The Battle of Little Big Science

The Battle of Little Big Science
by Pamela Rentz

First appeared in Asimov’s August, 2010

Agnes Wilder stared into Ike Ferris’ creased brown face. “You need what?”

“A cart, you know, so we don’t have to walk all that way.”

“I’ll look into it.” She kept her voice even. “My budget doesn’t allow for a lot of extras.” She couldn’t believe that her critical scientific research funding relied on people too old to walk to the conference room from the parking lot.

“Well, I don’t know how you river Indians do it,” Ike said, “but around here it wouldn’t be extra.” He face remained serious but he gave her a wink. He held the arm of Ramona Larson, who tottered next to him using a cane. Ramona had a niece in beauty school and Ramona’s perm frizzed around her face in a halo of gray. She peered over the rims of her thick glasses. One arm was fixed with a strip of black tape.

In the conference room, Agnes offered Ramona a seat. Ramona turned around and slowly lowered herself into the chair, the entire affair seeming moments away from disaster.

“You got that time machine working?” Ramona asked.

“We prefer to call it a history viewer,” Agnes said, wondering how to best get the idea across. “We believe machine sounds ….”

“Your name for it doesn’t sound so great either. Why don’t you talk when everyone gets here.” Ike gestured at the empty table. “You got coffee?”

“And cookies.” Ramona had gotten back out of her chair and pulled on an armrest. Agnes moved to help her and at Ramona’s direction slid the chair about six inches closer to the window. “That’s good.” Ramona settled back into the chair. “I’m ready now.”

“Good.” Agnes wanted to get the thing out of the way. Delivering tidy presentations on the project’s potential year after year was a tedious waste of time. She couldn’t wait to get back to the lab.

Agnes hustled to the lunchroom for refreshments. The Pacific Northwest History Viewer Project had been housed in the same solid cinderblock building for twenty years. What was once new and shiny had faded to dust and drab, which mirrored the prestige of her project. Just outside the lunchroom her foot slid on a patch of linoleum worn slick, no doubt from her own shuffling feet, coming in and out for coffee day after day. As her arms flapped about to catch her balance she could see that the wide, handrail-free walls were a hip-injury waiting to happen for the visiting Executive Board.

In the lunchroom, the senior lab assistant, Theo, poured coffee from a tall paper cup into a mug. The coffee machine had broken two weeks earlier and Agnes hadn’t managed to replace it.

“Leave some for the Board.” She grabbed the mug out of his hands. She poured coffee back into the paper cup and returned his mug. She pulled down the smallest cups in the cupboard and split the remaining coffee between them.

“Am I going to have a job next year?” Theo winced when he tasted the coffee.

“I’m working on it.” Agnes zapped the cups one at a time in the microwave.

“I don’t understand why you don’t just show them the working model.”

Agnes shuddered. “It looks like a bunch of junk held together with duct tape. It fuzzes out in harsh weather. The sound goes flat. I need to impress them.”

“You don’t think time viewing will impress them?”

“I want it to be right,” she said.

“Did you think it would end up like this?” Theo asked. “Having to explain complicated science to decrepit old Indians?”

“Indians respect their elders,” Agnes said with a frown. “And, sure. Indian science requires groveling for funds like any other science organization.”

She opened and closed cupboard doors. “Do we have any cookies? Aha!” She found a package of graham crackers behind six slightly aged jars of non-dairy creamer that had been priced for her budget.

“I admit, with all the gaming money out there, I expected the Tribes would elbow each other out of the way to throw money at us.” Agnes wiped off a plate with a paper towel and arranged the graham crackers. “No one understands what we’re doing.”

Theo opened a drawer and scooped up a handful of fortune cookies in cellophane wrappers and spread them out on the table.

“Great find,” Agnes said. She added them to the plate and put the cookies and coffee mugs on a metal tray. “Why don’t you stay in the lab until they leave.”

“Sure thing.” Theo saluted her with his coffee. “Good luck.”

Back in the conference room she set the tray in front of Ike and Ramona.

