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Jeb Blackbird was walking next to the workhorse pulling the buffalo carcass laden wagon when he saw the stranger by his house. Only Sioux should be allowed on this land for 400 miles in every direction, but this man was obviously one of the hated colonizers. To his credit, the white haired (white skinned) colonizer was waiting respectfully some twenty feet from the front door of the big house. Although the Dakota plains in autumn got damn cold, and the intruder was only in a shirt and rough trousers, he didn’t seem to mind.
The sun was setting behind the three houses, the big house for his wife and three children, middle for meat curing, storage, and whatever else he could think of, and the small house for the sweat lodge. Jeb reached over to the horse (he never bothered to give it a name) and pulled his Winchester rifle from the long holster mounted on the bridle.
“Speak your piece.” He made his voice as gruff as he could, though when he sang, his wife Ella said he sounded like the sweetest spirits. He pointed the barrel at the ground. This man’s kind had been a terrible trouble before they’d been stopped. His closest neighbor, Stewart Bluefeather said he had friends among them, and that not all white people were cruel, but for Jeb, trust was hard earned.
“Hello. I come here at the suggestion of a friend. My name is Carson Everett.” The man must have been around sixty, sixty-five. Pale eyes but his white skin was weathered. In spite of Jeb’s threatening appearance and the massive animal corpse he was bringing home to be skinned and cured, the man Everett seems calm, almost unnaturally peaceful.
“You another one of Bluefeather’s token white people?”
“Actually, a man named Travis Bell thought I should visit you and discuss an issue you might be able to help us with.”
“Mister, you’re crazy. The only Travis Bell I know is the European rep, but he’s all the way down in Omaha.” Jeb felt his face grow hot with shame at the memory that his closest cousin had married such a man. Then his eyes grew wide when he saw another fellow leading two horses from around back of the big house. He didn’t think anyone could come this close to his home and he not know about it.
“Excuse me, but I’m Travis Bell.”
The man was indigenous and Jeb knew Bell had an unusual affinity for the white people, but that’s not what was really wrong. Besides the way these two had been around his house, apparently for hours, his family not liking strangers, keeping hidden inside, these two, even Bell, didn’t seem to belong. Their clothes were normal for this part of the nations, although the white man’s dress had a definite Nez Perce feel.
“Bell, you keep those hands where I can see them and one of you better tell me what the hell you’re doing on my land or get the hell off in the next ten seconds.”
The one named Travis said to the white man, “I told you he’d react better to you than to me. In this world, he thinks I’m some sort of traitor.”
“Small wonder,” Carson replied. “People like me are just barely tolerated by the majority, but you, or rather your counterpart…”
“I’m standing right damned here.” Jeb gripped both hands onto his rifle and brought it up, close, but still not quite aiming it at the white man. Part of him was glad he hadn’t put windows on the big house so this Everett and Bell couldn’t look in, but then Jeb couldn’t tell how Ella and the children were doing, either. A cold November breeze came in from the north and his no name horse started pawing the ground. Damned thing thought of nothing except getting warm and getting fed.
By this time, Bell and Everett were standing together. As far as Jeb could tell, they weren’t armed, but then it was illegal for whites and their bastard indigenous reps to bring guns onto native land. Hell, it was bad enough that they’d gotten the right to do so on their own reservations to the south and east.
“Mr. Blackbird, I know this is confusing and upsetting, but the man standing next to me isn’t the Travis Bell you’ve heard of. In fact, the both of us, plus our companions who are still in Omaha aren’t from anywhere you’ve ever known before.”
“You still haven’t told me what the two of you are doing here, Everett.”
The older white man chuckled. “Well, given the prejudice I’ve experienced in your world, thank you for using my name.” He nodded and then went on. “It’s our understanding that you are a spiritual man, and we’ve heard that you have the ability to see into other worlds.”
“Who’s been telling you that?” Jeb’s eyes flickered toward the sweat lodge. It was common knowledge among his friends and kin around Fargo that he was a Spirit Talker and his visions led him to see things unbelievable, except to his love Ella, and she a shaman’s daughter. But he believed the white man that these two were from nowhere near Sioux land. What could they want with him?
