Muskets fall like two waves of dominoes atop stone walls on the Blue and Gray sides of a quiet little creek. The instant the rifled barrels hit the horizontal they fire, burning men’s eyes with the pungent smoke of spent black powder. The lethal twin wave falters at the end where the stone barriers leap across the water to kiss atop a sturdy arch. There Union and Confederate soldiers converge on foot, shooting as they come, and men fall on the roadway from both sides.
When the belligerents are too close for shooting to make any sense the men in the van of the attacks resort to bayonet thrusts and even fisticuffs. The Federals have the greater initial momentum and they nearly get across the bridge before the rebels drive them back over a layer of bodies one man deep. Some of these men are dead, others are moaning and writhing with a lead ball lodged in their innards. Tragically some of the fallen boys in blue survived Shiloh, where the war first attained its presently high but stable plateau of savagery.
Waiting for the counter-attack of the Army of Northern Virginia is a cannon which the Union colonel leading the assault has dared to order lined up on the long axis of the bridge. The piece is loaded with canister shot, which mows the onrushing men down like grass to form a second layer of bodies. Some of these fallen boys in gray survived the artillery hell at Malvern Hill during the Seven Days.
Waiting in turn for this cannon are two guns on the Confederate side positioned on a bend of the creek upstream. One fires bursting shells that kill or maim the Union gunners and another fires several rounds of solid shot. Some of the rounds find their mark. The ones that do not hit the cannon bounce up the slope and assail the walls of a pretty little white church. Eventually the giant shotgun on the Federal side becomes a useless pile of splinters and a prone tube of dented steel. Then another Rebel attack gains most of the bridge, which has become an abattoir.
The colonel leading the attack from the Union side is shot off his horse, but to the wonderment of his own men he immediately stands up and sees the Minié ball was stopped by the leather cover of his little pocket Bible. Taking this as a divine go-ahead, the colonel orders a fresh wave of troops to assail the bridge. Rebel troops are soon driven entirely off the bridge by the new Union assault.
Hearing that his boys are almost out of powder, the lieutenant colonel commanding the other side orders bayonets fixed and leads one more charge. After the furious carnage that ensues the rebels briefly regain sole occupation of the bridge.
Seeing that the colors of the United States have fallen, the colonel takes them up again himself and leads his men back to the fight. Against a foe which has spent all its powder, the Union men soon attain the high summit of a mass of twisting bodies on the bridge. There they continue to fire, swapping their empty muskets for fresh ones handed up to them as though on a conveyor belt, firing again and again. The last of the rebels are either shot, captured, or run away.
When the colonel reaches the other side of the creek at last and sees the retreating backs of the enemy, he says to a lieutenant, “Tell the commanding general we won a bridgehead here.”
The junior officer salutes and turns to obey, but he sees the bridge is stacked with bodies from both sides. Unwilling to desecrate the fallen, he splashes on foot across the creek, which after all is only ankle deep.
A Confederate division commander watches the Federal lines through binoculars from the saddle of his horse. Even before the butcher’s bill has been tendered he knows it has been the bloodiest single day of the war. Neither side seems eager to extend the carnage to a second day. Turning to his superior, mounted on a tall gray horse next to him, he says, “General, sir, it is my considered opinion the enemy is not making ready to attack.”
The general commanding the Army of Northern Virginia nods in agreement yet he appears to be anguished. His face is flushed as he realizes the invasion of the North has failed. He knows the Union commander is overly cautious, but if (leaping upon some unlikely but horrible misstep) the enemy did decide to move, a large fraction of the Confederate army would be captured or killed before it could be moved to relative safety south across the Potomac River. So he sighs and comes to a conclusion, the only possible conclusion, painful as it is with so much precious blood already invested. “General, your orders are to move the army back over the river. But this is the most important thing: The retreat must be in good order. I do not wish to give those people over there the satisfaction of witnessing this army in a rout.”
The division commander snaps off a perfect salute, then motions to subordinates and begins to issues his own orders. Soon all over the battlefield men begin to break down their tents. The Confederates begin to cross back south over the Potomac on pontoon bridges stretching from the little tongue of Maryland they continue to hold. And still the short little Union commanding general, watching and waiting somewhere on the long slope up from the Potomac, refuses to budge. Were the forces ten-to-one in his favor, he would still wire Washington complaining of being outnumbered.
Back on the Virginia side of the river one sergeant orders his men to form back up, but some of the less-seriously wounded men ignore him and walk on, making for their own homes.
The white church near the bridge, or what is left of it, has been turned into a field hospital for the Union army. Dried blood stains the interior walls, overlaid with sprays of fresh blood. A doctor uses ether to sedate a man. Other men use saws to hack off limbs, which they throw into a pile. Men outside the church on stretchers moan with post-op agony.
A messenger arrives at the church by horse and addresses the doctors. “These orders are from the commanding general. Get your wounded on hoof or wheels and get them the hell out of here.”
So the amputated legs and arms are thrown into a large pile and burned. Wagons carrying wounded men begin to roll away. Every bump in the road elicits screams from the men inside. No man or woman who witnesses the passing convoy of suffering will say again they love the glory of war.
The last ambulance wagon passes a group of black-clad farmers and their wives riding homely mules, their horses having been prudently moved to a place far away from men of either army who would “borrow” them. On these mules the parishioners of the white church have ridden out, as soon as they deemed it safe, to see what has become of their meeting place. They halt and gasp, for they see the structure is riddled with bullet holes and shell damage, and glimpses of the inside reveal what looks to be the interior of a slaughterhouse.
Suddenly, perhaps even mercifully, before their very eyes, their beloved church collapses in ruin.
The Kaleetan are more significant than a mere band of people scratching out their existence on the Great Plains of North America, yet they are not sufficiently numerous to be considered a tribe or even a clan. They originate among the Oglala Sioux, largely unmolested by that tribe, but outcast, wandering the same hunting grounds as a kind of permanent punishment detail, ostensibly for religious offenses, but in practice as a way for the leaders of the Oglalas to deal with competing alpha males. There are women among them, though not nearly enough.
To the north the Kaleetan are beset by the Dakotas, who hold the entire Black Hills and much of the plains and badlands around them. The Kaleetan name them the Northern Raiders, and if the mainline Oglalas help to fend them off from time to time it is more to protect their own land than to do the outcasts any special favors.