“What’s this stuff?” Ramona nudged a cookie with a crooked finger. Ike pushed a mug closer so she could reach it.

Maisie Perch staggered into the room under the load of zucchini she carried, one bulging plastic grocery bag hanging from each hand.

“Why you let those get so big?” Ike said.

“I forget the damn things are out there.” She pulled one out of the bag and dropped it on the table with a thunk. “You can use these, right?”

Agnes offered a half-smile. Maisie had brought these giant vegetables to previous meetings and they sat in the lunchroom with their soft spots spreading until Agnes carried the stinking bags of mush to the dumpster.

Maisie wore a Royal Salmon Casino sweatshirt that was a half-size too small and she pulled it down to cover her well-fed belly. Her hair had been freshly dyed and sat on her head like a black hut. “I don’t want to be here all afternoon.” She lined up the rest of the zucchini on the conference table with a serious face. “I got to get my grandkids and then I got bingo. You know they want to shut down the bingo?”

Ramona gasped.

“It’s true,” Ike said.

“Council thinks they make more money if they put slots in there,” Maisie said.

“Bah, Council,” Ike said. “They gonna have a riot if they do that.”

Agnes tried to picture a room filled with cigarette smoking elders overturning tables covered with bingo cards and coffee cups.

“Somebody’s got to do something,” Ramona said. “We need bingo.”

“I don’t think anyone would get rid of bingo,” Agnes said with calming authority. Maisie was fond of making dramatic statements and Agnes didn’t want the discussion to veer too far from her agenda. “We ready to get started? What about Lew?”

“Saw him last week.” Maisie dropped into her chair. “That man looks like he was hit over the head three times with a coffin lid.”

“He’s not doing so good then,” Ike said.

“No,” Maisie said. “What about that new guy?”

“There’s a new guy?” Ramona asked.

Agnes tried to remember the Executive Board By-laws. Could three members make a decision? She moved to the front of the room and clicked on the overhead.

“Wilber,” Maisie said. “He’s that guy from Oklahoma. Looks like Santa Claus in a ribbon shirt.”

“I don’t remember him.” Ramona bit into a fortune cookie and it disintegrated into a shower of crumbs. She swept them to the floor.

“He can’t make it,” Agnes said. “His wife said he had a health issue.” She dimmed the lights.

“Doesn’t matter. He never talks anyway,” Ike said. All three of them laughed.

“Wait, aren’t we going to do a prayer?” Ramona looked at Ike.

Agnes inwardly groaned. Ike’s prayers tended to last half as long as the time available for the meeting.

“No. Get started.” Ike made a little lasso motion above his head. “I got bingo, too.”

Agnes had spent three weeks reworking her presentation. She didn’t care what she had to say or do to get the money, only how she said it. How precisely could she get the message across?

She clicked the remote and the American Indian Science Consortium logo splashed onto the far wall. The screen had fallen down two years earlier and since the wall worked she’d never bothered to replace it. She clicked again and a brightly colored bar chart appeared showing her annual budget for the last five years with each successive bar growing shorter.

“Thank you for coming today, Board members.” Agnes looked over and saw three elderly Indians with their mouths open and the light of the display reflecting back from their glasses.

She put up a painting of men perched on wooden platforms dip-net fishing at Celilo Falls, a wide swath of foaming water around them. “What would it be like to have a window into the past? To view true history over the shoulders of our ancestors?”

“That’s what we want to know,” Ike said.

The next image showed an Indian village. Women carried baskets filled with plants and children ran nearby with a dog. “What if we could be there and feel the wind in our hair, smell the wild grass and hear their songs?” When she’d practiced it at home, it sounded more spontaneous.

“We already seen this, Agnes. You show us the same thing every year,” Maisie said. “When can you make the machine work?”

“This is a new presentation,” Agnes said. “If I may continue?”

“Just get to the new part,” Ike said.

