Muleskinner Blues
Chapter 16

Copyright© 2022 by Joe J

I woke up at daybreak the next morning with a head full of thoughts and questions. I jumped out of bed smiling, eager to face the day. One thing was certain: it would not be a boring repetition of the day before. I donned the black outfit and headed for the privy as nature was urgently calling me. While I was in the bathroom, I scraped off what little beard I had and brushed my teeth with the modern dental care items Coleen procured for me. Cleanliness and personal hygiene were certainly much simpler tasks here in the future.

When I walked out of the bath Tonya almost knocked me down rushing into it.

“Don’t ever hog the John first thing in the morning, Jeremiah,” she admonished.

It was advice that I took to heart from that day forward.

Breakfast consisted of oatmeal with raisins, sweetened with honey. There was no meat or bread, and most horrible of all, no coffee. Except for the chilled orange juice, I would have been no worse off going outside and eating dirt.

Sonja, Coleen and Helena arrived just as I was finishing my second bowl of porridge. While we were sitting at the table drinking weak hot tea, the women finally answered all my questions about the men of this time. Here is what they told me as best I can remember their words.

By the year 2425, altered males were firmly established and the positive results of the genetic changes started to bear fruit. Stripped of their base desires and aggressiveness, men worked long and hard to pull the human race back from the brink of extinction. One consequence in the radical change in male behavior was a shift towards a female-centered society as men started moving away from their so called traditional roles. Men, devoted towards the betterment of mankind, moved into the sciences and education. Women took over the responsibility for the practical matters men could not be bothered with. Men began calling themselves Homo Liberatus, (Liberated Man). A second consequence of the genetic altering was fewer male births, but longer male life expectancies. One in three children born was male, and men made up forty percent of the population.

The single-mindedness of the men toward science and academics led to the passing of a law that required men to perform some sort of public service for at least sixteen hours a week. The law also mandated social interaction at least two times a week in a non-work related setting. Public service was the reason Isaac and the rest of the Pecos Posse formed their band. Music was not fun for them, but it allowed them to fulfill both obligations at once. Going to the dance hall also had an entirely different meaning for the males there last night than it had for the women. The women were there for fun, the men because they were required to go.

The women did not dispute my observation that their men-folk were in effect monks, withdrawn from society and thinking themselves morally and intellectually superior to women. I was horrified at the picture the women painted. And I was astounded that they were apparently blind to what their manipulation of the basic nature of man had created. Even a backwoods muleskinner could see that their society was doomed to extinction, the very thing they thought they were preventing. Sonja stunned me with her explanation of their acceptance of men’s conduct.

“Jeremiah, for the last seventy-five years, men have actively worked at making us extinct or at least to make us not exist as we are now. They are doing that with the full backing of us women. That is the purpose of the time travel research and the reason we needed more Hawkingium. We are sending teams back in time to critical nexuses in history, to nudge it on a path different from the one taken. The creation of the apparatus to take people back is only a first step, and was probably the easiest to accomplish, because it was straight science. The difficult job is identifying critical events and how to change there outcome. Every viable city-state on Earth is involved in the project, yet we seem to be decades away from a solution.”

It was an amazing and audacious plan they had devised. As they explained how they thought subtle changes at certain critical junctures could cause the future to be much different, I was surprised that Tonya used an example from the Civil War.

“Suppose that Stonewall Jackson hadn’t been killed at Chancellorsville? Can you see how that might have changed the course of the war?”

I saw that immediately, of course, because it had been a sad day for the Confederacy when we lost General Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson. Having him at the Battle of Gettysburg might have changed the outcome of that ghastly defeat, and preserved the Confederacy.

From that point, the conversation became esoteric to the point of giving me a headache, but the gist of it boiled down to what Sonja called the paradox of time. Sonja’s explanation caused the hackles on my neck to stand stiff.

“The difficulty we are facing, Jeremiah, is the theory that a small change at one point in history will cause a ripple effect, based on everything that might be related to the person or event we change. For instance, suppose I went back in time and changed an event in history and it had an indirect effect on one of my ancestors. The result of that ripple might be that I was never born. And if I was never born, how could I go back and change anything?”

The conversation made me dizzy with all its convoluted machinations. However, I did understand the enormity of what these future men were attempting, and I gained a new respect for them for their dedication. Still, I could not help but think they were taking the absolutely wrong approach. To my mind, it would be much better if they made the world a utopia by working on the future, instead of the past.

We walked out of the apartment building at fifteen minutes before nine in the morning. Our destination was the building in which we had arrived from my time. Was that only yesterday? While we were walking, Sonja was carrying on some sort of cryptic conversation on the small device they called a vid-com. Sonja’s end of the conversation was mostly a series of yes or no answers, interspersed with an occasional, “I understand.” Finally, she flipped the device shut and filled us all in.

“The Pleiad has invoked the ‘exception of 72’ so they can avoid announcing Jeremiah’s presence for a couple of days. They need time to figure out how he might best help us before telling everyone he’s here,” she said somberly.

The other women stopped and looked at her in surprise. Me? Why I wore my usual expression of total bafflement. Sonja saw my confusion and gave me a smile.

