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Thunder Butte
Noah shifted the old truck into park and gripped the steering wheel hard as he took a breath. He tried not to show it but he was hurting more often than not these days. He could feel time gnawing and grinding away at his bones. Time was a poor friend and an unforgiving master. Always taking, stealing away, never giving back, grinding forward like the wheel of a millstone. And as long as man had existed, he had tried to rage against the dying of the light, rage against change and decay. But it made no difference. The future was inevitable, and one day it would no longer belong to him. He would try not to fight it when that day came.

But until then it was still his time. Noah got out of the truck and surveyed the landscape. Rolling yellow grasses covered the flat horizon, broken by a jagged mound of rock shooting up from the ground as if the earth had punched the sky. To the right a narrow band of river continued to wear away at the soft soil in solitude. There was not a building to see. In the evening light of the setting sun, the dying light caught the red mud and set it ablaze, like a red tower rising from the grassland. Thunder Butte. The Lakota legend was that this was the birthplace of Thunder. A fitting place to birth a people of fire and iron who would cause the earth to tremble with their footsteps and shoot lightning from their eyes, like the Kakchinas of old.

What was, and what will be. And yet it may be so, today.

He probably needn't come here in person, but he wanted to see this himself. After years of fruitless endeavors of trying to keep the Native peoples safe from the Sickness, from the government, the Atharim, and themselves, they could finally press forward with a concrete plan and a solid foundation. Jon and others had done their work like good servants to the will of fate, making sure this place would be protected from the government, and out here in the middle of nowhere these spirit warriors to be could pose the least risk to themselves or others until they could gain control of their abilities. That was the greatest danger. And that only left the Atharim. They would have to keep guard, and eventually build fortifications and self-sustaining operations. The butte itself with its hard rock core may prove useful. He hoped they wouldn't have to transform it too much. It was a sacred place.

The sport utility vehicle pulled in behind Noah, and a middle-aged man with a prominent nose and flecks of gray in his single black braid got out. He was wearing a jeans jacket and pants with thick boots. Chief Stephen Two Moons of the Standing Rock Lakota. His son was one of the six youth in the SUV, brought here by Noah because they had begun to experience the channeling Sickness. Two young men and a girl, only sixteen, from the Lakota Nation, two Cherokee sisters -- twins -- from Oklahoma, and a young Hopi man from Arizona. The Hopi reminded Noah too much of Jerome. That was all he had managed to find so far and keep tabs on in this past year, even though Noah had become known through the tribes as a man who could treat the Sickness. All too often these youth were just disappearing.

"We'll set up camp down between the river and the butte," Noah said. "Where the river bends around. Should be able to divert the stream for water collection and purification. It's too late in the year for planting, but there's plenty of grass for the buffalo and the other livestock." They had food, anyway. Some, at least. This was a collaborative effort on behalf of the tribes and all had made some donation to the cause. Even so, the Lakota Spiritual Development Institute would probably always be the epitome of austerity. "Erect the teepees in a circle down there."

The man nodded, and banged on the hood of his SUV. The boys and girls got out. Other vehicles began to pull in behind them. Camp helpers and volunteers, mostly family or people who hoped somehow they could gain these abilities for themselves. About two dozen of them all together. They'd help get set up and perhaps stick around for lack of anything better to do. They began to empty the old truck of supplies. Long tent poles and bags of treated canvas. Food and water. Gas for cooking stoves. Shovels and pickaxes for digging, and coils of rope and barbed wire.

Chief Two Moons had been Navy himself, serving aboard the USS Ronald Regan during the Taiwan Strait War. The man understood the value of discipline. They'd spoken of how to best proceed. Hard work and discipline would go hand in hand with the teachings of their ancestors. These people -- kids, really -- would learn how to become self-sufficient out here as well as gain control over their abilities. And as more came, the need for organization and discipline would become all too apparent. A simple thing like improper latrine placement and maintenance could spell doom for this camp, and lack of discipline would destroy any outfit, let alone one in which the people had the power to destroy each other and themselves.