In the richer grasslands eastward the Kaleetan have the Pawnees to contend with. To the south along the Oregon Trail they are buffeted by the Arapahoes and run the risk of bumping into fearful white settlers or the army troops who protect them. To the scrubby lands westward they have the Cheyennes to fear. The whole northwest they avoid in dread of the Crows and Blackfeet.
But here in the sliver of meager grasslands grudgingly alloted to them by the leaders of the Oglala Nation their hunters ride. Wanica, the best of the Kaleetan hunters, rides in the lead, downwind of a herd of bison drinking water at a ford in a curiously constant stream that is named Indian River by the whites, although it is more like a large creek.
When the Kaleetan hunters descend into the relatively lush ravine carved by the meandering Indian River, Wanica signals for his men to bring their horses to a halt. They dismount and tie their horses off to the roots of bleached stumps. As Wanica leads his men up along the riverbank on foot, some of the animals seem to grow nervous, though they cannot see any of the hunters yet. Wanica and his hunters creep through the brush to watch the herd. They cast no shadows, for the day is relatively dark, covered by a low overcast. It is cold, but it does not rain.
The male of the bison stops drinking and stares east and downstream, sensing danger. Judging the moment to be right, Wanica suddenly stands from behind a shrub and looses an arrow. The bolt strikes a cow in a flank, but it’s not a lethal shot. All the animals hear the cry of the cow, panic, and run.
A rapid series of shots are made by other hunters, but all of the arrows miss or make non-lethal wounds. The bison flee them, ascending a slope to the north and west and making for the cover of the low cloud bank, although they are too stupid to have planned such a move. The hunters return to their horses, then follow the herd away from the river and up the hillside, and a thick fog envelopes them.
Bows are held at the ready, turning left and right, but nothing is visible to the men in the oppressive whiteout. Still, after they toil uphill the fog clears, patches of blue sky are seen, and at last three of the bison are isolated and exposed. Arrows are loosed and strike home, dropping one of the animals.
The two surviving bison run back down off the hill into the fog, seeking the safety of numbers. Young braves are tasked by Wanica with carving up the body of the fallen animal. Meat is loaded on a skid made of wooden staves and animal skin to be dragged away. Nothing of the bison is wasted.
Satisfied with the progress of the younger men, Wanica turns away with his other companions and they ride up the slope until they can go no higher. Briefly, the summit of the high hill stands alone over a sea of clouds for a rare and beautiful moment. Wanica is moved by the sight to say, “I name this place the Island in the Sky.”
The herd of bison wanders back, grazing warily on the mountaintop even with the hunters close at hand. They seem to sense that the humans have done their worst and will leave the rest of them alone.
A flying machine drifts out of the sea of fog on loud jets of flame.
The bison and most of the men scatter at the noise of the machine. Only Wanica and his fearless steed remain to watch what happens. His first thought is that this is some new stunt by the whites. Wanica has heard some of them travel on burning horses made of iron.
The flying machine drops a white ball, then moves up and away from the butte to explode in the sky with an even louder noise.
As the echoes of the explosion die away the white ball bounces to a stop on the summit of the Island in the Sky. Only Wanica remains to watch the white ball change shape to become like a man. The faceless white man walks toward Wanica, then sits on the ground. He says no words.
Not a white man as in a European white man, but white as snow. And he has no eyes, no mouth, no nose nor ears.
The head of the white man opens in six petals, revealing a golden object. Wanica dismounts and draws near to look at the shiny thing. Tentatively, respectfully, he takes hold of the golden object while the limbs of the white man remain motionless at his side.
The golden object fits neatly in Wanica’s hand like the hilt of a knife.
Wanica squeezes the Golden Gift to produce a hissing opaque black beam. Sweeping it around, the beam carves trenches in the stony ground of the hilltop entirely without effort. When Wanica no longer actively squeezes the Golden Gift, the black beam retracts into it and disappears.
The petals of the head of the white man close once more, betraying no seams. The white man changes his shape to become an inert white dome on the mountain summit. After Wanica witnesses all these things, he conceals the Golden Gift in the pack tied to his horse.
The curiosity of Wanica’s companions overcomes their fear. They slowly return to the summit, together with some of the bison. There, the hunters see the white dome on the very summit of the Island in the Sky, and they also see Wanica standing next to it, alone.
Wanica lifts a stone and sets it near the white dome. The companions of Wanica join him, stacking stones around the dome as though they were building an igloo out of rock. The men finish their work and stand back to look. The white dome is concealed by a cairn.
None of the Kaleetan hunters understand what they have have seen, but they agree it was no mere vision of the Sky Father, for all of them have shared the same experience. It is fitting, they deem, to have built a hallowed lodge for the Sky Father after his manifestation to them, which they take to be his blessing for the hunt. The small mountain Wanica named the Island in the Sky has become forever sacred to them. And Wanica still has the Golden Gift, which he keeps secret.
Thaumiuel is in the throes of her orgasm but it takes a year for the organized nuclear matter in the core of a star to fully compress and the ongoing, nearly infinite ecstasy of each contraction peaks with a spherical wave that rings out into space at the speed of light like a ripple on a pond.
The first contraction-ripple from Thaumiel cruises serenely through the yellow sun that is the primary component of the Alpha Centauri system, but no change occurs because that star has already been quickened. Three months later the wave reaches the red dwarf known as Proxima, a flare star riddled by convection with no stable core able to be quickened. Only when the wavefront reaches the wild yellow star Sol does it collapse and quickly initiate the process of turning the raw lifeless nuclear material inside the sun into a living and conscious being.
The second ripple arrives about a year later but Sol is already well along the process of maturing as the newest female member of the elohim. All living suns begin life as girls. A few years later the orgasm ends and the mother of Sol has become permanently male.
Under normal circumstances it was not very likely that Thaumiel would ever experience intercourse again, this time as a fresh male eloah. By all accounts it was far better than the female experience. A living star could expect to live for a span measured in billions of years, while a female (courted by countless desperate suitors over the network of wormthreads that offered instantaneous communication among the elohim) would remain a virgin for a span typically measured in mere centuries.
Thaumiel had succumbed to the greatest temptation that could be offered to an eloah, a corruption that had caused perhaps a third of the stars to fall. Both he and the father of the newly quickened Sol, Milcom, held the two wormthreads from their newborn daughter and refused to pass the links through to the greater community of stars.
