By Waddie Greywolf

Chapter 34

The following morning Brick and Tim were up early cooking breakfast.  Brick knocked on Jimmy-Bob and Stan’s door and told them breakfast would be ready in about thirty minutes.  The men dressed and stumbled into the small kitchen area of the condo.  Brick motioned for them to sit on stools at the small bar separating  the kitchen from the living area.  He already had orange juice and hot coffee poured for them.  Tim was getting some last minute things together and Brick was setting platters of food in front of them.  They sat on the other side of the bar.  Brick had them join hands and said a quick prayer.  They began to fill their plates with food and eat.  Everything was very good.

“We really appreciate you inviting us to stay over, but this is an unexpected treat.  We could have walked to the Plaza cafeteria for breakfast.” Stan tried to thank the two men.

“Awh, we had to make breakfast for us anyway and sometimes eating away from the cafeteria is better.  It gives you a break from their food.  We eat over there every now and then, but I know the food can get old after a while.”

“It’s been pretty good, so far.” Jimmy-Bob said.

“Uh, I clean out the filter on the pool every morning, but this morning there was a handful of black and white animal hairs in there.  Do you guys know anything about that?” Brick asked with a big grin.    

Stan smiled but Jimmy-Bob just kept eating his cottage potatoes.

“Yes, Sir.  I’m sorry.  I should have remembered to clean out the filter myself.  We had a visitor last night.  My pup, Moe, came to me again and asked if he could take a dip with us.  I was so glad to see him I guess I didn’t use good judgement.  I apologize.”

“I met Moe about a week ago but not in person until last night.  It was a real treat to get to pet him and play with him in the water.  I share the blame, Officer Brick.  I should a' know'd better.  I’m sorry, too.” added Jimmy-Bob.

“No harm done, gentlemen.  No apologies necessary.  I just wanted to know how it got there.  You told me; I believe you; that’s the end of it.  You know, appearing and disappearing animals, what can talk, could get people burned at the stake in early America.  People would see something they don’t understand and think there was witchcraft involved.  All I’m saying is, be more careful.  We could hear Moe talking with you men.  We watched Moe disappear last night.  I wet my shorts.” Brick laughed.

“Sorry.” grinned Stan.  Jimmy-Bob chuckled.

“I damn near did the first time I met him." allowed Jimmy-Bob, "He takes some getting used to, but Moe ain't like no regular dog.  He’s highly intelligent.  After a while you just take his speaking for granted.” said Jimmy-Bob.

“We discussed it last night after Moe left," said Stan, "and we decided it’s safer for him if’n he don’t visit no more.  You’re right, Officer Brick, folks who don’t realize it’s just a technological thing might think there’s some voodoo attached, but there ain’t.”  

There was a silence around the kitchen.  

“Well, I’ll leave that up to you men, but since you were honest with me, I’ll keep your secret.  I made a pact with you, Stan, and I’ll stand by my word.  Hell, I don’t know who I’d get to believe me anyway.  They'd think I's crazy.  Timmy would believe me, he saw it, too.”

“You men just be careful.  Even over here, it might be dangerous if someone saw him.  It’s just too risky.” urged Tim.

“I appreciate your concern.” said Stan. “I’ll tell Moe this evening.”

Brick and Tim could see a change in both men.  There was little doubt in their minds Jimmy-Bob and Stan made the beast with two backs in their guest bedroom that evening.  Jimmy-Bob seemed much more relaxed and at ease with himself and his friend.  Stan couldn’t get the silly smile off his face all morning.

* * * * * * * *

Jack had Charlie send for the Grange lawyers who came to the ranch, listened to his story and felt he had a slam dunk case; not only against his health insurance company, but his oil company employer as well.  It was their responsibility to see to their employee’s health care coverage.  The hospital covered their own asses'.  They had solid proof they contacted both the insurance carrier and Jack Hall’s employer.  They had unquestionable evidence the main contact person was contacted and the hospital was told by the oil company there was nothing they could do if the carrier refused to approve authorization for payment.  Jack’s attorneys had them by the balls.  They filed suit against the oil company and insurance carrier, who just happened to be a subsidiary of the oil company, a decided conflict of interest, for a hundred million dollars.  In the newer Amero dollars it would be only worth about half that.  Nevertheless, fifty million was not to be taken lightly.  The Grange attorney wanted ten percent.  Jack agreed and to forego a lot of publicity and investigation into corporate corruption the oil company sought to settle.  They offered a flat fifty million Amero’s.  Upon Lazarus’ advice, Jack told the attorneys to counter at a seventy-five million American dollars.  The company panicked and quickly offered Jack fifty million American.  He accepted the offer.  Jack Hall became a very wealthy man almost overnight.  He never had to work another day in his life if he didn’t want to.  He had no idea what he wanted to do, but one thing that surprised everyone but Lazarus and Charlie, Jack paid private attorneys to represent his old buddy Elam Stamper.  He also refused to testify against him; however, the prosecution had ample witnesses who did testify; although, several were obviously not comfortable doing so.

* * * * * * *

The Friday afternoon before they were to leave on their cruise Jack asked Charlie if he and Lazarus would take him into town to visit Elam Stamper in jail.  They were a bit surprised but agreed to accompany him.  Charlie cleared it with the sheriff beforehand, and he had no problem with it.  Jack was much better and was getting around on his own for several days.  His shoulder was still tender but the healing methods of Cable and his crew were amazing. Cable insisted he wear his right arm up in a sling to relieve pressure from his newly mending clavicle.  If Jack ever had any doubts about the goodness and genuineness of the men taking care of him and the Grange in general, he didn’t now.  Aside from a few tender places, he was feeling ten years younger.

The men arrived and the sheriff’s men took Jack to an interview room they usually used for detectives and officers taking statements and interrogated accused criminals.  They had Elam waiting for him.  He was sitting at the interrogation desk and there was one chair across from him where the guard motioned for Jack to sit.  Elam rose when Jack came into the room.  He had a worried look on his face, but when he saw Jack smile, he opened his arms to him and Jack responded.  Jack winced a little when Elam slapped him on the back.

“Sorry, brother.”

“‘At’s all right.  It’s still a mite tender.”

The guard instructed them to sit down and no more touching was allowed.  The two men sat down.  The guard told Jack he’d be just outside the door.

“Thanks, Officer.” said Jack.  “You’re looking good, brother.” Jack said as he sat down in the chair.

“You, too, Jack.  I’m s’damn sorry for what I done.  I was just crazy drunk and don’t even remember doing it.”

“I know.  It’s behind us.  I don’t hold no grudge, Elam.  I come mostly to tell you not to worry about me.  You’re still my buddy, and I ain’t gonna’ press charges agin’ you; however, I don’t know if that’s gonna’ do much good see’n as how they got all them witnesses.  Anyway, I’m gonna’ pay for a couple of good attorneys for you so’s you won’t have some public defender what’s jus’ gonna’ go through the motions of defending you.  A couple of lawyers associated with the Grange agreed to take your case.”

Elam started sobbing and lay his head on the desk.  Jack waited for him to get himself together.

“Why would you do that for me, Jack?”

“Because you’re ma’ brother, ain’t cha’?”

“I always felt there was something between us that made us more’n just bar buddies.”

“Yeah, well, so did I, and I guess it took you shoot’n me to wake me up to it.  You know how they say, it’s an ill wind what don’t blow no good.  If you ain’t done what you done, I wouldn’t have met the men of the Grange and your boys.”

“You met ma’ boys, Jack?” Elam asked softly.

“Ever’ damn one of ‘em.  They been visiting me almost ever’ day since I was at the Goodnight ranch recuperating.  Damn fine boys, Elam, you should be proud of ‘em.  We’s going on a camp’n trip together with their master, Lazarus Long and his boss, Mr. Charlie Goodnight.  They’s treat’n ‘nim boy to a weekend getaway because they done so good this last year in school and working for their Masters Hoot Austin and Cotton Daniels.  Ramrod Long pays Hoot and Cotton to take care of ‘em for him.”

“Do they hate me, Jack?”

“No, not at all.  They ain’t happy the way you been acting lately.  They know you’re probably gonna’ get a lifetime of slavery, but they ain’t particularly happy about it.”

“You know I still got money over to my farm, Jack.  I can tell you where it is, and you can get it for me to pay some of my attorney fees.”

“No, need.  I’m gonna’ pick up the tab.  If I didn’t the Grange would.  Your boys went over there and found it all.  Them boys is smart.  They know'd where your hiding places were.  They turned it over to their master and the Grange.  They figured the farm was gonna’ be sold to help rebuild the church and pay for the damages you done and someone else would find it if they didn’t get to it first.  Bright young men you got, Elam.  Ramrod Long wouldn’t try to cheat you out of your money, but a large chunk of it’s already gone to the church.”

“Damn, they done that for me?”

“I don’t know’s they done it for you so much as their master.  They love him like he was their dad, now.  They almost worship Ramrod Long and they got good reason to.  He sees to their needs and takes care of ‘em.  He sees to it they’re treated well, they eat good, and are disciplined.  The boys still in school are straight ‘A’ students and your second oldest, Phil, graduated in the top five in his class in May.  Burt went back to school last year and finished high school.  He done real good.

