the Plague, as the Foundation called it, because of that phrase’s Biblical connotation--they felt justified in passing any restrictive and unconstitutional law they wished. This war on drugs and crime had been believed by the public to be merely an expression of speech, but in reality the Foundation had used the term quite literally. It was not a piece of rhetoric designed to provide people with the feeling that at last something was being done about crime; it had been a Machiavellian manipulation of people’s opinions by a Foundation-friendly press and of civil and criminal law, and a literal declaration of all-out war which had involved the exercise of the President’s Emergency War Powers Act. The result of this action was the deployment of American troops--for the purposes of law enforcement, claimed the Foundation--not only in sovereign nations like Colombia and Bolivia, where coca was grown and refined into cocaine, and in Panama and Mexico, which were supposedly the main traffic lines for drug dealers, but also throughout the United States. International law and order and global security were at stake, the President had said in response to the national leaders that had denounced these attacks on the sovereignty of other countries, and damn any country that didn’t like it.

About a week later, somebody stole Erskine’s classic, baby-blue Corvette 2000, which had been named for the year it had rolled off of the assembly line. God, how that had pissed him off! He had stolen it himself, fair and square, and had installed a $1,000 security system and a $2,000 sound system. And in less than a week after he had returned from San Carlos, it was gone. Gone! Just like that! Stolen right out of his security-gated garage. According to his sources on the street, it had been stolen by some rotten, low-life bastard son of a bitch named Garrett Keller.

He had heard of Keller. Some said he was an ex-Air Force pilot who had turned smuggler while others said he was a professional mercenary that you didn’t want to mess with. Others said he was ex-Delta Force, and you really didn’t want to mess with him. After checking around, Erskine had managed to come up with a picture of him, and he made plans for what he was going to do to him--after he had sold off these weapons.

After checking with various underground sources, he had met this woman who was rumored to be interested in buying his guns. And with that money he would either acquire another ‘Vette, or he would kill the man who had stolen his.

His three customers had tested these weapons before purchase. Actually, the big guy had been standing off to one side, apparently without much concern; he had been leaning with his back against the van, his arms folded across his chest and his legs crossed at the ankles. The woman had stood next to Erskine while the third member of their party tested the guns. Erskine knew the big guy was there to back up his partners and cover him at the same time, just in case Erskine tried to pull something funny, but such a relaxed manner was not a very good pose. These clowns, Erskine had thought, in spite of thinking to test the merchandise first, were just a small group of amateurs.

Well, maybe the woman and the big guy were amateurs. The other guy, standing off to the other side some distance away, had tested one weapon after another until he had gone through them all. He obviously knew how to handle firearms. He had stayed more or less in front of Erskine with his back to him, conveying the idea that he was no threat to Erskine while firing these weapons, and...and then Erskine realized as the woman casually went to stand near the van that if he had to take these people out, he wouldn’t be able to do it; one man stood in front to his left and the other stood in front to his right, out of each other’s line of fire while keeping Erskine in theirs. That was when it dawned on him with a sudden inward chill that all this time he had been an easy target for them.

These people weren’t so amateurish after all.

But Erskine was no amateur, either. He had his own back-up.

They slammed the van’s rear doors shut. Erskine looked up from his money and watched them carefully. He wasn’t sure if they were going to try to rip him off or not; so far, everything had gone as planned. But just to be on the safe side, he had Jorgensen backing him up, hiding in the nearby hills with a scoped Weatherby Vanguard VGX, a bolt-action rifle that was accurate enough to fire into a two-inch circle at over a hundred yards. If they did try to rip him off, they wouldn’t get very far.

The woman had done all the talking. She had a Texas drawl and glossy auburn hair that fell about her shoulders, a fading bronze tan and emerald green eyes, and a body like that of a centerfold model. As near as he could tell, anyway; she was dressed in faded jeans, scuffed brown boots and a baggy olive-green army jacket, and if she would just smile once he was sure it would be a heart-warming smile that could bring any man to his knees. As things were, however, she never cracked a smile; she was like stone.

