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INTERMEZZO

  • Stonecypher stood on Bay Knob, near the ruins of the old FM transmitter station, looking down at the Tennessee Lakes. Catriona sat behind him and held the revolver on her thigh. Stonecypher said, "I never see it but I wonder how it looked before the water."
  • Before him, North Fork, an arm of Kings Lake, twisted across the Virginia line four and one-half miles away, while to Stonecypher's right, Boone Lake sparkled like a gigantic, badly drawn V. He did not look toward Surgoinsville Dam securing Kings Lake far to the west.
  • The Tennessee Lakes were born in 1918 when Wilson Dam spanned the Tennessee River at Muscle Shoals, Alabama; but their growth was retarded for fifteen years, until an Act of Congress injected them with vitamins. Then the mile- long bastions of concrete crawled between the ridges. Norris, Wheeler, Pickwick Landing, Guntersville, Watts Bar, Kentucky, Cherokee, Fort Henry, Boone, Sevier, Surgoinsville—almost innumerable dams blocked the rivers. The rivers stopped and overflowed. The creeks swelled into rivers.
  • Congressional Committees investigated, the Supreme Court tested the dams against the Constitution, ethnologists and archeologists hastily checked for Indian relics; and the dams, infused with youthful vigor, matured. Beginning with Norris, which backed up the Clinch and Powell Rivers to inundate 25,000 acres and displace 3,000 families, the dams expanded mighty aquatic muscles.
  • The Tennessee, the Little Tennessee, the Nolichucky, the Holston, the French Broad, the Watauga, the Hiwassee, the Little Pigeon—all the rivers spread their waters into lengthy, ragged lakes, changing the map of Tennessee more than any natural cataclysm, such as the great earthquake of 1811, had ever done. The Lakes provided jobs, electric power, flood control, soil conservation, a fisherman's paradise, milder winters, cooler summers, and they covered all the really good farming land in the eastern part of the state.
  • Catriona loaded the revolver. It was an obsolete .357 Magnum with a 6-1/2 inch barrel, and the cartridge cases of the metal-piercing bullets had a greenish sheen. "Now, put it in the holstah, and be ca'eful," Catriona said.
  • Stonecypher wore the holster, a leather silhouette studded with two spring clips opening forward, on a belt and secured to his leg by a thong. Gingerly, he took the revolver and slipped it under the clips. "I've kept outa duels all my life," he said, "but, so long as it's for you, I don't much mind."
  • "Ah'll mind if he kills you. You do like I tell you, and you can beat him.
  • Why, mah best act in the How-To Cahnival was How to Win a Duel. Cou'se, they didn't know ah was really drawin' befoah the buzzah sounded. Why, ah used to set two plates ten yahds apaht, draw two revolvahs, and shoot both plates, all in foah-tenths of a second!"
  • Stonecypher grinned. "Sorry I missed that carnival first time it came through here. I coulda seen you in that costume they poured on you, three years earlier."
  • "Nevah mind the veiled compliments. Now, try it!"
  • Stonecypher faced the target, a sheet of plastiboard roughly sawed to the shape of a man, and backed by a heap of earth removed from the new, as yet dry, pond in which they stood. Catriona pressed a small buzzer concealed in her palm. Stonecypher's big hand closed on the revolver butt, pushing the weapon up and forward. The sound of the shot rattled away over the mountain top.
  • "That's good!" Catriona cried, consulting the sonic timer. "One and two-tenths seconds from buzzah to shot!"
  • "But I missed," Stonecypher protested. "Look bad on tevee."
  • "You'll hit him. Watch the recoil next time."
  • Stonecypher drew and fired a second wild shot. He snorted, "Confound Westerns, anyhow!"
  • "Weste'ns?"
  • "Sure. That's where this duelin' started. Used to, almost ever' movie or tevee was called a Western. Sort of a fantasy, because they were just slightly based on real history. They generally showed a feller in a flowered shirt, ridin' a Tennessee Walking Horse, and shootin' a gun. Ever'body in these Westerns had a gun, and they all shot at each other.
  • "The youngin's were hep on 'em, so they all wore toy guns, and a whole generation grew up on Westerns. When they got big, they carried real guns.
  • I've heard my great-uncle tell about it, how before the Government built duel- pens and passed laws, you couldn't hardly cross the Lakes without runnin' into a bunch of fools on water skis shootin' at each other."
  • "You leave the histo'y books alone foah awhile," Catriona commanded, "and practice. The tenants and ah'll tend to the wo'k. Try it loaded and empty.
  • Hook this little buzzah to the timeah, and practice. Ah've got to go see the chickens."
  • "'Bye, teacher." Stonecypher dropped the buzzer in his pocket and watched her vanish into the grove. He fired the remaining shots, nicking the target once.
  • With the revolver holstered, he followed the path to the summer pasture.
  • Belly-deep in red clover, twenty-four cows, twenty-four calves, and twenty- four yearlings grazed or played in the shady field. Stonecypher cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled, "Smart-calves! Smart-calves to school!"
