Muleskinner Blues
Chapter 17

Copyright© 2022 by Joe J

Even though the full Pleiad endorsed the Chairman’s agreement, the plan was far from “done and done.” One reason for that was the direct government participation of the citizenry. In addition, as is always the case with officers and politicians, nothing is ever as simple as it first sounds. For one thing, the Pleiad had to make my presence known to the citizens of Paradise Valley. Then they had to explain why they kept it a secret for two days, and finally, they had to stand for a vote of confidence. The big chief of the Pleiad handled that adroitly, by first announcing the successful testing of the time machine and the acquisition of the Hawkingium.

Next he slipped me into the picture by relating how I had assisted Sonja and her team and saved them from the Indian attack. That was pretty funny in itself, because the chairman’s name was Joseph Amerind Bearclaw. The chairman made it clear that my being there was beyond the Pleiad’s control, but they were inclined to utilize any special skills I had until they could send me packing back to 1869. With that in mind, he told the populace that I had offered my services in their vexing problem with the Outlanders, and the council had accepted. Details of that help were being worked out, even as he spoke.

The old boy didn’t lie for a second, because there were details aplenty. One of those details was a plebiscite for a warrant for one Miss Elizabeth Smith, (aka Queen Elizabeth the Seventh.) The warrant would be executed by a duly appointed officer of the court. The Pleiad Chairman neatly sidestepped having to put my name up for a citizen vote by recognizing my status from when I was Marshall of Cheyenne. The Pleiad simply enacted a reciprocal law enforcement agreement between the city/state of Paradise Valley California and the city of Cheyenne, Wyoming. They further resolved that the agreement would go before the citizens for a vote as soon as Cheyenne officials signed it also. These future men might be without ambition, but they sure were cunning.

The fine citizens of Paradise Valley, angry about the attack on the research farm, overwhelmingly backed the Pleiad. What amazed me was that the entire process of the explanation and vote took less than half a day. I had to wonder what these future folks had in mind for Queen Elizabeth’s punishment. I mean, as opposed as they were to violence, I couldn’t see them lynching her.

I did not hang around the council chambers waiting for results though, because I had an appointment with a dentist. Now I was no stranger to dentists, we had a very good one in Cheyenne that I had visited just last winter. The dentist of the future was not nearly as awe and fear inspiring as the Mediscan thing but she made Doc Wheatley in Cheyenne seem as backwards as an Indian medicine man. In only a couple of hours, Doctor Davis and her assistants had all my bad teeth tended to (she said I had two minor ‘cavities’), and my choppers were as pearly white as every one else’s here. They even did something to my teeth they said would prevent them from ever rotting. Most blessed of all, it was completely pain free as compared to the torture session old Doc Wheatley conducted.

From the dentist’s we went to the ‘cafeteria’ for another fake meat meal. The label on the plate said ‘Salisbury Steak’ and Sonja raved about the subtilely nuanced sauce with its hint of Burgundy. Trust me, it was shoe sole in nasty brown gravy. The only thing nice about the meal was the company, as Sarah Hunnicutt joined us again.

I found out Sarah was not there just for my wonderful company, when they led me straight back to Mediscan Unit Seven. I balked, dug in my heels and refused to enter the room again. I might as well have saved my breath, though, as Coleen sighed and turned to Tonya.

“If he doesn’t go in, stun him,” my no longer favorite doctor said.

I stood there with my mouth hanging open as Tonya jumped back out of my reach and whipped out the big stunner she had been issued.

“How big a jolt?” Tonya asked as she fiddled with a knob on the side of the thing.

Coleen shrugged and replied, “A triple dose of anesthesia didn’t put him under yesterday, so you better turn the juice way up.”

I threw up my hands in surrender, spun on my heels and walked through the door. I was not a happy man by the turn of events, and I guess it showed on my face. Coleen looked just as stubborn and angry as I felt.

“Don’t fight us on this, Jeremiah. You should know by now that we’d never do anything to harm you. Today you are going to receive an infusion of vaccines for a spectrum of diseases. Doctor Hunnicutt recreated the vaccines from our archives this morning. In six hours you will be immune to all the killing diseases of your time, from small pox to influenza. You’ll also be inoculated against some of our modern bugs, like mutated malaria and radiation plague.”

I nodded mutely and started shedding my clothes. I had to wonder why she had not offered the explanation first, instead of ordering me shot. Now I felt like an ass once again, both for not trusting them and for showing fear in the face of something I had already been through once. Coleen stopped me from disrobing farther once my shirt was off. She had me hop up onto the table and Sarah handed me a cup of some greenish, very sweet liquid to drink. When Sarah stepped back away from me, Coleen once again activated the ‘containment field’.

“Very good, Sweetie. We are delivering the vaccines to you in three different ways. You just took the oral component. Next, you are going to receive an intravenous dosing, followed by a misting that you will breathe in. Hold still, put your right hand on the table face up and turn your head to the left. You will feel a slight pin prick when the IV is inserted. Just relax, remember to take deep breaths and it will be over in five minutes,” Coleen lectured.

Well hell, it was over in fewer than five minutes and I felt even stupider for the fuss I raised. I pulled the stretchy black shirt over my head and followed them out. As soon as the door closed behind us as we exited the room, I started apologizing.

“I am very sorry, ladies, for acting so childishly. That room takes away my ability to think rationally. I think everything in there seems mysterious and sinister to me, because I cannot comprehend any of it.”