The big guy reminded Erskine of a biker; an ex-Hell’s Angel or something. Erskine had dealt with a Hell’s Angel once, and it taught him a painful lesson not to fuck around with them. The man was no undercover soldier, that was for certain; Erskine could spot a Fed coming from the next county. It was in the way they acted; their tough-guy attitudes, when out of uniform, were as transparent as a storefront window. They could be tough as hell when in uniform and surrounded by other Foundation soldiers, but alone or in pairs, and without their intimidating uniforms and badges, they seemed a little uncertain; at times like these they were pretty much on their own, and they overcompensated in their act.

The big guy’s was definitely no act.

There was something about the other guy that was plain damn scary. It wasn’t anything in particular that Erskine could identify; it was just something that gave him the chills. He always wore that dark brown Western hat--floppy yet stylish--and that black bandanna that covered his chin and nose, leaving only those cold, gray eyes visible. He looked like a modern version of an Old West outlaw, or like someone who had just stepped out of an advertisement for one of those pseudo-southwestern scented after-shaves. Erskine had asked the woman about him once: "Doesn’t he ever take that thing off?"

"I don’t think you want to know what he looks like," she said, and this time she did smile--a thin and cold smile, like a bloodless slice from a straight razor. "The last poor bastard who got that curious wound up with his throat cut."

Erskine remembered that blood-chilling look, and decided not to push his luck. Instead, he held out a hand and said, "Well, it’s been a pleasure doing business with you."

The woman looked at him with those cool green eyes and said, "Yeah, sure..." She turned away from him and started to climb into the van. The big guy just looked at him, then at his hand, and said nothing. He made no move to shake it. Instead, he refolded his arms across his chest and leaned back against the van again.

Erskine considered the possibility that something could be going wrong, and his smile faltered as his hand finally dropped. Or maybe they were just professional business people; cold-hearted bastards. Erskine was beginning to feel a little out of his element. "Maybe we can do it again sometime," he said, trying not to let on that he was feeling just a little bit nervous.

"I don’t think so," the big guy said.

Erskine’s heart skipped a beat. What the hell did that mean? Did it mean this was the rip-off? Or did it mean that they just never wanted to see him again? Trying not to let his fear show, he shrugged and let the big guy believe he chose the latter scenario—but he was also ready to respond to the former. One subtle signal from him, and Jorgensen would open fire.

He shrugged and turned to the other man, and said, "Take it easy, bud."

The other man just watched him with those cold gray eyes.

"Hey, come on," Erskine said as he tried to be friendly. In reality, a growing sense of uneasiness was slowly creeping up his spine like a cold chill, bit by bit. "We’re on the same side, right?"

"Wrong." The masked man reached with his right hand under his coat and toward the small of his back, and withdrew a sleek, black Colt .45 semi-auto handgun. He pointed it at Erskine’s chest and flicked off the safety. With a slight nod of his head, he indicated the satchel full of money. "Toss it here."

Not wanting to make any sudden moves, Erskine slowly tossed him the money and raised one arm in a subtle pre-arranged signal to his sniper. Jorgensen obviously would know which man to shoot, and as soon as the would-be thief fell Erskine would leap to one side, draw his own weapon, and shoot the big guy.

Nothing happened.

The masked man pulled his bandanna down, revealing his features for the first time.

Erskine’s eyes bulged in shock. "Shit!"

"Now turn around and raise the other one," Keller said with a mocking smile.

Erskine turned slowly and raised his other arm, and then laced his fingers behind his head. Keller stepped off to one side, still keeping him covered, as Dutch Jackson came up from the other side and patted him down. He took the Colt Python .357 from Erskine’s waistband and tucked it into his own, then continued patting him down. Hidden in a holster strapped to Erskine’s left ankle was a snub-nosed .38, and Dutch appropriated this gun, too. He also took the keys to the truck.

Erskine’s mind raced. Why the hell isn’t Jorgensen shooting them? he was asking himself desperately, and at the same time the answer came to him: Jorgensen must have been bought off. That had to be it! God damn that Jorgensen! And God damn Keller, too! Those Delta Force commandos had a way of getting to anyone. If he ever saw Jorgensen again, Erskine thought furiously, he’d... he’d... Actually, he would probably never see him again. But it made him feel better to think of what he would do to him--it took the edge off of the humility and rage he was feeling right now.

His eyes blazed with fury as he first watched Keller and then Dutch as the latter backed away.

"He’s clean," Dutch reported.

