By Waddie Greywolf

Chapter 73

“Shun him not, proud son’s of Earth’s bright dust; sing forth ye ancient creatures shining through the dark of night; fling wide the promised golden gates of heaven; for today, he is three score and seven.” From: “Cantata Fortuna Dies Natalis Puerbos” by Orfeo Arturo Benedito Grigiolupo da Pomona  (07/10/08)

Ben and Rocky became Oblio’s greatest champions.  They recognized who he was immediately but kept their mouths shut.  They became his big brother protectors and tutors.  They had direct communication with the spheres and could put the boy in contact with his three grandparents on his dad’s side.  They made arrangements to channel his grandmother, Jenny Hayden’s electrical essence in her alien plasmotic form to visit her aging father one dark and stormy night so he would think she was a ghost returned to haunt him.  She played the role of spook to perfection.  She reformed into a glowing image of her previous self with long, ethereal strands flowing from her beautiful pure white gown she designed especially for her performance. 
Jenny asked the miserly old curmudgeon what he planned to do with all the money and property he hoarded away for years?

When he responded he planned to leave it to David Yates’ Pentecostal Evangelical Fundamentalist Church, she went ballistic; she became a mother on a mission.  She was out to make sure her son and grandson survived with some modicum of comfort and dignity.  She figured it was the very least the old buzzard could do for her and them. 
She told him how appalled and disappointed with him she was the way he neglected and abused her only child.  His selfishness was unforgivable.  She stressed there was absolutely no excuse for his uncharitable actions and unless he dramatically changed his ways and made some effort to make amends for his utter lack of humanity, she would personally haunt and torment his soul for all eternity.  She would make him so miserable he would pray endlessly for the comfort of a lake of fire.  It was a heavy trip to lay on the old conservative bible humper, and she played on his superstitions like a cheap two dollar fiddle at a barn dance.* 

The two big bio-droids taught Oblio many wonderful things.  They taught him how to reduce himself to only his electrical essence like his alien granddad.  He never displayed his miraculous capabilities to anyone but Ben and Rocky.  They suggested his dad’s Shane and Cole might not be ready for a kid who could reduce himself to a ball of plasma with a small will-of-the-wisp sprite moving in and out and all about.  Oblio’s alien dad and grandparents were members of a race who called themselves the Plurallians.  They lived, learned, progressed and evolved into the Ancients after hundreds of thousands of years living as body-free entities; an intelligence without shape or form but which could assume any likeness of their choosing for brief periods of time.  They were naturally concerned with Montana and Oblio because they were the first of a new hybrid species.

They were also interested in the boy because they expected him to have less talents and traits of the disembodied Plurallians than his father.  They thought Montana would be the peak of the alien’s conjoining with an Earth woman and his differences would dissipate within the genome after several generations.  Perhaps a few anomalous traits might pop up from time to time as a random genetic throwback but would eventually level out and be integrated into the greater sea of humanity.  They were wrong.  From birth, Oblio had greater fluency and better understanding of his talents and powers than Monty.  He was stronger and more capable than his father by a factor of two.  In some civilizations he would have appeared as a young god among men, but a lot depended on the environment, in which, the two men were raised.  Monty was mostly left to his own devices to fend for himself, while Oblio was being raised in a loving, supportive, and encouraging environment where diversity was readily accepted and every critter’s unique talents were nurtured and appreciated.

One might expect such a child to develop a mischievous bend out of boredom and cause all sorts of chaos in a Newtonian world inhabited by ignorant bipeds who believed in myths and whose lives were guided by superstition.  By comparison, one might wonder if there really was such a historical figure as Christ.  If so, what would his childhood have been like if he did have the awesome powers of a god?  There are apocryphal writings of the boy Jesus in which he becomes angry with his playmates and changes them into swine.  Not too cool for the son of a god, but what kid hasn’t dreamed of having such powers to dispatch their tormentors?  What fun, to be able to change the school bully into a squeally-gruntus with a wave of your hand?  Oblio had such powers, but he was loved, respected and guided by people of a different age and outlook on life than the harsh, rigid world of camel jockeys and sheep herders of two thousand years ago.  Oblio and the world was blessed when he was rescued from the Ruggles’ by a class of people who might best be described as secular humanist.  One shudders to think if he was allowed to grow up in the confused, dark, cult of death, world of the rabid fundamentalist.  Would they mistake his powers and abilities as the second coming?  Some might argue the myth of Christ lends itself well to the concept of alien hybridization.  Was it true what some alien historians claimed: the grays and snakes created an exceptional human to establish a religion of fear to control the dumb ape-like creatures?

Oblio found himself in a perfect environment to allow his talents to grow and mature without him seeming to be a freak or someone to fear.  He had regular talks with his two masters when they could get away and spend quality time together.  Shane and Cole urged him to go slow, conserve his talents and not be a showoff, especially around Monty.  They impressed on him the importance of growing up a normal boy within the confines of his unusual circumstances; but, of course, he wasn’t a normal boy, and several times Shane and Cole realized they must adjust their expectations for Oblio’s sake.  The kid did his best, but he had a natural brilliance about him that attracted everyone.  He never woke up to a bad day.  There was just no such thing to him.  There was always something new and wonderful to learn and absorb.  He wasn’t a hyperactive cheerleading ‘happy face’ personality.  He was mostly quiet and reserved, but he just seemed to generate a goodness that everyone wanted to be around.  He would explain to his pa’s, Shane and Cole, some new talent Ben and Rocky helped him develop, and the men would be astounded.  They would try to be as level headed as possible and explain to him that perhaps a particular talent might best be used sparingly.

He loved watching the medical channels on cable when he had time.  He’d rather watch those than kid’s programs.  He watched and learn about the functions of the human body and its diseases.  He was fascinated by the healing capabilities of Jesse and Utah.  He was one of the first to equate Utah’s condition to what his dad, Monty, did to the man they referred to as Coyote John.  He came to know his dad well enough, he knew Monty would never do something like that unless he had a damn good reason.  When he discussed it with Shane and Cole they confirmed his thoughts Monty changed Coyote John for a number of reasons, but the main one was to protect him from himself and the consequences of his foolish actions.  Shane couldn’t help feel proud of Monty for creating the ideal situation as an example of the use of his power in a judicious manner.  Shane tried to impress on Oblio the importance for him not to intercede on Coyote’s behalf and let his dad make all the decision for the outcome of their interactions.  Oblio swore he would not interfere.

“Could you change him back to the man he was, Son?” Cole asked him.

“Naw, Sir, Pa Cole, not without his genetic information on file in my body.  If I had even one hair or a trace of his blood from before Captain Montana changed him I could, or if I ever have access to my dad’s blood, I could inherit his files.  Unless it becomes necessary, I don’t care to do that.  I’m building up my own base of genetic information from those I love and care about in case I need to help them, and that may be sooner than I thought.”

“Would you care to share your thought with us?” Shane asked.

“Uncle Angus’s got colon cancer.” he said quietly.  There was a stunned silence.  Cole looked at the sudden horror in Shane’s eyes and shook his head not to panic.

“Are you sure, Son?” Shane asked without nuance.

“Yes, Sir.  Remember that old cowboy you took me to see over to Mr. Steele’s oldest boy’s ranch to see if I could help him?  Uncle Angus went with us.  The cowboy was so eaten up from the same cancer there weren’t nothing I could do for him but ease his suffering some.  He was too far gone.  His organs were shutting down.  I can heal and reverse cancers if I find them soon enough.  I can bring any critter or human back to life if they die suddenly and their body is otherwise sound, but cancer is the rotting and decay of the body while a person is still alive.  It's the worst of all deaths.  I'll never forget the smell.  Ms. Biddle washed my clothes I wore that day many times, but I can still smell his disease on them.  I ain't worn 'em since.  I put 'em in a plastic bag with moth balls and stored 'em in that big trunk in the back of my closet.”

“How far along is my brother?” Shane asked.

“Not very.  I detected the smell on him when he was holding me in his lap in church at my granddad’s funeral.  It was on his breath and his skin gave off a faint odor.  No one would notice but me or a dog what was trained to sniff-out cancers.  He has the same smell as the cowboy.  I meant to ask him when he had his last colonoscopy, but I forgot.” he stated as a matter of fact.  Shane looked at Cole with a blank look on his face.  Cole shook his head like he never heard the word before.

“You’re gonna’ have to educate us old cowboys, Son.  What’s a colon-whos-copy?

“Colonoscopy, Pa.  It’s a probe a doctor sends up a person’s rectum with a camera attached to look and see if they got polyps, little nodules, growing inside the lower colon of their digestive tract.  In another procedure, they send  one down the throat to inspect the upper colon for the same thing.  It they find any, they usually just snip them off, remove them and the small wounds heal over.  Sometimes, they turn cancerous if they ain’t caught early enough.”

“And you learned about this on them medical shows you watch?” Shane asked.

“Yes, Sir.  I done watched about a dozen or more procedures.  Ever’ adult over the age of fifty should have one done every five years; over sixty ever’ three years.” he sounded like he was an authority on the subject.

“I can tell you right now, my big brother ain’t never had one of them.  He hates doctors, and I doubt would ever consent to such a procedure.” Shane said quietly.  Cole cringed and shook his head motioning to the boy.  Oblio was crying.  Shane put his arms around him and pulled him close.

“If he don’t, or he don’t let me do something for him, he’s gonna’ die jes’ like that old cowboy.  I don’t want Uncle Angus to die.  I love Uncle Angus.  He’s a good man.  He’s ma’ buddy.” he moaned.  Shane tried to comfort and assure the boy they would see to it his Uncle Angus didn’t die.  The truth was, Shane and Cole were devastated.  They wasted no time getting Angus to sickbay on the Bandersnatch.  Shane and Cole took Oblio with them and told Cable what the boy revealed to them.  Cable smiled, picked Oblio up, set him on a table and spoke to him.

“We will check out your uncle, Son, but if you say he’s got colorectal cancer, that’s good enough for me.  I’ve already sent for Basil Troubadour, Commander Jones, Indigo/Blue, Jesse Watkins and Utah.  I’ve called for Admiral Long, Charlie, Waco and Little Bear.  They should be here any minute.  That’s how much confidence I have in your diagnosis.” he smiled and patted Oblio on his round little head.  The boy looked concerned.   

