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A short vicious thunderstorm lashed Bays Mountain on the afternoon of July 3. As the storm passed, a blood-red butterflier, with a pusher propeller in the tail and a plastic bull head on the nose, descended in the young Sudan grass. Stonecypher dropped the saw—he had been clearing away a beech limb the storm left in the abandoned paddock—and strolled to greet Ringmaster A. Oswell.
"Stonecypher!" the ringmaster announced. "That storm almost caught us!" Oswell's stainless steel teeth clacked, and the breezes trailing the thunderclouds ballooned his orange silk kimono. "I never liked these butterfliers. They're too slow, and that swooping motion! Five hundred miles per hour may seem fast to a man your age; but in my day, back before petroleum was classified as armament, we had jets! Real speed!"
"Come on up to the house, ringmaster," Stonecypher invited. "I'll mix up some dextrose and citric acid."
"No, no time," the fat man panted. "Only time to see you about that bull you sold me. The storm took a limb of your beech tree! Almost the only one left, I suppose. About that bull, Stonecypher, you know I was a bit hesitant when I bought him, but my driver talked me into it. I'm so disappointed I had him drafted immediately!"
"But what—" Stonecypher attempted to ask.
"The young woman there in the butterflier is a much better driver and pilot," Oswell babbled. "I wouldn't have believed it of a woman! She weighs a good ninety-eight pounds, too! That bull—he has changed completely since we put him under the stands. He eats well, but he shows no spirit at all. Tomorrow is the big day, Stonecypher! I can't disappoint the crowd! I thought he might be sick, but the vet says not. That bull let the vet come into the cage and made absolutely no attempt to kill him!"
"But does Fergus—"
"Fergus's manager saw the bull! He's all for it. Fergus made an extremely poor showing on Memorial Day, and the manager thinks this odd bull would provide a real comeback! I advised against it. This heat is terrible! The storm didn't cool the air at all."
Stonecypher maneuvered the perspiring ringmaster into the shade of the beech. He said, "I wanta do the fair thing with you, ringmaster, so I'll give you a guarantee, in writing if you want. If that bull's not the bravest ever fought in Highland Bullring, I give you double-money-back."
Oswell's face wobbled in a tentative smile. He counted his stubby fingers. "Double-money-back?"
"Yeah. I wanta get into the business. My grandfather used to sell bulls. Then my father came along, and he wouldn't sell a one."
"Yes. Yes, I once tried to reason with him, but—"
"He had funny ideas," Stonecypher pressed his advantage. "I never did understand the old man myself. He used to lecture me on something he called the Man-Animal War. He said one of the worst things in the war was the thousands of bulls that had been tortured to death."
"Peculiar idea. Of course—"
"He claimed bullfights slipped up on this country. Back when it wasn't legal, they spaded up the ground real good. There were movies, and books, and magazines, and foreign broadcasts, all ravin' about how brave and noble it was for a bunch of men to worry and torture a stupid animal like a bull, till he couldn't hardly hold his head up, and then run a sword in 'im."
"I don't know how many times he told me a bull had more brains than a horse, but less than a jackass. He said bullfightin' wasn't a sport, even if the bull got a man sometimes; and he had the idea the worst thing was the four or five horses, that ever' bull killed, took with 'im. They had some bloodless bullfights in California, and the nut colonies out there like it so good, first thing you know, we really had it. It came to East Tennessee 'cause this was one of the biggest cattle-raisin' sections, before the Lakes took the grazin' land."
"Surely, Stonecypher, you—"
"My father always claimed if the bullfighters were near as brave as they said, they'd take on a really intelligent animal sometimes, like a man-eatin' tiger. He even thought a man was mentalill to fight a bull in the first place." Stonecypher grinned. "No, you don't need to worry about me, ringmaster. I hate to admit it, but the old man is the one who was mentalill."
Oswell revealed all of his steel teeth in a broad smile. "You had me worried!" he wheezed. "Now, your offer."
"I'll go even better," Stonecypher said, "just to show how set I am on getting' back in the business. If Moe's not brave, I got two yearlin's you can have for free."