"Good. All right, Erskine, gimme your boots."

Erskine glared viciously at him and said nothing.

"Aw, come on, man, don’t give me that look." He waited a moment and saw that Erskine wasn’t about to change his expression. "Listen, you know I’m not letting you get out of here to follow us, okay? Now, you can either give me your boots and find ‘em about a mile or two down the road, or I can kill you right here and now. C’mon, I am giving you a choice, y’know."

If looks could kill...

Erskine slowly sat on the dusty ground and pulled off his cowboy boots. One at a time, he threw them at Keller’s feet.

Keller bent to pick them up with one hand, then wrinkled his nose in disgust as he suddenly thrust them out at arm’s length. "Shee-yit! I don’t want these things in the van!" He threw them into the night-shrouded bushes.

As he backed toward the van’s passenger door, while still holding down on Erskine with the Colt as Dutch approached the driver’s door, he said with a smartass grin, "Have a so-so evening."

"I’m gonna kill you!" Erskine roared. "You son of a bitch, I’ll fucking kill you!"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Keller said. "It’s been a pleasure doin’ business with you, too; the car, the guns..." Then he held up the satchel full of money. "...and the money I made off of your car..." The van’s doors slammed shut, and the van roared off into the darkness.

***

The young half-breed Indian man with the long black hair and faded gray Stetson could have picked him off with no effort at all, but that wasn’t part of the plan. Instead, he watched Erskine through the scope a moment longer as he kept the cross-hairs trained on his chest and his finger alongside the trigger guard, and he softly whispered, "Ka-pow." He smiled to himself, then looked down at Jorgensen, who lay in the dust at his feet. He examined the rifle in the dim starlight for a moment and said, "Nice gun," and then started down the hill and toward the road below.

***

Miranda Knight laughed and squealed with delight in Keller’s ear as she wrapped her arms around his neck, accidentally knocking his hat askew. "That was great! Did you see the look in his eyes?" She laughed again, and planted a wet kiss on his cheek.

Dutch guided the van over the bumpy dirt road, raising a cloud of dust that glowed red in the tail lights. "That is one angry man back there," he said with a smile. "How long do you think it’ll be before he figures out what happened?"

"What? You mean by the time he finds his backup layin’ flat out on the ground?" Keller straightened his hat, kissed the back of one of Miranda’s hands, and then scratched at his neat, trimmed beard. (In a dark, wet alley one night a couple of years ago, an undercover FLM informant had lashed at his face with a straight razor after recognizing him from a wanted poster, and had narrowly missed him. Keller, on the other hand, had not missed; he had reacted by bashing the man’s head in with a chunk of discarded two-by-four from a nearby trash dumpster. A day later he had discovered that his face had been plastered on Post Office walls all over the country--and he wondered where the hell they had found a picture of him--so he had decided that a change of appearances had been in order.) He took off the hat and ran a hand through his longish dark brown hair, then grinned and asked, "You know what’s really gonna piss ‘im off?"

"Finding out that the Foundation Freddies just might believe he supplied guns to the Allies?" Randi asked, her eyes and grin sparkling in the dim light of the van’s dash.

"I hear they really frown on that sort of activity," Dutch said. "And I got some friends spreading the rumors already."

"He’ll be lucky if he isn’t shot on sight for treason," Randi said.

Keller dug out a cigarette and lit it with his stainless steel lighter. He snapped the lighter shut with a metallic click as he gazed out into the darkness, and rolled the window down to let the smoke out. "Damn, but it’s dark out here. I don’t know how the hell we’re gonna find Tommy; I hope he doesn’t get lost." He rested his arm on the window sill.

"Indians don’t get lost in the wilderness," Dutch said as Randi snatched Keller’s cigarette away and took a drag. "We’re the ones who ought to worry about getting lost." He downshifted to second and dropped the van’s speed, and continued to follow the high beams of the headlights. They bumped along over the rutted dirt road in silence for a few minutes, and then the lights picked up the lone figure, dressed in faded denim jeans and jacket, and an old Stetson, sitting quite relaxed on a large rock. The figure recognized the van by its crooked left headlight and rose, and it was then that Keller and Dutch saw the very expensive-looking rifle.

