Old Man's Blog

Feb
19
Chapter 63 Easter



Stamping Ground, eastern Kentucky, RSA

Late morning, April 10, 2129

The last thing Sally had seen through the screen of new growth, as she’d fled into the shelter of the trees, had been a flash of heat and light blossoming from Moses’s chest. He’d fallen back into the campfire like so much dead meat. She had seen death from the Union before. She remembered the blackened corpses of her father and sister still smoking as the Uni skimmer had lifted off.

For long seconds, her momentum of body and mind kept her moving. She briefly stopped the moment she understood she was a widow. Their escape, hers and Ethan’s, was the last gift Moses would ever give them. Tears blurring her sight, she stumbled as she sought to gain as much distance as she might from the soulless nightmares. A branch whipped across her face and startled Ethan into a high-pitched wail. Sally gasped for air. It was only then she allowed herself to crumple behind a downed oak, sinking into the misery she felt. Cooing noises and a calming voice did much to settle Ethan but at the price of deepening Sally’s own uncertainty. She and Ethan were alone.

Moses had been the bright light of her life. He had shown her not just love but dreams. He could be thoughtless, and he took risks, but his risk taking had founded for them a hearth and a home. Moses had been daylong honest, plainspoken, and hardworking. Even so, there had been a poetry to their dreams.

She broke into racking sobs that a frightened Ethan augmented. His shrieks finally pulled Sally back from the black abyss of grief. Cooing and coddling the baby, she offered him a warm breast. Ethan, taking the bribe, quieted, and the forest around them became silent again.

Feeding Ethan was an endless job; he seemed bottomless. No, that was certainly not right. Ethan’s bottom figured large in her calculations and her concerns. She still had the farm, and with Moses dead, it was in her name alone. She would sell it or farm it, but she would get by. A dream had gone out of her life, but the new life nuzzling greedily at her breast would find his own dreams.

Once the shooting had stopped and Ethan was sated, Sally rose and dusted the damp punk off her dress. She started down the hill. She would claim Moses’s body, and she would give him a decent burial here, where she and Ethan could visit him on every Return.

Jesse watched from the cover of the tree line as black-suited raiders carried Malila’s limp body up the ramp into the darkness of the skimmer. She was still breathing. He was unarmed and still within range of their rifles. Xavier and Moses were down.

The skimmer buttoned up and rose several hundred feet before building up speed and heading south and east. The raiders had stopped as soon as they had captured Malila. A chill went through the old man when he recognized how much planning and precision had gone into the raid for a disgraced junior officer. It was ominous.

Before the craft was out of sight, Jesse sprinted from cover toward Moses. He had covered only half the distance when the younger man sat up and howled with pain. Seeing Moses’s revival, Jesse went on to the motionless Delarosa.

Xavier was very dead. A small burned hole over his spine blossomed red as it erupted through his belly. Jesse gently removed his spectacles and closed his eyes. It had been a quick and painless death for a man who, Jesse thought, had borne more than his share of grief.

By the time Jesse turned around, Moses had gotten his foot out of an overheated boot and was pouring water onto it expectantly.

“I’m a bona fide fool and a half, my friend,” Jesse said after he examined Moses’s bare foot, Moses’s toes curling into the cool earth.

“Not that I’d ever presume to disagree with your professional judgment …” said Moses, wincing with the probing of his foot.

“Why aren’t you dead too? Xavier is sure dead enough.”

“Is he? That’s a loss; I was beginning to like the man, citified and everything … Did he have a family? I guess I never asked him.”

“His wife was killed in a raid a long while ago. His kids are up and grown, but I think he has some kin back in St Lou. Where are you hit, Mose?”

Moses looked down at his camouflage jacket to discover the small hole surrounded by an area of his jacket that was fused, discolored, and vaguely smoldering. Unzipping his jacket, Moses turned out his shirt pocket. A reflectionless disk of black fell to the ground with a crystalline ring as it hit a rock, rolling a few feet before falling over.

“Is that the fifty-dollar piece …?” Jesse started.

“Yeah, Malila gave it me just a minute before the attack. Whatever you said to her made her mad as spit. She stormed off saying she wasn’t going to see you again. What did you say to her, Jesse?”

The old man ignored the question and examined the fluted black disk.

“Best piece of work she’s ever done, giving that to you. Feel it, Mose; it’s still warm but not really hot. Let me look at your chest.”

The younger man peeled off the shirt, but there was no wound. A point of tenderness, duplicated when Jesse cautiously compressed Moses’s chest, and a growing bruise were all Moses had to show for the encounter. His jacket, on the other hand, had a smoldering patch of fabric in the lining, over a foot across, where the pulse bolt had penetrated.

“Mose, you got at least one broken rib. Nothing to do about it except stop breathing.”

“How ’bout a second opinion?”

“Okay, it could be that you’re dumb as a stump too.”

Moses laughed and immediately gasped with the pain.

The sight of the dead had begun to collect the curious as Jesse drove up with the borrowed wagon.

A rising tide of people and questions helped and hindered the moving of the bodies to the wagon bed. It was almost an hour before they were decently covered for transport to the nearest railhead.

Jesse swung into the box. Moses moved to accompany him, pulling himself up to the box painfully on the off side.

“Go home, Mose. I mayn’t be coming back for a while.”

“You can’t go to Lexington alone, old man.”

“Sure I can, Mose. I’ve a note from my momma right here.”

Then in a lower and more confidential voice, Jesse added, “Mose, your Sally doesn’t much like my taking you away from her. You’ll be planting soon, and then there’ll be the calving. You need to stay at home and be a husband. Ethan needs a daddy. Xavier deserves an escort home, and I need to talk to the brass hats in St. Louis after we get there.

“But if you want to do me a favor, let Alex and Jacob know where I am; they worry. The wagon and mules, I’ll leave with Judge Wasnicki, and he can bring them back when he comes on circuit. That sound all right to you, Mose?”

“Sure, Jesse. That’s fine. Sally’s prettier than you are, any road.” Moses grinned as he lowered himself to the ground.

Jesse laughed. “I was wondering when you would notice, my friend.”

Sally wiped the tears from her eyes before showing herself at the tree line. She parted the branches and looked for the clusters of people who would be standing over Moses’s corpse. There were none. She made out a wagon in the chaos. They had already picked up his body. She looked to the driver and saw Jesse. She waved, trying to attract his notice.

It was then she saw the man who started up to the box on the off side, only to get down again.

In a daze, a dream, a breathless sprint, Sally pummeled through the churning crowd. Moses looked up only a moment before the impact.

“Easy, Sally, that hurt!” Moses said.

“I saw you die. I thought you were dead,” she said, almost accusingly, tears blinding her as she pulled Moses closer. Ethan struggled in her grasp.

She sensed herself and the baby lifted and spun in the flashing light of the sun and heard Moses’s clear laugh.

“It is not so easy to get rid of me as all that, Sally, my love.”

The kiss they shared lasted long.

By the time Sally looked again, Jesse, unremarked by the hastening crowd, was disappearing from sight at a turning in the green woods of spring.

NOTE:
Book Two is coming out spring 2017