"How generous! You've reassured me, Stonecypher. I have confidence, now, that the show will be a great success! I must go! You have no conception of the life a ringmaster leads before a fight. I won't require a written guarantee. I trust you, Stonecypher! See you tomorrow, I hope! I never liked July. If the Government would only make more Lakes, it might cool off! I hope—"
The whir of the red butterflier's wings terminated Oswell's discourse. With a face like a gored bullkiller, Stonecypher watched the ringmaster's departure. Another butterflier hovered above the mountain. This one was green and gold with the canopy pushed back and a glint of twin lenses in the cockpit.
Will appeared at Stonecypher's side. He spat in a long arc and said, "That's a new one, ain't it, peepin' from a butterfly? I reckon L. Dan never got kilt in that other duel like I hoped he would. You want us to git you outa this, Stonecypher?"
"We can see you git to the Smokies. The Givernment'll never find you down in there."
"I'll be all right, Will. If he does kill me, take care of Catriona. And look after the calf records."
Stonecypher walked slowly toward Catriona's open-topped sunbathing tent.
Duelmaster R. Smith adjusted his black tam. "Do not touch your shooting hand to your weapon until the buzzer sounds," he instructed. "Otherwise, the weapon may be carried as you wish. At the slightest infringement of the rules, a robot gun will kill you. If you have any elaborate last words, say them now; because the pen is soundproof." He laughed an obviously much rehearsed laugh.
L. Dan wore orange tights today, but no armor, since the rules required duelists to present naked torsos for probable bullets. Stonecypher faced the duelmaster. "I reckon this room is the only place a man really has free speech," he said. "You're deaf, and can't see good enough to read lips, and me or him will soon be dead.
"I don't believe in this duelin'. It gives a man who's wrong a chance to kill one who's right. A man shouldn't oughta have to die because he's right. Just like ever'thing else in this Manly Age. It's painful. That oughta be our motto, More Pain, just like in the Machine Age it was More Gadgets At Any Cost."
"Why don't you go on tevee?" Dan jeered. "She'll soon forget you, farmer."
Stonecypher's words rolled over the hobbyist. "I reckon the Manly Age came because a man started thinkin' he wasn't much of a man any more. He was just as fast as his car, and just as strong as his electric lawn mower. And a loud minority of the women was claimin' they could do anything a man could, and maybe better. So the men started playin' football in shorts and huntin' each other on game preserves, and the women went back to the kitchen and bedroom. Lots of things that went on undercover come out in the open. Cockfights, dogfights, coon-on-a-log, duels, stallion fights, bullfights.
"And people like you, L. Dan, went on livin'. You got no right to live. You don't do any useful work. The Earth is slowly starvin', and you take the grub out of some feller's mouth who might could help a little. That's why—"
"Time!" announced the duelmaster with his face close to a large clock on the wall. He opened the door. Two men carrying a body on a stretcher passed. The body had four bullet wounds in it.
Dan said, "That drivel gives me a real reason to kill you, farmer. I'll be good to her for a few days."
As prearranged, Dan took the right branch of the corridor and Stonecypher, the left. A hooded man gave Stonecypher the Magnum revolver and shut him into a space resembling a windowed closet with a door on either side. Stonecypher secured the revolver in the clip holster. His bony hands formed knotted fists.
The pen door slid back. Stonecypher stepped into a room thirty by ninety feet with three bullet-marred concrete walls and a fourth wall of bulletproof glass, behind which sat the ghoulish audience. Dan, crouched and with his pistol in the crook of his left elbow, advanced. His right hand fluttered an inch from the pistol butt.
Stonecypher, grotesque with thin chest exposed and overall bib wrapped around belt, waited. Two photoelectric robot machine guns followed each movement of the duelists. A buzzer sounded. Dan's index finger failed to reach the trigger, for a guardian machine gun removed the hobbyist's head in a short efficient burst. The noise of a loud buzzer punctuated the execution.
When the soundproof inner door of the closet opened, the hooded man, who had a pair of crossed pistols tattooed on the back of his right hand, said, "He was too anxious."
"Yeah," Stonecypher grunted.
The man watched Stonecypher pass out to the street. Stonecypher snapped up the bib of his overalls. An extremely rare bird, a robin, hopped from his path and continued a fruitless search for insects. Stonecypher walked down Watauga Street until the pavement vanished under the brownish-green water of Kings Lake.
Catriona squealed when she saw him. Ignoring all Correct Procedures, she almost knocked him down and attempted to smother him. "Ah told you it just took practice!" she blubbered. "You did it, Stony!"