Commander Jones and his men were due a few days leave from the Holy City anyway, Jones fulfilled his obligations for that period, so Scudder gave them permission to go a little early.  Everyone was gathered, waiting for him when Angus came through with gate.  Shane’s message sounded urgent.  When he saw the gathered healers and Cable’s medical team he knew something was up.

“What’s up?” Angus asked and saw everyone looking at him.

“We need to run a couple of test on you, cowboy.” Admiral Long said.

“What for?” Angus went into defensive mode.

“We’ll tell you after we run the test.”

“What kind of tests?” he asked Cable.

“A blood PSA, a CCSA-2 test for colorectal cancer, and a scan of your body to see what we can find.” he replied.

“There ain’t nothing wrong with me.  I ain’t got no cancer.” he barked.

“If not, fine.  If positive, we need to do something about it right now.” Charlie told him.  “According to Lazarus and all the medical personnel here, colorectal cancer is totally curable if caught in time.  Fortunately for you, you have a concerned nephew who detected the smell of cancer on you while sitting in your lap at the Dundee funeral.”   

Angus looked at Oblio sitting on the table and went to him.

“I know my nephew won't lie to me.  We's buddies, him and me.  Is he right, Son?  Is ma’ brother telling me the truth?  They ain’t jes’ gang’n up on me to trick me into some’um?” he asked him.

“Naw, Sir, Uncle Angus, they ain’t trying to trick you.  Master Charlie’s telling you the truth.  Remember that old cowboy ya’ll took me to see over to one a them Steele boy’s ranch?”

“Yeah, he was too far gone for you to help him.” Angus recalled. “I remember it almost broke your heart.  I's worried about you for several days.”

“You remember that terrible smell in his room what almost made you puke?  You got that same smell, Uncle Angus, only not so strong.  It's faint, but it's there.  I forgot to say anything until this morning while I’s talking with Pa Shane and Cole.” tears started running down his face.  Angus took him into his arms and comforted him.  “Please, Uncle Angus, let them check you out.  It won’t hurt chu’ none, and if'n I'm wrong, it would put my mind to rest.” he begged.

“Well, if you say so, Son, I will.  I wouldn’t for nobody else, but if you’re that worried, I’ll do it to ease your mind.” he smiled and kissed away Oblio’s tears.

They tested Angus’ blood, and he was positive for both tests.  The scan showed two small polyps and one larger one that was mere days away from becoming malignant and another half-dozen or so which needed to be removed.  Angus looked defeated.  Shane never saw fear in his oldest brother before.  Shane couldn’t imagine Angus knew the meaning of fear, but what he saw on the old cowboy’s face was the reality of facing his own mortality.  His heart went out to his brother.

“Not to worry.  Thanks to your nephew, I think we caught it in time, but we need to act today.” Lazarus spoke, “Charlie, Waco and Little Bear will go over to your place to help Jimmy Joe and do whatever needs to be done.  Follow Cable and this group of healer’s advice and you should be out of here and on your way home by early afternoon.  Right, Son?” Lazarus asked Cable.  

“No problem.  We can fix him up as soon as we get him cleaned out.” answered Cable.

“Oh, lord!  That could take days.” said Charlie.  Everyone laughed.  It was a much needed relief to a serious situation.

“Very funny, brother.” Angus growled.

“Good one, Dad!” complimented Waco.  Everyone was laughing and patting Charlie on the back.  Angus finally grinned.

Oblio insisted on staying by his uncle’s side even though there were five other healers to see to him in an emergency.  Shane and Cole cancelled everything for the day to be with him.  Rocky and Ben were like two giant shadows everywhere Oblio went and Shane asked them to stay.  Monty was down three crew members, but he was told by Shane he needed the three men with him for the day.  Shane and Cole often took Oblio, Ben and Rocky with them when they went somewhere, so Monty didn’t think anything of it.  They didn't have anything of major importance scheduled anyway.  Cable gave Angus a strong laxative and the men set around waiting for the bottom to fall out.  It didn’t take long.  After that, Cable and his men got into the cleansing area with him and thoroughly cleaned him, inside and out.  He was clean as a whistle when he returned.

They instructed Angus lie on the table on his side.  They sedated him and started the procedure.  Everything went fine until Cable located and started to remove the first, the largest of the pre-malignant polyps.  He underestimated its size and just as he was beginning to snip it off, he suddenly realized it was much larger than he originally thought.  It was about the size of a golf ball.  It was too late.  He already made the cut but had to make another of equal length to completely release the growth.  He was going to halt the procedure when Jesse told him to make the cut.  There were enough healers to back him up in case of an emergency.  Cable reluctantly made the cut, the polyp was free, but Angus started hemorrhaging from the wound.  Cable tried everything to staunch the flow but was unsuccessful.  He announced to the people waiting what happened and expressed his concern.  

“If I can’t stop the flow by surgical procedures, I have to open him up and do a bowel resection.  I might have to cut out as much as a foot of his lower colon.  I will need several blood donors.”  Cable said regretfully.   

“No!  Let me go in.  I can heal him.  I can stop it.  I have Uncle Angus’ DNA on file inside me.” Oblio cried.    

“Go inside?  How?  What to you mean, Son?” Cable asked.  Shane’s mouth dropped open.  Oblio looked from Ben to Rocky.  Ben spoke.

“We been working with Oblio privately teaching him some basics of his inherited genetic makeup.  He has some unique abilities his father ain’t developed yet.  Go ahead, Son, show them.  It’s probably the quickest and easiest way.”  Everyone watched as Oblio started to glow a bright blueish white color and dissolved into a small ball of a bright blue-green light surrounded by an active plasma and halo of light.  It was the most incredible thing any man or bio-droid in the room ever saw.  His clothes fell to the floor around his small cowboy boots as he began to move slowly toward the table and Angus’ body.

“My, God!” exclaimed Brett Jones. “Another life-form altogether.  Almost like a complementary form to match our own.  How wonderful.  Well done, Oblio.  Basil, help him.  You got the experience in these matters.”  Brett Jones urged his mate.  Basil didn’t say a word but suddenly dissolved into micro-particles the size of dust or smaller and began to flow toward Angus as his clothes joined Oblio's on the floor of sickbay.  Jonathan gathered them and set them aside for the men.

“Remove your instruments, Cable, and insert a speculum.  Open him just enough so they may enter, then close and gently inflate his colon with air.” Jesse instructed.  Cable quickly did as he was told.  He had a grim, worried look on his face.  He inserted the speculum and opened Angus’ anus.  Everyone watched the small bright light go inside the big cowboy, followed closely by the dust particles that were from Basil.  Jesse told Cable to remove the speculum and he did.  He took the air hose and gently began to inflate Angus’ colon.  Angus’ body suddenly took on a beautiful blueish-green glow like he was surrounded by St. Elmo’s fire.  They watched the progress of the two entities on an overhead vid-screen.

<< Can you hear me, Oblio? >> Basil sent.

<< Yes, very well, Mr. Troubadour.  Thanks for joining me. >>

<< Call me Basil, Son.  You light up the way.  I’ll take care of the smaller stuff.  Can you stop the flow by yourself or do you need my help? >>

<< Easy, Sir.  I’m on it. >>  Oblio seemed sure of himself.  Everyone watched breathlessly as the heavy bleeding immediately began to slow and finally stopped altogether.  They watched in amazement as the wound sealed itself.  It was only a matter of zapping the remaining polyps, and they were finished.  The job was done and Angus was good for another several hundred thousand miles or until his next checkup.  Jesse, Utah, Indigo/Blue, Brett Jones, Shane, Cole, Cable and his men set and watched in awe.  The kid did what he said he could do, and they were amazed.  Cable was worried he made a mistake.  He was remorseful.

“Don’t lose your self-confidence, Son.” comforted Jesse. “You done the right thing.  It could’ve happened to anyone.  You did your best.  I was witness to it.  I urged you to cut on through.  I’ll take full responsibility.  You done just what I told you to do.” Jesse assured him.  Cable was somewhat calmed.  His brothers tried to reassure him.  Lazarus spoke up, “If worse came to worse, and we didn’t have these remarkable healers, a bowel resection was the only option.  You could’ve easily done it.  I’ve seen you, and our healers would’ve helped with the healing.  Let it go, Son.”  Lazarus told him.  Then the Admiral advised him to reinsert the speculum.  Basil and Oblio were waiting to get out.  Cable obliged, they returned to the room and rematerialized into human form.  They were naked, but that didn’t stop Basil from taking Oblio into his arms, giving him a big hug and a kiss.  The rest of the men applauded their efforts.

“Absolutely brilliant, young man.  You saved Mr. Goodnight from having to go through a major operation.  Congratulations.” Basil said and let him go into his master’s arms.  Shane took him from Basil, held him to his chest and gave him a hug and a big kiss.  Cole was next, then the rest congratulated him.  Shane didn’t forget Basil and had a hug and a kiss for him.  Everyone was in better spirits now the crisis was over.  Cable asked for a couple of blood donors with “O” negative blood.  Shane and Cole volunteered.  They each gave Angus a pint of their blood.  He finally came around but was weak, groggy and grumpy.  Cable decided he wanted to keep him overnight to make sure there was no further incident of bleeding.  He didn’t expect any, but it was just good practice.

Oblio refused to budge to go with his masters and his big brothers.  He was going to stay by his uncle’s side until he was feeling better.  Shane gave in when Cole told him the boy earned the right and Cable told him they would look after him.  The Kryscellians heard of Angus’ ordeal and came to him and Oblio.  They had the boy remove his clothing and get into bed next to his uncle.  Oblio held his big cowboy uncle as the beautiful crystals sang and bathed the two of them in the healing rays of their light.  Oblio learned and absorbed more than just their healing rays.  He began to understand their structure and learned to make sense of silicon life.  He saw how their intelligence and that of the whale brains were similar.  He learned much from their visit.  They learned from him as well.  Early the next morning Shane and Cole came into the small room off sickbay to find Angus and Oblio in bed together, naked, side by side, sitting up, eating a nice breakfast Cable’s men provided for them.

“What are you doing in bed with your uncle, Son?” Shane asked with surprise.

“Hesh up, baby brother!  You leave that boy be.  ‘At boy spent the night with me, hold’n onto me like I’s a drown’n man and he was my lifesaver, while them good crystal folks watched over us, sang to us and healed us.  He done his best to make sure his old uncle was comfortable and had a good night.  The kid done a good job, and I love him for it.  He’s having his breakfast.  You crawl up my big cowboy butt, save my life and you can lie naked in bed with me and have breakfast, too.” Angus grinned.