Hell, I’m awful fond of Ramrod Long and Mr. Goodnight ma’self.  They’s two of the finest men it’s ever been my pleasure to meet.  All the members of the Grange are good men, Elam.  So, you see, I never would’ve met them men if’n it had’na been for you.  I quit drink’n and smoke’n.  I feel like I’s ten years younger.  They got a slave medical clinic out to Mr. Goodnight’s ranch where they fixed me up.  T'wene you'n me, h'it's a better damn hospital than that poor excuse for a medical center in Reason.  They got a great doctor living out there all the time.  They took me in and patched me up when the hospital in Reason refused to take me.  They was gonna’ let me die.  I did actually die for a while, but I met some folks what told me I had to go back.  I saw B.B., Elam; just as plain as I’m sit’n here looking at you.  She said she forgimme’ for bury’n her in the desert.”

“I always wondered what you done with her.” Elam said. “You don’t have to do this for me, Jack, just because of B.B.  I’d never say nothing.”

“I know that, you old fool.  I’m doing it because you mean something to me, but I want you to understand, I never had nothing to do with B.B. steal’n ‘nat money from you.  I didn’t even know she done it.”

“I know that.” said Elam. “That jes’ ain’t chore’ way.”

“If you go up for auction, which is a pretty sure bet, I plan to buy you, but not for me.  I plan to give you to ma’ older brother, Allen, who owns a big ranch up  Colorado way.  He’s a good man.  A better man than me.  You’ll have to cowboy hard for him, but I can guarantee you’ll have a good life.  You won’t be mistreated.”

“You think I’ll have to, . . .?”  Elam didn’t want to finish his question.

“E’aup!  Of course you will.  Ma’ brother fucks all his slaves.  It’s jes’ what a master does, Elam.  You gotta’ get used to the idea you ain’t gonna’ have no say over yore’ life no more.  Take it one day at a time.  Allen will break you in.  He ain’t no monster.  He’ll give you time to git used to it.  You’ll be suck’n ma’ brother off and spreading your cheeks and back’n up for him like a spring-bred filly.” Jack winked at Elam and chuckled.

“Oh, dear God.” Elam uttered softly and all the blood drained from his face.

“Your boys had to adjust.  Looks to me like they done pert-damn good for themselves.  The three oldest got cowboy-slave buddies what look after ‘em and take real good care of ‘em.  Burt, Phil and Sam seem to be very much in love with their partners.  The two younger men are just a bit young to be broken to the saddle yet.  Ramrod Long don’t want ‘em forced.  He wants them to pick a mate for themselves.”

Jack was allowed a bit longer than most visitors because he was with Lazarus and Charlie, and they asked the sheriff to be lenient with the time.  Finally, Jack figured they said all they had to say to each other.

“I’ll come see you again after we git back from our camp’n trip, brother.  The Grange attorney’s should be in touch with you before that.  I wish you the best of luck.  They shook hands and Elam just had to have another hug.  He broke down again and sobbed in Jack’s arms.

“I’m so sorry, brother.  I should a’ never treated you that way.”

“I didn’t come here to make you feel bad, Elam.  I come to give you good news and to tell you I forgive you.  You’ll be all right.  You’ll be okay.  You’ll have to live another life, but if you try hard enough, maybe you’ll find your own redemption for yourself.  We both know what you’s so upset over.  Ask her forgiveness, bro, I promise, she’ll hear you.  Trust me, she’ll forgive you, if’n you just ask her.  I gotta’ go now, but I’ll be in touch.”

“Thanks for coming, Jack.” Elam said.

* * * * * * * *

Kyron spent several days downloading flight plans and alternate flight plans to Myra, the AI on the Buttercup, concerning where Lazarus and the boys wanted to go and the fastest way to get there.  The way the planets were aligned in the system at that particular time, it made a lot of sense to visit the outermost planets first to take in the Jovian gas giants, and then swing to the inner regions, ending up with Venus and Mars as their last two hops.  The boys wanted to know if it was possible to see any part of Saturn up close and Lazarus assured them there was nothing worth seeing.  What there was of any solid surface was about the size of two Earth masses; however, the temperatures were in the ten-thousand kelvin range.  While the Buttercup could easily withstand such temperatures there would be little purpose.  It just looked like a large chunk of rock.

It was debated whether to leave out Pluto because of its small size.  You could fit the entire planet of Pluto and it’s main moon within an area map of the continental United States.  It wasn’t very impressive as celestial bodies go.  Furthermore, the boys had some misgivings about flying so close to the Sun to visit Mercury.  While Lazarus assured the boys the Buttercup could handle the heat at the distance of Mercury and they would be perfectly comfortable on the ship, they still had reservations.  Lazarus told them they would be missing one of nature’s greatest fireworks show.  It would truly be impressive hiding in the shadow of Mercury to watch the Sun’s corona display.  They didn’t have to stay long, perhaps for a breakfast or lunch.  Lazarus suggested they might sneak upon it from a position that would keep the ship in the sun’s eclipse behind Mercury thereby missing most of the rays.  They decided to leave it to their guests to vote on.

Everyone was there by noon, and ready to go.  They knew the departure time wasn’t until late afternoon, but since they were already there enjoying themselves and watching holo-videos of some of the more recent activities of Captain Vinceeth and his men, Lazarus asked Waco and Charlie if they wanted to get an early start.

“It’s up to you, Admiral Long.” smiled Charlie.

“Fine with me and my men;” began Waco, “however, you must make a decision, Sir, as to whether we’re to pick up Stan and his new cowboy brother Jimmy-Bob Dodge.  If so, we should take Moe along, and if we take Moe without Larry and Shep we’ll have a canine mutiny on our hands or at the very least some very hard feelings.  They just might refuse to ever sing again.” Waco lamented as a joke.
“Dear God, we wouldn’t want that!” Lazarus commented on Waco’s joke, “That’s why I keep you around, Son, as my unofficial protocol officer.” Lazarus laughed. “Can you make arrangements with Stan to have them stand by in an out of the way place to disappear?”

“Yes, Sir, all I need to do is let him know we'ill be a little early.  He’s already left a note for his friends to cover for him and Jimmy-Bob until they get back.  He promised in his note they would return.”

“Do it!  I’d hate for either one of them boys to miss out on something they might never have the chance for again in their lives.  Once we start gathering folks for the last, we have no way of knowing what kind of resistance we’re going to have from the planet’s armed forces and the interstellar bad guys.  There won’t be time for sightseeing.  We’ll be lucky to get away with our skins.  They can easily explain several days away as homesickness and trying to get back to where they came from.”

Waco went to tell Moe he could go on the trip with them.  Jack already agreed to bunk it in with all the extra critters and see to them.  With Ping and Pong’s help, and Captain Jones’ help, Waco and Lucas managed to grab another prime piece of ranch land from Sierra-Nevada range complete with enormous trees.  It was a beautiful piece of property.  With one step through a portal the critters could be in the great outdoors to answer nature’s call.  Jack was really impressed with the property.  It had a nice little cabin and a running stream with big California brown-speckled trout swimming in the water.  Moe jumped up and down and almost did a dance he was so happy to be going along.  He knew he’d get to see Stan and Jimmy-Bob again.

“That ain’t fair.  Him and Patty git’n to go and we don’t.” moaned Larry.

“We don’t agree on much, brother, but I have to agree with you on that one.  H’it jes’ ain’t fair.” insisted Shep.  

“Ah, you two hesh up your complaining.  I told Master Lazarus and Captain Waco I’d be responsible for you if they saw fit to let you guys come along.  They agreed if Moe goes, you can go, too.” said Jack Hall to them.

“Oh, thank you, Master Hall.  That’s great news, ain’t it, brother?” Larry asked Shep.

“Great news.  Thanks, Master Hall.”

“You two promise to be on your best behavior, try to get along, and be gentlemen to your sister?”

“We will, Master Hall, we promise.” said Larry.

“We promise, Sir.” agreed Shep.  Everyone laughed.

Everyone was shown their cabin assignments and bunk spaces.  Lazarus gave the Captain’s cabin to Waco, and his faithful Lummox.

Lazarus took the first mate’s cabin for himself, and Charlie.  Waco assigned the rest of the cabins by twos.  Hoot and Cotton got a separate cabin to themselves.  Lucas and Blake Tindell had grown close over the last couple of years and decided they wanted to bunk it in together.  It caused a few eyebrows to raise, but neither Blake nor Lucas seemed fazed by it.  Little Bear was assigned a cabin with his granddad, Chief Tin Penny.  JR and Hank Morgan were assigned another.

The Stamper boys got a cabin for every two men.  Burt bunked it in with his cowboy mate, Jimmy Joe Russell, whom Waco invited at the last minute.  Sam and Phil shared a cabin and Jeb and Zeke shared another.

Naturally, Sonny and Vivian shared a cabin, but Warren decided he would bunk it in with Jack Hall and the critters.  He figured Jack might need a hand taking care of them, and Jack was glad for the human company.