The women shrugged and all of them except Coleen said it was not a problem. Coleen though, stopped walking and turned to face me with a pained expression on her face.

“I should have thought of that, Jeremiah. I should have done more to make you comfortable in there. Instead I treated you as if you were one of my other patients. When we have some free time, I’ll explain all about our medical system, okay?”

I put my arm around her and squeezed.

“That would be great,” I said. “But I am still going to tan your pretty little butt for threatening me. And while I’m at it, I’m going to fix Miss Tonya’s wagon, too.”

The women all laughed as if I was joking. We would see about that. It was one thing to tease me. It was a horse of a different color to treat me with disrespect.

I was wondering what we were doing next, but I would be danged if I asked one of them. They’d had enough fun at my expense already today. I figured it out on my own anyway, when we turned down corridor G3. I had been taking note of the numbering system since yesterday, so I knew the Pleiad chambers were at the end of this hallway.

One of the Pleiad’s minions stopped us in the anteroom to prevent us from walking into the chambers. He pointed to a glowing red sign above the door that read ’On The Air’.

“The chairman is thanking the citizens for the vote of confidence. He’ll only be a few more minutes.”

Sure enough, ten minutes later, we were sitting at the long table again, as a beaming chairman Bearclaw explained the results of the voting.

“The vote was quick and decisive,” he gushed. “Over eighty percent of the citizens expressed confidence in our actions. The vote is slower on the warrant issue, but the percentage approving is about the same.”

As the chairman bubbled away, my nose detected the smell of coffee. I whipped my head around as a man and a woman rolled in a coffee and tea service along with a tray of pastries. The smell of coffee had me slobbering like a hungry dog in a butcher shop. As the beverages were being served, I noticed that most of the men opted for coffee, while all the women except Tonya had tea. The coffee was prepared and served in the Spanish way: very strong, in small cups and with plenty of cream and sugar. I took one of the bigger tea cups, poured in about a third of a cup of the coffee and filled it the rest of the way with hot water. I blew across the rim of the cup, took a sip and sighed in contentment.

A councilor sitting across from me raised his cup in my direction as if toasting me.

“Coffee is vexingly hard to grow here Mister Brock, even in our hothouses. Plus most women detest the stuff, so we seldom have it. Today, though, we drink it to celebrate the successful trip back to your time, the acquisition of the Hawkingium and today’s vote. I sincerely hope that in a week or so, we will be celebrating again when you bring in that Smith woman.”

After a few hearty ‘here – heres’, Bearclaw told me the plan.

“I think we have covered all your requirements Mister Brock. Tomorrow morning, we will transport you, your party and your supplies to a riding stable located mid-valley. The owner of the stables will provide you with whatever livestock you need. Besides Senior Agent Larson, how many security personnel will you require?”

I shot Tonya a look and shook my head.

“I don’t need anyone, including Miss Larson. I need the ability to move fast and with stealth. Even one person will slow me down and make movement harder.”

I could not voice my real objection which was that, based on my experiences with these people, they would be more hindrance than help if there was serious trouble.

The chairman’s eyebrows arched up and he leaned to his right to whisper something to the man sitting there. After an exchange or two of whispers, Bearclaw nodded and turned back to me.

“You going alone is unacceptable Mister Brock. You will at least need a guide familiar with the outlands. Agent Larson spent three years at one of the Fringe outposts providing security to caravans. She will be an asset to you. Administrator Ferren will also accompany you. She will be the council’s eyes and ears out there. If you change your mind about taking more personnel, inform Miss Ferren.”

It was still early afternoon when we finished with the Pleiad. I was fine with that though, because a nap sounded like a very good idea about then. The women cooperated with me for once, and let me catch a cat nap.

I woke up feeling much better about all that had happened that day. I shrugged off the experience in Medscan Seven and stopped worrying about the Pleiad forcing me to take Tonya and Sonja with me to the outlands. My good mood lasted until I sat down at the table and contemplated the meatless meal laid out in front of me. It looked as fancy as anything I’d ever seen, but it was as insubstantial as fog. I did not complain about the food though, because everyone else was eating the same thing.

Sonja had some news for me towards the end of the meal.

“Jeremiah, we put it off for as long as we could, but this evening, Coleen, Helena and I have a debriefing with the time project’s senior scientists. Will you be okay staying here with Tonya?”

I looked at Sonja with my poker face.

“If Coleen has not put her up to shooting me, I guess it will be all right.” I answered.

Tonya actually blushed and looked down at her plate, but Coleen’s jaw tightened in annoyance.

“We’ve been over that, Jeremiah. I’m your doctor, for goodness sake, you know I would never let any harm come to you,” she said crossly.

I was beginning to see that Doctor Colleen O’Neil was a different person in her own time and place. Here and now, she appeared accustomed to ruling the roost, and she had little patience for anyone disagreeing with her. That was going to lead to some interesting times between us, because ever since I was paroled from the Confederate Army, I had a serious aversion to taking orders. My friend and brother-in-law, JC Colbert, said I had the same ornery disposition as my mules.

We finished our meal and my time travel companions departed for their meeting. They all gave me hugs and kisses before they stampeded out the door. Tonya and I remained seated at the table. She was avoiding looking at me. I cleared my throat to capture her attention.

“I was teasing, Tonya. I was pretty sure you were not going to shoot me on Coleen’s whim.”

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