Not that this book will ever see the light of day but if anyone is interested in my final product as I try to shop it around, here it is.
It’s dedicated to my mother, Kathy. She was the one who encouraged me to move to Salt Lake City over 14 years ago. I never forgot the conversation we had on the side of her bed as she said, “What the hell! You can always move back to Las Vegas.”
As my friend Kyle Goon (Raskin New Friend of the Year Award winner 2012) said, it is a very ambitious work. Be it good, be it silly, be it a series of vaguely plagiarized works from the movies and books that defined me, here it is.
28 January 2014
Table of Contents for Hibernate
- Karl Bingham wakes with a hangover.
- History of Henderson Refinery and Die Cast
- Karl battles the wounded soldiers
- Skinny as a rail
- How did June become November overnight?
- Tiberius Woodruff of Vermont
- Thomas Henderson joins Woodruff
- Woodruff meets Brigham Young
- Work at the Little Cottonwood Quarry
- Karl heads into Smootville
- The third shift is always the most dangerous
- Alice Rice goes to a dance
- Karl’s walk through Smootville
- Entering George and Mary Bingham’s house
- The road to the Beehive House
- Jack Stratton and the Coolidge Event
- The ISS Carson City starts at the Moon
- The meeting with Brigham Young
- Alice Rice loses her arm
- Karl finds someone he lost
- The eastern fortress for the Mormons
- Saying goodnight to the second shift
- Docking with Space Station Libra
- Waking up in the hospital
- You like monster movies?
- Entering the Libra
- It’s alive, Skip
- Burying the bodies along the river
- Fort Tomahawk become Fort Brisco
- Lunch with Nurse Rice
- The history of the Hendersons
- Deciding who to wake up
- Freeing Amanda Jenkins
- How Smootville got it’s name
- Waking Smiley
- The incident in Examination Room #3
- Karl doesn’t care for his new life
- The first winter at Smootville
- Welcoming Colonel Starks into the fold
- What to do with Charlie Smith?
- Dr. Kelly Riedmen sets the record straight
- Henderson return to the scene of the crime
- Returning to Salt Lake City
- Who is Beverly Pullman?
- Returning to the Beehive House
- Pullman takes a long nap
- Escaping from Smootville
- A long walk down South Temple
- Departing for the Acheron
- Henderson becomes mayor
- Jack Stratton goes native
- Breakfast with Lamar and Lisa
- Impact with the ISS Silver Springs
- Karl Bingham heads backs to sleep
Karl woke up with a hangover.
The night before was a blur but oddly familiar. It started with drinks at home before getting into the shower with two cans of beer. These are the best, Karl muttered to himself under the lukewarm water as he drained each can quickly between washing himself. There was a shot or three before heading out the front door in his best button-up farm shirt and cargo shorts. Not locking the door behind him, Karl lit a smoke and took in the warm June air. There was something about drinks at Fort Brisco’s Pub on a summer night that Karl always dreamed about. When the stars were shining and the sky clear, Karl didn’t want to be anywhere else than at the Brisco’s patio drinking beer.
He started the half-mile walk to the bar puffing on his cigarette while sipping the rum and coke in his red plastic cup. Tomorrow, he said to himself, is when I’ll hit both the gym and the want ads. He had been taking time off from basically everything since losing his job at the plant. Working as a die caster was a dying trade but what else was he supposed to do in Smootville? It’s not like there was a big box store opening up anytime soon in the small mountain town. Besides, he didn’t want to work for the railroad with the rest of the slobs who couldn’t hack it at Henderson Refinery and Die Cast.
Chugging his chubby frame up and over Lindell Road, Karl saw the familiar lights of Fort Brisco and knew that there was enough unemployment in his bank account for at least a baker’s dozen worth of drinks. His best shirt was wrinkled out in sweat by the time he finished his second smoke throwing his cup into the bushes. It was time for beer, pool and telling the rest of bar why old man Henderson failed the town in canning him two weeks ago.
Smootville was the last of the great mining towns in Utah. Only 97-miles away from Salt Lake City to the east, it was the first stop for the raw iron ore coming out of the beastly mountains and plateaus in Daggett County. Henderson Refinery and Die Cast was the first and largest employer in the small mountain town. A city where company script was the rule until recently, all of Karl’s family worked for Henderson Refinery and Die Cast. Four generations of Binghams have worked for five generations of Hendersons with the recent graduate from BYU, Kyle Henderson, sitting behind the biggest desk in the biggest office.
Karl got the job from his father and worked from janitor to runner to eventually apprenticing in the die cast shop. He made tools that made bigger tools. Sober and rested, Karl could easily craft the best chisels that built the drills that went into the mines. But if he was hurting from the night before, Karl spent his time walking the large plant sneaking smokes away from the watchful security cameras or napping in receiving yard.
There was never any hope of leaving Smootville after high school. While local colleges took an extended look at him for his blocking ability on the football field, Karl chose late night campfires filled with booze or sleeping in to college applications. His father preached hard work but that message looked as if it was going to skip a generation. Because of a lifestyle that ran in deep contrast to the majority of Smootville, Karl’s rugged looks eventually failed him as he turned into a blob of a man with big hands and an even larger belly.
The beer was unforgiving.
Because the night was a blur, it’s safe to assume that the evening transpired like the hundreds before it. Karl would order a whiskey and a tankard of beer. He’d nurse the beer throughout the night and refill his shot glass with the pint of cheap bourbon in one of his cargo pants. There would be a double cheeseburger with pastrami on it with a bucket of fries dunked in the local delicacy known as fry sauce. Karl would perch up on one of the many outdoor stools and drag on smokes while holding court with those that still clocked in at Henderson Refinery and Die Cast. Unlike most people spinning and staring at their smart phones, he would shuffle cards and tryout his same magic tricks on the same cocktail waitresses. As the night progresses and headed towards 1 AM, the pint would disappear and he’d make moves again other patrons for free shots. Some remember his work on the offensive line for Smootville High’s Fighting Scots and send over a shot to get him off their backs. Others would simply turn their backs—the memory of Karl Bingham was always better than the current incarnation.
Karl would either have hiked back to his small A-framed cabin that he rented from his father or caught a ride in the back of one of the many pickup trucks in the Fort Brisco Pub’s parking lot. Either way, he would stumble into the house, pour one last drink and strip while falling into bed. Where water and aspirin should have been his nightcap, he would chug a last beer or take a pull off of the clear rum and fall asleep in his unmade bed. The windows would be open to let in the June air and dry the sweat from his thick face. Karl’s gut would roll around on top of his previously fit but now fat legs and he would fill the room with his deafening snores. If he wasn’t too drunk, he might have put on some music before passing out but chances are he never got around to putting one of the classic rock CDs in the old player next to his bed. Moreover, there was no sense in setting an alarm. What did he have to wake up to? No work. No wife. No future.
Karl Bingham went to bed that night with no intention of waking up.
Henderson Refinery and Die Cast was the largest building in Daggett County.
There was almost 200,000 square feet of furnaces, refineries, tool shops and manufacturing encased in the massive brick and mortar building with a facade of granite harvested from the southeast tip of the Uintas Mountains. All roads into Smootville led to Henderson Refinery and Die Cast which included both railroads and the one state highway heading west through a treacherous slot canyon. Iron ore dugout in the area was processed in the mammoth furnaces and shaped into girders to build the next generation of buildings while the coal was simply loaded into rail carts to be pulled out of town in the powerful locomotives. The industry came at a cost. Plumes of dark smoke filled the city which suffered from an atmospheric inversion due to the unique layout of the Uintas Mountains—they are the only range in North America that ran east-to-west as oppose to the normal north-to-south. Soot covered everything. This explains why there are more car washes per capita in Smootville than anywhere else in the country and why the once prominent valleys on lodgepole pines were quickly dying.
Everyone in Smootville worked in one capacity or another for Henderson Refinery and Die Cast. Those that didn’t mine the hills or work the blast furnaces or load iron ore into the railroad cars poured coffee at the diners or manned the counter at the hardware store. No big box stores lined the picturesque streets nor were there fast food restaurants distracting people from the local businesses. Throw a rock and it was a guarantee it would land against something that touches Henderson Refinery and Die Cast. Entertainment was light in Smootville with booze and God the top escapes after one has seen both movies at the Arapahoe Movie House. Most people leaned towards the Lord over the bottle for their grace. It was the powerful organization of the church that kept most of Smootville in line. Foremen at the factory were often the bishops at the local stake centers and those coming from other towns quickly learned that upward mobility at Henderson Refinery and Die Cast usually required a couple of hours at church on every Sunday.
While the trains went in every direction from Smootville, there is only one real road that headed towards civilization. Buses ran once a week on Tuesday letting people in and out of Smootville with the private airport reserved for the senior plant managers who tended to reside in Salt Lake City or Provo.
Smootville was a town trapped in time. Tucked into the busted and abused mountains of Utah, there was any more room to grow. Much like a hermit crab struggling to find a larger shell, Smootville grew into itself with nowhere else to expand. Threats of Henderson Refinery and Die Cast leaving Smootville was constant with everyone knowing that the town would die the minute they shut down the 140 year old factory. But why would they leave? While Henderson Refinery and Die Cast were bound by state and federal laws, it was essentially its own living organism which answered to nobody.
But that is not to say it wasn’t idyllic. Granted the air quality was poor all throughout the year with the exhaust constantly being burped out by the plant and civic rivalries require a two hour car drive, Smootville had a pleasant atmosphere. Folks were bound by the need to make sure the plant worked and they strove to improve the bottom-line every quarter. Henderson Refinery and Die Cast took care of its employees and supplied the town with monthly festivals, art shows and concerts. Much like stern parents, senior management wanted the best for the factory and compensated its employees well to make life in the small community agreeable.
George Bingham learned about hard work and commitment growing up in Smootville. After graduating from high school, he joined the ranks of Henderson Refinery and Die Cast on his 18th birthday. The third generation employees of Henderson Refinery and Die Cast, George’s grandfather emigrated from Sweden with nothing more than a copy of the Constitution and a desire to learn how to speak English. George married his fellow Fighting Scot, Mary, a year later and had three children, the youngest being Karl. Every day at the factory was an exercise in mastering the intricacies of the mining and refinery process and George quickly rose to the rank of foreman of the rail yards. Directing traffic and setting the railcars into place before their cross-country trips, George took pride in being respected by both his coworkers and the senior managers. He was constantly teased by his fellow foremen for not having loss any limbs or fingers in his 35 years of work but a part from this, George Bingham was known throughout Smootvilleß as being a Henderson Man. His two daughters were quickly married off to other Henderson workers and his wife, Mary, hosted the ever increasing family on Sundays after the required time in church.
But it was Karl who was the key that didn’t fit the Bingham lock. Always rebellious, he spent his youth trying to figure a way out of town but never followed through with his threats of departing Smootville. He grew up strong playing football but those looks and strength quickly disappeared from an ever increasingly lethargic lifestyle. In time, George spent as much energy directing the railcars as he did bailing his son out from accusations of truancy and insubordination.
The thick Henderson Building was lined in the same granite that flowed through George Bingham’s life—hard, impenetrable and cold. He might have pushed Karl away but after a time, Karl learned to push back. There were times that George wished Karl to be gone forever and others when he wished his only son would straighten himself out. Neither seemed to be viable options for George, he merely kept his temper to save Mary from the constant barrage of complaints about her son. Too often his wife fell asleep at night with her eyes red from crying about her lost son and George wanted everything to be right.
Holding his wife, George was ashamed for wishing that Karl would simply leave Smootville. If he just disappeared, everything would be better, he thought. But George knew it wasn’t ever going to happen. There was no way his only son would snap out of it and get with the program.
Karl’s mouth tasted like it was packed with sand. Like a wound rubbed in salt and left out to dry in the desert, he was completely dehydrated and felt like death. His eyes were blurry but that had less to do with the whiskey and rum consumed and more with Karl not being able to find his glasses. It wasn’t that the room was spinning but Karl was completely drained of any energy to get to the sink to take a pull of water or find a wounded soldier of beer to pour anything to his mouth. He wanted to get up and go to the sink but he didn’t dare.
He lay in bed for a beat trying to take into account of what to do. Get food, get water and get moving but none of these seemed appealing because it was going to involve some effort. He rolled over trying to find a warm spot in the bed for more sleep but there was nowhere fresh to hide. Karl reached out for the covers to comfort him but there was only the thin sheet and even thinner blanket on his lonely bed.
“Jesus Christ,” Karl muttered while he rolled in a panic trying to get comfortable. “Where the Hell is my quilt? How is it so flipping cold in June?”
He kicked his legs out on the edge of his dirty bed and realized that he was more hungover than he thought. He barely had the strength to stand up and fell back into the bed.
“What’s the matter with me?” Karl asked as he lightly punched the mattress. “Getting old, getting old, getting old, Old Man. Can’t even handle a night at the Brisco without waking up wanting to shoot yourself. Come on, dude, get your ass in gear.”
Rocking back and thrusting himself forward, he stood up and the cold floor bit into his feet. He stumbled to the kitchen sink and turned the water knob to take a deep pull from the cold water. The room was icy as he reached around looking for his glasses.
“Man, it is God damn freezing! Why is it so cold?!?” he barked, scanning the counter for both his glasses and the half of Lortab he bit into on his way out the door last night.
Taking a glass from the bottom of the sink, he filled it full of water and chugged it. He filled it again and drank half of it. His legs felt weak and his back was completely powerless. Karl hung on to the counter with his shoulder as he scanned the room looking for his glasses. His left arm skimmed over the counter, knocking down empty cans and actually found the half-chewed pill which he quickly popped.
“I’ve got to get help. Too many of these nights are going to kill me,” Karl said to no one as he drained more water. “And why is it so cold? This floor is killing me. And where the hell are my glasses?”
Scanning the floor, he retraced his steps from the front door and found his shorts and shirt and started dressing. Everything felt loose. It wasn’t until he went to refill his cup for the fourth time did he find his glasses on the coffee table. They were resting in a half-filled ashtray.
“As soon as I get a job, I swear to God I’m getting that laser surgery,” Karl promised himself. “No more of these crazy mornings.”
It wasn’t until he stubbed his toe against the couch did Karl stumble back to his bed and roll under the sheets. It was cold, way too cold even in the high mountain air. For 27 years, he has been waking up raw and drawn and filled with guilt but today was different. He was hurting. Not hurting from the night before but actually in pain. It wasn’t his stubbed toe but the fact that he had no strength in his legs or back. Even his jaw and feet felt like death. The open room cabin didn’t give him anywhere to hide, so he basically fell even further back into bed. With his head propped up against his three pillows, he looked around the room. It was nothing but a carnival of old newspapers, empty beer cans and liquor bottles. The television stood dead in the corner and there was nothing to break up the loneliness of the room. But why was it so cold? June in Daggett County was chilly but not out and out freezing. Karl reached for the pile of clothes that hid under his bed and draped his heavy hunting jacket over him. It felt extra-large and comforting as Karl curled up to drift off to sleep.
He was fearless but pained, tired and lost. Of course he was sad but Karl was unaware how bad things were but he couldn’t care less. All he wanted to know is why it was so cold in his little cabin in Smootville Utah.
The late afternoon light peeked through the dirty curtains in Karl Bingham’s cabin. A standard A-frame cabin that opened to west, the sun illuminated the one-room in the late afternoon. In the winter, the cast iron stove, foundered at Henderson Refinery and Die Cast, doubled as both stove and heating source. In the summer, the two ceiling fans powered by catgut motors recirculated the air to tolerable levels.
These are things that Karl never thought about it.
The weather and the temperature meant nothing in comparison to his epicurean state. Whether it was forcing pizza down his neck or chugging pints of vodka or whatever was discounted at the state liquor store, Karl was always more concerned about avoiding pain or the fear of withdrawal than the ambient temperature of his father’s cabin. George Bingham quit stopping in to look for his meager rent check a long time ago. Whether or not his son had the money meant nothing in comparison to the filth and damage his kid had done to his grandfather’s cabin. It was far better to shakedown Karl at Sunday dinners before Mary served the family than to see how his only son was living.
Karl groaned as the sliver of light found his bed. The fitted sheet had popped off the corner and he was curled into a fetal position with every blanket covering his body. His head was smoothed out with the added rest but something felt amiss. Specifically, his belly felt smaller—much smaller. Where it used to hang down over his groin or sprawl out over the bed, there wasn’t one at all. In fact, as Karl ran his hand down his body towards his limp penis, he felt something for the first time or at least for the first time in a long time, his ribs.
“What the…” Karl muttered. “What the hell is the matter with me?”
Enough was enough with resting and Karl swung his legs over the bed. Miraculously, even though he had fallen asleep for eight or more hours in his glasses, they weren’t broken. Thinking of his mother and the scores of glasses she had to either repair or replace, he smirked as he reached for his shorts on the floor. He slid them up his body but they fell to the floor the moment he let go of them.
He raised them again and they hung to his hips momentarily before falling to his knees. Karl let them drop to floor as he stumbled to the sink for another glass of water. He felt lighter, smaller. Sticking his head under the tap, he drank the water until his stomach hurt and then he drank again. His head was cloudy but not in pain. He wasn’t hungover anymore but just confused. The lone mirror in the room, an old whiskey mirror with two bikinied models kissing, showcased his body. He wasn’t his normal fat blob or fit but actually skinny. His ribs protruded through his torso and his legs looked more like sticks than the thick tree trunks he was accustomed to. Karl’s shoulders were still broad but they hung like an old scarecrow. His bearded face was drawn, sunken in and dirty. He could actually make out more than his jaw line but the contours of his skull. His eyes were sunken in under his thick black-rimmed glasses and the pesky back fat that made showing off his backside was gone.
He wasn’t a shell of himself. Karl Bingham was a ghost of somebody he didn’t even recognize.
He kicked off his shorts and wrapped the blanket off the bed around himself. Going back to the sink, he took in gulps and gulps of water until he felt like he was going to throw up. He wasn’t hungover now but scared. He couldn’t quench his thirst and for the first time in as long as he could remember, he wanted nothing of the hair of the dog. He went to the chest of drawers tucked into the corner of the room and pulled out a pair of jeans that he hasn’t worn in ten years. They hung baggy off of him. Reaching for a belt that hasn’t seen the light of day in half a decade, he clinched it up tight and pulled a t-shirt over his knotty shoulders. The jacket that doubled as a blanket hung like a tarp over his emaciated body.
“What the Hell happened to me?” Karl said quietly running his hands over his new body. “I must be sick, got a disease. Jesus, I’m not doing good. This is bad, real bad. I sure as shit don’t want to die from this.”
Clicking on the television, it warmed to fuzz. This wasn’t unheard of considering TV reception in Smootville was shaking at best. The channels were controlled by Henderson Refinery and Die Cast’s Cable Company and it wasn’t uncommon for the television to go out of whack during even the all-important football games on Sunday. Karl was too tired and stunned to flip through the channels and got to the all-important task of getting something to eat. Opening the refrigerator, he realized that while he might be ravenous, he wasn’t that hungry enough to eat what he found inside. The day old pizza in the fridge was overgrown with green fuzz and the milk had exploded converting into foul and blackened cottage cheese. The scattered cans of beer were intact but Karl reached to the produce bin only to find it an overgrown jungle of bacteria.
He slammed the door shut and screamed, “What is happening!?!”
He punched the refrigerator and barked nonsense for a moment. Sliding down to the ground, Karl’s slimmer backside grabbed the magnets holding up unpaid bills and pictures of evenings drinking with people down at Fort Brisco’s Pub. He landed on the floor and sobbed for a minute. Not an honest sob but rather an attempt at being human while things around him were falling apart. His whole life was nothing but a series of confused scenarios which alcohol caused or fixed. This was different. He had never had to deal with real confusion before and he wasn’t equipped with the skill set to address what was happening to him.
Wallowing on the ground, he pounded the hardwood floor and curled up. For the first time in a while, his belly didn’t block him from hugging his legs and he stopped crying long enough to recognize the fact that he was actually skinny. He liked the idea of being slim but was unprepared for being so malnourished that he could fold up and live in one of his chest of drawers. More than that, he didn’t know how he went from being called the Big Man or Fat Karl to simply being a bundle of match sticks.
Karl raised himself up with a fist and went to the cabinet and pulled out the lone can of clam chowder. Slowly opening it, he poured it into a bowl and put it into the dirty microwave. Hitting 6 three times, he went to the front door and looked outside to find snow.
“Snow in June? There’s no way this is possible,” Karl asked. “And what’s with the paper?”
Karl might have been a ne’er-do-well but he lived for the morning paper. It was his link to the outside world and his morning distraction. It was how he escaped from Smootville briefly every morning and a window outside of that small Utah town. He loved reading the obits which also doubled as an injury report for the crew at Henderson Refinery and Die Cast. Snipped fingers, crushed feet or falling train cars all made the news and Karl loved knowing who was getting the brunt end of the stick at the factory. Reading about the high school football games throughout the state got him through the required pot of coffee before he hit the shower and stumbled off to work. More than anything, he looked forward to reading the funny pages—they always made him laugh.
There was a stack of newspapers resting at the stoop of his front door. Why would there be more than one? Karl reasoned that maybe he slept for over a day and maybe the papers might have doubled up but why was there a small pyramid of the Daggett Morning Express? He randomly picked up one and saw that the date was October. Throwing it into the room towards the cast iron stove, he grabbed another. August? Another read July and the next was in November. Karl kicked all of the papers inside and looked at the snow drifts piled over his truck.
It was the beeping of the microwave that snapped Karl back into attention. Opening the door, the soup had hardened over from overcooking but Karl didn’t care. He was still a fat boy at heart. Wrapping a dirty dish towel over the bowl, he gingerly carried it to the dining table and plopped down. Looking for a spoon, he found one in the sink and after taking another extended drink from the tap, he got to work on the chowder.
What could possibly have happened, he wondered. There is no way he has been asleep for months but his diminished body told another story. He was either dreaming or the victim of a prank that he couldn’t even imagine who could have perpetuated it. Karl shoveled the chowder into his face and ended up licking the bowl getting more into his beard than his mouth. He wore his beard short to give off the perception of a jawline but now his beard hung almost six-inches off his face. Now it wasn’t just long—it was grey and covered in chowder.
Fat boy ways die hard.
The 1998 Toyota Tacoma was under a mound of snow. If not for the five to six traffic accidents that Karl caused through the 250K miles on the odometer, the white truck would have been hidden under the thick snow drifts.
There were rusted panels that gave the vehicle an almost giraffe finish and it was a source of mockery for the guys who drove big American trucks throughout Smootville. The truck was a present from George to Karl soon after he graduated from high school. George figured his son would need reliable transportation to and from Henderson Refinery and Die Cast. Besides, he got a great deal from a Salt Lake dealership.
It didn’t take long for Karl to start destroying the car. At first it was simple things like keeping the small extended cab filled with spent food wrappers and discarded clothing. Soon after years of driving with the windows rolled up while smoking, the ceiling was covered in small burns. The seats were split from Karl’s ever expanding waist and from his habit of pulling himself into the car as oppose to just sitting down. The driver’s seat belt was frayed from repeatedly closing the door on it. It didn’t matter, Karl never wore it anyway. It was road safe in Smootville but not the kind of truck one want to see on the highway.
Karl stared long and hard at the truck. After getting his first DUI at 19, he actually made it a habit of not drinking and driving when he was too blotto. A couple of beers at the Brisco and he’d make the trip home. Pounding rum all night and he knew he was huffing it. He knew he was in for a bender when he last went out. That’s why the white truck stayed in the driveway and that’s why he thought he saw the beat up truck when he stumbled back to his place.
Lindell was one of three major roads in Smootville and it hadn’t been plowed. In the late evening, the haze of twilight was taking hold and the sky became bright in coldness. Karl shuddered the chill off of his now slim shoulders and went back inside. Out on the small gravel driveway connected to Lindell Road, his truck waited for action but it wasn’t going to happen today. There was way too much snow to be scrapped off and Karl wasn’t feeling himself. He was too confused by what happened since waking this morning/afternoon/evening and there was no way he was going to be leaving the cabin.
The mass of newspapers stacked by the door were kicked to the stove as Karl got set on looking for his next meal. His pantry was bare minus cans of pork and beans or ranch style beans or cans of French cut beans. For the first time, he smirked at himself and wondered why he felt compelled to eat as much beans as he did. The open bags of chips that sprawled through the room were quickly discarded when what should be fresh was stale beyond consumption. He started grabbing trash and filling the stove to start a fire.
Karl started by opening up and laying out the newspapers. The dates started in June 11th and he was able to string together two weeks till June 25th. From there, the dates began to become sporadic. There were a couple in July, a few in August and a handful of the Daggett Morning Express in November.
And that was it.
He held on to the last dated newspaper and set it aside. Starting to feed the Henderson kettle stove with the rest of the papers, he played with his lighter before setting them aflame. Grabbing the kindling and logs from last winter, he slowly fed the stove until it started to burn a hot, orange glow. Cans of pork and beans were opened, plopped into a pot and placed on top of the kettle stove. Karl tempted fated by holding his frozen fingers close to the cast iron until he felt as if his fingerprints were going to burn off. Walks back to the kitchen resulted in more marathon sessions under the faucet trying to fill his body with water. Booze was the last thing he wanted but habit forced him to open a can of beer which he tried to nurse. He eventually dumped it into the sink.
“I wish I had a dog right now,” Karl said at the stove. “He’d be able to tell me what happened.”
His cell phone was dead and when he charged it long enough to turn it on, there weren’t any bars or service. Just like the television not working, this wasn’t a shock to Karl. Henderson Refinery and Die Cast also controlled the new cellular telephone service for Smootville and it was poor at best. He left the phone charging as he ate the pork and beans out of the pot over the stove while slowly starting to feel better. He was still exhausted and confused but he figured he’d head over to his parents in the morning. Surely they knew what exactly what had happened and could fill in the gaps.
Sitting on the wood-framed couch facing the television, he drew the thick and scratchy Indian blanket over his shoulders. He felt like he wanted cigarettes and beer but this was more out of habit than necessity. He just sat there in the fog of confusion and tried to fight through his thoughts and fear. He was afraid that something had happened that he wasn’t smart enough to figure out. This wasn’t unfamiliar territory for Karl. For 27 years, Karl had scampered his way through life not knowing exactly what was happening. Somehow, even through the worse, everything worked out in the end.
This was the last thought Karl had before he placed two more logs into the stove. Retiring back to his unmade bed, he fell asleep fully dressed for the first time on purpose. The room was warm and comfortable as he drifted off slowly. His head twisted with a million questions but they all condescended into one simple query—how long he had been asleep?
How did June become November overnight?
Tiberius Woodruff was the founder of Smootville.
A distant cousin of LDS Church President Brigham Young, Woodruff was tall and thin with an even thinner neck looking nothing like his famous relation. Where Brigham filled his body in with the comforts of the church presidency, Woodruff strength came from clearing the fields at his father’s farm, tending to the animals and learning the stone cutting trade. He wasn’t a member of the first group of settlers into the Salt Lake Valley—Tiberius Woodruff wouldn’t make the treacherous journey until 1852. He came after reading about Brigham Young establishing a Mormon safe haven in the newly established Utah Territory and called for all members to join the pioneers out in the West. Tiberius didn’t share the new religion beliefs but he had cause to get out of their hometown of Whitingham, Vermont. Debts and unpaid notes had piled up from the construction of the newly built Vermont State Prison. Weighing his options, Woodruff wisely chose heading out west as oppose to joining the inmates of the newly built prison where he served as architect.
By all accounts, Woodruff was more powerful than his thin frame and smarter than most of his contemporaries. His eyes were clear and his hands the size of beaver tails. He was educated by his father who served as both school headmaster and the herald cheese maker in Whitingham. His father taught him to read and write Latin, Greek and the King’s English. In addition, he learned how to do arithmetic and geometry. Woodruff learned how to build barns and darn fences while quoting Shakespeare or Horace to his father. At 16, he was sent to the Winston Quarry outside of Burlington to learn how to cut Vermont’s famous Barre Gray granite. Evenly colored, fine grain and lacking impurities, Barre Gray granite become the prized covering of all monuments and newly built federal buildings.
Work in the quarries strengthened Woodruff’s frame. Unlike the others who treated the labors of sawing granite from the side of mountains as a means to an ends, Woodruff regarded the work as a civic and even a spiritual endeavor. He believed that in taking from the Earth the necessary materials to build a new country that he was participating in a greater good. Moreover, he felt that being able to cut perfectly carved slabs from the granite face was a tribute to a bigger power. Quarry work might have stripped away his youthful looks and removed his boyhood innocence but he became a respected leader of men. He was stern with the workers that he commanded but it was out of a duty to produce the best stone that drove him. Woodruff might have had difficulty in relating to the men but his singular vision of cutting the best stone made his bad puns and verbal snafus tolerable.
Essentially, Tiberius Woodruff was a man lost in his own head and filled with ambition to accomplish major projects.
It was his ability to execute mathematics that made him indispensable in the quarry. With a keen eye, Woodruff could scan a granite wall and know where to make the best cuts. Simply running his hand across the rock, he could calculate where the wedges needed to be placed and how hard the granite would need to be struck. Moreover, he became proficient at designing rail lines for the newly quarried stone. This balance of finding the best stone and getting the freshly cut stone to the construction sites that needed them made Woodruff unreplaceable for the men that employed him.
He quickly rose to the rank of captain of the Winston Quarry. He’d work his men hard but fair and the owners of the quarry utilized his extraordinary abilities to organize and cut stone to the outpost granite sites throughout the state. It was in the wilderness, Woodruff came into his own cutting the granite that was used at the capital in Burlington, Concord, Augusta and eventually, Federal City along the Potomac. He partnered with John Johnson and George Rivers and used his mechanical aptitude to start designing and building new post offices in the northeast. Unburdened by electricity, he designed classical structured that became secondary hubs in the new cities alongside the county buildings.
It was the proposed construction of the massive post office in Schenectady New York that gave him the largest contract in the era. An imposing three story sorting plant with offices and the first train lines in the area was universally considered a masterpiece. With tall Doric columns and large spanning arches, the Schenectady Post Office finished with the beautiful Barre Gray granite became a marvel of the time. It was a source of civic pride for both Schenectady and New York itself. The governor of Vermont, Horace Eaton, needed a prison to house both the criminal and criminally insane for the state. Eaton was taken by Woodruff’s work on the Schenectady Post Office and wanted a similarly impressive building for Vermont. Because of that, Governor Eaton gave the young stone cutter a wide breath in both design and cost.
Woodruff went to work diagraming his magnum opus and broke ground in 1849. He was 29-years old and Zachary Taylor was President. The United States was still 12-years away from the Civil War.
What was to be a magnificent structure quickly fell into disarray. Eaton was replaced by Carlos Coolidge, a distant relative of the 30th president of the United States, and the elder Coolidge wanted nothing to do with the monstrosity. Coolidge saw prisons as antithetical to Christian beliefs and wanted construction halted. Woodruff was destroyed by the work stoppage and made a deal with Coolidge that could both continue the construction of the prison and transition him to a second phase of his life. Woodruff agreed to finance the completion of the half-built prison in return for being allowed to run it for a period of 20 years. Coolidge couldn’t muster the political strength to wrestle the project away from him and agreed in the end to Woodruff’s terms.
This became Tiberius Woodruff’s downfall.
Woodruff scraped together favors from tradesmen and contractors to finish the Vermont State Prison in 1851. The two years had pushed Woodruff to the edge with promises and resolving problems that arose from labor strikes to the wettest year Vermont has ever experienced the year before. It was at the ribbon cutting ceremony with Coolidge did Woodruff’s problems start to surface. Instead of Coolidge filling the prison with the criminals from the small boroughs throughout the state, the governor stalled all prisoner transfers. Notes and debts were being called in but Woodruff had no answer. He had borrowed and mortgaged everything that he had and there was nowhere to get the needed money to keep his creditors at bay. Audiences with the Coolidge were halted and Woodruff knew that debtors’ prison was in the not just in his future but around the next corner. The final straw came when his partners, Johnson and Rivers, left for Europe with no intention of every stepping foot back in New England again.
Never married and without children, Woodruff struggled with the hard decision to abandon his life’s work and escape from the hordes of creditors that threatened both violence and taking away his freedom. He wanted recognition for his great work but knew that there was never going to be some great celebration. Instead of waiting for the next string of complaints and demands to appear before judges, Woodruff made the most uncharacteristic decision of his life—he was going to run away.
But to where?
While his name and influence wasn’t substantial enough to get him out of the predicament he was in, Woodruff’s name and influence did give him enough notoriety where he couldn’t easily hide. New York City, Boston or Atlanta were not options but the West was open—the West was still available. Knowing about his famous cousin’s pilgrimage to the Utah Territory, he risked joining recently converted Mormons and would set out on the dangerous trek across the country to Utah.
It wasn’t his first option but it certainly was his best.
With nothing but a detailed note that doubled as an apology to his father and a small cart filled with tools and whatever small possessions he could collect, Woodruff escaped Burlington, Vermont and headed to Salt Lake City. Ashamed for not being able to fulfill his debts, he knew that another life waited for him out West. Vowing to make a fortune and to return back to Vermont to settle all of his affairs, he looked towards the West and its uncertain future.
It is a three month overland journey to the Utah Territory.
Most pioneers heading west would leave in the spring to avoid the freezing autumn through the plains and the brutal crossing of the Rocky Mountains in the winter. Woodruff didn’t have that privilege. He needed to leave Vermont immediately. So, he hitched his two horses and a mule to a Conestoga wagon he traded for the title of his home in Whitingham and headed out in August. The wagon was filled with any provision he might need plus all of his quarry tools. Books and literature filled two boxes plus his quail hunting double barrel Avery shotgun were boxed in the back. He didn’t want to tip off any of his violent creditors or the authorities in Vermont by writing his famous cousin Brigham. He decided that all letters of introduction would be sent from Missouri where he hoped to reach by mid-September.
Travelling through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois took longer than Woodruff had hoped. An unseasonably wet late summer had slowed Woodruff more than he anticipated and his fear of being captured by highwaymen or bounty hunters kept him off the better paved and more maintained roads. He didn’t arrive in St. Louis until the first of October. Exhausted and starting to question his decision to leave Vermont, Woodruff gave serious consideration to wintering in Missouri. It wasn’t until a chance encounter with Thomas Henderson did Woodruff reconsidered and decided to continue out into the West.
Henderson was a part of the new wave of immigrants to the United States. From Scotland, the wiry, lean man had recently converted to Mormonism and was heading out to Salt Lake to protect the new American church. He was hard-drinking and tough. His knuckles were scarred over from fights and Henderson wore a knife wound over the left side of his face. He smoked a corn cob pipe and spoke with a thick Scottish accent. His leather duster was covered in mud and cracked from the heat and cold from his trip to Missouri. The fact that he was diminished gave him an unimposing posture from afar. Up close, his black eyes and damaged face made him look like a walking red devil, more than enough to scare a man out to three counties away.
Woodruff met Henderson at a trading post where the quarry master was trying to trade away his mule for the necessary provisions to finish his trip to the Utah Territory. While Tiberius argued over the agreed trade price with the shopkeeper, Henderson stepped in for Woodruff when the arrangement went sour. He demanded that Woodruff be paid in full. Looking over Henderson, the shopkeeper thought twice and elected to honor the agreed price before the black eyed foreigner unholstered one of his two pistols. Helping Woodruff load the Conestoga wagon with the flour, hard tack and bacon, the men struck up a conversation over the billowing smoke from Henderson’s pipe.
Henderson told Woodruff that he too was heading to Utah to serve the new territorial governor and asked if Woodruff was a Mormon. Woodruff shook his head no and Henderson offered to rectify that immediately. Laying hands on Woodruff, Henderson baptized Tiberius Woodruff in the water trough for the horses in front of the trading post.
This is how Woodruff joined the Mormon Church and how Henderson led Woodruff the next 1,300 miles through Nebraska and Wyoming to Utah.
Their trip cemented both a friendship and partnership that Woodruff had never experienced before. The cross-country journey was perilous and a test of both men’s endurance. Between attacks from Indians, overturned wagons, flooded rivers and blinding snow storms, they relied on each other for companionship and strength to finally break through to the Wasatch Front and eventually into Salt Lake City. Henderson pointed the direction while pulling off of his foul smelling corn whiskey jars and Woodruff followed pushing his large body through the elements. The trip nearly killed Woodruff just outside of Cheyenne when a fever took hold of his body. If not for the care of his new Scottish friend, he would have perished in a blizzard that claimed Henderson’s beloved steed, Caesar. It wasn’t until the fever cleared and they resumed their trek in the covered wagon did Woodruff explain why he was forced out of Vermont. Henderson listened but didn’t judge him for up and moving away from his troubles. They both looked for a new start out in Utah and cared little for the other’s reason for leaving their homes.
They made their decent into the small town by the Great Salt Lake the day after Christmas in 1852. Letter sent from St. Louis had certainly arrived ahead of them but Woodruff cared little for proper introductions. The trip had destroyed his strong body and he knew he had to recuperate before starting anew. Unlike Woodruff, Henderson was no worse for the wear. Besides not having any of the whiskey left and reduced to smoking ground sagebrush in his pipe, he remained as rugged and determined as he was when he first met Woodruff at that trading post in St. Louis.
Seeking refuge at the first farmhouse they stumbled upon, they were welcomed by the saints with open arms. Henderson did the talking as they corralled their remaining horses, Copenhagen and Thunderhead, in the barn. Woodruff accepted the given food and took to the offered bed for two days. Henderson fought back sleep after eating but eventually settled in and joined his friend in an extended slumber. The trip from Vermont to Utah had taken five months. It shaved years off of both men’s lives but it had cemented a friendship that would be tested but never broken. Woodruff relied on Henderson’s pragmatic survival skills to keep them alive over the trip. Henderson, who would never admitted it, was dependent upon Woodruff’s humanity for keeping them focused on the life that waited for them in the Utah Territory.
It was the beginning of a partnership that would last until 1861.
Resting in the bed provided by the Buchanan family, Woodruff was greeted by a visitor. His friend’s bed was vacated in the cold December air and a frontiersman with a long beard and even longer hair entered the room. He introduced himself as Porter Rockwell. Known as the destroying angel of Mormondom, Rockwell reputation preceded him with Woodruff owning many pamphlets chronically Rockwell’s exploits in the West amongst his books. A mountain man and currently the deputy marshal of Salt Lake City, he was Brigham Young’s personal bodyguard and chief religious enforcer.
“They said you came from Brother Brigham’s hometown,” Rockwell said kicking the dirt off of boots against the pine walls. “How’d you get from there to here in such weather?”
Tiberius Woodruff raised himself up against the headboard and recanted his adventure with Thomas Henderson from St. Louis to Salt Lake. Rockwell never sat in one of the two chairs in the room and casually thumbed the two buck knives that hung along his belt. When Woodruff finished telling the story of Henderson sharing a bed with him in Wyoming to help break Tiberius’s fever and the relief he experienced when he finally laid eyes upon the newly formed Salt Lake City, Rockwell interrupted and asked when he joined.
“Joined what?” Woodruff asked. “Thomas and I never formed a pact. We just agreed to travel together to the territory.”
“The Church!” Rockwell barked. “When did you accept yourself to the teachings of Joseph Smith?”
“St. Louis, St. Louis. Thomas baptized me outside of that trading post and I became a follower of Joseph Smith and the Church,” Woodruff explained.
There was a pause in the room. In the late afternoon, the light was teasing off of the Oquirrh Mountains and evening was starting to take hold. Rockwell loaded his pipe with tobacco and lit it with a twig pulled out of his pocket which he thrusted into the fireplace. Puffing to get the pipe red hot, he drew one of his knives and dragged it against his buckskin dungarees. Both men remained where they were in the silence staring at each other.