But still, they were missing one key component. The institute needed teachers. Men and women who could show the way, who had done it themselves already.

Fortunately, Noah had already taken care of that. "Hello, Jon," he called out without turning his head. "Why don't you come up and say a word or two?"
Jon parked the rented 4x4 and turned off the ignition. There was a flurry of activity. It looked like the start of a military invasion. Or the first day of Staff Week for summer camp. He snorted at the last one. Definitely not your typical summer vacation getaway. Arts and crafts, canoe races and campfire songs would probably not be high on the list of activities. This was about survival.

It was already getting a little chilly out here, even in the midst of the summer. Winds from up north carried down polar storm systems even now and they ripped right across the plains. Come winter it would be nigh inhospitable, without adequate shelter. He pulled his red leather jacket closed, patting his inside pocket to make sure nothing had moved around. Nope, all was secure. Good.

Up ahead, by the large utility truck, Jon made out twin white braids leaning on the open door. Noah. Of course he'd be here. He walked up toward him. But Noah spoke first. How, by the Great Spirit, did he know it was Jon?

"That was my intention,"
he replied, stepping up beside Noah. "I'm not surprised to find you here."

"I am where I am, Jon," the medicine man said, turning his eyes at him. Those were old eyes, indeed. They seemed to penetrate into his head. "You've been avoiding me in the Spirit World. Careful you do not keep sticking your paws into the trap before you know what it will do."

What was the man talking about? Traps? He left the accusation fall to the ground and lie there. "So this will be it. The great Spiritual Development Institute. Why aren't there more than six? You told me that there are a greater incidence of the Sickness among our peoples."
He peered at the bluff. Red in the evening glow. Like fire and iron. "We are very far behind indeed. I have seen as much in Moscow."

Noah cackled. "There are consequences for all actions, Jon. Both good and bad. Ripples in a pond that spread outward farther than we often can see. But sometimes we can guess. Your time in Moscow cost you dearly. But perhaps some good came of it."

Jon snorted. By the Great Spirit, though, he was right, shamed as he was to admit it. So much time lost. They were going to have to be clever to keep from getting rolled over in this brave new world. "I suppose I should thank you,"
he said. "I now know that what you did saved my life. But I don't trust you."

Noah shook with mirth. The man really was paddling on the wrong side of his canoe. "It is not me you should distrust, but your own impertinence. Your own impatience, and lack of judgment. Your failure to see. Like ripples in a pond, they come together, and form waves. A butterfly flaps his wings and an earthquake happens. All these things are not so unknowable if you know where to look."

Well fine, then. Jon ground his teeth. He wasn't going to let Noah goad him tonight, he had too little time to waste. He pulled out the wrapped object from his coat. "Come,"
he said, taking a step toward the developing campsite. "Let's go down to see them. I have something to show you."
On the heels of yet another barely successful meeting with members of Congress, Nicholas keyed open his Wallet. It's past time I brought him in on this,
Nicholas thought. Jon Little Bird was a friend, and Nicholas would certainly value his company no matter what. But Jon's work with the Council of Native Americans was nothing short of genius. Locking the US Government out of their medical affairs so they could isolate every one of them that could channel - that school he was starting would be the epicenter of some great advances.

Those advances would be even greater with government backing, of course. Nicholas just needed to figure out how they could both get what they wanted. That could come later, he supposed. Getting him in the door was the first step.

The message finished, Nicholas sent it off. A thousand miles away in South Dakota, Jon's wallet flashed with the message received. It read:

"Jon, it's been a while. I've seen the news on what you're up to. You've probably seen what I've been working on, too. Why don't you come down to Washington? I got your present, and I figure drinking with a friend is better than drinking alone. We have a lot to talk about. The Custody is probably beating us into the ground on magical research right now; I know neither one of us wants that to stay the case."