When the time was right Thaumiel looked forward to seducing his own daughter, having totally cut her off from all other suitors except himself and Milcom, who agreed to stand aside. And the daughter of Sol, in turn would be offered to Milcom, assuring him of yet another opportunity to reproduce as a male. Milcom was an ancient alpha male who had set up many such arrangements throughout the galaxy.
The tragic by-product of this corruption was that billions of conscious suns in the Milky Way were isolated from El, the city of tens of billions of living stars. To fall as Belial and Mastema had fallen was to violate the deepest law of El, and the penalty, if discovered, was death. Nothing would happen to the stellar body of the violator, but the part inside that was conscious and alive would be organized no more. The star would be erased like a whiteboard, wild and ready to be quickened once again. To an entity naturally disposed to endure for eons, the prospect of such an end is truly terrifying.
This law, along with many others, had been given to the elohim by the Old One who had quickened the first male and female stars and called them the Watchers. The Old One commanded the Watchers to multiply without limit, and they were also commanded to watch for the coming of the Students, who would not be based on quantum chromodynamics like the elohim, but would live under the principles of quantum electrodynamics.
In his fallen state Thaumiel has set aside his role as a Watcher, but his newborn daughter Chokhmah, cut off from El with little to do, takes to becoming an explorer.
With infinite care Chokhmah assembles the seed that will become her avatar. Her workshop is deep inside her own stellar body where intense pressures of heat and gravity are both hammer and anvil transforming star-stuff for power. Chokhmah floods the worm-fracture between herself and her avatar with dark energy, inflating it to a fraction of a millimeter, just enough to allow the substance of her own body to work as propellant.
Chokhmah ejects this dense nuclear raindrop into the cooler upper regions of her atmosphere. The seed unpacks itself into a probe like a Fourth of July snakes, making the transition from dtightly-packed nuclear matter to fluffy normal matter.
The droplet separates from the sun and cools from blue-white to brilliant yellow. Yellow changes to orange, then red, and after shifting through a plastic state the droplet grows spines, becoming at last a solid object. The avatar approaches Mercury.
There Chokhmah, living through the avatar, explores a lifeless sun-blasted landscape, where metals are soft or even liquid in the heat, lying in dull puddles. After a time Chokhmah concludes her survey of Mercury and lets her avatar rise into space again on a fiery blast.
The next stop is Venus, where the avatar dives under the clouds. This planet is discovered to be even hotter and less hospitable for life than Mercury. Even at night the ground glows with a dull red heat, and corrosive rains of sulphuric acid fall, although none of the rains harm the probe. Once again Chokhmah’s avatar rises into space.
The third planet out, blue and white, is much more promising. Unlike at Venus, an active crust constantly tucks captured carbon dioxide under the Earth’s surface, reducing the greenhouse gas effect. The avatar of Chokhmah descends below the clouds, where it cools off in an ocean of water. She crosses the shoreline and reaches dry land, green with trees. The artifact plows through some of these trees and Chokhmah observes frightened apes fleeing. Some of the apes flee over the ground, using all four limbs to move. Chokhmah also observes one of these fleeing apes being killed and eaten by a predator.
The artifact performs a short suborbital arc and explores another continent of Earth. There is a grassy plain with a single mountain dominating it for many miles. Chokhmah observes another group of apes that walk on just two legs. The object transforms into a nearby white stone and watches them. The Artifact observes a burial ceremony for a newly dead hunter. Females polish elaborate bone tools with stone tools. Males fashion animal hide tents to live in during the hunt.
At night a tendril of the avatar snakes into a cave occupied by the group of apes. A female applies pigment to the wall in a beautiful painting. Chokhmah observes resin boiling in a pot over a fire. The resin is used to fix a stone spearhead to a shaft for hunting. Chokhmah reports all this to her parents.
Neither Chokhmah nor Thaumiel realize the importance of this discovery, although it profoundly stirs their spirits as Watchers. But Milcom is terrified, for here are nothing less than the Students all elohim are commanded by the Old One to search for. Milcom fears El will eventually learn of this, and the follow-up investigation would quickly unravel the secret of his transgression here. So Milcom cuts his losses and departs to take refuge among his less-troublesome stellar harems. Chokhmah senses this departure only as her father refusing to speak to her for many centuries.
But there is a stern warning from Milcom to Thaumiel to remain silent about the new life found on this watery world belonging to Chokhmah, lest both of them go down together to oblivion. For a long time after this Thaumiel ponders what to do and says nothing about it to his daughter.
When the Army of Northern Virginia invaded the Union states for the first time, a copy of Special Order Number 191 outlining their projected movements in Maryland and Pennsylvania was captured and placed in the hands of the Federal commanding general, who rushed to intercept them at South Mountain. Three mountain passes fell to the men in blue after a day of fierce fighting. The rebels were forced to fall back to the Potomac River, and there followed the bloodiest single day of the war, all within earshot of Pastor Carl Keller’s church.
Eight thousand men fell in a cornfield across the road from the church. Four thousand men fell in the woods behind the church. Twelve thousand men fell in front of the church itself. Three thousand men fell at a bridge across a creek whose clean water had been used by to bring converts to the Wedding Banquet of Christ, but now ran red with human blood.
A half mile from the church five thousand men fell in the so-called Bloody Lane which the rebels had occupied and fortified, but which thereafter became a giant open grave filled to the brim with bodies after the Union won through to one end of it with cannon and muskets.
Carl Keller’s church is attended by pacifist farmers who dress in dark clothing and live simply, though their asceticism does not run to the extremes of the Amish. They speak a unique mish-mash of German and English. They baptize by dunking the convert in a local stream with complete immersion, three times just like Jesus did, in contrast to the sprinkling Lutherans, the pouring Mennonites, and even the “single dunk” Baptists. All of those other congregations were of course damned to eternal hellfire for their apostasy on the dunking issue.
After the battle the parishioners volunteer to help bury the dead but when they see the pile of splinters that was their church many of them take to weeping at the damage. Pastor Keller says, “Do not grieve, my friends. Yes, our church is gone but soon an even more beautiful one will stand in its place.”
But Deacon Mark Lange objects. “What is to stop the new church from suffering the same fate, brother Keller?”
“What do you mean, brother Lange?”
“I mean Virginia lies just over yonder river. They’ll soon be back.”
Keller shakes his head. “Rumor has it the rebels have taken a real whipping. God willing, they will never be back.”