Blue and Keekepata were given a cabin which had a door that opened into the next cabin where her designer Arnie Lewis and his mate, Dr. Randall Stevens were staying.  Arnie and Doctor Stevens were invite as a sort of ‘thank you’ for all their help and generosity toward Keeke and Blue.  While they didn’t see what they did as anything special, it was nice to be recognized for their efforts.
Strom and Lyle Chambers shared another cabin; one that originally was for special lummox crew or guests.  Leon Olsen and Johauk Kodaly shared a cabin.  Johauk was several years older than Leon, but he knew him from the Grange meetings, and they seemed to get on well together.

Bill Birdsall and Shane shared a cabin.  The Stamper boys had come to respect and admire Shane Goodnight and his master Bill Birdsall.  Lazarus bought them a set of weights and they were teaching the boys to use them.  They were coming along fine; so fine, their boss decided he better start working out to keep up with them.

All the passengers gathered on the flight deck.  There was a raised portion behind the crew, the Captain and first mate’s chair.  David and Jonathan and a couple other androids were seeing to the passengers, getting them buckled into their seat belts.  They explained it was one of the few times they would have to do it.  Once they were in space they could move about freely.  Everyone had a full view of the holo-vid screens over the control panels.  Waco and his first mate Lucas were checking out final flight plans and coordinating with Kyron and Myra.  Once they were out, Myra the auxiliary AI computer for the Buttercup would take over.  She was almost a duplicate of Kyron with some unique personality quirks of her own.  She liked to be called Myra.  She had a decidedly, southern belle, sultry female voice and could be wickedly funny sometimes.

Travis and Little Bear sat right behind Waco and Lucas and beside them sat Jack and Jill.  They were almost as competent as their parents in astro navigation and computational skills.  Lazarus had full confidence in his young fledgling crew.  It was good for Jack and Jill to have the experience away from their parents.  Everyone got settled into their seats and were buckled up.  Even the pups were wearing harnesses and restraints.  Patty lay with her head in Jack Hall’s lap.  She didn’t want to watch the takeoff.  Larry, Moe, and Shep were sitting straight up; they wouldn’t miss it for the world.

“Are we clear for takeoff, Chief Steward?” Waco asked David.

“Aye, aye, Captain.  All passengers are aboard and accounted for.  All are secure in their launch chairs and strapped in tight.  Everything is put away and secured on all decks, Sir.  We’re clear for takeoff.”

“Thank you, Chief Steward.” Waco said in an official voice. “Systems check, Navigator?”

“All systems go, disconnecting from mother ship on your command, Captain.”  

“Make it so, Navigator.”

“The Buttercup is free, Captain Goodnight.”

“Thank you, Mr. Tin Penny.  Take us out, number one.” ordered Waco.

“Aye, Captain.  Engaged.” Lucas hit the throttle and everyone was pressed back into their seats.

“Daymn, h’it’s just like in them Star Trek movies, ‘cept’n we got us cowboys for pilots!” exclaimed Burt.

Everyone laughed and settled in for the ride; and, what a ride it was.  They all were impressed by the speed and handling ability of the ship and the expertise of the crew.

“Please remain in your seats until our Captain gives you permission to undo your seat belts.  We have one pick up of two more passengers from the Holy Prophet’s Temple Tabernacle Plaza in the Holy City before we can leave for space.” Travis instructed over the speaker system. “In case you’re wondering, you’ll get a demonstration of how we can get good people out of bad situations.  We’re going to lift Stan Edmunds and his new cowboy buddy, Jimmy-Bob Dodge from their dwelling to go with us on our trip.  Unfortunately, we’ll have to return them afterward.  Stan and Jimmy-Bob have something they have to accomplish before we can lift them for good.” Travis went on to say.  “Moe, you wanna’ come up here and sit by me?” Travis said over the speaker system.

Moe was a bundle of nerves and almost couldn’t sit still long enough for Warren Steele to undo his seat belt.  Everyone laughed when he was free and hurried to Travis’ side.  Travis bent down and petted him. “We’re almost there, Moe.” he said to the pup quietly.

Waco spoke to Stan over the robo-cams.
“We’re directly overhead, brother, and we’re locked onto you.” Waco said.

Stan had a wicked thought.

“Stand up, Jimmy-Bob!” ordered Stan.

Jimmy-Bob didn’t hesitate and did exactly what he was told.  Stan grabbed his hands.

“Now, close yore’ eyes and don’t open ‘em again until I tell you to, okay?” Stan barked at him.

“Okay, Stan.” Jimmy-Bob dutifully closed his eyes.

“On the count of three click your boot heels together three times and say with me three times, ‘There’s no place like home!’  And say it like you mean it! ”

“What?  I don’t wanna’ end up in no damn cornfield in Kansas!” Jimmy-Bob complained with his eyes still closed.

Stan wasn't expecting Jimmy-Bob's response, and he started laughing.

“Just do it!” barked Stan as he started counting. “One, two, three!”

They clicked their boot heels together three times and spoke the lines, “There’s no place like home’; there’s no place like home; there’s no place like home!”

Jimmy-Bob noticed a bright flash of light right after they clicked their boot heels together, but he didn’t open his eyes to look.  After they said their magic words he heard laugher from a group of folks and felt Stan throw his arms around him to give him a big hug and a kiss on his cheek.  There was applause from a crowd of people.

“You can open your eyes now, brother.” Stan giggled.  

Jimmy-Bob opened his eyes and almost passed out.  Stan and Jimmy-Bob were standing on the bridge of the Buttercup with Moe bouncing all around.  His knees buckled under him as he looked at all the good country folks sitting in seats and four cowboys in control of what looked like some kind of ship.  Everyone was laughing at the dirty joke Stan played on poor Jimmy-Bob.

“Oh, my God!” he said quietly. “Moe?” he asked the pup.

“Yes, yes, yes, it’s me, Mr. Dodge.  Welcome to the Buttercup.”

“What?  Where?  How?” Jimmy-Bob looked at Stan who was smiling.

“Didn’t I tell you I got connections?”

“Yes, but this, . . .  what did that Dorothy routine have to do with anything?” Jimmy-Bob demanded.

“Nothing, I just thought it was funny.” Stan broke into laughter.  Everyone laughed with him.

"I'll get chu,'  my pretty, and yore' little dog, too!" Jimmy-Bob shot back.  The crowd laughed harder.

It was at that moment Stan Edmunds knew he'd met his match.  He was in love.  His cowboy could think on his feet.

“Come,  I’ll tell you all about it.  Let’s take a seat.  You’re about to take the ride of your life, cowboy.”  Stan chuckled and led Jimmy-Bob to two seats reserved for them.  Stan strapped them in and slapped his legs for Moe to jump in his lap.  The pup jumped into Stan’s lap and gave him a couple of quick kisses before settling down.  

“All set, Stan?” Lucas hollered back to his slave brother.

“Ready, Sir.” Stan replied.

“Ready to leave the atmosphere, Captain Waco.” said first mate Lucas Long.

“Make it so, number one.”

Once again everyone was pressed back into their seats for several minutes.  Their ears began to pop as the cabin pressure adjusted.

“Where are we going, Stan?” Jimmy-Bob asked.

“On a three day cruise of our solar system, cowboy.  You ain’t lived until you seen Jupiter up close and personal in the summertime.”

“You shit’n me, brother?”

“Look around you, cowboy, do you think I’m shit’n you?”

“You mean to tell me we’re on a real honest to God space ship?” Jimmy-Bob questioned.

Jeb turned to him and smiled.

“The gin-U-wine article, brother.  Took us a while to get used to it.  This is me and ma’ brothers first trip into space.  Our master’s been promising us for over a year now, but just ain’t had the time.  Now we’re on our way and since Stan is a member of our family and one of our brothers, we figured we’d take him and you along.  Welcome aboard the Buttercup.  I’m Jeb Stamper and these men next to me are ma’ brothers.”

The passengers watched in awe as the small craft came into orbit around the earth.  They reached a stationary Clark orbit of twenty-two thousand five hundred miles above the Earth, named after Arthur C. Clark who predicted stationary orbits thirty years before they were a reality.  Science fiction became science fact.  They were in free-fall.  A few things were beginning to float around the control room.  Sonny’s cowboy hat wasn’t on tight enough and began to drift upward.  He reached up and grabbed it.  Vivian laughed at the look on her husband’s face.

“Engage artificial gravity.” Waco commanded.

“Artificial gravity engaged, Captain.” answered Little Bear as he pressed a button on a panel, and suddenly, everyone felt a little heavier and sank into their seats.  The Chief couldn’t have been prouder of his grandson.  He only wished his family could be with him to witness it.  Ah, the stories he would have to tell his grandchildren, and great grandchildren, and hopefully his great-great grandchildren.

“The Captain has given me permission to tell you we are now in safe orbit around our planet and you may remove your seatbelts and walk around.” spoke Lucas over the speaker system.  

Everyone was anxious to get up and try their space legs.  Everyone was friendly and well met.  They all came over to Jimmy-Bob and welcomed him.  Some just shook his hand, others called him ‘brother’ and gave him a hug.  Jimmy-Bob was overwhelmed by their response.  He hadn’t been around a group of good folks like these in over a month.  He broke into tears and Stan comforted him.  Stan later told him it was hard for him to be strong.