“Good enough for me,” Rockwell said through a stream of smoke. “You’re is gonna talk with Brother Brigham in the morning. Best prepare yourself.”
“What should I expect?” Woodruff asked.
“For a blessing,” Rockwell smiled. “No man be the same after meeting the prophet.”
Woodruff could never have anticipated how much truth laid in Rockwell’s prophecy.
Riding to the Beehive House by the unconstructed Salt Lake Temple, Woodruff was taken in by the industry of the people and the control in which Brigham Young had on the small populace.
Riding along on top of Copenhagen and Thunderhead, Woodruff and Henderson commented to each other that Salt Lake City was less of an outpost and more of a town on the verge of greatness. The citizens battled the banks of snow but still worked to clear paths that were to become streets. With all roads worked out in a grid from the appointed Temple Square, the few but proud people living in the valley were working towards a greater day—even if that day was one they would never see to fruition.
Brigham Young’s residency was in the center of town. Woodruff, Henderson and Rockwell lashed their horses to the lodgepole pine hitching post. Knocking snow off of their boots, they removed their hats and entered the home. It was a bed of activity with women and children moving to and fro and men waiting outside a large oak door. Rockwell pushed pass the men and knocked once before entering.
“Brother Brigham, may I present Tiberius Woodruff and Thomas Henderson. Both members in good faith,” Rockwell announced.
Rockwell motioned them to the chairs in front of the leader of the Mormon Church. Both men sat and gazed upon the behemoth of a man. Young was finishing a note for an assistant and only looked up after folding the paper. While his face was stern, he radiated a warmth that betrayed the cold from outside. He wore a three piece suit without a necktie and thick leather boots. An unassuming glass of water was within his bearlike hands grasp and he bore the creases around his eyes of a man holding the weight of a community on his shoulders. Fortunately for the early pioneers, his broad shoulders could hold that weight.
“Tiberius, Thomas, welcome,” Young said in a gravelly voice. “Old Port told me that you have ventured far with much difficulty to join our people. And Brother Tiberius, I was told you hail from Whitingham. How delightful!”
“Sir, I had hoped that my letters have reached you. I am grateful that your flock has been as kind as they have,” Woodruff answered. “Pray, Sir, did you receive my letters?”
Young scanned the various correspondences on his desk and shook his head.
“Correspondence isn’t as reliable as we would hope it will be but it is good to have you in our community,” Young answered. “Port has told me from yesterday’s interview that you are a quarry master and builder. Your skills can enrich our community and fulfill our destiny. Surely, you offer your services to our church?”
“Of course,” Woodruff said. “I am at your command.”
Brigham Young sat back in his chair and explained the vision he had for his Utah Territory. There was to be a new temple built as an alter to God and Jesus Christ. Streets were to be laid out and butted against open spaces and parks for the citizens. Bread was the order of the day and being self-sufficient against the Federal government was of the utmost concern. Brigham Young was not building the newest state for the United States but rather a new country that would be the envy of the Federal government and the world abroad. Woodruff sat quietly and absorbed Young’s plan and quickly realized that there was a future for him. It was to a land of Deseret with Young as the leader and Woodruff quickly knew that as a key component to the work, his creditors would be kept at an arm’s reach.
“Brother Brigham, when may I begin?” Woodruff asked.
Young smiled and his warmth filled the room.
“I am in need of a quarry master in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Someone to cut the crucial stone to construct the necessary buildings to house and protect these people,” Young said. “Take your labors to the south of the valley and produce the stone I need to build my kingdom.”
Woodruff readily accepted his calling as quarry master.
Never did he believe during his cross-country trip would he be able to reassume his duties as a stone cutter. He craved the opportunity to work in the mountains and knew that the challenge ahead would revitalize his decimated body after the dangerous and difficult trip. After convalescing at the Buchanan house till the end of January, Woodruff was ready again to work with his hands. He enjoyed toiling along the steep cliff walls and mapping out the massive chasm being built into the side of the mountain. Toppling huge blocks of granite and cutting them into smaller pieces gripped Woodruff. The simple concept of making something smaller yet still absolutely unliftable with even the broadest man’s shoulders amazed Woodruff.
Most of the pioneers who had traveled to the Utah Territory were simple religious zealots with strong backs and manipulative minds. They accepted Woodruff’s role as quarry master immediately and took to the tasks he laid out before them. Every day was a challenge to beat back the wilderness and impose humanity upon the valley. Even with the limited tools that were at their disposal, Woodruff was able to start harvesting and carting the stone to central Salt Lake City in under a month.
He made camp with the others at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon. Wives and wives of men built the tent city. Woodruff served not just the role of master stonecutter, he provided a provisional leadership to the 103-person encampment.
While Woodruff labored through the spring and summer at the quarry, Henderson was charged with protecting Rockwell. He became the avenging hand to the avenging hand of the prophet. He mimicked Rockwell in both dress and grooming, growing out his hair and beard to match his master. Salt Lake was already becoming a stopping point for those on their way to California and Henderson relished his role as deputy marshal. Those that chose to disrespect the town or the Mormon pioneers quickly learned to fear the new deputy for his unleashed violence. Henderson became so quick to unleash brutal vengeance that on two separate occasions, Porter Rockwell was forced to intervene to limit Henderson’s deadly wraith.
The first occasion involved a band of three prospectors heading towards Sutter Creek that overstayed their welcome at the Buchanan house. Henderson had taken affection with the young daughters at the house and when he heard a man laid hands upon the youngest, nine year old Meribeth, Henderson unleashed a fury that frightened the entire town. He tracked the offender and dragged him back to the Buchanan farm. Lashing the offender to a barn, Henderson beat the man with a length of rope rolled in broken glass on an hourly basis. When the other prospectors tried to rescue their friends, Henderson slashed both men with his buck knife across the face and threatened to add their bodies to the side of the barn. They quickly left heading west while Henderson went back to task with hourly beatings until Rockwell was forced to command him to stand down. It took Rockwell’s pistol pointed to the back of Henderson’s head for the Scotsman to halt his beating and release the man. Strapping the bloody pulp to a mule, they released the prospector out into the west desert.
When others thought that Henderson had obtained his required pound of flesh, he left in the middle of the night to find all three of the offending party. Henderson tracked the men two days later and slit their throats in the Bonneville Salt Flats. Buried in the salt, they never reached California.
The second occasion Rockwell brought Henderson to task was when a group of men riding through town trampled a dog belonging to the seamstress Patricia Black. Henderson had taken to eating supper at the Black home on account that her husband, Phillip, came from the same small village outside of Glasgow. It was the proceeding Sunday when Henderson learned of the death of the nameless mutt that Henderson exploded in rage. Leaving the table, he found the man responsible at one of the few saloons that lined State Street and pistol-whipped him in the middle of the street until his face was unrecognizable. Rockwell, taking in his whisky at another saloon was called to halt Henderson’s retribution. Before Henderson finished the man off with a bullet to the brain, Rockwell commanded Henderson once again to halt.
“Kill that man and I will kill you,” Rockwell roared. “But down your gun and stand aside.”
Shaking with a rage, Henderson slowly holstered his weapon. He spat upon the man and walked slowly towards his captain. His black eyes were glazed over and his fists were balled. Rockwell placed his hands on the Henderson’s shoulders.
“You are my avenging angel,” he whispered as they walked to finish Rockwell’s drink. Nothing was heard of the dog killer again.
Stories of Henderson’s violence reached Woodruff’s camp but the quarry master was too busy with his charged task. Free from the threat of creditors and removed from being adrift in the wilderness, Henderson took to his work. He organized the men into two teams, cutters and carters. The carters worked building roads and hauling the stone towards town. Pushcart rails were being laid and Woodruff was impressed with the work the men accomplished in running the 19 mile railway. But his passion was with the cutters. It was with those that dared to scale the mountains and cut away chaos into order that Woodruff found kindred spirits. He valued those that appreciated the risk.
Taking a young immigrant from Germany, Leo Smoot, as his apprentice, Woodruff artfully carved slab after slab of the quartz monzonite. Smoot had recently joined the Mormons. A small teenager from Berlin, he lost his Jewish family in a house fire in Nauvoo Illinois. Alone, he was adopted by the Mormon pioneers and joined them as they crossed the country to the Utah Territory. Small with a thick shock of black hair, Leo was looking for someone or something to fill in the gab that was missing with his deceased family. Fortunately, he found both in Woodruff and his love of stone cutting.
Woodruff took an avuncular role with the boy. Leo loved the late night school sessions of the classic read in original Latin or Greek and absorbed all of Woodruff’s knowledge of stone cutting. From finding the lines in the granite to setting the stakes to swinging the sledgehammers, Leo embraced the new life at Woodruff’s side and strove to improve every day.
Leo Smoot came from a family of poets and musicians. But spending his early life under the sounds of violins and verses being tested did nothing for him. He wanted physical challenges and alongside Woodruff did he build a relationship between his mind and muscle. Woodruff would question Leo from their evening studies at the quarry while they drove stakes and drilled into the granite. Wrong answers required Leo to work extra hours before they retired to their small cabin but the young German never complained. He knew that Woodruff was preparing him for a brighter future than as a simple laborer and appreciated the consideration Woodruff extended to him.
While other men were forced to grind through the day cutting stone and hauling it down the mountain, Leo would be afforded the opportunity to listen to Woodruff explain the importance of building sound buildings. He would lecture that communities only succeeded when the buildings were constructed to last a thousand years and only granite offered that guarantee for a millennium. There was talk of the right way to cut through a mountain as well as the importance of honoring America’s first citizen, Benjamin Franklin, with sturdy and beautifully constructed post offices. Leo learned very quickly that Woodruff valued post offices over any other building—even more than the churches and temples being erected throughout the Salt Lake Valley.
Work continued at the Little Cottonwood Canyon quarry until the first of August when an accident halted all work. A tragedy struck the quarry with the loss of life of a key individual. When word reached Brigham Young, Woodruff was commanded to answer before the church president.
Karl Bingham work up clearheaded for the first time in years.
The stove had burnt out through the night but the room was now bathed in the warm light of early morning. Cautiously getting out of bed, he was still befuddled with his newly slender body. He built a fire, made instant coffee and took a needed shower. The green bar of soap rubbed against his body, lathering up familiar but unknown places. The beginnings of varicose veins had receded back into his legs and he didn’t need to clean his belly button. The water never got hot enough in the cabin but Karl didn’t care. He needed to get clean.
Dressing was a choir because nothing but his socks and boots fit. Taking a screwdriver to his belt, he added a new hole to cinch his baggy pants. Dressed and awake, Karl surveyed his cabin and decided it wasn’t enough to simply clean his body—he wanted his cabin to be clean for the first time before venturing out. He bagged any and all trash, empty beer and liquor bottles and dumped the various ashtrays into a garbage bag before heading to the door. For a brief moment, there was a brief glimmer of hope as he wondered if his newspaper was outside of his door.
Sadly, there was no Daggett Morning Express on his door.
With a charged cell phone and his car keys, Karl pocketed the remaining cigarettes that he had no desire to smoke and headed to his truck. There wasn’t any service on his phone but it didn’t matter. He knew he was going to go to the only place and people that have always taken care of him. George and Mary Bingham lived three miles away on the other side of Henderson Refinery and Die Cast on Poplar Street. As he has done his enter life, he was relying on his father to protect and save him.
Nearly breaking his key off in the frozen lock opening the truck, Karl tried the ignition. Nothing. Not even the satisfying click of the starter trying to come to life. He might have been rested but he knew he was too weak to do what he had done in the past when his truck failed him. He half-hearteningly shook the steering column.
“Looks like I’m walking,” he muttered, zipping up the oversized jacket.
He reached for his cigarettes but elected against it. The roads were too icy and covered with snow to juggle walking and smoking. Besides, it was more of the habit of smoking while walking to Fort Brisco Pub than really needing the nicotine. Karl figured he might want to lean on his senses for once.
The best way to his folk’s house was actually along Lindell Road up to the bar, along Main Street with its company run shops and restaurants, passed the massive post office and through Henderson Refinery and Die Cast. He dreaded seeing that bastard of a business that unjustly fired him but he figured he’d run into an old coworker who could explain what the hell was going on. Tucking his ears under his hat, he started trudging along but couldn’t shake the notion that it was weird that he hadn’t even seen any cars driving along Lindell Road as he headed towards Main Street.
The roads were not only unplowed, there wasn’t even the hint of heavy duty truck’s track marks driving on one of the three major roads in Smootville. The sidewalks weren’t shoveled and none of the houses along the road were lit. Karl wondered if they were abandoned but why? Folks in town based their schedule around football and elk hunts. The town might clear out for an event in either Denver or Salt Lake but to not have any of the telltale signs of life in Smootville sent an additional shudder down his spine.
The sky was grey and the Karl knew that it had to be approaching noon. Karl cursed himself for not wearing a watch. Time management was always a problem. It’s why he faltered at school, work and relationships. Where his father wore the same crappy wristwatch since he could remember, Karl couldn’t care less if he ran late. Not knowing the time was only a problem when he forgot to order setbacks before last call. Even though his body was half the size, his appetite didn’t shrink like his belly. Trudging through the snow, hunger almost overtook the paranoia of being the only person left on Lindell Road. He figured he could either huff it to his parents or even better, stop at Fort Brisco Pub for some food and companionship.
Cresting the hill that dropped onto Fort Brisco at Main Street, Karl stopped in his path. Knee deep in snow, forehead steaming from exerting himself, Karl immediately realized that things were a lot worse than simply losing track of time.
The entire town was blacked out.
There wasn’t a single indication that there Smootville had a single individual living it when he stood at the top of Lindell. The entire town was blanketed in snow and darkness. Karl looked to Henderson Refinery and Die Cast and saw none of the telltale signs that it was business as usual for Smootville. The lights were off and the town looked dead.
Running through the snow towards Main Street, Karl fell a couple of times before getting to the front door of Fort Brisco’s Pub. It was locked and the windows were lined with butcher paper from the inside. Black’s Hardware Store next door was the same—locked and the windows covered in butcher paper. There were no notices on the doors, the cast iron street lights that ran constantly through the winter months were not turned on and the sidewalks were layered in virgin snow. The few cars that were parked on Main Street were abandoned under the permafrost. From the Bristlecone Café to the Coffee Hut to Kent’s Automotive to the small White Unicorn Bookstore, Main Street was completely vacant.
Empty. No sign of life. Nothing.
Karl underestimated how weak he was from the half-mile walk and realized more than not dressing appropriately, he was in a situation beyond his control. Debating on going back home or continuing to his parent’s house became a raging war inside of his head. He considered himself a survivalist by nature but he also weighed the fact that something extraordinary had happened and he was in the middle of it. Had he had a coin in his pocket, he would have tossed it but before he was forced into making a decision the first sign of life shocked him back to life.
The tower clock on the Smootville Post Office rang.
Four clamoring bells rung three times telling the valley that it was 3pm. Karl knew the sound of those bells from growing up in town. The tower clock was the official timepiece of Smootville, ringing out to begin or end school, work and church. Karl actually knew that the bells were automated in 1957 because his father served as an apprentice die caster making the mechanical arms that drew and released the clapper that clamored against the massive bells cast from the town’s foundry. He thought of his dad and knew that going back to the cabin wasn’t an option. He would continue trudging towards home and find his family.
Tightening his jacket, he thrusted his hands deep into his pockets and headed up Main Street towards the Smootville Post Office and up to Henderson Refinery and Die Cast and eventually home.
The third shift is always the most dangerous—they were the cowboys.
First shifters have already undergone the most important portion of the journey. Charged with taxiing the massive freighters from the even more massive orbiting space stations orbiting the planet, first shifters were responsible for docking the freighter with the workhorse rockets and setting the navigation for the ship’s final destination. While the entire vessel is referred to as a freighter, the ship was actually composed of two separate portions: the living quarters and command center of the ship and the massive ion propulsion engine (IPE) that powered the freighter through the solar system. It was first shifter’s responsibility to battle gravitational pulls and get the freighter out of orbit and on their way. It wasn’t until first shifters finished their task could they wake up the second shifters and retire to their hibernation chambers.
In the early days of interplanetary travel, every ship making a voyage past a Mars orbit was manned by astronauts who were committed to the mission and understood that they would not be able to return to the surface of the Earth. Lack of gravity played havoc on their skeleton structures and these early pioneers were prepared to spend the balance of their days in the hostile world of outer space. It wasn’t until the discovery and implementation of hibernation could astronauts be capable of exploring the solar system and return to Earth. Placed under deep sleep, space travelers could escape the strains of long distant travel and protect both their mental and physical body as they ventured out into space.
Before hibernation, astronauts were completely dependent on computers to manage the voyages. Instead of astronauts working in conjunction with the computers as they traveled from Earth to the furthest known regions of space, artificially intelligent computers were depart, travel and eventually orbit the freighters at the final destination. Providing that there were no hiccups during the mission, computers were more than capable to shuttling people and goods from the freighters to the space stations and eventually the satellite in which they were orbiting. But it was the disaster of the ISS President Coolidge that changed all standard operating procedures.
The ISS President Coolidge was a Class-M freighter with over 35 voyages between Earth and Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. A simple ship charged with transporting collected nitrogen and polilax-89, the ISS President Coolidge’s navigation computer failed upon approach to the Space Station Taurus orbiting Earth. Colliding at nearly 64,000 feet per second, both the ship and space station were destroyed, killing over 400 people immediately.
The ISS President Coolidge’s onboard computer, a standard Delta-35, failed in a homicidal fashion. Delta-35s were programmed with a jolly human personality that tried to keep the astronauts’ spirits high while running the day-to-day operations of the vessel. The Coolidge’s Delta-35, named Ernesto, decided that life wasn’t worth living when his entire crew was diagnosed with severe stomach flu. Mistaking their illness with a deeper health issue, Ernesto malfunctioned when he tried to mimic the sick astronauts by powering down some of his essential controls. Pretending to have a cold was enough for the ISS President Coolidge to lose control and crash into the Space Station Taurus.
The damage was inconceivable. Debris flooded Earth’s atmosphere. Chunks of the ship and space station laid waste to all levels of orbit and in the process, decimated satellites, ships and other nine space stations. The event forced massive evacuations of all space travelers. Those lucky to enter escape pods and return to Earth would witness the sky filled with fire. Those unlucky enough to not find passage would witness the end of man’s great experiment to conquer space firsthand. The greatest tragedies were those people stationed in orbit around the 17 outposts in the furthest reaches of space. Space stations orbiting the planets and moons were immediately cut off from Earth with no hope of returning to their home planet or receiving the necessary supply ships.
Earth was blocked out by enough deadly debris to halt any incoming or outgoing ship. Man was grounded. While some outposts could manufacture food, water and air, everything diminished over time. Eventually, even the hardiest survivors fell. Every one of those 17-outposts experienced a horror that was unthinkable.
The space trash blanketed the planet for almost a decade. It wasn’t until all of the space travelling nations signed the JUNK Treaty of 2174 did man send rockets back into the heavens. Using what was referred to by a the designer’s six-year old daughter as a galactic weed-whacker, unmanned ships were sent into space to pulverize debris with a spinning laser that either deflected trash into space or incinerated it. It took almost three years before the orbit was cleared enough to dare send men back into the ethos to reconquer space.
The only advantage of reestablishing a space program is that they have been there before. Slowly and surely, new space stations were hovering above Earth with the next generation of space pioneers. Challenging the vast emptiness of space, new freighters were constructed to retake the lost outposts. They needed to find out what happened to those that were lost in space. They weren’t just trying to retake what had been taken from them but honor those that were lost. There were even some that held on to the hope that they might find survivors and return them to Earth.
After rebuilding the space stations orbiting around Earth, the first missions were back to the Moon. After a grisly discovery of the 47 souls that were taken over from starvation and dehydration, man’s connection with the Moon was reestablished. The next step was returning to Mars. The three month voyage was successful but no less bloody. There were reports of cannibalism before murder-suicide pacts were fulfilled. Considering what had been found at the Moon and Mars, mission plans were reworked to deal with the awful truth—they were not sending rescue missions to the outpost but rather cleanup crews.
As mining and elemental gas collection was re-instated, steps were put into place to stop further Delta-35 malfunctions. Newer freighters were designed and most importantly, the human element was reintroduced. Between the damage space travel did to astronaut’s bodies and minds, it was determined that parceling out the responsibilities of controlling the ships between humans and machines was the best practice. It was decided that any voyage over 90-days required three shifts. The first shift got the ship on its way, the second shift maintained the vessel during the voyage and the third shift landed the ship or got it into orbit.
Second shift was considered the sweet gig.
Asleep the moment the ion propulsion engines were fired, second shifters were awoken the moment that the mission was safely underway. Universally, it is considered a second-tier position to work the second shift. They awoke from their hibernation chambers and spent the balance of their trip babysitting the spaceship, cargo and their slumbering crewmates. With the ships computer managing navigation and environmental controls, second shifters spent the most of their time playing video games and tether-fighting. Routine inspections of the ship were conducted around the clock but it left a lot of time for second shifters to entertain themselves. Because they suffered the brunt of time out of hibernation, they were given the most leeway with mission controls back on Earth. The vast majority of infractions were innocuous. At worst, they ate all of the ice cream and failed to maintain the sanitation stations.
Traditionally, crewmen worked from second shift to first and eventually to third. Third shift was the senior position for any astronaut. Missions hinged on their ability to slow down the speeding vessels and detach the freighter from the ion propulsion systems and get the freighter into a safe orbit around the final destination. Once free from the IPE, the captain of third shift would fly the freighter either into orbit or have the ship dock with a space station. All freighters were equipped with shuttles to ferry people and goods from the ship. While the ion propulsion engines were powerful enough to fly between the planets, they were purely brute force rockets—just point them in the right direction and fire the engine. It took the finesse of the third shift captain to slow down the monstrous vessel and get the freighter to catch into orbit and safely dock with the hovering space stations. Even before the Delta-35 caused the destruction known as the Coolidge Event, there was never a captain that didn’t fear of making a mistake when finally stopping his ship and successful docking it with a space station.
Freighters were monoliths passing through the solar system. With the living quarters attached to the ion propulsion engines, they are able to transport up to 113 passengers in hibernation and 57 million cubic tons of cargo. Following a general design from NevTech Industries, a subsidiary of Henderson Refinery and Die Cast, these workhorses were the ships that were going to take back to the solar system and find out what happened to those poor souls that were on the other side of the Coolidge Event.
The freighters were captained by individuals who worked the third shift. The 1st officer led the first shift and the chief engineer commanded during the second shift. In the case of the ISS Carson City, a man named Captain Jack Stratton commanded the third shift.
Life in Smootville was never exciting enough for Karl Bingham.
He wanted out early but never knew exactly how to do it. There wasn’t any aptitude in school or demonstration of follow through to get accepted into college. His only real ticket was football. He was a star fullback in 2A football, laying the kind of hits that weren’t just celebrated in front of the packed Friday night sidelines but expected. Where classrooms felt suffocating, Karl never struggled or felt fear on the gridiron. The discipline he took in from coaches and example set were marveled throughout Smootville.
It’s what he did when he took off the pads that gave him his reputation.
HIs first run in was at 14 when he was caught urinating on the hallowed grounds of the Smootville Post Office. He was drunk on a found bottle of vodka from the Harold’s Supermarket parking lot. Figuring the cheap plastic bottle of St. Jeremy Vodka fell out when somebody was loading groceries into their car, Karl decided to try it in the Children’s Crusade Park next to town hall. Fighting the hot liquor down his neck, he enjoyed the feeling of being adult. It wasn’t until he finished half the bottle, threw up and tried staggering back home did he get caught that late February evening with piss on both his pants and the post office steps.
Meetings with councilors, teachers and coaches straightened Karl out enough to be more careful to not get caught again. He took his need for excitement and escape took him to smoking and drinking in the deeper parts of the Uintas with a select group of friends. They were guys he palled around with but were not there when he left to start working at Henderson Refinery and Die Cast. Karl tested people and while that served him well on the football team, it proved to be too much for his peers. Eventually, the taunts and challenges ran thin over the course of the school year and frankly, people had enough of the terrible brute.
Karl hid in the school’s weight room pushing himself to lift as much as possible. He got strong but never developed the bodybuilder’s physique he desired. Instead, he grew into a grownup’s body while his mind was still very much a child’s. In time, he would look like those that already toiled at Henderson Refinery and Die Cast years before he ever joined the payroll. Throughout the football season, he was regarded with reverence but after the last snap, Karl Bingham became a pariah.
Books, movies and music seemed to find their way into Smootville six months late and Karl shunned them all. There was talk from some teachers that he should look into becoming a sports reporter because he always carried a copy of the Daggett Morning Express. He voraciously read the short daily paper, spending extra time working the crossword puzzle and going through the obituaries. Karl liked how the ink smelt and paper felt but how would someone like Karl ever become a newspaperman? He felt as if he was sentenced to death at birth to work at Henderson’s like his family and everyone else in Smootville.
Henderson Refinery and Die Cast laid a shadow that touched every part of the town and Karl wanted nothing to do with it. He was planning on leaving Smootville the day after graduating from high school but the night before graduation changed all of that. Karl was forced to the senior dance with Alice Rice by his parents. Alice had agreed to go with Karl to prom as a favor to her parents, George and Mary’s best friends. They did the obligatory photos with Karl wearing a rented tuxedo while the 11th grader wore a bright yellow dress with white shoes. They danced a few songs but Karl felt the every eye in the decorated gymnasium on him. He wanted to go. There was beer in the truck. After convincing the young blond to sneak away into the stands of Smootville High’s football field, Karl went to work destroying the balance of the 12-pack.
Begging him to take her home, Karl lost control of his father’s F-150 farm truck. It was upended after hitting another truck on Poplar Street. Karl was able to walk away from the accident but Alice Rice was not. The burly football who played the role of bully from a small town in the upper northeast of Utah had smashed his face into the windshield requiring 2 dozen stitches but Alice Rice’s right arm was binned under the heavy truck.
Alice had just turned 17—Karl’s 18th birthday would be three days later.
Alice survived but she lost her right arm from the elbow down. She would eventually forgive Karl a year later after she graduated valedictorian from Smootville High and accept a full ride scholarship to the University of Utah. Her faith served as a reminder of the community. She was tough, smart and pious. At no point in time did Alice use her injury as an excuse to not continue cheerleading, playing the lead in the high school winter production or even being elected prom queen.
Karl read about her exploits in his beloved Daggett Morning Express. He only apologized once while Alice was under sedation after his face was stitched together and Alice’s arm had been sawed off. Her father caught him in her room and beat him twice in the face causing most of the stitches to burst open. He didn’t fight back and moreover, he didn’t cry.
To say there was a saving grace for Karl it was that the accident happened 72-hours before his 18th birthday. He was charged as a minor and sentenced to probation. Because terms of his probation required him to remain in Smootville, he took the only job that his disappointed father could help him get—at Henderson Refinery and Die Cast.
The four bells that composed the Smootville Post Office were forged at Henderson Refinery and Die Cast by their resident bellfounder with coincidental name of Harold Bell. Bell cast the bells in 1896 to commemorate the induction of Utah into the United States. The date of the 4th of January 1896 was stamped on each bell along with Heber Manning Wells (governor when Utah joined the Union), President William McKinley and Henderson Refinery and Die Cast. Weighing a little over a ton apiece, the real accomplishment of the Smootville Post Office bells was the massive yoke carved out of lodgepole pines and finished with richly stained bristlecone pine veneer.
Karl stopped in front of the post office and stared up at the third story which housed the bells. It was the same spot he was arrested 12 years ago. The vibrations of the bell still resonated through the abandoned town as he stopped to catch his breath. Unlike the rest of the business along Main Street which had butcher paper blocking out the windows, the post office’s windows remained open. Karl checked to see if the doors were locked. The doors didn’t open. Peering through the windows, he saw the intricately tiled floors and stained glass windows. While city hall was across the street, most civic activities happened at the main hall of the post office. It was designed more of a train station or cathedral than a place to pick up the mail. With twice as many PO boxes than citizens in the town, the brass covered locks resembled mosaic tile in the grand hall.
The cornerstone at the base of the door told the history of the post office. It was dedicated on December 11, 1861 by Mayor Thomas Henderson, designed by Tiberius Woodruff & Associates and for the citizens of Smootville. Having drunkenly walked past the cornerstone from Fort Brisco Pub to his parent’s house more times than he could count, Karl never really examined the base of the post office. It took being completely alone and scared for him to start trying to connect with a past that he somewhat remembered. Starting to trudge through the snow along the sidewalk to his parent’s house, it occurred to Karl that he didn’t know who Tiberius Woodruff was.
Main Street dead-ended at the main gates of Henderson Refinery and Die Cast. Main Street became less nichey with the boutique shops and more industrial with hose and rubber shops, machine shops and Falk’s Automotive and Repair. A citadel in the small town, Henderson’s had lush, groomed grounds with tall aspen and pines lining the parking lots before the massive building. Karl looked towards his old employer and dreaded having to reenter the place that has served as his yoke for his entire 27-years.
The 200,000 square foot building had towers along its four corners which served as executive offices. The parking lot lights were the same cast iron lights that ignited the town but they were twice the size. But instead of being pumped full of life, Henderson’s was vacant—just as Smootville. Karl was a combination of cold, tired and afraid. The brutal winter weather was beating him senseless with his ears and neck freezing in the waning hours of day light. He was exhausted from the hike and being essentially half his size. He had prayed to be lighter since leaving football but awaking a bag of skin and bones was testing him physically. And afraid and full of questions: what is happening? Who is doing this? Where are all the people?
He started walking with purpose through the parking lot towards the northeast corner to cut onto Poplar Street and get to his folks. The landscape was a sheet of perfectly layered snow. Unplowed and fresh, Karl noticed the life force of the refinery were dormant. The twin towers that pumped billows of soot and dirty air towards the heaven were lifeless. During previous winters, even fresh snow fell with a hint of grey when it combined with the smoke coming out of the towers. Today, Karl walked through clean, white snow making him wonder how long the plant has been silent. Crunching through the top layer of snow and sinking in about a foot to the ground, Karl huffed and puffed, pouring sweat and nausea through his skin with a single thought in his head.
Since waking the day before, he couldn’t help but think something terrible had happened. In piecing it together, he whittled it down to a simple question. His weight loss could be attributed to him sleeping for months. His sleeping for months could be attributed to him getting sick and his body putting him in a coma that lasted long enough for his body to heal. His healing could be the fact that under his old fat and polluted gut was a healthy fighter of a man who could survive through anything. The town abandoned because a disaster occurred forcing all of the citizens to clear out or even maybe that Henderson Refinery and Die Cast was finally put out of business from the government or foreign competitors. The thought that he couldn’t figure out was the one he muttered under his chattering teeth as he hiked back home:
Why didn’t his parent’s check in on him?
A stronger fortified Karl Bingham could have made the walk from the Main Street Gates to his parent’s house in less than a half hour. Between the snow, having to pull up his pants every two steps and having absolutely no strength, the journey was dragging. With the sun starting its decent over the ridgeline, Karl made a promise to himself that as soon as he found his folks, he’d build the biggest fire in the oversized fireplace and only take a couple of nips from the whiskey bottle he had hidden in his old room. His mom would make tea and a plate of leftovers and he’d bake in front of the fire until every drop of chill was wrung out of his body.
All he had to do was just get to his parent’s house.
Unable to lift his feet over and through the snow, he tilted forward and marched through Henderson Refinery and Die Cast’s unplowed parking lot. His fear of being alone was amplified by the notion that he didn’t want to be out in the dark with no protection. It was too cold and eerie for Karl to really think what was happening. He just stayed focus on one step after the next in the slow march to George and Mary’s house. He kept his head on a swivel looking for signs of life, human or otherwise, counting the steps before he got to Poplar Street. After a half hour hellish hike, he finally passed the North Gate and saw his home street just a bit further down the road.
There was still no plowing of roads on the other side of town nor were any of the houses lit up with any signs of life. Karl pretended to be indifferent but he was too busy shaking in cold and fear. He swallowed that anxiety and kept thinking about his parents and their fireplace and the small pull of whiskey that was waiting for him. Turning onto Poplar Street just as the sun finished setting, he walked the seven houses until he was in front of his childhood home. A standard craftsman home often called a Mormon bungalow, 1835 Poplar Street was dark. The porch light was out and there were none of Karl’s mom’s knockoff Tiffany lights on by the big front windows. Even though he was terrified and frozen solid, he hesitated walking up the six steps to the front door.
“I must be dreaming or I’m dead,” Karl whimpered as he secretly hoped he was asleep. “How could this be happening?”
Bracing himself, he made his way to the front door and paused for a moment before trying the doorknob. It was unlocked. Bracing himself, Karl opened the door wide and stepped inside. He whispered hello before raising his voice and yelled for his mother and father. No one came to meet him in the hallway and his parents didn’t yell back to him from the kitchen. Shutting the door behind him, Karl was startled when he heard the post office bells ring six times as he tried to turn on lights. Nothing. The power was off. He wanted to feel sorry for himself but he knew that there were more pressing problems. At the very least, he needed to get a fire going. The house was absolutely freezing and he was soaked to his unusually skinny bones. Taking logs from the back porch, he built that promised fire in the living room. He warmed his hands and emaciated body by the fire before risking exploring the house.
He took a flashlight from the kitchen cupboards and checked the basement first. Walking down the steep stairs into the converted mudroom to living room, there was nothing there. It looked the same as it had in April when he decided to do the rest of his cocaine in his old bedroom. The guestroom was enough off his father’s radar for him to do bumps with nips from the whiskey bottle. Running his hand along the nightstand, there was still remnants of the drugs on the CD case. No one had been down here in a while, he thought. Karl wiped the case off on his oversized jacket and headed upstairs to check in on his parent’s bedroom.
The fire threw light throughout the first floor as Karl headed up the main staircase. His heart was beating out of his chest. For the first time, he questioned why he didn’t consider grabbing a weapon before searching the house. Why should he? He was in his home as he clenched his fists. Climbing the stairs, he turned the corner and walked slowly towards George and Mary’s room. It’s a walk that he’s made many times in various states of mind—scared as a kid because he wet the bed or confident because he doubted they could smell the booze and cigarettes on his breath or humbled because he needed to borrow money to pay some bill that he failed to do with given money in the past. This time, he felt a new sensation—terror.
The familiar family pictures lining the hallway seemed more ominous under Karl’s shaking flashlight as he approached the cracked door. He hoped that his mother would be propped in bed reading her Daggett Morning Express or his father would be sitting in the small yellow cushioned chair polishing his shoes or thumbing through a book but Karl knew better. Pushing the door open, he was met by equal parts disappointment and surprise. His parent’s room was vacant. The queen-sized bed was made and his father’s heavy jacket lay over the yellow chair. The open closet had their clothes hanging neatly on hangers and the small table looked exactly the same. His mother’s reading glasses rested on one of her many harlequin novels and even her small stuffed bear perched on top of her pillow.. Everything was in its place and it destroyed Karl.
Falling into his parent’s bed, he hugged the comforter smelling for signs of his family. Nothing. Freshly laundered and reminiscent of nothing, Karl never felt more alone and scared. Allowing himself to cry honestly for the first time since leaving Alice Rice’s bedside so many years ago, he wailed and sobbed and forced tears that have been stuffed back for far too many years. His bone-thread body shaked in agony as all he wanted was an answer or a simple sign that he wasn’t alone.
When the last tear was shed and his lungs could no longer howl out, Karl got up and moved to the window. Taking off his glasses, he mopped up his eyes. The last shudders of blubbering were out of him and he tried to collect himself. His body ached under the pressure and he felt his like he was going to throw up. Holding back the bitter taste in his mouth, he ran his hands over his emaciated body trying to warm himself. He took the hem of one of his mother’s dress and cleaned his dirty glasses. Clearing his throat, he declared quietly that he was going to figure out what has happened to his parents, town and him and then get the Hell out of Smootville forever.
The cold emanating from the window reminded him that he couldn’t walk around town anymore without being more prepared. Stripping down, he changed out of his oversize clothes and put on his father’s jeans and t-shirt. They fit perfectly. He added a favorite flannel and his dad’s denim jacket. Changing out of his wet socks, he put on thick, dry wool socks and put his boots back on. Staring at himself in his mother’s vanity mirror, he saw a distant memory of his dad under the beam of the flashlight. The only exception, Karl thought, was that George would never wear a beard. Karl elected not to shave. Running his hand over his thinned body, he wanted food and drink and wanted to come up with a game plan on how he was going to wake up from this nightmare.
Peering out the window one last time to get a sense of how alone he was, Karl was shocked back on to his parent’s bed.
Across the street, The Rice Household lit up and a shadowed figure was waving to Karl from the top story.
The road to the Beehive House was silent.
Only the sound of the horses’ hooves tapping off the busted shale and gravel paths as Woodruff, Henderson and Smoot rode the 19-miles to Salt Lake City. Woodruff’s horse, Copenhagen, was restless. He whinnied and pushed forward but Woodruff held him back. No sense in rushing for his audience before Brigham Young. Smoot’s pony, Applesauce, wandered apathetically along as if she knew that there was no good waiting for them. Henderson and Thunderhead rode with purpose. It was the same since Henderson had arrived in the Utah Territory. Charged with a task, they wanted to complete their duty as soon as possible and retire back to the farm.
The sun was in the setting stages for a magical sunset with the sky filled with clouds. The Great Salt Lake gleamed in the distance as they made their way past the new farms, stables and the beginnings of industry. Wooden cabins and houses formed sub-districts from the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon and were giving the newly formed community the skeleton needed to build the muscle and sinew of a city. And where the Salt Lake Temple was the heart of the town, the small churches and ward houses became the nerves and soul of the town.
Crops of sugar beets, grain, corn and clover were laid out in the perfect grid system that was defining the community. With the Salt Lake Temple acting as the center of the universe, roads were plotted into Cartesian coordinates based on their distance from the massive gothic structure under construction in the center of town. Built wide enough for a horse and buggy to make a U-turn, from a distance Woodruff thought that Salt Lake City was beginning to take shape. Where at first there were no homes built or farms preparing to harvest their crops, small communities were taking form with houses and barns. Churches were being built to take care of the spiritual needs of the citizens while parks and public spaces were being preserved with the precision that Brigham Young expected from his followers.
In the four years since joining the Mormons, Woodruff had become very comfortable with his new position as chief stone cutter. It seemed like all of his efforts in the East had simply been a prelude for his true calling—cutting granite to cover the buildings Brigham Young had envisioned for his people. Woodruff was efficient, paternal and satisfied with his work. Where in the past he sought praise from his patronage with every post office constructed, here in the Utah Territory he felt as if he was a part of a bigger scheme. He had a sense as if he was the one who was applying the armor to the new community, replacing the temporary wooden structures with permanent stone to last for an eternity.
They trotted along the wide roads with a singular purpose. Young had demanded that Woodruff and Smoot report to his home to answer for the death of Jedidiah Young, Brigham Young’s second son. Jed had been crushed on two days earlier when a 36-ton slab of granite had fallen off the rock face accidently. Woodruff, working with a team of six cutters, had stopped work the day before the light disappeared from the steep canyon walls. Jed was charged with the responsibility of securing the tools when the slab shifted and fell on the boy. Planning on taking the cut granite down the next morning, Jedidiah Young was crushed and killed instantly. Working through the night to recover what was left of Jedidiah, Woodruff mourned the scornful boy for being careless and not heeding his warning about the danger of the rocks.
Jedidiah Young was 19-years old, married to two women and father to three.