With muffled mumbles, Stonecypher managed to put her in the Tenite canoe. The few people along the quay, who had witnessed the illegal manner of their meeting, watched with shock, or with incredulity, or with guarded admiration. When they saw that Stonecypher's hand rested on a holstered revolver, they lost their curiosity.
Wading, Stonecypher shoved the canoe off and hopped aboard. As he took up the paddle, his hand trailed in the water and released the small buzzer that had made possible Catriona's best carnival act.
* * *
For July, the afternoon was cool. Blue-gray clouds drifted before larger dirty white masses. To the southwest opened the mile-wide mouth of Horse Creek; and, far beyond, the great blue pyramid of Chimney Top Mountain stood defiantly above Sevier Lake. The world seemed water broken only by partly submerged hills and mountains.
Stonecypher gazed across the Lake at Bays Mountain and at the five Cement Islands apparently floating against that backdrop. Softly, he said, "Some folks call the big one Martyrs Island. There's a marble pillar right in the middle. Nobody knows who put it there, and the Government never bothered to knock it down. I reckon the poison ivy's covered it by now, but I went and read the inscription, once, when I was a boy. It says:
'They moved me off the Powell River.
They covered my farm with water.
I bought me another near Beans Station.
The water covered it.
I was getting old, but I built at Galloway Mill.
When they flooded that, I gave up and lived in Kingsport.
I will not move again.'"
The canoe bounded over the choppy water, one hundred feet above the silted streets of the flooded city of Kingsport. Stonecypher said, "The time I was there, you could still find a few copter-trooper helmets and old cankered shells. Couple of years back, a diver brought up two skulls off shore."
Catriona's eyes remained moist, but she smiled. Her teeth were beautiful. "It'll be all rahght, Stony. You can't change the wo'ld in one day. You did fine, and Moe will too."
"I told you to stay at the bullring," Stonecypher said.
"Ah couldn't watch that! And those puny, little, mousy women stare and talk about me, because theah's a little meat on mah cahcass. Oswell said Moe would be last, anyhow. Ah was so wo'ied about you, ah couldn't sit still."
Only a few boats, mainly those of piscatorial maniacs, were on the lake. Stonecypher glared at them and muttered, "I hope I did right by Moe. He wanted to fight. Maybe, Catriona, if I'd had you when I found out he could talk—not just mimic—I'd of raised him different. Maybe I shouldn't have shown him that bullfight movie, but I wondered what the only bull to see a bullfight from outside the ring thought about it.
"That led to him wantin' to know all about the Man-Animal War. I told him the best I could, how one of a man's basic drives is to exterminate, ever' since prehistoric times when he did in the wooly mammoth and rhinoceros. The dodo, quagga, passenger pigeon, great auk, aurochs, Key deer, bison, African elephant, gorilla, tiger—there's an awful list. Why, five hundred species of mammals, alone, have become extinct since 1 A.D., 'bout four hundred of them since 1850. A man'll even kill off other men, like the Neanderthals and the Tasmanians!" Stonecypher rested the paddle and grinned, faintly, at Catriona reclining in the bow. "I guess you've heard this before."
"Go rahght ahead, Stony," Catriona sighed. "Ah like to heah yoah speech. It's the only time you really get angry, and you look so fine and noble."
"Yeah. Well. I told Moe how a man exterminates useful or harmless species, and then he lets dangerous ones, like rats, eat him out of house and home. Course, I explained this was just kinship. Folks used to argue man come from a monkey, or from spontaneous combustion, or something. Now we got fossil proof he's not like anything anybody ever saw. He's a case of straight line development all the way back to the first mammal, a sort of rat."
The canoe glided past Highland Pier. Every type of small watercraft, from a punt, through an electric motorboat, to a sloop, had docked. More boats lined the shore on either side of the pier. The flying field contained so many butterfliers and copters that there seemed no possibility of any of them taking off. Human voices welled in a mob roar from the great open cylinder of the bullring. A huge banner draped on the curving white wall proclaimed, in ten-foot letters:
HONOR THE GREAT
GOVERNMENT ON WHICH
SIX BULLS—THREE KILLERS
Stonecypher ran the canoe aground in a patch of dead weeds, exposed by a slight lowering of the lake level, and helped Catriona over the rocks that lined the bank. He said, "I told Moe other things men do to animals. All the laboratory butchery, done because it would be cruel to treat a man like that, but it's all right with a animal, like takin' out a dog's brains and lettin' 'im live. I told him about huntin', how the kudu became extinct 'cause a bunch of fools wanted to see who could kill the one with the biggest horns.
