Wednesday, August 2, 2017

A Short Story (part 7)

The first day on the trail.

As the sun rose, Tom was up to greet it.  He had prepared his breakfast from the stock of condensed and packaged foods he had brought.  He’d had quite enough bacon to last for this trip.  This morning, he chose a lovely egg soufflé with Bearnaise sauce, and a cup of hi-energy coffee as his start for the day.  Soon enough the heavy-lifting of breaking down the camp, and packing his essentials onto the two mules would begin.

As he sat in his inflatable recliner and watched the glorious sun rise, he could hear nothing, except for a few birds or some distant echo from some lonesome animal.  This, he thought, was all he had hoped for.  The solitude and the peace of looking around and seeing no one.

After his brief reflection, he completed his meal.  Rising with a long stretch he got to the task of folding the tent.  He first pulled the four stakes that secured it to the ground, and then pushed the fold button by the door.  In about 30 seconds the tent was back to its original size and weight (5 pounds). 

Next, he pulled out his light weight exo-suit and strapped himself in.  This suit was a wonderful invention, he discovered on his first journey back to 2190.  Folded -- it weighted just over two-pounds, and fit in a 12-inch pouch, but when opened and powered on, the neuron systems grew to match his frame and provided him with the strength of three men.  This made loading the 25-pound bundles onto the mules manageable.

Before too long each mule had about 150-pounds of equipment and supplies loaded and balanced on their backs, secured to the pack frames Tom had found in 1986.  After he finished with the packing he dug a small hole to bury the packaging from his meal.  It was made from natural fibers and would be broken down by the earth within about a week so there would be nothing to show he had been here.  The last thing to do was to saddle Chester, and set off for the wilderness.

Tom swung an unsteady leg over the seat and settled into the saddle.  This whole horse riding thing was new for him, but he was determined to live out this dream.  The horizon lay out before him, unbroken by buildings, sky scrapers, paved roads, or any other sign of civilization.  How unlike his home he thought?  To be alone, totally alone, and without a deadline to make or meeting to attend, was something Tom had wished for as long as he could remember.

With a gentle nudge, Tom and Chester set off with the sun to their backs, and the two mules in tow.  Since he had no clear destination, or expectation on time to arrive, there was no hurry in their pace.  With an even walk, Tom’s aching muscles from the ride the day before began to protest this new day.  He reached into his pocket and removed a muscle relaxing pad.  Reaching behind himself he pressed it on the lower part of his back and pressed the activate button.  In a flash, his pain was just a memory, and he could sit back and enjoy the ride.

Slowly they traveled west, with Tom making sure to dismount and walk as the instruction manual suggested.  As the sun rose high in the sky the heat became intense and he could see the storm clouds building to his north.  When the sun appeared to be overhead he stopped to let the animals drink from a small stream and graze on some grass, as he had lunch, a Rubin sandwich with pickles and a nice light white wine.  While he thought of this as  roughing it, there was no sense in getting too carried away.  As he ate, he watched the astro-tracker take a noon fix to determine his location.  He was shocked to see in the course of four hours he had traveled only 12-miles.  With few landmarks to provide reference and nothing to judge scale it was impossible to know exactly how fast or how far he had traveled, without using the stars.  When he camped tonight he would set the tracker up to look into the clear night sky and use at least six stars to mark his position.

When the animals had rested, he dug a small hole for his trash, and mounted Chester to begin the afternoon's walk.  He saw a stand of trees on the western horizon and used that as his goal for the afternoon.  Once they reached those trees he would settle the livestock and himself in for the evening.  One hour passed, then a second, and a third and still he did not seem any closer to the trees than he did when he first saw them.  Finally, after six solid hours of travel they came to a small pond and the trees.  Cautiously he approached them, hoping no one else was around, but expecting that this small oasis was probably a popular spot.  Luck was on his side, the area appeared to be empty and void of other human life, although a number of birds and a couple of deer were shocked by his arrival.

He tied the mules to a tree as he donned his exo-suit to unload the supplies, which he bundled together and suspended from the tree branch about 15 feet above the ground.  He had learned this trick from John Muir on one of his shopping trips to Yosemite Park in 1903.  Of course, he had camouflaged the bundle so once he activated it the only thing visible was the rope that held it aloft.  He then hobbled the mules and as an added precaution he put an electronic security fence around them.  Once this was done he proceeded to remove Charlies saddle and blanket, hobble him and then put him inside the security fence.  Seeing how he was alone he didn’t see a need to shelter and activate a cloaking screen.

Finishing up, he set down his tent, activated the erect button and settled back as it set itself up.  He staked it down and then set out to explore this little grove of trees.  Night would settle on them in an hour or so, and he wanted to know where to go in the dark if he had to.  Once he was comfortable with the area he thought about dinner.  He had enough supplies for about 30 days in his kit, so today he had almost the full menu of choices.  He settled on a sweet and sour pork dish over wild rice with a hot Sake wine.  He took the packages, placed them in the solar cooker that had been charging all afternoon on the back of one of the mules and hit the menu choice, cook and start.  Inside two minutes the meal was ready to eat.  He then warmed the Sake and sat down to eat.   In the distance, he heard the howl of a wolf.  It was unlike any sound he had heard before and it sent a shiver along his spine.  As he looked to the heavens he could not believe how clear and close the stars were. 

He set up the astro-tracker and within just a couple of minutes he had a precise location for his camp.  He had traveled just over 28 miles on his first day.  As he prepared for sleep he took care of his dinner boxes for he knew the smells could attract unwanted company.  He brushed his teeth, washed his face with the warm water from the sun heated water jug, and crawled into the tent.  As he settled in, he made sure he had his rifle and pistol handy as he drifted off to sleep.


EMax said...

Liked it!

Lambchop3 said...

Looking forward to the next installment.

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