Then the front door of the big house opened and Ella strode outward, mad as a rabid wolf. “Husband, these two men have been waiting out here for hours, freezing their butts off. I’ve had an insight into them while they were here. Can’t you invite them in to hear their business?”
“A white man and a betrayer? Get back inside Ella.” He was terrified that his wife had put her and the children in such danger by opening the door. She was also one of the wisest people he had ever known, man or woman. If she was showing her temper to him in front of these trespassers, she must have a good reason. He just couldn’t imagine what.
“I will not.” Then she turned and scowled at the two men. “At least you could offer to help my husband take the buffalo into the tanning shelter and then take care of the horse and wagon. Night’s coming on and you’ll all freeze in another half-hour if you stay outside.”
An hour later saw the three men around the fire in the big house sipping tea under Ella’s watchful eyes. Oh, she was pretending to give three-year-old Mira her bath and chiding five-year-old Pah and six-year-old Matahi about not doing their lessons, but Jeb knew she considered menfolk more childish than children.
“We’ve done fed you and offered you shelter for the night, which is more than I would have been willing to do when I first laid eyes on you.” He glanced up at Ella’s frown for an instant. “That was before you helped with the evening chores. You were passing fair in your help Mr. Bell, but Mr. Everett, I’ve got to wonder if you’ve ever done an honest day’s work in your life.”
A low growl rumbled in the woman’s throat but she said nothing.
“I was raised on the Rez, Mr. Blackbird. Dr. Everett however, is just a city boy.” Bell smiled, obviously not really insulting his companion.
“Rez? Reservation? Only whites live on reservations. What the hell…?”
“Listen to them before judging, husband.” Ella’s tone was calm, but he’d been married to her too long to mistake the undertone.
“Mr. Blackbird, I’m a scientist. I unfortunately created a machine for a man who was too arrogant to know how to properly use it.”
“Can’t say I’m fond of those steam engines, myself.” It was the first moment Jeb realized he’d agreed with this man Everett about something.
“It wasn’t that kind of machine,” Bell interjected. It was the kind of machine that could reach into the same worlds you can see in the sweat lodge.”
Bell’s words froze Jeb to his core. He saw that even Ella and his oldest boy Matahi raised their heads and stared at them. Less than twenty people, most all trusted by the Blackbird clan, knew of the Spirit Talker’s visions.
“There was an accident in our world caused by the machine. It started randomly opening and closing doors to other times, other realities.” Everett put his cup down on the floor between the legs of his low stool. “We can tell you our entire tale, though it’s a long one, but we’ve been banished from our world by a…a people a hundred million years older than humanity. They mean to keep the world in fragments for their own purpose. Bell, I, and our friends are trying to reverse what’s happened, rejoin our histories into a single narrative.”
Jeb shoveled aside his shock. For the first second, he actually considered believing Everett, but now he realized he had to be insane. “Whatever you’ve heard about me, my visions are just visions, a private, spiritual experience. There is only one tangible reality and we are sitting in it. If that’s what you have come to my home to tell me, you’ve wasted my time.”
He mostly believed everything he just said, but Ella had declared she had a feeling about them, and her insights were never to be taken lightly. But even with that, what they were saying was beyond fantasy.
“We don’t believe so, Mr. Blackbird, and we do believe you can help us.”
“Just for the sake of curiosity, Mr. Everett, how?”
“With your permission, we would ask that you invite our five companions here and then join you in a spirit quest in your sweat lodge.”
Everett interrupted Bell. “As a physicist, it’s a stretch for me to believe that what I did with technology you can do with spirituality and rituals, but…”
“What my friend is trying to say, is that you may be our only hope in recovering the world the way it’s supposed to be.”
Jeb looked at Ella and something in her nod and subtle smile as she dried Mira off told him that the unbelievable had just happened. But if these men were right…
“You say that my visions aren’t looking into the spiritual realms but are how other people…other things live in a world like our own?”
“I’m saying that there are…I suppose the term quantum realities wouldn’t make a lot of sense here…parallel worlds, Earths, each harboring a different history and destiny for the human race.”
“But in some of those worlds, it’s the Europeans who made slaves of my people instead of us conquering you. We are on the reservations instead of the white man. It’s unthinkable that such a thing could be real, and you want to make that happen?” Jeb cycled from disbelief, to shock, to horror, and then to rage.
