Author : Gray Blix, Featured Writer [ bio ]

She released her grip on the yoke of her De Havilland, and the pain in her hands eased. Even with a quarter century of experience flying to remote locations in Alaska, no medical emergency could compel her to try a night landing on a pitch black lake. Yet she had often done so for this native village, when called by the Water Shamans, who took control of her floatplane and skillfully landed it, as they did this night, no matter the darkness or conditions in the air or on the water’s surface.

She imagined them focusing their minds to take telekinetic control, or beaming a force field from their alien craft submerged below. She assumed it must be there, since they were said to have emerged from the water generations ago after an explosion that left the lake glowing green and fish floating dead. Some systems onboard must be functioning, since the aliens were often seen returning to the waters and re-emerging days later. She had never seen them, however, so she had only the occasional irresistible need to fly to a village that appeared on no map and the spooky remote control night landings as evidence that they were more than superstitious tales of this lost tribe.

A dozen villagers awaited her on the shore, warmed by a fire that illuminated a huge totem pole which told the story of the Water Shamans. As always, they gave her hugs and escorted her to the largest structure in the village, where she was to perform surgery. Upon entering she saw a man lying on a table she’d had them fashion from halved logs, surrounded by three women she’d trained to assist her. As always, there were no Water Shamans present.

Villagers had told her the Water Shamans could cure any health condition, no matter how serious, but early experiences exposing the aliens to the sight of blood had turned out badly. Something uncontrollable within them was triggered. The totem showed a Water Shaman consuming a human.

Quickly examining the patient, she confirmed the diagnosis planted in her mind earlier that evening: acute appendicitis. The organ would have to be removed immediately. An assistant administered a local anesthetic while another helped her glove, gown, and mask. But instead of beginning surgery, she paused to think about her worsening arthritis, which would make delicate movement of her hands impossible before long, and would cause her to lose her pilot’s license, and would condemn her to retirement before her time. She was trying to communicate with the Water Shamans, to bargain with them. They cared for the people in this village. Her medical skills had saved many over the years and could save another tonight. For their sake and for hers, she needed help with her own medical problem.

She imagined them curing her arthritis and herself performing the appendectomy. She didn’t know if they were monitoring her thoughts, or if they could cure her arthritis, or if they could understand the bargain she proposed, or if they would allow themselves to be coerced into healing a non-resident of the village. She only knew that for the first time she needed the Water Shamans as much as they needed her.

A sensation of warmth coursed through her body and she staggered momentarily. One of her assistants gasped and mopped beads of sweat from her brow. She regained her balance and realized she was pain-free. Cutting into her patient with a sure stroke, she smiled. I am the one human the Water Shamans respect as an equal, she thought. Until later, when she got a look at herself in a mirror.

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