Chapter 1

"Sir, Lt. Johnson, Michael, reporting as ordered, Sir."

"At ease, Lt. Johnson. Johnson, I said at ease, not parade rest. Sheesh, what do they teach at the Academy, nowadays? Oh, well ... Have a seat in that chair, Johnson, and, dammit, if you sit at attention I will find someone else for this job. IS THAT CLEAR?"

"Yes, Sir, Gen. Clay, Sir."

"OK, now that we have that cleared up, I have a special assignment for you that should fit well with your special studies at the Academy. Your records show that you spent a lot of time studying the period of American History around the time of the War with Mexico, that is, 1830-1860, and that you are well versed in the Gadsden Purchase."

"Yes, Sir, Gen. Clay, Sir."

"Son, if you keep that up, I may throw something at you."

"Yes, Sir, Gen ... Oops. Sorry, Sir."

Gen. Clay let a little smile show on his lips before he got down to serious business. "OK, Son, let's get serious, here. I know that you have not been part of the Time Patrol for very long, but something has come up that you may be uniquely qualified to handle. What I am about to tell you cannot be repeated to anyone else. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Sir, I understand and will comply."

"Good! We have a serious problem. There is a traitor high up in the Time Patrol!"

"Good Lord, Sir! Are you serious?"

"Yes, unfortunately, I am. We have just uncovered his plot. He has stolen one of the experimental personal time machines and has jumped back to the New Mexico Territory of 1852. His plan appears to be to disrupt the Gadsden Purchase and to acquire the land for himself. He will hold the land until after the Civil War and then sell it to the USA for millions of dollars. As everybody knows, here in 2217, that section of land is worth its weight in gold. It must become a part of Arizona and New Mexico, and we want it to happen in 1854, the way it is supposed to happen."

"Yes, Sir. I understand. I agree with most people that the area encompassed by the Gadsden Purchase is absolutely essential to the continued operation and integrity of the USA. What would you have me do to help?"

"What we want you to do is to travel back to 1853 and make sure that nothing happens to James Gadsden. It is probable that our traitor plans to assassinate him and take his place, intending to purchase the land for himself. With his knowledge of gold deposits not known at that time, he can easily accumulate enough gold to complete the deal. We expect that he will offer Mexico double or triple what the USA was prepared to pay, insuring that Mexico goes through with the deal.

"We will provide you with arms and ammunition that are modern, but can be explained away. You already know how to ride a horse, so all you will have to do is learn to cope with a Western saddle. We will set up drops so that your ammunition can be replenished. You will have plenty of money, and that can be replenished as well.

"There will be plenty of time to plan your assignment, since, with time travel, it will make no difference when you decide to leave. No matter when you leave, you can still arrive on the appropriate day."

"Very well, Sir! I am looking forward to this assignment. When will I know the identity of the traitor?"

"Well, I guess I have fooled around long enough. I was waiting until you were fully committed in your own mind. The traitor is Mathew Hudson, the Assistant Commissioner of the Time Patrol!"

"My God! How did that happen? Oh, that was a rhetorical question. I know you have no way of knowing the answer, it was just a remark caused by my surprise. I will have no trouble spotting him. I even met him once as I was going down the receiving line when I graduated from the Academy. That, plus the fact that his picture regularly appeared in the news media, was enough to engrave him into my memory."

"Thank you, Captain Johnson, we'll get you started on the assignment right away. Your office has already been assigned."

Hot dog! An instant promotion that normally would not have come for at least two more years. I guess that I have the ammunition to laugh at those who so unmercifully teased me about my interest in the "Wild West." Too bad I can't use it.

As I dismounted from the stage in Las Vegas, NMT (New Mexico Territory), I groaned to myself. What an atrocious way to travel! Well, there was some consolation in that the other people who climbed out of that miserable box laughingly known as a public conveyance, were also stiff and sore. I looked around for the hotel and headed toward it, carrying my carpetbag of traveling necessities.

Las Vegas was not yet the hub of a prosperous gold mining region that it would become in the future, but in the current time of 1852, it was still a sleepy little Western town of no particular importance. Therefore, the hotel was not something to brag about, but it was adequate for its purpose. I had a room at the front of the building, facing east, with two windows and a door opening onto the veranda roof that was fitted out with rocking chairs as a place of rest and repose after a busy day.