“But you heard what they said. I will not help with this.”
“We don’t believe your world would change, but the links between the universes…”
“If you’re wrong Everett…” He closed his eyes which became hot with tears. Ella hustled the children to the far end of their one-room house.
“Jeb.” Bell lowered his voice to just above a whisper. “At most, you might just be able to show us the entrance to the next reality. If we keep traveling in random directions, we’ll be lost in your world forever.”
“How do you know what I’ve seen?” Blackbird’s hands covered his face like a funeral shroud.
“My counterpart, the other Travis Bell, the man we met in Omaha was shocked to find he had a double. We’re both Nez Perce but we’ve lived completely different lives. Not different enough that we don’t have the same birthmark and the same scars, though. I told him my story and then he told me yours.”
My cousin Tanit, your wife…or Bell’s.”
“She knows and she told the other…me.”
“They believed your fantastic story?” Jeb raised his face, carefully put his hands on his knees, but still almost kicked is empty teacup over. Ella came near again to put another block of sod on the fire. Her touch was reassuring.
“Enough to tell us about you. We know now that what he said wasn’t just fanciful.” Up until they started talking, Everett had as much trouble believing what he’d been told about Blackbird as this man did about him and Bell.
“Look. I can’t promise anything. I don’t control the spirits. I’m just a conduit. I won’t help you change my world into yours, but if I can, I will show you a way from this place to the next. After that, you’re on your own.” He thought to himself that he must be out of his mind, but another look at his wife, now back with their children getting them changed for bed told him this must be the right thing, even if he didn’t understand it.
“Thank you, Mr. Blackbird.” Everett’s smile, both the one on his lips and in his eyes, were sincere enough that Jeb allowed the man to touch and shake his hand. “I can’t tell you what this means to us.”
“Jeb, the mail leaves Fargo tomorrow afternoon. In the morning, you and these men can get to Fargo, send for their friends in Omaha.”
He needed one last confirmation, and no living person could lie to Ella. It was her gift, though their children sometimes figured it a curse.
“Let me help my wife get our children to bed. Then we can find a space by the fire for you.”
Jeb stood and walked away from the hearth. Travis sat their still sipping tea and staring into what no one could tell.
Carson Everett stood and walked over to the house’s only door. He put his hand on it. The insulation kept away the frigid night, but there were things out there more dangerous than the cold.
Two years ago, with funding from eccentric billionaire Theodore Falkon, he had created a device called the Ka’ala Projector. His lab model had the modest ability to create virtual point-to-point links to different portions of his own planet’s history and then to several alternate realities of that world.
The full scale production machine, which Falkon had built on his private island in the South Pacific, had a much greater potential. Carson should have seen it coming, especially when his wife decided to take Falkon’s side against him. He ignored the safety protocols, and fed the projector with an obscene amount of power from his own proprietary fusion reactors. Falkon had breached the barriers between all the realities, causing them to collapse into one another. Like Carson, he couldn’t possibly know that this played very well into the hands of a species of dinosaur who, 100 million years ago, had grown to sapient intelligence and an advanced technology. They had to leave the Earth for other worlds to avoid extinction but now were back. The Ka’ala Projector was their means to reinvent the world into what they had left and to subjugate humanity. They were taking over the different primary worlds one by one. Everett’s team, which he had originally assembled to shut down the experiment, was evicted by the Saurians from their own reality, Now they were only one step ahead of them. If this didn’t work, if Jeb Blackbird couldn’t find the invisible, intangible portal into the next realm, humanity would be lost. Only be returning to their starting place, unobserved by the Saurians, could they re-establish control of the projector and separate the myriad alternate universes once more.
The existence of the human race was hanging in the balance, but time was running out.
I wrote this story in response to the MLMM Photo Challenge #394. The idea is to use the photo at the top of the page as the inspiration for creating a short story, poem, or other work.
As fanciful as my tale seems, it’s based on my first published SciFi novella Time’s Abyss which I also announced on my blog. Also, my first self-published novella Ice is now available as well my two most recent published short stories in Meteor Fall.
Oh, click Mister Linky to read other stories based on the photo prompt.