They wrapped his body in canvas and strapped him to the back of Smoot’s pony, Applesauce. Accidents happen on any work site but the death of Jed was a blow to the church president. More than that, Woodruff had fool heartedly given his assurance nothing would happen to the boy. Early in the summer when Woodruff was able to start transporting the cut stone along the cart paths to the center of Salt Lake City, Brigham Young thought that his son Jed might excel at stone cutting. Summoning Woodruff, he asked that Jedidiah be taken under his supervision in the same fashion as he had done with Leo Smoot. Unable to resist a favor from the church president, Woodruff brought Jed under his tutelage but quickly found out that it didn’t take like it did with Smoot. Jed spent more time with his polygamous family than with the men cutting the granite. He resisted building the necessary callouses on his hands and mind to do the work. Casually reminding Woodruff who his father was, Jed quickly became the butt of jokes and whispers behind his back.
While it was an accident that killed Jed, Woodruff felt horrible regarding the death. But even more so, he was concerned over his own safety. While there had been a blood bond built with Henderson on their cross-country adventure, Woodruff was well aware of his old friend’s position within the church and knew that he could act quickly and with deadly force. Henderson was the heavy hand of Brigham Young and the last person anyone who challenged the prophet’s authority would see before wraith was unleashed. The threat of danger was everywhere in the Utah Territory but never more so when it meant disobeying Brigham Young. Between the drastic climate changes, lack of supplies, pestilence, native population and the marching Federal government trying to wring control from Brigham Young’s hands, men like Porter Rockwell and Thomas Henderson were given the freedom to execute the will of their master. Woodruff feared the consequences when he eventually stood before Young and feared that Henderson might be his executioner.
They rode in silence because there was nothing to discuss. Woodruff knew that Henderson was bound by honor to serve Young and would remain silent to any questions. There was nothing to do but march to whatever fate that awaited him at the Beehive House. So, he did what any rational man might do and enjoy the setting sun. Rays of yellows, reds and pinks and purples began scattering throughout the sky as the warm summer night slowly cooled. The air was sweet with the impending crop harvests and brought a small smile to Woodruff’s face. Life was bare-thread and a constant struggle in the Utah Territory but better than any existence left back in Vermont. Even though he expected a severe punishment in the approaching audience with Young, his time in Utah had been the happiest in his life.
Unlike Henderson who had taken on the widow Esther Prettyman and her four children as his own, Woodruff remained unmarried. His family was composed of the men in his camp that labored alongside him cutting the granite and Leo Smoot. Leo was treated like a son and reciprocated but the youthful Smoot was already scouting the church services looking for a bride. It wouldn’t be long before he would move out of Woodruff’s cabin and into his own home.
Trotting to Young’s home adjacent to the foundations of the new Salt Lake Temple, they rode into the stables where assistants to the church president unlashed Jedidiah Young’s body. He was placed on a cart and taken off to be prepared for burial. Smoot accompanied the body. Woodruff removed Copenhagen’s saddle and rubbed the aging horses face. Looking deep into his beloved horse’s eyes, he ran his gloved hand across his main before looking into his old friend’s eyes.
“What am I to expect from this meeting, Thomas?” Woodruff asked.
Henderson shrugged and dragged his foot across the straw lining the stable floors.
“President Young be concerned with the treatment of Jedidiah,” Henderson responded. “Ye knew he was the president’s favorite.”
“It was an accident.”
“I know, I know but President Young wants answers and I was brought with the task to bring you here.”
In the span of a pause, their lives together were reflected. Neither man wanted to recant the horrific journey they had shared from the East. They never spoke of the deadly adventure they underwent and shared a mutual admiration for what they had accomplished. It was too painful to summarize what they had endured and surrendered themselves into the work they were assigned. Woodruff nodded while Henderson patted him on the arm. In that simple moment, Woodruff knew his fate was sealed. They walked side-by-side to the president’s parlor and awaited their audience.
Captain Jack Stratton was tough but he never could get used to waking from hibernation.
It wasn’t the bitter taste in his mouth or the coughing barrage that plagued him when he was removed from the hibernation units. Nor was it the blinding headaches that he would suffer from waking up that didn’t recede for at least 24-hours. It wasn’t the HiberLectures that he was forced to endure under sleep to learn new skills or study the mission orders. Nor was it the lack of strength in his legs when he was forced to awake and take control of his ship. It wasn’t even the massive weight loss taken from his hardened muscles.
Stratton hated hibernation because of the dreams.
It was an endless series of nightmare with oversized monsters destroying his hometown of Smootville. The beasts were modern day dinosaurs wreaking havoc on his small town, thrashing their tails, leveling buildings and crushing his friends and neighbors. Powerless to help, he would hide in the top story of the post office behind the bells and watch the shadowy monsters breath fire and eat anybody who was unlucky to get caught in their paths. Most of the victims would be faceless, blurry people that would quickly be consumed or squashed—other times it was his wife, Connie, and his children, Richard and Abraham. The nightmare would play out throughout his hibernation as if they were on some sort of film loop with him powerless to change the movie.
Once he fought through the effects of hibernation and regained his sea legs, Stratton quickly retook control over his ship. Referred to as a ship captain’s captain, Stratton was powerfully built with black hair with flecks of grey. He was hardened from years in the boxing ring and years spent in space. There was precision in everything aspect of his life, no duty was considered beneath him as he held his men to this same strict standard. His youth in Utah was a daily workshop in preparing for a bigger future than the small town of Smootville. He mastered his studies in the classroom and dominated in every sport and outdoor activity. Competitive but sensitive to the needs of others, Stratton was always moving forward, looking for the next big adventure. All of this was done with a wishful eye towards the skies. His father was a ship captain and Stratton willed himself to follow Captain Albert Stratton into space. He joined the Academy after graduating from Smootville High and finished at the top of his class. Joining the ISS President Coolidge on her maiden voyage as a 2nd lieutenant navigator, Stratton quickly rose to third in command as chief of the ship by her fourth trip.
While never had the chance to serve under his father, Stratton modelled his leadership on the stories he heard from his father. First to arrive and the last to leave, he projected a strength that was infectious to the other space merchants. It was an air of confidence backed by the hard work to master any one of the numerous responsibilities of an interplanetary voyage that made him a leader of men. Stratton refused to order another man a task without first being ready to undertake it himself. This level of empathy and control of his temper made him an easy commander for space merchants to follow. His expectations were set and he drove his men hard to meet those levels.
But even though he had the physical strength and training to dispatch a half dozen men, Stratton was like any other space merchant coming out of hibernation—weak, confused and tired. The demands of space travel required that men were placed into controlled slumber to protect their bodies and minds. Developed at NevTech Industry’s Somnus Department, a subdivision of Henderson Refinery and Die Cast, hibernation converted astronauts into sleeping bears to protect the humans necessary for the long space crossings. By forced into hibernation, the astromerchants could avoid the dangers of lengthy trips on both their psyche and body. It saved on space with food and water and avoided the unnecessary mental breakdowns that could threaten the completion of the mission.
Stratton hated his first hibernation experience. As a second shifter, he was placed under sleep as the ISS President Coolidge taxied out of Earth’s orbit on a mineral pickup at Jupiter’s moon of Europa. He was awoken when the Coolidge was approaching the Asteroid Belt in a cold sweat. Nightmares plagued him throughout the hibernation and he failed to appreciate how much weight loss he would endure under sleep. Where his muscular arms would bulge through his uniform, his biceps hung loosely. His barrel chest was half the size and he woke with a beard—something that he never cared for or wanted to grow. Moreover, there was a computer error in his HiberLecture. Where he was supposed to have been studying ion propulsion jet repair, quantum mechanical time ripples and reading the bible as literature, Stratton was forced to learn about the practices of butterfly collectors, Canadian curling heroes and the history of Peru. He still curses the names of Walter Rothschild, Wally Ursuliak and Jose de San Martin.
But the voyages became easier with time. Knowing that he only had a limited amount of time before being thrusted back into sleep, Stratton maximized every waking moment by committing himself to mastering every aspect of the ship. From the cargo holds, the navigation systems, hibernation controls, sanitation operations, engine repair and even working in the galley, Stratton was taking what he learned at the Academy and applying it to the ISS President Coolidge. It was his dedication that got him promoted to first shift as head engineer, a position he held until 2164. After that Stratton was transferred to the ISS El Cajon as third shift commander.
All of that halted when the ISS President Coolidge collided with the Space Station Taurus. The damage was catastrophic. The space blackout would last a decade stopping all space travel and grounding man back to Earth in an Icarusian fashion.
Stratton was back in Smootville with his family when the Coolidge collided and set the sky on fire. As the freighter destroyed the space station and sent high-speed projectiles throughout the Earth’s orbit vaporizing and destroying anything in its path, Stratton laid down in his small backyard with his children staring up at the night sky. On that clear night, he should have revisited his childhood and embrace the memories and dreams of exploring the universe. Instead, the sky was a fireball as satellites, space stations and ships were demolished as the world’s stepping stones to the galaxy were kicked away.
It was chance that kept him out of space that night. Completion of the ISS El Cajon was delayed and Stratton took that time to spend with his family in Smootville. It was while Connie was plating up salad that the news came across every computer and system in his house. His thoughts went to the men that he served alongside aboard the ISS Coolidge until it became too painful. Placing his own ambitions aside as he has done a thousand times in the past, he gathered his family and took them to the backyard to say small goodbyes to every man he could remember aboard the Coolidge.
Stratton was the kind of guy that remembered every one’s name.
For the next decade as man was grounded and the nightmare of the survivors at the 17 outposts played out in the newspapers, Stratton served as the technical advisor for the JUNK Treaty of 2174. This was the agreement between the space travelling nations to develop a technology to eliminate the deadly projectiles that were orbiting the Earth at 64,000 miles an hour. All of the space debris didn’t just halt further trips into space and keep man and rocket grounded for fear of being vaporized, it was wreaking havoc with the Earth’s weather patterns. The planet was cooling prematurely making clearing up the debris a vital global project. Stratton joined a think tank with the codename, Bicycle Initiative, to work on clearing the skies. The Bicycle Initiative was funded by Henderson Refinery and Die Cast. Brainstorming one day, Stratton proposed a two tiered action that eventually made it’s way into operation. Stratton’s proposal which eventually became the operating plan to return to space was two tiered. The first arm of his proposal was to launch nuclear missiles into the lower orbits and detonate the massive explosions to vaporize the debris. The second part was an eureka moment while weed eating his lawn. He suggested constructing a weaponized laser that spun on all three-axis to blast the bits of metal into dust or push out into space.
Somehow, Stratton’s idea actually worked.
Because of his efforts, Stratton was awarded command of the ISS Carson City which would serve as the lead rescue vessel. Stratton and the Carson City were to ship to Space Station Libra orbiting Ganymede and then power on to the furthest reaches of the solar system, the Space Station Acheron, orbiting around Charon and Pluto. His mission was simple: seek for survivors and prepare the both of the space station for the following staffing freighters. A grueling assignment, Stratton accepted his appointment and went to work. It was out of duty and hope that fellow astronauts would do the same for him that led him to say goodbye to his family for a four year voyage.
Richard was already 15 and Abraham was 12.
The ISS Carson City’s first destination was back to the Moon.
For the last six months, supplies were being loaded into the cargo hold and men were trained to retake the primary launching point into the solar system and Stratton was responsible for getting them to Lunar Base 3. As the first step in the very complicated rescue mission, none of the crew were placed into hibernation for the three day voyage. Lunar Base 3 was located just outside of the Shackleton Crater on the south pole of the Moon making it the second jumping point after the Earth into the solar system.
The first leg of their mission was to restock the Lunar Base and transport a new staff of engineers and personnel that would operate from the base. Expeditions before the Carson City had already braved the horrors that waited inside of the base. After the Coolidge Event, chaos slowly seeped into Lunar Base 3 when calculations were made to determine the amount of food and water available for the staff of 49. It was quickly determined that under the current conditions there was only enough supplies to last two weeks. Very quickly cartels were formed and chaos reigned supreme. Within three days everyone was dead with the exception of Yolanda Jensen. She was the last member standing when knives and axes used to determine the rationing of the food and water was decided
Jensen eventually took her own life 264-days later. The first rescue crews that landed at the base discovered grizzly violence and even evidence of cannibalism. With the light of the Earth with her water and air waiting for them, it was the madness that overtook Lunar Base 3 as the 49 station members were certainly begging to escape back to their home planet.
For Stratton and the ISS Carson City, the first leg was the easiest leg of their mission. Similar to athletes trotting around the field before getting to work, the ISS Carson City crew were finding their sea legs and learning the details of the freighter. A three day voyage, none of the crew was placed in hibernation. With an additional 40 crew members to be transported to the lunar surface, they were packed like sardines in a tin until they reached a high lunar orbit. While Stratton could have made the trip with his eyes closed a decade ago, he gave extra consideration for a perfect transport. There was no sense in playing loose considering how dangerous the next 48 months were going to be. He set the tone of the voyage with his 18-member crew. Each shift was a six man team and they were cherry-picked from the best available candidates. Half had been a part of the space program before the Coolidge Event while the others attended the Academy in hopes of being a part of the next generation of space travelers.
Charged with the task of retaking the two key outposts in the solar system and documenting the damage caused from a decade of neglect, they were prepared for any of the horrors they might discover to both man and machine. It made for interesting breakfast conversations.
Easily piloting the ISS Carson City into a high lunar orbit, shuttles started transporting the contents of the cargo bay to Lunar Base 3. In one week’s time, Stratton successfully unloaded the bays and gave orders for the Carson City to start the prelaunch protocol to Jupiter. Personally piloting the last shuttle mission to the Moon, he met with base commander Elijah Humboldt and was briefed about the events surrounding Yolanda Jensen. He wanted a firsthand account of what Humboldt and his team did when they retook the base. He wanted insight to what to expect and how Humboldt dealt with the cleanup process. Humboldt’s report was harrowing and spine chilling. Humboldt described the attacks in Lunar Base 3 as being similar to a virus. It started in the commissary and quickly spread throughout the base. People tried to lock themselves into their rooms but they were pried open with the occupant slaughtered in their bed. Bodies were stacked like cords of wood in the showers and blood splattered every wall. Yolanda Jensen survived because she escaped into a lunar rover and weathered the attacks in the dark mountains in Shackleton Crater. She returned when the oxygen in the rover was almost depleted three days later and lived in the horror for almost a year before she took her own life. In the end, he only left Stratton with one piece of advice: be prepared for anything. People can do some horrible things when left to their own devices without any shred of hope.
Thanking Humboldt, Stratton rejoined the Carson City and transferred authority to his second in command, Ted Jones. Jones was a shipmate during their early years aboard the ISS Coolidge and a top shelf navigator. The course was plotted to Ganymede, Jupiter’s largest moon, where Space Station Libra hovered dormant. It would take 247-days to reach the Libra and the crew was excited to finally leave port and begin their voyage. There wasn’t a crew member aboard the Carson City that didn’t appreciate that they were going into space to clear bodies and remove the ghosts of fellow astronauts from the space station. It was difficult and dangerous work but done with a sense of obligation to bring order from whatever chaos they were to find.
Members of both second and third shift retired to the hibernation stations and said their goodbyes. Per tradition, first shift’s commander would say a few words as they prepared to enter deep sleep. Jones few words were simply that, “Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite.”
And with that, the crew of the ISS Carson City fell to sleep as the powerful ion propulsion engines ignited and pushed the ship out of the Moon’s orbit in route to Jupiter. The next time Stratton would open his eyes, the ISS Carson City would be in final approach to Ganymede at the Space Station Libra.
Brigham Young was hunched over a stack of papers when Woodruff and Henderson entered the church president’s parlor. Even though the clock had just struck 9pm, Young was still feverishly reviewing and initialing documents, correspondence and scanning rough diagrams of city structures that were to be built. The room was illuminated with two large oil lanterns that hummed in the cool night. The only other light in the room came from Porter Rockwell’s corncob pipe that glowed in the far corner.
Tiberius Woodruff, formerly of Whitingham Vermont, now quarry master for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints stood at attention in front of the president while Henderson joined Rockwell in the corner to light his own pipe. Woodruff removed his gloves and tucked them into his back pocket while waiting to be recognized by Young. He felt his heart racing and made small attempts to regain his composure by swallowing the spittle in his mouth. Sweat dried on his dusty face as he squinted through the darkness trying to see what was on the president’s desk. At best he could make out, it was a series of maps and hand diagrams of mountain ranges.
Only the sound of the clock ticking, Young’s pen and Woodruff’s breathing filled the room. The silence tensed Woodruff even more so and he half debated walking out of the room, mounting Copenhagen and riding west as fast as he could. But he knew this was not an option—that’s why Rockwell and Henderson stood in the shadows smoking their pipes to eliminate any thoughts of leaving the parlor. In an instant, Young stopped writing and put down his pen. He looked up and his eyes were red from tears. Where in the past, Woodruff had enjoyed Young’s presence and was charmed by his warmth and humor, there was none of that in him tonight.
“My son, Jedidiah, is he here?”
Woodruff nodded gravely.
“And what state is he in.”
Woodruff shook his head drearily. Young looked down for a moment before placing both of his large hands on the large oak desk to lift himself up. Raising his right fist towards Woodruff, he shook the thick finger in rage.
“What have you done to my family? What did you do to my sweet boy?” he roared with a voice that filled not just the room but the house. “You were given one task and you failed me terribly! You were charged with protecting Jedidiah and you let him fall out of this kingdom and into the next prematurely.”
“Sir, it was an accident…” Woodruff began before he was cut off by the church president.
“An accident that cost my family dearly! How dare you!”
Young’s fist remained pointed at Woodruff for a moment as he muttered something inaudible under his breath. Then he motioned to Rockwell with a fist who began to extinguish his pipe. Woodruff took a step towards the desk.
“Sir, once again, I am telling you it was an accident. Jed was a good boy who I cared for as if he was my own but the granite shifted. The stone fell and killed him to which I am responsible but it wasn’t premeditated,” Woodruff pleaded. “If given a chance to change places with him, I would do so a thousand times. You have to believe me. I beg of you to accept my apology.”
Woodruff let out a deep breath as Young sat back down. There was no forgiveness in his eyes, just tears as he looked away from Woodruff to Rockwell. In that instant, Woodruff knew his fate was sealed. At that point, there had been five deaths in the quarry. Three had been crushed by the falling stone, Jedidiah included, one passed from heat stroke and the fifth from a rattlesnake bite. Woodruff would be entering that the ranks of those other men but unlike the others who were given proper services in the churches on Sunday, Woodruff knew he would be discarded in the western deserts with no such fanfare. Rockwell gripped Woodruff’s shoulder and began walking him out of the parlor.
That’s when Henderson spoke up:
“Brother Brigham, what is to become of my friend? Is he to face his demise for the death of your son? Did Brother Tiberius fail us all with Jedidiah’s death or did he merely offend ye? I see no harm in what Tiberius has done here and I wish to know what will become of my friend.”
“He must pay for what he has done,” Young said looking at Rockwell.
“And what has he done? Has he not given a face to your land of Deseret? Has he not quarried the stone to build both your temple and your home? Has Brother Tiberius not laid the foundations for this kingdom? An eye for an eye might be good enough for the common man in this territory but Brother Tiberius be no common man.”
Henderson breathed deeply and tapped the revolver strapped to his thigh.
“As I am the instrument of vengeance for you, Brother Brigham, is Tiberius not the instrument of your grand design? Is he not the man who takes chaos and converts it to civilization? Because if he is not, then perhaps I am not your avenging angel. Have you not considered that the hand of righteousness be redirected at ye? Are ye prepared to feel the vengeance you have dished out like soup at your table? Are you ready to feel the hand of the brute stone and cold justice?”
Rockwell released Woodruff and moved between Henderson and the church president.
“What you say?” Rockwell growled.
“I said nothing, Brother Porter. I am merely asking what is to become with my friend Tiberius,” Henderson said. “You once reminded me that vengeance is reserved for those without soul. Brother Tiberius does not lack empathy or standing with Jedidiah’s death. In fact, he be the best guardian of the dead boy and the only one who stood by him in the last hours,” Henderson said.
Thumbing the latch off his pistol, he stared directly into Rockwell’s eyes and warned: “Don’t challenge me tonight. Brother Tiberius is not to blame for that boy’s death.”
Woodruff stood in front of the parlor door and could easily escape as the others battled to determine his fate. He watched as his trial was being conducted and awaited the worst. Henderson and Rockwell moved close to eye-to-eye and began setting into motion the duel that no one wanted to witness. Rockwell tucked his pipe into his vest pocket and slowly slide his hand towards his own pistol. They slowly circled each other while stepping closer. There wasn’t a breath in the room until the church president waved his hand.
“Enough,” Brigham Young said.
Henderson and Rockwell dared each other to move towards violence but both men decided that action in the president’s parlor was not good for either one of them. Henderson thumbed the leather clasp back over his weapon and removed his pipe which he filled with fresh tobacco, Rockwell staring darkly into Henderson before following suit. Both men retreated again into the darkness of the corner as if the dispute never happened.
“You have injured me, Tiberius. My son Jedidiah is gone and you have betrayed me,” Young said slowly. “Yet I know that it is grief that has brought me to this point and not your actions. I wish you banished and destroyed but I know that your heart is pure. Moreover, I still require your service.”
Brigham Young motioned to the chair in front of his desk and Woodruff sat. For the first time since leaving Little Cottonwood Canyon, Woodruff’s heart wasn’t beating out of his chest. He calmed slowly and awaited the decision of the prophet.
“Your work in the quarry has honored this church but your new calling is away from this community,” Young said. “I wish that you take your talents away from Salt Lake and deep into the Uinta Mountains. Brother Bill Calloway has discovered what he believes is the richest quarry of stone in the Empire of Deseret. I am charging you and Brother Thomas to go to the Uintas and investigate Brother Bill’s claim.”
Woodruff looked over to his old friend and who stared coldly back at him.
“Once you’ve scouted the area, I require that the eastern borders of my kingdom be established. I wish that you use your talents to construct a citadel for our empire and use the land to best serve our needs,” Young said. “Can you do this for me? Can you hold this world together?”
Woodruff realized very quickly that there was no answer but yes and explained that he would do whatever was necessary to satisfy the church president’s request. The only condition that he asked was that Leo Smoot be allowed to travel with them to this new location. Young insisted upon Smoot’s presence. He directed Woodruff to contact Calloway and make arrangements to travel to the discovered rock faces.
“Brother Brigham, I share whatever pain you feel but will honor your son’s memory with my labors. You have my deepest sympathies and I apologize profusely for my actions. I never acted in negligence but feel the great weight of your son’s death.”
Rising to leave, Brigham Young looked soulfully at Woodruff and accepted his subjection. As Woodruff prepared to leave, Young warned that Woodruff faith would be challenged and he will experience tragedy that will need to be set aside. The wilderness is brutal and doesn’t not account for judgment. His only focus was to build this new fortress for the people of Deseret. Warning that the journey would be difficult, Young said he still expected the same level of excellence from his chief stonemason.
“Brother Tiberius, your sins are forgiven but not forgotten. Take care to not fail me and follow my instructions to the end,” Young said as Woodruff took his leave. “I offer my blessing on this venture and wish nothing but complete success in this matter.”
Woodruff and Henderson started walking out of the parlor when Young added one last message.
“Brother Thomas,” Young began. “A word in private, please.”
Of all of the characteristics that made Alice Rice the darling of her family, her birthday was the most prominent—born February 29, 1980, she was a leap year child.
A leapling, Alice was the third child of five for her parent’s Mark and Carol Rice. Precocious and the darling of her father, Alice was the only daughter of the Rice’s and the neighborhood’s favorite. She excelled in every stage of her life. Always taller than the other students with bright, blond hair, Alice battled her awkwardness with the confidence of somebody who knew that things were always going to get better. Where some children struggled with school, Alice plunged herself into her studies and remained at the top of her class. She played soccer, preformed one-act plays with her dolls and insisted upon helping cook dinner at the Rice home. Alice was the daughter that every man who worked at Henderson Refinery and Die Cast wanted or hoped that his son would marry.
But she had bigger dreams than a life as the spouse of a machine worker at the plant.
Alice Rice imagined a bigger world than the small confines of Smootville and looked forward to the day she was released to Salt Lake City or another town. She had planned on attending the University of Utah and becoming a nurse and joining some hospital in the East. Alice had dreamed of working in New York City or Boston or Washington DC and becoming an intricate part of a hospital. She would return to Smootville only for holidays or special occasions but only temporarily to visit with friends and family before returning to a much more glamorous life.
A member of the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints, Alice believed the gospel and looked forward to meeting a good Mormon man and marrying him. It seemed premature for a young girl to plan out her marriage and the life that would follow from it but she had little perspective growing up in Smootville. Most girls were taught to marry right out of high school and start building a family. Alice wanted that life but she quietly committed herself to start that portion of her life once she got out of the small Utah mining community.
For Alice Rice, life began at the end of State Highway 401. As the only major road in and out of Smootville, Alice wanted to see what laid at the end of 401 and take a swing of a life away from her parent’s perfect home on Lindell Road. She was disgusted with the banter of her friends that talked about being nothing more than family factories with the various boys they lusted after on the football field. In response, Alice doubled her energies at excelling in every one of her subjects in school and drowned any available time with extracurricular activities. She was accused of being a goodie two shoes but those insults ran off of her like water on a duck’s back. Alice Rice knew that a better life awaited her outside of Smootville and slowly counted the days before she was able to leave and really start living.
But all of that changed the spring of her junior year at Smootville High School.
For all of her wanderlust and desire to rebel against the system, she knew her place. Her father, Mark, was the chief design engineer at Henderson Refinery and Die Cast.
Responsible for developing new products for the factory to build, Mark Rice was considered a real “Henderson Man.” It wasn’t because he was a hardnosed floor manager that drove this staff for the benefit of Henderson Refinery and Die Cast but mostly because he was missing three fingers on his left hand from a drill press accident. Because of this, he had his wedding ring resized and worn on his thumb—something his wife Carol loved. Recently, the plant was being retrofitted to move away from the die casting portion of their business and into gas production. Pockets of shale gas and methane were discovered in the discarded granite quarries and Mark went to work designing the pipelines that would take it to the factory and eventually to the world-at-large. Because he came up through the company with his best friend, George Bingham, he got him reassigned to work under him.
It made carpooling easier because George lived across the street from Mark on Lindell Road.
The men were inseparable during the plant retrofit and that carried over into their personal lives. Dinners after church on Sunday were routinely held throughout the week at either the Rice or Bingham households. Mary and Carol scrapbooked and their children played with each other both at school and home. Alice liked the Bingham’s but was always very cautious of Karl. A year older than her in school, Alice knew of the things Karl did in the woods when he was away from the other kids. She decided that Karl wasn’t a bad person but simply somebody that she didn’t want to know. Where they both kept an eye out of Smootville along Highway 401, Alice was working towards that goal while Karl seemed to be playing roughshod over any future that didn’t drag him into the plant.
Not one to disappoint her father, it was the spring of her junior year when she was asked a favor by her father that she couldn’t refuse. George Bingham had asked if there was any way Alice could help the Bingham family if Karl could escort Alice to his senior dance. Alice wanted nothing to do with it. She rarely spoke to Karl at any of the family gatherings or neighborhood block parties but she wanted to spend the summer out of Smootville. She had been accepted to an exchange program in Paris for the summer and had asked her father to pay for the expensive trip. In the end, Alice’s father agreed to send her abroad on the condition that she goes with Karl to appease his George Bingham’s request.
On the night of the dance, Alice wore a bright yellow dress and white heels. Her long blond hair was worn up and her mother helped her with the makeup. Tall and athletic, her father commented that she never looked more beautiful when Karl walked across the street to present her with a white rose corsage. Both families took pictures of the temporary couple before Karl and Alice drove off in George’s truck to Smootville High for the dance.
There was little talk on the short drive to the school with the exception of Karl pretending to be human for one moment and commenting that Alice looked nice. She thanked him for the corsage on her right wrist with an eye towards her watch on her left wrist.
The dance was awkward for both of them. Alice could sense that Karl didn’t want to be there anymore than she did. After waiting in the long line to get their picture taken, Alice broke the tension and asked if Karl would like to dance. With slower music playing throughout the decorated gymnasium, Karl wrapped his hands around her as they swayed back and forth. It was nice, Alice thought, as she felt his strong back and broad shoulders. He was a powerfully built boy but his temper was problematic. She heard the stories of Karl fighting not just the kids at school but some of the men working at Henderson Refinery and Die Cast. She knew that he drank and smoked and hit hard from watching Karl along the sidelines of the football games. But in this simple moment, she felt he was a sweeter boy than he was given credit. In fact, she kind of liked the attention the other students and teachers gave her as Karl Bingham held her as they stepped side-to-side. She felt like she was the mouse pulling the thorn out of the elephant’s foot.
But that changed very quickly.
After three songs, Karl said he wanted to leave and wanted her to come with her to the football field. Hoping that the evening would be ending prematurely, she walked out with Karl to his father’s truck where he picked up a brown bag filled with cans of beer and on to the stadium. She was nervous but followed him to the top of the bleachers where he started drinking. Opening a can, he handed it to her which she quickly put down.
“You get one chance in life, you know,” Karl started. “You’re born and you’re gonna die and in between all of that you get a chance of getting happy. I haven’t been happy in a while.”
Alice sat quietly in the warm spring evening, looking up at Karl as he paced back and forth. He drank quickly and continued to tell her that he was getting out of Smootville in seven days.
“I saved money from working for my dad, you know. I’m moving to Salt Lake and getting a job at the railroad. My Uncle Paul is a train conductor and said he can get me on. Get out of this town and just ride the rails. What do you think of that? Just ride and ride and never have to come back to Smootville and even if I did, I’d be gone by the morning. Smootville sucks. Nothing ever happens here and nothing special ever will,” Karl finished. “This is the place people come to die. Sometimes I feel like I’m stuck in a nightmare and I can’t wake up.”
“It’s not that bad,” Alice said picking up the beer and smelling the can. She didn’t like it and put it down again. “It’s just a small town. We’re small town people. That’s what makes it great when we move on to become somebody else. You know I’m going to France this summer?”
Karl nodded and took another long pull from his beer.
“I’m going to learn how to speak French and go to the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Norte Dame. It’s going to be wonderful. Papa said that I can stay for the summer.”
“Yeah, sounds wonderful,” Karl said snottily. “Bon voyage, baby. You’ll be back and you’ll be the same missy nobody. Nothing happens in this town for a reason. It’s because nobody wants to wake up and see that this stupid fucking town is dying. It’s as if everybody is sleepwalking in some sort of nightmare and you’re no better, Alice.”
Alice had been brave throughout the entire night but this was enough. Tears started to build in her eyes when she told Karl to go to Hell. Alice told Karl that the only reason she was here was because her father bribed her to be docile enough to stand next to him while they got pictures taken. She told him that she wanted to like him and be sympathetic but he was a miserable person. Going to the dance with him was a means to an end for Alice who only looked forward to escaping to Paris for the summer. Taking the can of beer, she threw it at him but missed in the dark.
“What the Hell, Alice?!? You think you know me? You don’t know anything!” Karl snarled. “You think my life has been easy?”
“No, but you made it harder than it had to be. I wish you’d stop yelling at me. I never did anything to you. We’re just two people living on the same street. “
Alice stood up and started walking down the bleachers. With her heels in her hand, she slipped a moment but Karl broke her fall. He righted her and stood looking into her face.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“I know, Karl, but you make everything harder than it has to be,” Alice said. “Things could be so much better if you just relaxed and knew that things aren’t that bad here in Smootville. In fact, if you paid any attention, this is a pretty good place to live and be from.”
Karl let her go and smiled at her. It wasn’t an apology for yelling but it was certainly his attempt at being remorseful for yelling. They walked down the steps and onto the field as Karl took one last look at the field that defined him. Alice glowed in her yellow dress under the moon. Pretending one last time to run a play on the field, Karl jumped in the end zone as if he caught the winning touchdown against one of their rival teams. Alice smiled as he jogged back in his tuxedo to walk her back to his father’s truck. Opening the door for her, he threw the sack of beers into bed and started the truck. The engine idled for a moment before Karl turned and looked at her. Alice was nervous but she saw Karl for who he was—scared and dumb and oblivious to the bigger plan that was held for everyone in Smootville.
“If you’re leaving in a week for Salt Lake, would you mind giving me a ride to the airport? I’d rather say goodbye to my family here instead,” Alice said. “It’ll be nice to start my trip when I walk out of my front door.”
“Sure. I’d like that.”
Taking a slow drive through the parking lot, Alice knew that Karl would be graduating from school tomorrow at a post office ceremony. She didn’t plan on going but as they started to drive back to Poplar Street, she reconsidered and thought it might be nice to see Karl socially again. He was definitely a bad guy in comparison to the rest of the kids at Smootville High but he wasn’t terrible. With the windows rolled down and taking in the chilly air of the Uinta Mountains, they drove around the centerpiece of Smootville, Henderson’s Refinery and Die Cast, towards the north gates when the truck shimmied for a moment.
Istantly, she was floating out of the bench chair of the truck and into the ceiling of the vehicle. The bag of beer in the backseat shot to the front of the cabin and Alice was flying out of control. Her scream was overmatched by the horrific crunching of metal and glass as the truck rolled into the air and landed on the passenger side of the truck. Pain shot through her entire body as she saw Karl’s face colliding with the windshield and then falling on top of her. Blood and glass instantly filled the cabin of the truck as smoke and gas split everywhere. The horn blared nonstop as she tried to move Karl off of her but she couldn’t. He was laying on top of her unconscious as his face was engulfed in blood and broken bone.
Alice Rice screamed and screamed but nothing came from her yelling into the night sky. Karl’s weight was suffocating her as she prayed that her father would run to her side and help her escape. She felt pain cover her body as she begged to leave the cabin of the busted truck but nothing and nobody came to her rescue. Just before she passed out from the pain, Alice tried to find her right arm which earlier bore a simple white rose corsage but she quickly discovered that it was hidden outside of the truck under a very heavy door. In every corner of Alice’s body, pain radiated out in thumping streaks of anger and agony.
The pain was excruciating throughout her body. Everywhere, except in her right arm.
“No, no, no, no!” Karl muttered hiding behind the curtains. “That can’t be her.”
Karl took his glasses off and wiped his eyes. His forehead had exploded in sweat and the sting of the salt was cutting into his eyes. He hadn’t seen any sign of life in two days and couldn’t account for what had happened the last five months or so. But now, dressed in his father’s clothes in his parent’s bedroom looking out the second story window onto Poplar Street, he saw something. Worse than nothing—he actually thought he saw somebody he was dying to see again.
Putting his glasses back on, he gingerly creeped from behind the curtain and looked across the street. While night had fallen on Smootville and there was none of the telltale lights along the street and more noticeably, everything at Henderson Refinery and Die Cast quiet, there was a lone figure across the street at the Rice house—waving at him. Karl kept thinking this can’t be happening. He should have been relieved that he wasn’t the only person alive in the now dark town but instead his terror and fear erupted into his throat.
He slowly pulled back the curtains and stood exposed. The lights in his parent’s house didn’t turn on but the Rice house looked alive with the front porch and living rooms illuminated. The upstairs bedrooms had lamps turned on and there was a sole person pressed against the window in Mark and Carol Rice’s bedroom. At a loss to do, Karl mirrored the shadowed figure across the street and waved. The person waved back and then pointed down to the street as if to offer a play date in the snow in the middle of the street. Karl waved again and pointed to the place between the two houses.
Karl was afraid who he’d find in the middle of the street.
Before leaving his parent’s room, he reached into his father’s closet and found George’s shotgun. A Remington 870 12-guage, Karl loaded the gun before going down the stairs. He knew that he was weak and tired and scared and wanted nothing more than to find out what is happening but it took every fiber of nerve to get him out of the front door. Inside his parent’s house, he at least had the appearance of being safe—out in the street, he didn’t know what to he was going to find. He thought for one moment to get the whiskey from behind the bible for a fortifying shot but there wasn’t time. The person from the Rice house had already opened the front door and started trudging through the snow to the middle of the street and towards the Bingham’s house.
Racking the shotgun, Karl opened the door and started walking out.
“Karl!” the voice yelled out. “You shouldn’t be here.”
“I live here…eh, at least I used to live here. Who are you?” Karl yelled out with the gun resting against his shoulder pointing upwards. “Hey! Who are you?”
“Don’t be silly, Karl. It’s me, Alice.”
With the glow of the Rice house disturbing his night vision, all Karl could see what a shadow of a person dressed in a long jacket, jeans and boots. It wasn’t until she got to the sidewalk did Karl make out Alice’s blond hair and tall, slender figure. She waved from her left hand because her right arm was severed from the elbow down.
Lowering the gun and putting it on the snowy front steps, Karl walked over towards Alice. Pausing for a moment, she reached out and embraced him. Tears welled into his eyes as exhaustion completely took over his body. He felt himself falling into her arms as he muttered repeatedly he was sorry and what’s happening. Alice held him for a moment and patted his back until the cold hit Karl’s wet face.
“We should go inside, Karl, but not your house,” Alice said. “I got the furnace on and I’ve cooked dinner. You should eat, you look horrible.”
“I am and I don’t know how.”
“That’s okay, I do. Let’s go inside. Get your gun and let’s eat,” Alice smiled as they crunched through the snow into the Rice house.
Karl was relieved that he actually found something that tied him to the past and was happy it was Alice Rice. Knocking the snow off of his boots, he thought that the last time he stepped foot inside the house was when he picked her up before the dance, the night that they had the accident. Just like his house, everything was exactly the same. Clean and warm, Alice grew up and filled into her beanpole body. She had laugh lines around her eyes and still the same straight blond hair that hung to the middle of her back. Taking off her jacket, she wore a sweater with the right sleeve hemmed at the elbow. Apart from being asymmetrical, Karl couldn’t help but to notice that she was beautiful and maybe even more so with her soulful missing arm.
Leaning the shotgun up against the couch, it was hard not to think of why he always liked her as they walked into the kitchen. Because all of the employee houses built by Henderson Refinery and Die Cast were one of four designs, both of their homes were exactly the same—the difference being that the Rice house had electricity. Karl walked into the kitchen and sat down at the table, pulled off his jacket and stared vacantly at Alice. There was a poured glass of red wine on the table for both of them and water. He hadn’t been able to quench his thirst since he woke up two days ago and he desperately hoped something would get the dryness out of his body.
Ignoring the wine, he drained the water and looked across the table. Karl was trying to figure out what had actually happened to Alice. He knew that she had left town years ago to go become a nurse and rarely visited Smootville. He heard that she had married a lawyer in Pittsburgh but a divorce quickly followed when the guy turned out to be a scumbag. There was talk that she left the church but he didn’t care either way considering that he quit being a Mormon when he turned 12.
“I meant to say I was sorry in person,” Karl started as Alice put a plate of meatloaf, carrots and potatoes in front of him. “I guess things worked out.”
“Yes, I guess in a way they did but let’s not talk about it. That was a long time ago,” Alice said raising her right arm. “I know you’re sorry but I’ve moved on and frankly, it’s old news. I think you have bigger problems right now.”
Picking at his food, Karl stared at his food nodding. He offered one last apology when Alice sat down and told him to knock it off and stop being so mopey.
“You weren’t supposed to get this skinny, Karl. How much weight have you loss?”
Karl shrugged feeling self-conscious as he half-hearteningly took a bit. The food was good but he wasn’t hungry. It was too much between finding Smootville closed, the factory shutdown and the woman that he maimed cooking his a family dinner.
“It’s got to be at least a hundred pounds or so. None of my clothes fit at my place. I had to put on my dad’s pants. Never could have done this six months ago,” Karl said. “Alice, do you know where my parents are? What happened to everybody, Alice and what are you doing here? I thought you were in Pittsburgh.”
“I was but I got called back. They’re doing a project here in town and I was asked to lead the medical tests.”
“What kind of tests, Alice?”
“Endurance tests, Karl,” Alice said looking directly at him. “They wanted me to determine how much stress a human can withstand during sleep.”