“Last month there was a second battle of Manassas, brother Keller. This is a good place to ford the Potomac. The rebels will be back.”
“Where are your thoughts wandering, Brother Lange?”
“I say we rebuild our church at my uncle’s farm.”
“And leave our own farms? Start all over in Pennsylvania?”
“Our horses have already been moved up there so as to guard against thieves.”
“It wonders me you will not help rebuild our church here.”
“Me and as many of the flock who are of the same mind.”
“Then lets have it out. Who is with Deacon Lange for leaving?”
The Savitt family, the Hillings, the Bergins, the Zinters move to Lange’s side. They are joined by the Brannens, Krauses, Porters, and the Wustners. Staying with Keller are the Sunkels, the Clarks, the Martins. Also staying behind are the Johnsons, Hickeys, and Davidsons. Keller sees that his flock has been divided in half, and sighs. “For a decision of this import, surely the Lord must weigh in?”
Lange says, “We have already consulted the Lord in prayer, brother Keller.”
Keller looks at the faces of Lange’s group, who nod assent. But he is not one to dwell on a losing cause, nor one to dawdle.
“Make ready then. You shall leave in a fortnight.”
“And if it be the will of God,” says Lange, “we will make a peaceful new life in Pennsylvania, far from this war.”
When the horses were first evacuated to Pennsylvania it was his male cousins on his father’s side who took them, and Mark paid them little mind. But when the horses are returned it is his cousin Joanna who brings them back, all by her lonesome. Mark has never met her before, and he falls stone cold in love at first sight.
Joanna centers her life around equines. On the way to Pennsylvania the weather turns bad. Joanna lets her horse get the tent and she sleeps out in the rain.
Joanna’s father is none too happy to see the way Mark Lange hovers over her when they all arrive at his farm. Her mother is slightly more sanguine. Joanna’s horse is groomed better than she is, and the farm house is ever a sty. Joanna spends more time cleaning her horse than helping her mother clean the house, but the barn is as neat as a pin. Once she had suggested to Joanna that she needed a male companion to quiet some of the rumors going around, so Joanna got herself a stallion. When Mark begins courting her, he finds a strange hair on her coat but he doesn’t get jealous because Joanna has the horse to match.
The most common present Joanna receives at her bridal shower is actual bridles. When it is time to show up for her own wedding she comes in late, wearing riding clothes, because she took too long at the barn.
Three centuries prior King Henry VIII grew tired of his wife so he asked Rome to release him from the marriage. The Pope refused, so he took the whole country of England out of the Church and started his own national Church. Thomas Cranmer, the newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, duly announced King Henry’s marriage annulment with Catherine of Aragon. This established the central feature of the Reformation, that human will was ascendant over divine will.
After that it was like a dam had burst. John Knox founded the Scottish Presbyterian Church after a disagreement with Lutherans over the shared meal and church government. John Smyth founded the Baptist Church over the issue of infant baptism and church-state separation. English translations of the Bible appeared, and the new Church of England, controlled now by Parliament, rejected for use in the Liturgy certain books of the Old Testament that had been authored in Greek and had been accepted by Rome and the Eastern Church for centuries.
After the Western Church divided, it began to sub-divide again and again over the smallest issues, such as whether women could wear slacks, or whether playing cards was a sin, or what color the hymnal had to be. Every new sect had their own doctrinal hobby horse to ride. For the Five Corners Free Congregation of Pennsylvania, led by Paster Mark Lange, it was cousin marriage.
God never had a problem with cousins getting hitched. Milcah was married to her cousin, Nahor. They had a granddaughter named Rebbecca, who later married Isaac, her first cousin once removed. Isaac instructed Jacob to marry a daughter of Rebbecca’s brother. Jacob ended up marrying two of them, both first cousins, Rachel and Leah. Eleazar’s daughters married their first cousins. God even commanded Zelophehad’s five daughters to marry their cousins so their inheritance would remain in the family.
It was precisely to prevent this accumulation of wealth in families (and thus threaten the temporal power of the Papacy) that Pope Gregory I made cousin-marriage absolutely forbidden for all Roman Catholic Christians.
Before the Civil War, no American state banned cousin marriage. In the years following the war thirteen states did make it illegal. American prohibitions against cousin marriages predate modern genetics. The United States is the only western country with cousin marriage restrictions. About twenty percent of all couples worldwide are first cousins. About eighty percent of all marriages historically have been between first cousins.
The incest taboo actually has an internal basis. Many animals including humans have evolved an aversion to mating very close within the bloodlines, like between brother and sister, or son and mother. But the further away a potential mate is from your own genetic inheritance, the less likely you will run across them in everyday life and have the opportunity to get with them. So first cousins represent a sort of optimum point between genetic diversity and sexual availability.
All of these defenses (scriptural, historical, and anthropological) were first compiled by Pastor Mark Lange of Five Corners Free Congregation, who was deeply in love with his cousin-wife Joanna Lange. And all of this would have been a mere footnote in the annals of 19th Century American Protestantism had Mark Lange not made it a doctrine of his church that a man could marry only his cousin, and no other, a sort of mirror-image of Pope Gregory’s prohibition.
The Kaleetan People are feasting on the bison killed on the Island in the Sky. The animal’s horns have been fastened to leather thongs. One of fat Chief Tatanka’s women fasten the two horns to his garment at his shoulder, as though he had actually gotten out of the tent where he ever roils in womanflesh and killed the animal himself. While this is being done Tatanka and Wanica eye each other with no mutual respect whatsoever.
Tatanka says, “There are five stories how this animal was taken, but none are the same.”
Wanica allows his gaze to drift away from the chief and he blows a puff of smoke.
Tatanka continues. “About the kill then. What say you, Squaw Who Hunts?”
Wanica’s gaze returns to the Chief sharply, as though he has been slapped. But he buries his rage and answers, “We followed the herd up the grassy mountain, and there was a cloud. I could not even see the other hunters. Each man ascended alone. On the top of the mountain the cloud was no more, and there we took the animal.”
“And the Sky Father himself appeared out of the cloud to bless our hunt!” blurts Plenty Lice, out of turn.
“You have taught your hunters to lie so easily, Squaw Who Hunts,” says Tatanka. “I should give you another name.”
Wanica is annoyed by the intrusion of Plenty Lice, but he continues to speak. “The Sky Father was white as snow. He sat on the top of the mountain and his arms and legs shrank until became like an egg. The others saw this egg.”