“We’ve had a major breakthrough this year.” Agnes quickly forwarded the slides until she reached the artistic representation of the device. The picture showed a half circle of luxury seating filled with awestruck individuals looking out over an Indian village. The picture nicely avoided the jumble of wires, scratched silver panels and extremely unsafe power hack they’d devised for the test model.

“It’s beautiful,” Ramona said. “When do we see it?”

“That’s what we need the funding for,” Agnes said carefully. “I want you to experience the device in top quality. As it is-“

“You haven’t done nothing,” Ike said. “What’s taking so long?”

“This is a complex project,” Agnes said. “But we’re very close.”

“It’s been twenty years and we still don’t have Indians traveling through time.” Ike held his hands up in disgust.

“It sounds like you may misunderstand the project. If you let me finish my presentation, you would see that we do have something,” Agnes said. “I’ve got a working model but it’s—”

“Those Florida Indians can go to the moon and one of those Sioux bands, they got something with the plants, and the Hopis invented a cure for diabetes—”

“It’s not a cure,” Agnes said.

Ike gave her a fierce look.

“Sorry,” Agnes said. “Go ahead.”

“The Consortium don’t want to fund this one anymore,” Ike said. “They said we have to show them something or it’s finished.”

“But you’ve always funded this project,” Agnes said.

“The Tribes don’t fund the project,” Ike said. “The Consortium funds the projects. They don’t care about your dinky thing.”

Agnes felt as if she’d fallen through a hole in the world. She opened and closed her mouth several times but couldn’t think of where to start until she finally stuttered, “Did you say end the project?”

“What’s all this good for anyway?” Maisie said.

“What’s this good for?” Agnes stuck her trembling hands into her pockets. Twenty years of her life would be for nothing if she lost the funding now, so close to a full-fledged operational model. How many times had she visited home and been nagged about coming back and helping her own people? “I am helping Indian people,” Agnes told them. What would she tell them now?

“Think about it,” Agnes managed to say calmly. “We can go back and see what really happened. Correct history books. Restore cultural knowledge. So much has been lost.” She could see from their puzzled faces that her message wasn’t getting through.

“Or other uses. What about recreation? People could visit the eruption at Pompeii. Education? Students could observe Marie Curie in her lab or attend the coronation of kings.”

“That stuff?” Ramona said.

“Legal mysteries.” Agnes spoke quickly now. “We could identify Jack the Ripper.” Off Ike’s grimace she added, “Or what did Uncle Chester really intend when he wrote his will?”

“So, you could take a bunch of school kids to a big war?” Maisie asked.

“I’m not sure about that.” Agnes remembered her own visit to the night the gold miners had burned one of her ancestors’ settlements. She still had nightmares about it.

“You don’t got nothing,” Ike said. “They want us to show them a time machine.”

“I do got something,” Agnes said, surprised by the force of her words. “What do you know about time travel? Space travel was already invented. Anybody can send an Indian to the moon, especially when you throw all that money at it. The Seminoles get a aeronautical complex the size of Rhode Island and funding to recruit rocket scientists from all over the world. I’m stuck in a concrete longhouse that looks like a prison with a budget so small that I’m down to a staff of five. You ask me to invent time travel with five people.”

“I thought you said that thing works,” Ramona said.

“Yes, however—”

“Show it to us.” Maisie slapped a hand on the table and all three of them jumped.

“It works.” Agnes didn’t know how to convey the precision that was involved. “I want it to be right when you—”

“You don’t got any more time,” Ike said. “We need to bring something back to the Consortium.”

Agnes stared at the zucchini, trying to calculate based on the estimated mass, how many loaves of bread she could convert them to, provided she had the time and energy. The equation took shape in her head.

“I will prepare a demonstration,” she finally said. “Give me a month.”

“No. We meet with the Consortium next week.” Ike pushed his empty coffee mug away with finality. “You get it done this weekend. We’ll come see it on Monday.”

Maisie picked up her things and breezed out the door. “I’ll see you there.”