Karl put his fork down and reasked what happened to his parents.
“They’re fine, Karl. Safe, but you need to eat, please,” Alice said. “We’re going to have a big day tomorrow and you’re going to need your strength.”
She stood up and refilled both his glass of wine and water, both of which he greedily drank. Karl’s throat was cracked but any security he felt had quickly escaped his body. He became lightheaded and not from not consuming alcohol for almost half a year. He squirmed in his chair and looked for an exit. Coming into the Rice house was a mistake and he wanted to be free of Alice’s gaze. Something was wrong and it was more than her being the only person he discovered since waking. Bracing himself, he looked for an out.
“Can you please tell me where my parents are, Alice? And where is everybody else in Smootville?” he asked softly. “I’d like to see my parents. Something is wrong and I think you know what happened.”
Standing, Alice explained in time but now he had to eat but Karl had enough. Slapping the table he demanded to know what was happening but Alice just smiled at him calmly.
“You’ll know soon enough,” she said calmly.
Karl wanted out. He stood up and put on his jacket as a wave of nausea swarmed over him. Get home, just get home he thought as he stumbled to the door. Grabbing the gun, he tried opening to the door but it was locked. Fidgeting with the lock, it wouldn’t open, so Karl unloaded the barrel of the shotgun into the knob and walked out.
“You’re not going far, Karl. Just come back inside before you get hurt,” Alice yelled out as Karl tried to get back to his parent’s house. His head was spinning and the world was getting darker and darker.
He made it halfway across the street before he couldn’t move anymore and fell face forward into the snow. As he started to black out from the medicine in the wine and water, he saw the lights of an truck turning on to Poplar Street as he passed out.
The order was simple:
Establish a new outpost on the eastern edge of the Deseret Empire by the border of Colorado to halt any additional federal forces into the Utah Territory. Brigham Young’s presence as the territorial governor had caused such alarm in Washington DC that troops were starting to flood into the area and Young wanted a forward position to warn of any advancing threats to his reign. Finding a new quarry was of secondary importance but Woodruff figured he was selected because he knew how to build something from nothing and Brigham Young wanted nothing to do with him for a period of time in or around Salt Lake City. Charged with leading a team of 25 men into the southeastern corner of the Uinta Mountains, Woodruff was ready to leave temporarily and build Brigham Young’s eastern fort for the Mormons.
Woodruff knew that it was never a request for him to leave. It was a demand from the leader that wanted his body, spirit and legacy destroyed and buried in the west desert. Instead, like the church president had done since taking control of the Utah Territory, he has squeezed every bit of talent out of the people living under his rule and utilized them to their best ability for him.
If not for his friend Thomas Henderson intervening in the final moments of his meeting with the church president, Woodruff was certain that he would have been executed for Jedidiah Young’s death at the stone quarry in Little Cottonwood Canyon. He couldn’t help but think of this as he hurried to outfit the party. He wanted to be as far away as possible from Salt Lake City and Brigham Young’s grasp.
Moreover, he couldn’t help but be excited about the journey. It wasn’t under the best circumstances but Woodruff was looking to press with an adventure after being in the quarry for almost four years.
In five days’ time, Woodruff had assembled men from the community and started the trek out towards the Uintas. Brother Bill Calloway was known around the Territory as Raccoon Bill. A trapper and polygamist, Raccoon Bill knew where Brigham Young wanted the camp built and was ready to take Woodruff and company to the location. With Woodruff were his savior, Thomas Henderson, and his protégé, Leo Smoot. The rest of the party was key men from the quarry and new immigrants to the Land of Deseret. With Conestoga wagon overflowing with supplies and tools to build and man the outpost, to be named Fort Tomahawk after Jedidiah’s dog, Woodruff followed Henderson as his Scottish friend blazed a path over the Wasatch Front and into the Summit County.
Work at the Little Cottonwood Canyon quarry was handed over to Rudolph McMichael but not before Woodruff instructed him to continue cutting stones to his exact specification. He told McMichael that he would be returning in six months’ time and expected absolutely no stoppage of work. Woodruff wasn’t just carving out granite to cover the construction of the buildings rising from the ground in Salt Lake City. He was building a vault into the mountain side. If work didn’t progress as he had envisioned, Woodruff’s master design for the vaults would be placed in jeopardy.
Trailblazing was more difficult than the men anticipated.
The ride was more difficult than any of the men anticipated. Between summiting along Parlay’s Canyon and dropping into Summit Canyon, two horses became lame and were put down. Making matter’s worse was the fact that morale was low because of the whispers told at Woodruff’s expense. Henderson warned that any man that talked disrespectfully towards Woodruff would feel his wraith but the men talked anyway. Woodruff was never labelled a murderer of Jedidiah Young but they were concerned that he might not have the leadership to get them through the mountains and into the eastern edge of the Territory. More than that, none of the men wanted to be seen as siding with Woodruff and in opposition to Jedidiah’s powerful father.
Making camp at a bend of the Provo River on their fourth night, Woodruff took stock of the group and realized that this adventure would be more taxing than he had anticipated. He knew that he was an insult away from being slayed at the hands of Henderson’s mentor and patron but he failed to understand the depth of what he was being asked to do. Brigham Young’s strength as leader of these Mormon people was putting the best men in the right position to the do the best work they can do for the community. Woodruff was a stone cutter and architect but not a trailblazer or soldier. Henderson was better equipped to lead these men but his old Scottish friend was taking orders from him and insuring that the work done was completed to Woodruff’s expectations. Yet, being spared from Rockwell’s blade placed Woodruff in charge of an expedition to the furthest reaches of the Deseret Kingdom to build a military citadel.
It felt like it teetered on madness, Woodruff thought. The simple act of living in the West put one man’s life at risk at all times and Woodruff was accustom to the pressure of being eternally prepared. He just forgot the toil it would take on him when he was forced to return into the wilderness.
Keeping the fires bright to beat away the cold of the autumn nights, Woodruff walked about checking in on his men. They were anxious to get moving. Raccoon Bill was notorious for telling them that they were just three days away—three days away from the Beehive House to three days away from the Gulf of Mexico. He was an expert tracker and had Henderson’s approval but lacked any sense of time. Woodruff knew that there were many miles ahead of them and the terrain would be unforgiving. There would be trees to fall and rivers to transverse and Woodruff was not the kind of man to give timelines to any venture. The work to be done was too significant to have a completion date set and frankly, after almost a week, he was simply happy to be out of reach from Young.
Joining Henderson at his fire as his old friend puffed away on his pipe, he asked what he thought of the trip to date. Henderson nodded satisfactory and laughingly agreed with Raccoon Bill that they should be at the site in three days. Both men smiled when they heard the sound of gunfire.
Dropping to the ground, Woodruff ran to his tent to get his pistol as he heard the sound of whooping and yelling coming from every direction. The flare of guns flashed from all around the camp and Woodruff assumed an Indian ambush. Calling out for Smoot, Woodruff took shelter behind the wagons and waited to see the muzzle flash before unloading his gun.
Chaos reigned at the site. Men hollered in agony after being shot as the expedition tried to regroup. Woodruff fired his gun trying to stop the attackers but didn’t know what or who he was shooting at. He couldn’t command his men through the screams and blood curdling yells. He was trying to find Smoot and find some sort of exit from the attack.
With the fires scattered throughout the area, Woodruff could make out Henderson. The Old Scot had stripped down to his trousers and ran into the firefight with nothing more than both his big buck knives gleaming in the fire light. As the attackers came out of the hills, Woodruff saw Henderson grab men and slice them across the neck or smashing their skulls in with the butt of the blades. Blood ran rampant across the dirt as Henderson barked profanities. Any man within grasp of Henderson was brought to the ground and carved alive in surgical fashion. Gaining his composure, Woodruff joined the fray, firing his rifle into the direction of the attackers.
There was no mercy granted for there was none given.
Firing and reloading, Woodruff found Smoot. The young stone cutting apprentice had been hit but fired away with his pistol hiding behind a fire. Woodruff dragged him behind a wagon where they shot at the approaching forces. The balance of the expedition found safety behind them and unleashed holy hell with volleys of fire that kept any attackers at bay. The only man not accounted for was Henderson who had escaped into the dark and waged a personal war against of the attackers.
What felt like hours were mere minutes by the time the firing ceased. A quick roll call was given and only three men were unaccounted for besides Henderson. They braved out into the open and inspected the area looking for attackers or lost brethren. Woodruff had been wounded through his left shoulder and was bleeding profusely but he felt nothing. Wrapping the cut from the bullet with a piece of fabric cut from his shirt, he tended to Smoot who had been shot in the hand and thigh. Blood covered but very much alive, Smoot begged Woodruff for a pull of whiskey which Woodruff yelled out for. Leaving Smoot with one of the pioneers, Woodruff ventured out into the darkness with his gun held up.
There were bodies everywhere—at least 12 fallen men, when Woodruff found Henderson. Shirtless and blackened from the blood covering his body, Henderson had a man under his blade who was begging for his life.
“Thomas! Who is this savage?”
“This be no savage, Brother Tiberius,” Henderson snarled. “This be Joseph Brinks.”
Woodruff walked over and under the glare of the fires, he recognized Brinks. Brinks was a blacksmith and farmer of carrots for Brigham Young. Brinks was beaten limp but still awake as Woodruff helped Henderson drag him to one of the fires. Strapping his hands behind his backs with more strips from his shirt, Woodruff looked over Brinks and demanded answers.
“Why would you do this, Joseph? Why would you attack our camp?” Woodruff asked.
Blood gurgled out of Brinks mouth as he gasped for breath. He was dressed as an Indian in buckskins and feathers in his hair with war paint covering his face and arms. Woodruff went over and gathered a canteen which he offered Brinks. Taking in the water, he looked terrified as the men circled him. Offering another drink, Brinks breath was rapid and labored.
“Who ordered the attack, Joseph? Your end is near. Leave this world in good consciousness,” Woodruff pleaded.
Raising a hand, Brinks motioned for the canteen. Woodruff handed it over as he stood over the beaten man. Henderson paced behind him with his knife slapping against his thigh. The smell of blood and death and violence was in the air and Brinks was compelled to answer the question.
“Brother Brigham sent us,” Brinks said with a mouthful of blood. “We were sent to kill the Smoot boy.”
Woodruff looked over to the wounded Leo Smoot and wiped the blood from his face. Taking a deep breath, he knew in that moment that Brigham Young’s power touched every part of the Utah Territory. Woodruff leaned over and whispered into Brinks’ ear that he had failed. Brinks shook his head and slowly started to weep and begged for his life.
“Brother Thomas,” Woodruff said. “Dispense of this man.”
And with that, Henderson drove his knife deep into Brinks’ chest and pulled the blade from his sternum and towards his throat. Removing the knife, Henderson sliced Brinks’ neck and then plunged the knife straight into his skull, twisting the knife until the bone fractured and Brinks face opened up. Henderson withdrew his knife and wiped it across Brinks trousers. Standing up, he looked over his work and spat on the mangled corpse.
“Any man have issue with what I’ve ordered?” Woodruff asked to the surrounding group of travelers. “Pack up! We leave at dawn.”
The dreams weren’t that bad. At least that is what Jack Stratton thought when he was helped into the showers after waking up from hibernation. There weren’t any of the fire-breathing monsters destroying his town with him standing by powerless to help. His mind was foggy but he was fighting through the clouds to be ready to take command.
The pain that riddled his body was horrible but fortunately, he had experienced it before. Waking up from the hibernation was traumatic but he leaned on his training and experience to get through the first moments of being awake. He asked questions to second shift watch commander, Seth Fisher, but didn’t listen for the answers. The fact that he was awake and in pain and therefore still alive was enough for him to know that the time he spent in sleep hadn’t been a disaster. The ISS Carson City was still travelling through outer space.
Gravitational forces in the living quarters actually allowed Stratton to sit under the showerhead and take in the hot water. Sleep and dreams ran off his body as he allowed himself the short privilege of relaxing before taking command. If all had gone correctly, he had been asleep for nearly seven months and the Carson City was approaching Ganymede at a rate of 96,750 feet per second. His second shift crew would have awoken him on the approach to Jupiter’s third moon 72 hours before orbital acquisition, giving the commander of the ship enough time to clear both the clouds in his head from hibernation and prepare to set the ship into a high Ganymede orbit.
Exiting the shower, he dried and dressed himself. There would be a briefing with the second shift before they were put into hibernation and third shift assumed command of the ship. Unlike ship captains of yore, Stratton was forced to share space with the crew and didn’t have his own quarters. This never bothered Stratton. Working side-by-side with his men gave him the authority of being ship’s captain and Stratton like the notoriety not being above his men. Leadership is found and respected with doing the dirty work.
Over the course of any voyage, second shifters spent the least amount of time in hibernation. The next time the second shifters would awake would be when the ISS Carson City was steaming towards the Space Station Acheron. Traditionally, when second shift hands over command of the ship to third shift, there is a banquet style dinner. It is a last meal for the second shifters who will be placed into hibernation and one of the only times alcohol is legally allowed to be consumed on the ship. Third shifters have to refrain but second shifters acted like sailors who battled the mighty oceans of Earth with the chugging of rum and the singing of songs. Since they were the junior crewmen, third shifters enjoyed watching the theatrics and celebrated their fellow crewmen’s successful as they completed their leg of the voyage.
And in gliding to Ganymede, Stratton and company were no different.
Second shifters performed a rendition of A Midsummer’s Night Dream and sang songs on collapsible guitars to the delight of the entire crew. As second shifters drank and laughed and brought a level of levity to the very dangerous mission, Stratton carefully looked out the multiple portholes and wondered what was waiting for him and his third shifters.
There had been no contact with Space Station Libra in over ten years and Stratton was responsible for cleaning up anything he discovered after docking with the derelict space station. In talking with Humboldt, Stratton was bracing himself for any number of atrocities but hoped for the better angels of man to have not done the unthinkable. There were 32 souls on the Libra and Stratton was hoping to find a vessel that wasn’t a maddening bloodbath. After the Coolidge Event, Libra went dark with the amount of frequency disruption from the debris circling the Earth. After the cleanup, Libra was nothing more than a blip on the radio frequencies with hourly reports of the ship. There were no transmissions or access to the mainframe computers from Earth—this was Stratton’s first priority when he docked with the Libra. He was instructed to get Libra connected back with Earth.
Just as first shift bids goodbye to second and third when they enter hibernation, Stratton addressed the second shift as they settled into their hibernation chambers to join the first shifters. He thanked each of them for their service and looked forward to seeing them on the other side of the mission. Shaking each man’s hand before closing each of their hibernation chambers, Stratton said that it took courage that most people only dream about to do the work that they had performed admirably. He then chided them for eating all of the ice cream and threatened them with KP duty when they awoke. This brought a laugh as Stratton hit the red button which triggered the plunger that placed the men into hibernation. HiberLectures were programmed and the men became nothing more than cargo as the ship steamed towards Ganymede.
Now fully in command, Stratton went to the bridge to begin slowing down the ISS Carson City and prepare the final stages before the freighter docked with the Space Station Libra.
The calculus that goes into slowing a ship and placing it in an orbit around a satellite requires months of advance planning. Considering that man had been Earth-saddled for almost a decade gave the engineers the proper amount of time to design the intricate timing of slowing down a freighter and ease the massive vessel into orbit to intersect with the space station. While Stratton could do the calculations in his head, he readily deferred to mission control back on Earth as the Carson City was in the final approach with Libra. Double checking their deceleration schedule was challenging with the near 71 minute communication delay between mission control on Earth and the Carson City.
With a series of retro-burns, the Carson City began slowing down. Over the course of 30-hours, the Carson City would negatively blast forward ion propulsion and the ship would drop from 96,750 feet per second down to a manageable 10,000 feet per second in the first day. In the hours before a Ganymede orbit, the ISS Carson City would be moving galatically like icebergs with Stratton standing guard at the control station insuring that the ship would not bounce out of Ganymede’s orbit and be thrust into the darkness of space.
With little less than ten hours before a full retro-burn from the forward thrusters of the Carson City, Stratton retired to his joint quarters to sleep for the mandatory seven hours. There would be little sleep in the closing moments of the Carson City’s approach but Stratton planned for this—with his head determined to place his ship in the proper orbit, he would sleep when they had completed the first leg of their mission. Until then, Stratton stood watch with Jupiter illuminating the vessel as they steamed towards the third moon.
Little did Stratton know what to do after perfectly placing the freighter into dock with Space Station Libra.
There was something very satisfying about the sound of the docking probe connecting with the Libra.
While it mimic the sound of an overfilled metal garbage can being dragged across asphalt, it meant only one thing to Stratton—success. It was a perfect three day deceleration with the ISS Carson City aligning perfectly with the Libra’s trajectory. Detaching the Carson City from the IPE, Stratton steamed the freighter towards the Libra’s locking mechanism. Extending the docking probe, the Carson City began retracting the probe until the airlocks were connected. The 250-day mission was a success up to this point but Captain Jack Stratton knew better. This was just the second leg of a very long voyage and there was no evidence of what had happened on the Libra. With no communication, Stratton was in the dark to what happened to the Libra.
It took nearly six hours to power down the Carson City. While his men were directed to proceed with the extensive shutdown protocols, Stratton launched an unmanned drone to get a visual inspection of the space station. It was dark. None of the operational lights were activated and there was no movement inside of the large floating warehouse.
Space stations were designed with two purposes: to hold cargo and transport the payloads onto freighter ships and two, to house personnel responsible for performing these duties. Much like the astronauts who are subject to hibernation for the long interplanetary journeys, space station workers were required to forced sleep every three months for every six months of work. Under hibernation, their bodies are replenished and the HiberLectures were focused on recreation. Enjoy stamp collecting, swimming or playing the trumpet and there was a HiberLecture available.
HiberLectures were the brain child of Dr. Kelly Riedmen. A clinical psychologist from the University of Utah, she was trying to improve productivity of individuals in hibernation when they were awakened. Men were shocked by the weight loss and stopgap of experiences under long periods of hibernation and Riedmen developed a technique of hardwiring information into the hibernauts. At first she taught folks to speak Portuguese or how to blow glass. Over time, the work enabled the sleeping astronauts to learn technical information regarding the operation of the ship and comprehensive instructions regarding the mission. In time, HiberLectures became mandatory the same time hibernating was made mandatory on any voyage longer than three months.
For the crew of the ISS Carson City, there was a focus on surgery, propulsion repair and coping techniques. There was fear that whatever they found at the space stations would be disturbing and cause additional damage and even threaten the mission. Stratton was certain that his crew could withstand any horrors aboard the space stations. Like all good commanders, he was actually worried about his reaction and wanted to make sure he kept his emotions in check when they finally explored the Libra.
After the drone returned to the Carson City and the mandatory checklist was completed, Stratton ordered a two hour rest period before boarding the ship. Tension was high and he wanted the men a chance to recover from the dangerous docking with the space station before stepping onboard. He needed their minds focused and ready for the task at hand. Moreover, he needed a moment to collect himself.
The Coolidge Event changed everything in the solar system and Stratton was finally going to find out what happened aboard the Space Station Libra.
Karl Bingham woke up with another hangover.
The night before was a blur but nothing was oddly familiar. He remembered walking from his family’s cabin where he lived to his parent’s house only to discover that both his parents and the entire town of Smootville had been abandoned. Everyone had completely vanquished. He vaguely remembered going through his parent’s home looking for any sign of George and Mary and he thought he remembered seeing Alice Rice of all people. While he thought of her nonstop and the harm he had caused her, he never thought he would ever see her again. Moreover, he was certain that she would never be the only other person still alive in Smootville.
His vision was blurred as he looked for his glasses but realized very quickly that he wasn’t anywhere he had been before. His hands were restrained to a gurney with IV tubes going in and out of his arms. His feet were in leather restraints as well and he felt simply terrible. He was naked and wished to feel his body to see what state he was in. There was no sign of his glasses but he could still make out his newly discovered skinny body. His ribs protruded out of his chest and noticed that he was clean shaven.
At this point, Karl had enough—simply enough.
Instead of panicking, he just laid there and stared glassy eyed at his feet. What a Hell of day, he thought as he tried to move the blanket with his penis. Nothing. How can anything get worse? His parents abandoned him, his town died and the only girl he liked turned out to be some sort of mad scientist. Alone in what he assumed was a hospital room, he figured he might as well lay there and take whatever was coming to him. Being a bundle of nervous energy and emotional had clearly gotten him nowhere and he secretly hoped that he was abducted by aliens because there was no other explanation that would be remotely as satisfying to what was happening to him.
Karl would have liked to have his glasses to check out the room but was content to just lie there quietly. For his entire life he was rushing to and away from his life. Instead of following through on school or a job or a relationship, he decided that it was just easier to coast through his existence by numbing it with booze and drugs. He had pain but not enough to justify his behavior. Simply put, it took a dead town and missing parents for him to realize that he might have hit rock bottom.
But this didn’t change the fact that he’d like to know why he’d been asleep for five months.
Instead of being annoyed about being a human pincushion, it felt good having the fluids pumped into his body. Since waking up a couple of days ago, he was certain that he had a hangover but he was just going with what was normal. He hadn’t woken up not hurting from the night before since he was in junior high. Karl was so accustomed to meeting the day with a pounding headache that he actually convinced himself that he was hungover. As it turned out, he felt pretty good. He convinced himself that it had something to do with the IVs stuck in his arms or the fact that he was living the most absolutely batshit crazy couple of days in his life but he was finally content to be laying in bed and just taking in the scenery.
He would have liked his glasses and maybe a pair of pants but it was enough to be relatively safe in a hospital. He thought about going back to sleep but he didn’t sleep on his back. Always on his side, so it was tough to get comfortable. Being fat for the second half of his life caused him to want to sleep on his side with cradling a pillow to keep his lungs open—Karl suffered from sleep apnea and did whatever he could to keep himself from choking himself to death during the night. So, instead, he started humming game show theme songs. Working his way through the various shows that played during the midmorning when he called in sick to work and suffered away the day on the couch staring at the television, Karl moved to afternoon programming before hitting the evening shows. Every so often, he’d question his restraints by trying to break free but he quickly learned that he was securely attached to the bed.
“Nuts!” Karl muttered. “Oh well, beats being cold and miserable at home and waiting for the men with the butterfly nets to cart him off to the looney bin.”
That was the first time that Karl considered that he might have had a psychotic breakdown. He flirted with the idea of suicide after getting canned from Henderson Refinery and Die Cast but elected to find the help in the bottom of a bottle. He got further and further from his family and what friends he hadn’t pushed away with his behavior. Is it possible that he was suffering from a deranged hallucination and found himself inside of a padded cell?
Karl smiled thinking that he might be delusional and that after a couple of days drying out he’d be back into Smootville but there was something different about what was happening to him—he knew he wasn’t crazy. He was sick but not insane but he was living through madness. Yet, for the first time since waking up two days ago, Karl didn’t care. He just stayed there in bed, humming songs and waiting for somebody to tend to him. There was no way all of this effort would go into him if they weren’t going to at least give him a place to piss or shit. Alice Rice might be a mad scientist but she was still a scientist.
“You like monster movies, Karl?” the speaker said from the corner.
Stunned for a moment, Karl quit humming yet another game show theme song and tried to look to find the speaker. He figured he had been whittling away the day for a couple of hours and was starting to get hungry. Determined not to be surprised by anything anymore, he said who doesn’t.
“Would you like to see a real life monster story, Karl?” the women’s voice said again over the speaker.
“Not really. I kinda would like to get out of this bed for a bit. I think I’m getting sore,” he responded.
“Do you know why you’re here?”
“I have absolutely no God damn idea why I am strapped to a bed in a hospital or why I don’t know what’s happened over the last five months,” Karl said sing-songy. “Why don’t you come in here, cut me loose and let me know what the Hell is happening.”
And just like that, the door opened and in walked Alice Rice with two other people. Karl could make out that they were men in white jackets but that was about it—he was tired not having his glasses on. They took position at the foot of the bed and started going through charts.
“His vitals are stabilized and he seems to have fully regained consciousness,” one of the men said. “Besides the dramatic weight loss, he seems to be fine. How are you doing, Mr. Bingham?”
“Call me Karl.”
Alice walked around the bed and placed her hand on his shoulder and asked again how he was doing.
“You poisoned me, Alice. I know you’re probably still probably still pissed at me about your arm but I said I was sorry,” Karl started. “I tired of being confused. Tired of being scared and just flat out tired. If you’re asking me how I’m doing, I guess I’m okay but I’d like to go home or just get the Hell of this batshit crazy town.”
Alice nodded sympathetically and removed Karl’s glasses from her lab coat placing them on his head. The world snapped into focus very quickly. Karl could see the very sterile room with the two men still at the foot of the bed reviewing charts and quietly talking to themselves. There was a bank of medical machines in the corner and he saw the tubes in his arm. Looking up, Alice looked beautiful and kind and Karl was mad at himself for going soft the moment he saw her.
“I know this might be upsetting but give me just a little more time before I can explain everything to you. We’re going to unstrap you but you’re still going to have to stay in bed for a little while longer. Can you do that for me, Karl?” Alice asked with a smile.
“Yeah, I can be patient for a bit.”
The men removed the leather straps from Karl as he rubbed his ankles and wrists. He had put on a little weight but was still skinnier than he had ever been in his life. He thought he would have been more self-conscious being naked around Alice but she was more maternal than like a girlfriend. Besides, he didn’t think he was going to get lucky. Covering himself, he asked for some food and water and maybe a robe which Alice promised would be coming quickly. He tried to tuck himself back into the bed while negotiating with the IV tubes in his arm.
“Why’d you ask me if I like monster movies, Alice?” he said as they were leaving the room.
“Oh, I thought it might be easier to contextualize what’s happened to you if I compared it to a horror movie,” she said. “People relate to movies pretty well.”
Raising his eyebrows, Karl started getting that sinking feeling in his stomach again. He vowed that he wouldn’t act emotional anymore and try to be as calm and logical as possible but he started to feel the same nervousness he felt back at his cabin.
“Why did I sleep for five months, Alice?” he asked quietly as she was shutting the door.
Pausing, Alice swung open the door slowly and shook her head confused.
“It hasn’t been five months, Karl—it’s been five years.”
And with that, she shut the door as Karl fell even deeper into his pillow.
“Okay,” Karl thought. “So much for not being surprised—didn’t expect that.”
Of all the equipment found on the ISS Carson City that Stratton didn’t have but secretly wished he did was a gun. Firearms in space were more than illegal—they were suicidal. A stray bullet could puncture the hull of a ship causing catastrophic damage instantly but Stratton would have given his right arm for a pistol as he opened the airlock between the Carson City and Space Station Libra.
Stratton, Bill Wilson and Jon Rodriquez, all dressed in environmental suits and all a little nervous about what they were going to find inside the Libra, stepped foot into the darkened space station. First order of business what to determine if the fuel cells were still had energy to turn the Libra on. Scanning their flashlights through the black airlock, they slowly moved forward towards the command center.
In their boarding briefing, Stratton told them to be prepared for anything. Considering that the Libra was the best equipped station passed the Asteroid Belt, it was very likely that they would have had supplies to last upwards of two years before very, very difficult decisions would have to be made. The Coolidge Event blacked out all of Earth’s ability to communicate with any of the 17 outposts and the engineers working on Earth tried various means to spend messages or receive SOSs but there wasn’t any success. All 17 outposts went dark and Space Station Libra was as black as expected.
The station seemed in good shaped. Stratton’s monitors registered that the hull’s integrity was intact and that there was still oxygen in the air. Unfortunately, the air temperature was over negative 65 degrees making work outside of the environmental suits impossible. Gravitational controls were functioning at a very low level with the men able to bunny hop from each of the station’s compartments. All in all, the Libra looked good, Stratton though. It was just a derelict in space orbiting around Ganymede, Jupiter’s largest moon.
HiberLectures gave the men precise information about the Libra’s layout and they quickly made it to the command center. Rodriquez manually opened the door with the large wrench strapped to his work belt. Slowly twisting the large nut, the compression doors opened giving a blast of white air which froze to the men. Helping to push open the doors, Stratton and Wilson entered the control hub of the space station. The wall-to-wall windows made for an impressive sight. Stratton could see not just the Carson City but Jupiter and her light rings in the distant. Unlike the rest of the station, the command center was illuminated by Jupiter’s glow giving the space a warm yellow hue.
“Looks abandoned, Skip,” Rodriquez said. “I’m going to get on the mainframe and start running diagnostics.”
Stratton checked in with the Carson City to give their position and status. Wilson went to the engineering station and tried bringing the ship to life.
“Fuel cells at 43%, Skip,” Wilson reported. “Should we fire her up?”
Asking the Carson City to run a simulation, Stratton’s support crew, Chad Becker and Pete Owens, warned that a full power up might irreversibly damage the systems and suggested only a partial fire up focused on life support and gravitational. Stratton thought about it for a moment and ordered the partial fire up.
In an instant, the ship went from being a discarded dead carcass to a fully animated vessel. Computers came alive as the operating lights turned on throughout the entire space station. The exterior of the Libra glowed bright illuminating the Carson City and diminishing the terror the men felt by a factor of ten.
“We should have her warmed up in a little more than six hours, Skip,” Wilson said as he tinkered with the life support systems. “There aren’t any sensors operating in the cargo holds but we’ll probably have to manually turn those on.”
“I can have gravitation up and running at 100% in about the same amount of time,” Rodriquez added. “Also, Captain, I found the crew, they’re in Hibernation Bay 2—and I think there’s survivors.”
Stratton looked over Rodriquez shoulder and reviewed the hibernation record for the Libra. There should have been 37 souls aboard the space station and Rodriquez had found two. In the dead cold of space, Stratton was burning up looking at the vital readings of the two hibernation chambers. At first, he thought it might have been a mistake—the longest anyone had ever survived in hibernation was around five years and this was accomplished on Earth in a controlled environment with round the clock supervision. At best, these two were only in for six years making it seem very unlikely they could have survived.
“Good work, Jon. Bill, slowly bring the ship up and collect any information you can. Jon, you’re in charge of reestablishing communications with Earth,” Stratton ordered. “Carson City, send Pete and Jeff to the airlock in environmental suits. Contact me when they are ready to board the Libra.”
“Captain, what are you going to do?” Wilson asked.
“We came looking for survivors, Bill,” Stratton answered. “I’ll be in Hibernation Bay 2.”
Pete Owens and Jeff Pederson met Stratton at the airlock. Armed with nothing more than a flashlight and a lot of held breathes, they headed to Hibernation Bay 2. Wilson was able to get emergency lighting on throughout the space station but there were still ominous dark corners that nobody wanted to be surprised by.
It was two levels down to the hibernation bays and Stratton wanted to be methodical as they descended. Checking every living space and workroom for evidence of a struggle, all they discovered was a well-organized and structured vessel. Stratton even commented to himself that he wished most space stations were in the condition this abandoned derelict was in. There were no stray papers, clothing or personal articles throughout the station. It was sterile—eerily sterile. Most vessels were quickly personalized with the posters and writings of the occupants. They became dirty from use and reasonable neglect. The Libra was looked brand new even though it had been in service for almost 28-years. Even if it had gone dark for a decade, there should have been some evidence of being staffed. Lunar Base 3 was, for lack of a description, a bloodbath. The Libra looked like it was just put into service. This more than anything was making Stratton nervous.
“Check that console, Jeff,” Stratton ordered pointing to the cargo bay controls.
A Long gangway connected the living quarters of the station to the cargo station and Stratton wanted to see if there was any activity or damage to the holds. Pederson radioed Wilson who began initially power to the cargo controls. Stratton told him that they were proceeding to Hibernation Bay 2 and to keep in contact.
“Double check the Libra’s manifests against our records,” he added. “I want to make sure no other ships have been to the Libra since the Earth went black.”
Owens and Stratton dropped down the last set of ladders and were at the door of the Hibernation Bay 2. The sealed doors had power going to them as they looked at each other for a quick moment. Nodding, Stratton opened the door and they walked in. Stratton radioed Wilson to turn the lights from emergency to operational.
It was a large medical center with rows of hibernation chambers stacked throughout the room. There were a total of 40 chambers. They resembled coffins with glass tops and control panels attached to the base of the chamber. While Stratton and his crew explored the Libra, they brought in new and fresh air into the space station. This humidity caused the air inside the hibernation bay to freeze on the glass windows of the chambers. Prior to docking with the Carson City, the Libra had no humidity but now the air was freezing with crystals. The Libra was starting to freeze over like an ice storm.
Stratton moved towards the first chamber and rubbed the icy sheet off of the window. Shining his flashlight in, he discovered it was empty. Owens started on the other side of the room, wiping away the frost and reported it was empty. Chamber after chamber were vacant until they got to the last three units in the room.
Inside the 38th chamber, Stratton gasped as he wiped the ice away with his glove. Inside was a naked skeleton of a person. He couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman but the life readings on the console told him it was dead. Blood had stained the bedding of the chamber as it looked like the corpse’s throat had been cut. Owens’ body language mimicked his captain when he peered inside chamber 39. Inside was an equally emaciated shriveled body contorted in pain but registering positive life readings.
“It’s alive, Skip,” Owens gasped. “I don’t know how but this son of a bitch is alive.”
Moving to chamber 40, Stratton braced himself to find another decimated survivor but was doubly horrified when he saw the insides—a smiling face on a healthy looking man.
“Pederson! Get down here now!” Stratton radioed. “We got survivors and a metric ton of questions that need answering.”
They worked through the night burying the bodies.
Woodruff lost three men in the attack but under Henderson’s knife, ten of the assailants were killed. While Woodruff labored side-by-side with the others digging the three graves for their fallen comrades and one mass grave for those that had attacked them, Henderson walked the new cemetery puffing on his pipe. He had yet to clean the blood off of his half-naked body. He just watched and smoked and occasionally spit into the hole that would be the assailant’s resting place.
By noon, the bodies were buried and Woodruff said a few words before they saddled up and continued heading east. He rode just behind Henderson and Raccoon Bill silently. His body was ravaged with pain having never been shot before and his back was sore from digging but mostly his mind was racing. Why would Brigham Young send assassins to kill Leo Smoot? Smoot was nothing more than a stone cutter’s apprentice. He was no threat to anyone and was a member in good faith of the Mormon Church. Unless it was retaliation for Young’s perception that Woodruff was responsible for Jedidiah’s death but that seemed very unlikely.
He wanted to talk with Henderson but his friend was not in the right mind set. He barely could convince Henderson to bath in the Provo River before they restarted their journey. Most of the blood was taken off his face and body but there remained evidence of Brother Thomas’s vengeance on him—probably never could be able to wash it off.
Raccoon Bill did his best to get as much distance between the site of the massacre and their camp site for that night. They had ridden into the late strands of twilight before settling again by the river but this time with the fortification of the lodgepole pines behind them. No fires were lit as men were assigned watch duties. Woodruff did his best to maintain command but the events caused him to fall off his horse and into sleep under the brush. Smoot did his best to tend to him before eventually falling asleep by his side.
Waking the next morning, Woodruff’s body was riddled with fever. He was loaded into one of the wagons while his horse, Copenhagen, rode alongside Smoot. The path went from wilderness to outstandingly rugged. They moved at a snail’s pace with men downing trees trying to move the caravan along. While Raccoon Bill and Henderson rode off looking for the best routes, it was quickly determined that riding along the Prove River was their best option. While Raccoon Bill still insisted it was three days away, they had been on the trail for over a week.
Woodruff’s fever refused to break the next day. While Smoot tended to him during breaks as his men chopped down trees, Woodruff barely drank and started hallucinating in the back of the wagon. While the men labored trying to move forward, there was still a constant eye glancing behind them. The attackers from Salt Lake raised the alarm that there was no one they could trust and were not just watching but waiting for the next attack. It was asked why they would set up a forward position for the Mormon if the church president would try to kill an innocent member. Questions like this slowed the work down and made every moment exposed in the open feel like an eternity.
Encamped along the river, Raccoon Bill had come back from a scouting party and rediscovered the location that Brigham Young had commanded to be the furthest eastern outpost of his Mormon Empire. Through a slot canyon, it opened up into a mountain vista with positions looking to the east and south. The Uinta Mountains blockaded the site from the north with only a slender trail allowing passage from the west. Telling everybody that he did it, Raccoon Bill clicked his heels and broke into song when he returned. No one else joined in his celebration.
On this seventeenth day, Woodruff asked for Henderson.
They had not spoken since the attack. Since Woodruff had taken ill, Henderson had assumed command and pushed the men hard. He dictated orders in the morning and pushed the exploratory party further than they thought they could move. With the news that they were a little more than a day away from the site, Woodruff needed to speak with his old friend.
Joining him in his tent with Smoot, Woodruff looked up from his makeshift bed and reached out to Henderson.
“Brother Thomas, I hear that we are close to our destination. How are the men?” Woodruff asked.
“They’re of good spirit, Brother Tiberius. Tired but resilient. You look like the fever has left you. On the mend?”
“Yes but my shoulder has been damaged. I fear I might not be able to use my left arm.”
“You’ll mend. You’ll have to. There is much work to do,” Henderson said. “Shall I break camp at dawn for our last day of travel?”
“Please, Brother Thomas,” Woodruff said.
They stared at each other for a moment when Woodruff asked how Henderson about his heroics during the assault. Crediting him for having the courage to do what was more than necessary, Woodruff wanted to know of Henderson’s exploits and what had transpired. More than anything, he wanted to know if Smoot was safe and that Henderson would continue his watchful eye over the boy.
Withdrawing his pipe, Henderson recanted his actions. Lacking bravado or humility, he explained methodically what he did in dispensing the attackers. He knew that it was not an Indian attack even though the men had been dressed to confuse the expedition. He had known for some time that Mormons would use these tactics of dressing like natives and attack white parties who threatened the church. Because of this, Henderson said that he took extra care to quickly dispatch any man that was not a part of their group and when time permitted, acted cruelly. There was no emotion out of Henderson except that a task needed to be accomplished and he relished inflicting the punishment that God demanded upon the assailants.
“I apologize for nothing. God’s righteous hand commanded that these men be destroyed,” Henderson finished. “I be immune to their bullets and blades for I act as the instrument for the Lord.”
Woodruff nodded and asked if he thought that they would send another party to attack their group. Henderson shook his head and said that Brigham Young never makes the same mistake twice and that under his watchful eye, no man would lay harm to their group unless he chose to inflect that pain. And with that, Henderson left the tent and commanded that the men leave at first light to the site that Raccoon Bill had discovered.
It was August 24, 1860. Woodruff had been under the influence of the Mormon Church for three years and served as their quarry master during this entire time. With his fever gone and nothing but the lingering pains of the attack riddling his body, he knew that the task ahead of him would challenge him more than any stone cutting or building construction he had faced in the past. He was anxious to reassume active command of the party but knew that he was a damaged leader lacking the authority that Henderson easily executed.
It would not be until they reached the future outpost would Woodruff understand the true power of Henderson’s authority and conviction.
The morning light bounced off of the Provo River as Woodruff exited his tent feeling closer to himself than since being shot. His left arm was painful but his head felt clear and he was ready to mount Copenhagen and join the team leading the final push to the site. Smoot had already risen and brewed coffee for them. Even with a bullet in his leg, Leo Smoot was born to survive in the wilderness.
The entire trip had been difficult since leaving Salt Lake City. Woodruff could piece together moments in the back of the wagon, fighting the pain and willing himself to good health but for the most part, he was oblivious in how he awoken so far from his adopted home. He vowed that if given a chance, he would kill Brigham Young for what he had done to both him and his men. Regrettably, Woodruff knew that he was still under constant threat of attack from both outside parties and would table his revenge until the outpost was built.
He was a builder not a murderer. But he held vengeance in his heart and doubt it could ever be eliminated.
