Muleskinner Blues
Chapter 19

Copyright© 2022 by Joe J

The sheriff and I lugged the man and woman to his carriage and heaved them into the back. The sheriff was none to gentle with the wounded fellow, and heedless of the woman’s gender, flinging them as if they were sacks of grain. The sheriff took a closer look at the front of the shirt of the fellow I shot, then he rolled his eyes in my direction.

“You and I need to have a little talk tomorrow, so don’t leave town.”

I gave him a nod and a respectful, “Yes, sir.”

The women and I had hidden most of our weapons, as well as the ones we had confiscated, in our packed bedrolls before we rode into town. We wanted as few questions about our cover story as possible. The only weapon we had accessible was a small stunner Tonya had concealed at the small of her back. I had my pistols in my saddle bags that were draped over my shoulder, but it would have taken some effort to retrieve them. Thankfully, the sheriff did not seem overly concerned about checking us for weapons.

We only had a five or six minute wait before a young woman pulled up riding one of those pedal-less bicycles. The woman fit the mold of the typical female of the future. She was tall, slim, healthy and attractive. The only surprise value she held for me was the rich chocolate color of her skin. I had seen people of color around Paradise Valley, but most of them were lighter complexioned than this woman. The woman dismounted her conveyance, flipped down an arm to keep it upright, and walked over to me. She gave me a dazzling smile and stuck out her hand.

“Jeremiah Brock, I presume,” she said as she gave my hand a firm shake. “I’m Deputy Minister Devers, but please call me Lucy.”

I raised my eyebrows at her knowing my name, but it really did not shock me that much. From my first glimpse of New London, I could already see that these outlanders were not backwoods yokels.

Lucy dropped my hand and turned to my companions.

“I won a pile of credits, betting it was you two that the Pleiad sent. I swear, Sonja, those councilors couldn’t organize a picnic unless you were involved. I figured they’d send you also, Lawson. Nothing but the best to keep an eye on their caveman.”

Sonja was looking at Devers in shock.

“Councilor Bearclaw said you transferred up to the north power generating plant,” Sonja said.

Lucy laughed and gave Sonja a hug.

“The council doesn’t like to acknowledge defections, so they invent stories to explain people disappearing. You are going to see many familiar faces here. Now mount up and follow me, Liz is quite anxious to meet Mister Brock.”

So much for sneaking in, eh?

Lucy led us through the neatly laid out streets until we reached the town square. We halted in front of a three story mansion done in the southern plantation style. The house with its columned portico would not have been out of place in Atlanta before the war. In fact the entire town reminded me of the Atlanta I had briefly visited on my way to join General Lee. The Atlanta burned to the ground by that polecat Sherman.

At the back of the house were a nice sized stable and a two acre paddock. Lucy led us to the barn and we quickly squared our mounts away. I was in a quandary about the weapons we had rolled up in our bedrolls. I was thinking of trying to hide them somehow, then gave up on the idea. Finally, I just asked Lucy.

“Lucy, I have some weapons in my gear that I brought from my time, and I have a more modern weapon I took from the man you called a Juicer. Do you have a place where I can secure them?”

Lucy did not seem surprised that I was armed. She shrugged and told me to bring them in with me, unloaded and rendered safe. I took out my pistols, broke open the action and removed the cylinders, and then I unloaded the stage gun. As insurance, I keep my Spencer carbine cached in my bed roll. Tonya took out the beam rifle and removed a part from it. Lucy took the strange looking gun and looked it over.

“This is the third one of these that we’ve seen in the last six months. We had to start equipping our patrols with diffusion vests because of them. We need to find where they are coming from and how the juicers are reactivating them.”

As soon as we walked onto the back porch, my world lurched again, just as it had in the cavern back in Wyoming. Only this time it wasn’t a time machine that caused my disorientation. Instead, it was a petite, stunningly beautiful blonde woman with big blue eyes, who was standing in the doorway. She was wearing a simple long gingham dress buttoned high at the collar. Her figure was trim and compact. Her hair was cut in a short bob that framed her face. I stopped short, doffed my hat and bowed at the waist.

“Your Majesty,” was all I could think of to say.

I guess it was enough though, because she gave me a dazzling smile and held out her tiny hand.

“Gallant as well as brave, you do not disappoint me, Mister Brock,” she said.

Even her voice was perfect. As soon as I took her dainty hand in my big rough paw her eyelashes fluttered and her nostrils flared. She reluctantly dropped my hand and stepped back away from me.

“So that part is true also. Miss Ferrens chose well. Are you hungry Mister Brock? We held supper for you in case you were.”

My eyes lit up at that statement, because truth be known, I was hungry enough to gnaw on my boot.

“I could eat a bite or two if it was not too much trouble, Your Highness.”

Tonya snorted and Sonja snickered.

“He’ll eat anything that doesn’t eat him first,” Sonja said.

I tried to look at least a little bit offended, but the truth was the truth. The Queen of New England gave me another of those amazing smiles.

“Why don’t you call me Liz, and I’ll call you Jeremiah. We don’t stand on ceremony here. And it will be a pleasure to dine with a man with a robust appetite. The men with whom I’m accustomed to dine, eat like sparrows.”

We dropped the weapons on a table by the back door, then Liz and Lucy led us to a small and intimate dining room that reminded me a lot of the ones at Camille’s place in Boulder. The five of us filled all the chairs except one. Liz sat at the head of the table and sat me to her right. Lucy sat to my right, while Tonya and Sonja sat across from me. As we were getting situated, I noticed that Lucy kept looking at me. Finally, I had to ask.

