The White Fantastic
In which Dodger meets some very special ladies
The other natives made no move to join them. Critchlow looked as though he were only just holding himself back.
“Why the lack of entourage?” Dodger asked, glancing back at the waiting men.
“The chief asked for you to see them alone, at first,” Jones said. “He will join you when you deem it safe.”
“They must be worried about the possible blast zone,” the doc said. “There is no sense endangering everyone.”
Jones led the pair across the open space, the surrounding crowd falling eerily silent as the three men approached the tent. Dodger scanned the crowd, glad to find only the faces of excited—and as far as he could tell, unarmed—natives. Once they arrived, Jones held the tent flap for the doc, motioning him inside. Dodger fell in line behind the professor, ducking into the teepee.
“Please hurry,” Jones said, then closed the flap, leaving the doc and Dodger alone to deal with the explosives.
“I guess it’s just us, then,” the doc said.
In the middle of the huge tent, there sat a pit filled with sweet grass. Around the pit stood the three buffalo in question, feeding on the grass, and yes, they were every bit as fantastic as Jones had said they would be. Dodger had seen the mysterious white buffalo only once before. He remembered the animal as being more of an off-white, a sort of beige rather than a full snowy white. The beasts before him now were an almost blinding white, from head to hoof. They stood around the pit, facing one another, swaying in their stances while a soft chewing sound filled the tent. The moment the doc and Dodger approached the animals, they turned as one to face the oncoming humans. Dodger nearly gasped at the cobalt blue eyes each of the sisters sported. Now he understood why the tribe was so entranced. The white buffalo sisters were indeed the most beautiful creatures he had ever seen.
Even more beautiful than a certain wolf he knew.
“Hello,” the doc said. “Aren’t you just lovely? Oh my, my, my. I don’t know how he did it, but you are something to behold. I mean, Rex might have grown you in a vat of belly-button fluff for all I know, but he did an excellent job of it. You are gorgeous. Aren’t you?”
The buffalo nodded together.
Dodger almost laughed aloud at the unusually human response.
“I am here to help you,” the doc said. He pulled one of the Boxes from his bag. “May I fit you with these? I promise it will be painless, and when I am done, we should be able to communicate with ease. Yes?”
The bison nodded together again. Dodger wanted to believe they were just dipping their heads in unison by some strange coincidence. But deep down, he knew better. These animals understood the doc’s words, with or without the SCWAK Box.
“Let’s get them fitted, shall we?” the doc asked.
Dodger took the doc’s lead, following his every command in setting up the equipment. It was light work, and lighthearted, as the professor took great joy in all he did. The task also reminded Dodger of long-gone days, when he and his father used to … but no. Those days were not only long gone, they were buried under six feet of ash and dirt. Dodger pushed the memory away as he helped the doc fit the last white buffalo with a speech box.
“All right, then,” the doc said. “Let’s see if they still work.” The doc rounded the animals, flipping a small switch on the side of each SCWAK Box as he did. Once the mechanisms were all turned on, the doc stepped back to asses his work. “Hello there? Can you hear me? I am Professor-”
“Dittmeyer,” a feminine voice said.
“You must be Rodger Dodger,” a slightly higher-pitched voice said.
“Welcome,” a third female voice said. “We’ve been waiting for you.”
It was an odd experience to hear the animals speak while watching them. The bison continued grazing on the grass provided—either that or chewing cud—while at the same time, the Boxes provided clear and steady words.
“How should we address you?” the doc asked.
“You may call us the Sisters,” the first buffalo said. “As the natives do. As for our separate names, I am Clotho.”
“I am Lachesis,” the second said.
“And I am Atropos,” the third said.
The doc gave a gasp of surprise and blinked a few times.
Trust Rex to name the Sisters the after the three Fates of Greek mythology.
“Thank you for joining us,” Clotho said. “We have much to discuss and so little time.”
“Yes,” the doc said. “I heard about your potentially explosive problem. I might be able to help you out there.”
“You cannot help us,” Atropos said.
“Things are not as they seem,” Lachesis said.
The doc grunted and thought about it a moment. “May I please inspect the collars?”
“Yes,” Atropos said. “But hurry.”
“Time is fleeting,” Lachesis said.
“We are not long for this world,” Clotho said.
“I worried as much,” the doc said.
