The Road Home

The little man in the valley needed something, and the weed whacker would get me there. Me, and very little else. I could take somewhat more than other folks, though, since I’m so small myself. So I ended up going on the more elaborate search and rescue jobs, just because of that.

David put my hair in cornrows, enticed me into bed yet once more, and I was off. The weed whacker was standing in the middle of the garage. I put my stuff in my bag, weighed it carefully, draped it over my shoulders, and stepped aboard. Looking over my shoulder, I pulled the trigger. Through the wall we went; it dematerialized in the usual way just before I splattered myself on the window. Now that had been tricky to learn. By the time I got to the bedroom wall, I was 20 years back, before the house was built. I’m going to have to re-plot my departure in a year or two or I’ll end up in bed with a very surprised younger self.

So. I arrived. The valley is really quite round, the bottom flat, the road straight. In my dream it was a continuation on the ground of the Milky Way. But it was daytime. And it wasn’t winter; I wondered how long the little Mexican had been waiting for me. Or maybe he was an Indian.

There’s always a certain amount of disorientation when you land. Well, more like distemporality, really. For a few moments you can see everything that’s ever been wherever you are. But it passes with the nausea, and the feeling of having all your bodily fluids in your head.

Here, in the center, at the end of the road, stood a little church. I climbed off of the velocipede for a look around; nothing like boots on the ground for that. The church was odd, architecturally. Partly of Hopi design, adobe, with a flat roof held up by timbers from pines long extinct on the valley floor. I remember thinking my equipment might be able to get something from the tree rings. The spire was mostly covered with tiles, but they’d fallen off on the near side, giving the impression of a ladder to the heavens.

The Mexican was waiting for me inside the church. He was kneeling, and I could see his lips moving in the shadow of the hat.

It’s important to respect holy places, so I looked around for a sanctuary light. The altar was bare, a large black stone affair. So I bowed deeply and sat down to wait. The altar must have been a meteorite. Or perhaps it was dragged here under Spanish domination by slave labor; it was quite unlike the granite of the valley floor.

It was also quite unlike the granite stones that formed the circular walls of the crypt beneath the church. The Mexican, his prayers finished, led me to the entrance, just off the baptistry near the west door.

I hesitated to cross into the sanctuary; some people claim by setting foot in their holy places, strangers defile those places. “May I?” I asked.

He shrugged, and said, “No sabe.”

He didn’t know? He didn’t understand my question? When you don’t share any languages with someone, much communication can be accomplished with eye contact, and with gestures. It occurred to me I hadn’t seen the top part of his face, and only occasionally his chin. He seemed impatient to show me something, in the crypt beneath. So I followed him down the ladder.

The room was a human-scale replica of the valley: round, rock walls, with a small pit in the center, under the ladder. In one wall, at floor level, was an air shaft. Between that and the fire pit was a low wall, to block the draft.

The Mexican sat down, cross legged, on the floor, with his back straight. It almost looked like a Lotus position, with his hands limp on his knees, only his legs were crossed in the usual way, not upside down, and so more comfortably. He waved his left hand at a spot. We sat quietly for a while; it’s hard to tell how long so soon after getting off the Contraption. As the fluids settled into their accustomed parts of my body, I became aware of a certain need. I stood slowly, turned to face my host, put hands together before my face, and, bowing to him, climbed the ladder, and found the outhouse.

When I returned, he was no longer alone. I took my seat in the circle. There was silence in the room, and perhaps four or five others in the circle. Nobody moved, but a column of shimmering smoke appeared above the fire pit, just under the ladder where it sloped toward the hole in the ceiling. Our companions stood quietly, bowed to the Mexican, who remained seated and nodded to each in turn, before they stepped into the smoke and vanished.

The ceremony seemed over, and he took me back upstairs. We stood, side by side, before the altar, bowed together, and he led me through a door behind the altar into what once must have been a sacristy. The hat touched the door jamb and fell off.

I looked into the Mexican’s lined face for the first time. Coal black eyes, with a mixture of fright and relief, stared into mine, and I slowly realized that I recognized her. Those same eyes stare at me out of my mirror, when I’m in doubt, though the nose is bent the other way. The hair was gray, streaked with white, and the groove between the brows never faded away. “Lupe, it’s you,” she said. “I’m glad to see you.”

Now that more than a few syllables were strung together, the voice was clearly female, something I’d missed before.

“Guadalupe Lopez, Search and Rescue for the province of New Spain,” I said, with a slightly formal bow. “You knew that, though.”

“I was expecting someone else,” she said.

“Nobody expects the New Spanish Expedition.”