“He’s my son, and my slave.  You got a pint of me and ma' pa's blood in you, cowboy.  Don’t that count for some'um?” Shane protested.

“You can have a piece of bacon, but only one!” Angus barked.

“You’re a hard man, brother.” Shane grinned.  They shared a laugh.  Oblio was in heaven lying in bed having breakfast with his big cowboy uncle.  

Monty and Jimmy Joe heard Angus was in sickbay overnight for a checkup, but they didn’t hear any details.  Maxine mentioned Oblio was with his uncle all night.  Monty asked him what happened.

“Uncle Angus never had a colonoscopy before.  I saw on my medical programs how important they are for men over fifty.  I talked him into it, and I told him I would go with him.  Weren’t nothing to it really.  Cable took care of him and he’s fine.  When’s the last time you had one, Ramrod?” Oblio asked Jimmy Joe and grinned.  The ramrod looked down at his boots and shuffled them in the dirt like he was nervous.

“Uhh, a couple a’ months ago I think it was.  I can’t remember, I’d haf’ta’ check.” he lied through his teeth.  He never had one.  He didn’t fool Oblio for a minute.

* * * * * * *

Shane put out the word to both ranches the coyotes and other wild critters were not to be poisoned or shot by the cowboys.  He explained he wasn’t trying to be a tree hugging conservationist, but he had his reasons.  Shane grew in such stature and respect with the men who worked under him they didn’t question his decisions.  The truth was the coyotes acted more like scavengers than outright killers.  They would, on occasion, bring down a ewe or a lamb but by and large they didn’t do much killing.  They mostly hunted and killed smaller animals and fowl.  Coyote John and Criga were too intelligent to go after the smaller domesticated animals like Maxine and her siblings.  They came to depend on them for gossip about what was going on around the ranches.  Coyote John and Criga were about the only permanent coyotes they had on the ranches.  After they raised a litter of pups, she and John would run them off to find their own territories.  John kept the boundaries of his territory well marked and patrolled them regularly.  If another coyote or one of their pups tried to venture back into his territory Coyote John would run them off.  Then he would go and refresh his markers; much like he did when he was a human.

Shane knew Monty warned Coyote John and Criga not to kill the livestock but was secretly providing them with a portion of every animal they slaughtered.  The first thing a wild canid will eat when they kill an animal is their intestines and internal organs.  On the ranch those portions were usually thrown away.  Monty would sometimes take a couple of five gallon plastic buckets of the waste and dump them on the ground for the coyotes.  He would include bits and pieces of offal that would otherwise be thrown away.  They never went hungry.  When Monty heard of Shane’s decision he was surprised, and wondered if Shane suspected something.  It wouldn’t be the first time or the last Shane was wise enough to see through one of Monty’s schemes.  Since most were harmless and well thought out, Shane indulged him his little secrets.  Shane was keeping score in case Monty became indignant about his keeping Oblio’s birth a secret from him.  He didn’t think it would be a problem, but as Oblio got older and developed more of his abilities, the more difficult it was becoming to keep his parentage a secret.  One thing Shane couldn’t figure out was, if Coyote John was aware of Oblio being Monty’s son, why hadn’t he told Monty about him.  He asked Oblio.

“Does Coyote John know you’re Monty’s son?”

“Naw, Sir.  At least, I don’t think so.  I told him the same thing you told my dad.  I’s an illegitimate child of one of your brothers, and even though I'm yore' nephew, I gotta' live as your slave, because it's the law.  He told me he thought it was another one a' them rotten whitemen laws what didn't make no sense to him.  He said he was sorry but thought I probably got the best end of the deal.  I agreed with him, and that was the end of it.  He don’t know nothing about my abilities.  I done told him I was born a little early and raised on lummox milk which gimme’ the ability to hear him.  He’s jes’ fish’n when he asked if I could change him back into a human.  I told him I couldn’t, but it weren’t no lie.  I can’t, ‘cause I ain’t got his human DNA in my system.”

“Smart kid.” Shane allowed, then added, “You don’t believe that crap about you being illegitimate, do you, boy?” he asked.

“I don’t know, Pa.  I had a mom and a dad who never got married.  I guess I fit the meaning of the word, but there weren’t nothing I could do about it.  H’it don’t seem fair, somehow, I gotta’ carry that title around with me and be a slave all my life when it weren’t my fault.”

“No you don’t.  That ain’t true.  While it’s true the circumstances of your birth might fit the definition of the word, the word don’t fit the meaning of you.  Don’t never confuse the two.  Don’t you never think for a minute you ain’t legitimate.  There’s another word what cancels out that awful word and makes it meaningless.  You know what that word is, boy?” Shane challenged.

“Naw, Sir.”

“Love, Son.  What makes you legitimate is the love folks have for you and the love you have for them.  Nothing else matters.  As long as there’s one critter on this planet what loves you, you’re legitimate.  Don’t chu’ never forget it.” Shane admonished him.  “Are you worried about the slave part?” Shane asked.

“Naw, Sir.  That’s just a label.  I know what it used to mean.  I know what it’s suppose to mean.  I know what it means to other ranchers what ain’t good men like you and Boss Potter.  You treat all your slaves like family.  I don’t feel like no slave.  I feel like I’m your son.  The respect I show you and grandpa Cole as my parents is the same as I'd have to show you as a slave; 'cept'n for paying homage to yore' boots, but I come to think it wouldn't do free-boys no harm to show that respect for their daddies.  H'it's just another form of love and respect as far as I'm concerned.”

“As long as you call me ‘pa’ you are my son, boy, and don't chu' never forget it.  Yore’ favorite cowboy slave buddy Lucas is his dad’s slave, but he calls him his ‘pa.’  And I agree with you, to have you pay homage to my old boots once in a while is an act of love and respect.  It says to me you love and honor yore' master enough to pay homage to him.”

“Lucas and me, we done had us some good talks.  He’s a super-intelligent guy.  He helped me understand why it’s safer for me to be a slave right now.  He says he don’t think we’ll be slaves all our lives, but he weren't in no hurry to give up being his dad's slave.” Oblio watched Shane’s response.

“Lucas Long is a good man.  You can listen to him.  You can trust what he tells you.  He knows what he’s talking about.” Shane hugged him.

“Do you love me, Pa Shane?” he asked.

“More than all them stars in that big sky, boy.” Shane said without hesitation.   
“I love you, too, Pa.  When we tell Monty I’s his son, will you stop being my pa?”

“Naw, not on yore' life, buckaroo.  Me and my pa got too much invested in you.  You grow'd to be a part of us.  We ain’t giving you up that easy.  We
become accustom to your face.  H'it looks jes’ like mine.  Me, Dexter and you look like we’s a matched set.  That makes me feel good.  We come to love you, boy, like you's our own.  You make the moon go down, the stars come out at night, and the sun come up in the morning for us.  We ain't about to give you up.  Do you think you could give me and yore' old gram'pa up?” Shane replied grinning at Cole.

“I wouldn’t want to.  It would make me awful unhappy.” lamented Oblio.

“Tell you what, Scout, after we tell him, you can call Monty 'dad,' but I’ll always be yore’ pa.”

“I’d like that.” he replied.  "Will you always be my gram'pa,  Ramrod Jenkins?"  he looked at Cole with hope in his eyes.

"Forever and a day, cowboy."  Cole replied with a smile.

* * * * * * *

Things calmed down with the Grange and the government after the incident on the dark side of the Moon.  Scudder seemed to be keeping his promise to Jesse.  He stopped all investigations into alleged crashes of extraterrestrial phenomona.  It somewhat angered his fundamentalist base, but it was long past Scudder’s caring what they thought.  He and Bush used them to gain absolute power.  They would throw them a fish from time to time, but beyond that they did pretty much what they damn well pleased.  Scudder didn’t really need them anymore.  Besides, he became more and more aware several members of his staff were secret members of different Granges all over the country.  He never confronted them, because they were all devoted employees and faithful to him.  In a way, he found some modicum of comfort knowing these people were keeping an eye on him.  Any other dictator would’ve become paranoid, had them rounded up and sent to Cheney camps.  Not so with Scudder.  He didn’t for three reasons: they never did anything to threaten him or jeopardize his power; the Grange members, with which he had contact, while meting out justice for his indiscretions may have seemed harsh, he had to admit to himself they were fair; and finally, if he did send them to Cheney camps, he knew they would be ‘raptured’ within days, he would never see them again, and they were some of his most trusted and valued employees.  He expressed his conundrum to Austin and compared it to pissing on a burning hog.  Austin didn’t quite understand the metaphor, but the visual Scudder’s words conjured up sufficed.  Austin had a sage answer.

“Why the hell would you even contemplate such a thing?  It would be like sinking the lifeboats.” he asked with dramatic emphasis.  Scudder had no problem with Austin’s metaphor.  “S’a good thing you weren’t on the Titanic.  No one would’ve survived.” Taycious zinged him.

“You would have, you wretched bitch, you got ice water in your veins!” he replied.

* * * * * * *

Charlie, Angus, Shane Goodnight, and Judge Potter received a special invitation from the preacher David W. Yates to attend a special pancake supper and dedication service in the recreation/dining hall of his new church Friday evening.  Also invited were Ramrod Long, Ramrod Russell, and Ramrod Jenkins.  Shane and Potter were amused, because usually the church people would never invite a slave to one of their functions.  Yates was smart enough to know how solid some masters were with their slaves, especially ones in whom they put a good deal of trust.  They were not stupid to the other ramifications of those relationships either, but were wise enough not to speak of them.  There was some discussion among the members of the church council, of which Charlie Ruggles was the head deacon and lay preacher, but Yates put it to them: no Ramrod Jenkins, no Shane Goodnight or his business partner.  No Goodnight/Potter, no Grange.