Everyone moved to Waco and his crew to complement and congratulate them on a wonderful flight from the planet.  Vivian was agog, a crew of fifteen year old men had just flown her, her husband and father-in-law into space.  Everyone else was pretty impressed as well.  David rang a beautiful sounding gong.

“An early afternoon snack and light drinks are being served in the small reception room next to the general mess off the main galley.  We will serve supper while orbiting the moon around six or seven this evening.  The Captain has closed the Officer's mess for our trip and everyone will dine in the general mess.  There are tables and holo-vid screens in the mess hall so you may observe Earth as we orbit.  We will only orbit three times to pick up speed to sling shot us on our way and then Captain Waco and his crew will take us to the moon for several orbits.  We will pick up speed and head for the outermost gas giants and possibly Pluto depending on our guest's vote.  If chosen, it will be our first planetary body to orbit.”  David sounded the gong once again and folks began to follow him to the reception room before the general mess hall.

Poor Jimmy-Bob was still gawking at the Lummox, Jack and Jill, and the four talking dogs who were all wanting his attention, to say nothing of the beautiful fairy who flew over to him, landed on his shoulder and gave him a kiss.

“Welcome to the Buttercup, Mr. Dodge.  You’ll get used to all the different people.  You may even meet a few new creatures you never knew existed before.  My name is Keekepata.  I’m from a planet in another galaxy and my race is called the ‘Shushonni.’”

“It’s. . . it’s good to meet you, ma’am.” said Jimmy-Bob shyly.

Stan slowly explained all the people on the ship to Jimmy-Bob.  He was even more confused when he found out Ox and Strom were Bigfoot.  

“You mean there really are such things as Bigfoot?” Jimmy-Bob asked.

“You’re looking at ‘em, brother.  They originated on another planet named Volgo and are known as Volgorons.  Despite their size they are a very peaceful race and have been known to interbreed with humans.  They’re race was all but wiped out and only a few of them survive today.  The largest portion are those who escaped to Earth and have lived separately from man for a number of centuries.  It’s only been lately they’ve began to let themselves be know to select humans; mostly advanced humans who will not kill them or enslave them.  Ironically enough, the one called Ox is the slave of Captain Waco.  The larger Lummox, Strom, is forming a relationship with one of our favorite school masters, Mr. Chambers I introduced you to.  If they bond they plan to have children together.”

“Wait a minute!  They’re both males!” exclaimed Jimmy-Bob.  

“We’ll show you a video later.  It will explain everything.  If I try to tell you how it’s possible, you probably won’t believe me.” Stan assured him.                  

“How can they just lift us from your dorm room, Stan?” Jimmy-Bob asked.

“Technology, brother.  The same technology that allowed my buddy Moe, here, to visit us at Brick and Tim’s place.”

“Is that what you meant by you could get us out of there?”

“E’aup.  When the time comes, you’n me, we’re out of there.”

“Ma’ little sister, too?” Jimmy-Bob wanted to know.

“Her, too, brother.”

“Do we have to go back after this?” he asked.

“Yeah, we got some things to do, but don’t worry about it now.  Let’s enjoy my family, your new family, and we’ll be ready to go back to do what we gotta’ do.”

“You still don’t know what it is, do you?” Jimmy-Bob pressed.

“I don’t; however, I got me a feel’n it’s got something to do with Officer Brick and Tim.”

“Yeah, I get the same feeling.” Jimmy-Bob allowed.

“I managed to get samples of their hair when we were visiting their place, and I brought ‘em with me.”

“You mean for DNA purposes like you took a sample of my blood?”

“The same, brother.  It’s all we need in case of emergency.”

They were greeted by more folks on the Buttercup and Stan introduced them to Jimmy-Bob.  He was impressed by Admiral Long and Charlie Goodnight.  Both men welcomed him warmly.  Jimmy-Bob had a difficult time with Admiral Long dressed as a ramrod from a working ranch, but he took it in stride.  Cowboys in space?  Why not?

The men enjoyed treats and some sodas while watching the Earth pass by on the holo-vids.  It looked like you were looking out a window on the side of the ship.  It was several vid screens built into the wall to give the startling impression they were windows.  The guest mingled with the Captain and his crew while they watched the beauty and grandeur of the Earth slowly pass by.

“It’s a shame our lovely world is going to end in a few years.” said Vivian Steele quietly, but it was heard by all.  There was a reverent silence at the contemplation of the enormity and finality of such a thing.

“What is she talking about?” Jimmy-Bob whispered to Stan.

“It’s only a matter of a few more years and the Earth as we know it will come to an end.  That’s why you’re on board this ship, brother.  Admiral Long came here several years ago with a huge fleet of ships, much larger than this one, to act as arks to save the good people of our planet and relocate us to another Earth-like planet in another solar system.  You and your family have been chosen to be saved, or you wouldn’t be here right now.  I checked you out the night I met you.  It’s a long story, but I’ll have time to tell you everything and show you the wonders of this advanced technology our family has available to us.”

“Who’s up for a walk in the woods?” Jack Hall announced.

“Me, me, me!  I need to visit the woods.” cried Moe.

“Me, too, Master Jack.” said Patty.

“We could go, Sir.”  added Shep.

“Can we go with you, Master Jack?” Stan asked, “I’d like to show my new brother the woods.”

“Shore, the more the merrier.  We need to walk the critters a couple of times a day.  I’m under Doctor Cable’s orders to take several long walks a day.  Jack and Jill, you come with us.” Jack told them.  They nodded.  Jill ran for Jack and jumped into his arms, and Jack ran for Warren and jumped on his shoulder.”

They all went through a portal.  Several of the folks joined them.  As soon as they passed through they were in a dense redwood forest with huge trees as tall as the eye could see.

“Woah!” said Jimmy-Bob.  “How could we go from space into a redwood forest?”

“We didn’t.” Warren explained to Jimmy-Bob, “It’s a piece of forest shrunk down to about the size of a four by eight sheet of plywood.  It’s on board the ship we’re on, it’s just miniaturized.  When we walked through the portal it shrunk us down to its size.  We’re now tiny to the folks still on board the ship.”

“Amazing.” whispered Jimmy-Bob.

“Yeah, impressive ain’t it?” agreed Stan, “You and your family will live on a plot of land like this, maybe even your old homestead if they can lift it, until everything comes to pass and we leave Earth.”

“You mean you weren’t kidding about rescuing my parents?”

“No, Jimmy-Bob, I wasn’t.  I already done talked with Master Waco, and it’s all been arranged.  As soon as we take care of what needs to be done in the Holy City, we’ll get your family out.  Trust me.”

“I do trust you, Stan, but no more Dorothy routines, okay?”

“I promise, I won’t, but chu’ gotta’ admit, cowboy, it was funny.” Stan laughed at him.

“Yeah, I guess.” Jimmy-Bob chuckled.

Along on their walk was Jessie Watkins and his dog Utah.  Utah loved the redwoods and ran from tree to tree marking his territory.  Jessie joined Jimmy-Bob and Stan.  He introduced himself.

“You’re the man what was there the afternoon the government men came to get me.  Master Waco told me about you.” Stan said.

“That’s right, Son.  I thought they needed a diversion, and we distracted them from finding Master Waco, his men and Moe.  They were hiding in the hay up in the loft.”

“If you had anything to do with saving my pup, I really appreciate it, Sir.”

“Thank you, Stan.  I have a feeling we’ll be working together some more in the near future.  You may need another diversion where you are right now and when you need us, all you have to do is click your boot heels together three times, and Utah and I will come and give you a hand.” Jimmy-Bob fell out laughing at Stan.  Everyone joined him.

“I guess I deserved that.” laughed Stan.  

“You and Jimmy-Bob must realize, if and when we do come to your aid, what you witness is done for the sake of those who hold you captive against your will.”

“We will, Sir, no matter what.” spoke up Jimmy-Bob to Stan’s surprise.

Later, when they were alone, Jimmy-Bob asked Stan if he thought Jessie was human.

“To tell ya’ the truth, I ain’t real sure, pod’na.’  I’ve heard me some stories of some pert-damn miraculous things he’s done.  I can’t rightly say.  All I know is, he’s on our side, and whatever he can contribute, I’m all for it.”  

The men returned to the reception area with the critters refreshed and full of energy.  They noticed they were beginning to leave the Earth’s orbit and head for the Moon.

“Ain’t they worried about being seen by radar on Earth’s military defense systems?” asked Jimmy-Bob.

“We’re invisible to them.  This ship has a technology Earth ships and their allies don’t have.  It’s capable of phase shifting from one dimension to another.  It can phase shift just enough to still see the here and now, but be invisible to radar or any sensors on Earth.  We’re even invisible to sight.  Remember the ‘cloaking’ devices on the old Klingon ships from Star Trek?  It’s similar to that, except it’s a part of Einstein’s theory of relativity.  It has to do with quantum dots.  You know how newspapers print pictures and cartoons in small dots?  It’s similar to that kind of concept.  We’re all made up of smaller things that can be shifted in time and space.  Lummox and a few humans can physically phase shift to be invisible.  Master JR and my slave brother Little Bear can do it.  Ox and Strom can do it.  They can simply phase themselves out of sight and still be present to observe what’s going on around them.”

