Blackerby’s Wonderful Traveling Machine

What the first draft looks like of the opening paragraphs of the science fiction novel I’m currently writing; a novel that I hope to finish within the next couple of weeks:

Old J.S. Bach’s eyes had been troubling him for some while. Having saved his money for many years, he finally decided to have an operation. Traveling to the mid-twenty-first century, he set up an appointment with a specialist in St. Louis. After his exam, the operation was scheduled and a week later, it was done. After another week of recovery, he returned home, only to succumb to an infection, having forgotten that there were no drug stores in 17th century Germany that stocked any antibiotics. Those were in London, where G.M Hercheiser and Sons did a booming business selling uptime nostrums. However it took too long to get the necessary antibiotics by courier—the first batch were lost in transit—and sadly he died before the second batch could be delivered.

Had he the financial resources, he could have made a trip to the mid twenty-second and simply gotten a standard rejuvenation. It would have cost him less than what he paid for the eye operation, thereby fixing his eyesight and avoiding the issue of infection altogether, besides the overall benefit of quadrupling his lifespan even if he had never bothered to get another rejuvenation.

But he was just a poor church organist and couldn’t spring for the extra traveling expenses.

Chapter One:
In Which Hiram Gruber First Meets Dr. Jedediah Blackerby

“Do you understand?”

Dr. Jedidiah Blackerby nodded his head.

“Then I take my leave of you.” The man whom he knew only as Albright smiled and bowed low, his upper body momentarily horizontal. Then he swung about and walked slowly away, favoring his right leg.

Jedidiah did not say anything more. He watched as Albright strolled up the dusty road and disappeared around the bend, disappearing among the trees.

The chirp of crickets finally penetrated his attention and he realized that he was very thirsty. He reached into his vest pocket and pulled out a narrow metal flask. A quick twist of the cap and he poured a mouthful of liquid gold into his mouth and swallowed.

It burned in a satisfying way and he felt his nerves strengthen and his body grew warmer and more relaxed.

His horse, a gelding named Mercury was busy annoying the grass on the side of the dusty road, occasionally shifting his feet or swishing his tail at an annoying fly. Jedidiah peered up the road, opposite from where Albright had gone, squinting against the bright sun. He was about two miles from Clearwater, if he stuck to this road. He knew the town, though it had been six months since his last visit.

Dr. Jedidiah Blackerby was a tall, narrow man dressed in a recently cleaned black and gray suit that now had a light coating of dust; his shoes were shiny patent leather, also dusty, and a tall black hat sat perched atop his head. He was sitting on the buckboard of his wagon, its tall wooden sides emblazoned with a neat, flowing script that announced “Dr. Blackerby’s Traveling Emporium and Apothecary.”

But instead of being full of patent medicines, silk handkerchiefs and brass pots and pans, instead of bearing wicker baskets and crystal stemware, silver plated forks and knives, tools and almanacs predicting next year’s weather and its sunrise and sunsets, and instead of having a couple of fiddles and three brass horns and a piccolo, there was now but one thing of no apparent value: a metal box standing three feet high, by two feet wide and three feet long, on which a window pane sat upon a short stand, and something like a typewriter keyboard was attached.

Albright had given it to him, following some hard bargaining, after his remarkable demonstration of its capabilities. And Albright had given him exactly one lesson in the functioning and care of the device. He’d also given him a rather thick book that told him it was a training manual for the same device. “Read that, learn that, refer to it often. It has all the answers you’ll need.” So said Albright, and he had no reason to doubt the man. Jedidiah’s initial skepticism about Albright that had blossomed upon their original meeting had long since wilted and died. Instead, his mind was aflutter with a scheme.

Albright had opened the manual after his one and only lesson and pointed a bony finger at page ten. “See here? It’s got an example for you—a place to go, with all the parameters and what to expect. Think of it as a second lesson—to help you learn to operate the device even better!” Albright had been in an awful rush, or so it seemed to Jedidiah. He didn’t quite know why; maybe it was just his way. He’d seemed sort of like a violin with its strings twisted a couple of turns two snug, that could snap with the barest touch.

And as Jedidiah Blackerby rolled the idea that had sprung fully formed in his head as a result of the example lesson on page ten, he could not find not a single flaw in it. There were some details left to work out. Minor things. First, there was the need to finding someone who could sell him a dozen crates or so of good rye whiskey. How hard could that be?

The small pouch of all his earnings from this past season weighed heavy in his jacket pocket. He had to admit that there was some risk, what he was planning. But the payoff! “Providential,” he murmured. “Meeting Albright was surely providential.” And if that was so, then providence would provide him the means.

* * *

Pounding on the broken wooden wheel did nothing to repair it, but when he finished, sweating, hand sore, and half-out of breath, Hiram Gruber had to admit that he was feeling a world better about the whole disaster. Attacking an object responsible for such extreme disappointment was just downright satisfying, no denying.

Reaching into his back pocket, he pulled out a large red handkerchief, ignored the hard to explain stains, and wiped his brow, now nearly as red as the handkerchief thanks to the hot sun baking him overhead, and his just past fury.

He let out one last string of curses, sucked in a satisfying deep breath, coughed thanks to the dust, and suddenly felt nearly cheerful. The sense of satisfaction lasted very briefly, however. His situation—current reality—had not, of course, changed, and now—tired, hot, and emotionally spent—all he could do was mull just how screwed he was.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm a deacon at Quartz Hill Community Church. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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