The invitations were neatly handwritten by Yate’s wife Abigail, the daughter of Sonny and Vivian Steele.  It was to be an informal dedication service for the completion of the new church and since Lazarus Long, the Goodnight brothers and the Grange were mainly responsible for funding the building project and making sure Yates and his wife had food on their table, they were to be included in the dedication.  Also invited were Sonny Steele, his wife, their four rancher sons, and their ramrods.  Not only was Sonny, his sons and Warren relatives of Abigail, they were very high placed members of the local Grange.  Charlie called a meeting of the Grange at his place open to anyone who wanted to attend.  Charlie’s largest barn was packed.  Grange ranchers, their families and many slaves were literally hanging from the rafters.  The place was packed.  Charlie led the meeting, because he hosted it, and it was on his ranch.  He told about the invitation and threw it open for comments.  There were a lot of ideas.  Most thought they should go because the Grange and it’s good works should be acknowledged, and it might be inconsiderate not to allow them to be gracious.  Things deteriorated so bad, women of the Grange who were life long friends of members of the church would be publically shunned by the bible crowd.  Many thought it would be a fine one-upmanship to attend.  However, one old cowboy slave in the back rose, held up his hand, and ask Mr. Goodnight for permission to speak.

“Mr. Wade, you got some'um you'd like to say, Sir?  You know we make no distinctions in our meetings.” Charlie reassured the old cowboy slave.

“Jes’ didn’t wanna’ offend nobody, Master Goodnight.”

“Speak your mind, Sir.” Charlie encouraged him.

“Beware the Trojan Horse.” he said and waited for it to sink in.

“I think I know what you’re saying, Mr. Wade.  You think they might be asking us there for one reason, but h’it ain’t the real reason they’s inviting us, right?” Charlie smiled at him.

“I knew you’d understand, Master Charlie.” Gene Wade said.

“Do you have more information you’d like to share with us, Mr. Wade?  It might be helpful if we’re being setup and walking into an uncomfortable situation.”

“Y’all know about the slave telegraph.” Wade began, “Don’t matter none if it’s Grange or not.  Us slaves of the Grange are more selective what we share for obvious reasons, but the slaves of the religious lot mostly hate the way their master’s treat ‘em so they tell us ever’ thing.  We done hear’d they’s gonna’ try’n force you men into telling them how you protect your cattle, slaves and folks while they keep getting hit by them aliens.  Some of their smaller ranchers are about to go under.  Even with the slow down of the abductions, they’s still the ones the aliens is pick’n on.”

“Interesting bit of news, Mr. Wade.  We certainly appreciate the information.  Do you have any other thoughts you’d like to share with us, Sir?” Charlie encouraged him.

“Naw, Sir, other than urging you men to be wary and prepared.  I don’t hold much stock in religion, ma'self, but if'n they's a way for us all to think positive thoughts while you men are meeting with them, it would be a small comfort to me and a lot of other salves.” he allowed.

“I got a feeling we’re gonna’ need all the help we can get, Mr. Wade.  Anyone wanting to keep us in their thoughts and wish us well are certainly encouraged to do so.  Even though it smacks of prayer, I don’t think it would do no harm.  Any thoughts?” Charlie asked the crowed.  Lazarus held up his hand.  Charlie acknowledged him.

“I think it would be a fine idea.  Men have prayed for centuries even when they didn’t know who or what they’s praying to.  Prayer only becomes dangerous when people expect unrealistic results from something what can’t be measured or its effectiveness proven.  A fundamentalist family who believes it’s their mission in life to protect every unborn baby from conception to birth, will allow their sick child to die rather than seek professional medical care.  Their child may only need minor treatment, but they believe they only have to pray and God will heal them.  An innocent child, who has no advocate to speak for them, is allowed to die, often in unspeakable pain, because of his or her parent’s stubborn, unbendingly rigid, ignorant, fundamentalist religious beliefs which keep them from seeking medical help.  Then, the concept of prayer becomes the worst possible form of delusion bordering on insanity.  It is an equally sick and fundamentally deranged public what turns its head the other way and not offer condemnation of the parents because it’s afraid of offending someone’s religious beliefs.

I say to you, anyone who allows a child to die under such circumstances should be held responsible and charged with first degree murder or at the very least manslaughter on the grounds of criminal negligence.  Just as claiming ignorance of the law is no excuse, there should be no excuse for such mind numbing stupidity.  Make no mistake, religion of any kind carried to the extremes of fundamentalism breeds and supports such ignorance.  Insanity ain’t inherited.  Parents very carefully and methodically teach it to their children one day at a time, pouring their delusions, superstitions, and hatreds into them in a toxic brew as a substitute for the milk of human kindness, and evolution comes to a screeching halt.  If they can’t kill Darwin one way, they’ll do it another until one is born among them without the compliance gene, leaves the nest and finds a better, more full life for themselves without fear and self-loathing.  The child who walks away from the cult of death, out of the darkness and into the light, bears a heavy load.  He carries with him or her the greater hope for humanity.  Freedom from superstition of myths becomes his holy grail.

However, as godless as I like to think I am, I often find myself offering up a prayer for someone or some situation to turn out for the best.  I tell myself it’s because I’m a secular humanist.  I do it, because I care about those I love, and I’d like to think my positive projections will make a difference, but I know in my heart that really ain’t the truth.  The truth is, it’s second nature for most of us.  It’s either a holdover from our childhood or our earlier, more primitive days, but then again so’s a lot of our customs.  Sometimes, when I wake in the morning, I got a good night’s sleep, feel great, set my feet on the floor, ma’ boy comes in with a cup a’ coffee for me, wishes me a ‘good morning,’ gives me a quick, sweet kiss to start ma’ day, I think it couldn’t git no better’n this, and I voice a word of thanks to the universe for a good night’s rest and the promise of a new day.  If some god or ancient happens to be listening, more’s the better.  Good, positive thoughts ain’t never hurt no man; they don’t cost nothing, and who knows, good vibrations might be the difference between success or failure.  You don’t need religion to tell you that.  Them old Beach Boys is happy to tell you all about it.  Hell, you can’t listen to their song without knowing they were sure of it.  You gotta’ believe ‘em when they sing about them ‘Good Vibrations.’  Why, they make you wanna’ stand up and testify; either that, or grab yore’self a boggie-board and run for the surf.”  Everyone laughed and applauded Lazarus.  

Sam Eagleston got up and said he thought giving the fundie ranchers too much information would open up a larger can of worms.

“They’s gonna’ wanna’ know how we come by such information, and why we never told them before now?  Either way we’s screwed.  What will you tell them?  We wanted the aliens to come after them, so we kept it secret?  That could start a range war not seen since the Lincoln County wars in New Mexico in the eighteen hundreds or the Hoo-Doo wars of Mason county, Texas between the German and Anglo-Scott-Irish european immigrants.  Furthermore, if you allow them the information, the aliens are gonna’ come after us again.  How much time we got left on this world, Ramrod Long?  Is playing patty cakes with them religious loons gonna’ further our cause that much?  Beside, you give ‘em som' bitches an inch, and they’ll be knocking on our doors day and night with their bibles and pamphlets in hand insisting we be born again.  I don't need to be born again.  I done got it right the first time.  Speaking for me and my family, we got used to not having anything to do with ‘em.  I ain’t ready to start now.”
“You bring up some good points, Sam.” Lazarus said, “We honestly don’t know how much time was got left, but it ain’t long.  My best guess is two to four years; maybe more.  Then again, something big could happen tomorrow which would move things up pert-damn quick.  We got us a reprieve for a while, but it’s gonna’ git worse as soon as them aliens get their facilities back on line.  We may postpone leaving for another couple of years at the most.  Nevertheless, we have to think and decide our actions with that in mind.  To put yore' mind at ease, Sam, I’m leaning to the way you’re thinking.  We rebuilt their house of worship, let them pray to their god to make them aliens stop taking their cattle and slaves.  If they’s so sure he hears their prayers, let him intercede for them.” Everyone applauded Lazarus and Sam.  There was almost complete agreement among the ranchers and the town folks who threw their lot in with the Grange.  

They asked for a show of hands and everyone was allowed to vote, including slaves and critters.  Children under the age of twelve were excluded.  It was almost unanimous with only a handful of dissenters.  Charlie asked if anyone had a better idea or wanted to express an opposing opinion.  No one did except one little lady, Ms. Betty Bob Dove, stood up and said she thought they should be good to all people no matter how stupid they were.  Some snickered at her, but Charlie and Lazarus didn’t.

“We understand and appreciate your thought, Ms. Dove, but we’re in a race to save our lives.  We have to make decisions that will be for the greater good of our people.  The church folks will be lost after we leave.  They’ve chosen their fate.  There’s little we can do for them now what will make a difference.  It might be different if they humbled themselves and came to us with their hats in their hands.  That ain’t gonna’ happen.  My best guess is they will be arrogant, demanding and quickly alienate us.  If so, the best we can do is be gracious and withdraw.  There will be no reasoning with them.  There are no words what will convince them they’re being unreasonable, but we promise we will be good to them.  We jes’ won’t let them bully us into helping them when we're certain they wouldn’t do the same for us.

The trouble with their level of conservatism is, it becomes pathologically self-centered, and due to years of ingrained fears and phobias it precludes them from considering anyone’s welfare but their own and that of their immediate family.  They like to use the term ‘bleeding heart liberals’ to define anyone even slightly left of center.  It’s a pity.  They live exactly opposite from the teachings of Jesus.  If you take his teachings and actions into consideration, by any definition Christ would be considered a card carrying liberal today.  There are certain sects of Catholicism called the sacred order of the bleeding heart of Jesus.  The irony is, they’re also one of the most conservative groups in all Christendom.”  Lazarus patiently explained.  It was a little more information than she needed, but Ms. Dove was satisfied they would try to be good to the fundamentalist.  

The men thought it was strange they would have a dedication ceremony on a Friday evening rather than a Sunday afternoon.  Vivian Steele told them her daughter let it slip the pancake supper was a private dedication ceremony and the main, public, ceremony would be during the morning church service the following Sunday.  Vivian explained Yates didn't want to give the Grange credit for their generous contributions and help during his public dedication before his congregation.  She laughingly assured the men the Grange would not be mentioned during that dedication.  The church board planned this private dedication and 'thank you' to placate the Grange and get them out of the way.  Charlie accepted the invitation on behalf of the Grange.  There was a delegation from the Grange of twenty good size men.  There were only a couple of women invited to attend: Vivian Steele; the sheriff’s wife, Emma Lassiter; and, Mary Gibbons, Ranger Gibbons wife who seemed to have won her battle with cancer and for the time being was fully recovered.  The Grange members met at Charlie Goodnight’s ranch and car pooled into town to the church.