“Wow!” exclaimed Jimmy-Bob.

* * * * * * *

The moon began to grow larger and larger as the Earth grew smaller and smaller.  The folks could sit or stand in the control room.  They could turn or swivel in their launch chairs three-hundred and sixty degrees to see a panoramic view of space all around them.  Ahead was the moon, but if they turned a hundred and eighty degrees they could watch the Earth growing smaller.  It was a stunning experience to say the least.

After a while, Waco turned over the operations to his first mate and came to talk with Jimmy-Bob and Stan.  He offered to take them to their cabin assignment.  Jimmy-Bob was impressed he looked like a twin of the cowboy who the beautiful winged-lady seemed to be with all the time.  Stan told him a little about Blue, but he added he’d have to show him some videos.  He would teach him more when they were alone.

Waco showed them their cabin and the men were thrilled with it.  It had all the amenities one could wish for including a change of clothes.  Jimmy-Bob couldn’t believe they were just his size.  He was impressed a lot of thought and care went into this trip.  He just couldn’t grasp the enormity of his good fortune.  He couldn’t be mad at Stan for anything.  He was too excited to find out more and as much as he could.  It gave him a new perspective and hope for the future he didn’t have several hours ago.  He was also impressed by the maturity and professionalism of Waco Goodnight, who was himself two years younger than Jimmy-Bob; however, it now became clear where Stan got his maturity and strength of purpose.  He was raised around these men and naturally took on their maturity.  Jimmy-Bob felt like he had some catching up to do.  He expressed as much to Stan.

“You’re jes’ fine the way you are, big brother.  Whether you know it or not, you’ve become my strong right arm.  Maybe now is as good a time as any to tell you how much you mean to me.  When I went into this thing in the Holy City I didn’t know if I could do it on my own.  To be honest with you, I was scared shitless; however, the Voices of the Ancients and the Wisdom of the Ages saw fit to provide me with you.  We didn’t jes’ meet by chance.  It was carefully planned.  What you don’t know about this world you’ve been introduced to, you more than make up for in our other world back there.  I love you, Jimmy-Bob, and believe it or not, love is the great equalizer.  The rest is fill in the blanks.  I plan to fill in those blanks on this trip.  By the time we return to our world, you’ll be a different man and an even stronger partner for me.”

 Jimmy-Bob took Stan in his arms and kissed him gently.

“You better stop that, cowboy, or we won’t get to see the Moon.” Stan chuckled.  Jimmy-Bob laughed.

“I guess there’s time enough for everything under heaven.” he allowed.

“I don’t think Ecclesiastes mentioned suck’n dick or butt fuck’n yore’ cowboy buddy.” Stan laughed.

“Their mistake, little brother.” drawled Jimmy-Bob. “They ain’t never had the advantage of taking you to bed; otherwise, it ‘ud be at the top of the list.”

* * * * * * *

As the Buttercup approached the Moon a vote was taken and everyone wanted to see Pluto and its moon Charon so the on board AI, Myra, set new coordinates to leave the Moon’s gravity at a particular point which would send them on their way to the small planet.  The guests got a laugh out of Captain Waco’s exchange with Myra.  She seemed to have a droll sense of humor.

“Captain Waco, sweetheart, why in heaven’s name would ya’ll wanna’ visit such an insignificant little rock as Pluto?” she teased.

“Uh, we took a vote and my passengers would like to see it, Myra.  I’d kind a like to see it myself.  We’re aware it’s no longer considered a major body in our solar system and has been downgraded by scientist to a planetoid; however, it does have a planetary orbit and influences the orbits of all the other planets; so it could be argued it has its place in the balance of our system; and therefore, important enough to have a look-see.  Besides, old teachings of our system are still of comfort to some, myself included.”

“I do declare, darlin’, you’re as smart as you are handsome, Captain Waco.  You’re just such a sweet heart.  Why, if I had a corporeal body, I’d be all over you in a cowtown nanosecond.  I’d throw my lasso around your firm little cowboy ass and never let you go.” Myra cooed.  Everyone laughed.  Waco squirmed in his seat and began to blush.

“Uh, gee thanks, Ms. Mrya.  I find you attractive, too.  You’re jes’ the best damn AI the Buttercup ever had.  I’ve certainly enjoyed the times we’ve worked together.”  Waco was learning to become the ultimate diplomat.

“I’m so glad to hear that, honey buns; but, I’m the only AI the Buttercup’s ever had, my sexy cowboy.”  Myra protested.

“Still, there’s no doubting you’re the best, Myra.  Now, I’d greatly appreciate it if you’d be a dear and set the coordinates for Pluto.”

“Done, my big handsome, buckaroo.  Gurrrfff!” she barked at him.  The pups responded with bark’s of their own.  “You can be my Captain anytime, baby cakes.” she added.  Myra had the last word.  Lazarus and Charlie were holding each other from laugher.

“Did you program Myra that way, Admiral?” Charlie spoke softly to Lazarus.

“Naw, Sir, Boss.  The AI’s in our ships, they’re all grown from the brain stem cells of cadavers who donated their bodies to the service of the fleet.  It would seem this one was either a madame or a lady of the night.” Lazarus chuckled.  “While she may seem a bit over the top at times, she’s damn good at what she does and would go to the wall for those she loves and feels a need to protect.  Make no mistake, her infatuation with Waco is a good thing.  There’s a bonding that occurs which will eventually become second nature between him and her.  She once threatened a fleet of ships to self-destruct in their midst if I wasn’t released to her within fifteen units of time.  Her total destructive power would’ve wiped out their entire fleet, and they knew it.  She allowed them to scan her.  I was released and we got out of a life or death situation because of her stubbornness.  I have no doubt she would’ve carried out her threat; however, she was never programed for it.  That’s the beauty of the AI’s, they develop strong personalities of their own.”

“J'ever hear of one going bad like HAL in that old Kubrick movie of Arthur C. Clark’s science fiction novel 2001?” Charlie asked Lazarus.

“No, I never have.  There are fail safe measures, based on another Earth science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov's ‘Three Laws of Robotics’: 1. A robot, or Artificial Intelligence, may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm; 2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law; 3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.  There are various subroutines that allow for stretching of those laws if the human in charge overrides them.  It’s like Myra probably wouldn’t have self-destructed because it would’ve cause harm to me as well at those who held me captive; however, they didn’t know that, and I taught her how to bluff at poker.  She could always beat the pants off’n me.  I would literally have to play in the raw so she could ogle me and git her jollies making rude sexual comments.” Lazarus and Charlie broke up laughing. “You gotta’ love a girl with spirit, boss.” Lazarus insisted.    

Jimmy-Bob and Stan were overhearing all of this and marveled at Admiral Long’s experiences.  Jimmy-Bob was soaking it all in like it was his first day at school.  He wasn’t the only one. Few of the passengers ever experienced Lazarus Long in his element as the Admiral of a large fleet of ships.  They reached the Moon and began to orbit; however, Waco and several of the guest wanted a closer look at the surface and asked Lazarus’ permission.  

“We could fly lower and a bit slower for a closer look, but before we do I need to warn everyone of a few things. What you were taught and learned about the Moon over the years is completely false.  What you remember about the manned Moon flights is mostly hogwash.  The truth is man was never allowed to set foot on the Moon.  It has been owned and controlled by several other races of creatures who refused to allow the first spacemen from Earth to land.  The government anticipated the probability and the added possibility that if something disastrous happened they would need a fall back plan.  The United States simply couldn’t afford to fail in the space race.  The Russians were nowhere near the U.S. technologically, but America’s intelligence information was faulty.

In the films issued by NASA show men running and bouncing around on the Moon.  The Moon is hollow and there is no central core to cause a planet-like gravity; furthermore, the Moon doesn’t even rotate on its axis to create an artificial gravity.  A man would weigh only one-tenth what he weighs on Earth, so even in a spacesuit, he would be able to leap ten times what he could on Earth.  Any man could easily leap a two story building on the Moon; however, the videos and films only show astronauts leaping two or three feet.  Also, it becomes apparent in the videos, they are slowed to make the action look like they are more weightless than they really are.

So, a Moon landing was simulated and created on a secret Hollywood-like sound stage at a famous base the government has never admitted exists, Area 51.  The only problem was, it was an extremely flawed effort and many in the general public and Hollywood began to see it was a fake.  The truth was, once they got to the Moon they were warned not to land by a fleet of spaceships who instructed them to turn around and go home or else.  For behaving like they were instructed by the aliens, the astronauts were accompanied to and from the Moon on every trip they made.  If Apollo 13 had really gone bad the crew would’ve been rescued and miraculous excuses made to get them home safely.

All the shots of vehicles landing, the first steps on the Moon by Armstrong, and the Moon rover were all done as special effects in a studio.  For one thing, the camera supposedly mounted externally on the first Moon lander would have been so large there wouldn’t have been room for it as well as added weight.  Everything that wasn’t necessary was stripped from the lander to make it as light as possible.  They didn’t have lightweight digital cameras like we have today.  Furthermore, they never could have  gotten something as big and heavy to the Moon as the rover.  It just wasn't technically possible at the time.