My first action after checking in was to arrange for a bath. That involved bringing a large tub to my room and filling it with buckets of hot water. While I waited for my bath to be ready, I assembled my carbine from the parts stowed in my carpetbag. The carbine was a close copy of the US Army M1A1 carbine of World War 2. It was capable of semiautomatic or full automatic fire selected by a simple switch on the side of the receiver. I selected this weapon because it would not be too radical to pass casual inspection, yet it was deadly up to 200 yards and packed a killing punch through the clothes normally worn at this time.

I carried two pistols in a crossdraw rig. They were replicas of the US Army 1911 model Colt .45 caliber automatic pistol. I had taken the time to do a lot of practice with these pistols, and I was deadly with either hand. I had also practiced a quick draw, so that I was confident of my chances against anybody who depended on a revolver strapped to his thigh. Actually, most people carried the Colt "pocket pistol" in a pocket and were not able to do any sort of quick draw.

My explanation for these three remarkable weapons was that I had just returned from a trip to Europe where my weapons had been custom made for me by French and German gunsmiths. A number of rich people did this sort of thing, so I was not a rare exception. Of course, none of the guns had the Army markings on them, so the anachronism was not immediately obvious.

Once I finished my bath, I dressed the part of a rich dude touring the West and left my hotel room for the attached saloon. I took this guise because of my accent. I was not confident that I could maintain a Western drawl well enough to fool anybody, so I decided to pass myself off as a visitor from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I knew that this guise would draw some attention, but I hoped that it would be the humorous kind.

I was here, because I was sure that Las Vegas, NMT, was an obvious place for my quarry to start his quest for hoards of gold. I really did not expect to find my man so quickly or easily, but I was looking for signs of his activity in the area. I hoped to get some leads on where his gold mines might be located.

Anyway, I went into the saloon and made my way to the bar. There were a few patrons already there, but I didn't expect many because it was a Tuesday. I had learned from my reading not to trust the local product, so I ordered a bottle of Mexican beer. It was devilishly expensive, 10 cents per bottle, but it added to my image as a rich Eastern dude.

I was already the center of attention, both because of my clothes and my accent. The beer only added to my "charm." I was a bit imposing, standing 6'-1" tall in my flat-heeled Eastern boots and weighing in at 197 pounds, none of it flab. I was wearing a silk tophat, so I towered over everybody else in the saloon.

I instantly attracted the attention of the saloon whores. I wasn't afraid of dallying with them because I had received all of the vaccinations against STDs (Sexually Transmitted Diseases) when I had entered the Academy. However, the smell was bad enough to drive me off, so I politely declined the offers.

I was not so lucky with one drunken bum who dressed the part. He started making fun of my clothes and my accent almost from the moment I entered the saloon. I had not finished my beer before he was standing too close and making remarks that I was having trouble ignoring.

Finally, he bumped against me, deliberately, I think, so I pushed him away. This was the excuse he was looking for. He drew an oversize bowie knife and charged at me. I had been expecting something like this, so I was ready. I drew my pistol with my left hand, something he never expected, and shot him in the chest. The sound of the .45 caliber round reverberated throughout the room, causing some consternation. This was much louder than usually heard from a .31 caliber pocket pistol. Nobody was surprised that I shot the fool, but they were surprised by the very loud noise.

The bartender leaned over the bar and shook his head. He waved the swamper over to clean up the mess, and I asked about the town marshal. The bartender told me that Las Vegas was currently between marshals, but everybody agreed that I acted in self defense, so there was nothing to worry about. Well, maybe so, but I was shaken by having killed my first man, and that up so close. The bartender was sympathetic, what with me being a tenderfoot and all, so he kept the curious away until I had finished my beer.

By this time, the mess was cleaned up, and I had fully recovered my equilibrium. Business was slow this night, so the bartender was happy to extol the virtues of Las Vegas and its surroundings. Eventually, I asked him about a horseback ride into the back country so that I could fully appreciate what I was visiting. He thought that was an excellent idea, but I needed to stay away from the "hills" east of town. Lately, anybody who had ridden into that territory had not returned. I thanked him for the warning, as I planned to visit those same hills the next day.

The fact that those hills were the only place it was dangerous to ride pricked my curiosity. To my mind, the only reason for those hills to be more dangerous than any other was because people didn't want strangers wandering around there. That, alone, warranted my interest.