  • The entire herd turned sorrowful eyes on him. Seven of the calves and four of the yearlings trotted to the gate, which Stonecypher held open, and jostled out of the pasture. As the calves began to lie down under the trees, a white heifer-calf nuzzled Stonecypher's hand and bawled, "Paaapy gyoing a fyightt?"
  • "Yeah, he's goin' to fight," Stonecypher answered. "Your pappy's gone to the bullring. He suggested it, and made the choice himself. He's got real courage.
  • You oughta all be proud of him."
  • The calves bawled their pride. Including those remaining in the pasture, they presented a colorful variety of spots, specks, splotches, browns, reds, blacks, and even occasional blue and greenish tinges. Stonecypher sat facing them from a stump. He said, "I'm sorta late for the lesson, today, so we'll get on with it. Some of this will be repetition for you yearlings, but it won't hurt. If you get too bored, there's corn and cottonseed meal in the trough, only be quiet about it.
  • "Now. To look at you all, nobody would think you're the same breed of cattle; but you, and your mammys, and Moe are the only Atohmy cattle on Earth. It's usually hard to say exactly when a breed started; but you all started a long, long time ago, on July 16, 1945, near Alamogordo, New Mexico, when they exploded the first Atomic Bomb."
  • At mention of Atomic Bomb, who had succeeded the Bogger Man as a means of frightening children, one of the younger calves bawled. Her polled, brindled mother ran in ungainly fashion to the fence and mooed with great carrying power.
  • "All right!" Stonecypher yelled. The cow closed her big mouth, but stayed by the gate. "Can't go by what you hear the tenants tell their kids," Stonecypher cautioned the calf. "Atomic Bomb is as dead as the tank and the battleship.
  • "Now, like I was sayin', the scientists put Atomic Bomb on a hundred foot tower and blowed him up. There was a flash of fire, and an awful racket, and the blast raised up a lot of dirt and dust from the ground. All this dust achurnin' around in the cloud bumped into little bits of metal and stuff that was highly radioactive. That means, the basic atoms of matter had been thrown out of kilter, sorta deranged. The protons and electrons in an atom oughta be about equal for it to be stable, but these were shootin' off electrons, or beta particles, and givin' off something like powerful x-rays, called gamma rays, and things like that.
  • "Anyhow, this radiation affected all the sand and bits of rock and dirt in that bomb cloud. This radiation is dangerous. Some of it will go right through several inches of lead. Enough'll kill you. Your ancestors were ten miles or so from where Atomic Bomb went off.
  • "They were just plain Whiteface cattle. They weren't supposed to be there, but I reckon none of the scientists bothered to warn 'em. The dust started settlin' all over your ancestors. In about a week, there were sores and blisters on their backs. The red hair dropped off. When it grew back, it was gray.
  • "The scientists got real excited when they heard about it, 'cause they wanted to see how horrible they could make Atomic Bomb. So, they shipped fifty-nine cattle up to Oak Ridge. That was a Government town, a hundred miles southwest of here, where they made some of the stuff to put in Atomic Bomb. The University of Tennessee was runnin' an experimental farm there. They had donkeys, and pigs, and chickens, and other animals that they exposed to radioactivity. Then they killed 'em and cut 'em up to see what had happened. I know it's gruesome, but that's how it was.
  • "The awful fact is, the scientists slaughtered more than half that original Atohmy herd for experiments. Some of the rest, they—uh—married. Wanted to see if the calves had two heads, or something; if radioactivity had speeded up the mutation rate.
  • "Back then, they didn't understand much about mutation. Some claimed a little radioactivity would cause it, some said a whole lot, and some said it wouldn't hurt a bit."
  • "Whaa mootyaaonn?" asked the calf which was not yet assured of the extinction of Atomic Bomb.
  • "Well, you-all are all mutations. I've told you how life starts from one cell.
  • This cell has thread-like things in it called chromosomes, and the chromosomes are made up of things called genes. Mutations, sort of unexpected changes, can take place in either the chromosomes or the genes. You see, when this one cell starts dividing, every gene makes a copy of itself; but, sometimes, the copy is a little different from the original. Lots of things, like x-rays and ultraviolet rays, heat, chemicals, disease, can cause this. Radioactivity had caused mutation in some experiment, so the scientists were anxious to see what happened with these cattle.
  • "Genes determine the way an animal develops. Two mutant genes can start reactions that end up as a man with one leg, or maybe as a bull with the intelligence of an eight-year-old man. Lots of mutations are recessive. They may be carried along for generations. But, when two like mutant genes come together in reproduction, the animal is bound to be something different, the way you eleven calves are.
  • "Now. The scientists watched the Atohmy cattle for fifteen or twenty years, and nothin' much happened. They started sayin' radioactivity wasn't dangerous, and a man could walk into a place right after Atomic Bomb went off, and it wouldn't matter. They should be here to see the mess in Japan today. All the time, though, I think the cattle were changing. It may have been in little things like the length of hair, or the shape of an eyeball, or the curve of a horn, so the scientists couldn't tell without they made exact measurements all the time.