“What is the matter Lucy? Have I drooled on my shirt or something?”

Lucy’s dusky skin actually tinged deep red, and she quickly looked away from me.

“I was just trying to gauge your reaction to being so close to a person of my color. I know you came from the south during the slave days.”

I stared at her for a second and shrugged.

“That’s all?” I asked. “For your information, my family was too poor and too proud to own slaves. Matter of fact, I never even met a slave. I met some freed men and I did work with some Buffalo Soldiers once in Colorado. Oh, and I know a couple of Negro muleskinners. I met some good folks of many colors. They were Negro, Red Indians, Mexicans and Chinese. I met some bad ones, too. My mama taught me it’s that way with all of the Lord’s children, so I judge them one at a time.”

She looked at me strangely for a few heartbeats, and then stuck her hand out for me to shake.

“I hope you consider me one of the good people,” she said with a smile.

I lifted her hand to my lips and gave her a look.

“I don’t know about that yet, but you sure are a beautiful woman.”

Yes, I was undoubtedly the suavest, most debonair, silver tongued muleskinner in 2525.

My little declaration broke the ice and made everyone laugh. Before another conversation could start, an older woman started bringing in the food. She was the first person I met here that appeared over forty. I only noted her relative age peripherally though, because most of my attention was on the platter of steaks she was toting. It seemed as if it had been a month of Sundays since I’d last had a steak. The woman sat the platter of steaks on the table and retreated back through the door she’d come through. Lucy jumped up and went with her. It took Lucy and the woman two more trips to bring out the rest of our meal.

When the last platter and bowl was on the table, Lucy returned to her seat and the older woman took the empty chair at the foot of the table. The meal was much like Sunday dinner at my family’s home back in Cheyenne. The most noticeable difference was the food included for the two altered people (Lucy and Sonja). I stood up until the ladies were seated. Liz shot Lucy a grin when I did that.

“See, Lucy? Manners are not just some sort of archaic court protocol. They are a sign of respect that people used to show one another. And speaking of manners, I seem to have forgotten mine tonight. Everyone, this is Mary, my mother and the chef that prepared this excellent meal.”

Liz went on to introduce her mother to each of us, then we dug into the food. I was putting a serious whooping on the big piece of beef that Mary slapped onto my plate and Tonya stayed with me, bite for bite. That woman could pack away the grub! Conversation swirled around the table as Sonja caught Liz and Lucy up on mutual friends and favorite places. Sonja even told Liz about me playing my fiddle at Pecos Pete’s. In between medium rare bites of steak. I even agreed to play a couple of numbers for them later.

When the meal was finished, Liz wanted to talk to me privately, so the other women headed back to the barn to fetch our bags and lock up our weapons. I had to chuckle when the woman who the Pleiad said suffered from delusions of grandeur started clearing the table while we talked. It was even funnier when we both ended up in the kitchen, busting suds and scrubbing pans. As we worked, she confirmed much of what I suspected about this time period.

“Jeremiah, I am not some megalomaniac looking to dominate the world as Bearclaw and the Pleiad want you to believe. In fact, if this was not the only way I could think of to insure a future for mankind, I’d still be perfectly happy teaching history at the University. However, the fact is that if we don’t make some serious changes, we are headed for extinction in a century or two.

“Regardless of what you’ve been told, going back in time to keep the dark times from happening isn’t going to work. It won’t work because time and history are not straight lines, and you can’t alter their direction. Instead, they are more like a funnel into which events are poured and out the tip squeezes the present.

“The minute we are living right now is the sum result of everything that has happened on the Earth for the last five billion years. Anything that we could change as a result of going back in time has already been accounted for. For instance, the Hawkingium Sonja and her team brought back from your time is a good example of that concept. Everyone was surprised that you all brought back so much of it, because in our history, only a small amount had been found at the site. That’s because the scientist who discovered the site in the 1960s only found what Sonja and her team left behind.

“Finally, traveling back in time would not stop the string of natural disasters that befell the Earth. Earthquakes, exploding volcanoes, drought, floods, cyclones and you name it, killed off two-thirds of the Earth’s population. Volcanic ash and radio active dust clouds produced a two hundred year ice age that we still haven’t recovered from. The polar ice cap has receded a couple of hundred miles, but still covers most of what was once Canada and northern Europe. With all that water locked in the ice cap, most of the Earth is still facing a severe drought. Only a narrow temperate zone consisting of the middle third of the Northern Hemisphere is inhabitable.

“I think the time program could be a greater benefit to us if we used it to change the future instead of trying to mess with the past. Bringing the Hawkingium forward proves that point. As a matter of fact, so does you being here.

“The time project is only a symptom of the larger problem, though. The big problem is the fragmentation of our social order, brought about by the males of the species opting out of our society. In only three generations, men removed themselves from being members of society, to being disinterested observers. By the fourth generation, men had become a self-flagellating, monkish clique of ‘know it alls,’ unconcerned about the future, and fixated on the past.

“At first, Homo Superior, as they so modestly call themselves, were exactly as advertised. For the first fifty years, we made amazing progress. The population increased by fifty percent and life expectancy rose to well above a hundred years of age. Cellular rejuvenation was perfected and the aging process was slowed by sixty percent. Then, about ninety years ago, the population growth slowed, and for the last seventy-five years it has stagnated.

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