McKeldon reached Gatlinburg before dark. The team of horses, tired and lathered despite the brisk autumn weather, drew up before the inn, their harness creaking. McKeldon got down from the wagon slowly, carefully, as if his bones were brittle as china. He was bone weary, but he immediately saw to the unloading of the big, coffin-shaped box which he'd driven up from the ruins of Knoxsville.
'It for Jessup?' one of the men at the inn asked as the box was removed from the wagon and brought inside.
'That's right,' McKeldon said warily. 'Make something of it?'
'Don't get me wrong, now, mister,' the man said.
McKeldon followed them into the inn, entranced by the smell of hot, bubbling stew. It never ceased to amaze him that five years before he'd been a chemical engineer over at Oak Ridge. He wondered if there were enough men left anywhere, or a big enough community, or a sufficient interest in chemicals, to need a single member of his profession. Knoxville, he knew, was in ruins. He'd visited the outskirts of Memphis once, but the city was still radioactive. Nashville, the same. The grim story was the same, as far as he knew, all over the world.
'Jessup expecting it?' the man who had asked about the package said.
'Now how could that be?' McKeldon snapped.
'No offense, mister. Just asking.' He was a big man with a week's growth of beard on his face and hard, determined eyes which McKeldon did not like.
McKeldon shrugged. There was going to be trouble. Obviously. He was ready for trouble. Horses, he thought. It never ceased to amaze him. A chemical engineer in the single great technological civilization— and possibly the last civilization — that mankind had ever produced. Driving a horse-drawn wagon up to the foothills of the Great Smokey Mountains. Horses, and a coffin with a hole-peppered lid.
Publication date: 22/10/2015
What sort of a world could possibly evolve wherein a man — moved by lo
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