For a small town the big brick church looked impressive.  There was no expense spared to create the finest church the Grange’s money could afford.  They were met by a welcoming committee, the preacher and his wife.  They took them on a brief tour and showed them the beauty of the sanctuary.  There were six beautiful stained glass windows on each side, floor to ceiling, depicting scenes from biblical accounts of Christ’s life.
  At the base of each window was a small brass plaque with a dedication to some high person or family in the church.  They weren’t surprised to see Charlie Ruggles name on one, but they were a bit bemused to see the Goodnight family on one listing the various members.  There was one dedicated to Judge Potter for his good works and contributions to the church building funds.  One was dedicated to Lazarus Long for his personal contributions and encouragement in the building of the new church.  However, the most beautiful window and the focal point of the whole church loomed high and mighty behind the altar, pulpit, organ and choir loft.  It was magnificent.  It was a tribute to the stain glass maker’s art.  It was a masterpiece.

In the center was the risen Christ in long white robes beginning his ascent into heaven.  His feet were noticeabley wounded and copious amounts of blood flowed from the gaping holes down his toes onto the ground from which he was ascending.  He was depicted as a white male about the age of thirty with long, flowing, very blond hair and blue eyes with a mournful countenance on his face.  He’s holding his right pierced and bleeding hand up toward some rays of light shining down on him from the sky, while his left hand, also bleeding, trails down toward Mary Magdalene and his remaining eleven apostles he’s having to leave behind.
  Mary Magdalene has her right hand reaching toward Christ while her left is stretched out toward the apostles coming up a hill to witness the ascension.  Her head is turned toward them urging them to follow her to witness the risen Christ.  The window was the jewel in the crown of the church.  It was incredibly beautiful, but as glorious as the window was, there was just something not quite right about it.  Instead of depicting Mary Magdalene as a beautiful woman, she looked rather like a dog.  No, not quite a dog, but damn close to being a butt ugly mutt.  The men of the Grange were silent for a few minutes taking it in when Sonny Steele spoke what was on everyone’s mind.

“Oh, my, God!” he exclaimed quietly, and started laughing.  Charlie and Lazarus were dumbstruck.  Ranger Gibbons, to whom nothing was sacred, started laughing.  Shane thought he would have to break Angus' arm to keep him sober.  Instead he settled for pinching him hard.  Angus jumped but still laughed.  It suddenly dawned on the men, at approximately the same time, the picture of Mary Magdalene was none other than the preacher, David Yates, in drag.  It was an exact copy of one of the photos the Grange sent him to keep him from speaking out against them a number of years before.  It caused quite a bit of conversation to say the least.  Yates overheard them talking and snickering.  He went into damage control mode.

“Ah, I see you gentlemen noticed the family resemblance of Mary Magdalene.  I gave the artist a photo of my late, dearly departed sister, whose name was also Mary to immortalize her within the beauty of the window.” he explained like there should be no doubt about his truth or sincerity.

“Lovely!” commented Vivian Steele, “Simply stunning.  It captures her essence perfectly.  She was such a dear.” she allowed and Sonny turned into his dad’s arms to hide his laughter.  It looked like his whole body was racked with heavy sobbing.

“Are you all right, Dad Steele?” Yates inquired of his father-in-law.

“He’s fine, Son.” replied Warren.  “He’s just a bit emotionally overcome from the beauty and message of the window.  Beautiful.  Truly a fine work of art.” encouraged Sonny’s dad.  Then he whispered to Sonny, “If you don’t stop laughing I’m a’ gonna’ knee you in the balls, boy!”  That only added fuel to Sonny’s fire, and he laughed harder.  The other men tried to be more gracious, and for Yates’ sake accepted his explanation with limited stifled coughs and titters.  Later they all agreed it was the high point of their visit.  On the return trip, in Charlie’s huge ranch van, Vivian Steele revealed to all the cowboys David Yates was an only child.  The caravan had to pull over to the side of the road everyone was laughing so hard.

As the evening progressed, speeches were made and thanks given.  Charlie was nominated to give a brief speech on behalf of the men from the Grange.  Charlie was not a man to give speeches, but when he was thrust into the role of leadership, he accepted his position like everything else in life he undertook, with dignity, intelligence and wit.  He gave a broad, general talk about how the Grange felt it was their duty to help provide a fine, comfortable place of worship for the Pentecostals of their community.  There was nothing in his speech that hinted of separatism or the Grange’s distaste for fundamentalism.  Waco couldn’t have been more proud of his dad.  Lazarus was pretty damn impressed with him as well.  Charlie’s oldest and dearest friend, Ranger Gibbons, gave him a big hug to congratulate him on a job well done.

They proceeded to the pancake supper which the women of the church were busy preparing.  It was a nice meal and there was plenty for everyone.  Talk was general but cordial around the table.  The non-grange members were interested in Waco’s future as a ball player for Texas A&M.  He was gracious and answered the men’s questions respectfully.  The only man who was quiet most of the meal was Charlie Ruggles.  It was like Yates threatened him with his life if he caused a stir.  Ruggles was far too sure of himself to let Yates intimidate him.  He warmed up by asking Shane how his grandson was getting along.

“He’s doing fine, Sir.  I adopted him as my own son.  Naturally, he has to live his life as a slave, but he has the benefit of growing up in an environment where he’s loved and appreciated for his talents.  Here, I just happened to bring a photo in case you asked.” Shane whipped out a picture from the pocket of his Western shirt.

“My, God, he looks jes’ like you!” Ruggles exclaimed.

“Yes, remarkable, ain’t it?  Others have noticed and made the same comment.”

“Then, I take it you ain’t told Dundee the boy’s his son.”

“No, we decided not to until Monty’s indenturement is complete.  That’s only another two years.  The boy gets to see and be with his dad almost everyday.  They spend a lot of quality time together.  They treat each other as brothers.”

“What’d ju’ name him?” Ruggles asked.

“Oblio Arrow Goodnight.” Shane said with pride.

“Oblio?  What kind of a name is that?” he challenged.

“A good one.” replied Shane, then added, “He understands it’s a temporary name until he reaches puberty, then he may choose his own name.”

“Why would you do a thing like that?” he asked.

“Because I’m a nice guy.” Shane answered.  Ruggles wasn’t amused.

“So when can we expect you men to start coming to the only true church in town?” he boldly asked with a sneer on his face.  Everyone was quite.  Yates turned pale and shot Ruggles a look intended to choke off his air supply.  Ruggles ignored him.

“We attend Sunday services regularly at the Episcopal Church on the other side of town.  It ain’t quite as elegant and shiny as your beautiful new church, but it’s comfortable for us.” replied Charlie, not looking for a fight.

“Yeah, we know about what them people believe:  Everything in moderation or as we call it, Christianity-lite.” Ruggles grunted and several of his cronies agreed with him.

“We rather like it that way.  Less calories in the burn-forever department.” shot back Charlie.  Everyone fell out laughing including Yates.  Ruggles didn't expect such a quick, intelligent comeback from Charlie.  He was not amused.

“Cut to the chase, Ruggles!” one of his fellow ranchers demanded.

“We wanna’ know what you men been doing to keep them aliens from abducting your cattle?” he demanded.

“We pray a lot.” answered Charlie.  For staunch church people the non-grange men looked at Charlie incredulously.  They didn’t believe him for a minute.

“You pray a lot?” Ruggles repeated like he thought Charlie’s answer was a slap in the face, “Look, we know you been blowing up their ships and we wanna’ know how you’re doing it.  How are you keeping them from abducting your children and slaves?  Hell, we even been losing our horses and pets.” Ruggles continued.  “In the name of human decency we need your help.”

“Now, now...” Charlie tried to calm him, “I don’t think you want to compare our decency with yours.  You have this fine new house of worship; you folks believe in no nonsense, heavy-duty, industrial strength salvation-in-a-drum as opposed to what you consider our beliefs: Christianity-lite, which comes in an easy to carry, lightly scented spray-on applicator bottle.  It comes in three strengths known as the trinity; the strongest is the "Father"; next is the "Son" and the lightest, of course, is "The Holy Ghost."  It’s basically the same product as yours except we buy the strength we need and use it sparingly.  Like ketchup, you folks use it on everything, so you buy in bulk, but I guess it’s to be expected from a Sprawlmart mentality.  There ain’t no doubt in our minds you believe god hears your prayers and answers them.  Would you deny that?”

“No, no!  Of course not.  Certainly we believe it!” exclaimed Ruggles, “Don’t you think we been doing our fair share of pray'n?” he challenged Charlie.

“Well, I don’t know what to tell you, Mr. Ruggles.  It seems to work for us.  All we can suggest is you might want to reconsider your approach or pray harder. Maybe some industrial strength prayers might do the trick.  Perhaps, some sort of sacrifice might help.” Charlie smiled.  Lazarus damn near fell off his chair at Charlie’s somewhat unorthodox response.  Several of the Grange men chuckled.  Waco had to stifle a laugh and coughed into his fist.  Lazarus hoped Charlie wouldn’t continue his line of thought.  He was sure they were crazy enough they just might try it.  

“Sacrifice?  You mean like a burnt offering?  Offering a perfect red calf?  A perfect, first born lamb, perhaps?  Maybe one of our children?” Ruggles challenged with another big sneer.

“Only if it’s a child what’s incorrigible and has cursed his parents per Leviticus 20:9.  It says it’s okay to sacrifice them.  After all, you folks do believe the bible is the literal word of god, don’t you?” Charlie asked dryly.

“Yes, of course we do.  We believe every word came from his mouth.  It's unquestionably the holy word of God.” Ruggles struggled. “You gonna’ tell us you sacrificed some of your children to git God’s protection agin' them aliens?” he shot back.

“Certainly not, we’ve never had a disrespectful child among us.  We teach our children to love one another, respect the wisdom of their elders, and to live by the golden rule.  If they git out of line we jes' give 'em a quick spray of our Christianity-lite.  I've never had to use anything stronger than "Holy Ghost."  A couple of quick squirts and they's right as rain.  I can honestly say ma’ boy ain’t never been disrespectful nor spoke a word in anger to me in all his years.” he smiled at Waco, then added, “Since you’re such strong believers, we feel sure your faith will see you through, or perhaps you might consider yours ain't the only true church in town.” Charlie stated like the conversation was over.  David Yates spoke up.