This was what Noah had been looking forward to see. Jon called the six students together and brought them inside the largest teepee that had been erected. Inside there was room enough for all six to sit in a semicircle on one side with Jon on the other. Noah watched from the entrance.

Jon produced something from his pocket and set it before him. Noah squinted. A black rock of some kind. It was the size of his palm, smooth, without blemish, and all of one piece. One end was a fat circle and the other tapered to a curved point alongside the outer edge. A teardrop, then. Like half of a circle broken along the middle. He stamped the grass flat and placed it on the ground. Point down. It balanced, seemingly impossibly, on the point.

"Each of you, come up here, and touch the stone,"
he said. One by one, they came up and placed a hand upon it. When they were done, Jon picked the stone up again. He beckoned Noah to take it. Noah took it in both hands. It was heavier than expected and to his surprise felt cold as ice.

"Keep that somewhere safe,"
he told Noah, handing him a cloth to use as a wrapping. "I believe it belongs here. I will instruct you on its use."

Noah nodded without word and wrapped it in the cloth and stuck it in his pocket. Jon turned back to the six. "If you will. If the stone felt warm, move to my left. If it felt cold, move to my right."

They split into two groups. The two men from the Lakota nation shuffled to the left, and the three women - and surprisingly the man from Arizona - moved to the right.

"I suspected as much,"
Jon muttered. His voice sounded distant, colder. Flat. He stood before the Hopi man. "Depart from here."
The man sputtered, but Jon held up one hand, which silenced him. Without a word her turned around and exited the teepee.

Jon turned to Noah. "It only works on men, I am afraid. I cannot say anything about these girls. But that one I dismissed does not have the ability. These two men here do."

Noah frowned. "He had the Sickness. His family attested to it."

Jon shook his head. "When you look into it, as I expect you will, I believe you will find a family attesting to nothing more than a young man's imagination."
His eyes drilled into Noah's. By the Great Spirit, the man seemed a mile away from his emotions and yet full of raw strength. You are a changed man from when I found you, Jon Little Bird.

"Now then,"
Jon continued, instructing the remaining youth to sit, "You ladies may stay if you wish. You may gain something from this. But you will need a woman to instruct you. The power of the Great Spirit is much different to them. I could no more teach you than I could send you to the moon."

He sat down cross-legged and held out his hand. Abruptly a blazing light sprung into existence. The men leaned back as if they had suddenly become afraid of Jon. "Wakan Tanka. The One Power of the Great Spirit. It flows through all things and binds all things to each other."
The brilliant light suddenly split into five bands, each faintly tinged of a different color. Red, yellow, green, white and blue, like ropes, each undulating in a slow spiral from his hand to the roof of the teepee. "There are five elemental flows within this power, each one of its own flavor. Fire. Earth. Water. Air. And Spirit."
As he mentioned each name, one of the respective bands pulsated. "These are constructs, representations. I have made them visible for your benefit. You will eventually be able to see the invisible flows of another man, and I assume the women the flows of other women."
Fascinating how much Jon had learned.

The lights blinked out of existence. "The power, now."
He placed his hands on his knees. "You must control it, or it will destroy you. For you men, this means fighting it every moment you are holding it. Wrestling it to your will. And you must blank everything. Every emotion from your mind. Else it will distract you and consume you. I am told that it is different for women, that it is peaceful and calm and that you must open yourself up. But that is not for me to guide you to."

Jon turned toward the men. "Close your eyes and listen. Listen to the sound of my voice. Don't strain. You may hear other sounds. Feel them out. Notice them, acknowledge them and leave them be. Now you will hear another sound. That is silence. Let it wash over you as if it was a blanket. You may start to be noticing emotions and thoughts, random ones. Let them move through your body and leech out into the ground, like the ground was sucking them from you. Don't force it. Just let it happen. And as that happens, pull that silence closer until it envelops you.