Agnes eased herself into a chair. She could have taken on any research project. But no, she wanted to breathe the pure unadorned truth of her ancestors. She wanted to be present in true history. Why couldn’t she get this across? She began planning her weekend at the lab. Maybe the people back home were right. She should have stayed and been a teacher and exposed young Indians to the wonder of science.

She pulled out a piece of paper and began making a list of what she needed for Monday. Maybe the university could send over some graduate students and allow them to borrow some supplies and equipment. She needed to check her stash of office clothes and snacks. She was no stranger to sleeping in the lab. She jotted these items down making a note to buy cookies and bring her coffee maker from home.

Someone coughed. Ike and Ramona sat in their chairs watching her.

“Can you drive us to bingo?” Ike asked.

“I’m afraid not.” Agnes collected her papers and shut down her presentation. “I have a major scientific project to demonstrate on Monday. Can I call someone for you?”

Ike pointed at the clock. “You can quit early today. We’re your boss.”

Ramona wore a pilled sweater with cuffed sleeves and she pulled a tissue from one of the cuffs and blew her nose. “I got my bingo bag with me.” She reached out and patted the quilted bag that hung on her chair.

Agnes looked at the elders and then to her list. Theo could get it started. “Sure, I suppose I could drop you off.”

Agnes drove the official van of the history viewer project because it ran better than the battered two-door subcompact she owned. Ike climbed into the front while she helped Ramona fasten her seatbelt in the back. The elder’s knobby hands weren’t strong enough to push the latch into the buckle.

The casino was on the other side of town. This particular casino had been built after Agnes’ project started. Agnes wondered if the Tribe funded any science projects. A tall neon sign at the side of the highway marked the turn-off and they drove another couple of miles before the hulking structure appeared.

“Elders’ entrance.” Ramona held her bingo bag on her lap.

Agnes pulled up to the awning built from giant logs that had been polished to a yellow shine. A kid in a red blazer stood at the valet stand. He smiled and waved.

“More.” Ramona motioned for Agnes to pull forward.

Agnes drove right up to the sign at the curbside that said, “Elders’ Entrance.” As soon as she stopped, the kid in the red blazer had the door open. She recognized him as Maisie’s nephew who had visited the lab once for a school project.

“Hey, Mr. Chairman,” he said to Ike, even though Ike had been out of office for years. “Hi Ramona,” he called. He released Ramona’s seatbelt and helped her out of the van.

Ramona tapped the kid’s blazer with the back of her hand. “You look good.” She gave Agnes an expectant look. “You coming?”

“Too much work to do,” Agnes said with feigned brightness.

By now the kid had come around to Agnes’ door and offered her a hand. “Come on, you know what they say: bingo is for lovers.”

Agnes wondered if she missed something when Ramona and Ike laughed.

“I really can’t,” she said. The electronic ching of the gaming machines drifted out the open door. Agnes couldn’t remember the last time she’d done anything for recreation.

“Come along now, young lady,” Ramona urged. “You need more time with the people.”

“Okay,” Agnes said, still not sure. The kid pushed the valet ticket into her hand. “Okay,” she said. “One game. Then I have to get back.”

She followed them inside and could hardly keep up as they crossed the casino floor to the bingo hall. At the admission window, both Ike and Ramona bought the Premium Level Dancing Feathers pack. Agnes balked at the price and used the last bills in her purse to buy the entry level Roaring Rivers pack instead.

Inside, the room was already three-quarters full but Maisie saw them come in and waved them over to her table.

“You too, eh?” she said to Agnes with approval. A little girl ran up to the table and grabbed a handful of Maisie’s blouse. “Grandma!” She offered up her bright face. Maisie leaned down until their foreheads touched, then the girl ran off again.

“Those kids love bingo,” Maisie said.

Ramona open her pack and spread the cards out on the table. Then she opened her bingo bag and pulled out a red dauber.

“Should I get one of those?” Agnes said.

Ramona shook her head and handed it over. “You use this one.”

“What about you?”