Copenhagen was pleased to have Woodruff back on him and trotted ahead of Raccoon Bill and Henderson as they left camp. Raccoon Bill laughed nonstop saying that it was just around the bend even though they were forced to transverse ever increasing hazardous terrain. The path ran along a deep ravine with steep drop-offs and even the courageous Copenhagen paused for moments along the trail. It wasn’t until the sun was threatening to set in the west when they saw the clearing. Out in the distant, there was a multiple acres where the trees failed to grow and offered a wide perspective of the entire valley. Woodruff smiled when he saw his new project and looked forward to arriving at the location.
“We shall name it Fort Brisco, after Zachary Brisco,” Woodruff said. Zachary Brisco was a stone cutter from Little Cottonwood Canyon who was slain during the attack.
“Be fitting for he was a good man, God willing,” Henderson agreed as they marched towards the clearing.
The sun had set by the time they reached the clearing. Under the cover of darkness, Woodruff ordered the men to dismount and start setting tents. The men were exhausted and Woodruff fought through the pain in an attempt to not show any weakness. He was embarrassed that he was carted along for the majority of the journey in the back of a wagon while the men did the hard work necessary to clear a trail. He promised that nothing would put him in such a light for those that he commanded to question him. Much like at the quarry, he participated in the grunt work necessary to build the fires and even helped prepare the meal that first night.
Taking in the stars that exploded in the sky, the men sat around a communal fire and ate their dinner. The weather was giving its first tastes of autumn and all knew that there was much work needing to be done before they were able to huddle in and survive that first winter. Men wrote letters home with hope that couriers would be by to take them to love ones and sermons were shared. Woodruff told the men that he would guarantee that a mighty post office would be constructed so that no other men would experience the pain of not being able to contact friends and family.
There wasn’t much that Woodruff could vouch for with the exception of his ability to build grand post offices.
Over the course of the next two months, they downed trees and started building cabins and the all-important citadel that Brigham Young had commanded. There were the occasional encounter with the Indians that lived in the area but both groups elected to keep their distance during this period of time. With winter quickly approaching, there was no need for conflict and Woodruff was grateful that there were no problems. Fort Brisco arose quickly as Woodruff laid out the outpost and scouted the surrounding area for possible quarry sites.
It wasn’t until work had been completed on the final cabin and the men had begun batting down the hatches for the brutal winter that Woodruff took his eyes towards the rocky bluff. Compacted with rich granite that shimmered in green and pink, Woodruff realize how much he missed working in the quarries. Having not struck into rock with sledgehammers and cutters since Jedidiah Young’s death, Woodruff romanticized about the potential of the stone he could cut. It wouldn’t be until spring that he could begin work but a spark of fire built inside his gut warming him to upcoming work that he knew he could master.
Through all of his adventures, Woodruff considered himself a stone cutter. He was a man who was able to look at a jagged rock wall lacking order and able to impose his will upon the stone. It was his ability to impose his will upon stone and rock that gave him definition. It was a skill set that wasn’t generally praised but was definitely required in the West. Not just Brigham Young but all of the settlers in the Utah Territory were trying to conquer a violent and chaotic environment and granite gave that foundation. It wasn’t that carving into the side of a mountain gave Woodruff satisfaction but rather, it was something that he needed to do—he was compelled to provide order and definition to that which lacked it.
Determining order was essential in the wilderness. In a very binary sense, everything was broken down to whether or not it was good or bad, helpful or harmful, beneficial or detrimental. With Fort Brisco built and the men’s needs accounted for, Woodruff was certain that they would be able to manage the brutal winter that was threatening them without incident.
That was until Henderson came into Woodruff’s cabin and demanded an audience.
Woodruff and Smoot continued to cohabitate throughout the adventure. Smoot was more than Woodruff’s apprentice—he had morphed into a surrogate son. Smoot tended to the fire when Henderson entered their cabin. Beating the snow off of his boots, Henderson removed his pipe and took position around the stone hearth that the two had built out of the newly discovered granite. Offered a drink of whiskey, Henderson uncharacteristically declined the drink and looked deep into both Woodruff and Smoot.
“The child has to leave. Leo must leave tonight,” Henderson warned taking deep puffs off his scorched pipe.
“Why, Brother Thomas? Is there a report of further attackers entering the camp?” Woodruff asked concerned about his young protégé.
“No, he be safe from those from outside Fort Brisco,” Henderson said. “He is under threat from a member in our camp.”
“Who?” Woodruff begged him.
The mood in the room went from odd to terrifying. Instantaneously, Woodruff was brought back into Brigham Young’s office in the Beehive House when he was commanded their after Jedidiah’s death. Henderson didn’t act threateningly but his tone and voice extended a deadly serious note that both Woodruff and Smoot understood immediately.
“What have I done, Brother Thomas?” Smoot asked.
Taking a deep pull from his pipe, Henderson’s blacken eyes looked at the boy and shook his head.
“You’ve been given the sign of Cain, Brother Leo,” Henderson said. “You are to die under my blade for Jedidiah Young for I am acting on orders from President Young.”
“How can this be, Thomas? Why have you spared this boy until this point?” Woodruff yelled. “Why wouldn’t you dispatch him at the first chance? And why would you warm us of your treachery?”
Removing his buck knife, Henderson drove the foot long blade into the wooden floor and took another puff from his pipe. No man moved. Henderson had become the angel of destruction for the church and no man questioned his motives. The knife shined in the light from the fire throughout the room. Woodruff and Smoot stood motionless in the room and waited for Henderson’s next move.
“I’ve been given the task of avenging the death of Jedidiah. I’d be failing our master by not destroying the youth but me feel that there might be leniency in my punishment,” Henderson said. “I care for the boy like you, Brother Tiberius, and wish no harm on the lad but a command still be a command.”
“There is no righteousness in assassinating this boy, Thomas,” Woodruff explained. “Why would you wait to this moment to kill him?”
“For I am to return before year’s end to Salt Lake City and winter with the prophet. I’ve been instructed to be the avenging angel to our savior and leader and I’d be a fool not to honor my code,” Henderson said. “Young Leo has been given additional life for we needed his labor to build this great outpost and protect the Land of Deseret.”
The fire crackled along as Henderson smoked and the other stared vacantly at the killer of men.
“Why has he been given a chance to leave tonight?” Woodruff asked.
“Because I plan on my return tomorrow. I’ve designed to wait to the last moment to execute my vengeance,” he said. “If Brother Leo not be in Fort Brisco tomorrow, I could return clear-hearted in knowing that the boy could not be destroyed. Help clear my conscious and command your boy to depart immediately.”
“Or what?” Woodruff challenged.
“He dies at dawn.”
Smoot bolted up and started to pack any possession he could find. He gathered his saddle bag under his bed and started putting clothes inside of it. Woodruff pleaded to spare the boy but Henderson said his mercy at this point was in warning him the night before he departed. Trying to place enough food into the bag, Smoot discovered his pistol and drew up on Henderson. Firing once with his eyes closed, he missed Henderson who calmly withdrew the knife from the floor and covered the distance between them in a step. Driving the knife deep into Leo Smoot’s chest, he carved upwards until finding and slicing his heart in half.
Leo Smoot, age 17, fell to the floor dead. He was fixed to marry a girl from Salt Lake that spring.
“No!!!” Woodruff yelled as he ran to Smoot’s side. “You bastard! How could you?”
He held Smoot as the life dropped from his eyes. Blood pooled on the newly milled pine floors, staining them deep crimson as Henderson stood up.
“I be taking my leave tomorrow,” he said. “Consider the debt paid in full, Tiberius. You have my deepest condolences but the boy was to die one way or another.”
Woodruff sobbed as he held Smoot. Screaming, he nearly lost consciousness yelling for help. Men from the camp flooded into the cabin but gave Henderson a wide berth. They knew instantly how the Smoot boy had died and collectively decided that none of them wanted the fight against the avenging arm of Brigham Young.
Electing to leave immediately, Henderson saddled Thunderhead and began the long journey back to Salt Lake. Even when he reached the narrow slot canyon that kept Fort Brisco out of reach from the rest of the world, he could still hear Woodruff sob for his murdered son.
For a guy who enjoyed getting stoned and staring off into space while lying on his couch, relaxing on the bed staring at the walls wasn’t too hard of a transition for Karl Bingham. He literally twirled his thumbs while continuing to hum. It was too tricky trying to get out of bed with the various IV lines attached to his arms and legs, so he elected to just stay put. Besides, he was pretty certain they were feeding him a low dosage of some sort of opiate.
Karl liked opiates.
Growing up in a town that was focused on time from the post office to the steam whistles on top of the towers at Henderson Refinery and Die Cast, it was weird for Karl to have no sense of time for the last couple of days. He was stunned when Alice told him that he hadn’t been asleep for five months, which in and of itself was mind-blowing absurd, but actually five years. But what was he going to do? Build a time machine and go back and stop whoever did whatever to him? Probably not. But he’d like to know exactly where and when he was.
A lot must have happened in the five years he was sleeping. That was five years of missing football games and keggers and taking his annual trip into Salt Lake City to watch the Utah Jazz play. There were elk and deer hunts he missed and he thought of all of those cutthroat and rainbow trout that escaped him in the Provo River with his fly rod safely tucked away in his closet. Also, he would have liked to have celebrated his 30th birthday at the Fort Brisco Pub on the patio—nary a better place to throw a drunk on than on that porch.
Instead, there he laid, naked as a jaybird, twiddling his thumbs, humming the final Jeopardy theme song and waiting for something to happen.
Just as he started to get drowsy and slip off to sleep, the door opened and the two men that were with Alice came in. Pushing in a cart, they asked him how he was doing as they began detaching the IVs on his arm. A stethoscope was placed on his chest as they listened to his heart and lungs and they retook his temperature, writing down their findings on a thick file. Karl let them poke and probe him patiently. After checking his skin from foot to head, they asked him if he would like to stretch his legs and go get something to eat. Karl said yeah but he’d like to get some clothes on first. Laughing, they handed over a plastic wrapped bag filled with a t-shirt, overalls, new underwear, socks and a pair of slippers. Karl asked for a hat because his head was cold and they said they would look into it.
It was tough getting out of bed and his legs felt like balled knots of straw but it felt good to move around the room as he dressed. The men stayed off in the corner as he got the clothes out of the package and put the shirt and boxer shorts over his emaciated body. He always thought he’d like to be skinny but this was way too much. Having a bunch of meat on his bones made him feel tougher than he probably was and besides, being big was part of his personality. He liked being to manhandle things and people and didn’t mind having a beer gut—proof that he could out drink anybody in Smootville.
“All right, Karl,” one of the men said. “If you’d follow me, we’ll meet up with Nurse Rice and have a nice lunch.”
His heart fluttered for a second when he heard her name but that was fine. It felt very nice to have a little passion hit him after everything that he’d endured and discovered over the last couple of days. They exited the sterile room and started walking down a long hallway with mirrored examination rooms on both sides, just like the one he had been recuperating in.
“Say, fellas, where are we? We still in Smootville?” Karl asked.
“Oh yeah, we’re in Smootville. Thought you knew that.”
“You’d be surprised what I didn’t know,” Karl said trying to look through the windows.
They headed to the end of the hallway slowly and turned right before entering in front of a large wooded door. It was intricately designed with black ironworks and huge hinges. That is when Karl realized where they were—this is the executive offices of Henderson Refinery and Die Cast. Entering the room, there was a reception area ornately decorated and a pretty secretary working behind a large desk. Seeing Karl and company, she told them that Nurse Rice was waiting for them in the conference room.
Karl had been in this room only once before. When his father was promoted to chief of transportation for the factory, his entire family came to the office for George Bingham to receive a plaque and check from Horace Henderson.
The centerpiece of the conference room was a large table that sat 20 with each leather chair having its own green bankers light and desk pad. Antiquated fountain pens poised ready for work and the walls were lined with large murals of the previous CEOs of Henderson Refinery and Die Cast. Resting prominently over the head of the table was a large oil portrait of Thomas Henderson. He was painted while relaxing in an oversized chair with his legs crossed staring into the future. His hands held a frontier styled wide brimmed hat and there were stuffed pheasants on a shelf behind him with a rifle resting in the corner. Karl has seen this portrait a million times because there was a copy in almost every building and classroom he has ever stepped foot into but this was the first time he has ever seen the original.
Alice sat at the head of the table reviewing paperwork when Karl entered. Standing up, she walked over to greet Karl and asked how he was feeling. Karl said he was bored and pretty confused but he felt a lot healthier after the unexpected weight loss.
“I kinda grew into being a fat guy, Alice. It’s weird having more than a waist line,” Karl said. “I miss being strong.”
“You’ll get strong again, Karl. I assure you. Besides, we’re going to need you to get as strong as you can,” Alice said. “We have big plans for you.”
Sitting down, Alice picked up the phone and told the person on the other end that they were ready for lunch. Taking in the massive room, Alice made small talk saying that her new position was more paperwork intense than she would have liked. While Alice initialed a series of pages, Karl stared at the five portraits on the wall and placed names to faces: Thomas Henderson, Thomas Henderson Jr., Francis Henderson, Horace Henderson and Kyle Henderson. Karl knew Kyle. He was a spud of a kid that was a couple of years older than him. He always thought of him as being some rich punk that hid behind his rich parents and was such a goodie-goodie, a Molly Mormon. He went on his LDS mission to Ireland and came back more Irish than the Irish. Hiberniores Hibernis ipsis, his dad would say about Kyle. Both of the Bingham men resented the young CEO of the factory. George Bingham often said a business degree from BYU didn’t make a leader and Karl readily agreed with his father. George always said there was never any dirt under the CEO’s fingers and that made for a bad leader.
The doors opened and a cart was pushed in with covered plates. There was a single plate for Alice which when opened was a Caesar salad with chicken. Karl, on the other hand, was given three platters that looked as good as they smelt. The first was a seafood bisque with hunks of crab meat in the middle, the second was a plate of steamed asparagus covered in hollandaise sauce and au gratin potatoes and the third a perfectly cooked ribeye steak.
“I guess I could have a cheat day,” Karl said smiling taking a fork and knife into the steak. “You didn’t put a roofie in his chow, did you Alice?”
She smiled and shook her head. She apologized for drugging him at her parent’s house and said that it was safe to eat.
As he got to work inhaling the food, a couple of bottles of imported beer were dropped off and for the first time in a very, very long time, Karl started to feel more and more like himself. Hunkering down over the food, he made quick work of the soup and finished off the potatoes. He dragged cut pieces of the juicy steak through the hollandaise and washed it down with big swigs of the beer.
Pushing away the plates, Karl asked if Alice had a cigarette. She said that he wasn’t allowed to smoke anymore. Probably for the best as Karl drank another beer before settling deep into the high backed leather chair.
“You know that I worked her for almost nine years before getting shit-canned? Nine years. And while I worked in tools and the loading docks, I don’t recognize any of this because I was never welcomed up here,” Karl said. “We’re in the Henderson Factory, right?”
“So, where are the workers? It looks more like a laboratory than a refinery,” Karl said. “I bet we don’t smelt anymore here, do we Alice? I bet we’re doing some mad scientist type stuff and you’re in charge of it.”
“Oh no, I’m not in charge. I was just brought in to be your case manager,” Alice said. “And you are a very special case, Karl.”
“Because I am responsible for having your arm cut off?”
Looking at her stump at the end of her right arm, Alice shook her head. She massaged it for just a moment and then looked directly at Karl lacking any emotion.
“No, Karl. You’re special because you are the most successful patient we’ve ever had.”
“I never asked to be a patient, Alice,” Karl said exasperated. “I’m tired of being asleep and I’m tired that you holding all of the cards. I’m scared and pissed and I want answers. Where are my parents? And what gives you the God damn right to do this to me against my will?”
“You’re parents are the ones that asked me to put you to sleep,” Alice said calmly. “You became our best test subject because your father handed you over to us.”
As the plates were being removed from the table, Alice stood up and started walking around the large conference table motioning towards the large portraits. Karl sat mortified in his chair trying to process what Alice had just said to him. Why would his parent’s sacrifice him and let him drift to sleep for years?
“Do you know what Francis Henderson’s legacy is, Karl? He wasn’t just Thomas Henderson’s oldest grandson nor was he the first of their family to go to school. He was a chemical engineer. He believed in modernization. Innovation was his motto and it was his life blood and it is what made this small factory into a force for the country and the world. He revolutionized how we built tools and how we used those tools. More than that, he believed in diversification. He saw Henderson Refinery and Die Cast as more than just a tool shop, refinery or quarry mill but a model for efficiency and able to meet future challenges.
“Francis Henderson obtained all of the precision tool contracts for the construction of the A-bomb in World War II and he did it cheaper, faster and better than anyone could have expected. Precision tools to be used by skilled scientist to reshape how we look at the world. Rock would still be carved out of the side of mountains, Karl, and iron ore would still be refined into beams to build skyscrapers but the future was in constructing the tools to meet the needs of new technologies. It’s all about having the right tools to do the best work.
“When the natural gas and oil was discovered, he retrofitted the factory to meet those needs. This building became a living organism with the genetic mandate to change only be stronger and more efficient and Francis Henderson understood that better than his father or grandfather could ever imagine. That’s why when Hibernetix was developed, he wanted to be at the forefront. Hibernetix is why I was brought back, Karl, and you’ve been our most impressive test subject.”
Karl shifted in his chair and asked again why his parents wanted him asleep.
“Why were you put to sleep? You should be asking why did you get ‘shit-canned?’ Because of missing shifts or poor work? Or was it the fist fight in the commissary or the time you stole a company vehicle to drive to Salt Lake? Karl you were fired because you were incompetent and unable to do the bare-minimal to keep your job. Your father intervened on your behalf a dozen times before you were let go. The only hope most of us had was for you to leave Smootville and become some other town’s problem. But you didn’t. You stayed and continued being a substandard citizen in Smootville. You’ve been a failure in everything you’ve ever done. However, it’s amazing for someone who lacks any sense of follow through, you’d fit our needs in one very specific area—you’ve been an exceptional sleeper.”
Retaking her seat next to Karl, he squirmed even tighter into his chair. Picking up the phone, she told them that she was ready for them.
“Because of the work you’ve done for us, we’ve been able to expand our knowledge of deep hibernation and utilized it from everything from treating illness to potential deep space flights. You are exceptionally well suited for deep hibernation and I was brought in to monitor your progress while you are under hibernation. Thanks to you, Henderson Refinery and Die Cast isn’t just a stone and tool company anymore, Karl. We are at the forefront of scientific breakthroughs and we have you to thank for that.”
“I never agreed to this, Alice,” Karl said sheepishly.
“No, you didn’t but your father offered your services to us,” Alice replied. “He was ashamed of what had become of you. You were an embarrassment to him and he wanted you out of his life but didn’t know how. After your termination, management reached out to him. He might have just been a shipping captain but George Bingham was a prized employee.”
“Your parents are dead, Karl. Killed by a truck driver. Two years ago during a blizzard, your father tried to help an overturned car along Highway 401 when a semi collided against your father’s truck, killing your mother and crushing your father,” Alice said sympathetically for the first time. “He risked his life to save the occupants of the car before he and your mother were killed. He was a hero and now you have a chance to be a hero to science and Henderson Refinery and Die Cast.”
Tears welled in Karl’s eyes and slowly streamed down his face. His fist balled in anger and he stood up.
“God damn you! I’m leaving now!”
And with that, orderlies came through the door and seized Karl. His hands were lashed behind his back and Karl was dragged out of the room screaming with Alice following him.
“This is for the best, Karl. You never wanted anything with your life—you told me that much on those bleachers at that dance so many years ago. You’ve done nothing but squandered talent and ambition. Think of what you are adding to the human experience by doing what you were meant to do,” Alice lectured. “Why start fighting now for a life? What’s out in that world you want now?”
“It wasn’t my choice, God damn it,” he yelled through the hallway as he was dragged back to his room. “It wasn’t my choice!”
The decision from Mission Control on Earth took 71-minutes.
That was the time it took for the radio array to synch with the ISS Carson City’s satellite feed and receive the order to take the two survivors out of hibernation. Stratton and crew had retaken the Libra, able to restart all of the operating controls and begin the slow process of beginning their investigation to what had happened following the Coolidge Event. Considering the level of stress the crew was under, Stratton wanted to be methodical and precise in every step of reanimating the Libra and insisted that everything was documented and transmitted back to Earth.
With the exception of the three people in Hibernation Bay 2, the Libra had no traces of the 34 other crew members on the space station. There wasn’t any evidence that the Libra was a bustling station that was in operation for almost a decade before being cut off from Earth. No personal effects, pictures or evidence of struggles. The Libra looked to be in pristine condition and that is what concerned Stratton more than anything.
Checking in on his first and second shift crew to make sure they were in stable condition, Pederson joined Stratton aboard the Carson City and expressed his concern about taking the discovered survivors out of hibernation.
“Captain, for starters, we have no idea if the skeleton would even survive being taken out of hibernation and I simply don’t trust that smiling son of a bitch,” Pederson said. “There is no record of HiberLectures and to the best of my knowledge, they have been under for almost three years. I’m not even sure of that. I’m not surprised that Skeletor is in the condition she is in but the fact that Smiles is almost chubby and looks happy is disturbing.”
“What do you suggest, Jeff? How are we supposed to continue our investigation if the one person we’ve found that could help us remains in deep sleep,” Stratton asked. “I don’t like it one God damn bit but we got a job to do, son.”
“I think we should keep Skeletor down and bring Smiles out. I’m afraid the shock could be too much considering the damage done to her body. I’ve started an antibiotic program and nutrition regime to strengthen her body. But frankly, Skip, without a HiberLecture, there’s a decent chance her brain is mush.”
Stratton considered what Pederson said. He was the chief medical officer on the Carson City and Stratton took his advice seriously. Thinking for a moment, he asked if Smiles could be removed without much difficulty. Pederson said that he could begin waking him up and have him conscious in an hour. Stratton told him to make it so and instructed Wilson and Owens to join him. He didn’t want any surprises and valued strength in numbers.
Entering the command center of the Libra, Stratton got to the task of reviewing shipping manifests and crew details. Probes were launched to investigate the various levels of orbits surrounding Ganymede, looking for human effects or evidence of discarded bodies but nothing was coming up. The lack of information drove Stratton to look deeper and only enhanced his disappointment when nothing came up. The station was a derelict, floating above the moon with nothing but questions and a cargo hold filled to the brim with harvested nitrogen gas and frozen lunar water.
Personal records were present but not the bodies to go with them. Hopefully, Smiley would be able to fill in the blanks.
The first step in their investigation started with the dead survivor in hibernation chamber 38. Pederson initiated the wake up procedure and let the chamber take the oxygen and nitrogen levels to normal levels. Since there was no reason to continue the IV providing nutrients, Pederson cut the drip tube and opened the chamber.
The smell floored the men. Gasping for breath, there was some dry heaving and even Pederson wasn’t immune. Regaining their composure, they removed the body and placed it on a gurney to take her to medical for an autopsy. Skeletor and Smiley remained in deep sleep. Pederson was horrified to look at the near-mummification of Skeletor not because he was a medical officer but because he knew of the dangers and difficulties of long term sleep damage. He wanted to awake Skeletor and heal the damaged woman but he was quickly coming to terms with the thought that this person was unlikely to speak or think ever again.
The autopsy was systematic and clinical. DNA tests confirmed it was Amanda Jenkins, a communications officer for the Libra—the only positive ID made since the Carson City had docked with the space station. Pederson’s report indicated that he believed her death was the result of blunt trauma to her skull and her throat being slashed, a homicide. Murder was not unheard of in space and considering the effects of isolation following the Coolidge Event, the crew anticipated instances of attacks but there has never been a victim stashed inside of a hibernation chamber. It was as if she was momentarily awakened, struck in the head and then had a blade sever her throat.
Pederson reported his findings to Stratton and he asked if he thought awakening Smiley was still a good idea.
“Honestly, Skip, I don’t know. What is this guy going to tell us? Part of me wants to throw his chamber in the Carson’s hibernation hold to get him back to Earth,” Pederson said scratching his head. “The other part of me thinks this guy did it because there isn’t anybody else on the station. And then there is the final part of me that wants to wake him up to find out why he did it.”
“You think he did it?”
“When you take away every other scenario, you have to go with the most obvious explanation. Besides, Smiley looks healthier than any of us. Let’s be honest, Skip, he’s almost damn near fat. Have you ever heard of anyone putting on weight during hibernation? I haven’t. Part of the routine before going under is eating and drinking as if the world is going to end and Smiley has the build of a guy who ate better than we did before we left the Moon.”
Stratton thought about what Pederson had said. He trusted Jeff’s judgment and knew that he had probably thought of five scenarios that Stratton hadn’t even considered. Jeff was smart and cautious but Stratton needed answers and interrogating Smiley was clearly the best means to get to the bottom of what had happened at the Libra.
“You think that awakening Skeletor is a bad idea?”
“You think that Smiley can be awakened?”
“I do but I don’t like that idea one God damn bit. If it was me, I’d launch him into Ganymede and continue moving on and chalk up the Libra as a horrible tragedy. But I figure you don’t share my sentiment, Skip.”
“I wish I did, Jeff. I really wish I knew of another way but I am going to want you to start taking Mr. Smiley out of sleep at 800 hours. I am going to want an all hands on deck approach. No mistakes. Let’s make sure we do this right,” Stratton said. “You’re right. I wish we could get the Hell out of here but we got a job to do and sometimes that’s work none of us want to do. Besides, I’m bitten with curiosity—there’s no way Mr. Smiley doesn’t know what the Hell happened.”
Stratton looked up Amanda Jenkins’s service record as Pederson went to start taking Smiley out of hibernation. He almost spit out his gum when he saw that she was born in Nevada’s state capital. What are the odds, he thought to himself that Jenkins was from Carson City. Too many spine chills in this space station, Stratton muttered to himself as he continued reviewing her file. She graduated from college the University of Nevada and enlisted in the Academy shortly after that. With a dozen tours as a communication officer, she was proficient at her duties and a sought after for the communication director for the Libra. Taking the job, she was probably the last to communicate with Earth before the blackout.
Probably a pretty sad place to be, Stratton thought as he closed the file and returned to his bed in the Carson City. She was probably a healthy and ambitious officer trying to do the best she could at the Libra. The second furthest outpost in the Solar System, being communications officer made her third in command and Jenkins probably had to work hard to impress upon the crew both her authority and ability to do her duties. Not an easy place to be, Stratton thought.
Smiley was a threat and Stratton wished he didn’t have to deal with this menacing individual. Given his druthers, he’d like to take Pederson’s suggestion and continue to the Acheron Space Station orbiting Pluto and start the long haul back to Earth but he knew that the only way they could leave the Libra was to awake that creepy, sleeping man and get to the bottom of whatever mystery happened. Heavy is the head, he thought, smiling at himself for being momentarily an egomaniac.
Hell, what can an individual who has been under years of hibernation do to them?
Woodruff was inconsolable.
He held Smoot through the night and had to have his body physically removed from his grasp by the other men. Raccoon Bill pried Leo from his hands as Woodruff howled in grief. He couldn’t imagine Smoot out of his life and under no circumstance could he imagine Henderson, Brother Thomas, Tom killing Leo. The pain ripped through his heart and he cried until his body gave out. Dragged to his bed, Woodruff collapse and fell into a fitful sleep filled with the nightmarish dreams of watching Smoot killed over and over again with Henderson’s knife plunging into Leo’s heart.
Waking in the morning, the pain was unimaginable. He tried to direct the men to their tasks but he was unable to issue even the simplest command without breaking into tears. Raccoon Bill put Woodruff back into his tent and said that he would be handling the men for the next couple of days. Woodruff agreed and asked about funeral arrangements. Raccoon Bill said that a grave was already being dug and they were waiting for Woodruff to fortify himself before they held the burial.
“You got to take control of yourself, Brother Tiberius,” Raccoon Bill said. “These men look to you as the leader and demand control, strength. You’re afforded grief but not weakness.”
Nodding, Woodruff took refuge in his cabin until morning when he lead the prayer over Leo Smoot’s body at the hole dug in the ground outside of the citadel.
“Leo came to me a boy and died a man,” Woodruff began as he fought back tears. “He was tested often and answered each challenge with fortitude and resolve. Life here in the Land of Deseret is brutal and often quick and painful. Men threated us at every end and we are charged with building a fortress and community to beat back those aggressors. Leo never wavered and never delayed in assisting his fellow man. He was a talented stone cutter but an even better friend. I treated him like he was my own, my son, my child and he never disappointed me in his labors or efforts. With that, we dedicate his body to the ground for his spirit has already joined God in Heaven.”
Looking at his beloved son wrapped in linen, Woodruff preyed quietly to himself for a moment before motioning to the men to lower Smoot’s body into the ground. Using ropes, Leo Smoot, age 17, from Germany and orphaned in America, was placed into the ground and covered with dirt. All of the men’s eyes were misty while thinking of the sweet boy taken by Henderson’s murderous knife as they left the first grave dug at the new encampment.
Walking back to his cabin, Raccoon Bill joined Woodruff to offer one last bit of condolence before getting back to the work of clearing the forests and building the citadel. Not one for words, Raccoon Bill suggested that calling the newest forward position of the Mormon Empire Fort Brisco might not be the best idea and offered calling the camp Smootville.
“Smootville, Raccoon Bill? We’re not much of a town, sir,” Woodruff said as he approached his cabin. “Might it be premature to call this camp anything more than a citadel for a bastard of a man that kills his own followers and children?”
“That it might, Brother Tiberius,” Raccoon Bill said. “But one day, this place be a town. Let’s start on the right foot and give it a proper name. Smootville feels right, eh?”
Wiping his red eyes, Woodruff looked at Raccoon Bill and agreed.
This is how a small town in the eastern most portion of the Mormon Empire was named Smootville.
Taking a hibernaut out of sleep is precarious even under the best circumstances. There is a shock to the system being awakened to the nervous system that can result in cardiac arrest or stroke. The procedure starts with taking the hibernaut off nutrient lines and raising the oxygen levels. By hyper-pressurizing the chamber, the lungs over-expand and the astronaut starts to wake up. It’s a simple process developed at Hibernetix, a subdivision of Henderson Refinery and Die Cast, and had been perfected over the last 165 years.
Pederson was meticulous in awakening Smiley. With Owens assisting him, Stratton and Rodriquez stood back observing the men go through the protocol. They had carefully inspected every square inch of the Libra and couldn’t find absolutely any evidence of crew or that there was even people living on the space station. Two theories were floated around that were beginning to take hold with the members of the Carson City. First, that another freighter docked with the Libra and everyone had been moved to another space station that they have not reconnected contact with. The second, more gruesomely, is that Smiley did something to the workers. Neither theory were liked by Stratton but as Pederson had said, when you remove every other detail of the missing crew, the evidence points to Smiley as being responsible or at least knowing what happened.
As Stratton observed Pederson and Owens getting Smiley out of hibernation, he scanned the dark sky looking for the Sun. Finding it in the horizon, he smirked when he considered it was barely larger than the other stars through the porthole. At a ¼ of an inch, Stratton realized how very far they have travelled and how incredibly alone they were. From the orbit of Ganymede, Stratton could stare into the Sun without destroying his eyes.
Working robotically inside of the chamber, Pederson began removing IV tubes and cranked the oxygen level to 115%. Stratton radioed Wilson and Owens on the Carson City to tell them that Smiley was about to wake up. Confirming the go ahead to wake up Smiley, Wilson wished the captain good luck.
During the next minute, the men collectively held their collective breath. It wasn’t until Pederson opened the hibernation chamber and heard Smiley starting to cough did they snap completely to attention. Hacking, he was fighting to find equilibrium in his lungs and regain consciousness. Pederson started deep sleep triage and began asking him if he was okay. Shining a flashlight in his eyes, Pederson saw Smiley’s eyes properly dilate and he took a stethoscope to his chest. Listening to his heart and lungs, Pederson asked the man if he’d like a drink. Nodding while coughing, he was handed a water bottle that he greedily drank. Pederson helped take Smiley’s legs out of the hibernation chamber and braced him as he stood up. Naked, Smiley was bigger than any of the men of the Carson City—almost too big. Regulations cap astronauts at 6’2” and Smiley was at least 6’6”. Strapping arms, barrel-chested and thick, Stratton knew immediately that something was off with him—nobody endures hibernation without significant weight and muscle loss. He looked to Stratton as if he had been putting on weight during his slumber.
Pederson placed a blanket around his broad shoulders. Asking for more water and clothes, he coughed one last time when he asked quietly who they were.
“Sir, my name is Captain Jack Stratton of the ISS Carson City, this is my crew. What is your name?”
With a mischievous gleam in his eyes, he said his name was Charlie.
“Charlie what, Sir?” Stratton asked.
“Just Charlie,” he smiled. “When are we?”
The men looked at each other and realized that it was probably a mistake to have taken this Charlie out of hibernation but they weren’t going to be able to put the genie back in the bottle.
Pederson led Charlie to one of the examination tables in the room and withdrew a syringe to take a blood sample. Charlie looked around the room and maintained his smiling ways putting all of the men on alert. As Pederson went to withdraw a sample, Charlie quickly grabbed Pederson’s wrist and told him not to do that.
“It’s standard procedure. You’re going to let me draw a sample or you’re going right back in the chamber,” Pederson said calmly. “Your choice.”
Releasing his wrist, Pederson took his sample and began running diagnostics on his newest patient. Since every man has undergone hibernation, they knew of the immediate effects of being awaken and they all knew immediately that this Charlie individual was acting completely different. Stratton thought when he was just taken out and how it took him at least eight hours before he started acting like himself. Charlie’s behavior wasn’t just disturbing—it was unnatural.
“Mr. Pederson,” Stratton started. “Please compare…Charlie’s DNA indicators against ship records.”
Walking to Charlie who was grinning as he drank deeply from the water bottle, he faced him directly and asked what his full name was and what had transpired on the ship. Instinctively, Stratton’s fists were balled but he released them when Charlie looked up.
“Sir, I am going to ask you again, what is your full name? I have no tolerance for games at this point,” Stratton said.
“What does it matter?” Charlie said. “I didn’t ask to be wakened up. You did this and I would like more water, food and clothes…please.”
“You know we’re running your blood sample against every ship log in the solar system?”
Charlie’s grin became even bigger. He nodded and said that they’ll have to work to find out his identity and in the meantime, he’d like water, food and clothes. Frustrated, Stratton ordered Wilson to procure an appropriate sized jumpsuit for Charlie. He then commanded Wilson and Rodriguez to escort their awakened guest to examination room #3 and stand guard.
“Am I under arrest, Captain?” Charlie asked.
“No. But for the protection of the crew, you will be limited to your room until we have ascertained your identity and where you came from,” Stratton said. “In the immediate time, you are not free to roam the ship until we’ve completed our interview. In the meantime, I’d appreciate your cooperation. There will be food and clothing for you. Gentlemen, if you will.”
Wilson and Rodriquez began assisting Charlie up when he coldcocked Wilson. Falling to the ground, Rodriquez struck Charlie in the ribs with a right hook and finished with a left hook to the jaw. Charlie dropped to one knee but quickly stood up and swung back at Rodriquez who crashed to the floor. Stratton entered the fray throwing his best straight right that Charlie caught and twisted him to the ground. Wilson was up on his feet and tackled Charlie back on to the examination table as Stratton jumped on the naked man. Trying to get position, Charlie punched and kicked until he was free from their grasp.
“Let me go,” Charlie said in a roar with a hint of a smile still on his face.
Stratton went back at him, ducking a punch while landing a combination to his ribs. Wilson wrestled himself against his legs while Rodriquez tackled him from behind and eventually bringing him to the ground. All three men could feel the powerful sleeping giant start to break loose from their grip when Pederson stepped in and thrusted a syringe into Charlie’s back and pulled the plunger. Immediately, Charlie went limp.
“Jesus Christ!” Wilson said mopping blood from his face. “What kind of monster can do this?”
Rodriquez’s eye was swollen and Stratton felt like a rib had been dislocated. Pederson found leather restraints and secured Charlie’s hands behind his back. Going for the gurney, he said that there was only so much time before this guy would wake up.
“Let’s get him to examination room #3 now. We got to tie him down before he wakes up, fellas,” Pederson said as he started positioning Charlie. “Guys, help me get him up.”
Loading Charlie on the gurney, they got him to the secured room and strapped him down. Injecting him with another sedative, Pederson said that it should be enough to keep him down for at least three to five hours. Stratton ordered Wilson and Rodriquez to stand watch as Pederson went to fixing the captain’s ribs.
“He hits like a rhino,” Stratton said as Pederson lasered the rib in place. “We need to know who he is, Jeff. Nobody should be able to do what he did if they have been under hibernation.”
“On it, Skip,” Pederson said. “I should have a positive ID in the next hour. You should go and rest while he is still under heavy sedation. I won’t let him wake until you’re ready, Captain.”
Thanking him, Stratton headed back to the Carson City to lie down. He hasn’t fought a man out of boxing ring in almost ten years and forgot how much a punch thrown in anger could hurt. Falling into his cot, he closed his eyes for a moment and then quickly fell deeply into sleep.
Stratton was awakened with Pederson tapping him gently on the chest.
“Captain, I got a positive ID,” the medical officer said.
Shaking the sleep and stress off of his eyes, Stratton stood up and asked who Charlie Smiles was.
“Well, he’s a cargo specialist named Charles Smith but he wasn’t stationed on the Libra, Captain. He was on the Acheron Space Station. I haven’t been able to piece together how the Hell he got here,” Pederson said. “He was a part of the last freighter that left before the Coolidge Event and woke up at the Acheron space station almost a year after the universe went into blackout mode. He did a few freighters from the Moon and Mars but for the most part, the guy is a neophyte to space—53 years old, single and born in Sacramento, California. Besides that, he’s got a mediocre service report with two incidents of transporting Trunts.”
Trunts was a hallucinogenic amphetamine that workers could easily synthesize and abuse. Small dosages could provide a cheap euphoria that helped them escape the monotony of space. It was difficult to test for and a constant headache for ship commanders or station managers. Abusers of Trunts could focus for hours on end but eventually compounded depression for those suffering from homesickness and boredom in deep space. All in all, Trunts simply exasperated dangerous situations to nearly deadly levels.
“How’s he doing now?”
Pederson reported that he was down and that Wilson and Rodriquez haven’t left their position. He had checked in on him and sent the information back to Earth waiting for instructions from mission control but that should still take a little over an hour. Stratton thanked him and gingerly got out of his bed. His ribs felt like shattered pieces of glass and his head was killing him. Pederson anticipated the captain feeling wrecked and gave him a couple of pills to remove the pain temporarily.
“How say you, Jeff? Should we put him back into hibernation and launch him into space?” Stratton said with a laugh. “Or should I beat a confession out of him?”
“Better get in line, Skip, Jonny wants to lay some hands on him and I think Bill wouldn’t mind getting a few licks in as well,” Pederson said. “We got to figure out what this clown is doing on the Libra and get him back into hibernation ASAP.”
“Agreed. When can we wake him up?”
“Immediately,” Pederson said. “I’m just waiting on the captain’s order.”
“You just did,” Stratton said shaking off the pain. “Let’s join Jon and Bill right now.”
Walking from the Carson City back into the Libra, Stratton laid out specific instructions regarding Charles Smith. They kept calling him Smiles and both confessed that seeing his smirking face under hibernation chilled their spine just a bit. Stratton instructed Pederson that he wanted Smiles brought out of his drug induced sleep and ready for him to answer questions. He wanted Pederson ready to put him down if he breaks from his restraints and to start preparing one of the spare hibernation chambers on the Carson City for Smiles.
“He ain’t getting another shot at us, Son,” Stratton said. “He even makes one move and we’re going to put down this beast. Agreed?”