Dutch pulled up near him and stopped, and they got out and shook hands. "Nice gun, Tommy," Keller said. The appearance of the rifle confirmed his suspicion of Erskine having a backup nearby. That’s why Tommy was sent out to surreptitiously scout around before the meet, and that’s why Dutch had seemed so relaxed earlier; both he and Keller knew that Tommy was one hell of a guerilla warrior.

"Yeah," said Tommy Hawkes.

Most people, when they met him and heard his name for the first time, thought it was a cute and stereotypical Indian name, and would ask the same inevitable question: did you get your name from the axe or the hawk? And Tommy (actually, he preferred to be called either Tom or just Hawkes) would explain with what was now thin patience that just because he was half-Indian it didn’t necessarily mean that he had to be named after either a war tool or an animal or anything like that. The family name was Hawkes, simple as that; his mother was a full-blooded Apache originally from the San Carlos reservation in Arizona, but his father was an American of German and Scottish descent. Actually, Tom’s full name was Thomas Wolfgang Hawkes, Jr., and his father had never been asked where he got his name--nor had he ever been mistaken for an Indian. There were times when Tom considered dropping his first name, and changing the spelling of his last, to just call himself Wolf Hawks. He liked the sound of it.

They got back into the van, and Hawkes settled down in the back, sitting cross-legged. "Well shit, guys," Randi said with a grin and a Texas drawl that was stronger than Keller’s, "that was fun. What do we do next?"

Back in the passenger seat, Keller sat for a long moment and thought. Good question. He studied the money in front of him. What the hell am I gonna do with all this? he wondered. After all, it wasn’t like he had any major phone bills or anything to pay, not the way he lived. As a kid, he had always dreamed of having this kind of money; now that he had it, he didn’t know what to do with it.

He counted out $20,000 and handed it to Dutch, then counted out another twenty grand and gave it to Randi, and slipped ten thousand into his own pocket to cover his personal expenses. The rest of the money was returned to the satchel. "Here," he said, handing it to Hawkes, "this is for Maggie."

Maggie’s school wasn’t to be confused with the usual concept of an Indian school; the old style schools were places where American Indian children had been sent after having been taken from their families by force or subterfuge, to be forced to adapt to the ways of American society. Maggie’s school was a place where Indian children--or any other children, for that matter--could go to learn the old ways if they wanted to. American Indian culture was an elective course; the basics--math, history, reading, writing, and so on--were also taught there, and the children were taught far more than the Foundation for Law and Morality wanted them to know. The massacres at Sand Creek and Wounded Knee in the nineteenth century, and the Wounded Knee insurrection of 1973, were openly discussed here; so were Kent State, Jackson State, and Betatron, and so were Watergate, Iran/Contra, and the elections that had been manipulated over the years by the FLM. These were all topics that had been mysteriously omitted from the State’s curriculum.

Hawkes had his uncertainties about Keller when he first met him, but not any more. With a smile he said, "I’m sure she’ll be pleased."

Dutch went back to watching the dirt road and the darkness, thinking. After having known Keller for all these years it was nice to know that the man never changed. He was damned glad to have him as a friend.

"Boy, there’s nothing better than putting in a good day at work, y’know?" Keller said. "What do you guys want to do next?"

"I could stand a beer or two, myself," Dutch said. "A hard day at work always makes me thirsty."

"Me too," said Hawkes. "And I know just the place."

"Far out," Randi said. "I’m buyin’. That is, assumin’ you gents don’t mind havin’ a woman buy your drinks for you." She grinned at Keller and gave him a playful nudge. In some ways he seemed so...traditional...and Randi couldn’t help teasing him about it, in a good-natured way. While some thought Keller might be a throwback to the mid-twentieth century, Randi not only didn’t mind if a gentleman wanted to open a door for a lady, she found it to be rare and, personally, quite flattering.

The van bumped on down the dirt road until it met with the paved highway. As it turned onto the asphalt road, Keller was thinking that what he’d really like to do was take a vacation. The stress and strain of procuring supplies for the Allies was beginning to get to him, and he needed a break. Just a short one, so he could unwind a little. Maybe he could talk Randi into going with him. They both could use the time off, and Dutch was anxious to get back to Nancy, so it looked like now would be as good a time as any to get back to the Territory.

part 5

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