She laughed. For the first time in a while, it seemed.

“How long have you been here? I see your boots are nearly worn out. What happened? What were you doing?”

“So many questions. Too long. Hit a gantry or something on approach. You know–tooling the continuum on my very own Great Hyperpola, and Bang! Have to walk home or fix the damned contraption.” She nodded at the remains, strewn around the center of the room, or filed here and there in niches that had once held sacred vessels. “Or, failing that, build a dream catcher and call for help.”

“And here I am,” I said. “ In 1282.”

“Downstairs. Up here it’s 1780.”

“Ah, sure. The Spanish mission kind of gives it away.”

“But yeah. 1282, just in time to see the Old Ones, fleeing the famine, going into the Earth Mother’s navel. I’m a bit hazy on the anatomy, just between us, but they needed somebody to operate the gate, so I stayed.” She sighed. “And 1780, another drought. This is a terrible place to build a town, or to try to farm.”

I got out my toolkit and began to tinker. “You’ll need a new Lorentz-Thompson rotator,” I told her. “This one’s stuck.”

“That would explain why it’s not all the same epoch around here, yes.”

“The landing must have been rough, and a bit off-target.”

“You could say that.” The haunted look in her eyes returned. “Most of my hair and some of my equipment was scattered down the centuries when the Shkolvskii field collapsed.”

“Speaking of which, did you find your Shklovskii field generator?”

“Oh, that. Fixed it, and I’ve been using it for hunting. Now and then, the good Padre, whenever it was he lived here, must have found a stray antelope head in his bed.” Her self-satisfied smirk and posture reminded me of my own, when I’ve managed to fix an egregiously fucked-up piece of gear.

I had to laugh. Who else would think of hunting by blowing an animal’s head back a couple centuries in time?

“Hey, beats trying to grow corn during a hundred-year drought,” she said, with a shrug.

“So what was the mission, if I may ask?” By this time I was up to my knuckles in tiny parts. I glanced at her around the magnifiers perched on my nose.

“Hell, might as well tell you. We’ve already broken all the rules anyway.”

“Like, Don’t ever go rescue your once or future self.”

She nodded. “In the mid-21st century, the Defense guys decided they needed more missiles, and, for whatever reason, wanted to put one here. In this place that’s been sacred to at least three different cultures, and is, as it happens, a portal to another place, where the Old Ones are waiting for a better time to return.”

“The Anasazi?”

“Yeah, though calling them ‘ancestors of our enemy’ is not something they’d like. The Big Machines were installing a missile silo, right here in the Earth Mother’s womb (or whatever it is; as I said, I’m a bit fuzzy on the anatomy).”

“Raping the earth. Quite literally.”

“Just so. And the presence of this weapon here made this an irresistible target, which was duly obliterated with the light of a thousand suns in the next war. We decided to put in a few booby traps that’d leave the portal intact but perhaps buried a bit more deeply than the original kiva.”

“I don’t think I’ve seen a Shklovskii generator quite this beefy before,” I said.

“Well, it’s also a mining tool, don’t you know.”

The sheer inventiveness of this scheme struck me as the most amusing thing I’d heard in a long time. Not eons, exactly, but a decade or so of my own, proper time. I guess the elder Lupe also thought so, because she laughed along with me.

I put her contraption back together, motioned to her to stand back, and hit the delay. We watched from the corner as it began to hum in that familiar 52-cycle bass voice that’s common to all idle Lorentz-Thompson rotators.

“That sounds like home,” she said, quietly.

“It does, indeed. Let’s let it finish the self-diagnostics, and hook up your Shklovskii, so you’ll have a canopy to protect you from the winds of change, and you’ll be on your way home. By nightfall of the day you left, if you want. David will be happy to see you, but not nearly as happy as you are to see him.”

The smile froze on her face, for a heartbeat, and then returned, considerably more forced. “David,” she said. A single tear appeared on her cheek. My blood ran cold for a moment. “It’ll be good to get home,” she said.

We put the field generator back where it belonged, took the vehicle outside, plotted a course for her, and fed it to the autopilot. I braided her hair, lacking the time to do proper cornrows to keep it out of the field, and watched while she climbed onto the levitating velocipede.

With a whir, she was gone. I found my own machine, took a look around at the Earth Mother’s private places, looked over my shoulder and pulled the trigger.

The autopilot was programmed to get me home a few hours after I’d left. It tends to be disorienting for both the traveller, and those who wait at home, if there’s a significantly different amount of time passing in their lives, from day to day.

“Well, I’m home,” I told David when he greeted me at the door.

“Anything special today?” he asked.

“Just hold me,” I said.