Pederson shook his head in agreement as they entered level two and moved to examination room #3 but something was clearly wrong. Instead of a pristine and organized ship, Stratton and Pederson discovered two of the overhead lights had been smashed. Stratton radioed Becker aboard the Carson City and detailed the damage as they turned the corner to the examination room. On the floor was Pete Owens unconscious. His face was bloodied and it looked like his fingers had been bitten off.
“Chad! Man down, man down! Lock down the deck—lock down the Carson City!” Stratton commanded as he gathered Wilson. “Make sure Smiley doesn’t make a break at you.”
Wilson was beaten but alive. Pederson looked through the examination window and saw a bloody, horrific mess. Rodriquez had been attacked and looked as if he was disemboweled. Dragging Wilson into the room, they locked the door behind them as Pederson began treating Wilson. Stratton called a Code Purple over his headset and instructed Owens to find shelter.
“Get to someplace secure and lock down that room, Pete. Bill and Jon are down. Repeat, Bill and Jon are down,” Stratton said as he went to Rodriquez.
Strapped on the same gurney they had secured Smiley, Jon Rodriquez was lashed into the restraints and had his throat and chest split open. His intestines were pulled out, dangling over the gurney with the floor was a fresh pool of blood. Pederson said that Owens was in shock but it didn’t look life threatening. The ship medical officer began cauterizing the wounds on Owen’s left hand and stabilize the bleeding. Three fingers were bitten off as Wilson shivered in pain. Injecting pain relief into his arm, Wilson shot alive and said that Smiley had ripped out of the gurney and taken them by surprise.
“We tried to stop him, Captain, but he is too strong,” Wilson wept while looking at Rodriquez and his own hand. “What are we going to do?”
“We’re going to kill him, Son,” Stratton said calmly as he continued to get reports from Becker and searched for Wilson. “Pete, I need you to check in immediately.”
Pederson stopped the bleeding and began bandaging Wilson as Stratton placed a sheet over Rodriquez. They were not overmatched but they didn’t have the necessary weapons to stop Charlie Smith. His sheer size and strength might be too much for them, certainly considering how he was able to break free and murder Rodriquez. Stratton might be closest with Pederson but Rodriquez was his favorite. Seeing him dead and mutilated hardened Stratton and strengthened his resolve to fulfill his promise to Wilson. Becker reported that the Carson City was secure and that there was nobody else onboard. Asked about Owens, Becker said that he is on the Libra but can’t pinpoint his position. Stratton asked him to work harder to find him. Pederson propped Owens against the wall and gave him more medicine to fight the infection and relieve the pain as Stratton looked for weapons while trying to contact Bill Wilson.
“Captain,” Becker reported. “Owens is coming towards your position.”
“Thank you, Chad. Be clear that no one is to board the Carson City without my specific instruction. Am I clear?” Stratton said as he found various mallets in the medical shelves to use as blunt weapons.
Pederson began finding syringes and preparing knockout shots for Smiley for when they find him as Becker repeated distances of Wilson approaching the examination room. Stratton was in control and calm but his heart was racing as he kept calling out for Wilson not getting any responses. He told Pederson to get Wilson ready to move and asked Becker to be ready to open the Carson City when they get en route. Looking at Pederson, Stratton gave a knowing look that said everything that needed to be said: this isn’t the mission they signed up for but it’s the one they have. Pederson nodded back.
Getting ready to open the door and make a beeline to the freighter, Stratton was shocked back by a collision at the door—Pete Owens’ head was smashed into the window and beaten repeatedly before being dropped to the ground. Behind him was Charlie Smith, hands, torso and face covered in blood wearing a shit eating grin.
“Open the door, Captain,” Smith said. “We have much to talk about.”
Karl’s voice could be heard reverberating off of the walls as he was dragged back to his room. He was no match for the two orderlies that locked his arms behind him and shoved him into his room, locking the door. He half-heartedly beat on the door but deep down inside, he knew that there was no way to get out of the room. He thought for a moment to start smashing the medical equipment and overturn his bed but elected to just fall against the wall and cry.
He cried for his parents. He cried for himself. He cried for all of his failures. He cried in how he derailed his life. He cried for losing out on any chance with Alice Rice. He cried because he didn’t know why this experiment happened to him and he cried because he didn’t know what was going to happen.
They started as sobs and eventually subsided to whimpers. Feeling ashamed of himself for losing control and for being weak both in mind and body, he retired to the bed and pulled the sheets over him. The only thing that he wanted to do was the biggest threat to him at that point—to go to sleep. His stomach was sickenly bloated from the rich food and his head was swimming with the beer. He felt ill and confused and trapped. His only hope was that his two sisters and their families were safe. He wondered if they knew what happened to him. In the closing moments of this life he knew, Karl was trying to send the right vibes out to the people that he loved, hoping to have some of those good vibes come back at him.
He only wished he believed in “vibes.”
While thinking of his family, the two orderlies came in and began strapping down Karl’s arms. He didn’t resist. IVs were inserted and Karl felt himself drifting off. Before falling asleep, he asked the men a question.
“Am I going to die?”
The orderlies smiled in unison and said no but guaranteed that he sure wish he had.
The next month became based on routine. The orderlies named Tito and Robert became Karl’s only contact with the world. They brought him three meals a day, escorted him to an exercise room for a 30-minute workout and a daily meeting with Alice who would ask him questions he didn’t want to answer. After a couple of days of eating and drinking without any repercussions, Tito and Robert brought in an old television on a cart with a DVD player and a large box of horror movies. Karl said without humor that since he’s living a horror movie, maybe they could bring him a rom-com or something with Bill Murray.
Karl didn’t have any sense of time. Since being captured outside of Alice’s house an indefinite period of time ago, he has tried to start counting the amount of breakfasts he consumed and treating that like a single day but that got screwed up when he jokingly asked for shrimp cocktail and his next four or five meals had the seafood appetizer. Karl was mad at himself for refusing to work out every day because it only made time keeping that more difficult. Missed days in the gym compounded with having pancakes for a meal three times in a row totally screwed up his rhythm. He’d fade in and out between having a big meal, napping and watching films. He was bored but it was regrettably the kind of boring that he liked when he lived out in the world or in Smootville.
After what he thought was three weeks, he stopped meeting with Alice. He decided to be unproductive during the sessions. Instead of answering her questions or asking his own, he would recount specific football games he played where he was awarded a game ball or a particularly sweet cutthroat trout he pulled out of the Provo River or how he celebrated after shooting that 8-point irregular elk. He’d talk about the horror and science fiction movies he was watching or anything else that occurred to him. He even talked why he left the Mormon Church and how he probably should have gone on an LDS mission. She’d ask a question about his parents and he tell her the time he hid out in the Smootville Post Office bell tower for two nights. Asked about his feelings towards Henderson Refinery and Die Cast and he’d tell her the time he got arrested in Provo for getting into a fight at a Mexican restaurant with the chef. He knew he was exhausting Alice but took a little pleasure is giving back a taste of the treatment he’d received.
What bothered him is that he started missing her when he stopped meeting with Alice.
Eventually the food became too rich and the box of movies were being rewatched. He’d get a couple of beers with every meal but they started to taste like piss. He masturbated more and he wanted out of the room. His body had undergone a transformation that took him from sickly skinny to healthy to bloated. He wasn’t his previous fat self but just a blobby tub. He’s mind would oscillate between being a victim to revenge fantasies. Karl vowed he would escape but those plans tended to slip away after being served a steak and lobster lunch or a jug of clam chowder and a loaf of bread. He’d start laughing every time a cart was brought in because he thought that every meal he was served might be his last: pizza, cheeseburgers, Cobb salads, burritos and once a whole pumpkin pie.
If only he could get that last cigarette.
Passed out on his bed after a meal of tacos and refried beans, Karl was awakened by Alice and another woman. Tito and Robert were in the room, cleaning up after Karl and laying out a new set of clothes. Because his room fluctuated in temperature, Karl was constantly removing his clothes or putting them back on. For the sake of modesty, Karl was disappointed that he was actually dressed when Alice tapped his foot.
“Karl, this is Dr. Kelly Riedmen,” Alice said. “She’s going to want to ask you some questions. Considering that we’ve had a difficult relationship in the past, I’d appreciate you’d working with her. It is very important work.”
“I ain’t got anything to say, Alice, until I know you’re going to let me out of this dump—no offense, guys,” Karl said to the orderlies who shrugged.
“Answer Dr. Riedmen’s questions and we’ll see about getting you out of this room. Deal?”
“Yeah, sure, Alice,” Karl said. “I’m holding my breath for the minute you let me walk right out of here.”
He got up and disrobed, kicking his old clothes into the corner. Karl put on the new clothes pulled from plastic bags that Tito and Robert provided but paused for a moment so that everyone in the room can stare at his naked body. He picked through the plate of food they brought in and saw some carrot sticks. Putting a few in his mouth, he pretended for a moment that he actually had a cigarette. He went to the one chair in the room and dragged it over to his bed as the people watched him. Offering it to Riedmen, he sat back down on his bed still pretending to smoke the carrot stick.
“So, what’s up, Doc?”
There was no communication with Salt Lake or Brigham Young that first winter. The 20 remaining men were prepared for the heavy snowfall with the sturdy cabins they constructed and a full pantry of smoked and preserved meats from the good hunting around Smootville. There was enough bacon and flour to survive and the communal chicken coop kept the men in eggs and clucking.
Tiberius Woodruff scouted the area daily on the back of his horse Copenhagen. He scoured the brutal landscape looking at his future quarry site and patches of good timber to cut. These trips translated in work assignments for the men who were performing their tasks to the best of their ability. Woodruff thought often about returning to the Little Cottonwood Quarry but after Henderson’s attack, he doubted he’d ever be welcomed back into the Salt Lake Valley.
Raccoon Bill and others sometimes accompanied Woodruff but he made for bad conversation. He preferred being alone in the wilderness thinking of ways to tame the mountains. The time in the saddle freed his mind of the treachery of Henderson and the death of Leo Smoot. Riding through the Uintas, mapping out the mountains, lakes and streams calmed Woodruff. It felt as if he was restoring his soul through those rides and occasional discoveries.
Thoughts of regret and betrayal flowed through his mind and heart and soured his tone. Never a gregarious man, Woodruff receded into himself and the few books that he brought along for the expedition. Instead of providing the dynamic leadership he exhibited at the Little Cottonwood Canyon, he was curse and short with his men. He had anticipated being at Smootville for only six months and free to return to Little Cottonwood Canyon and his stone cutting but Smoot’s death had changed that. He slept with one eye open, awaiting Henderson to return and finish him off in his own bed. Certain that a bounty still rested on his head, Woodruff assumed that the only way to keep the leader at bay was to exceed the expectations of his duties and wait patiently for an opportunity to escape outside of the Land of Deseret.
The hysteria of Brigham Young assassinating one of their own was ludicrous to most of the men who followed and believed in the church president. They attributed Henderson’s attack to that of a man who easily slipped into violence and probably had is reasons for killing Smoot. Frankly, most of the men believed they owed their lives to Henderson and his vengeance. He almost singlehandedly stopped the attack along the Provo River and had kept the men safe on their journey to Smootville. Had Henderson not left under the cover of darkness, it was likely that some men would have tried to return with him but they remained—indentured to Woodruff and the building of an eastern fortress for Brigham Young.
The citadel at Smootville was a walled community on five acres. The chopped lodgepole pines formed a mighty fortress with four towers at each of the points. Sitting on a bluff, they had remarkable views of the valley and reinforced doors faced the only trail leading in or out of the outpost. Every day, additions were added to either the wall of the cabins built within the walls. There was communal food storage and stables inside of the walls as well. The only thing that was outside of the wall was the small cemetery plot holding Leo Smoot’s body.
Copenhagen and Woodruff rode through the forests, hunting elk and marking granite faces. It was the possibility of beginning to reestablish his life as a stone cutter did Woodruff’s spirits lift. The granite in the Uintas were superior to that in Little Cottonwood Canyon and he looked forward to the spring before being able to take wedges and hammers to the wilderness and establish order. But the first flakes of snow in October temporarily delayed his next venture. He constantly dwelled on the thought that Smoot would be up for this challenge if he was still with him.
The winter tested the men more than Woodruff could have imagined. First was the fire at the NW tower which took down a large portion of the attached walls. An errant torch fell against the walls causing the tower to go up in flames. The men fought the fire with shovel loads of snow but in the process Isaac McParland lost his life. Rushing into retrieve rifles in the tower, it fell on him, killing him immediately. He was to be buried alongside Smoot when the ground unfroze in the spring.
With the walls down, the Smootville became susceptible to both the elements and wildlife. Three bears entered the busted walls and broke into the food storage, nearly decimating their provisions. Raccoon Bill discovered the preying bears and was able to slay one while chasing off the other two. The men were forced to eat the greasy bear to replace what had been lost.
The last tragedy to strike Smootville was the death of Walter Pikes. Pikes was a master cooper and carpenter from New Jersey. Joining the church after discovering the allowance of polygamy, he travelled to the Utah Territory and became renowned for both his perfect barrels and pitch perfect baritone voice in the choirs. He passed in the middle of the night without incident. Woodruff was forced to believe what the men had said that it was simply Pikes time to say hello to heaven. He was discovered holding his beloved Book of Mormon and a pleasant smile on his face. He joined McParland to await burial during the spring.
They fought through extreme cold, brutal winds and an ice storm that nearly toppled the northwestern wall but they survived. Woodruff slowly made peace with Leo Smoot’s death and returned to the leadership which made him the commander of men at the quarry. He directed the walls rebuilt and reinforced even during the snow fall, continued to build cabins and sent men out to replenish the supplies taken by the bears. His voice became hoarse with barking instructions during the day and starting to laugh with the men at night by the fires. His fear of retribution from Brigham Young transformed from hopelessness to retaliation to a low burning anger. It was this anger that kept his men keenly aware that they were living in very dangerous times.
Woodruff honored the Sabbath but pulled less from his Mormon conversion and more from his Christian beliefs from his childhood in Vermont. He never spoke of any animosity of the church president but was prepared to drive a knife deep through Brigham Young’s heart if given the chance. He had made a tacit peace with Thomas Henderson in absentia but worried the day Brother Thomas would ride Thunderhead back into Smootville. Revenge was Henderson’s business, stone cutting Woodruff’s but there was still to be a reconciliation of debts and Woodruff feared how’d he make out in that transaction.
It wasn’t until the last weeks of April did the monotony of the camp get broken up. The snowfall had abated long enough to start clearing a path from the front of the citadel towards the beginning of the slot canyon. Because they were so far from home, there was a lot of energy expended trying to build a road back to Salt Lake City. Over the horizon, after a Sunday worship hosted by Woodruff, did the men see the first humans since building Smootville. A caravan of horses and carriages came through the narrow slot canyon and headed towards the main gate. The first of the spring thaws had hit Smootville and the trail had been cleared enough to allow passage. Woodruff mounted Copenhagen as Raccoon Bill and others saddled up to meet the travelers before they reached the gated walls. Armed with rifles, they met the travelers just outside of the slot canyon as their leader, Joseph Starks, introduced himself.
He presented letters of introduction and asked if his people may enter the camp. Looking at the papers from his saddle, Woodruff recognized Brigham Young’s handwriting. It commanded Colonel Starks to take residency in the newly formed citadel and to best use his people to build a commanding eastern presence in his Land of Deseret. Young still called the new settlement, Fort Tomahawk. Colonel Starks would answer to Woodruff, keeping Woodruff in charge at Smootville.
Woodruff asked if Starks had read his instructions. The Colonel nodded and offered a gracious note that he was looking forward for Woodruff to fulfill the church president’s vision. Sitting in the saddle, Woodruff scanned the group of wagons and people. It was a mixed bag of settlers: women, children, scraggly men, civilized Indians and two blacks. There were 67 in the group. They were beaten from the trip, tired from scampering mountain passes and enduring the cold and elements.
Dismounting Copenhagen, Woodruff handed the reins to Raccoon Bill and walked to the head of the procession and addressed the group.
“My name is Tiberius Woodruff of Whittingham Vermont. I am a stone mason and the governor of this outpost named Smootville. I serve at the pleasure of President Brigham Young and I welcome you to our new home. You must be tired from your journey but fear not. Safety awaits you ahead. Please join us inside for refreshments. There is much work to do and I look forward to continuing to build a great eastern empire working alongside with you.”
And with that, Woodruff remounted Copenhagen and trotted into Smootville alongside Colonel Starks. They rode in silence as they passed the main gate and entered the main courtyard of the citadel. Starks said that he was a recent convert to the church having left the Federal Army. He heard many things about Woodruff and was excited about the prospect of forming a new community for Brigham Young. Starks said that Woodruff’s character was above reproach and was anxious to help secure the eastern borders of the Mormon people. Leading Copenhagen into the stables, Woodruff thanked him for his kind words. While removing Copenhagen’s saddle, Woodruff asked who said such agreeable statements about him. Stark’s removing his horse’s saddle, paused for a brief moment and asked who do you think?
“It was Brother Thomas Henderson, of course,” Stark said. “He talks of you like family.”
“Is that so,” Woodruff responded.
“I have no reason to mislead you, Mr. Woodruff,” Starks said. “If you don’t believe me, you can ask him yourself. He plans to return at his earliest convenience.”
The logistics of incorporating the new settlers into Smootville was the sort of challenge that Woodruff excelled at.
He commanded Starks to inventory the supplies and personal effects of the caravan and set to interviewing each of the people to determine the best way to utilize their skills. The introduction of women to the camp was a positive addition but regrettably for most of the original founders of Smootville, they were the wives of men striking anew at the outpost. Nonetheless, it felt good to have the woman’s touch in Smootville. Even better, Woodruff liked seeing children running throughout the camp. Once accommodations were provided for each of the new settlers, Woodruff decided that there needed to be a civic panel that worked in conjunction with the church to tend to the educational needs of the children. Plans were already in process to construct a post office and city hall for Smootville, but Woodruff immediately added a schoolhouse to his master plan. All of this was done with an enthusiasm that Woodruff was afraid he had lost.
The new civic panel was composed of Woodruff, Colonel Starks, Raccoon Bill and Mrs. Esther Lindell. The wife of farmer Joseph Lindell and a school teacher, Woodruff invited her to lead the women and begin the groundwork for the school. To Woodruff, the mission at Smootville changed the moment children entered the camp. He wasn’t just constructing a military fortress and a forward outpost. Woodruff now believed he was building a town just as Raccoon Bill had said after Leo’s funeral.
Surveyors began laying out the town as Woodruff designed buildings and a road leading out of the isolated community. More trees were fallen, farms were plowed and homes built during the next months as Woodruff determined the town landscape as well as the best quarry to start cutting stone for the building facades. The work invigorated him and focused his energies. He stopped sleeping with one eye open now knowing full well that Henderson was returning to the his new town. Woodruff stopped worrying about his treacherous friend and continued building during through the spring and summer.
It seemed that every week another group of settlers came riding into town to assist in the great project. They were tradesmen and simple laborers and they brought correspondence from family and church leaders to Smootville. Brigham Young would send a letter of introduction with each new caravan and Woodruff wrote back sterile notes talking about the progress being made in the eastern mountain of the Utah Territory. His anger towards the church president had never been more focused but he knew he had to remain patient before he could extract revenge. In the meantime, he continued to assign work duties for every member of the town
Brigham Young’s letters, on the other hand, were filled with praise about Woodruff’s resolve. He praised the stone cutter for the work that he has done and encouraged him to start building the road connecting Fort Tomahawk to Salt Lake City. It wasn’t until Woodruff wrote that the town was to incorporated as Smootville in honor of Leo Smoot did the church president reluctantly refer to his eastern fortress as Smootville.
By the end of August, Woodruff had built the city hall and schoolhouse with the frame of the post office’s silhouette shadow shining down the newly christened Main Street. The road leading out of the walled citadel had become the main thoroughfare towards the trail exiting the city and begun taking shape with shops. The lumber mill by the Provo River cut timber throughout the day and these new planks being used in construction shortly after being sawed. A wide boardwalk was built alongside Main Street that intersected with the Lindell Farm where Mrs. Esther Lindell held the morning lessons for the children. Eventually, the road from Main Street would be called Lindell Road.
The town had grown from 20 rugged and ragged souls that winter to almost 400 people by the end of the summer. Smootville had its child born on May 30, 1861, a baby girl named Elizabeth Hunt, with four more new children by the end of August. Woodruff was pleased with the work that he had done and kept planning for the next step in solidifying Smootville’s role in the Utah Territory. It wasn’t enough to build a utopia, Woodruff was practical, he knew that there needed industry and he saw the granite quarry he started as that future. He knew it would be a two tier plan to not only harvest the green and pinkish-hued granite but to get it to Salt Lake 97 miles away. He reckoned the quality of this granite to be the best he had ever seen but without a rail system to Salt Lake, the work he had done would be for naught. He elected to halt quarrying work and focus on connecting Smootville to Salt Lake and sent men to down even more trees and start building the roads which would eventually become the rail lines that he knew they needed.
It was a mild day in September when Woodruff was supervising the surveying of the road did he seen the lone horseman riding up the trail. He didn’t need his telescope to identify the rider. It was Thomas Henderson on top of his beastly horse, Thunderhead. He lazily trotted up the trail staring directly at Woodruff. It should have sent a terror through his spine but Woodruff just leaned against his shovel as Henderson made his way into his position.
The men stopped working as he rode to Woodruff. There were three men in the Land of Deseret that everyone knew: church president Brigham Young, Porter Rockwell and Thomas Henderson. The stories of Henderson’s murder of Leo Smoot had become a ghost story told to children at night to get them to behave. But right now, the leader of Smootville was standing eye-to-eye with the most vicious lawman and killer in the Utah Territory.
“Brother Tiberius,” Henderson said, dismounting Thunderhead.
Henderson walked towards Woodruff with his hand held out and Woodruff walked to join him. But when Woodruff was within in a foot, he threw a right punch that landed against Henderson’s cheek. Falling to the ground, Woodruff jumped on him and began striking him with both fists. Henderson defended himself, striking Woodruff in the throat and wrestling on top of the Smootville’s governor. Henderson unleashed a fury of punches before Woodruff laid limp. Henderson never went for his knives once. Raising himself up over Woodruff, Henderson offered a hand to lift his old friend from the ground. Dusting him off, Henderson fetched Woodruff’s hat and handed it back to him.
“Violence never be ye bailiwick, Brother Tiberius,” Henderson said, dusting off his old friend. “Me travelled too far fer this treatment. Take me to your Smootville. I have instructions from President Young and ye have many more tasks ahead.”
“You killed Leo, Thomas. Why should I do anything you ask?”
“The same reason I’ve come to kill you but there is much to do before that reckoning,” Henderson said calmly. “Take me to your Smootville, show me the eastern fortress.”
“Becker, I got a 20 on Smiley,” Stratton radioed. “He’s right in front of us and Wilson is down, repeat, Wilson is down.”
“Open the door, Captain,” Smith said, knocking gently on the window. “Open the door or I am going to do something horrible.”
“Becker, keep the Carson City on shutdown. If you don’t hear from me every five minutes, you are to detach and awake first shift, copy?” Stratton said.
“Copy, Captain,” Becker said.
“The door, Captain,” Smith said again, this time holding up Wilson’s limp body against the window.
Wilson’s face was shattered, bleeding everywhere while Smith smiled broadly. He warned Stratton one more time to open the door or there would be tragic consequences. Stratton looked to Pederson. The medical officer had put Owens back against the wall, safely away from the door. Pederson flashed Stratton a knowing look and showed the three syringes behind this back. Taking a deep breath, Stratton opened the door. The hydraulics pulled the doors apart and Smith walked in stepping over Wilson’s limp body. His naked body was covered in blood and hair and he was half snarling and smiling at Stratton and Pederson.
“Don’t do anything stupid, Captain,” Smith said. “I don’t want to hurt anybody else. I would just like to know what time it is.”
Looking at this watch, Stratton told him it was 1035 hours.
“No, the date! The date, please, Captain,” Smith said walking towards the retreating Stratton.
“March 17, 2176, Smith. Now please stand down. Stop moving, now!” Stratton commanded. “As commander of the ISS Carson City, I am placing you under arrest for the murder of Yeoman Jon Rodriquez.”
Thinking what the captain had said, Smith frowned for the first time. He ran his fingers over his head and rubbed his skull vigorously. He shook violently for a moment and stopped in a dead stare at Stratton.
“No, no, no, no! You’re not putting me under arrest. I am here to stop you. You should never had landed at this space station,” Smith said lunging at Stratton.
He slipped Smith and unleashed a volley of punches at the giant of a man that barely winded him. Smith slapped the captain open-handed and cut Stratton’s face with his nails. He then kicked the captain in his chest and picked him up to head-butt him in the face. Dropped to the ground, Stratton stood up and connected with a left hook and straight right to Smith eye. Spinning Smith to face him at the door, Stratton threw a left to his nose as Pederson jumped on Smith’s back and thrusted all three syringes into Smith’s neck, dropping the man immediately.
“Jesus Christ! Captain, are you okay?” Pederson said as he rushed to Stratton’s side.
Stratton was a mess but awake and alive. He mopped the blood and sweat off his face with his sleeve. Nodding to Pederson, he ordered that he put Smith under even deeper sedation as he took the restraints out of the cabinets and bound the giant. Pederson hit him with two more syringes as Stratton radioed Becker to tell them they had apprehended Smith.
“Smiley is down, Becker, but we need help moving him. Get down her now and be safe,” Stratton said.
Even though Owens was mutilated, he helped lift Smith onto a transport gurney. They doubled down on the straps holding the monster to the table as Stratton breathed heavily. His face was fractured, nose busted and ribs rebroken. Had Smiley not killed Rodriquez or threatened the lives of every member of his crew, Stratton might had complimented Smith on his strength and prowess. There’d be time for that later, Stratton though as he worked to get Smiley on the gurney. He had already decided on killing Charlie Smith but needed the man under sleep before he made his next move.
“Jeff, what’s Wilson’s status?”
Pederson was working on Bill Wilson with an intensity that almost frightened Owens and Stratton. He scanned Wilson’s head and went to work to stop the bleeding. In the last 15-mintues, Stratton couldn’t help but think what damage had been done to his crew but he trusted Pederson to save Wilson.
“He’s hurting, Skip, but he’s gonna be okay. I got to get him under sedation and into a proper medical lab,” Pederson said. “Pete, can you help me get him aboard the Carson City?”
Owens help lift Wilson up with Pederson and they headed back to the freighter. Left with Smiley, Stratton started pushing the gurney to Hibernation Bay 2. The ogre of a man was groaning but out. Stratton couldn’t help but think what sort of damage a healthy and freed Charlie Smith could do to any man. Relieved that Smiley was strapped down and knocked out from the drugs, he hurriedly pushed the gurney towards Hibernation Bay 2. Stratton radioed Becker telling him to prepare the medical bay for Wilson. Becker told him that he was on his way and the Carson City was secure.
Entering the hibernation bay, Stratton pushed the gurney to hibernation chamber 40—the same chamber they awoke Smiley from. He nearly fell over from both the stress of the situation and the beating he had taken at Smith’s hand but he held strong. The gurney was heavy and Stratton felt an explosion of sweat covering his body. He’d had taken beatings in the past but this one was different—this was one that came from a life and death situation. Checking with Becker repeatedly, he reported that Wilson was being worked on by Pederson and that he was going to pull out. Relieved, he sat in one of the chairs and stared at Charlie Smith. Why would such a man be so violent without provocation? It made no sense at all Smith was concerned with the date and acted with such violence. Even worse, Stratton could stop thinking that Smith told him that there was much they needed to talk about. What could they possible need to talk about? Certainly there were details that happened after the Coolidge Event that would shrink Stratton’s spine and absolutely horrify him but why was Smiley so insistent to talk?
Did he error in putting the giant down?
Cupping his face, he breathed deeply and secretly hoped that Pederson would finish fixing Wilson and come down to take care of him but he knew that he wasn’t going to be afforded that luxury anytime soon. Sitting there and trying to take in as much air as possible, Stratton knew that there was only one solution with Charlie Smith. Get him into hibernation and then pull the plug. Stratton was convinced that there was nothing they could take from the man and he wanted him punished for what he had done to Rodriquez.
There, alone in Hibernation Bay 2, Stratton didn’t think that he could possibly be even more surprised until he looked up from his hands and saw something that frightened him to his core. Walking into the room, dressed in only a robe was something that could only be described as a bag of bones. Skin, dried and cured as if it had been baked, covered a skeleton frame that hid none of the horrors that one could imagine. Straggly hair covered the robe and the arms reached out to him. Stratton stood up and then nearly fell over.
“Becker, I need you down here now!” Stratton radioed.
“There’s no need for that,” the heap of skeleton bones said in a raspy voice that barely registered above the electronics in the room. “But I need to speak to you alone, Captain Jack Stratton.”
“How do you know my name?” Stratton asked.
He recognized who it was immediately but was shocked to see her alive and out of her hibernation chamber.
“I know everything, Captain,” she said barely above a whisper.
“Your mind is supposed to be mush. You should be dead outside of the hibernation chamber. Who woke you up? What are you doing hiding on my ship, ma’am?” Stratton asked.
Walking over to Charlie Smith, she gently placed her hands upon his chest. Stratton wasn’t afraid that she’d unleashed the monster. She mothered the man, touching and looking gently at Smiley. For a moment, Stratton felt sympathy for them both and quietly wondered what sort of connection they shared. With her hand on Smith, she said that there were things that he would never understand. Agreeing, Stratton asked what those things were. The pain and tension on the woman’s face was undeniable but Stratton couldn’t empathize more than letting the woman talk.
At that moment, Becker and Pederson hurried into the room. Stratton held up a hand telling them that they needed to stand down. Hanging by the entrance, they watched as Stratton moved towards the woman and spoke very clearly to her.
“You are going to have to let me understand what happened, ma’am. I am about to make some very serious decisions and unless you enlighten me to what happened here, I am certain you will not be pleased with the outcome.”
Her breathing was labored and her body waivered as she touched Smith but she had an inner strength to separate herself from Smith and to face Stratton. With sunken eyes and withered skin, she limped towards the captain of the ISS Carson City and spoke very, very quietly.
“Captain, you will not believe what is going to happen simply because you don’t believe. The reckoning of what has happened to me and my people is starting and you will be the first to experience the pain of the truth.”
“And what truth is that, ma’am?”
Looking into Smith’s slumbering eyes for a brief, sweet moment she faced the captain once again and told him of his fate.
“The truth? None other than the truth of God.”
Dr. Kelly Riedmen was by all accounts very beautiful.
She had soft red hair and blue eyes. She was athletic and strong for being by all accounts short but most importantly, Riedmen is very intelligent. A medical doctor and clinical psychologist for NevTech Industries, she began developing instructional tapes for non-physician scientists to do physician tasks. Specifically, it was for scientists stationed at the South Pole who might be required to do minor surgery, dental or advanced first aid. Her work was successful enough that her program became a part of the space program and expanded to non-medical skills. Need to learn how to replace a damaged solar panel and Riedmen had a tape that could walk even the least mechanical astronauts through the process. Need to fix a damaged robotical arm and there was a tape that could assist the project and the list went on and on.
In time, her tapes became a part of daily life with subjects from US history to culinary arts to fly casting. While she wasn’t the first to develop how-to books and tapes, Riedmen was able to take the information that needed to be learned and allow people under sedation or sleep to utilize the information on the tapes. She called them HiberLectures and they were quickly being applied to both civilian and military agencies of the government. Wire the soldier with the head harness as they drifted off to sleep and he could wake up with the information needed to rebuild a diesel engine on a tank even if he has never even wrenched on a car before. Program a HiberLecture for the next day’s mission and the soldiers could have synched details as they went into the field. Need a sailor to learn how to speak Amharic, let him listen to the HiberLecture regarding Ethiopian culture and they could interrogate any suspected pirate first thing in the morning. The list was endless what could be learned during a six-hour slumber but Riedmen wanted more.
A new division of Henderson Refinery and Die Cast had been formed and it was for the development of long term sleeping technologies for future astronauts. Called Hibernetix, research had proven that humans suffered from extended periods of exposure during space travel. With missions being planned to return to the moon and eventually Mars and maybe even Jupiter, space agencies were looking for ways to avoid astronauts from developing long-term psychological conditions during extended space missions and to insure the success of the mission. They wanted to keep the astronauts happier and more focused during these missions. More importantly, they wanted to keep them from going nuts while being stuck in a tin can years away from home.
The solution was hibernation. Put the astronauts to sleep and have them wake up at their final destination. It cut down on the volume of food necessary to transport the astronauts and allowed more crew members to travel on each voyage. NevTech became the foundation for Hibernetix, a division of Henderson Refinery and Die Cast, was leading the way successfully putting people into long term hibernation but the patients woke up altered. They lost mental strength after being awakened and some were altered enough that they needed extensive psychological treatment after being wakened up.
Riedmen believed she had the solution keeping the astronauts both mentally sharp and fend off psychotic behavior by incorporating HiberLectures to the hibernation process. It seemed like a natural fit as Hibernetix brought Riedmen on to lead the division. Her work was taken to levels that even she could not have even imagined. By placing patients under hibernation for periods as short as a week, sleepers were able to memorize and utilize dense works like the Oxford English Dictionary. Hibernauts who went under for a month could assist and eventually lead in major organ transplants. More importantly, providing programmed dreams, experiences and recreational HiberLectures inserted into even longer sleep periods allowed the hibernauts to fight off any of the mental damage associated with forced sleep and able to quickly perform their duties hours after waking up.
It was cutting edge technology and the results were opening new economic streams to Henderson Refinery and Die Cast. The building of tools, quarrying rock and smelting down the iron ore from the surrounding Uinta Mountains had caused a furlough of a large portion of the company. Riedmen was leading the charge to turn the company into a strictly research company. That is how Karl Bingham found himself the first of multi-year hibernauts. Ever since Karl was terminated and wreaking havoc in Smootville, George Bingham suggested that maybe his son participate in the hibernation project. George said that he would give permission for his son to go under providing that jobs for his men were transferred to other divisions in other parts of the state and country. George acted as he had his entire life trying to assist as many people as possible, even at a personal cost.
Dr. Kelly Riedmen recounted her history and how Karl found himself in hibernation as she sat in the chair next to Karl’s bed. At first, Karl couldn’t process what she was saying. He wanted to call her a liar but her cold clinical breakdown of the last seven years made sense. Henderson Refinery and Die Cast never laid-off people. They were merely transferred out of town to other plants. Even worse, Karl knew his father well enough to know that he always helping other people.
Alice interjected periodically to fill in details in laymen terms to help Karl understand what was happening but it only took Karl a minute to figure out the truth. He had been under because he had been living the same life for longer than possible but one detail escaped him.
“Then why did I wake up in my cabin?” Karl asked.
“We needed to see how you’d respond if you were abruptly taken out of hibernation without direct medical supervision. It’s in the case of a space accident and hibernation chambers need to be opened remotely to wake an astronaut,” Riedmen explained. “You performed magnificently. You fought through the pain and disorientation and were able to make the proper cognizant responses we’d hope you would.”
“So I was never at the Brisco?”
“Not that night, Karl,” Alice said. “Granted, you’ve spent more nights at the Fort Brisco Pub then even we could even count but that dream of you taking a shower and heading down for a night of drinking is a script we wrote into a HiberLecture. We knew you needed something that pleased you for the longest hibernation we’ve ever put somebody down for. I know it sounds like a nightmare but you lived the same day for five years and yet you were able to pull out of it. You are stronger than anyone ever gave you credit.”
“Then how do I know this is real? Maybe this is just more of your bullshit sleep talk and I’m stuck in a dream that I can’t wake up from because you assholes want to keep me like a test rabbit,” Karl yelled. “How do I know you aren’t lying to me right now and I am just dreaming this nightmare?”
Riedmen looked to Alice and said that was what she was hoping to achieve with Karl. She got up, thanking Karl for his contribution to the project and left the room. Tito and Robert stayed by the door but were keenly looking at Karl as Alice to Riedmen’s seat.
“This isn’t a dream because we needed to fatten you up before putting you back into hibernation. I know this isn’t fair and you think that you are a victim. You probably are but the truth is we’ve come so far to have you leave this facility,” Alice said. “I’ll be honest with you right now and tell you what is going to happen. Tito and Robert are going to escort you back to the hibernation chambers and put you to under sedation. Dr. Riedmen and I are going to put you into deep hibernation and program a series of HiberLectures for a two year sleep cycle. You are going to be given the equivalent of a medical and law degree, classic piano and chemical engineering program and after you wake up, you’ll be free to leave. Think about it, Karl. Think what you’ll learn and how we’ll help you get back the life you deserved before your demons took hold of you. We’re going to make you a genius and all you have to do is go to sleep.”
Karl sat in bed stunned. He hated himself that he was intrigued with the idea of waking up a new man but it was never his choice to participate is this ghostly project. It was never his life.
“I don’t want to do it, Alice. I want to leave and go home,” Karl said.
“There is no home. Smootville is closed, dead. It’s a ghost town filled with only the memories of the factory and the people who lived here. You don’t have a home to go to. Smootville and all of her residents are gone. Henderson Refinery and Die Cast is now a laboratory and you’re not welcome here, just as you weren’t welcomed here when you worked here. Your sisters have moved on and your parents are dead. You have no friends, money or future except in that hibernation chamber and I can give you the life that you rightfully deserve,” Alice said. “Please, work with me and in 24 short months, you can awake from sleep a new man.”
“My sisters are alive?”
Alice nodded and asked Karl if he was ready to help Hibernetix make the next major step in sleep studies that could not only benefit him but mankind’s new adventure into outer space. Karl’s eyes welled with tears. He had been nothing his entire life and listening to the woman he thought he loved offer an opportunity he never could have imagined.
“I’ll do it but promise me this is the last time. No more funny business. I’ll do it and then I want out.”
Taking his hand, Alice promised him that when he wakes up, there will be a life waiting for him that he could only have dreamed of. Best of all, Alice said, he’ll only be 34 years old. Alice leaned over and kissed his cheek and thanked him for being braver than she could have ever hoped for. Looking over Alice Rice with her beautiful blond hair and one arm, Karl felt like he did that day on the football field so many years ago and hated himself for doing everything that he had done to himself and her. Holding her left hand one last time, he said he’d see her soon as she walked out the room.
Tito and Robert asked if Karl was ready and said yes. He told them to burn those stupid DVDs and that he will never watch another horror movie for as long as he lived. They laughed and apologized for bringing the cheesy slasher and monster movies but they were the only ones they could find. Karl straightened his shirt in the mirror and scrounged through the remnants of the food on the plate before they headed out. Walking past the workout room which was down the hall, they walked the opposite direction from the board room. There was nobody in the building as Karl followed behind the orderlies who offered up small talk. Not paying attention to Karl, they never saw the hit coming.
Unloading everything that had been built up in him for the last month of his life in captivity came crashing into Tito’s ear as Karl punched him with everything he had. Falling to the ground unconscious, Robert turned to face Karl who upended him on a tackle. Driving him into the floor, Karl punched him three times before Robert lost consciousness. Taking Robert’s security badge, Karl looked up and down the long hallway and decided to start running in the direction they were heading.
There were no alarms or guards trying to stop Karl as he ran to the end of the hallway and turned left. He was terrified of being captured but nobody ran out to stop him. Getting to the end of that hallway, Karl saw something that he recognized, the loading docks where his father had worked for almost 40 years. Flying through the door, the alarm that he feared sounded as he found himself trying to get the security card to open the outer door to the receiving area. Swiping it repeatedly, it finally turned from red to green as Karl found himself outside in the bitter cold and snow of Smootville, Utah.