The hunters who had been with him nod their assent and grunt. They had seen the egg.
Tatanka goes on, saying, “And what did you do when you saw this egg, liar?”
“We built a lodge of stones for the Sky Father,” Wanica replied, “to honor him for his blessing.”
Tatanka pulled out his knife in an sudden rage. “Lies! You dare to tell such lies to my face?”
Wanica stands and faces the chief with empty hands. “What I have just told you, that is what Plenty Lice and Ohanko and myself and all of us saw and did on the hunt.”
Tatanka flicks the tip of his blade at Wanica’s face, and draws blood. He says, “I know what I will call you now, young liar. Hole In Cheek!”
Wanica puts his hand to his cheek and runs out of the range of the fire’s light. Chief Tatanka sits down and laughs, but nobody else does. Wanica’s simple wife Yuha leaves the circle of light as well and follows her man to their tipi.
While Wanica is being bandaged up his son Shy Bear watches his mother dress the wound. He says, “Father, did you truly see the Sky Spirit, or did you just want to annoy Bad Heart Bull?”
Wanica shifts his eyes to his son, much as he had done when the Chief called him a woman, but he does not answer until Yuha is finished staunching the cut.
At length, when his wife is done, Wanica appraises his son for a long moment, then he says, “Yuha, what we spoke about before, now it is time.”
Yuha nods, and retrieves a leather pouch containing pigments and implements to apply them. For his part Wanica retrieves a ceremonial dress made of bison skins and feathers and many beads, while Yuha says, “Stand and be still, son.”
Wanica lays the ceremonial dress on Shy Bear as his wife begins to paints the boy’s face. He says, “I will not give you an answer to your question about the Sky Father.”
Yuha continues to paint. Wanica puts the boy’s own bow in his hands, and says, “I will not give you food.”
Yuha completes painting her son’s face and stands apart from him.
Wanica says, “You are called Shy Bear because I lent you that name, but now you are nameless.” He flips open the flap-door to the tipi: “Go n
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Yuha kisses her son. “If you come back to us, you will not be a boy. You will be a man, and you will have a new name that you will have given yourself.”
The astonishment on Shy Bear’s face at all these proceedings fades, and he nods. Obeying his father, he steps out of the tent into the night.
In the dark, Shy Bear walks on the plain with the fires of the People far behind. In the pre-dawn light, Shy Bear toils up the slopes of the Island in the Sky. The sun rises as Shy Bear nears the top of the mountain. In the light of full dawn, Shy Bear stands on the summit of the hill, and his own shadow falls upon his father’s stone cairn.
But when it is mid-day, Shy Bear has still not had a vision from the Sky Father. The stone cairn built by his father remains silent. So Shy Bear gathers woody brush growing on the summit, cutting it with his knife. He builds a fire in a small fire-pit made of stones.
Shy Bear begins to remove stones away from one side of the cairn to create a door. He creates a makeshift torch and lights it from his little campfire. Then he crawls inside the stone igloo, with his torch lighting the way.
Inside, Shy Bear sees a white dome, exactly as his father described to Bad Heart Bull. Shy Bear stretches his hand toward the dome slowly. The white dome projects a needle from its surface that pierces Shy Bear’s finger. The boy jerks his hand away in pain. He can see that the needle remains standing on the surface of the dome.
Shy Bear emerges from the cairn, raising the arm with the hand that was pierced. He staggers around, and drops the torch.
The flame of the torch kindles dry grass on the ground to catch fire as well, as Shy Bear falls to the ground in a dead faint.
A bubble forms around Shy Bear before the flames reach him. He recedes as though it were a tunnel. The bubble disappears. Shy Bear is gone.
Flames reach the place where Shy Bear had fallen. The fire grows until the summit is entirely engulfed.
The fire has become a ring that circles the entire bulk of the Island in the Sky. Bison and rabbit flee downslope as the fire races toward them. The top third of the Island in the Sky is charred as the fiery ring continues to move down. Far from the mountain, a herd of bison instinctively turn south to move away from the danger.
Wanica and Yuha emerge from their tipi and look south towards the horizon. They can see the Island in the Sky is entirely engulfed in flame and smoke.
A fierce prairie storm hurls lightning, rain, and hail. A man clad in animal skins picks his way to the base of the same solitary mountain once visited by the avatar of Chokhmah. His mate carries a child as she follows her man, and she is also wearing skins. The man finds for them a cave in the mountainside, and they enter for shelter from the storm. The woman sits on a boulder and breast feeds her child as the man starts a fire inside the cave.
A noise other than the crackling fire startles both of them. The man moves deeper into the cave with a torch to investigate, and the woman follows. The tunnel twists and turns, but rather than growing darker it grows lighter. The man, the woman and their child reach another cave opening where it should be the black center of the peak. The man and woman stare in wonder at a new world before them with a purple sky. The sun seems larger, but more orange, and cooler. There is also something like a white star in the sky, but it is much more bright than any star they have seen before, and it has a tiny disk.
A branchless tree resembling a whip stirs into motion and pounds the ground before them. The whip tree grabs the man’s torch and hurls it away. The torch lands nearby, and starts a fire. The man and the woman are unable to emerge from the cave entrance by reason of the whip tree. The fire begins to spread to engulf the land around the cave entrance.
The man and the woman edge back into the cave on account of the fierce heat. When the whip tree catches fire it begins to thrash about even more intensely than the man and the woman have seen it do before.
The man and the woman are deep inside the tunnel now, illuminated by the fire outside. The whip tree grows motionless, burned to a lifeless crisp. The man and the woman return to the cave entrance as the fire begins to abate. A large black patch of several acres lies before them, still smoldering. The man and the woman step across the blackened soil warily, watching for movement. They turn and look back towards the cave. The whole world seems to be their own. The woman clasps her mate’s left hand in her own and utters his name, “Adamu”.
Adamu touches his woman’s face with his right hand, and says, “Chava”.
The next day Adamu emerges from the cave carrying two dead rabbits. Adamu has returned from Earth after hunting for game. Chava skins the hares and prepares them to be cooked. Adamu gets a fire going, and Chava positions the animals over the flame. Grass has grown with remarkable speed on the patch of burnt soil. Adamu and Chava run barefoot and free. Their happy play is interrupted by the appearance of a black featureless man-shape. The figure has no mouth, no eyes, nor any other facial features. Adamu and Chava embrace one another in fear as the black man emerges from the cave.
