Chieftain Jo Clearwater sat on a rock at a crossroads somewhere in the middle of today’s Nevada, eyeing the paths to the mountains far ahead. He had unleashed his dog and let his horse wander off and chew on dry grass.
A lonely eagle flew over the horizon.
Jo lowered his gaze and pushed his worn out hat onto his wrinkled face, hiding it from the sun. A long black feather in his hair gave out his high status and the weight of responsibility on his shoulders. He came to the canyon to think about his imposition. Jo Clearwater might have to break the tradition; an uneasy dilemma troubled the old man, yet, somehow, no good thoughts came to him so far.
He would need to return to his tribe before dark, before hyenas crawled out of their shelters to prey on dead – or still dying – flesh.
Jo didn’t fancy hyenas.
The moment of rest passed quickly. All of a sudden the sky opened up, flashing a beam of light and wreaking havoc in the whirlpool of dust below.
Jo got up in slow motion.
Never in his many springs had he seen a thing even vaguely resembling the object in the sky that, from Jo’s point of view, appeared literally out of nowhere.
Oval shaped and gigantic in size, the thing was hanging in the air – not moving, not falling. As soon as the dust fell and the beam ceased, Jo’s keen eye distinguished little twinkling lights on the object’s surface that was covered with square patches Jo took for steel.
Nothing happened after that, only a lizard speared out from under Jo’s foot.
Clearwater contemplated his situation for a while, took out his pipe and placed his behind back on the rock, intending to see this event through.
“Are you sure about the coordinates? I can’t make heads or tails of this mess,” Mason referred to the confused computer onboard.
“We are supposed to be on Earth, I know that’s what I saw before our engines went berserk,” Sam was exhausted. She had spent hours on alert, knowing now there was nothing they could have done to prevent the crash.
“Yes, I can see where we are, but do we know when?” Mason walked towards the screen. He noticed peculiar commotion outside – an old man with a feather in his grey braided hair first stood up, then sat down and took out an instrument Mason did not recognize.
“Somewhere between 1888 and 1900,” Sam couldn’t tell exactly – the timer was fluctuating.
“We have company,” Mason pointed to the man on the rock, “What is he doing?”
Sam ignored the question.
“Is he… inhaling smoke? Why would he do that?” Mason first looked at Sam, then at the man on the rock.
Sam didn’t know. She never cared about little human details that fascinated her brother.
The old man was done with his pipe and hid it inside his pocket. His dog exhaled several bluffs at their spaceship; the man disciplined her. His fully saddled horse wandered nearby, chewing on grass that looked more like straw.
A lonely eagle crossed the sky.
Mason found himself drawn to the sight, as if he had known this old man and his animal gang before.
“What do you suppose this is up there, ah, Koda?” Thinking aloud in his native tongue, Jo Clearwater patted his dog. Twinkling lights on the object went off. Strangely, there was no sound, no sound at all. But that thing was not empty, Jo felt it. He just knew there was someone inside, and he wanted to find out who that was.
For now hydraulic ultra pressure vaults were keeping them above the planet’s surface, but, provided diagnostic robots were telling the truth, the spaceship needed serious repairs.
Sam removed the panel of the anti-matter reservoir. Circuits appeared badly fused, beyond reasonable damage. They would have to be replaced. The question would be, with what.
A red blinking eye in the upper left corner on the display indicated a leak in the energy tank. That orbital collision with a meteor cost us dearly, Sam thought. To conserve remaining energy, she turned off the outer lights. Now she needed to find a way to fix the tank and compensate for the depletion.
She needed supplies.
Mason got inside the ship’s computer again. He wanted to disable nozzles, but the command code entry kept malfunctioning – the vaults remained stuck.
“For goodness sake, who in the world thought it was a great idea to install hydraulics on a spaceship? We won’t take off while these things are still activated.” He hit the platform with his fist.
“Get over it, Mason, she won’t take us anywhere any time soon anyway,” Sam pointed to the red eye, breaking the news about the fuel shortage. “Conductors in anti-matter folders are undone, we have to get new ones.”
“In this time zone? Look out there, do you see anything remotely resembling civilization?” Mason was clearly upset. At the same time, the old man outside kept pulling him like a magnet.
Samantha buried herself in the maintenance book that came with the ship. Computer displayed guidelines and procedures, and she was looking for a way to compensate for the energy shortage and make sure they don’t release anti-matter, on top of everything that had already gone wrong.
“I am stepping out,” Mason grabbed his gear, opened the hatch and hopped onto mobile power stairs that would carry him all the way to the ground.
“Tuck in your talisman, you don’t want to draw attention,” this was a relic preserved in their family and passed on from father to son, but Sam didn’t realize how ridiculous her comment sounded in this situation. The time twist was very unsettling, but just as Mason she was now curious and instinctively moved nearer to the screen. Who knows, maybe the solution was out there, on the outside…
Jo Clearwater was a wise man, a very wise man indeed. But, what he saw today challenged everything he had known about the order of things.
A creature, dressed in a silver suit that covered the entire body from top to toe, descended from the sky and was now moving to where Jo was. At a closer look, the creature appeared to be a young man.
“Hello… Howdy,” the man shouted in English and waved while walking towards Jo. He carried an oddly shaped sack and something else on his back; Jo thought it was a rifle of sorts.
The youth appeared quite friendly. Besides, Koda always sensed ill intentions in strangers, and on this man’s approach she friendly barked and made a few happy circles. Her reaction puzzled but also reassured Jo; his guard was now down. Completely stunned, Clearwater felt stupid and blinked several times in an attempt to clear his vision.
“My name’s Mason. And you are?” Mason looked the old man in the eyes, wanting to remember from where and how he had known him – or of him.