Alive and free, Karl looked towards the main gate that opened onto Main Street and started sprinting as fast as he could. There was commotion behind him as he ran and he only slowed down when he heard the overhead PA system crack to life with Alice telling him to stop. Not hesitating, he continued running until he cleared the gate and ran south to Lindell Road. His thoughts were clear and he knew exactly what he needed to do—get to his cabin, start his truck and get the Hell out of Smootville once and for all. Not carrying all of that extra weight and the time spent in the exercise room had helped Karl immeasurably as he ran as if he was back in those two-a-day practices in high school.
Smootville was exactly as it was when he left for his parent’s house so long ago but the snow had melted considerably and he flew down the road past the post office and to Fort Brisco Pub. Pausing for a quick moment to catch his breath, he saw a truck starting at Henderson Refinery and Die Cast and he started the half-mile run back to his cabin.
Change of plans, Karl thought, as he sprinted home. Get to the cabin, grab his shotgun and ambush the truck. Take the truck and drive to through the slot canyon to Provo. He knew that if he could just get out of Smootville, he would survive—he just knew it. The thickness of the snow slowed his run up the hill at Lindell Road as he heard the truck starting down the road. Alice’s voice was still broadcasting through the factory’s PA system but he couldn’t hear what she was saying over his own heavy breathing and heart jumping out of his chest. He was four cabins away, when he felt the truck turning on Lindell. Finding a strength he didn’t know he possessed, he dug in even deeper and ran harder than he thought he could. Seeing his old white truck in the driveway, Karl darted to his front door only to find it locked.
“God damn it!” He yelled in anger before remembering the spare key in the mailbox. “Ah ha! Assholes!”
His cabin was exactly as how he remembered it as he went to the closet and found his shotgun. Putting in four shells, he racked the gun and put a sweater on quickly. He was drenched in sweat and had bitter spit building up from his gut but he knew he had to find that necessary focus to find his freedom. He grabbed his spare car keys and went to his front window. There, he saw Tito and Robert getting out of the truck hold long, black batons and walking with authority to the front door. Not waiting, Karl opened the door and drew down his weapon on them.
“Stop right there, boys. I don’t want to hurt you,” Karl instructed. “Step away from the truck. I’m taking it and getting out of here.”
Tito and Robert moved away. Karl saw that he really did a number on them and apologized for hitting them. They both shrugged as if it was all in a day’s work but warned him that they were going to get even with Karl. Karl said they probably should but not today as he slid behind the truck and started heading down Lindell Road to Highway 401.
He laughed. At first it was a giggle but it quickly built into hysterics. Pounding the steering wheel column, Karl laughed until his eyes started filling with tears again. He was free and he was heading out of Smootville. After 14 years, Karl Bingham was finally leaving Smootville Utah.
By the fire in Woodruff’s cabin Henderson kick the dirt off of his boots and light his pipe. He stood at the same place looking the same way at Woodruff moments before he killed Leo Smoot. The sense of familiarity was too much for Woodruff who insisted he sit down.
“No, the fire feels too good to step away,” Henderson said puffing his pipe and surveying the room. “We have much to speak about. I’ve missed you, Brother Tiberius. I regret how I last saw ye.”
“The last time you saw me, Brother Thomas, was with your knife slaying young Leo. So, you’ll excuse me for not being more grateful for your audience.”
“Aye, I killed the boy but it was God’s will. Brother Brigham ordered it. I disagreed but I serve at the pleasure of me master,” Henderson said. “He be a good boy and nary a day I don’t regret my actions.”
There in the coldness of the murder site, Woodruff and Henderson watched each other closely. Woodruff couldn’t help but notice how long and grey his hair had become since last seeing him. He wore both his knives with the bravado as one of the most feared killers in the Utah Territory. Henderson’s buckskin shirt was stained from blood and dirt and miles of road that he had travelled unleashing the Hell that Brigham Young had ordered.
Woodruff, in comparison, was aging perfectly into his skin. Work in the fields and quarry had strengthened his body while the memories of the last winter fortified his resolve to do whatever is necessary to protect Smootville and the people that were under his protection. All of which shaped by the horror of watching Leo Smoot bleeding out dead in this very cabin. With legs crossed in the wooden chair that he built, Woodruff asked what they had to speak about for anything short of an apology from the church president for the murder would be unacceptable.
“It’ll be in that vein, Tiberius. You have been ordered to return to the Beehive House to talk with Brother Brigham. He suspects you’d like a taste of revenge. He wants a truce and hopes you would join him in peace and submission,” Henderson said. “I’ve been sent here to accompany you back.”
“Thomas, I cannot leave. These people need me. We are on the precipice of building a fine community and a strong citadel for this Mormon Empire in the land of Deseret. This town is more than my work—it is my life. It will be my legacy. Now more than ever, do I need to be here to finish the work I’ve been sent here to do. Certainly, your Brother Brigham could understand that.”
“Aye, but the man would like a word and I’ve been sent.”
“You said you came here to kill me. Why pause? Deliver your rage and vengeance now and end this charade, Thomas,” Woodruff challenged. “Or was that another tactic to have me do your bidding?”
“Nay, I’ve been ordered to kill you but in this matter, I choose not to follow the word,” Henderson said tapping his pipe against the fireplace. “Brother Brigham’s rage was blind. Now, he hasn’t thought of what would to come with your death. I choose to defy him out of affection for you and the work you’ve done. I give you my word, I shall protect you with my very own life.”
Woodruff was beside himself with anger.
“You could ride with me here under full knowledge that Leo was to die and have the patience to wait until I turn my back to kill him? You, sir, are a coward and a bastard. How you consider yourself to be in good standing with both the church and the Lord escapes me.”
“Did you forget that the boy drew first? Fired at me from point blank range! Did you forget how I offered him escape but he chose to try and kill me?”
“You were my friend!”
“I am your friend but I serve my master, Brother Tiberius,” Henderson said coolly. “We shall leave at dawn. Make the appropriate arrangements.”
And with that, Raccoon Bill and Colonel Starks assumed temporary control of Smootville as Woodruff saddled Copenhagen for the long journey back to Salt Lake City. Woodruff demanded that the work on the post office was to continue and that the cornerstone be placed in no less than two weeks’ time. Promising to continue with the design of the post office, Woodruff headed off knowing that he would never see his beloved post office or city hall finished. It was a dead man’s ride to Salt Lake and he doubted Thomas Henderson would keep his word. Bracing himself before descending down the slot canyon, they paused for a moment as Henderson dismounted Thunderhead and walked over to Colonel Starks.
“A word with you in private, Colonel,” Henderson said as he pulled out his pipe and tobacco pouch.
The quaking aspens were shingles of gold blowing in the breeze as Woodruff and Henderson headed down the road. As Smootville disappeared behind them, the road slowly transformed into a rough trail that they followed heading while heading west. The first couple of miles from town were lined with shake from the quarry with the chopped trees forming a border. Once they passed through the slot canyon, they found themselves on a rough trail that headed towards Woodruff’s audience with Brigham Young.
The Provo River was flowing alongside them as they trotted down the first part of the mountains. It was alive with specks of light and ripples as the black rocks showed how clear the water was. In the late summer days along the mountains, Woodruff realized how much he loved living in this part of the world. The mountains poised nothing but challenges in being tamed with his labor and vision. The river was rich with trout, the fields ready to grow cold wheat. Riding quietly with Henderson, he couldn’t help but think that this was the last time he’d get to see this part of the world, that the next time he would see Smootville would be from above.
Prior to leaving, he had instructed Raccoon Bill and Colonel Starks that under no circumstance should construction on his post office and city hall to be halted while he was gone. Even though he called himself governor of Smootville, he was more of the mayor and more technically, the overseer of a new utopia. He never thought of himself as the leader in the sense that he held moral authority over the citizens and settlers but rather as a simple stone cutter who wanted to build magnificent buildings in a virgin community. An architect with dirt under his fingernails and callused hands from splitting both rock and wood was how he defined himself. It was only through the self-imposed responsibility of protecting the settlers did he feel compelled to lead others.
Woodruff eventually saw his banishment from the Little Cottonwood Canyon as a chance of salvation. At first he thought of it as punishment but it soon transformed into an honorable opportunity. He felt that defining the southern rim of the Salt Lake valley gave his life value and he took this approach when laying out Smootville. In Smootville, Woodruff was given a second chance, something that is rarely offered in the brutal frontiers of the United States.
Before leaving, there was a meeting with the civic panel. Mrs. Esther Lindell was to continue working as the educator for Smootville. With Raccoon Bill Calloway and Colonel Joseph Starks, the four of them formed Woodruff and Associates. It was to be a general partnership that they would use for obtaining contracts for quarrying, mining and land development in the area. Starks suggested the name because out of honor, he did not want to utilize his military credentials and no good business was named after a raccoon. Historically, it was the first time a woman was joined as an equal partner in such a venture. In Woodruff’s absence, they would continue building the city, parceling out properties and continue working on both the quarry and the rail lines to connect Smootville with the rest of the Utah Territory.
Woodruff and Henderson rode deep into the night before breaking for camp well past sunset by the Provo River. Building a small fire, Woodruff tended to Copenhagen and Thunderhead while Henderson prepared bacon and biscuits. They ate in silence, looking at the galaxy of stars above. For a brief moment, Woodruff quit pondering what Henderson and Brigham Young’s next move was to be and imagined a world to be built in the stars.
“Reckon they build a railway to the moon, Brother Thomas?” Woodruff said, finishing his food. “The stars look so much better here in Utah than back in Vermont. It’s cleaner here, the air is much better.”
“Never been to Vermont but I agree. Life is better in these Utah Territories,” Henderson said filling his pipe. “As to visiting the Moon, I reckon someone intelligent as you could figure a manner to travel there. Perhaps a bridge of sorts could connect this world with the Moon. That method escapes me.”
Woodruff began talking how the road to Smootville nearly killed him but he survived and now how the road will get him back to Salt Lake safely only to be killed there. Henderson told him not to worry about anything while he is by his side. He swore a blood oath to protect Woodruff and offered a very small apology again for what he had done to Leo Smoot. Besides, Henderson continued, the work to be done in Smootville had just begun. Nobody could finish the labors there without Woodruff’s touch.
“If the town is to survive, Brother Thomas, there needs to be a strong leader at the helm. The area is rich in mineral and lumber. The right hand could build a mighty fortune,” Woodruff said.
“I aim to be a part of that fortune grab, Brother Tiberius.”
Henderson began describing what had happened during the winter in Salt Lake. He talked how the men had built the walled citadel with the five posts and the abundance of good granite and lumber in the area. He talked about the fire and Isaac McParland losing his life foolishly running in for busted, old rifles and Henderson roared with laughter when he heard about the three bears breaking into the food pantry. If possible, he laughed even harder when he heard they had to eat greasy bear meat to make up for what the bears had pilfered. Woodruff talked about the addition of the new pioneers and the positive impact they are creating in Smootville. He liked having the women and children there for it provided a sense of direction for the rest of the men. He spoke of the character of men like Raccoon Bill and the newly arrived Colonel Starks. He admired their frontier attitude and knew that they had the initiative to make Smootville a major mountain community. He added that he hopes he can return to see the greatness he started in the small outpost.
“What is to become of me, Brother Thomas?”
“You are to have an audience with the church president. That is all I know,” Henderson said. “Tempers have flared but they will reside. There is no harm to come to you, this I assure you.”
“I take you at your word, Thomas,” Woodruff said splitting his gaze between the sky full of stars and his old travelling companion. Life in the West was not for everybody. It was brutal and hard and filled with men who could do unthinkable actions. Woodruff figured Henderson didn’t see the difference in his assassination of Leo Smoot than dispatching the men who attacked them. In his estimation, Henderson’s strength came from doing what he thought was right and never hesitating to execute. Taking a deep breath, he smelt the smoke from the fire floating in the mountain air.
“I doubt I can forget what you did to Leo but I can choice to eventually forgive you.”
Stratton collected himself before allowing the women to speak.
In the last hour, Wilson and Owens were badly beaten and Jon Rodriquez was dead. Between killing Rodriquez and beating Wilson half to death, he must have taken the woman from out of hibernation. She was dressed in an orange jumpsuit with her long, thin grey and black hair hanging everywhere. Her eyes were sunken into her face that it looked like black orbs above her even blacker mouth. Stratton figured she might weigh 80-pounds but that was being generous. She was sickly skinny and Stratton couldn’t get a bead on what her age might be. He assumed somewhere in her 60s or 70s but she was probably in her 30s. He had learned from HiberLectures that certain hibernauts develop adverse reactions to the forced sleep and start self-cannibalizing themselves.
“Ma’am, before we proceed, I am going to need you to sit down in that chair and wait until I am ready for you. Chad, Jeff—help me get Smiley into a chamber,” Stratton ordered as he lifted himself up from the floor.
Looking at the woman, she moved away from Charlie and into the chair. Becker and Pederson helped the captain unload their prisoner and put him back into the #40 hibernation chamber. Pederson hooked up the IVs and feeding tube while Becker attached the HiberLecture helmet. They worked quickly and efficiently but Stratton could tell they were both jumping being around Smiley. Pederson gave an additional sedative before strapping him in and shut the chamber.
“For how long, Skip?” Pederson asked as he started programming the chamber.
“Ma’am, why don’t you tell me how long your companion needs to be down?”
The woman, who never once took her gaze off of the crew of the ISS Carson City, said that he can sleep indefinitely and that he is at peace with both this world and God’s. Stratton considered what she said and told Pederson to put him down for six months. Judging by his body weight and inhuman level of strength, Stratton was certain Smiley would come out on the other side ready to stand trial.
No one moved or said anything or even breathed until the hibernation chamber pressurized and the green indicator lights registering Smiley was deeply asleep. Becker was ordered back to the Carson City to continue running diagnostics on the Libra, to make sure there were no other survivors that they missed. Stratton radioed Owens to meet Pederson in examination room #3 to collect Jon Rodriquez’s body and have him prepared for burial. Pederson warned that he should stay with the captain and examine the women before he left the captain’s side. Stratton said there would be time for that back on the Carson City.
Leaving them alone, Stratton looked over the woman and asked what her connection with Smiley was.
“Why do you mock him and call him ‘Smiley?’” she asked in a tense whisper. “His name is Charlie Smith and he was my savior, my protector.”
“Charlie Smith,” Stratton started condescendingly, “is a cargo specialist from California, a Trunts dealer and a murderer. Let’s be clear. He killed a member of my crew and nearly killed three other crew members, including myself. I wish I could be more sympathetic right now but our nerves are rubbed raw and we know next to nothing about what happened on the Libra. For Christ sakes, there should be at least some evidence or at least the remains of the 37 crew members aboard this space station and there is absolutely nothing. It’s as if they all up and left in the middle of the night.”
“Try not to take the Lord’s name in vain, Captain,” she said.
“Apologies, ma’am,” Stratton said sincerely. Realizing that he was strained and that he needed to take a new approach with the woman, he took a deep breath. Apologizing, he said that he asked for her name.
“Beverly Pullman, Captain,” she said. “And may I ask when is it?”
“When is what, Mrs. Pullman? I don’t understand,” Stratton said piecing together both of the survivors insistence on knowing the date. Assuming it had something to do with their disorientation from hibernation even though there were adequate clocks throughout the space station, he gave as much generic information he felt he could. “Our star date, at presence, is the 17th of March, 2176. We are currently aboard the Space Station Libra orbiting above Ganymede and I am the captain of the ISS Carson City. But you already told me you know everything, so how is it you don’t know that?”
“I only know truth. I am forced to rely upon the kingdom of man to help fill in some details,” Pullman said standing up. “You are to take me aboard the Carson City? If so, let us depart. I feel as if I need Brother Charlie to sleep in peace without me.”
Stratton agreed but felt compelled to warn Pullman that if anything amiss happens, she should expect to join Smith under hibernation immediately. She told him that there is nothing to worry, she meant no harm but could do with water and food. Stratton said he could too and escorted her to the commissary aboard the Carson City.
Her walk was pained and slow. She moved as if every step was an exercise in pain. Pullman’s arms were barely thicker than toothpicks and she walked with a crooked spine. Stratton radioed Becker to tell him they were coming aboard and to prepare food. Pederson contacted the captain to tell them that Rodriquez had been placed into a body bag and they were bringing him back to the Carson City. Stratton told them to meet them in the galley.
The crew was already assembled when Stratton and Pullman arrived. Introducing the crew to Pullman, Pederson took a blood sample and ran a DNA check on her as bowls of food were being served. Pullman ignored her soup but proceeded to drink glass after glass of water. The men ate slowly, watching the woman they called Skeletor try and rehydrate. Her skin was grey and filled with cavern of wrinkles. Stratton thought she looked as if she had been soaking too long in salt water to have so much damage to her body.
They were being polite and awaiting their captain’s command but Owens didn’t care to wait considering what had happened to his hand. Standing up, he asked her who was Charlie Smith. Looking up from her water glass, she warned Owens to not speak of Charlie Smith in the past tense but Owens corrected her that everything that is Charlie Smith will only be found in the past and that’s where Owens was going to make sure he stayed.
“There is so little you know about what happened after the Coolidge collided. Everyone on Earth went back to being isolated, separated from the galaxy and blind to what we had to do to survive. It’s been a decade that we’ve endured living on scraps and slowly dying in sleep. But you wouldn’t know that. How could you? You were safe on Earth with unlimited air and food and water and companionship. Here, here in space, we did what was necessary to survive.
“At first, the decisions were hard and violent. Most couldn’t handle what was to happen because their minds were closed off to the potential of surviving at a different plane. It was people like Charlie Smith that knew what needed to be done and had the courage to surrender to a greater plan, to understand and love with a new perspective. These are things you will never understand because you have been sheltered from the horrors. I saw these horrors and did what was necessary.”
“I take it you still had communication with the other outposts, Mrs. Pullman,” Stratton asked.
“We did for a while, but eventually communication failed between the space stations and I realized we were more and more alone every day. There was panic when the decision was made. I never panicked because I knew in God had a bigger plan for me and for those that believed.”
“Where did they go, Mrs. Pullman?” Stratton asked. “There is no record of anybody still aboard the station and short of the Lunar Base, no evidence anyone, dead or alive. It’s as if they all just disappeared.”
Taking yet another deep drink, Pullman ghastly face scanned the room and smiled a horrific grin.
“They didn’t disappear, Captain,” she said. “They were taken, by God.”
They crested over Parlay’s Canyon two days later.
With the exception of a very long break to remove porcupine quills from Thunderhead’s front left leg, the journey to Salt Lake had been uneventful. Woodruff and Henderson rode mostly in silence, taking in the beauty of the land and the newly constructed barns and farmhouses along the trail. Much had changed over the last year, Woodruff thought, as they started down the trail towards the Buchanan farm.
Henderson said that they were to spend the night at his home and meet with the church president first thing in the morning.
They headed towards the beginning of the Salt Lake Temple but veered south to a grouping of farms that grew nothing by sugar beets. Unlike Woodruff who only had adopted Leo Smoot, Henderson had married the widow Edith Prettyman and taken on her four children as his own. He fathered his first son that winter, a young redhead named Tiberius Henderson, and taken a plural wife in the north in a bustling community called Ogden. The Prettyman Farm was centrally located in the quadrant known as Sugarhouse. While named after her deceased husband, the Prettyman Farm was under complete ownership and control of Thomas Henderson.
Stabling the horses, workers tended to Copenhagen and Thunderhead as the men walked into the house. Henderson was greeted by his wife and very young son. Holding him to the sky and delivering a series of kisses to his face, he handed him over to his namesake for inspection.
“A very fine boy, Brother Thomas,” Woodruff said holding the child in his arms.
“He bears an equally fine name, Brother Tiberius.”
And with that, Woodruff ate a plate of beans and pork and retired for the evening to his offered room. Disrobing, he collapsed in the straw-stuffed bed. The time in the saddle was harder than he remembered. Three days of travelling over the rough terrain took a toll on him, much different than the riding he did around Smootville in overseeing the construction of the new town. With thoughts of Leo Smoot and the rekindled friendship with Henderson, Woodruff drifted off to sleep.
Morning came earlier than Woodruff had hoped. Taking coffee and breakfast with Henderson, they saddled up their horses and trotted to the Beehive House to meet with Brigham Young. Woodruff was amazed at the amount of construction and volume of pioneers working in building the new Mormon Empire. More roads and homes had been built in his time away giving the city the appearance of St. Louis and other major towns Woodruff had visited before arriving in the Utah Territory.
Riding up State Street, the wide road was filled in with homes and industrial shops. Woodruff could only think of the word bustling to describe Salt Lake. Henderson explained each of the new buildings and who owned and operated each shop. Immigration into the city had been nearly nonstop after 1847 with Mormon pioneers and others joining Salt Lake to build a community with reaches outside of the Federal Government. As a deputy lawman, Henderson was known to all. They feared both the man and the legend of what Henderson had done working alongside Porter Rockwell. Men doffed their hats as they rode by to the Beehive House. Woodruff knew that Henderson held sway in this new town but had never seen the full impact of his importance. People feared him and treated him above the law which he was mandated to enforce. He just reminded himself that he has under his protection before meeting with the church president.
Approaching the Beehive House, Woodruff said that he had enjoyed his journey with him and was hoping that Henderson could accompany him back to Smootville. Nodding, Henderson said he would be happy to do that for him.
Entering the parlor room of the Beehive House, the home was a lively with activity. Men carried bundles of paper and documents from room to room as women scurried children out of general areas. The weather was brisk outside, mothers would yell, and demanded that the children take their play outside. Greeted by general-surveyor of the Utah Territory, Ellsworth Daggett, Henderson and Daggett shook hands for an extended period of time. They extended pleasantries before Henderson introduced Daggett to Woodruff.
“The reports of your work have been remarkable, Mr. Woodruff,” Daggett said. “I am looking forward to working with you. I hear we are to travel back to this Smootville shortly. I am at your command.”
Thanking him, Woodruff and Henderson approached Young’s office and entered. Sitting behind his large desk was the church president. Much like his last audience with Young, the leader of the Mormon people was busily finishing a letter before addressing the men. With a flick of his signature, an assistant took the paper and exited the room leaving them alone.
“Brother Tiberius, Brother Thomas. Good of you to join me. Please sit down,” Young said. “I trust you had a safe passage?”
“With the exception of a porcupine, it was a safe passage,” Woodruff said. “Why have you sent for me?”
Standing tall behind his desk, Young moved around the room inspecting the books and maps that lined the walls. He breathed deeply, almost in pain, as he began addressing Woodruff.
“Sir, your time at the outpost has exceeded any of my expectations. I sent you there to build the outer wall of our empire but you took my instructions to the next logical step. You built a town, a community, a safe haven for saints and I am grateful and respectful of the work you have done. I hear that you have found good granite and timber. Have you started building a mill?”
Woodruff reported that the mill was built and producing timber almost around the clock but the quarry was still in the early stages. He said that it would be at least another year before they could dedicate all of their energies at the quarry. Lacking the appropriate equipment and having insufficient manpower, Woodruff elected to spend more of the town’s energies in finishing the infrastructure to insure that Smootville could survive another winter.
“The construction of a mill is vital to success in every endeavor, Brother Tiberius. I trust you are aware of this,” Young asked.
Agreeing, Woodruff said that the work done at the mill will be the cornerstone for any further ventures in the community. In the meantime, he had focused on the construction of the post office and city hall which would serve both as civic landmarks and the beginnings of government in the new town. Brigham Young shook his head as he retook his seat and faced Woodruff.
“And your church? I have heard no word regarding the construction of a church house in your Smootville. Is that true?”
“We perform Sabbath services at various locations. I have kept the men’s spiritual needs satisfied,” Woodruff said. “I never felt a formal building was required to offer praise to the Lord, Brother Brigham.”
“No, it is not, but neither is the construction of a post office, Brother Tiberius.”
Woodruff shifted in his chair and asked if he had displeased him. The back of Woodruff’s throat was filling with anger but he beat down any urges about seeking revenge against Young. In his office, there was a reverence that he couldn’t shatter even though his thoughts went to Leo Smoot.
“Have you discovered iron ore in the vicinity?”
Seeing that Brigham Young was changing the subject to more neutral territory, Woodruff gave his report regarding the various metals and minerals that are in the area. He reported that he believes the surrounding areas were rich in iron ore holdings. It could be the key to not just strengthening the eastern borders but also provide the raw material necessary to build up Salt Lake City and construct the necessary railways in and around the territory.
Stroking his beard, Brigham Young stared hard at Woodruff. His eyes were cold. There was none of the warmth that endeared him to Woodruff when they first met four years ago. Asking if there was anything else he’d like to report or comment on, Woodruff looked to his feet and then to his friend, Thomas.
“Brother Thomas killed Leo Smoot. You knew that, sir?”
Young nodded slightly as Woodruff tried to find the courage to finish his thought.
“You more than knew about it, sir. You ordered his death,” Woodruff said. “Isn’t that true as well?”
Brigham Young face remained frozen. He continued to stared at Woodruff coldly and with no empathy or emotion.
“Why would you kill, Leo? He did you no harm. He was just a stone cutter’s apprentice. He prayed and celebrated the work of God and you had him destroyed. Why would you do that, Brother Brigham?”
“Book of Matthew, chapter 5, verse 38. May the punishment match the injury, an eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth,” Young quoted. “You took my son, I chose to take yours.”
“You did nothing of the sort. As I had no direct hand in your son’s death, you had none in mine. You sent Thomas to do your bidding because you lacked the strength to do it yourself. You chose to sit high on the mountain top and look down on your disciples instead of dirty your hands,” Woodruff challenged.
“Perhaps you should have continued reading Matthew to chapter 6, verse 14: ‘For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,’” Woodruff cited. “Your hands will never wash clean, sir.”
“Enough!” Young said slapping the desk. “Thomas, remove this man immediately.”
Looking at the church president and then his friend, Henderson shook his head slowly. Pulling his pipe and tobacco pouch out, he started filling the pipe calmly keeping his eye upon Brigham Young.
“I serve at your pleasure, Brother Brigham, because I serve with the righteous. I executed the boy under your command for a wrong that must be made right,” Henderson said under a puff of smoke. “I see no balance in the ledger between you men.”
“He’s not removing me, sir, and I am not leaving. I am to return to Smootville post haste and you cannot stop me nor would you want me not to return,” Woodruff said. “Your empire needs me as much as I wish to remain here.”
Calming down, Young straightened his suit jacket and removed a small locked box from his desk.
“Brother Tiberius, you chose to remain here because there is nothing for you back in our Vermont but creditors and the inside of a jail cell you yourself had constructed. Don’t let your hubris confound your judgment. You stay not out of loyalty to me but because you chose not to return,” Young said.
“I doubt you’ve heard but on April 10th, Federal troops were fired upon at Fort Sumter outside of Charlestown, South Carolina. Word recently reached me that there is a war between the North and the South. There is a great civil war waging back East. I pray for their souls but in the intermediate time, Lincoln’s long reach has left Deseret, removing his troops from Fort Douglas and back to the war.”
Woodruff was stunned by the news but understood even quicker the implications of what Young had said. With the Federal forces fighting the separatists, there would be no focus on the activities in the Utah Territories. Brigham Young would be making a land grab during this war, trying to expand his own empire.
“Never has our church been under more attack then right now, Brother Tiberius, and I can little afford insurrection within my borders. You are given two options. The first is to accept this gift for the work you’ve done in establishing your Smootville. It should be enough to both settle your debts and get you back to Whitingham Vermont with enough resources to start anew. But once you’ve left the Land of Deseret, you are never to return.”
“The second option?” Woodruff asked.
“There is no second option for you,” Brigham Young said gravely. “There is no future for you in our kingdom, our empire and our church. You are excommunicated immediately and it is only because there has been adequate bloodshed that I chose to spare you. Take your money and leave.”
Woodruff asked how long he had to make a decision. Young said immediately and if Henderson chooses not to enforce his command, Porter Rockwell would do so with pleasure. Looking at his friend, Henderson looked saddened. His eyes were red with emotion but his face remained calm as if to say there are no other options that can be negotiated. Young condescendingly thanked Woodruff again for his services as he handed over a bundle of notes and a bag filled with gold coins.
“You have three days to leave, Brother Tiberius. Utilize your time wisely.”
Captain Jack Stratton left Beverly Pullman with Owens and Wilson as Pederson took him to sick bay to receive medical attention. In the last 12 hours, he had been throttled by the ogre Charlie Smith and his body was wrecked. As they walked, Pederson gave a full report on Pullman from the blood sample he had pulled.
“Well, on the bright side, her name really is Beverly Pullman,” Pederson started as he removed the captain’s shirt to start scanning for more broken ribs or damaged internal organs. “She is 63 years old from Chicago and she is a navigation officer for the Acheron Space Station. Pullman had been under hibernation for almost two years before the Coolidge Event. When she woke up around Pluto, the solar system had been dark three years. She was a first shifter, solid service jacket and holds a fair amount of decorations for her work on the ISS Silver Springs—that’s the freighter she shipped out on. The only thing that I found curious is that she served double duty as the first shift’s chaplain. Probably accounts for all of her God talk stuff.”
Stratton had bruised both of his lungs and recracked his ribs. Pederson was performing microsurgery to repair the damage to the captain’s torso and relieve the pain he was suffering. Using nanorobotics, Pederson programmed a healing program that reconnected the torn tissue and alleviated the swelling.
“Is she a threat?”
“Only on a pulpit, Skip. She’d loss nearly 40% of her body mass and I am amazed that she can even walk. I checked to see what her HiberLecture series was and it was a series of LDS doctrine teachings. For the last three years, she’s been in constant Mormon mode. Smith also had the same HiberLecture but it alternated with a surfing program and a pottery tutorial. I’d think we’d both agree that’s a pretty weird combination, Skip.”
Stratton agreed as Pederson finished up working on him. He dressed and asked what their next move should be. Pederson didn’t hesitate when he said that they needed to get off the Libra and start heading towards Charon and the Acheron. There was nothing on the Libra that could add to solving the mystery of what had happened to the crew members of the space station. They should put Pullman under hibernation, wake up first shift and get the hell out of Jupiter. Between the ion propulsion system and the large planet’s gravitational forces, they could be in the Pluto-Charon system in 15 months.
“Leave a fucking note to not open until Christmas for all I care,” Pederson said.
Stratton agreed with his medical officer as they headed back to the galley. Pullman was eating and drinking as Wilson and Owens watched her. The captain instructed Wilson to get further medical treatment with Pederson.
“Mrs. Pullman, you said that God had taken all of the crew. Now, you and I both know that you are a long way from where you are supposed to be. Tell me how you and Charlie made it to the Libra from the Acheron.”
“We are missionaries. We spread the word of God to those that need the light of truth.”
Shaking his head, he said he understood that. He simply wanted to know how they got from point A to point B because there was no shuttle or ship at the Libra. Were they dropped off? Did they jettison their craft? How did they make a year and a half trip alone?
Continuing to eat and drink voraciously, Pullman said that they were deposited here by the ISS Silver Springs almost two years ago. She had no idea where the freighter had gone but only that they were serving the word of God and protecting the outer rim of the solar system from nonbelievers. The Coolidge Event wasn’t an accident but rather a test to man and that those who survived were indebted to keep foreigners away.
“In fairness, ma’am, we’re all foreigners in space,” Stratton said. “I understand the great pressure and strain this mission had done to you. Furthermore, I understand that you probably have just as many questions for me as I do for you but you have not been cooperative. Your companion killed a member of my crew and frankly, not to speak insensitively, you are acting a little more than erratic. Long term hibernation affects people in different manners and unfortunately, I see a very sick woman that needs to be returned to Earth for help. If you want our assistance, I will certainly take care of you but I am now considering very dire direction for both you and my crew.”
Pullman put down her food and hobbled over to Stratton. There, feet from his face, Stratton could finally make out the pupils in her eyes. They weren’t just black orbs staring into his soul but eyes that were both sadden and confirmed in her convictions.
“We were left here as a warning to unbelievers. Do not proceed any further and do not attempt to reach the Acheron. There is nothing for you there. Return to Earth and leave us be for if you chose to board the Acheron, you will only find death. The unrighteous may not step foot for the Acheron is holy ground,” Pullman warned.
Stratton considered what she had said for a moment. Scratching his beard, he looked at Owens who had remained quiet through everything. Clicking on his radio to Becker, Stratton spoke to Pete Owens:
“Prepare for detaching from the Libra and start waking up the first shift, Mr. Becker. I want you to start making flight plans to the Acheron Space Station immediately. Pete, after you get checked out again, please escort Mrs. Pullman back to Hibernation Bay #2 and have her join Mr. Smith in sleep.”
Both men confirmed their orders.
“There is no beware of dog warning signs in space,” Stratton said to Pullman. “Only orders and I have mine. I am going to leave you here for the staffing freighter which should be here in four months. Until then, rest well. I am making note of your warnings but we’re going to continue with our mission.”
Pullman was motionless for a moment but cautioned Stratton he was making a serious mistake going to Charon.
“You have been warned, Captain,” she said through her black mouth and even blacker eyes. “Do not be surprised what you are to find.”
Karl drove recklessly—fast and without a care.
He secretly hoped he’d get pulled over by a cop to explain what had just happened to him. Imprisoned against his will in deep sleep for five years, he didn’t know what to expect when he got through the slot canyon onto Highway 401 heading east. He knew he had to get to Vernal then to Roosevelt then to Provo. He’d be safe in Provo—he knew people in Provo.
The truck whizzed through the corners of the canyon and eventually opened up into a sea of trees. He was entering Ashley National Park with King’s Peak off in the distance. The quaking aspen were without leaves and were nothing more than thin white toothpicks lost in an ocean of snow. The land was rugged, broken mountains with decapitated boulders littering the landscape. It was cold and barren but Karl never felt more alive and more connected with the area.
He finally did what he’d been talking about his entire life—he got out of Smootville.
His hometown was in his rearview mirror and he pushed the truck harder to get even further and further away. In the late afternoon, the sun was starting to set and he drove the wheels off of the truck trying to catch it. Vernal was 40 miles away and Karl wanted to get there before dark. Constantly looking behind him, he didn’t see any headlamps but after every mile, he felt safer and safer that he made his getaway.
Whipping through the mountain road, Karl kept thinking the same thing repeatedly: get away, stay away, find my sisters. He hadn’t spoken to Kathryn or Rebecca in almost a year and this distressed him for two reasons. One, he felt like the worst brother on the planet and regretted all of the time lost with his family. Second, he had no idea how to measure time. Was it a year since he’d seen them or was it six years? Moreover, how did he know that Alice Rice even had put him into hibernation? The only thing he knew for certain was he went to bed so long ago a fat man and then he woke up skinnier than a rail. He discovered Smootville abandoned and knew he found his high school sweetheart who was doubling as the chief henchman for a supervillian.
This made him chuckle simply because of its absurdity.
He knew that he had been held prisoner at some new medical offices at Henderson Refinery and Die Cast and he knew for about a month he ate like a God damn king. Looking at his hands driving the car, he saw boxing splits along his knuckles from where he hit Tito and Robert and he knew that the truck he was driving was real. Besides that, if someone was to tell him that he was the victim of an alien abduction, he’d wouldn’t argue too vehemently against them. Still, he was trying to figure out time and where he stood in that every changing line.
He saw the lights of Vernal ahead and took his foot off the accelerator for the first time. He turned past the Parcel Post Bank, the only building ever shipped via the US Post Office, and turned on 191 towards Roosevelt. The Parcel Post Bank was the site of an annual field trip for every kid in Smootville to see how ridiculously cheap postage rates allowed a banker to ship 50-pound bags of bricks to Vernal. Today, it’s just a local bank. Karl was nervous going into town considering for the last month he had only seen four people but breathed easier when he saw cars driving around Vernal.
He wasn’t alone. He wasn’t alone and he knew that he would be slowly waking up from this nightmare. Tears started building in his eyes and he started smiling broadly. He wasn’t alone and this was going to be okay.
With night set, he slowed to the speed limit and started playing with the radio trying to get some reception. There wasn’t any reception but the truck had a CD of classic country in the dashboard. He turned it on and settled in for the 30-minute drive to Roosevelt. The truck hummed to finger picking country guitar with gentle cowboy yodeling and the whirling of the heater keeping the frigid temperatures outside at bay.
He thought of what Alice and Dr. Riedmen had offered him and debated quietly if he made the right decision. Should he have taken them up on the two year imprisonment with the payoff a mind that he always secretly wanted? Or did he do the right thing in fighting to escape? It was probably too premature to say that he had really escaped but he wasn’t back in Smootville.
Karl smiled in thinking that he made the right decision.
Roosevelt came and went. With the tank still over half full, Karl kept pressing forward and on to Provo. There was more traffic coming at him which gave him increasingly more courage that he made the right decision. When a sport car over took him and passed on the left, he felt that he had really escaped from Smootville. He figured when he got to Provo, he would stop at his Uncle Lamar’s house. He was his dad’s older brother and had been living at the same house for over four decades. He was a lawyer who gave up practicing law to work at a bank. With the exception of sneaking off for fishing early on a Saturday morning, there were few things were as consistent as Uncle Lamar.
Karl drove through the night past Duchesne and around Strawberry Reservoir and up towards Heber City. Heber was a sleepy little town and he was not disappointed by how empty, deserted streets. He drove past fast food restaurants and gas stations and retail homes before finding the turn off along the Provo River to Deer Creek Reservoir and on to Uncle Lamar’s. The classic goldie-oldie country CD was replaced by local radio and Karl smiled to himself that he didn’t know any of the music until he found the public radio station. It was the hour of the night when they played jazz music and he drove on to the sounds of stride piano and extended saxophone solos.
He always pretended to like jazz music.
In less than an hour, he was in Provo and he exited off the freeway to his uncle’s street. Brigham Young’s University was in the background as he drove along the sleeping streets and found the simple bungalow house that Lamar and his aunt Lisa called home.
Karl was exhausted.
Not the kind of tired that one would experience from running a marathon or working a shift at Henderson Refinery and Die Cast but rather a mental exhaustion that can only come from being put into forced hibernation and escaping your captors and stealing a truck and driving almost 100 miles to freedom. His brain was swimming in feelings of persecution and pain and he wanted nothing more than to have his loving Uncle Lamar open the door and hold him. Hold him till he wept and fell asleep in his arms. This was all he could think about as he drove up to Lamar Bingham’s house.
Shaking the cold off his overalls, he cautiously went to the door and rang the bell. The house was dark but at almost 3 in the morning, Karl didn’t expect anything else. He rang again and started gently knocking. He saw a light come on behind the window and the door opened to his Uncle Lamar.
“Can I help you?” the man asked.
“Uncle Lamar, it’s me, Karl, your nephew,” Karl said simply drained.
Lamar Bingham looked at him as if he had seen a ghost.
“Karl, what are you doing here? You’re…you’re not supposed to be here. You’re supposed to be dead,” Lamar said reaching out to his nephew and bringing him in close to him. “George told me you had died.”
Karl grabbed his uncle and lived the fantasy that he dreamed during his escape. He hugged him tight and wept not out love but a sense of fulfilling a dream. His Aunt Lisa came around the corner and saw the men embracing and joined them when she realized that it was Karl. His heart was full, his mind empty and his body completely done for. Lamar brought Karl into the kitchen and put on the kettle for tea as Lisa asked if he’d like something to eat. His brain was swimming and he asked politely if it was okay if he spent the night with them. They quickly agreed as Lisa finished making a sandwich and put together a makeshift bed on the couch in the front room.
“It is good to see you, son,” Lamar started. “I thought you were gone. How is it possible that you knocked on our door?”
Karl said that he would tell them all about it in the morning as he stuffed the sandwich into his mouth. He said that he was in trouble, but not with the law, but he’s out of it. He just needed time to sleep and rest and he’d let them in on his adventure. Moreover, he warned them that he might be talking crazy but to please indulge him—he didn’t want to scare them that night. Getting a kiss from Aunt Lisa on the cheek and the firmest, kindest handshake from his uncle, Karl retired to the couch. Taking off his shoes and shirt, he hid under the blanket and closed his eyes.
