Part 17: Susan Has an Accent
SEPTEMBER 9TH, 1848
As the wagon pulled into Fort Bridger, Cyrus was starting to feel ill. Not ill, like he had contracted one of the dozens of diseases making the rounds on the Wagon of Shame, but something more akin to extreme nervous anxiety and it was terrorizing his thoughts.
The more he mulled it over, the more desperately Cyrus wanted to get out of meeting Waffles' biological father. What if the guy was tall, or rugged, or muscle-y, or any other number of positive traits that Cyrus was the opposite of? What if Waffles wanted to stay with his real father and abandoned the family? What if Susan secretly loved him more? He had a gut feeling that there was something terribly wrong about this whole deal.
Welp, I hope everything works out, Waffles, I'm going to be at the bar.
No you're not. It's very important that you talk to Waffles' father.
Oh God, that look. It physically hurt. Fine, thought Cyrus, let's get this over with.
I need to find him. Rent a cabin and take Cyrus Jr there to rest. Sarah Jane, this is very personal, so I need you to stay in the wagon and look after Baby. Cyrus, I'll see you in twelve minutes.
Er, uh... yes, dear?
That was weird. Susan had suddenly taken charge and was walking around like she owned the place despite an extreme fever and a crippling case of cholera. Having found an affordable cabin for the night, Cyrus helped his step son onto his feet and they hobbled as best they could to the cabin beds. Waffles was looking as terrible as ever, but at least he was conscious. A thought occured to Cyrus.
Waffles, do you know where you are? Do you know why we're here?
Abe Lincoln's gonna free the slaves, pa.
This is fucked.
Cyrus sat on the edge of his own bed and waited anxiously for Susan to find them. He was just starting to entertain the notion that Susan might be doing something incredibly innappropriate when an upright ox bursted through the door, causing Cyrus to squeel in terror. Fortunately it wasn't an ox, it was just the tallest, most rugged, most impossibly muscle-bound man Cyrus had ever seen.
Susan peered from behind the redwood of a man.
What? No! That's my husband. Cyrus Jr is over there on the bed.
Thank God. I was worried for a second there.
Cyrus nearly protested but wussed out at the last second. It was his way. No wait, fuck that, there was something extremely wrong here.
Waffles' father stopped in mid-stride at the distractingly obvious statement and stared at the profoundly smaller man.
You sure know how to pick em, Susan.
Cyrus, I've told you a thousand times. Cyrus Jr has a rare skin condition that affected his pigmentation. He's not black!
The giant of a man was now looming over Waffles' bed, staring down at him.
So this is the boy? Is he really the one? The child who can turn around the fight for us, Susan? He does look strong, even that typhoid's having a hard time with him!
He takes after you, Sterling.
Sterling? What the hell kind of name is that, thought Cyrus, who's brain had just caught up and realized that there was a much better question worth asking.
What the hell do you mean "turn the fight around?"
Sterling sighed and shot a perturbed "are you sure?" look to Susan, who nodded. He walked to the window and gave a quick glance outside, then spun to face Cyrus.
I'm not surprised you haven't figured it out, you colonial twit. Britain has spies all over this country and it will take back the land that's been stolen. Me and Susan are part of the Queen's elite scouts and Waffles and the expedition to Oregon are all a part of the plan. You're just a cog. Now, it's time to ask yourself a question.
You're part of this now, Cyrus, whether you like it or not. Things are going to get difficult from here on out and you need to do exactly what I tell you, do you understand?
That was all the response Cyrus could muster. What the hell had just happened? British spies?! Did Susan's accent just change? What was he supposed to say?! This didn't make any sense!
As the moment passed in silence, Sterling was beginning to look irritated and popped a knuckle. He was starting to think that Cyrus wasn't quite qualified for the job. A faint rustle went up from the far window and Susan's head snapped to attention. Fortunately for the panicking Cyrus, someone else would be making the decisions.
STERLING! NOOO! YOU'RE DEAD, YOU YANKEE BASTARDS!
Diving across the room, Susan rolled and flung herself hard against the cabin door, ripping it from the hinges and cracking open the skull of the Fort Bridger soldier who had just been about to do the same. Faster than a rattler, she snatched up the doomed man's rifle, plugging the soldier in the window with a point-blank round of hot lead to the face. Now she had two rifles.
SHIT... Cyrus! Get Cyrus Jr back to the wagon, we have to make a run for it! I'll cover you!
Cyrus stood frozen in bewilderment, jaw agape.
It slowly began to register that he was moving again, on autopilot. As he scooped up Waffles and started to make his way out, Susan had taken a crouching position and was laying down double-barrel suppressive fire on the group of soldiers that had just rounded the corner. Everything went by in a blur as Cyrus passed through the doorway. His wife (whoever she was) had deftly dispatched another small group of men clothed in colonial garb and as shouts went up from the opposite end of the camp, she aimed a rifle in both directions, waiting for the first sign of movement.
A bullet whizzed by Cyrus' head, mere inches from performing an emergency lobotomy and perforated the wagon's cloth canvas instead, even catching Waffles' spotty attention.
OH, SALMON JOE!
Sarah Jane had been shrieking as though they were spraying water at her since the first gunshot and gave no indication of stopping anytime soon.
Cyrus practically chucked Waffles into the back of the wagon and was instantaneously whipping the oxen like they had been naughty, hoping frantically to get up to speed before soldiers were able to take potshots at the racing target, and also secretly hoping he had escaped the deranged woman he clearly did not know. He just needed a minute to get his head straight. A few seconds later, Susan swung from the top of the wagon into the passenger seat and began reloading the four guns she now had strapped across her back.
Who do you think you're running from? As far as Fort Bridger is concerned, you're with me, Cyrus. This isn't over yet- if I know anything, it's that they'll send cavalry after us. Just keep the oxen going straight, ok?
She had turned and leaned backward out the side of the moving wagon, staring down the rifle sights and waiting for a horseback followup.
Cyrus was about to cry, but opted instead for an unbeat little ditty. He would have preferred some of that fine white powder to calm his nerves, but it would have to do.
...and the deer and the antelope play...