“I think what Mr. Ruggles is trying to say is the ranchers would appreciate your help, Sir.”

“We understand, Pastor Yates.  We may be little more than dumb cowboys, but we do pretty well with Texas speak.  I wish we could help them.  I really do; unfortunately, we’re barely surviving ourselves.” Charlie lamented.

“I think you men in the Grange is in league with the Devil and them aliens is his troops.  You’re so damn secretive about ever’ thing what pertains to your organization, you won’t let any of us God fear’n, real American folks into your ranks so you must be in league with demonic forces; otherwise, why would they only torment us and leave you alone.” another older rancher accused.

“Well, you've pretty much answered your own question, Sir.  You make a lot of false assumptions; none, of which, are true, of course.  That says to us, you think you’re better’n us because of your beliefs.  Do you really expect us to buy into your nonsense?  H’it jes’ ain’t so. 
You certainly ain't the only 'real' Americans here, yet you consider yourselves to be.  You ain't the only God fear’n folks in this room, neither, and your beliefs are no more true than ours.  I assure you we ain’t in league with no Devil or the aliens.  We ain't here to be judged by you.  We’ve suffered our losses from the aliens jes’ like you, only we don’t talk about it much outside our group.  Why should we allow you into our organization?  We’re under no obligation to you.  We done our part to be good Samaritans and reached out to you people by financing your new church when the bank wouldn’t.  What more do you want from us?  You can't even give us your respect as fellow Christians.  You folks have shunned us and told us we ain’t as good as you because we don’t believe the same way you do, even though we consider ourselves Christians jes’ like you.  Our Grange is probably the last vestige of democracy left in this country.  Even our slaves have an equal vote in our decisions; after all, any decision we make, directly effects them.

Why would we want to contaminate the Grange with your freedom choking conservative beliefs and attitudes? 
You made it quite clear this evening there's a huge division between us that can only be resolved by us kowtowing to yore' way a' thinking.  There ain't no room for democracy in your beliefs.  It's either yore' narrow interpretation of scripture or none a' tall.  If folks don't believe like you they ain't considered good Christians or Americans.  That's pure-dee old horseshit.  Ain't a word of truth to it.  Jes' like tonight, you ain't about to listen to reason.  You made it perfectly clear to us, h'it's either your way or the highway.  If'n we included you in our Grange, we wouldn't git nothing done.  You hard line Christianist had yore' day.  Look what you done to our country.  If you ain’t happy with what’s going on in the skies over your ranches, it ain’t up to us to come to yore’ rescue.  Why should we, when you don't consider us as good as you?  If you ain't clever enough to solve yore' own problems or yore’ prayers ain’t being answered, you better start buying the super-concentrated Jesus-in-a-drum, or ask the government you railroaded into power and forced down our throats for their help.  Real Americans?  My ass!  You created your vision of America, now live with it.  As for the Grange, we will survive in spite of you and the dysfunctional government you helped create.” Charlie said with all his heart.  No one in the room could challenge him.  He was right, and they knew it.  Lazarus stood.

“I think that’s about enough.  My bossman has been gracious to answer your questions.  Sorry they weren’t the answers you wanted to hear.  Thanks for a wonderful evening, preacher.  I think our group should say 'goodbye' and be on our way.  We wish the best for you and your congregation in your beautiful new church.” he said as sort of a benediction.  

“Must you really go so soon, Sir?  Perhaps with a bit more discussion we could reach some agreement.” Yates said in his oily manner.  His smile reminded Lazarus of a possum eating a pile of fresh cat shit.

“I think we have reached a mutual understanding.  I think my bossman, Mr. Goodnight, made it quite clear, we won’t be bullied into helping anyone.  It might have been different if your members approached us with a little more humility, but they have been spoiled by having their way for so long, they jes’ expect it as their due.  Unfortunately, that dog won’t hunt with our Grange.  While we respect their beliefs and ways, we're under no obligation to cooperate with them.  Cooperation means giving and taking.  What have they to offer us?  They have nothing we want or need.  There is no need for further conversation.  We don’t care to hear about how wrong we are about everything, but we must be doing something right if they feel they have to ask us for help.”

The other men of the Grange stood with Lazarus and Charlie.  David Yates was getting ready to protest their departure again when four masked men came in separate doors with shotguns in their hands.  They motioned for the Grange members to raise their hands.  Lazarus motioned for his men to do as they demanded.

“What is the meaning of this?"  Yates demanded of the masked men, "This is a church; the house of God.  This is a place of sanctuary.  To bring firearms into a church is a most heinous crime.  It is an unforgivable sin in the eyes of our Lord.  This is an official church meeting.  These men are our guests.  They must be afforded our protection.”

“Shut up, preacher!  We plan to find out what these men know and what secrets they be hiding from us.” the leader of the masked men shouted.

“Drop your weapons now and nothing will happen to you men.  You’re being overzealous.” demanded Charlie Ruggles.  “This ain’t no way to handle the situation.  Granted, we didn’t git nowhere with these men, but this ain’t the way to git their cooperation.” he added.

“Shut up, fat ass!” one of them barked at Ruggles. “You’re the richest free non-granger in the lot.  You can afford loss.  We can’t.  If we don’t git help, h’it don’t matter none what we do here.  We’ll lose ever’ thing.  Desperate times call for desperate measures.” he added.

“What’da’ ya’ gonna’ do, torture them?” demanded Ruggles.

“If’n we have to.” said the other main man, “Or maybe we’ll just start by sacrificing their youngest first until they tell us what we wanna' know.”

“What, and rob Texas A&M of their greatest chance to win the Southwest Conference in half a century?  Over my dead body!” the fundie rancher next to Waco stepped in front of him to shield him with his body.

“That can be arranged, old man!” shouted the first man.

“Easy, easy!  You men don’t wanna’ do something you’ll regret.  I know you probably got families what depend on you.  Think about them.  For their sake, don’t do this.  I speak for the Grange when I tell you we’re prepared to offer you men low interest recovery loans, but I feel it only fair to warn you, if you don’t lay down your guns, our God will protect us.” said Lazarus.  It was a code Lazarus set up with Kyron in case something happened.  He and Charlie took the old cowboy slave's words to heart and were prepared for just such an emergency.  Suddenly, in the middle of the table a fire erupted and burned brightly without consuming anything.  There was no heat given off, and several of the ranchers placed their hands up to test it.  A booming voice seemed to come from all around the room, but mostly from the fire burning in the middle of the table.

“I am the lord your God!  Harken unto my words.  I have come to protect my own.  You will not harm these men.” Kyron sounded like a god.  One of the armed men looked like he shit his pants, dropped his gun, turned and ran from the room.  The Grange members remained stoic while the other ranchers, David Yates, and the women in the kitchen got looks of abject fear and horror on their faces.  There were more than a couple of soiled panties in the kitchen.  Yates almost messed in his brand-new pair of Elizabeth Arden's.

“Drop your weapons, or I will be forced to eliminate them.” Kyron demanded.  One of the remaining three dropped his gun.  The other two refused.  Out of nowhere two laser beams shot out and made the guns the two men held red hot and melted the barrels.  They threw them away from them in a hurry.  “You men who call yourselves believers, who are members of this church, arrest these men.  You will hand them over to the sheriff, here, and assist him in putting them in jail.  They shall be tried according to your laws.  Unless the men of the Grange forgive them their trespass, I will expect full justice.  If they are not punished, I will return to punish each of you in their stead.” Kyron threatened.  “Never threaten these men again.  They have built you a beautiful place of worship.  They have found favor with me.  I am pleased with them.  They came to you in good faith, and you have treated them with disrespect and disdain.  Woe be unto you.  Let your shame be upon you like the scum which gathers upon the surface of a stagnant pond.  Hear the sound of my voice and tremble at my displeasure.” Kyron turned up the volume until the windows rattled.  Waco laughed to himself.  He thought Kyron was being a bit too Cecil B. DeMille, but he had to admit, it was effective.  It sent a chill up his back.

The fire went out and everyone stood looking at each other for a few seconds.  The silence was deafening.  The ranchers, who were members of the church, sprang into action and apprehended the four men, bound them and waited with the sheriff for his deputies to arrive to take them away.  The preacher was all apologies.  Even old rough talking Ruggles shook each man’s hand and apologized for his fellow ranchers.  He didn’t say anything about God coming to the aid of the Grange members.  He didn’t know what he thought about it.  He had to think about what happened.  Could he be so wrong?  He didn’t entertain the thought for long.  He watched their reactions and noticed none of the Grange members expressed any surprise at God coming to their rescue.  It was almost like they expected it.  Ruggles had his suspicions.  David Yates didn’t.  He was convinced the Grange was blessed by a visit from God himself.  He was so steeped in superstition the burning fire which gave off no heat was enough for him.  He was convinced.  After all, the voice which spoke sounded like the voice of God.  Lazarus excused himself and stepped away from the group for a moment.

“Kyron, place robo-cams on Charlie Ruggles.  I would appreciate it.” Lazarus requested.

“Done, Sir.” came the soft voice of the evolved intelligence.

“By the way, you deserve an award for your acting job, Son.  Ain't never heard me the voice of 'God' played better.  Well done!” Lazarus complimented him.

“Your praise is quite enough, Admiral.” Kyron assured him.

The evening was somewhat of a twisted victory for the Grange.  While they tried to respond graciously to the fundamentalist, they were met with derision and violence.  No one wanted to speculate what might have happened if Lazarus hadn’t tripped Kyron’s switch to intercede.  Waco set close to his dad on the way back to the ranch and took his hand in his to hold most of the way.  Charlie was deeply touched by his son’s sense of empathy.  It was like Waco instinctively understood the thoughts running through Charlie’s mind.  They were sitting in the back.  Lazarus was driving.

“It’s all right, Dad.  Don’t borrow trouble from tomorrow or what might have been.  I’m proud of you.  Ain't a son what ever lived loved his dad more'n I love you right now.  I always been proud of you, but more so lately.  There was nothing you could’ve done to make the situation better.  At least they can’t carry a grudge against us because of their own violent actions.  As far as I’m concerned, we were far too forgiving and generous with them.  I was ready to stomp out of there in a fit of anger and let them deal with it.  Your reserve, patience and gentility will always stand in my mind as a source of personal power.  Bottom line:  My solemn prayer is to one day become as good a man as my dad.”  Waco said with understated conviction.

