Muleskinner Blues
Chapter 13

Copyright© 2022 by Joe J

Posted: July 22, 2011 - 01:45:31 pm

“I know you think we are very unusual, Jeremiah, and in the context of what you know as normal, you are correct about us. That works both ways though, because things here are not only strange and different to us, but they are dangerous and frightening as well. If anyone else had found us besides you, I don’t think we’d have made it two days here. It was an unbelievable stroke of providence that you came up the road when you did. I cannot believe how naïve we were, thinking that our advanced knowledge and equipment would keep us out of harms way in an environment as hostile as this.”

I had not thought of things quite that way, but I could see her point immediately. I could see everything being scary to them, given the peaceful portrait she painted of her home. Sonja took the pipe from me and sucked in a big lungful of smoke before passing it to Helena. She held the smoke inside for a long count, then exhaled with a sigh.

“So anyway, Jeremiah, it is obvious that we owe our lives to you, but also, we feel more alive because of you. In only a few days, you have stood everything we have ever been taught about men on its ear.”

The other women nodded their agreement, but I did not say anything.

“How we feel about you makes what I have to say next difficult, because it could send you running back home.”

Sonja sighed, took a deep breath and continued.

“Jeremiah, it’s not where we are from that makes us unusual, it is when we are from. Oh, we are from California all right, but when we left Paradise Valley, it was the year 2523. Our trip is the end result of almost fifty years of concerted effort by the scientist at Paradise University. Hawkingium is the material that makes time travel possible, so this first trip was to recover enough to fuel more important trips planned for the future. The four of us who made the trip were the winners of a lottery among five hundred very skilled and competent volunteers. I was appointed the nominal leader of the group.”

Sonja stopped her narrative and all three women looked at me with bated breath. I sat silently for a few moments, as I tried to grasp what Sonja said. The concept of them being from the distant future actually did not bother me. I prided myself for being a progressive man, even if my choice of professions did not show it. I knew that scientific and inventive men were moving the world forward at an amazing pace. Who knows what wonders they would come up with, given over five hundred years to do it? Besides, it was the most reasonable explanation for all the strangeness associated with Sonja and her party. I made my decision to believe what Sonja was saying. In addition, heading off into the unknown (at least for me) future appealed to my itchy feet.

“When do we leave?” I asked.

My answer must have been what the women wanted to hear, because all three of them whooped and swarmed on top of me hard enough to tip my camp chair over backwards. I landed flat on my back on the soft sand of the small cavern’s floor, as three happy women piled on top of me. I received some seriously applied kisses before they let me up and helped me back into my chair. When we were all seated again, I had a question.

“I cannot imagine what sort of problem you could be having that you think a muleskinner could fix, Sonja, so why don’t you tell me about it?”

Sonja turned serious again and nodded her head.

“I need to give you a short history lesson before I tell you that, so you’ll understand why we need you. The world has changed drastically between your time and ours, Jeremiah. Yet, we live in my time not that differently from the way you live here now. That is especially true out in our rural areas. That wasn’t true of our ancestors from the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Our historians call that time the “Golden Age.” During the time between right now and 2025, most of the science that is in existence in our time was discovered. Transportation reached the point that anywhere on the earth was accessible in a matter of hours, while medical advances cured most of the chronic diseases and mitigated the effects of others. Devices were invented that made Communications instantaneous. In general, most of the people on earth lived in prosperity that is hard to imagine.

“Unfortunately, that prosperity required massive amounts of natural resources to maintain, and control over those resources became a contentious issue that led to numerous small wars. At the same time, religious zealots of all sorts were busy turning their followers against anyone not of their religion. While all this was happening, the Earth’s climate started to change and geological activity increased to record levels. One natural disaster followed another. Volcanoes erupted and powerful cyclones beyond anything ever witnessed battered coastal areas. Massive earthquakes destroyed major cities and decimated the landscape of rural areas, while gigantic winter storms brought entire continents to a stand still. Droughts that lasted for decades struck some regions, while endless rainfall flooded others.

“Religious fanatics on every side blamed the natural disasters on each other, while governments did the same. The cycle continued unabated for ten years. By then, every country in the world was at war. In 2152, the end of the Golden Age civilization came when some fanatical religious group exploded a high yield nuclear bomb in Washington, DC.”

Sonja saw my confused look and explained further.