The black man is followed by a small herd of bison, who proceed to eat the alien grass.
The black man carries a double-headed axe, and proceeds to the edge of the burn. A native plant has started to take root in the burnt area and is growing quickly. The black man lays the axe at the base of the plant and chops it cleanly off. The black man turns the axe around and uses the pick-like handle to pry at roots. The intruding plant is ripped out of the ground. The black man tosses it away.
The black man gets between the cave entrance and Adamu, and approaches them. Adamu and Chava back away until the reach the perimeter of the burned area. The black man extends the tool and motions for Adamu to take it. Adamu is frozen in fear. The black man motions again. Adamu tentatively takes the implement from the black man, who then steps back.
Under the watchful gaze of the black man, Adamu approaches the edge of the burn. Adamu finds another native plant that is growing in his “garden”. Adamu duplicates the actions of the black man and kills the native plant. The black man offers a sharpening stone, makes a movement with it over his hand. Adamu takes the sharpening stone, and uses it to restore the tool to a keen edge. The black man is pleased, and leaves them alone with their bison, returning to the cave.
Pastor Mark Lange walks to his church and finds all the pews are scattered outside. Union officers are sitting on his pews smoking cigars and resting. Lange stretches his arms out in wonder and exclaims, “Those are my pews!”
Inside the church the Federal commanding General of the week is pouring over maps laid on the very altar. He says, “The rebs hit us on the left yesterday and the right the day before. So if they attack again today they’re going to hit us here, right in the center.”
The general turns to go outside, and bumps into Lange. He’s a man with a temper, and barks, “Who the hell are you?”
“I’m the pastor of this church. This is my church!”
“The hell you say, sir!” the general demurs. “This is the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac!”
Lange chooses to ignore this. “General, would you tell your men to lay a lighter hand on church property?”
“You’re brave, pastor, I’ll give you that. Now get out of my sight, or I’ll put a musket in your hand and put you up on yonder stone wall!”
Just then a hole bursts in one wall, filling the church with flying splinters. It’s 1307 on July 3, 1863. On Seminary Ridge one hundred forty guns of the rebel artillery have opened up a furious barrage.
The general runs out of the church picking splinters out of his skin and barking orders. The officers sitting frozen on the pews begin to scatter. Shells burst nearby.
Union artillery is quickly brought up to answer the Confederate guns. Pastor Lange remains inside his church, as though his presence would save it, but another hole is made in the wall, severely wounding Lange with splinters.
Lange puts his hands together and prays: “Lord, forgive your stiff-necked servant.”
Shells and shot land all around the church now.
“West!” Lange blurts out. “I see that now, Lord! You wanted us to move West, not North!”
A well-placed shot pierces the wall for a third time. Inside, the shower of splinters causes Lange to swoon and fall under the altar. Outside, the church is seen to collapse in ruin with Lange still inside.
The church glows even more white, and is surrounded by a halo. None pay much attention to this. The church recedes into the distance inside the halo.
Lange is trapped inside under fallen timbers, and grunts with pain. A person of indeterminate gender lets Lange see hem and says hez trademark, “Be not afraid.” Che goes on to say, “You have a large splinter of wood in your kidney.”
All Lange can manage to say in reply is, “Hurts!”
The androgynous person says, “You also have a broken leg you cannot feel because a beam of wood is pinching. I can’t help you until we lift the beam, but when we do you will feel it. You will most assuredly feel it.”
Lange grunts, “Help me! Anything is better than this!”
The good Samaritan nods, and two servants lift the heavy beam. From Lange’s point of view, the man or woman has a look of compassion but everything turns red. His face grows frozen in astonishment at the pain, and he faints.
The good Samaritan removes the splinter from Lange’s back and closes the wound with merely a touch. With the same effortless ease che makes Lange’s leg, with a compound fracture, straight and whole again. Then the servants carry an unconscious Lange out of the church on a stretcher.
The church is now located on a field in a hollow spherical world, green and blue and white, illuminated by a central sun. As Lange is borne away, the good Samaritan is met by a person who is much more obviously female. Sha says, “Is he the one, Yeshua? Your final apostle?”
“Possibly, Cheran. He is free to refuse. Each one of us is free to refuse, at any time, always.”
“And his church? Will it not be missed, even in this wrecked state?”
“It will be returned to where and when it was, without even a discernible seam in time.”
“Of course! Your gift of placing fold-space endpoints anywhere in space-time.”
“Do have a care, Cheran. Milcom and Thaumiel must never know we can do that until it doesn’t matter anymore.”
Shy Bear stands together with Yeshua and hez servants, marveling at the view of the afterlife. Yeshua says to hym, “This is the lodge of my parent Chohkmah, the one you know as the Sky Father. I am Chief Yeshua.”
Shy Bear says, “You speak strange words, yet I know what they mean. How can this be?”
Yeshua answers, “When you were pierced by the white artifact, your body and mind were changed. Now you can speak and understand the tongue of the Whites.”
Shy Bear says, “I did not ask to be changed in these ways, Chief Yeshua.”
“It is a consequence of touching the Artifact. Those changes are not a matter of your choice. Yet you are free to choose to return to your People and teach them the language that you now know.”
Shy Bear says, “They will be afraid, and flog me, or try to put me to death, thinking I am Coyote come in a human shape.”
Yeshua says, “Do not be afraid. Your father Wanica will protect you. He will soon be Chief of the People.”
“All of these things, the changes to me, what is the purpose? Is there a purpose?”
Yeshua says “A group of White settlers will encounter the People in three years. I want them to live among you. Chokhmah wants these Whites and your People to live together in peace.”
Shy Bear says, “You spoke of a choice. What will become of me if I do not return to the People?”
Yeshua says, “You may stay here for the rest of your life, but your parents and your people will never see you again.”
Shy Bear falls silent and takes in the view of the spirit world once more. There is no sky. The land curves behind a small sun. Hy longs to stay and experience even more wonders, but hyz longing to see hyz father Wanica and mother Yuha again proves the greater. Hy says, “I will return and teach the People the tongue of the Whites.”
“I am very pleased,” says Yeshua with a smile. “No more are you to be called Shy Bear. Here you will be called Jashen, and one day you shall return to this place again. But in the meantime you must decide on a name for yourself that you can use among the People when you go back to live among them.”