Ramona pulled out a plastic sack with eight more daubers each in a different color and arranged them in a semi-circle on the table. “These smell like flowers,” she said. “Try one.”

Agnes picked up a dauber and it did smell sweet but closer to grape punch than something you’d find in a flower garden. “It’s nice.” Agnes sniffed her red dauber and it smelled like sour ink.

Ramona set a Royal Salmon Casino mug that Agnes recognized from the office next to the daubers and then took out a photograph of her husband and a smooth black rock that looked a little bit like a heart.

“What’s that?” Agnes asked.

“For luck.” Finally, Ramona set out an ashtray that said Pendleton Round-Up 1972, a pack of Omaha cigarettes and a silver lighter with a chunk of turquoise on it. “Some of those places use computers for bingo. I like the cards.”

By this time Ike and his wife had shown up and they spread out their own array of daubers, theirs with pictures of cowboys and Indians, and good luck charms consisting of a wooden buffalo nickel and a troll doll with wild green hair.

“We need coffee.” Ike sat up and searched the room.

Maisie whistled and a bored and unsmiling Indian boy approached the table. “Here’s our runner,” she said. “This is my grandson, Junior. Say hello to the former Chairman.”

Junior shook Ike’s hand. “Nice to see you, sir.”

“Bring us some coffee.” Maisie tossed him a twenty from a beaded coin purse she wore around her neck. “I see the bingo caller, looks like we’re getting started.”

Ramona patted Agnes’ arm and showed her which card to use. “Do one card so you can keep up.”

Agnes bristled at the instruction. She had degrees in physics and history and had invented a time viewer on the world’s smallest budget. “I’m sure I can keep up.”

The blower blew a single ball into a tube and the caller began. Agnes was still searching her card when he called the next number.

Agnes quickly forgot her intention to stay for one game. Over the next several hours she struggled to keep up with the elders. They all had cigarettes hanging out of their mouths and double-fisted the daubers, periodically leaning over and hitting Agnes’ cards with dots without missing a beat in the conversation.

Ramona won $400 and grinned across the table. “This is how I make my pocket money.”

During intermission Junior brought them sodas and hamburgers. While they ate the bingo caller made announcements about bingo events scheduled over the next month.

Then he said, “We have no other events scheduled at this time. Tribal Council is considering closing the bingo hall to make room for casino improvements.”

Unhappy cries filled the room.

“You were serious,” Agnes said to Maisie. “That’s like canceling Christmas.”

“Or worse.” Maisie shrugged unhappily.

“You need to take your complaints to them,” the bingo caller said. “Not my idea.”

“What would you do without bingo?” Agnes asked.

“I don’t know,” Ramona said, shaking her head. “This is where my friends are.”

Agnes spent the rest of the weekend in a frenzy of preparations. Her biggest problem was her grand vision for the perfect demonstration. She’d always envisioned taking a group of Indian kids, parents and elders and presenting it in the way she imagined they’d use the device for tourists. The group would view iconic moments in Indian history and upon returning, enjoy a traditional feast and dancing.

Instead, she met the Board members at the front of the building with an electric cart she borrowed from the grocery store. Theo had rigged it so that one person could drive and one person could ride facing backwards. Agnes helped Ramona into this seat and showed Ike how to work the controls. Wilbur showed up and he nodded when Agnes said good morning. He wore a blue calico ribbon shirt and his big white beard fanned out over his chest.

Ike started the cart and crashed into the door frame. Ramona’s cane clattered to the floor.

“Watch it, you,” she said. Agnes handed her the cane and helped Ike steer inside.

“This place needs some paint,” Maisie said.

“This place needs a lot of things,” Agnes said. She guided the group to the elevator and took them to the lab entrance. She led them into the lab, a high-ceilinged room with gray walls. One half was filled with computers and narrow metal tables stacked with papers. Theo typed into a keyboard attached to the device which took up one wall. Agnes liked to describe it as a giant computer fused to a radiator. The other side of the room was clear except for a circular gray rubber mat and four plastic chairs.