It was the first time he had gone to sleep in five years knowing exactly where he was. He wasn’t home but he knew that he was safe.
Walking out of the Beehive House, Woodruff talked with Henderson for a moment. He needed his council. Brigham Young had just handed him over $10,000 worth of notes and bills and for the first time in a very long time, Woodruff didn’t know what to do. It was more than enough to settle any debts he owed back East with enough left over for him to restart a new life.
“You’ve been reborn, Brother Tiberius,” Henderson said. “Never had I seen the church president act with such fiscal generosity. I don’t know what I would do but I might take his advice and leave Utah.”
Woodruff said that he didn’t want to leave the Utah Territory. He went on to say that he had finally found where he belonged. Utah is not for everyone but for those that can separate the preconceived notions of the state, one can find a community which is unlike any other. Between the raw beauty of the territory, the inherent toughness of the pioneers and the uniqueness of the work being done, Utah offered Woodruff something that he can find no place else nor would he want to look for anywhere else. Moreover, Smootville was in its infancy and Woodruff wasn’t ready to leave her yet.
“You’re without many options, Brother Tiberius,” Henderson said as they walked about South Temple road. “I vowed to levy no harm to you but there are limits to my promise. Take the money and leave. In time you can return.”
They sauntered down the road, looking at the large homes being built for those that worked for the church. In short time, South Temple would be the grand promenade of the city. With Woodruff’s architect eye, he knew that these would be the homes of the captains of industry in Salt Lake City. They walked the length of the road in silence. Henderson paused on occasion to fill his pipe and Woodruff stopped to marvel at some of the developments and homes. As they walked, Tiberius Woodruff slowly realized that he was officially being banished by the second president of the Church of Latter-Day Saints from the land that he wanted nothing more than to build into a great empire.
Not being allowed to witness Salt Lake City develop into the palatial masterpiece that he knew it would once become, Woodruff was saddened that he knew that he was being banished a second time. It hurt him even worse that he never would be able to properly see Smootville develop into the center of industry he knew it could become. It hit his heart solidly and he felt a pain reminiscent of Leo Smoot’s death.
As they approached the slopping hill that would eventually become the Deseret College, they turned back and Woodruff began giving Henderson specific instructions on what he would like to see with Smootville. Coming to terms with the fact that he was to leave in less than three days, he asked that Henderson would continue the work in the eastern outpost and build the city that the Utah Territory deserved. He told his friend that Raccoon Bill and Colonel Starks knew the importance of the post office and city hall and hoped that the work would be completed to his specifications. He asked that the work at the quarry would continue and asked that Henderson would bring in the right men to build a refinery that would adequately smelt both the reserves of iron ore and process the coal that was in the vicinity. He told Henderson that there was wealth unlike anywhere in the territory in the mines and quarries and hoped the lawman would stash his pistol and knives for that of a prospector axe and surveyors compass. There was more fortune in stripping the Earth and building a community than wearing a tin badge enforcing the law.
Henderson said that he would return to Smootville once Woodruff left. He was adamant that he did not want to see his old friend leave but constantly advised him that there was no future in Utah for him. Woodruff regrettably agreed with him and said that he would leave in two day’s time but not before he gave Henderson a written mandate for what he would like to be done. Henderson agreed to fulfill Woodruff’s vision and listened intently on what his stone cutting friend directed.
“Under no circumstance are you to allow Smootville to fail, Brother Thomas,” Woodruff directed. “Trust Bill and Joseph explicitly. They know better than anyone what needs to be done. But remember this—we are given only one chance at perfection. Smootville was founded under duress but it should not advance as such.”
And with this, off they go.
They saddled Copenhagen and Thunderhead and rode back to Sugarhouse. At the Prettyman Farm, they ate a large dinner of rabbit stew filled with potatoes and recanted stories of their cross-country trip. It was a series of laughter and remembrance and in the end made Woodruff’s decision to leave all the more painful. He elected to leave in two days’ time after securing sufficient provisions and decided that he would make his final destination after reaching Cheyenne Wyoming. Henderson gave information regarding an old trapping acquaintance in Wyoming named Roofus Whaley that would tend to his travel needs and started writing instructions for Woodruff, all of which was very painful.
The next day was filling the saddle bags with provisions and securing passage with Saints leaving the Utah Territory to head back East. Woodruff was upset to not see his vision of Utah develop into reality but he knew the severity of Brigham Young’s decision and chose to find a new life back in Vermont. With the struggle between the states during the Civil War, he considered joining the northern forces and help bring to task the seceding South or simply go back to work building federal building for President Lincoln. Either way, he slowly came to terms with the idea that he would be leaving Utah to never see her again.
The next day, Woodruff made final peace with Thomas Henderson. Woodruff said that Leo Smoot’s death would always run deep red on Henderson’s blade but he understood why Henderson acted in the fashion that he did. Embracing his friend briefly, he said that he would write and hoped that Henderson could continue his vision with Smootville. Henderson said that he was preparing to remove his family and take them to Smootville to continue the work that Woodruff had begun. Taking his lawman badge off, Henderson placed it in Woodruff’s hand and wished him a safe passage back home. Woodruff corrected him saying that Utah was home but appreciated the gift.
And with that, Tiberius Woodruff mounted Copenhagen and started his journey back East.
He would never reach Vermont and pay off his creditors. Nor would he ever reach Wyoming and meet with Roofus Whaley. Departing with a group of missionaries, Woodruff would disappear in the west with only Copenhagen finding Cheyenne. There was talk about what happened to Tiberius Woodruff but the only thing for certain was that Porter Rockwell was not found in Salt Lake when Woodruff disappeared.
Tiberius Woodruff was 39 years old.
The crew of the ISS Carson City moved fast but deliberately in preparing to detach from Space Station Libra. Captain Jack Stratton issued orders that the Carson City was to redock with the ion propulsion engine and set course for the Acheron Space Station which orbits the outer rim of the dual system of Pluto and Charon. Medical Officer Jeff Pederson had put Beverly Pullman and Charlie Smith into deep hibernation, set for a six month program of HiberLectures of scuba diving and basket weaving—most of the crew laughed at his small, cruel joke. Pete Wilson’s hand was genetically rebuilt, reconstructing the three fingers that had been bitten off and he was placed into hibernation before the rest of the third shift.
First shift was woken up when the Carson City reattached with the ion propulsion engine. Even though Stratton had been up for less than a week, he was exhausted. The strain of discovering a ghost ship orbiting Ganymede and the loss of Jon Rodriquez was more difficult than the seasoned commander thought it would be. Letting the first shifters get their grounding, Stratton pulled first shift commander, Ted Jones, aside and briefed him regarding the Libra.
Stratton and Jones both shared a love of boxing but whereas the third shift commander was in the cruiserweight, Jones would fight as a welterweight. Short, lean and compact, he had big hands and an even bigger mind. Arguably the smartest man aboard the Carson City, he was respected like Stratton for his roll up the sleeves mentality and ability to process any situation. He was the kind of ship commander that Stratton needed as a counterpart—strong willed, hardened and meticulous in every aspect of the mission. But, upon hearing the murder of Rodriquez, he wept. Jones shared the same level of affection for Rodriquez as Stratton did and petitioned to have him assigned to his first shift.
Jones was baffled by the complete lack of human presence aboard the Libra and worked alongside Stratton as they reviewed the cargo holdings. Nothing out of the ordinary, just mineral and gas collections ready to be shipped back to Earth. As for the three bodies they discovered, Jones quickly surmised that Charles Smith was the supposed protector of Beverly Pullman—almost an avenging angel of sorts. Jones asked if an autopsy had been conducted on the dead woman and Stratton told him that Pederson had determined Amanda Jenkins was murdered, throat sliced and the head bashed.
“Did Jeff put the body through a particle detector? I’d bet my salary that the body is going to have trace signature elements of Charon on it,” Jones said.
“Charon is mostly nitrogen ice but there is more Pleistium-39 there than anywhere else in the galaxy. Hell, that’s why we’re out there anyway,” Jones said throwing up his arms. “Pleistium has signature radiation markers. If this woman has these markers, it means they’ve been travelling to and from the Libra to the Acheron.”
Stratton wanted to feign surprise that Jones had figured this out but couldn’t. Jones had a surgical mind when it came to thinking outside of the box. When Pederson radioed the captain and said there were higher than normal levels of Pleistium-39 in Jenkins hair and skin, Stratton offered to buy his second in command a beer when they get back to Earth.
The Carson City was tighter than usual with first and third shift sharing space. Stratton wanted the men present when he performed the service for Rodriquez. Pederson had been able to clean up the badly wounded cargo specialist and have him wrapped tightly in a canvas bag. The men walked into the infirmary and each said goodbye to Rodriquez. A bottle of rum was broken out and each of the crew took a drink in his honor as Stratton recounted the first time he met the funny, energetic man. It was a short story about Rodriquez trying to get assigned to the Carson City. He drove from Illinois to Smootville Utah to knock on the captain’s door. Stammering how he belonged on the Carson City and what he could do to help, he never let the person a chance to address him. As it turns out, Rodriquez went to Stratton’s neighbor’s house where he was immediately hired as a janitor at Henderson Refinery and Die Cast.
After a few more moments of shared memories, Rodriquez’s body was released into the dark portions of space.
It was yet another example of how deadly the work the crew of the ISS Carson City was expected to do.
The third leg of the mission was simple: get the Carson City to the Acheron as quickly as possible. Messages were sent back to Earth instructing the mission control officers of the mysteries of the Libra and their intention to continue to the final leg to Charon. With communication times running almost two hours, Stratton relied upon captain’s prerogative in making decisions. Jones had worked with Pederson to mock up a potential timeline of Jenkins, Pullman and Smith’s travel log and determined that it is very likely that all of the survivors retreated to the Acheron following the Coolidge Event. It started to make sense to Stratton. There would be safety in numbers and the Acheron was better suited for housing stranded astronauts than any place in the solar system with the exception of the Lunar Moon.
It sounded counter-intuitive but the Acheron was better stocked and equipped because it was the furthest outpost in the solar system. Freighters making the nearly 15 month trip were expected to unload any superfluous supplies at the Acheron. Jones calculated that if water filtration systems worked correctly and the space stations gardening stations were maintained, there might be enough food, air and water to keep a community of 100-plus astronauts alive for over ten years. And that’s if none of the crew were placed into hibernation. If they rotated those under sleep, it is very likely that they could find a very well and alive group of people at the Acheron.
Stratton ordered Owens to turn the communication’s array from Earth and to face it towards the Acheron. Not wanting to broadcast their position as they approached the station, he wanted to see as they were preparing to leave Jupiter’s orbit if there was any sign of life that far out. They had approximately three months before they would be coming into the duel system and Stratton wanted as much intelligence he could gleam during the transit.
During this time, Jones and the first shift got to work. Pulling away from Ganymede was a piece of cake in comparison to leaving Jupiter. Like most things in space, Jones warned his crew that you only get one chance at getting it right—so, make sure you get it right he’d instruct.
Stratton was comfortable relinquishing command of the Carson City to his second as he worked preparing different scenarios for when they arrive at the Acheron. Because he was in charge of a rescue mission, it was hard not to think of an offensive plan when docking with the space station. For all he knew, Pullman and Smiley were left to rot aboard the Libra as punishment for what they might have done. Considering he knew that Smiley most certainly killed Rodriquez, it is also very likely that he murdered Amanda Jenkins, the only remaining crew member of the Libra. Considering this, Stratton considered there were only three states they would find at the Acheron: one, a fully functional space station with a living crew in need of rescue; two, a dead station with no survivors; or three, a gruesome combination of the first two.
Stratton secretly hoped for the second option.
There were no speeches or games played before the third shift prepared to enter hibernation. The ship had a serious air. The work ahead had a level of gravitas that didn’t need to be pointed out. Every man knew they needed to fulfill their duty. Jones did follow custom and tuck the third shift into their hibernation chambers. He made a small speech about taking care of them while they slept and looked forward to meeting with them on the other side. Pausing in front of Stratton’s chamber, he whispered in the captain’s ear that he’ll take care of the Carson City as if it was his own. Grasping his hand, Stratton thanked him and told him to be careful.
And with that, third shift went to sleep.
Out of a combination of fear and respect, Thomas Henderson became the first elected mayor of Smootville. Arriving with his family in tow, he took over Woodruff’s small cabin with his wife and children and got to work finishing his friend’s dream.
Unlike most of the pioneers, Raccoon Bill and Colonel Starks didn’t fear Henderson but they immediately recognized the value of having a powerful friend of Brigham Young running Smootville. The memory of Henderson’s killing of Leo Smoot was never talked about but was always remembered as Henderson demanded to see the progression of the work of the post office and city hall. Unlike Woodruff who was a member of the Mormon Church as a matter of convenience, Henderson was a believer and demanded that a great temple be constructed just outside of Main Street.
The walled citadel which served as the foundation of Smootville became the center of Henderson’s operation. Having secured mining and land rights from Brigham Young before leaving for most of the surrounding area, Henderson organized the pioneers into teams and rewarded the workers with shares of profit from the granite, iron and timber. It didn’t take long before the wealth that Thomas Henderson always craved would be satisfied and the town that Woodruff always wanted would begin to grow.
Henderson had the citadel demolished in stages, having portions of the wall replaced with a refinery for processing the iron discovered in the nearby mountains into bars to ship back to Salt Lake on rails built at his very own refinery. He heeded Woodruff’s command that a refinery needed to be built as quickly as possible and it turned out to be an incredible windfall for Smootville.
Needing tools to quarry the granite to face the buildings in town, he directed a recent immigrant from England named Peter Churchill to start a die casting operation to fulfill all of the community and territory’s needs. With the endless supply of iron and eventually steel, Churchill was able to tinker until he could make simply the best hardware in the western parts of the United States. Churchill’s tools became renowned through the West as being the most precise and best constructed tools. In years to come, it was said that the Winchester rifle was how the West was won—the same was said that Churchill’s tools was how the West was built.
And with this, that is how Henderson Refinery and Die Cast was established in 1862. In time, it would become one of the largest corporations in the solar system.
Ted Jones always imagined a fiery explosion followed by an unthinkably loud sonic boom when he fired the ion propulsion engine to power the Carson City out of Jupiter’s gravitational reach. Like the speeding cars he built as a kid before getting accepted into the Academy, his imagination thought of screeching tires and the roar of the straight pipes blowing out pure gasoline as his head got pulled back into the five-way harness. Firing the ion propulsion engine was considerably different.
For starters, there is virtually no sound. As the navigational rockets start positioning the Carson City in the right trajectory, the ion propulsion starts emitting particles that power the massive vessel towards its destination. The only sound that is out of the ordinary is the strain of the ship contorting to the gravitational pulls as the Carson City moves away. It is only for a brief moment does there sound like a wrench being dragged along the hull of the ship before it passes but Jones still experiences the sensation of being pulled back into his chair.
First shift trains incessantly for the moments a freighter leaves a planet’s gravitation sphere to insure that the ship can safely pull away and proceed to its destination. It is equally physically and mentally taxing to get out of orbit but Jones knows what he is doing. More than that, he was piloting the newest ship in the solar system with the best trained crew.
The ISS Carson City had a near flawless exit from Ganymede and was able to slingshot around Jupiter’s massive middle to slingshot towards Charon and the Acheron. By using Jupiter’s gravity, the ion propulsion system was able to start spitting out accelerated plasma at an expediential rate giving the Carson City the velocity to get the leave the Jupiter system.
The navigational computer does the majority of the work but Jones still needs to monitor his crew and the ship as the Carson City makes the jump from Ganymede. Fighting off the intense G-forces that caused the blood to rush from his head towards his torso, Jones oversaw the Carson City as it flew within 10,000 kilometers of Jupiter’s atmosphere in a ball of fire before shooting out into the darkest reaches of space.
“Bingo,” Jones whispered to himself as he double than triple checked the trajectory.
They were travelling nearly 65,000 feet per second but nobody could feel anything once Jupiter was figuratively in their rearview mirror. Jones congratulated the crew on a successful exit and told them to start diagnostics on the vessel to make sure there was no damaged incurred during the procedure. Telling his first officer that he was going to the hibernation chambers to check on the sleeping crew, Jones began to get a sinking feeling in his stomach.
He fretted that they were nearly 700 million miles away from the Earth. He mourned that Jon Rodriquez was murdered. And he dreaded that they were actually going to Charon. It was in the furthest reaches of the solar system and at best a longshot that they would find anything but a bloody mess there. Jones signed up for the mission because he wanted to be reinstated as a flight officer with the chance of getting his own ship. Serving as the commander of the first shift gave him the best opportunity to eventually earning his captain’s wings but this mission was madness. He disagreed from the beginning that they would cherry pick space stations from the center of the galaxy to the furthest ends while stepping over nearly a dozen other outposts that might actually have survivors.
The fact that when he awoke from hibernation to find out that the Libra actually had three people, two of which that were still alive, boggled his mind. Humans are not meant for that kind of strain on their system. Man needed Earth not just because it was home but for the simple comforts that water and air and gravity provides. Jones trained nonstop to keep his body in shape for the rigors of space but even he knew that the line of work he chose had at most a ten year window. Too much time in forced sleep and the stress of space killed men faster than any number of Charlie Smiths.
Stratton and company literally slept through the entire Jupiter exit. Glancing over each of the men in sleep’s vitals through the computer, he saw that their vitals were nominal and that the HiberLectures had been initiated. Company policy requires that certain HiberLectures be programmed for the crew for they typically were continual education tapes that prepped the men for specific aspects of the mission. Much like work, the hibernauts would process approximately eight hours of work related lessons followed by eight hours of HiberLectures selected by the astronaut followed by eight hours of no interaction with the brain. Research had shown that physical HiberLectures like rock climbing or softball would actually fool the body that the astronaut is engaged in the activity and help stop the detrition of the body. Balance that with recreational lectures and it has been proven to keep the mind fresh and ready for service when the hibernaut wakes up.
Jones checked Stratton status and noticed something disturbing. In addition to the standard HiberLectures a captain of a Class-4 freighter would take, he had only two recreational lectures: a history of Utah and LDS doctrine teaching.
“God damn it,” Jones said stroking his chin. “Jack’s gone native.”
Shaking his head, he left the hibernation chamber and returned to the command deck. Without consulting anyone, Stratton had tried to get inside the mind of both Pullman and Smith and was going to be there for a very long time. He worried that the captain might wake up a different man but knew of the legend that Stratton survived a curling history lesson compounded with butterfly collection. He just hoped that Stratton knew what he was doing.
The room was warm when Karl Bingham opened his eyes.
Sunlight was breaking through the curtains as he wiped his eyes and pulled his legs off of the couch. He still couldn’t believe that he was free from Smootville and was second guessing that he was actually a prisoner of the Alice Rice and her malicious overlords at Henderson Refinery and Die Cast. He could smell and hear breakfast being cooked in the kitchen and quickly dressed to join his Uncle Lamar and Aunt Lisa.
“Good morning, Sunshine,” Lisa teased Karl. “I figured it would take bacon to get you up.”
“Yeah, you were really sawing logs, Karl,” Lamar added.
Apologizing, he sat down and ate the lumberjack sized breakfast that Aunt Lisa had prepared. In lieu of coffee, jugs of ice cold milk sat on the table which Karl drank glass after glass. Lamar picked at his toast and eggs, reading the newspaper. Karl asked to see the sport’s section but his real intention was to simply see the date. Handing over the local Provo rag, Karl nearly fell out of his chair—it was January 31, 2012.
“Son, you look like you’ve seen a ghost,” Lamar said. “What’s going on?”
Karl pushed his plate away and breathed heavily. He felt the beginnings of a panic attack coming on. It was the same sensation he felt when he was in a socially awkward situation or he needed a drink. He kept staring at the dateline on the top right corner of the newspaper and tried to process what he thought happened to him actually did happen to him. Standing up, he walked out of the kitchen and into the bathroom to vomit.
After empting his stomach, he stood in front of the sink splashing cold water on his face. He could hear his aunt and uncle ask is he was okay but he ignored them as he kept splashing himself and trying to get a grasp of whatever reality he was living in. He called out and said that he was okay but he needed a minute as the water continued to run.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Karl muttered to himself. “This is real and this happening to you. It wasn’t a dream and she did this to me.”
“Who did this to you, Karl,” Aunt Lisa said from the other side of the door. “Open this door immediately and come into the kitchen. I need you to explain yourself to us now.”
Taking a swig from the faucet, he ran water over his hair and tried to recognize the person in the mirror. There were cracks and scars that he didn’t remember and a face that he barely recognized. His entire life had been a blurry memory filled with booze and excuses but now, he was honestly afraid of who he was. He couldn’t imagine that this hibernation could possibly be real and that he was on the other side of an experiment that he wanted nothing of. He exited the bathroom and joined them in the living room.
“Uncle Lamar, Aunt Lisa, I need you to listen to me and I need you to take me at my word. You are the only family that I have and I need to say this once and for you to believe me,” Karl started. “I’m going to tell you a story that is so incredible that if I heard it myself, I’d say you’ve gone crazy.”
They nodded solemnly and let him begin. He spoke quietly and deliberately.
“For starters, I am a drinker and a liar and somebody who doesn’t take any responsibility for what I’ve done. I’ve hurt my family and a girl that I really liked and I’ve not been really honest with myself. I’ve done things that I am not proud of and I’ve been in trouble with the law because I didn’t care about the consequences. All I’ve ever wanted to do was drink, read the paper and play football and now I don’t know what is happening.”
“If this is about your parents, it’s not your fault, son,” Lamar said but Karl quickly cut him off.
“I know, I know. What happened to Dad wasn’t my fault. He was always looking out for me and other people. You know how Dad was. I’m talking about what happened five years ago after I got fired from Henderson. I went out and I guess in a way, I never came home,” Karl said with his voice trembling.
And so he went. He told them everything. He told them about Alice Rice losing her arm and having to work at Henderson Refinery and Die Cast and wanting to get out of Smootville. He told them that he should have left town a week early and how nothing seemed to make sense to him. He rambled about the nearly nine years he spent making tools and drinking away every night. Karl went into excruciating detail about the night he fought his father in the hallway of his dad’s house in front of his mother and sisters and was told to never return and how his dad reconsolidated by telling him he could stay in the cabin temporarily which lasted for four years. He told them about fighting at the bars and stealing from coworkers and driving town higher than a kite and living as if he wanted to die every moment. Finally, he told them about the last night he remembered before he woke up.
Karl gave them his best description of going to Fort Brisco’s Pub and getting hammered. He knew his aunt and uncle were good Mormons who have never even seen the inside of a bar much less seen the bottom of a drink but they listened patiently on the couch as he paced the room. He told them that he got drunk and stumbled home and fell asleep in his bed.
For the most part, Karl talked to them looking at the carpet or the walls but now he moved towards a chair and sat down very deliberately. He took a deep breath and clasped his hands together. Wringing them for a moment, he looked up into his Uncle Lamar’s eyes and told him that he woke up the next day he thought it was five months later. For five months he had slept away and he woke up in December alone, freezing and skinny as a rail.
At first, he couldn’t explain what happened to him. He tried to clear his head but he felt as if he had the worse hangover in his life. He ate and went back to bed but when he woke up the next day, he discovered that Smootville was abandoned. Not only that Henderson Refinery and Die Cast was shutdown. It wasn’t until he went to his parent’s house did he find that they were gone too.
Lamar and Lisa looked at Karl and then at each other.
“What happened next,” Lamar asked in a gentle tone.
“I found Alice but she wasn’t the person I remembered. She was a nurse or something and she drugged me and I woke up at a laboratory at Henderson—it was more like a prison,” Karl said. “They converted the refinery to some sort of madhouse of scientists and stuff. They forced me to eat big meals and drink beer. I know this sounds crazy but I swear it happened.”
He told them about meeting Dr. Riedmen and how he was a test subject for a long term sleep project, which they were studying him to see what could be done with human hibernation. This is when he discovered that he was actually in hibernation not for five month but five years. Karl talked about the brain programming they would do to him while he was under and how it could make him smarter but he didn’t want to participate. Pretending to go along, he beat up two orderlies and escaped out of town in the truck out front.
Karl was sweating profusely as he told them the story. He felt dizzy from the stress of holding on to this incredible story and nauseous for being honest for the first time in his life. He kept wringing his hands, wanting them to say they understood and they were going to take care of him but Karl felt a cold running through the room.
“So you don’t know what happened at Henderson? I would have thought you would have seen some of the changes before you were let go,” Lamar asked, reaching out to hold his wife’s hand. “They really did put you to sleep, didn’t they?”
Shaking his head, Lamar Bingham told Karl that Henderson Refinery and Die Cast were moving their operations to Southern Utah just outside of St. George and were shuttering the doors. It was a town killing decision but Kyle Henderson wanted to take the company in much different direction. The iron reserves in and around Smootville had been exhausted and he wanted to take Henderson Refinery and Die Cast into the digital age. A little startup company in Nevada called NevTech Industries had been working with medical devices and Henderson bought them and set up shop in Smootville. Why not? Not like people were going to be knocking around Daggett County looking in an abandoned refinery.
Karl’s face felt like it was falling to the floor. Gathering his strength, he asked how he knew about the transition from iron refining to medical testing.
Smiling right at Karl, Lamar said very clearly that he was the one who brokered the NevTech deal to Hibernetix. He then added that he was the one who first suggested to George to offer Karl up as the first test subject for Dr. Kelly Riedmen.
“I wish you hadn’t come here, son,” Lamar said standing up. “You have always been such a disappointment to this family.”
Karl stood up quickly to face his uncle.
“You were given so many opportunities to make something out of your life but instead you chose to wallow in the filth of unrighteous men. You never accepted the word of Christ and now you’ve gotten yourself into a bind. Well, I’m afraid I can’t help you,” Lamar said to his shaking nephew. “You didn’t kill your father but you might as well have. I don’t blame you because George was the kind of man that would do anything to help his fellow citizen and neighbor. His death was an accident but the harm you did to him and your mother through their lives is unforgivable. And now, the one thing that you were designed for, the one reason God put you on this Earth to do, sleep, and you mucked that up. I want you to leave, now.”
Gathering his shoes, he tied them and made a final plea to Lamar and Lisa.
“I have nowhere to go. I am alone and honestly, I’m afraid. Can you please help me?” Karl asked. “Please?”
Walking towards her nephew, Lisa wrapped her arms around him and told him that it will all be better soon. Pulling back, she kissed his cheek and said that she would always pray for him but he needed to leave right now.
And with that, she opened the door. Walking out, Karl took a dozen steps before dropping to his knees in the snow and screamed.
In the early morning on a small, off street in Provo Utah, Karl’s screams might have fallen on deaf ears but not today. Standing in front of him was Alice Rice and a group of police officers.
He pounded his face and slapped his chest and rolled over into the snow in fits of screams. Karl pulled at his shirt and yelled but it didn’t make a difference as the police handcuffed him and put him in the back of an old Henderson Refinery and Die Cast van. Joining him inside the back, Alice sat beside him while administering an injection and for a moment it calmed him down.
“Why me?” Karl asked as he drifted off with Alice’s one good hand touching his chest.
“It had to be somebody that nobody would miss, Karl,” Alice said sweetly. “Now it’s time to go back to sleep.”
Looking at the darkest sky from Earth and Pluto is virtually invisible even with a strong telescope. Standing on the surface of Pluto looking towards Earth, you’d first have to find the 1/8th of an inch Sun and look out a little more than an inch along the axis to see a glimmer of blue. Measuring distances in space is done by AU or astronomical unit which is about 150 million miles or the distance from the Earth to the Sun. For all intents and purposes, the duel system of Pluto and Charon are the furthest reaches of space for humanity. The next closest destination is Proxima Centauri at 260,000 au. Even at light speed it would take four years to travel there and they haven’t figured that out yet.
The ISS Carson City was 40 au or 6,000,000,000 million miles from Earth or 6,000,000,000,000,000 miles from home. Even a massive Class-4 freighter with an ion propulsion engine and the capacity to haul cities worth of people and material from planet to planet, the Carson City looked insignificant while six times fifteen zeroes miles from Earth.
First shift had joined third shift in hibernation and Bruce Embry had command. For almost a year, Embry kept the men motivated and focused. Second shift was a bastard of a job but Embry knew there would be a light at the end of the tunnel regarding this mission. The Carson City was not only setting speed records, it was the lead rescue/investigational freighter following the Coolidge Event. Embry figured that when they got back in two years, he might be able to move to first shift or find a command spot at one of the outposts being retaken and reestablished.
With everything he read and heard from Jones when he woke up from hibernation, Embry knew they were walking into a very bad situation. It was considered a plum job working the Acheron because of the profit sharing with the Pleistium-39 but it literally felt like shaking hands with the Devil that far from Earth. One already had to be a little off to want to live almost a decade away from home, living under some of the worst conditions and when finally returning to Earth being barely human. The strain and stress of space even with hibernation altered everyone and for some reason, the Acheron had it worse than others.
Unlike Jones who was brilliant and mission orientated at all times or Stratton who considered himself one part swashbuckler and two parts cowboy, Embry was a card-puncher and he was just trying to deliver the Carson City to the Acheron before retiring back to sleep until the return voyage. Second shifters spend more time awake than any other shift but they also had the most menial of the duties which was fine for Embry. The problem is that this time he was heading towards a nightmare and he wanted it to be over as quickly as possible.
Part of the problem, Embry thought, was that he knew what they would find. Religious zealots become the norm with workers when you remove alcohol or drugs from their routine. It takes the most intense wildcatters to work the mines or do gas collection in literally the darkest corner of the galaxy and these were men that were not to be trifled with. Embry did the math. With proper rationing, there would be enough water and food to last the crew of the Acheron since the Coolidge Event but there weren’t enough chemicals to synthesis Trunts, the hallucinogenic amphetamine. Embry was convinced that any of these people could survive the isolation and near-constant deadly environment but without the hope of survival or even the chance of escape, they were guaranteed to only find a horror scene.
In a way, Embry didn’t really care. He wasn’t a part of the team going into the Acheron. He’d be securely asleep in hibernation and free to take in as many recreational HiberLectures while others did the dirty work. In two days’ time, Stratton would be awake and third shift would detach the Carson City from the ion propulsion engines and get to work cleaning up the bodies.
Sitting back into the commander’s chair on the navigational deck, Embry strapped himself in the five-point harness and rested his eyes. For a man who battles sleep and boredom, he was content to drift off listening to the beeping and buzzing of the ship. With his eyes barely open, he looked out the triple-paned window into the outer reaches of space and realized how crazy far he was from his little cattle ranch in Wyoming. There was something about farm boys wanting to sail through space, he thought when collision alarms sounded.
In an instant, he went from minding the shop to saving the ship. Calling out to his crew, they went to their posts as Embry ran diagnostics. The Carson City was five days out from Acheron but his reading told him that they were on a collision course with the something in less than eight minutes. It was physically impossible to stop the freighter. They were travelling at nearly 64,000 feet per second and the Carson City when attached to the ion propulsion engine maneuvered like a legless horse. In seconds, Embry would have to make a decision that would impact every soul on the ship and he did not hesitate.
He might not like what he did but he knew what needed to be done.
He began uncoupling the Carson City from the ion propulsion engine. He needed to get the ship out of the path of whatever was coming at the freighter and make an evasive maneuver. In a flash of light from the rockets at the back of the Carson City, Embry piloted the ship downward and began the process of slowing down the vessel. Remotely, he programmed the computers on the ion propulsion engine to stop and to fire the retro-rockets to bring it to a stop. Embry knew that he could always find the ion propulsion engines at some time providing they were able to come to a stop. The last thing anyone on the Carson City needed was the ion propulsion engine continuing to fire out of the solar system. Embry was able to get both ships slowing down but the collision alarm continued to sound.
Ordering that Stratton and Jones be taken out of hibernation, Embry continued reducing the speed of the Carson City but the ion propulsion engine was having difficulties stop firing. Working against the front rockets, the plasma continued spitting out, essentially robbing Peter to pay Paul.
“Dear God,” Embry thought. “What the Hell have I done?”
Considering that if he couldn’t stop the IPE remotely, whatever is going to hit it would eliminate any chance for the Carson City to return to Earth. Fortunately, he had a little less than eight hours before he would have to consider those consequences. Stratton and Jones would know what to do and providing he can continue flying alongside the IPE, they’d be fine.
That sentiment ended almost immediately when he reviewed the cameras later that day with the other two commanders.
Flying in a direct path of the ISS Carson City’s IPE was the ISS Silver Springs. Meeting in the middle of the galaxy, the Silver Springs collided with the massive ion propulsion engine creating an explosion that throttled the Carson City. Like a missile, the Silver Spring removed any hope of the Carson City returning to Earth. Worse than that, it was a direct attack from the Acheron. It was more than a message to keep out—it was a shot across the bow saying we’re going to stop you at any cost.
Jones’ hypothesis that the crew of the Libra had moved to the Acheron felt vindicated but Stratton would have done anything to still have a chance to return to Earth. Under power from just the Carson City’s rocket engine, they had more than enough power to dock the Carson City at the Acheron but leaving back to Earth would be considerably more complicated. The IPE made interplanetary travel possible, freighters merely needed the propulsion to undock and dock from IPEs to rendezvous with stations or surface bases.
“In a word, gentlemen, we’re screwed,” Jones said. “There’s only one option and that’s to get aboard the Acheron.”
Jones followed up by saying that after refitting at the Acheron, they could make the return voyage to the Libra and wait for a rescue mission. When asked how long the Carson City could make the trip back, Jones gulped for a moment after doing some quick calculations.
“23 months. It would be tough but we could do it,” Jones said.
Embry grumbled as Stratton whistled.
“All right, fellas. We know what we need to do,” Stratton said a little bit exasperated. “Get me aboard the Acheron and I’ll get this crew home…eventually.”
Considering the situation the Carson City was in, Stratton decided to have all hands on deck as they started their final approach to the Acheron. Ordering all of the crew from hibernation, he briefed the men on the situation and told them that there has been a change in the mission. They were to continue their investigation and seek survivors but now the priority was to return home. There were no shortages of groans from the men.
“We are not going to reach out to the furthest regions of the known galaxy and not return. This was never a suicide mission and I intend to keep it that way,” Stratton said addressing the 16 man crew. “If this was going to easy, they wouldn’t have sent us.”
Looking over the crew, they nodded confidently. They knew that they were going into an incredibly dangerous situation but this was the training that they have been receiving their entire career. Looking over the crew, Stratton called out to each man to make sure they were ready to go. They were less than a day away from docking with the Acheron and Stratton wanted to make sure they were up for the challenge.
Scanning from left to right in the galley, Stratton called them out and they gave him a thumb up.
“Pederson, Wilson, Owens, Embry, Becker?” Stratton asked. “You got this?”
“We’re with you, Skip,” Pederson said looking over the men.
“How about you, Karl?” Stratton asked. “You ready to go?”
Sitting in the back of the room, the second shifter stood up and addressed his captain.
“I’ve been looking forward to a challenge like this my entire life, Captain,” Karl Bingham of Smootville Utah said confidently. “I followed you my entire life. Why would I stop now?”
There are many things about living in Utah make it the most unique state in America.
It’s not just the rugged red deserts and arches in the southern portion of the state or the mountains in the north. The Great Salt Lake is the largest in the Western Hemisphere but it is essentially a dead sea. Nothing but migratory birds and brine shrimp make a home there. There are polygamous families living throughout the state as well as some of the richest people in America. Skiing along the Wasatch Front is some of the best in the world that’s why Salt Lake City got to host the Olympic Games in 2002.
The people are hardy in body and mind and most certainly politics. They are conservative people and it has a lot to do with the formation of the state. Brigham Young took the Mormon people from the East and started his own kingdom in the West. A Land of Deseret and a new kingdom for Mormons is what he was trying to build and there are still remnants of this legacy throughout the state. A major university in Provo bears his name with the competing state school, the University of Utah, originally founded as Deseret College.
Utah has four seasons and the influence of the Mormons is found in every one of them. From liquor laws to gun rights to keeping the federal government out of their way of life, it was the perfect place for a company like Henderson Refinery and Die Cast to make the transition from manufacturing to digital service products. It took a state that can successfully export multi-level marketing that would tolerate a major corporation to play God with one of their citizens with no fear of retribution.
Alice Rice monitored Karl Bingham as he slept. Contained inside of a hibernation chamber the size of a refrigerator or coffin, his vitals were projected on a small monitor below the window that showed his smiling, sleeping face. His beard had already grown out so long that she couldn’t help but think that he was a modern day Rip Van Winkle. For six months, he hasn’t moved once. Resting on his back, IVs pump fluids and nutrients into his body with other tubes pulling out waste. His breathing was constant inside the hibernation chamber which was filled with rich levels of oxygen to avoid having to insert a mask on him. Best of all, his HiberLecture were working perfectly.
This second series of tests being conducted during his hibernation was to have his thoughts projected into a computer for processing. It wasn’t enough for him to stare mindlessly at the ocean as he slept. She wanted for him to understand how wave were formed from wind and how the Sun warming the Earth. Looking at peaceful images assisted in keeping his mind from turning to mush but the purpose of the HiberLectures was to revitalize and rebuild the mind during the long periods of slumber. After half a year, Alice could successfully report to Dr. Kelly Riedmen that progress was being made.
With diodes connected to his head, temples and spine, Alice was able to see computerized images of what Karl was thinking and processing. When she enacted the diesel motor repair series, she could actually watch Karl’s mind process how the block engine was able to get energy to the rear differential or how he troubleshoots an engine that refused to turnover. Putting in the arbor lectures, Alice could watch Karl touch, smell and process different trees from around the world. And the list went on and on. From deep sea fishing to colon-rectal surgery to operating a commercial soup cannery, Karl’s exposure to foreign and complicated information were being absorbed and processed—all by a man who barely graduated from high school.
The most amazing part of the experiment occurred when the HiberLectures were turned off. Free and left to his own devices, Karl dreamt of a distant future and participating on a deep space rescue mission. Alice didn’t understand what Karl was trying to do during these off-periods but she recognized elements of the various HiberLectures were being incorporated into his dream. Lessons about great shipwrecks and radio astronomy to Mormon history to even the formation of their hometown of Smootville found their way into a narrative that Alice figured Karl was compiling from all of the information being forced fed to him.
In reviewing the digital images of Karl’s mind, Alice watched Karl enter an abandoned space station and defeating a group of religious zealots who were high on drugs while saving the commander of the damaged vessel. The story was confusing and discombobulated but the health benefits to Karl were remarkable. His vitals were always at the optimum numbers when he was participating in this complicated fantasy.
For the last three months with Karl in hibernation, he had the dream almost immediately after being taken off his HiberLectures. Essentially, Alice determined that Karl would go through the motions of working the assigned HiberLectures while waiting patiently for his reward to go aboard some spaceship called the ISS Carson City. When she noticed that his subconscious brought him to the outer space fantasy when he was supposed to be doing other work, she decided to pull the plug on non-HiberLecture periods. Instead of giving him eight hours off, she wrote a program that he knew he would like.
Simply called Fort Brisco, it was a recreational HiberLecture with Karl tending bar behind his favorite pub. All of his family and friends would come to the bar, order a beer and Karl could hold court. He would serve beers and shots and hand out cheeseburgers with French fries and fry sauce for dipping. He would be the toast of the bar and after the last of the customers left, he could help himself to as many draft beers before heading back home.
Karl responded positively to this program and Alice Rice allowed it to continuously run. She wanted to run it for the last four months Karl was in hibernation but something happened that interfered with his work HiberLectures:
Karl kept waking up with a hangover.