"I told him the things done to domestic animals. Dehornin', emasculatin', brandin', slaughterin' with sledge hammers and butcher knives, keepin' 'em in filthy barns. A man tells hisself he's superior to other animals. If he does somethin' bad, he uses words like inhuman, brutal, animal instincts, instead of admittin' it's just typical behavior. And the psychologists take some animal, say a dog, and put him in a maze, something the dog never saw before. If the dog don't run the maze in two seconds flat, they say he's a pretty stupid animal. He just operates on instinct, but they can't say how instinct operates. They'll have a time explainin' Moe's instincts.
"I reckon the American bison made Moe madder than anything. They killed the bison off, 'cept for protected herds, in the Nineteenth Century. A hundred years later, the herds had got pretty big, so they declared open season on bison. No more bison."
A recorded voice growled, "No guns permitted in ring. Deposit gun in slot. No guns permitted in ring."
Stonecypher moved his permit in ineffectual passes before the electric eye. He shrugged, dropped the revolver into the slot, and left his thumb print. Catriona displayed the passes Ringmaster Oswell had given them. The teveer blinked, and the gate granted admission. They rode the escalator to the sixth tier and squirmed through pandemonium to their seats.
The male portion of the crowd wore every possible style and color of dress, in complete emancipation from the old business suit uniform, but the women wore sober false-bosomed sundresses and expressed excitement in polite chirps. Stonecypher pressed his mouth against Catriona's ear and whispered through the din, "You got to understand, Cat, whatever happens, Moe wanted it. He says he can scare some killers into givin' up bullfights and maybe help stop it."
"He'll do fine, Stony."
Several spectators stopped venting their wrath on the unfortunate man in the ring to gawk at the couple. Catriona's unorthodox physique aroused sufficient amazement; but, in addition, Stonecypher gave her the front seat and took the rear one, the correct place for a woman, himself.
Below, through a rain of plasti-bottles and rotten eggs, a tired man walked to the barrier which Oswell advertised as the only wooden fence in seven states. Behind the killer, a small electric tractor dragged out the bloody carcass of a bull.
A gasping, gibbering little man grabbed Stonecypher's arm and yelped, "Illard is the clumsiest killer, he ran the sword in three times, and the kid with the dagger had to stick twice before they finished, Big Dependence Day Bullfight my jet! This is the worst in years, Fergus made the only clean kill all afternoon, and I flew every one of eighteen hundred miles myself to see it, this last bull better be good!" The little man waved his bag of rotten eggs.
Although the bullfight followed the basic procedures established by Francisco Romero in the Spain of 1700, changes had occurred, including the elimination of all Spanish words from the vocabulary of the spectacle since the unpleasant dispute with the Spanish Empire twenty years before. The gaudy costumes worn by participants had been replaced by trunks and sneakers.
A purring grader smoothed the sand. The crowd quieted, except for those near the box of Ringmaster Oswell. They suggested in obscene terms that their money be refunded. A trumpet recording blared. A scarlet door, inscribed, "Moe of Bays Mountain Farm," opened. The crowd awaited the first wild rush of the bull. It failed to materialize.
|Baen Books by Eric Flint Ring of Fire series||Baen Books by eric flint ring of Fire series|
|Dedication To Jim Baen, my mentor, my publisher and my friend. Just trying to pay forward. Acknowledgements||Torch of freedomdavid Weber & Eric Flint|
|Pyramid Power Eric Flint Dave Freer||With the Lightnings by David Drake|
|1635: The Dreeson Incident Eric Flint and Virginia DeMarce||Other Times Than Peace David Drake|
|ﾠ Geostatistics for next century : an International Forum in Honour of Michel David's Contribution to Geostatistics, Montreal, 1993 / edited by Roussos Dimitrakopoulos||ﾠ Geostatistics for next century : an International Forum in Honour of Michel David's Contribution to Geostatistics, Montreal, 1993 / edited by Roussos Dimitrakopoulos|