  • "Then, a bull-calf was born. He had shaggy black hair, and his horns grew in a spiral like a ram's. Some scientists said, 'I told you so! It speeded the mutation rate!'
  • "Others said, 'He's a natural mutation, or else, a throw-back to prehistoric wild cattle. It happens in every breed. Atomic Bomb had nothing to do with it.'
  • "They married the bull, and then they fixed to slaughter 'im to see what his insides was like. The bull fooled 'em, though. He came down with contagious pleuro-pneumonia, the first case in years, 'cause it was supposed to have been wiped out in this country away back in the Nineteenth Century. They had to cremate the bull for fear the disease would spread. Ever' one of the calves were normal Whitefaces.
  • "Finally, the nineteen Atohmy cattle that were left were put up for sale. My great-grandfather, Cary McPheeter, bought 'em and shipped 'em here to Bays Mountain. He's the man started this farm where there was nothin' but rattlesnakes, and trees, and rocks."
  • "Whyy theyea selll um?" a red roan calf interrupted.
  • "Well, they sold 'em 'cause Oak Ridge had been condemned. That was several years after the German Civil War. It was peace time, for a change, and folks were sick of Atomic Bomb. Anyhow, new, modern plants for makin' the stuff had been built in secret places a lot easier to defend. The women were cryin' for more automatic kitchens, so the Bureau of Interior Hydro-electric Power (that's the name Federal Power, Inc., went by then) put another dam across the Clinch River below Norris. Bush Lake covered up Oak Ridge.
  • "There wasn't much mutation, except for color, in you Atohmy cattle, till seven years ago when your pappy, Moe, was born. I remember—"
  • A hoarse excited voice shouted from a distance. "Thrill party!" it cried.
  • "Thrill party!"
  • Stonecypher leaped off the stump, stamped his right foot to restore circulation, and yelled on the run, "That's all today! Stay under the trees!"
  • He loped along the pasture fence and across the makeshift target range. Two tenants, Teddy and Will, stood on the dirt heap with pitchforks in their hands. Over Bay Knob, an old Model 14 butterflier hovered on vibrating wings.
  • Sloppy white letters on the sides of the aircraft spelled such slang expressions as, "Flash the MAGNETS," "SupercOlossalSoniC Flap ship," and
  • "Redheads amble OTHer canop."
  • An impossible number of middleschool-age boys bulged from the cabin windows.
  • Methodically, they dumped trash and garbage over the transmitter station ruins. The butterflier wheeled and flapped over the pasture. Red clover bent and writhed in the artificial wind from the ornithopter wings. Cows bawled and ran wild. Calves fell over each other.
  • Stonecypher jumped the fence. He wrested the revolver from the holster. "Clear out, or I'll shoot!" he howled.
  • Voices spilled from the butterflier. "He got a handgun!"
  • "Dis ain't legal!"
  • "Whatcha say, tall, bones, and ugly?"
  • Stonecypher aimed the Magnum at the shaven head in the pilot's seat. The boys looked faint. Agitated air thundered as the butterflier lifted straight up two hundred feet and glided away in the direction of Surgoinsville Dam.
  • Teddy and Will stood by with pitchforks unrelaxed. Will spat a globule of tobacco juice. "The thangs these here psychologists git made law!" he sneered.
  • "You want me to make out a Thrill Damage Claim?"
  • "No, Will," Stonecypher said, "just deduct it from taxes."
  • Teddy looked at the revolver and said, "Ever'body oughta take guns to them crazy youngin's. Reckon you'll git into trouble?"
  • "No. It's an empty antique. That's legal. You guys did all right. Let the calves back in, huh?"
  • The tenants left by the gate, and, with a minimum of driving, urged the calves into the pasture. Stonecypher watched the men pass through the grove. Although the tenants undoubtedly recognized the peculiarities of the calves, they never mentioned them. Since the late 1700's, through Revolution, Civil War, automobile, the Department of Internal Revenue, the multiple bureaus that had controlled the Lakes, the Moon rocket, and the expedition to Pluto, these people had remained suspiciously interested in strangers, suspicious of indoor plumbing, doubtful of the Government, quick-tempered, and as immovable as Chimney Top. They had exchanged little except log and frame houses for concrete. The tenants, not really tenants, had been squatting on Bays Mountain when Cary McPheeter bought the farm; and there they stayed.
  • Stonecypher vaulted the fence. Catriona, with hands firmly planted on hips, stood in the dry pond. Stonecypher said, "If I just knew what these thrill parties think they're up to, it might help."
  • Catriona shook her head of red-yellow hair. "Nevah mind them. Ah told you to practice shootin', but the minute ah turn mah back, you run off and staht teachin' those calves! You've got to practice, Stony! You've nevah done any shootin', and L. Dan's killed ten people. Ah—"
  • "Watch the tears, or you'll have red and green eyes," Stonecypher said.
  • Clumsily, he ejected the shells and reloaded the revolver. He occupied two seconds in drawing and firing. The bullet struck dirt a yard to the left of the target.