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|The final frontier? What if weather had to be managed like cattle herds?||
"Yippee kai yai yay get along little dogies," shattered the cool morning air. Guitar and voice were both slightly out of tune. Fred liked to sing out loud, even though his charges couldn't understand or even hear him, and no one who could, was around. It was fortunate, in any case, for if the herd could hear and understand him, they would have stampeded in seventy different directions.
Fred didn't like to be called Fred, only the "Big House" and his best friend, who had ridden into the sunset, even knew that his name was Fred. He insisted that he be called Buckshot, and since no one knew his real name, they had to humor him. Buckshot was the last UAC or Upper Atmosphere Cowboy, and he was mighty proud of it too. During his thirty years of service, he had fought off rustlers, wolf winds, storms and stopped many a stampede. He had also traveled over two million miles moving his herd.
It wasn't exactly his herd, a cowboy was assigned so many head and then took care of them, moving them when directed. He had had the members of this particular herd going on twelve years now, and so they felt like they were his. He knew each by name and their various personalities even though lots of folks said they were just dumb beasts. He was the last Cowboy and the best. All the other herds had been bought up by big companies who used them for breeding research, and pleasure After all, they were beautiful creatures, and synthetics had been developed to take their place in the food chain.
Buckshot's concerto was interrupted mid-note by a voice coming over the radio.
"Buckshot! Stop that infernal noise and listen up. You'll have to move those cows to Wyoming."
"But Jess, they've only been grazing for two weeks, we just got back from South America," Buckshot complained.
"I know, it just came down from the "Big House"...
"They need at least another week of grazing to be full enough for a trip like that," Buckshot complained, "That's all the way across the continent and through the Aztecico Desert, there's hardly any water- they'll starve." Buckshot was clearly worried about the welfare of his herd.
"The Boss is sellin' out, he can't afford to keep the herd." Jess' voice conveyed its unhappiness even though it was thousands of miles away.
Buckshot was stunned. Sell the herd? He didn't realize he had said it aloud until Jess replied. "Yes, sell the herd, I'm sorry but progress goes on. Jet horses have been replaced by jet trucks, and the old time cowboys have been replaced by ranchers. You're time is past, Buckshot, this'll be your last roundup."
"It ain't over yet. Wyoming, huh? Maybe..."
"I know what you're thinkin', Buck. There's nothing you can do to keep them."
"I'll try to get them to Wyoming, but they'll be mighty thin when they get there."
"Just get'em there, Buckshot, and.. Good luck." The radio went off on Jess' end. Buckshot stretched as he flipped the switch off at his end of the line. Straightening up in his saddle, he put his electric guitar in it's case and his seventh great grandfather's harmonica in his pocket.
"Well, Belch ole boy, let's start roundin' up the herd. It'll take most the day the way they're scattered," he said to his mechanical companion and home. A Jorse is the shortened form of jet horse. These marvels of mechanization did not, in the least, resemble horses of by gone days. In the jorses' drawers, pouches, and compartments were all the possessions of the cowboy. He lived, ate and since oxygen was still scarce, breathed in his jorse.
He turned his pinto-painted jorse and readied his lasso. Buckshot looked up at a deep purple sky and silver gold sun. There was not a speck of the pollution that had marred the skies and ruined the Earth beyond habitation for generations. Below him the ocean glittered in the morning sun like the stars did at night. It seemed it was winking good-by this time.
He shook his head to clear it of these thoughts as he shook out the lasso. The first bunch of cows came into view, and he swung the loop to enlarge it. When he was in range, he used a practiced flip of his wrist to make the electronic loop settle gently around the bunch, where it formed a faintly glowing wall. Leaving this bunch, he turned Belch and they started searching for the rest of the herd.
By midday he had lassoed the seven bunches, so he stopped for a sandwich. Now it was time to gather them into one herd. He attached a laser line to the wall which surrounded one bunch and with the other end secured to Belch, he eased the group into motion. When he got them next to another group, he disengaged the laser and repeated the process. Soon he had all seven groups in a large, irregular bunch. Now the hard part. Using a special lasso, he swung the loop and threw. It floated down and settled around the entire herd. Using special controls, he curved the wall and shrunk it until the herd was encased in a sphere that was large enough to keep then from jostling each other. With the sphere in place, the inner loops dissipated.
Buckshot didn't know how the ropes worked, only that they served their purpose of protecting the herd and keeping them form straying off while they were on the move. With no rustlers or wolf winds to contend with, the going would be fairly easy. The biggest dangers would be starvation or accident. Storms had almost completely stopped, so that was only a small worry. By the time he had finished, the sun was going down, so he decided he would stay here for the night. After dinner, he laid out his bedroll on the artificial grass mattress on Belch's platform. He looked up through the clear canopy at the stars which looked close enough to touch. They looked cold and hard tonight.
"Fanciful thinking," he said to himself. He glanced over at the herd resting in the golden glowing globe. He smiled and then slept.
The next day he was up with the sun and after a quick breakfast, he attached the line to the herd wall, and they eased into motion. The day passed as thousands of others had before it, with the herd on the move and his guitar accompanying his singing. Only the thought that this was his last roundup marred this time. He could sell Belch and go to work for a big ranch, but he could not bear to see his herd in captivity or say good-by to his beloved jorse.
By the second day, the members of the herd were getting a little thin especially the young ones. Luckily, they would reach the Mississippi River by nightfall. He decided to travel up the river for a day or so to provide the herd with more grazing. When they reached the river, he enlarged the sphere to allow them more room to move about. he cleared his mind of all his worries as he watched the herd jockey for the best positions to graze. The setting sun turned them all different colors, red, orange, purple, silver, white, and pink. This was his favorite time of day, and he watched as long as he was able.
The journey passed with only the death of the littlest dogie to mark its passage. They had been over the Aztexico Desert, and the dogie had been starving. He took out his twelve gauge seeder and shot it. As its life juice had bled away, the rest of the herd crowded around and lapped hungrily.
The day finally arrived when the Wyoming gate came into view. He stopped, having forgotten for the time that this was his last ride with this herd. Slowly he pulled the sphere through the gate, where he was met by a young man in a new jet truck. The young man took over the line and hauled the herd off.
Buckshot rode down to the "Big House" to get his pay, it was automatic. It was funny, how they used to call the cows, clouds a long time ago. The days of the cloud roundups were gone. The cloudboys were no longer needed to move the clouds to give rain where it was needed. There were more efficient ways now. He patted Belch and, turning towards the west, they rode past the sunset, through cold space, and into the sun itself, singing, "Yippee kai yai yay, get along little dogies..."
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