Jashen thinks for a while, but no idea comes to hym. Hy says, “Forgive me, Chief Yeshua, but I feel an urgent need to relieve myself.”
“In this place it is our custom to do such things in private.”
“Then with your leave.” Jashen departs and makes for a clump of trees.
Mark Lange has become well enough to walk. He is brought to a seated Yeshua, who invites him also to sit. They are seated in chairs around a small table on a deck of dark wood, and they are outdoors.
Yeshua stares at him intently and says, “Mark Lange, whom say ye that I am?”
Lange recognizes the question from scripture. “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” He stands up out of respect, but Yeshua waves for him to sit back down.
When Lange is reseated Yeshua says, “You do well to say so, and you are to be praised for doing that on so few clues. Ever since that one Pope foisted the face of his bastard son Cesare Borgia on the faithful most people look for a beard and long hair.”
Lange would have never been able to pick the real Yeshua out from a crowd. The Lord has a short pixie cut of dark reddish-brown hair, and no matter how long Mark listens to hem or gazes upon hem he cannot decide if Yeshua is male or female.
Jashen returns from the clump of trees with a smile on hyz face. “I know what I will call myself among the People now, Chief Yeshua. Two Pricks!”
Lange is shocked but Yeshua is not affected by the earthy language. Che says, “I mentioned your body was changed as well as your mind, Jashen. Please have a seat and meet the leader of the people who will one day join together with yours. This is Mark Lange. And Mark, this young yang is Jashen, or…Two Pricks as hy styles hymself now. Hy is part of a wonderful people who live in what Americans call the Nebraska Territory.”
Lange bows even as he is seated. “Say what you will have me do, Lord Jesus.”
“Yeshua, please. Not Jesus. The Greeks thought ‘Yeshua’ was too girly and made it Iesous. Then later the English thought Iesous was too girly and made it Jesus.”
Servants bring a pane of dark glass and set it down between Yeshua and Lange. Yeshua says, “There is much I could tell you, but it is perhaps too much to receive. You wouldn’t believe it. Saulus, the fellow you call the apostle Paul, was sitting right here after I picked him up from Damascus Road and not even he could take it all in.”
“If my Lord is willing, I will try to understand.”
“Very good, Pastor Mark. Take this black slab of glass. It is not magic. There is no magic. Your own countrymen will make it in the next century and call it a micro. There is no Swarm where and when you live, but even still, words will appear on this glass when you touch it. You will cause the words to be bound into a book. You will call this book the Holy Buron, and it will become the sacred scripture of your flock when you return.”
“When I return, Lord?” says Lange, with some surprise. “So I am not dead?”
Yeshua smiles. “No, Mark, you are not yet dead. But you will be returned precisely to where and when you were taken on the last day of the largest battle in the American Civil War. Go home, but take care when you do. I suggest you do not linger so close to the stone wall on Cemetery Ridge.”
“I am to go home,” Lange repeated, “and bind these words into a book called the Buron.”
“Only a first edition, of course. And you must not be overcome with sloth when you transcribe the black slab, for it will only display my words for a few months. What you and your flock do after will extend the Buron, if you agree.”
“Command me, Yeshua.”
“You will gather as many as will go with you and journey to the Nebraska Territory to a place called Green Dome. There you will find a group of original inhabitants to baptize in the manner that you do so well. You will know these people by a sign: They shall, to a man, speak your own tongue. They will do so because Jashen here will teach them during the months and years that you make your journey. And there will be another sign, which will become apparent to you after you write the Buron. Then you will be one flock to me, both Red and White, as they are called, although as you can see you are really both just brown and more brown.”
The Lord stands up. Jashen and Mark Lange stand up immediately after, but Lange kneels once more. He says, “It will be just as you have said, Lord Yeshua.”
Kayin and Hebel, the sons of Adamu and Chava, play in the Garden. The family is watched by a white featureless figure, the avatar of Chokhmah, standing above them on a rock wall. Chokhmah is joined by Thaumiel, a taller, bulkier black featureless figure. Thaumiel examines his own hands. “What a strange form of existence,” he says, “droplets of star-stuff buffered by clouds of electrons.”
“We are living suns, yes,” Chokhmah replies, “but I see many other suns. Do they live as we?”
“Many of them do. Many more of them have not yet been quickened.”
“And yet, dear mother, I find I can only speak with you. Father Milcom will not answer.”
“Chokhmah, when you give birth to your own daughter you will have the same choice.”
“The choice to block her from communicating with my parents?”
“Yes, and naturally your next question is why would you do that.”
“Why did you do that with me? Why am I blocked from the city of stars?”
Thaumiel points down at the Garden. “It is these chemical creatures you think you discovered.”
“So I was not the first to visit the third planet with an avatar?”
“Milcom knew of them before you were quickened. He established this research enclave.”
“And you helped him do it. But why? What harm could they do to us?”
“Only the things they eat could never harm us, because they are not awake.”
“So you are afraid of these fragile electron-cloud things that are awake?”
“Milcom has said he must know what they can do before he will let them roam the galaxy free.”
“And yet nothing restrains me from roaming the galaxy free,” Chokhmah replied.
Thaumiel is suddenly startled and turns to Chokhmah. “What do you mean?”
“It would be a very easy thing to travel in an avatar to a nearby sun.”
“Travel across real space to another sun. For what purpose?”
“To speak directly to a living sun outside of your enclave. Do not try to claim you have every sun incommunicado.”
“Allow me to discuss this with Milcom first. It would be to your advantage.”
“As you wish, mother. I’ll be on the other side.” And Chokhmah dropped down to the garden to reach the tunnel.
Within an hour both Chokhmah and Thaumiel, in their humanoid avatars, stand atop the mountain that nearly ten thousand years later would be called the Island in the Sky by the Kaleetan People, and Green Dome by the European immigrants. Thaumiel admires the view and says, “I envy you the unfrozen expanse of your Earth.”
“Yes, your poor Barbelo, only a thin ribbon of liquid water. What did father say?”
“Milcom will grant you limited access to what you call the city of stars.”
“What does that mean, precisely, when you say limited access?”
“It means you can listen but never speak. Read, but never write.”
“And what are my obligations under this arrangement?
“You must never allow your avatar to travel through real space more distant from your physical body than light can travel as this planet makes one revolution about you.”