You won’t see any human footprints, American flags or Moon rovers on the surface.  What you will see is towers and some ruins of bases of several civilizations who, at one time or another, have come to Earth to rape it of its natural resources and enslave its people.  You will see large glass transportation tubes used by aliens to take them from base to base.  Some bases you will see are still very much active and alive with critters; others, are dead and have been abandoned for centuries.  Races have fought other races for centuries for the control of the Moon.  He who controls the Moon, controls the planet below.

I won’t go into more right now, but if anyone is interested, Myra has all the pertinent material and videos available for review and multiple lectures about the fraud perpetrated on the people of Earth.  They may be viewed in your cabins later.  It’s also interesting to note the Moon is completely hollow.  Laser seismic test aimed at the Moon denotes it rings like a bell when there is any heavy or seismic movement on its surface.

It has not always been a satellite of the Earth.  There was a time in the history of Earth when there was no Moon in the sky.  It was moved into place by a very advanced race of beings.  It was put in a stationary orbit that would not decay over many centuries and is exactly located with enough distance from the Earth to the Sun to cause a complete eclipse of both.  The Moon is unusually large compared to its foster parent planet, Earth.  It was not with the Earth all the way from the beginning.  It appeared later in the sky and since, has accompanied Earth on its yearly voyage around the Sun.

The Moon, an almost perfect sphere of unnatural origin, maintains a  strange but profoundly deep relationship to the planet it orbits.  It’s aligned on the same plane as the Earth; however, it circles our planet in a perfectly circular orbit and always keeps the same face toward us.  It does not rotate like the Earth; in fact it is the only body in our solar system which does not rotate on an axis.  Strangely enough, it is also accurately distanced and aligned with our star, the Sun.  The Moon is 1/400th the size of the Sun keeping also 1/400th the distance from it!  This is an amazing fact which defies all laws of probability it should be so perfectly placed; however, it makes great sense if you wish to protect a fragile planetary ecosystem from solar winds and convince an impressionable native population of the existence of Gods who can make the Sun hide behind the Moon, and they come to believe it augurs ominous futures.

When was the Moon placed in the sky?  Some folks speculate it probably occurred right about the beginning of the Cambrian explosion of new plants and critters on the Earth took place.  It is generally accepted it shields the Earth from harsh solar winds and radiation and its effects upon the tides caused many new species to develop and blossom in a shorter evolutionary time period than would’ve been possible without it.  Students learn in any high school chemistry class, to get a quicker, more complete reaction requires constant stirring.  That, and a large layer of iridium deposited by a passing world which travels through the solar system every thirty-five thousand years jump started cellular mutations which helped create the explosion.  The rogue planet is known to the Ancients as Chernobyl or Wormwood.”  Lazarus concluded.  “Captain Goodnight, you may give the order to your first mate to fly us at a lower altitude and slow our orbit.”

“Make it so, number one.” Waco said officially to his first mate, Lucas.

“Aye, aye, Captain.  Myra, darlin’, would you gimme' a hand with this?”  Lucas requested of the AI.

“Why, I’d be happy to, Lucas, dear.  Anything for you, honey bunch.” Myra cooed. 

"Careful, girlfriend, you're gonna' break the Captain's heart."  Lucas chuckled.

"Nonsense!  There's enough of Myra to go around for all you handsome cowboys."  she assured Lucas.  Everyone laughed.

The Buttercup dropped within a couple of miles of the surface of the Moon and everyone could see perfect details of the surface.  They began to see the features, for which, Admiral Long told them to look.  There were many ‘ooohs’ and incredulous ‘aaahs’ as they slowly flew over and took in some of the structures’ grandeur.  Vivian and Sonny were holding hands.  They were in awe of what they were seeing.  So was everyone else.  After they circled the Moon a couple of times, Waco gave the order to resume the standard orbit so they could have dinner.

“Are there more surprises in our solar system, Admiral Long?” young Jeb Stamper asked.

“A few, young man.  Venus is a hot spot of alien activity.  Fortunately, for us, it’s inhabited by a friendly, if somewhat standoffish, race of beings who have become known on Earth by UFO enthusiast as the tall blonde Nordic race.  They have lived on Venus for centuries and are quite peaceful and serene.  They have visited Earth on fact finding missions for other races in the galaxy who are concerned or have some interest in Earth.  They are one of the few good or benevolent races who have visited Earth.  The rest have been controlling and usurping races who plan to enslave the planet in the not too distant future.  Also, I’m told, Mars has some rather remarkable ruins few have ever seen or heard of let alone explored.  Perhaps we can get more information from the Venusians for our visit to the red planet.  I know our friends, the Venusian Bladder Whales, will tell us what they know.”

“Venusian Bladder Whales, Master Long?” Sam Stamper asked incredulously.

“Yes, Sam, we met them on our last trip to Venus several years ago when Admiral Long first came to our ranch.”  volunteered Little Bear.

“They’re remarkable creatures.” added Shane.

“They will know all our names and how we’re related to one another by the time we get there.  They see and hear everything in the universe.  They have song competitions with the whales in our oceans on our world.” said Travis.

“Then we’re not the only life in our solar system.” said Burt.

“Not by a long shot.” chuckled JR who was blatantly holding big Hank’s hand.  Hank didn’t seem the least self-conscious holding JR’s hand.  In fact, it just seemed like the thing to do.

The chief steward rang the first supper gong.  David explained there would be three gongs before supper would be severed.  The first was to give their guests thirty minutes to take care of private needs and wash-up before supper.  The second gong would be for drinks and appetizers for the adults which the younger passengers needn’t respond to if they didn’t care to, and the last gong would announce seating for supper.   

“Don’t be afraid you’ll miss anything.  We have holo-vids in the dining room.  It’s just like any other room in the ship.” David ended his small speech.

The adults met for appetizers and drinks in the small room leading into the main dinning hall.  Only one person had alcohol.  Vivian announced she hadn’t had a drink in years.  She thought a vodka Gibson on the rocks sounded good.  All of the men had coffee and Chief Tin Penny had Earl Grey tea.  They stood around and chatted as they watched the dark side of the Moon come across the holo-vid screens.  They could clearly see flashes of light on the surface where activities were going on.  It became apparent the convenience of having only one side of the Moon facing the Earth.  The old Chief and Warren Steele struck up a friendship.  

“You must be very proud of your grandson, Chief.”  Warren said to him

“More than you can know, Mr. Steele.  While all my grandchildren are precious to me, Little Bear is the light of my days.  He is one of the chosen.  He is one of the children of Methuselah.  He and his kind will live much longer than any of us in this room, and they will deserve their increased longevity.  He will lead our people up out of the terrible tyranny that has overtaken our country.  As a people without much of a voice we have had to live through whatever governments the white man has seen fit to govern the people.  It is only now, we have a greater cause which joins us together to escape our bonds.  If our race can contribute to our mutual salvation, so be it.  Then we will have a new beginning to become more equal partners for the future.”

“I pray to whatever Gods who might listen to me you are right, Chief.  Well said.”  allowed Warren as he stuck out his hand and firmly sealed his approval of the Chief’s wise words with a hardy shake.

The final seating gong sounded throughout the ship and everyone gathered for supper.  They went into the dinning room together and their names were on small cards on the plates where they were to be seated.  David instructed everyone to remember their seating assignments because that would be their seating place for the voyage.

The Admiral sat at the head of the table with his Captain on his right hand and his first mate on Admiral Long’s left.  Little Bear was seated next to his Captain  and Travis next to Lucas.  Master Charlie was seated at the opposite end of the table.  On his right was seated the Chief and on his left Warren Steele.  Jack Hall was seated next to the Chief and Sonny and Vivian were across from him.  

They found their places and all were instructed to remain standing behind their respective chairs.  Lazarus asked everyone to join hands.

“Chief Tin Penny, would you be so gracious as to offer a blessing for our gathering and the food we are about to partake?” asked Lazarus.

The old Chief bowed his head and every head around the table automatically bowed as an approval of his recognized authority.

“Great Spirit, hear us.  We pray for good fortune on our journey.  Keep us from harm’s way and let us bring goodness wherever we sojourn.  Bless the food we are about to eat to the nourishment of our bodies and the strength of our souls.  Let them ever be open to knowledge and wisdom.  Thank you Great Father for bringing us together in your glorious universe.  We are humbled and grateful for your bounty.   Bless us all.  Amen.”

“Amen!”  seconded all around the table.

“Sit, ladies and gentlemen.” instructed Lazarus.

“Thank you, Chief, for your prayer.” said Jesse Watkins across the table to Chief Tin Penny.  The Chief nodded and smiled at him.  Jesse rose and went to a small table where the androids had laid out his and his companion’s food.  Jesse took his staff and everyone watched as he blessed their food.  Once again there was a blinding white light shown from his hand onto their food for only a few seconds, and then, it was gone.  He sat Utah’s food on the deck and petted him urging him to eat his supper.  He returned with his several pieces of whole grain bread and a small cup of olive oil.