“The ‘exception of 72’ is a clause in our Constitution that allows the Pleiad to keep something secret from the public for three days. When they announce whatever they’ve been concealing and the reason they hid it, the citizens vote whether to keep the councilors or dismiss them. The ‘exception of 72’ has only been invoked twice in our history.”

I asked what I thought was an obvious question.

“Why are they doing that? I mean at least twenty or thirty people know I’m here, so how can they keep it a secret?”

Coleen had the answer to that.

“Everyone working on the time project is required to keep silent until the Pleiad makes an announcement. That’s the way the project was set up at its inception, and it has been that way for fifty years.”

Mention of the project raised yet another question.

“So if the Pleiad has to reveal everything to the public, why isn’t the fact that you all left to visit my time common knowledge?” I asked.

I was stunned by Helena’s answer.

“Because we were only gone less than a nano-second in our time, Honey. Time on the up-stream side does not move, no matter how long you are gone. That’s why we had to leave your time exactly when we did. Our departure time and location had to be precisely calibrated in order to return us right back to when and where we started. Working out the formula for computing synchronization times and locations is what took fifty years to accomplish. Building the actual apparatus only took a few months.

“The Pleiad’s exception order includes everything that happened from 1030 hours yesterday through 1029 hours day after tomorrow.”

Wouldn’t you know that after all the talk about the idiosyncrasies of the future man, my first appointment of the day was with Isaac from the Pecos Posse.

Isaac managed to get my goat in fewer than thirty seconds when he said, “It would be best if you called me Doctor Feldman, Jeremiah, so that we can establish the proper doctor/patient relationship.”

“Fine by me Doctor Feldman, as long as you remember I am Mister Brock,” I replied icily.

Doctor Feldman did not make me better disposed towards him when he gave me some written tests that took me almost three hours to complete. The first test of one hundred questions asked things of a nature that you would answer in school. I have to admit that test was sort of fun. The second, and much longer test, asked basically the same dozen questions asked about a thousand different ways. I might have been a backwoods muleskinner, but it was still clear to me what the test measured: to whit, how a person would react to some unpleasant situations. After the first series of the questions, I started marking the answer exactly opposite of how I actually felt. That made the whole exercise almost better.

Old Isaac ... I mean Doctor Feldman ... collected the tests from me and passed them on to one of his student flunkies for grading. When the serious looking young man had departed, Feldman started asking me questions about my life and my family. Feldman seemed fascinated about my recollects, and asked me some extremely personal questions. I took a page from the book of JC Colbert, and told him some outrageous hogwash. Feldman was as disappointed as I was relieved, when Tonya came in and collected me for lunch.

“We’ll finish our discussion tomorrow, Mister Brock, and go over your test results,” Feldman gushed.

I grunted noncommittally, pigs would take to the air in flight before I came into that room again under my own power.

Tonya escorted me to a community dining room, where Sonja, Coleen, Helena and Sarah Hunnicut, the doctor from yesterday, were sitting at a table large enough for ten or twelve people. As we walked towards the table, Tonya whispered in my ear.

“Coleen wants you to pay plenty of attention to Sarah during lunch. She wants you to sit next to her and casually touch her as often as you can without being obvious about it.”

I shrugged in reply, “Okay, I guess.”

When we arrived at the table, the other women stood up and I gave them all, including a surprised Sarah, a big hug. While we were up, we all fell in line at a long shiny steel bar top. At the start of the bar, we picked up trays that we pushed along a small ledge. Spaced along the ledge were bowls and plates of food. The food items were labeled so I grabbed a few items I was comfortable with. I ended up with some greens, a bowl of navy bean soup, a plate of something called chicken in wine sauce and an apple. Oh yeah, and I grabbed a couple of flat breads slightly thicker than Mexican tortillas. I was hungry, so I sat down and dug right in.

It turned out to be extremely easy for me to pay attention to Sarah, because the food was so tasteless, it did not offer even the slightest distraction. The only part of the meal I enjoyed even a little was the bean soup, and that was because I put about a half a bottle of pepper sauce on it. The chicken dish was bland and rubbery. I took a couple of bites and pushed my plate away.

“This chicken does not do anything for me. I have a hankering for some dead mammal meat of the bovine persuasion, ladies, so what say I take you all out for a steak tonight?” I said.

What I thought was an excellent suggestion was met with silence and shrugged shoulders. Coleen answered for the bunch of them.

“We don’t eat meat of any type, Jeremiah. Raising animals for their flesh is a waste of resources. Why go to the trouble and expense, when we can replicate the flavor so easily, using tofu and soybean mash as a base? Even though we live in a fertile valley with plenty of water, raising enough of a variety of foods is a real challenge for us. And now that the outlands are unsettled, trade in food stuffs has dwindled down to practically nothing.

“Of course the health aspect of diet also plays a large role in our eating habits. A diet high in protein from red meats is very unhealthy. Today, for instance, your soup has twice the protein of an equal weight of meat, yet the beans are free of fat.”

I stared at Coleen for a few seconds, hoping she was joking. I mean, if she thought that the tasteless white clumps were a good imitation of chicken, she would pass out eating the real thing. I have to assume she was not joshing me, because she cracked nary a smile. The future, already suspect to me because of the chemical gelding of men, looked even bleaker when I considered life without beef and pork in it. But, wonder of wonders, the apple was juicy, crisp and delicious.

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