“A nuclear bomb is a weapon of unimaginable power. The one exploded in Washington destroyed the entire city and made an area twenty miles around it uninhabitable. The remnants of the US government retaliated by using nuclear weapons on the three largest cities of the country that was the home of the group claiming responsibility for bombing Washington. Once nuclear weapons were unleashed, every country that possessed the weapon used them on their enemies. Within a week, every major city in the world was destroyed. One of the aftereffects of the Nuclear World War, was a twenty-five year mini-ice age that — with the continuing natural disasters — eradicated most of the human population that survived the war. By the dawning of the twenty-third Century, the population of the world was about one percent of what it had been at the start of the twenty-first.

“The twenty-third and part of the twenty-fourth centuries were the darkest times imaginable, as the human race barely avoided becoming as extinct as the dinosaur. Pockets of survivors hung on though, and by 2350, civilization started to recover. Human civilization survived, but it was scattered across the earth in isolated pockets, with vast tracks of poisoned and uninhabitable lands between them. Slowly, gradually, the pockets of humanity began to communicate with each other, using cobbled-together equipment salvaged from the golden scientific era. Many of the communities that survived were small college towns away from major population centers. The earth had been stripped of its natural resources, but the ability to do research still existed, and there were literally mountains of machines and equipment that could be salvaged. As a matter of fact, salvage is still the biggest industry of our time.

“For the first decade or so, the far flung communities traded survival strategies, and by the year 2360, the population was stable, and for the first time in two centuries actually started to grow. When it appeared that mankind would survive, the philosophical debates began about how to prevent what the earth had barely survived, from happening again. It took a much shorter time for our ancestors to determine that the belligerent, malecentric society that had ruled the earth for thousands of years, was the root cause of the apocalypse. It took twenty more years to perfect the solution. Around 2380, an altered gene was introduced into the first male. By the turn of the twenty-fifth Century, every male born had the modified gene.”

Coleen cut into the conversation just then, due to my confused expression, and clarified my unasked question.

“Genes are the part of your body’s structure that determines physical traits. Your genes are inherited from your parents. For instance, genes are responsible for your hair being the color it is and for the resemblance you have to your mother or father. Genetic research is one area where we have surpassed the science of the Golden Age. Genetic alteration is commonplace, now. As a matter of fact, Helena, Sonja and I are all genetically altered, mostly to make us healthier and stronger, but also to reflect our parents’ heritage.”

I nodded my understanding of the general concept of what she was saying, even though I did not have a clue as to how something like that was possible. Helena saw my look and said, “Don’t worry about things you don’t understand yet, Jeremiah. A writer named Clarke from the Golden Age once said ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’ Once you’ve spent some time with us, you will see that what appears to be incomprehensible is really just the result of years of hard work.”

Of all the things the women had told me, that one sentence gave me the most hope as far as understanding anything about their world. I gave her a smile and looked back at Sonja so she could continue my history lesson. Sonja resumed her narrative.

“The population of Earth in our time is mostly divided into city-states not unlike Ancient Greece. Natural barriers like mountains and oceans combined with the vast man-made dead lands still separate us. There is much interaction between the city-states around the world, but most of it is electronic communications, using machines like the one you saw us using up on the mountain. The open sharing of discoveries, science and ideas has vastly improved the lives of us all. One common goal unites the vast majority of our new civilization, and that is the desire to live in peace and never repeat the mistakes of our ancestors. Unfortunately, there are now groups of humans outside that vast majority. These people live on the fringes of the dead lands and are mostly social outcasts or petty criminals that have been banished from the city of their birth. Those people have banded together in nomadic clans that live off the land.

“One of those groups of outcasts lives in the mountains outside Paradise Valley. That group has moved from being a nuisance to actually being a threat to us because of their leader, a woman who has proclaimed herself Queen Elizabeth the Seventh. Her real name is Elizabeth Celt Smith, and she was once a history professor at Paradise University. For some reason, she walked out of the valley one day and started organizing the outcasts. Elizabeth is a brilliant, charismatic, and cruel megalomaniac. Her stated intention is to conquer the world and restore the English Monarchy. Elizabeth says her claim to the throne of Great Britain was legitimate, because she was a descendent of Queen Elizabeth the Second, and the sole surviving member of the House of Windsor.

“Elizabeth has managed to bring together three of the outcast clans. She only has about four thousand followers now, but she gains more converts daily. Her ‘nation’ is small, but it is made up of ruthless and amoral people who have no compulsion about committing atrocities in the name of their Queen. For the first time in over two hundred years, Paradise Valley has had to organize a defensive force. I think we are in serious trouble, because we do not have the skill or mindset needed to deal with Elizabeth and her rabble. You do, though! Watching you deal with those savage Indians proved that.”

 
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