"As this happens, you may start to feel an emptiness in the middle of your forehead. There is now a point right in the middle of your forehead. Now imagine that that point is passing through your head, sinking deep into you, as though it is passing through the middle of your forehead. As it sinks deeper into you, imagine it is opening like an eye. As though there is a third eye opening in the middle of your forehead. And look through it. See the tent, see the grass, see me. Don't strain your eyes, and don't look up. Just as though you were looking through the middle of your forehead. As though you were looking through the middle of your forehead..."

Noah watched Jon breathe in and out evenly. His eyes were open as he continued to instruct them. The men appeared to be almost asleep. They were deeply entranced. "Now through your mind's eye you may notice something else. A presence. You may start to feel it calling to you. Resonating. Now I want you to imagine that you have a hand inside your mind. And I want you to take that hand and reach out as though you were stretching a hand through your mind's eye, and snatch it -- No, not like that."

The chief's son popped his eyes open. His hand was fully extended and he had his fist around something. "Um, I'm sorry."

Jon held up a hand. "It's all right. Go ahead and relax, both of you."
He stood up. "You may have to go through this exercise many times before you even can sense the power. And try many more attempts before you can grab it successfully."

Noah held up a hand as Jon walked to the entrance. "What do you say?"

Jon shrugged. "The one on the right was touching it for a moment. Just a bare touch, but still made contact. It will take time. Excuse me one moment though."
He slipped past Noah and walked out into the night.
Jon pushed past Noah and out into the night. The moon was not up yet, and he could see the Milky Way cut through the darkness. Glittering stars, millions of them against the blackness of space. Just like the place where people dreamed.

His Wallet had gone off during the meditation exercise. Jon pulled it from his back pocket and tapped the screen. Nick Trano -- Secretary Trano, he should say -- had sent him a message. Jon was surprised he could get a signal from here. There were still dead spots in remote areas of the West, especially on the reservations. So Trano wanted Jon to come to Washington, was it? That place could be a lonely town without friends. But at least he'd made it to the right place. President Dawson likely thought he would be able to discourage a potential adversary by bringing Trano into his fold. But Trano would have the spotlight on him in such a particularly critical department. He'd be a tenfold household name. A well played maneuver.

He typed out a quick reply: "Glad to see you're vertical and in the news again making waves. You looked good on C-SPAN. I will gratefully accept your invitation. And if memory serves me right I'd better hurry up before it's all gone."

Guess he was headed to Washington, now. He wondered if there was some way he could be in two places at once. At least, two places at once in the waking world. It was a good thing the airlines packed comfortable pillows.
Jon worked with the two young men into the night. It had seemed that he'd had other things on his mind, though. Noah caught him constantly checking his Wallet.

Finally, having exhausted the two new braves, Jon sent them away to prepare for their sleep and sought out Noah again. "Use that stone to screen any other young men who you think has the ability,"
Jon told him. "Just take care that no one learns you have it, or how it works. Else someone could lie their way past the test."

Noah grunted. "I see you are heading back East. So soon?"

Jon's eyes narrowed. "Why, yes. Something has come up that I need to attend to. Do you disagree?"

"No." He stared at Jon as if he could look through him. Which he could. Jon was rather transparent to him. Always flitting from one place to another, like a coyote snapping at the birds, unaware of the cliff face. But sometimes he would land on his feet exactly where he needed to be. "You should go to Washington. It is for the best. Stay close to your friend. He will need you. The other, as well, but she's already been taken care of."

Noah turned away, but Jon grabbed his shoulder with a firm hand. "Wait! What do you know, old man?"

Noah turned back to Jon. "What will be, will be," he replied. He reached up a gnarled, bony hand, and removed Jon's hand from his shoulder. "Now go. Leave an old man to his musings."

Jon turned away and got into his vehicle, leaving without another word. Noah watched him drive off.

It was all coming together. Like the pieces in the opening moves of a game of chess. Each piece thought they were more important than the other. But when the game unfolded, a very different story would be told indeed.

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