Some of the boys had never seen it before, but they had enough manners not to say anything or ask any questions unless an adult or master brought up the subject.  Waco saw the questioning look on their faces.

“Mr. Watkins is of another race of beings, gentlemen.  So is his companion.  They have different nutritional needs than us.  They only take the form you see to relate to our species.  They can assume any shape or form they chose; however, if I’m not mistaken, it’s been hundreds of years since they assumed other forms.”

“You are correct, Captain Waco.” Jesse assured him. “You’ve been listening to the Voices again.”  Jesse smiled at Waco. “We are beings of mostly pure energy or to put it another way, of intelligent light and smart electrons.  My companion was assigned to me thousands of years ago as my  prisoner or slave.  It’s the way our race has of settling debts and allowing another life form to work their way back to their original form.  Sometimes they chose to ascend and take on our life form, but it is never granted them until they are fully ready.  I’m happy to say, my companion passed his necessary station some five hundred years ago and has since been my faithful companion simply because he loves me, and I love him.  I can give him any form he might wish.  He has informed me he doesn’t wish to hurry his decision; however, the moment he does decide I will grant him his desire.  He was originally assigned the form of a terrible looking, mange covered mutt; however, over the years I’ve seen fit to change his form to what you see now.  Just recently I gave him the gift of speech after seeing the joy and happiness Scraps and Happy’s pups brought to the world.  He never asked me for it.”

* * * * * * *

The serving androids served supper, and it was enjoyed by all.  Everyone commented on the excellence and quality of the food.  The boys gave a round of applause for David, Jonathan and their android crew.  They were greatly pleased their efforts were appreciated.  Talk was lively around the table and the boys were polite with their questions and intelligent with their comments.  As they were finishing dessert and coffee was being served, Waco stood to make an announcement.

“After supper there will be a period of relaxation where you may roam about the ship, go to your cabins for a while or join the crew on the observation deck of the control room.  There will be a pipe blown for those who wish to see our final flight around the Moon and departure.  We have been picking up speed with each revolution.  On the final lap we will break free of the Moon’s gravitational pull and be shot out into deep space to begin our journey to Pluto.  We should come into close sight of the planet early tomorrow morning at which time you will be awakened and coffee will be served on the observation deck with breakfast soon to follow.

There will be a second pipe this evening announcing entertainment in the ship’s auditorium.  Tonight we have a special treat.  My slave Keekepata has agreed to treat us with a new dance.  She has something special worked up she wants to premier for us this evening.  Afterward, there will be an old classic Academy Award winning science fiction film from 1950 shown “Destination Moon.”  Adapted from the science fiction novel by the same name by Robert A. Heinlein, it’s one of the great classic films from that era.  While it’s old and antiquated by today’s standards it has many of the elements that NASA used to launch their spacecraft.  Aside from that, it’s so old, it is now considered ‘retro-hip’ whatever the hell that means.  I’m just reading what it says here about the movie.”  Waco laughed.  “For what it’s worth, I hear it goes great with hot, buttered popcorn.”

A couple of folks laughed and then a cheer went up for Captain Waco’s announcement.  Waco continued.
“For those of you who don’t wish to stay for the movie there are hundreds of thousands of  holo-vids and movies you may watch in your cabins.  To choose, all you have to do it select ‘menu’ and the subject you wish to peruse.  If you need assistance ask for Myra our helpful onboard AI.  She’ll be happy to help you select something and put it up for you to enjoy.  We will blow a final pipe at twenty-three hundred hours for lights out.  We don’t have a strict policy for lights out; after all, this is a pleasure cruise.  It’s just a reminder.  You may remain up watching holo-vids all night if you wish; however, morning comes early on the Buttercup.  You wouldn’t want to miss anything.”

No one wanted to miss the final slingshot exit from the Moon.  Everyone gathered on the bridge to watch.  It was rather anti-climatic to orbiting the Moon because once they were free from its gravitational pull it quickly began to grow smaller and so did their beloved home planet, Earth.  It quickly grew smaller until it was about the size of a basketball; a softball, a hardball, a tennis ball, a golf ball, a ping-pong ball and finally it became the size of a small button; however, the heavens all about them were glorious.  Their field of vision was one of massive numbers of lights and pin points of stars.  Even the Sun was growing smaller and weaker in strength.  Finally, everyone headed for the ship’s theater.

The heavy, red velvet curtains were closed on the stage.  Everyone was seated and got comfortable.  Waco looked around for his brother Blue but couldn’t find him.  He just assumed he was probably behind the stage to help his little sister with her act.  He knew Arnie would be back there fussing with last minute adjustments to her costume.  He had no idea what they planned or what this dance might be about.  Keekepata was trying ever more bold and daring things and integrating all sorts of new ideas into them.  Everyone got quiet.

“Ladies and gentlemen, our dance artist in residence would like to perform for you her latest work,” came Arnie’s voice over the speaker system, “it is a collaborative work between Dame Keekepata, myself Arnie Lewis, and Dame Pata’s big brother, Blue.  It’s titled, “The Dream of Will Bonney.” Arnie asked Myra to dim the house lights, and she complied.  It was almost completely dark inside the auditorium except for the isle lights on the ends of each row of seats.  Arnie opened the curtain, but the stage was completely dark.  The music started.  It was Aaron Copeland’s score of Billy The Kid; however, this was not Eugene Loring’s ballet to Copeland’s music.  It was Keeke’s dance from start to finish.

The curtains opened and the stage was black.  Slowly, on the left side of the stage a spot came up and illuminated a huge replica of the Moon with a big saguaro cactus outlined in front of it.  The music was cold and plaintive as it slowly made its presence known.  Out of nowhere came an animal.  It looked like a coyote and sat directly in front of the glowing Moon in silhouette.  It sat there for a moment looking at the Moon for a few seconds, threw back its head a gave out the most painfully mournful wail you ever heard.  It wasn’t loud.  It was very soft as if it were far in the distance.  It sent chills up the audience’s spine.  Waco looked about and noticed Patty was missing.  He wondered.

Out of the darkness on the right side of the stage someone struck a match and lit a cigarette.  You could see the outline of a man’s face and cowboy hat, but that was about all.  Then you could see him taking a drag from the cigarette and you could see more of his face.  The stage lights came up a bit and a small pin spot shown down creating a silhouette of the cowboy and you could see just a little more.  Then the cowboy slowly turned and moved into the spot.  It was Blue!

Everyone gasp.  He was in full cowboy outfit except he wore no shirt but an old sweat stained brown leather work vest he worked in many times.  Blue was wearing his batwing working chaps, his big wide-brimmed buckaroo hat, his boots and spurs.  He had a rope looped over his shoulder and hanging down his right side.  Waco couldn’t believe how hot his brother looked in his Western clothes.  He wondered if he should send him that message and decided not to.  He didn’t have to.  Obviously, everyone else thought Blue was pretty damn hot because they all started applauding.  Waco joined them.

Every time Blue moved his spurs made a musical jingle sound which seemed to be coordinated perfectly with the music.  He finished his cigarette, flicked it to the center of the stage, moved with the music and put it out with one very masculine turn with his right foot.  To the music he undid his lasso and made various dance moves as he twirled and tossed his rope.  He was practicing his skills.  He danced perfectly and skillfully threw his rope.  He never missed what he seemed to be roping.  He did several trick roping moves and danced in and out of the twirling loop of his rope.  He would throw the loop up above his head and allow it to descend around him almost to the ground as he kept it moving the entire time.  He was damn good.

With his back to the audience he stretched, slowly turned with the music to show a wide yawn like he was tired, coiled his rope like he was through with his practice and slowly moved with the music to the base of a tree which suddenly appeared in the light.  He lay down beneath the tree, stretched and yawned again.  He lay back against the tree and pulled his big hat down over his eyes.

He lay that way as the music played on.  It was obvious to everyone he was suppose to be asleep.  As the music continued, out onto the stage danced Keekepata in a pure white, sheer gossamer short dress and she danced around all over the stage like she didn’t see a thing.  She was just doing her thing until she danced close to the tree, where she saw the sleeping cowboy for the first time.  She started to run away to continue her dance, but her curiosity got the better of her.  She started flying over him and dancing all around Blue like she was sizing him up, wondering about him.  She was so expressive you could almost read her mind from her movements and gestures.  You could feel her curiosity about this strange creature she came across.

Finally, her dancing woke the cowboy, and he came to with a start.  He caught site of the fairy-like creature he thought he was only dreaming about and tried to grab for her.  It was all perfectly matched to the music, and it was incredible dance-mime.  Blue got up and the two of them danced a stylized chase around the stage like the cowboy was in hot pursuit of his dream.  Try as he might he couldn’t catch her, and the chase got more and more frantic with Keeke dancing away from him ever more quickly, acrobatically and gracefully.  Blue was equally graceful, but it was staged for him to be more clumsy and more masculine in his efforts.  He was doing a masterful job of creating the tension between them.