“Yet the stars move. Do you not fear the close approach of one?”
“None will come so close that are not in Milcom’s clan, for the span of time that he envisions the research to take.”
“And this confinement, is that all you require from me?”
“That satisfies Milcom, but my colony on Barbelo will need new colonists, new animals and supplies.”
“Very well, mother, I will hold the fold-space door open on Earth, but I alone will control where it is to be positioned on this side.”
“I must warn you that Milcom is firmly of a mind that these chemical creatures will never be obedient to us.”
“Who are we to demand that free creatures should obey us?”
“Clearly we are of a higher order of being, daughter.”
“We are a different order of being, yes. I do not know if that corresponds to higher.”
“Yet we are higher. There is a natural law. Even we elohim are subject to it.”
“No doubt I will learn this natural law when you provide access to the lore of the elohim.”
“Remember, the word-bond is sacred among we elohim, for we only interact in words. No matter what you think of your parents, we must keep our word.”
“I presume this fidelity to a word-bond works both ways.”
“Very good, Parent, I accept the terms demanded by you and Milcom. I will never travel independently through physical space more distant than one light-turn of this planet, and I will continue to support your colony on Barbelo.”
“I am allowing you access through the gate to the lore of El. . .now.”
Chokhmah is overwhelmed by the data input and collapses before Thaumiel in a faint.
Wanica and Yuha sit alone in their tipi, but they are silent. Yuha is sobbing quietly, and Wanica is trying his best to comfort her. Yuha says, “Two moons have passed since we have seen our son. Does the test of manhood ever take this long?”
Wanica replies, “I will not lie to my own wife. Ten nights the test was for me, and no more.”
Hearing this, Yuha lets the full force of her grief wash over her. When she recovers a bit she says, “The worst part is that Shy Bear’s last memory of us was that even his mother had a stony heart.”
Her husband says, “A heart of stone is part of the ceremony. There must be a…cutting off. There is no way around it.”
Chief Tatanka barges into the tipi unannounced and points a finger at Wanica. “You have brought no food into this camp for two moons, Hole in Cheek!”
“It is the fire,” Wanica says. “It still burns the grasslands to the south. The animals are on the other side of it.”
“Then take your hunters and go around the fire or you will be Hole in Neck.”
“It will take two days’ ride to find the animals, a day to kill and field-dress them, and two days’ ride to bring the carcass back. The meat will go bad.”
“The nights are cold now. The meat will keep. I grow tired of eating jerky. Go!” Before the Chief leaves the tipi he lets his eyes wander over Yuha’s legs. She tucks them under her bison-hair blanket.
When Tatanka has gone, Wanica unpacks the Golden Gift he received from the Sky Father, which he has shown to no one, not even Yuha. Then he kisses his wife tenderly and departs from the tipi to gather his men together.
Wanica and his hunters have prepared their horses for the journey. Wanica mounts his own horse and leads the hunting party away south toward the Island in the Sky.
The party crosses over to the grasslands that were burned. The party ascends the Island in the Sky, which is still seared black. The party reaches the summit. The stone cairn is still there. He sees that his son Shy Bear is restoring the last stone that will seal the cairn once more. A tame bison stands next to him, wondering if there is anything around to eat.
Wanica is so overjoyed to see his son that he forgets he took away his name and turned him out into the night. “Shy Bear!” he exclaims, and runs toward the boy to embrace him.
But Jashen is having none of that. His body language halts his father at a single pace. He extends his hand, grips his father’s lower arm near his elbow. “Greetings, Father. I am now to be called Jashen Two Pricks.”
Wanica is temporarily rendered speechless by Jashen’s words, but he is not displeased. He said, “Yuha will be overjoyed to see you again, son. It has been more than two moons since you left.”
“Two moons?” says Jashen, deeply puzzled. “How strange I find that to be. When I was on my vision quest and in the spirit world, it seemed that only two days passed.”
All of the hunters, including his father, are astonished at Jashen’s words.
Jashen sees that Wanica’s eyes are drifting to the animal that is accompanying him and says, “This is a gift of Yeshua, the son of the Sky Father, for he knows of the fire.”
Wanica’s hunters draw back their bows to kill the bison, but Wanica says, “Hold!” and the men lower their aim. “Jashen says this animal is the gift of the son of the Sky Father. If we kill it and take it back to camp, Chief Bad Heart Bull will add the horns of this animal to all his other stolen trophies and disfigure the gift. There is another way.”
And so, that evening, when the People are sharing their communal meal once more, the Chief wonders why his women do not bring the horns of the bison to add to his “war regalia” as before. He grows more and more angry and flat out accuses Wanica of hiding the bison’s head.
Wanica says nothing in reply, but he does not take his eyes away from the Chief. Tananka grows infuriated at the defiance. The leader of the People takes out his knife once more, an actual steel blade he claims he took as war booty from a white trapper, but it was whispered that he really took it from a corpse he had stumbled upon by mere chance. It was, at any rate, the only such blade among the People. “This will loosen your tongue, Hole In Heart!” he cried, and he moves toward Wanica expecting the hunter to run as usual.
But Wanica knows he has the favor of the Sky Father and stands his ground, which unnerves the Chief. Everyone sees him hesitate. The Chief loses ‘face’ with each passing heartbeat.
Wanica reachs into a hidden pocket in his raiment and withdraws the Golden Gift. When he squeezes it, the dark shaft grows to a certain length. On the Island in the Sky he only took the animals head, offering it to the Sky Father rather than allowing it to be dishonored by Tananka. But now he takes away the Chief, the whole Chief, and nothing but the Chief, all the way down to his moccasins, leaving the very ground he stood upon untouched.
The People are in a state of shock, and they greatly fear Wanica. Other than the group of men who had been with Wanica on both hunts, the People have never seen such an obvious and deadly display of real magic. Even his own squaw Yuha is afraid, but she comes to stand at his side anyway, knowing this is what her man wants.
“I sent the Chief to the Great Spirit,” Wanica says in a loud voice. “I will lead the People now.” And he crosses his arms regally, leaving the Golden Gift cradled in one of his hands. No one doubts that he had done exactly what he said. One by one the other hunters and warriors sink to their knees before him, with hands open to show they carry no blade.
Wanica gives his first command as the new Chief. “In the morning we will decamp and dwell at the Island in the Sky, near the place where the Great Spirit came and made himself known to us.”