“Thanks, Son.  You know I’m proud of you, too.  I think we done the right thing by being gracious.  At least it eases my conscience for not giving into their demands.  Let them fight their own battles.  They would never come to our rescue if we were in the same situation.  I think I’m jes’ becoming weary of this world we live in.  I see the promise of escape and how much better things might be if we could only live and work together with our neighbors in harmony.  I expect there to be problems, but none like we’ve faced in the last few years.  This old world’s been good to us, but the final exodus can’t come soon enough for me.” he spoke softly.  
“I don’t let myself dream about that time, Dad.  It seems too good to be true and for a long time it’s been so far away.  A lot’s happened since we brought Ox home with us.  Our lives changed the day he came into our lives.  I kind of hate the thought of leaving the ranch to attend school at A&M.  I’ll have to leave you and the people I love most in my life to say nothing of Ox and Trey.  Trey would understand, but I worry about Ox.  I’m afraid if I don’t go to school, I’ll be drafted, and I have no desire to fight in one of them theo-con’s senseless corporate wars.”

“You could disappear and go live on Mars." Charlie suggested,  "You know you could have any job you wanted.  The Banshee is docked there.  You and Trey could be together.  Trey would love to have you become one of his crew.  On the other hand, you would miss the experience of college on Earth.  It could be one of the best times of your life, but I don’t foresee you graduating.  I don’t think we’ll be here much longer.  Whatever you decide, I know will be the best thing for you.  I have that much faith in you.”

“Thanks, Dad.  I may try it for a year.  If things start to go to hell, I can always transport back and be home in a jiffy.  I worry about leaving you.”  Waco spoke with concern.

“Don’t.  I should be the least of your worries.  I got ma’ big brother, your little brother, Lazarus, Hank Morgan, Lucas, Indigo/Blue, yore slave brothers, Blake Tindell, Ox, over a hun'nert dedicated slaves.  Some I ain’t even sampled yet.” Charlie laughed.  They rode the rest of the way in silence.  Their hearts were a little lighter by the time they arrived back at the ranch. 

The following Sunday, after the introit hymn and the choir filed into their places in the loft, the preacher David W. Yates almost shit is pants when he walked out to his pulpit from his side entrance to welcome his congragation and saw the front half of his new church was packed with members of the Grange.  They came to help celebrate the public dedication of his new church. 

* * * * * * *

The four ranchers they took to jail were looking at spending the rest of their lives as slaves.  Their families were shattered and couldn’t continue without their head of household.  Lazarus and the Grange stepped in and gave the families a monthly stipend to keep them together.  They loaned each of them a lead cowboy slave and four cowboy slaves to take over working their ranches.  They gave them livestock and made small loans to the families with ridiculously low interest rates for a long period.  When the ranchers came up for trial, the Grange declined to press charges and refused to testify against them.  Judge Anderson was impressed by the Grange's actions, but wouldn't let the fundie ranchers off without some consideration.  He heard what the Grange was doing for the four families and thought he would be creative in his sentencing.  From the testimony of their fellow ranchers and church members, Anderson sentenced each man three to five years indenturment to be served on one of the Grange ranches.  At the end of three years, if they served their time well and did what was expected of them, they could petition for manumission, but they would have an additional two year probationary period.  While it would be tough for them, it was better than looking at life as a slave.  Their preacher reluctantly testified against them.  He had more than a little pressure from his wife.  Even though Lazarus suspected Charlie Ruggles might have had something to do with the four rancher's actions, he had no proof.  Kyron monitored his life for several weeks but found no connection between him and the foolhardy ranchers.

The fundie ranchers couldn’t believe what the Grange was doing for their families, and appeared to feel genuine remorse for their actions.  They were assigned to four separate Grange ranches but not the Goodnight ranches.  There were too many unusual things going on in and around the Goodnight ranches the fundie slaves didn’t need to know about.  The other Grange ranches were mostly normal operations.  They would be expected to perform exactly like any other slave which included servicing their master, his sons if any, his ramrod, and their fellow cowboy slaves.  Like any slave on any ranch, they were broken and forced to perform as well as their brother slaves.  It was a humbling experience for them, to say the least, but at the end of their period of indenturement they saw life a lot differently.  Once they were granted their emancipation, they didn't return to the Pentecostal Church.  They always took their slaves for granted and never provided adequately for them.  If expenses had to be cut, the slaves suffered first.  As slaves, themselves, they saw the importance of treating slaves with some dignity and respect.  On the Grange ranches slaves were treated fairly with respect and consideration.  They were still expected to perform as a slave, but beyond their initial reconditioning, they were never demeaned or humiliated.  They were different men when they returned to their ranches and families and began to treat their slaves with the same consideration they were shown.  They began to think of their slaves as part of their greater family.  Their families even noticed an increase in their commitment and depth of love the men expressed for them.   

Through the Grange’s actions of forgiveness and charity toward the families of the men who threatened their lives, the fundamentalist had egg on their faces.  Charlie Ruggles remained suspicious.  He saw their generosity of spirit and money as nothing more than a calculated political move.  He couldn’t have been more right, but he had no solid confirmation.  David Yates began to preach about the miracle they witnessed that evening and the goodness of the Grange being very like the message and spirit of Christ.  Ruggles would squirm in his pew and grind his teeth together when Yates preached anything good about the Grange and confronted the preacher.  Since Ruggles was one of the church’s main supporters, Yates had to listen to him and agreed to stop saying anything about the Grange.  Once again, the Grange became a nonentity.

The irony was, more and more families began drifting away from Yates’ Pentecostal Church and began attending the Anglican Church favored by the Grange.  Rats leaving a sinking ship are rarely welcomed on a lifeboat.  Just because they changed churches didn’t mean a rancher and his family were automatically offered membership in the Grange or invited to their functions.  If they were not invited to a Grange function, but presumptuous enough to assume they would be welcomed anyway, they were politely turned away.  The next Sunday in church, the Rector would issue an official apology from the Grange, but would emphasize all Grange functions, meetings and social events, were only open to members and their invited guests.  Membership into the Grange was by invitation only.  One could not simply apply.  

Several of the ex-fundie families were invited to Grange functions for the membership to meet and get to know them better.  A couple of families were even invited to join.  The rancher who stood in front of Waco to shield him with his body against the intruders was one whose family was offered membership.  He joined and became one of the Grange’s most faithful and devoted supporters.  He severed his previous associations with the fundie ranchers and never looked back.  They would confront him and question him about the Grange, but he would only tell them they were wrong about the Grange and its members.  It was not what they thought.  They considered him a turncoat and a traitor.  He didn’t care.  He had the protection of the Grange and the hope of a better, more abundant life for him and his family without having to die to get it.  He liked the idea of cutting out the middleman.

* * * * * * *  

Monty and his crew were returning from their weekly jump to the moon and back.  On board were his usual complement of regulars.  Lieutenant JG Maxine Potter was sitting as number one and several others were running various scans and monitors.  Dexter was sitting in a command chair learning the ship operations from Monty and Maxine.  He was determined to become a pilot and they were trying to help him achieve his goal.  Ben and Rocky were monitoring scans of alien ships they passed on the way.  Bobby, Cody and Pearl were relaxing on the observation deck while the coyote cowboys and Oblio were watching videos in the recreation area.  Suddenly a warning tone sounded.  Rocky noted the alarm and called Ben’s attention to it.  They didn’t know what it was but thought they should notify the captain.  

“Captain Montana, we have an anomaly on one of our scans from the last ship we passed.  It probably ain’t nothing, but did you put any wild animal DNA info into the ship's recognition database, Sir?” asked Rocky.

“Yes, several.  What have you got, Rocky?”  

“It looks like two coyotes to us; a male and a female.  The male ain’t breathing.  I think he’s dead.” Rocky said.

“Oh, my, God!” exclaimed Monty.  “Open a channel to the crew, number one.” he told Maxine.

“Done, Captain.” she replied.

“All hands report to the bridge on the double.”  he spoke, and it went out over the intercoms.  It took only a couple of minutes and everyone was assembled.

“What are the details of their capture, Rocky.” Monty asked the big cowboy bio-droid.

“Six children from non-Grange families.  A number of cowboy slaves from non-Grange ranches, Captain.  About a dozen or more.  Two mule deer does and their calves, one buck, eight sheep, three Angus heifers and their calves, a family of beavers, one squirrel family, and two coyotes.”

“What?  They forgot the damn partridge in the pear tree?  Hell fire, they must be git’n desperate.  I ain’t never heard of them taking wild animals before or sheep for that matter.  Look, men, I got me several personal friends on that ship; them two coyotes and them squirrels.  I won’t go into it right now, but they’re important to me and several other folks.  We’re going after it.  What crew have they got on board, Ben?”

“Four crewmen total, Captain.  Two on the bridge and two covering the captures.  The only captives conscious are the coyote female, a couple of the older cowboys and one young boy.  One of the cowboys is holding him trying to comfort him.  The rest have been stunned.  The male coyote, he ain’t breathing, Sir.”

“You men think we can do a repeat of the last raid we done on one a’ them snake ships?” Monty asked.

“We’re ready, Captain.  Say the word.  We got us four of their stun guns we captured to zap ‘em with.” said Rocky.

“Okay, let’s do this one a little different.  Ben, you and Rocky learned how to fly one of them ships, didn’t you?” Monty asked.

“Yes, Sir.  So does Dexter.  We know the basics, but we ain’t had no flight time in one.” Ben replied.

“Can you manage to shut it down once we take over?”

“Piece a' cake, Captain.” replied Ben.

“Once it’s shut down, Maxine can have Cecil beam it onboard the Gopher Bay into one of our hanger bays.”

“No problem, Sir.” allowed Ben.

“We’ll beam Ben and Rocky onto the bridge directly behind the pilots.  Set your guns on stun.  We’ll decided what to do with them later.  Cody and Dexter take the other two guns and do the same to the guards.  As soon as we get the alien ship on board, we’ll beam them to a bio-containment holding area from which they can’t escape.  Does everyone understand what we’re doing?” everyone said they did.

“Can I go, Captain?”  Pearl asked.

“Not this time, Pearl.” I need you to be with me and Bobby when we tend to the captives.  I need to focus my attention on the male coyote.” he explained.      

“Can I go?” Three year old Oblio asked.  Monty laughed.