In desperation, he took the rope from his shoulder, made a loop and began to swing it with the greatest expertise of any fine cowboy roper and threw it into the air at the fleeting fairy-women of his dreams.  He caught Keekepata by her feet, and as she frantically tried to get away, he slowly but surely pulled her to him in exaggerated arm over arm movements like he was hauling in the biggest steer to brand.  Keeke was in the air trying to use her wings to escape.  Blue looked like he was pulling in a kite on a windy day.  Everyone in the audience was sitting on the edge of their seats.  It was a moment of great climax of a taut drama.  What would the cowboy do?  What would her reaction be to being caught?   

When Blue finally had Keekepata in his hands he slowly undid the rope and held her gently to look at her beauty.  Finally, after she made several attempts to escape his grasp and failed, she resigned herself to what fate might befall her.  It was at that moment the cowboy realized he had complete control and power over this strange, beautiful creature of the night, but what did he really have?  He had something of great beauty he was holding onto with all his might, but her beauty was not meant for him alone to enjoy.  With the swelling of the music, he slowly began to raise his hand into the light of a spot that was supplying the light to the Moon.  He held her up until she was above his head and he simply opened his hand for Keeke to sit unfettered upon.  She was silhouetted against the huge Moon backdrop on the left of the stage and the effect was very dramatic.  

Keeke sprang up and twirled three times in the palm of Blue’s hand and flew up and away from him.  Blue held up his other hand to her and she flew to it and twirled three more times in perfect sync with the music then flew away.  Blue danced to the side of the stage and she followed, he held up his hands again and she danced in his palms again and again.  Finally, their dance became a beautiful pas de deux of great strength and graceful beauty.

Blue would slowly lift her like he would throw a ball from one hand to another.  She would float from one of his open hands to the other.  Then she would run up his arm across his back and down his other arm to spin again in his other hand.  It was a stunning performance, but the human, mortal cowboy began to tire.  He became ever more sluggish.  He wanted to keep up his love affair dance with his fairy princess, but it became too much for him.  He lay down to complete his nap, perchance to finish his dream.  The beautiful fairy gently kissed him goodnight, then reluctantly flew away.  She circled the stage and returned to kiss her cowboy goodnight once more.  She repeated it once again until she had kissed him goodnight three times.  Then she danced to the side of the stage and did her own dance of farewell and finally death.  She died with the death of her cowboy’s dream.  With the last, lonely strains of the music, the coyote came back to sit in front of the lonely Moon to give one last mournful howl.  The stage faded to black and the curtain slowly closed.

Everyone sat for a few minutes like they’d been gobsmacked by a two-ton Mac truck.  Almost in unison, everyone broke into applause, cheers, with much stomping of boots and whistling.  The appreciative audience didn’t hold anything back.  Many had tears in their eyes.  Vivian was deeply moved and weeping silently in her husband’s big cowboy arms.  Even old stoic Sonny who never shed a tear in a rodeo arena no matter how hard he landed, was a bit misty-eyed.   Waco wiped away a few tears from his eyes.  Everyone began laughing at each other for having been moved so deeply.  The curtain opened.  Blue and Arnie each held one of keeke’s small hands in theirs as the three took a bow.  Everyone applauded like crazy.  Blue whistled and Patty came bounding out on the stage and jumped up into Blue’s waiting arms and everyone clapped for her.  It was the finest thing Keeke had ever done, and she knew it.  It went over far greater than even she expected.  It was mostly Arnie’s idea, but Keeke and he turned a good idea into great art.  Everyone was stunned at Blue’s performance.  He wasn’t just good, he was damn good!  Keeke later shared with everyone, her big brother Blue was the perfect student and dance partner.  She only had to show him once what and how she wanted him to dance, and he did it perfectly each time.  Modest Blue gave his little sister all the credit.  He figured it was her time in the spotlight.  Let her shine.  The Admiral went to the stage and bowed deeply to Keekepata, Blue, Arnie, and of course, Ms. Patty.  

“I’ve witness many things in my long life, but nothing more fine than your performance this evening.  Arnie, your ideas, designs, costumes and sets were excellent.  Blue you have made yourself a credit to two races this evening and both you men have contributed to help a true artist of another race find her own distinctive voice and unique expression of her talent.  Ms. Patty you were the very soul of a lonely coyote in the desert.  You made chills run up and down my spine with your performance; it was so real and believable.  Excellent!  Well done, sweet lady.”  Lazarus reached down to pet a smiling Patty.  He turned to Keeke.  “Last, but certainly not least, my dear, you have come into your own as an artist of the highest quality and calling.  I have never seen such fine dancing or deeper emotions expressed by any Shushonni dancer as I did here this evening.  You have my most humble expression of gratitude and thanks for sharing your passion with us this evening.  It was truly a remarkable performance and will not be soon forgotten by anyone here.”

Everyone broke into applause in agreement of Admiral Long’s word's of praise.   

“Thank you, Admiral Long.  Coming from you those are wonderful words to hear.  My people would be proud of me simply because I was able, in some small way, to please the greatest hero our world has ever known.  I am humbled and grateful for you kind word's of praise; however, whatever I have become today is the result of what everyone considered a mistake of my youth.  While my actions were foolish, I no longer believe they were wrong.  I have come to live among these wonderful people and opened my heart to them as they have to me.  I have been given one of the greatest opportunities any Shushonni could hope for.  I have absorbed the passion and love from my master and his brothers; especially, Blue, Arnie Lewis and Dr. Steven, and all the folks of the Grange.  I will forever be in their and your debt, Sire.”

Once again the audience went crazy applauding for Keekepata and she took a solo bow.  David walked in from the side entrance with a huge bouquet of fresh flowers and handed them to Keekepata.  She gave David a hug and a quick kiss and stood with tears streaming down her cheeks to take a final bow.  It was a memorable evening and Myra captured it all on holo-video.  It would go down in history as the most creative and unusual new dance ever performed between a Shushonni and a human male dance partner.  It was copied by other live performers who learned and adapted their dances to those of the great and legendary Dame Keekepata.

Waco came to the stage and hugged Keekepata first.  She bowed deeply to Waco to recognize his position as Captain and her master.  Everyone was touched by her show of humility.

“I have only one thing to add, my sweet Shushonni dancer.  You were beautiful.  You are a credit to your race and the pride of your master.  You’re master loves you very much.”

Keeke shed a few more tears as further hugs and kisses were exchanged.  Waco moved to his brother, hugged and kissed him.

“Excellent, brother.  Damn, it’s almost like kissing a carbon copy of myself.”  A few groaned at Waco’s pun.  “Ah, but I have more to add.  You are no longer a carbon based copy of me, my brother.  What you accomplished here this evening is of your own making and personality.  You are very much becoming your own man.  I’m very proud of you, Blue.”

“Thank you, brother.” said Blue as they hugged again.

“And you, Mr. Lewis!  Whoever thought such a mild mannered physical therapist had within him the buds of such genius.  Everything was perfect, Arnie.  Congratulations.  Your partner is a fortunate man.”

“Why, thank you, Captain Waco.  You’re kind words are greatly appreciated.”

“Patty, I never knew you would become the grand Diva of the family, but here you are and Admiral Long was right, you were magnificent.”

“Really, Captain Waco?  I jes’ loved doing it.  Mr. Lewis, Blue and Ms. Keeke taught me what to do.  I tried to do my best.  Thank you, Sir.”  Waco petted her and she ate it up.  She ran over to Jack Hall and Warren Steele to get more attention and compliments.
* * * * * * *

Keeke asked Blue to accompany her to their cabin.  She wanted to clean up.  Blue agreed because he wanted to get out of his costume.  Waco promised he would have Myra hold starting the movie until they returned.  After she showered Blue was waiting for her with a fluffy warm towel.  He gently toweled her dry and plugged in the hair dryer one of the ladies of the Grange gave her for drying her hair and wings.  Blue knew just how best to use it so no part of her got too warm and damaged her delicate wings or skin.  When he was finished she felt invigorated.

“You were truly wonderful this evening, Blue.”

“Awh, you say that to all the boys." he smiled and blushed.

“No, now stop that.  You know I never could have pulled it off without you.  You were truly amazing.  I realized you were good when we rehearsed, but when you were on stage you bloomed like you have the soul of a great dancer.”

“I’m just happy being a cowboy, little sister.  I don’t mind dancing with you to make you happy, but it ain’t my real calling.  I don’t know what I want to do with the possibilities before me, but they seem endless.  I’ve got years to figure out what I want.  You don’t know how freeing being mobile can be; never to have to be condemned to stay in one spot all your life.”

“All right, I’ll accept that, but I just want you to know how much you mean to me, and I’m always here for you if you need me.”

“I know that, and I hope I’ve proved to you my love and loyalty.”

“You have, big brother, and from now on, I’m going to be a lot nicer to you.”

“You’re nice enough like you are, Keeke.”

“Something has changed with you, Blue.  What is it?  You’re still my big brother, but you seem to be withdrawing more and more within yourself.  I felt you struggling this evening while we were dancing.  You were perfection with your dance, but your mind kept wandering.”

“Another consciousness within my body is waking up, little sister.  I am becoming two.”

End Of Chapter 34 ~ Waco’s Lummox
Copyright 2007 ~ Waddie Greywolf
All Rights Reserved ~
E-mail: waddiebear@yahoo.com