“Don’t look like much,” Ramona said.

“I know. But I think I can show you how important this is.” Agnes pointed at the mat. “We sit right there.”

She helped Ramona from the cart and got everyone seated. Agnes crowded in behind them.

“You need to make this thing bigger,” Ike said.

“That’s the plan, Ike. Remember? This is just for demonstration.”

“I thought it would look more like a car,” Ramona said. “Like the movie, and we put it in reverse to go back in time.”

“Sorry,” Agnes said, her hopes for success beginning to fade. “It doesn’t work like that.”

“How does it work?” Ramona asked.

Agnes tried to think of the best way to put it. She finally said, “I press this button and there’s a bright light and fuzzy noise and then we’ll be looking through a window into another place in time.”

“We end up any old place?” Maisie asked.

“No, I input the data to choose a place and time.” She showed them the handheld portion of the device. These dials can control certain variables and the button engages the machine.”

“Could I press it?” Ike turned in the chair and stretched his hand out to the control.

Agnes lifted it out of his reach. “Not this time. Are you ready?”

Ramona pulled her cane closer to her body and nodded. Agnes twisted the twin dials that pinpointed the day and time, then adjusted the environmental control switches and finally, moved the center wand which looked like a joystick and would place them in the right spot. She nodded at Theo. He flipped several switches and jiggled a thin gray cable that attached the device to the wall. They had programmed the device earlier but Agnes thought a little theater might be good for the Board.

“We’re going to go . . . five, four, three, two, one.”

The room trembled and disappeared with a buzz and a flash of silver light.

Agnes’ favorite part was how the new time location gradually came into focus. First, the pale beige lumps sharpening into distant low brown hills. Then just enough of a grass scented breeze to stir their hair as the fishing camp became visible. Finally, something that Agnes called time dust faded and the scene came into view. Agnes had found the perfect moment and the flap of the tule-mat teepee snapped open and a woman emerged with a small child close behind. She crossed the dirt and tended the fish on the drying racks.

“Hello!” Ramona called, waving with great enthusiasm.

Ike pushed her arm down, “Stop. We can’t upset them.”

“It’s okay,” Agnes said. “They can’t see.”

“When is this?” Maisie whispered.

“You don’t have to whisper,” Agnes said. “It’s 1800, about 150 years before the dam was built.”

“Oh. My.” Ramona sat forward in her chair. This sort of reaction was exactly what Agnes hoped for.

“We’re the first modern Indians to see what life was really like before contact,” Agnes said.

The vision continued to intensify and the breeze flared up and brought the stench of rotting fish. Maisie put a hand over her mouth and sagged in the chair. “You didn’t say it would stink.”

Agnes adjusted the environmental controls and made a mental note to take the scent down a notch before visiting this spot. For herself, she enjoyed the historical realism.

Agnes wanted to focus the demonstration on pre-contact Indian scenes but Theo convinced her she needed to go big and flashy. She reset the controls and moved the group to a seat at the Gettysburg Address, which got barely a dull nod. She let that scene fade out and they rode through a blue mist that gradually cleared until they were overlooking the field at Superbowl XXIX. She knew Ike was a diehard 49ers fan.

“You can do this?” Ike bounced up and down like a kid.

From there Agnes took them to a fireworks display over the Eiffel tower from the early 1900s. The event had no substantial historical importance, but it was a nice show and all four Board members applauded when it was over.

Agnes returned to the undeveloped landscape of what would someday become Oregon.

“What do you think so far?”

“This is a great machine you made,” Ike said.

“You bet,” Maisie said. “I didn’t know you could do all that.”

“Can you see why this is so important?” Agnes watched their faces hopefully. They all nodded, too overcome to speak.

“Good. I’ve saved the best for last.” She adjusted the controller. Once again the view faded and they moved. This time, the roar of the falls vibrated under the viewing mat before they could see the wall of cascading white water that burst over a half-circle of huge basalt boulders. The breeze carried a cool mist with it. The blue water of the river stretched out into the far distance.