“Not on your life, buckaroo!  Yore’ pa would skin my hide and nail it to the barn door if I done some’um stupid like 'at.  Highjacking an alien ship and its crew is gonna’ be hard enough to explain.” Monty said, then added, “Howsomever, jes’ so’s you don’t feel bad, young’un, your captain loves you very much and appreciates yore' brave offer.  One day you’ll be old enough and big enough, but not today.  Besides, it would break my heart if some’um bad happened to you, cowboy.” Monty smiled at him.  Oblio seemed satisfied.  “Okay, to your places, gentlemen.” Monty ordered and the bio-droids were ready for their away mission.  JG Maxine instructed the evolved intelligence to travel in the wake of the alien ship.   As soon as they matched speed, Monty gave the order and the bio-droids were beamed aboard.  The reptiles didn’t even have time to react, and they were zapped unconscious.  The two pilots slumped forward in their seats and the ship seemed to wobble a bit.  Ben moved to the side of the unconscious reptile captain, hit one button on the control panel, and the alien ship came to a halt.  It was still moving through space, but its propulsion engines were stilled.  Cecil came alongside and matched the alien ship’s speed, then beamed the alien ship onboard the Gopher Bay into a docking bay.  Per Maxine’s orders Cecil wasted no time getting away from the area.  They weren’t worried.  The snakes didn’t have time to send a warning or distress signal.  Cecil would have detected a signal and projected another to scramble it.  He detected no warning or cry for help.  

“Beam the reptiles to the bio-containment holding cells, Cecil.”  Maxine ordered, and they vanished from the bridge and critter holding area.  They were secure.  There was no exit unless they were beamed out, but they could be observed by cameras.  They were unconscious and remained that way for several hours.  It would seem their own weapons didn’t agree with them.  Monty held no pity for them.  He felt a taste of their own medicine was appropriate.  He turned to Maxine.  She knew what he was going to say before he spoke.

“Go!" Maxine barked at him, "Cecil and I can get us back to the Bandersnatch.  You might consider sending Dexter to back me up.” she added.

“Before you dock with the Bandersnatch, fly over our ranch and let me know when you get there.  Have Cecil beam me, Criga, and the body of Coyote John down to my work area in the barn.  May as well beam down the other critters at the same time.  I’ll take care of them as I can, but John will be my first priority.  When you get back, contact Master Angus and tell him what happened.  Ask him, if he would be so kind to send his ramrod to help me.” Monty took her little face in his hands and gently kissed her on her muzzle. “Have I told you lately how much I love you and how important you are to me, Lieutenant Junior Grade Maxine Potter?”

“Every day.” she wiggled with glee.

“H’it ain’t near enough, little sister.” he stole another kiss, grinned and bolted from the room.  When he arrived at the capture holding area on the alien ship he was struck by the stench.  It smelled of animal fear, fecal matter, human sweat, the god-awful odor of the aliens, and the smell of death.  Monty barked some orders for Dexter and Ben to go to the bridge to backup Maxine.  Monty wanted Dexter to help with the docking with the Bandersnatch and send a message to Master Shane and Admiral Long to report to the Gopher Bay as soon as possible.  Monty asked them to explain to his leaders he might not be available because of trying to heal some of the critters in his barn.  They were to tell them what happened and show them what they confiscated.  Dexter and Ben left for the bridge.  Monty told Maxine he wanted Bobby, Oblio beamed down with him to give him a hand with the critters.  When Monty got to the holding area, Criga was cringing in a corner.  She saw Monty when he came into the room.  After he sent Dexter and Ben on their way, he fell to his knees to examine Coyote John and saw he wasn’t breathing.  They killed him.  He wasn’t bleeding so he could only imagine they stopped his heart with the electrical charge from their guns.  He opened his arms to Criga and his crew was amazed to see the coyote female run to him and give him a big kiss.

<< Montana, two-legs!  It’s so good to see you again.  I thought we were doomed. >> she told him. << They shot and killed John.  They came looking for us.  They came down from their ship above and tried to stun us.  John led them away from our pups.  I remained in the den with them to keep them quiet.  They spotted me and came for me.  John came between them and us and threatened them.  When they wouldn’t back down he lunged at the smaller one and bit him.  The bigger one shot and killed him.  He stunned me, but I came around after they brought us here.  Where are we, Monty two-legs? >>

<< On a spaceship that flies through the skies like the barn owls and far away from our home.  You’re safe now, Criga.  I’ll take you back to your pups.  I have to try to save Coyote John.  He’s been dead for sometime.  I don’t know if I can bring him back to life. >>

<< Please, Monty, you must.  He’s my mate.  I need him.  Without him my pups will perish. >>

<< You know I won’t let that happen, Criga.  Didn’t I help you with your other litter when you’re mate disappeared?  >>

<< I’m sorry, Captain Montana.  I should have more faith in you.  Forgive me. >> she showed her teeth in embarrassment.  Monty petted her and assured her it was all right, she was just upset.  

<< I will do my best to save him, mother four-legs. >> Monty sent to her.  She withdrew into her corner.  His crew were bringing around the other cowboy slaves and a few of the animals were beginning to stir.  The little male squirrel came to and recognized Monty.  He ran to him and climbed up his back onto his shoulder.  Monty smiled to himself.

<< Are you all right, Jasper? >>

<< My head hurts, Monty.  My mate is breathing, but our babies need their mother. >>

<< Here, let me touch your head.  Perhaps I can relieve your pain then I want you to go and stay with your mate and kits. >> Jasper ran around into Monty’s lap.  He gently touched his small head and rubbed it a couple of times. << There, is that better, friend? >> he asked.

<< Much better, Montana-man.  I know you got others to tend to.  I’ll see to my mate and kits. >> he jumped down and was away to his mate and little fur balls who were awake and crying for their mother.  Rocky, Cody, Pearl and Bobby were trying to bring around the humans to explain to them they were safe.  A few were coming around, and they offered them water.  Pearl found some towels she dipped in warm water to bathe their faces.  It was a touch of comfort until they could return them.  The children began to cry when they came to, but the old cowboys did their best to calm and comfort them.

Monty stretched out his hands over Coyote John and closed his eyes.  He concentrated with all his might and began the process he did several times to bring another dead mammal back to life.  The blueish-green to dark purple light that emanated from his hands bathed the large canid in the energy of his life-force.  Even though Monty had his eyes closed the rays returning from the animal to him were like a scan creating a picture in his mind of the internal damage and destruction the alien’s gun caused.  He got a couple of jumps from John like he was trying to turn his motor over to get it started but each time he would fall back into the dark nebulous realm of nothingness.  He was comfortable there.  He had some tiny perception of who he was and where he was.  It all seemed so strange, so vague.  He got glimpses of himself running on two legs and then on four legs.  He was a coyote?  No he was a man in a coyote suit?  No, that wasn’t right.  He was a coyote in a man suit?  He couldn’t be sure, but he was sure he was warm and comfortable.

He wished whatever was trying to bring him around would stop.  He was ready to rest in the warmth of the lovely sleep.  There was nothing frightening about it.  He was so comfortable, but still the thing kept nagging at him.  It was like the voice of an old lady nagging him to get his shit together.  It kept calling to him.  He could hear his mate calling his name. << Come back to me, John.  I need you to raise our pups. >> she called.  ‘How could a man raise pups?’ he thought.  At least Criga never spoke of love.  She was a good mate.  He respected her.  She did her job, and he did his.  That’s the way it was suppose to be.  Fuck and whelp.  Fuck and whelp.  Season after season.  It was a good life.  He was a good mate for Criga.  ‘Gotdamn it!  Leave me alone!  Stop jolting me with that purple light.’ he thought << Stop calling to me, coyote-woman! >> he projected. << Just lemme’ be! >>

<< No, John!  We won’t let you be.  You must come back to us.  I care about you!  Criga needs you.  Little Bear loves you.  Believe it or not, Angus cares about you. >>  

The voices, the light, they bothered him some more, but he was stubborn.  He refused to respond, and then, it stopped.  He was relieved and sank back into his comfortable oblivion.  Monty misjudged Coyote John’s stubbornness for his inability to bring him around.  He wasn’t persistent enough.  Monty should have known better.  He knew how Coyote John could be.  He gave up for the moment.  He would try again when they returned to the barn.

* * * * * * *

Maxine spoke over the com line to Monty, announced to him they were hovering over the big barn and were ready to beam him and the critters down.  The cowboy slaves and children would be taken to the infirmary in sickbay on the Bandersnatch and then to the small hospital in Parsons.  The small town now boasted a new two story hospital with a staff of fine physicians and dedicated nurses.  Arnie and Dr. Stevens still ran the small clinic with several rooms for special patients, but since the volume of rescued abductees and those ‘raptured’ from the Cheney camps became greater, a larger facility became necessary.  Maxine had Cecil beamed Monty and the critters down to the barn, then took the Gopher Bay to dock in its designated bay on the Bandersnatch.

Monty told Criga to be off to check on her pups but for her to return in a while, and he would feed her.  She thanked him and took off for her den.  The other animals were coming around, but they didn’t seem afraid of Monty.  They stayed around for a while enjoying the free chow.  Bobby, Oblio beamed down with him to help with the critters.  The rest of his crew, including the coyote cowboys remained aboard the Gopher Bay to see to the humans.  Unknown to Monty, Oblio was quietly healing many of the critters, and sending them on their way after he and Bobby fed them.  Monty picked up Coyote John and placed his body on his workbench.  He would try again to revive him.  He told Maxine to send for Jesse Watkins and Utah immediately upon return to the Bandersnatch and direct them to him in his barn.  He suddenly felt the weight of what happen on his shoulders.  If he hadn’t changed John into a coyote this never would have happened.  He tried one more time and managed to get Coyote to take a couple of breaths, but beyond that he was unsuccessful.  Oblio saw the pain his dad was going through and knew what John meant to him.  He wanted to go to him and tell him, together they could save him, but he was afraid he would get into trouble with Pa Shane.  He remembered Shane telling him saving the life of a critter or a human was more important than keeping his identity secret from his dad.  He had a plan.  He felt sure he could do both.

End of Chapter 73 ~ Waco’s Lummox
Copyright 2008 ~ Waddie Greywolf
All Rights Reserved~
Mail to: waddiebear@yahoo.com
Proofed: 01/13/10

*Bible humper ~ one who takes his bible to bed with him.