“Doc?” Dodger asked. “You know something you wanna share?”
“Give me a moment.” The doc went over the collars, reading each in turn. Upon viewing the last one, he frowned deeply and shook his head. “This is just terrible.”
“Doc?” Dodger asked again.
“Read it for yourself.” The doc motioned to the last collar, the one around Atropos.
Dodger stepped up and read the thing aloud. “Come three sunsets, the Sisters will expire.” Dodger glanced to the doc.
“Remember Thaddeus and his men? How they suffered from unstable genetics? I am afraid these young ladies are in the same pickle.”
“You mean they are gonna …” Dodger let the idea trail off, because he didn’t really have a word for falling apart at the seams and turning to goop.
“Fortunately, the devices aren’t counting down to a grand explosive finale. Unfortunately, they are counting down to the end of the Sisters’ life cycle. It seems our mutual acquaintance believes he has pinpointed their expiration date, as it were.”
“Then those things aren’t armed with explosives?” Dodger asked.
“They are,” the doc said. “And I will guess that any attempt to remove the collars will result in a sizable explosion. But it shouldn’t provide more than a passing challenge. I don’t even know why he equipped them in the first place.”
“I imagine it’s Canis Rex’s idea of fun.” Dodger groaned when he realized what he had said.
The sisters looked to one another as the tent filled with the soft tinkle of feminine laughter.
“Canis Rex?” Lachesis asked. “Oh my, that is priceless.”
“We love a good sense of humor, Mr. Dodger,” Clotho said.
“But don’t concern yourself with that animal,” Atropos said.
“He may have bred us,” Clotho said.
“And raised us,” Lachesis added.
“Yet,” Atropos said, “we have no familial connection with him whatsoever. We are not here for his sake.”
“Then what are you here for?” the doc asked.
The Sisters turned their blue eyes to Dodger and said in an eerie unison, “We are here for you, Mr. Dodger.”
“Me?” Dodger asked. “What do you want with me?”
“It isn’t what we want,” Clotho said.
“It is what you need to do,” Lachesis said.
“What you will do,” Atropos said.
Dodger’s gut roiled at their words, a rising wave of nausea threatening to sweep over him.
As if able to sense Dodger’s thoughts, the doc asked, “Would you object to a full physical examination?”
“Not now, Doc,” Dodger said.
“No offense, Mr. Dodger, but I wasn’t talking to you. I was thinking I might be able to assist the Sisters in their current misfortunate state. Much in the manner I assisted the Pack.”
“You think you can?”
“I suppose there is every chance. But I will need to examine the ladies first. Do you mind?”
“We don’t mind, Professor,” the bison said together.
The doc approached Clotho and began running his hands across her back and sides. “Well, well, well. You are a very healthy specimen, all things considered.”
“Thank you,” she said, giggling at his touch.
“I hate to keep harping on about it,” Dodger said. “But what is it you think I am supposed to do?”
“You already know,” Clotho said.
“Rex has already warned the tribe of your intentions,” Lachesis said.
No. Not that. Anything but. Dodger shook his head, refusing their prediction. “I’m not here to take their machine from them. I have no intention of doing anything of the sort.”
“Yes, you will,” Atropos said.
“When you understand as we understand,” Lachesis said.
“When you understand as the outsider already understands,” Clotho said.
“Outsider?” Dodger asked. “You mean Critchlow? What has he got to do with …” Dodger paused as he remembered what Jones said earlier that morning.
He warned us against you, Mr. Dodger. He said you were from the government and would arrive soon to take the ICE machine away from us.
“Critchlow is with the government,” Dodger whispered.
“What was that?” the doc asked from his place amidst the ladies.
“I need to talk to him about this, don’t I?” Dodger asked.
“Go,” Clotho said.
“Speak with the outsider,” Lacheisis said.
“Return when you are done,” Atropos said.
Dodger massaged his temples. It was as nerve-wracking as talking to the mystic, only in triple time.
“I suggest you do as they ask,” the doc said. “I’ll be a little while here. Oh, and will you have Ched bring me my medical bag? I am going to need some equipment after all. If that is acceptable to you ladies, of course?”
“Of course,” they said.
Dodger left the doc with the giggling bison, wondering what in the world they thought would possess him to want to rob these fine folks of their only means of support.