I left the next morning on a rented mount. I had changed to more appropriate clothes, and I had my carbine with me. I had it hanging over the saddle horn by the sling, and it was sporting a 30-round clip. My saddlebag carried three additional clips, though I couldn't imagine needing that many shots.

Before leaving on this mission, I had practiced with a Western saddle and found it quite comfortable, once I got used to it. I had talked with the manager of the livery stable as I was getting ready for the ride, and he advised me to purchase my own saddle custom made to fit me if I planned to do much riding. I thought that was an excellent idea and stopped off at a saddle maker before heading out that morning. The saddle maker said that it would take him 12-14 days to make the custom saddle like I wanted, since I did not want any fancy decoration.

Anyway, I rode north along a main trail until I was well out of sight of the town before cutting east. By this time, the sun was high enough that it was not adversely affecting my vision, so I felt reasonably safe. I rode for about an hour and had planned to stop in a clump of trees a few yards ahead. Just before I reached the trees, there was a gunshot, and a rifle ball snagged my shirt sleeve as it passed by.

It came from my left, but I didn't worry much about that as I dismounted on the left side of the horse and pulled my carbine with me as I dropped to the ground. A quick glance around showed a puff of powder smoke over some rocks to my left-front. With no more delay, I ran to the stand of trees for what shelter I could find.

I was grateful for the fact that it would be a few more years before repeating rifles came into vogue. Reloading a muzzle-loading rifle took time, and I was glad of it, since that gave me time to reach the trees before another shot rang out. This assassin was smarter than some, since he had moved to a different pile of rocks before shooting. He had moved to his right, apparently assuming that I would stay within the stand of trees, and I figured that he would move in that direction, again, hoping to get a clearer shot at me. He had also moved closer, but I was not sure of the significance of that.

I had to stand up because that was the only way I could see over the thick brush between me and the shooter. I wrapped the sling around my arm in the classic standing position stance and waited for my assailant to try for another shot. I stood still, slightly propped against the tree for additional stability, as I waited for the shooter to show himself.

Ah, there he was! I could see his hat, head, part of his shoulders, and his gun sticking over a rock. With all deliberate speed, I aimed and fired. I didn't want to kill him if I could avoid it, just to wound him, so that I could get some information from him before he died, as he surely would.

My bullet caught him in the left arm and shoulder where I had aimed. The bullet passed through his forearm, breaking both bones, and entering his shoulder where it broke his collar bone. In my home time, these would not have been fatal wounds, but they were in this time of 1852. If he didn't bleed to death, he was going to die of gangrene pretty soon.

In any case, he screamed in pain and dropped the gun over the front edge of the rocks. He was not going anywhere, so I had time to make sure that he did not have a partner who might get in a lucky shot at me. I carefully looked around and could not see any sign of more shooters, so I ducked my head a little and made my way through the brush toward my erstwhile assassin.

I got to him and found him still alive. He was bleeding profusely and would not last long, lucky for him. I asked, "Why were you shooting at me?"

"Cuz that's what I wuz paid fer. I wuz supposed ta kill any strangers what came this way."

"Why was that? Why would your employer be afraid of strangers?"

"Cuz he wuz afraid of claim jumpers. His gold mine is 'bout three miles farther down this trail, an' ya wuz agittin' too close."

"How many men are working the mine, and where do they live when they aren't working?"

"Six men actually dig, an' four more are guards. They're gonna blast yer sorry ass ifen ya git any closer. They live inside the mine."

"Where is the owner of the mine?"

"I don't know. He must live in Las Vegas, I guess. The foreman hired me a couple of months ago when I met him in a saloon."

"Thank you for the information. Is there anything else you can tell me?"

"Naw. I guess that's it. Put a bullet in my head afore ya leave, ifen ya would be so kind. I'm near dead anyway, but this hurts like hell."

The assassin was so cooperative that I felt that I owed it to him, so I shot him between the eyes. As was customary at the time, I did loot his body for anything useful that I could find. I didn't want his rifle or pistol, but I did take a few silver coins that he had in a pocket.

I was interested in the fact that he had been using an 1843 Mississippi Rifle, one of the most accurate rifles available on the frontier. It was originally government issue, so I wondered if he had been a soldier in the recent war with Mexico.

I went to mount my horse and resume my search for the gold mine. I recharged the carbine clip before I rode off.

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Story tagged with:
Ma/Fa / Science Fiction / Time Travel / Historical / Humor / Violent /