Ike raised his hand and Agnes touched a dial to adjust the sound.

“Oh, Celilo Falls.” Ramona held her face in her hands, her eyes wide. “My father fished right there.”

A number of wooden platforms extended from the rocks and as they watched, a trio of Indians arrived with nets on circular hoops that looked large enough to scoop cattle.

“Dip nets,” Maisie said. “My grandkids would love this.”

The men dunked the nets in and out of the roiling pool. They couldn’t speak over the roar of the water but they exchanged hand signals and laughed. One of nets came out of the water with a thrashing fish and the fisherman swung it up on the rocks. Another one bashed it with a wooden club. The salmon measured from the ground to the man’s chest when he held it up and it looked like he was showing it off for them.

“Look at that thing,” Wilbur said. The other three Board members turned to stare at the uncharacteristic outburst.

Agnes gazed at the landscape. She could never get enough of these pristine views. She didn’t notice a problem until Ike touched her wrist. Ramona’s rounded shoulders shook and she waved her hands at the falls as if to shoo away a dog.

“Take us back.” Ike had his arm around Ramona but Agnes couldn’t hear what he said to her.

Agnes clicked the controller and in a flash, the falls disappeared and they were back in the lab. Theo sat at the console eating something that looked like chili out of a paper cup. He tossed it in the trash but not before Agnes gave him the stink eye.

“Back so soon?” he said.

Agnes gestured with her chin and he spotted Ramona, her head bowed with Ike and Maisie on either side, comforting her.

Theo gave Agnes a distressed look. “I’ll get some water?” She nodded and he slipped out.

“Why did you show us something so sad?” Maisie rubbed Ramona’s back, her face twisted with concern.

Agnes didn’t know what to say.

Ramona sat up. “We was there when they made that dam. The government promised us that fishing place and then gave my father $3000 and filled it up with water.”

“I know,” Agnes said. “Wasn’t it amazing to see it before it was destroyed?”

“He nailed that check to the wall. He didn’t want their money.” Tears ran down Ramona’s cheeks and she pulled a rumpled tissue from her sleeve.

Agnes tried to think of something that might comfort her. “Can you see how important it is for people to see what’s been lost?”

“On the last day he threw his net in the water and he never went back there. When he died my mother had to cash the check to pay for his funeral.”

“That’s terrible,” Agnes said.

“We gotta go back and stop it,” Ramona said.

“But we can’t change the past.” Agnes knelt next to Ramona’s chair and took her hand. Theo had returned and she handed Ramona a cup of water. “The time viewer can only show us what’s already happened.”

“We could go back and kill those guys, Lewis and Clark,” Ike said.

“What we can do is make sure history teaches the truth,” Agnes said. “Even if we could change it, the world would be altered in ways we can’t predict—”

“So?” The four board members gave her a serious look.

“We need to form a committee,” Maisie said. “Come up with some plans. We can stop it.”

“Write this down.” Ramona wagged a finger at her.

“I need you to understand what is possible,” Agnes said.

“Hush now,” Maisie said. “We’re going to get you your money. You work on this like we tell you.”

Agnes pulled out a notepad and wrote down their requests. When they were done, Ike drove Ramona on the cart and Agnes followed them to the parking lot.

“This is a nice cart,” Ramona said. “You coming to bingo?”

“Not today,” Agnes said. “But I’d like to come again.”

“You should.” Ramona reached up and patted her arm. “That’s where the people are.”

“I will,” Agnes promised.

Later in her office, Agnes spread out the notes on her desk. They wanted to build walls and send back guns and smallpox vaccinations. They wanted to prepare the ancestors with military training, agricultural advice and advanced medicine. Agnes rested her head in her hands. They’d been so sure of her.

She pulled out a clean sheet of paper and wrote “Form Committee.” Then she started her list: get on Council meeting agenda, interview elders, collect data on elder services and participation, organize demonstration. At the top she wrote: Save Bingo.

Copyright 2021 Pamela Rentz, contact pam (at)