“And this is..?” Mason kneeled down to pat the dog who just couldn’t leave the newcomer alone.
“Koda.”Jo sat back on the rock.
Mason looked up and around, and dropped his backpack to the ground.
“Do you mind if I park myself here?” He inquired with enthusiasm.
For no apparent reason Jo started to warm up to the visitor and made a gesture showing Mason to the rock. The two sat there and watched a lonely eagle make his way through the sky again.
“You come from that?” Jo pointed in the direction of the spaceship that he had described to himself as ‘a thing in the air’.
“I do.” Mason stretched his legs.
A short pause followed.
“Not many of that here…” Jo nodded to his own observation.
Koda pulled the old man by his sleeve and disturbed his outfit. An object on Jo’s chest drew Mason’s attention. Under his uniform, Mason wore one identical to the old man’s.
It couldn’t be that simple, he thought in disbelief.
Noticing Mason’s change in the face and his fixation on the amulet Koda had just pulled from under Jo’s coat, the old man sighed. Traditionally the amulet was passed from father to son in his clan, and now it was Jo’s turn to hand it over to a male heir – Jo felt he wouldn’t be seeing too many springs after this one.
The only problem was, Jo had daughters.
“What brings you here?” Jo asked not looking at Mason.
“We crashed. My sister Sam is up there, inside, she’s trying to fix that darn thing,” Mason hurried to explain at seeing the old man’s discomfort when he had heard ‘we’.
“’Crashed’ is bad?” Jo’s keen eyes were inspecting the spaceship.
“It can be. But today I think it’s not,” Mason was sure his encounter with the old man was not a coincidence.
“Tell Jo more. Jo ears open.” Jo checked up on his horse and quietly turned to Mason.
“I come from the future.” Mason dropped in silence.
Surprisingly, Jo received the idea quite well. He didn’t even blink.
Mason continued.“We live on the same planet as you. Same Earth. This land,” he showed around, “The same. Just two hundred years later.”
There was a pause again. Jo saw how Koda ran to the spaceship’s landing site and skipped onto the invisible stairs.
“Jo knows. Ancestors before Jo. Mason – after.”
At hearing the old man’s interpretation, Mason froze in bewilderment.
Here he was, a clever scientist from the 22d century, listening to an old man who doesn’t even know the first law of physics, make a complicated concept sound so easy it was striking and enlightening at the same time.
Koda returned. She licked Jo’s hand and pulled him by the sleeve again.
“Now we go. Koda says it’s time,” Jo slowly stood up. Mason followed the lead and picked up his belongings from the ground.
“Where do we go, Jo?”
“Red Rocks. There. See? Eagle knows, Koda knows. Jo knows, Mason knows.” Jo thought ‘Mason’ was an unfitting name.
“What’s in those rocks?”
“First we go.”
“Wait, do you mean we walk?” Mason wasn’t exactly ready to cover long miles of the dry land on foot.
“Jo walks. Mason walks.”
“Mason has a better idea!”
The chief glanced at the young man near him and smiled – Mason was beginning to sound like someone Jo would approve of.
Meanwhile, Mason took out another something Jo had never seen in his life. Using the new ‘thing’, Mason quickly scanned the vicinity and pressed on a small platform on the back side of the device. The transporter – that’s what it was – thrust out an antenna and buzzed.
“It’s like that big thing,” Mason pointed out to the spaceship, “ Only much smaller. It’ll take us to your Red Rocks.”
Jo barely got a moment to breathe in.
His body and bodies of his dog, his horse and his new friend began to swirl in a spiral motion, absolutely painlessly and ever quicker, until it was over and the apparatus delivered the men and the animals to their destination.
Jo breathed out.
He did not expect to experience firsthand an instant transportation from one spot to another miles away, and arrive in one piece. He was also not quite sure what seemed more of a miracle to him – the move itself, or the fact that he, his hat and his pipe were intact afterwards.
“Tell me, Jo, what do you feel now?” Mason inquired with a mischievous gloss in his eyes.
“Jo thinking.” The answer was as short as their travel.
The old man walked up to the mountain and called on to Mason.
“Here, you take what you need. Here, you go home.”
Mason scanned the perimeter and to his surprise found a deposit of copper. The fused conductors were made of the exact same material, at least if his knowledge of the ship’s mechanics was correct. This raw batch would be enough for them to manufacture new circuits and get out of the time loop.
Samantha installed the last conductor and tested the reservoir. Their problem was solved. Mason also brought organic compounds she used to compensate for the energy drain.
The spaceship was ready for takeoff.
Through the screen Sam saw how the dog navigated in circles around her brother who had gotten delayed on the ground. From time to time the dog would jump up to his shoulders.
The old man was finishing his pipe. When done, he hid it in his coat’s inner pocket and looked up at Mason.
“Jo wants to give. From father to son, ” the chief rose from his seat, took off his amulet and put it around Mason’s neck, “Mason and Jo now one.”
Mason stood still, not knowing how to respond but to accept the chief’s generosity.
Then it all came back to him.
In a chaos of memories and thoughts he traveled in time to the moment he had received the exact same amulet from his own father.
Mason recalled the story he had heard as a child, of an old tribal chief, a man of a few words, with a feather in his hair, a sweet dog and a sleepy horse who chewed on grass.
The spaceship left the planet.
Jo Clearwater sat on the rock, his dog Koda playfully teased him and his horse chewed through acres of dry grass that looked more like straw. Wings of a lonely eagle in the sky outlined majestically against the setting sun.
Jo felt a relief. No more tradition, he thought.
The chief was happy to return to his wife and daughters. He would spend his last spring sharing with his family the story of a fantastic encounter as narrated by an old senile man no one in the tribe would ever believe. Nor argue with.
Camilla Stein ©2012. All rights reserved.