Read The Doctor and the Rough Rider Online

Authors: Mike Resnick

Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Westerns, #Historical, #Steampunk, #Alternative History

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BOOK: The Doctor and the Rough Rider
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“No,” said Holliday, kneeling down next to the man. “I think we'll fine him.”

“Fine him?” repeated Roosevelt.

Holliday took the man's gun from where it had fallen and tucked it in his belt, then
pulled out the man's wallet and relieved it of all its cash.

“Okay,” said Holliday, standing up again. “Justice is served.”

Roosevelt flashed him a grin that would someday become famous. “I guess it has been,
at that,” he said.

. “So you say he's how tall?”

He was standing in Edison's office, facing Roosevelt, Holliday, and Masterson, who
were seated on various chairs and couches. Edison sat at his desk, taking notes.

“How tall is the ceiling?” asked Holliday.

“I'd say eight feet.”

“Then he's taller than twelve feet. A few more feet.”

“And what is he built like?” continued Buntline. “I don't mean the flames. I mean,
is he lean? Burly? Something else?”

“He's pretty well-muscled,” replied Roosevelt. “Rather like a heavyweight boxer, but
without carrying any excess weight.”

“All right,” said Buntline, seating himself on a wooden chair at the corner of the
desk and writing some figures on a piece of paper. Finally he looked up. “From your
descriptions, I make him twelve feet high, possibly as tall as fourteen feet.”

Roosevelt nodded. “That seems about right.”

“And given the build you tell me he's got, he would go from seven hundred fifty to
nine hundred pounds.”

“That much?” asked Masterson, wide-eyed.

“That's right,” confirmed Buntline.

“That just doesn't sound right.”

“Bat, how tall are you?”

“Five feet eight,” came the answer.

“And what do you weigh?”

“Maybe one hundred fifty pounds.”

“And what does a heavyweight boxer who stands six feet tall weigh?” asked Buntline
with a smile.

“It varies,” said Masterson uncomfortably.

“But he
weigh two hundred pounds without anyone calling him fat?”

“Yes, he could,” conceded Masterson.

“That's a difference of fifty pounds in just four inches,” said Buntline. “Do you
really think adding six hundred or seven hundred pounds while adding six to eight
feet is so far-fetched?”

“No,” admitted Masterson. “No, I guess it's not. In fact, when you put it that way,
an extra six hundred pounds would probably have him looking skinny as a rail.”

“Which brings up another question,” continued Buntline. “How does he get from here
to there?”

“From here to there?” repeated Roosevelt, frowning.

“If he appears in, say, a Southern Cheyenne village two hundred miles away,” said
Buntline, lighting up a cigar and using an ashtray of his super-hardened brass, “and
he doesn't magic himself from there to here, how does he get here? I guarantee no
thousand-pound horse is going to carry him for more than half a mile or so.”

“I suppose he travels by magic,” said Roosevelt. “And why not?”
he added. “Geronimo conjured up an image of him, which was clearly magic…and his physical
attributes, from his size to his flaming hands, would seem to be magic too.”

“I wish I knew just how hot those flames are,” said Buntline. “And if he can fire
them like bullets, or at least flaming arrows, or if he had to reach out and grab
you with them.”

“Either way they're gonna be hot,” offered Holliday dryly.

“It makes a difference, Doc,” replied Buntline. “I can make some super-hardened armor
for Theodore, and even for his horse—but don't forget that I shape it in a special
oven at very high temperatures, and if War Bonnet can match those temperatures, he
can totally enclose Theodore in melted brass.”

“Not quite the suit of armor I've always imagined,” remarked Roosevelt wryly.

“So what else can you do for them?” asked Masterson.

“It's difficult, because we're really working blind here,” answered Buntline. “I could
create a hood for Theodore's horse, for example, one that would allow Theodore to
close the cups over the horse's eyes on a second's notice…but I have no idea if the
sight of a twelve- or fourteen-foot-tall man would upset the horse at all, whereas
blinding him by closing the cups might panic him. By the same token, I don't doubt
that we could craft ear plugs, but not being able to see or hear might panic the animal
more than seeing and hearing something it hadn't experienced before.”

“Maybe it's time to ask the genius what to do,” said Holliday, taking a drink from
his flask and passing it to Masterson, who took a swallow, wiped his mouth on a shirtsleeve,
and handed it back.

“You mean the
genius,” replied Edison with a smile. “Never forget that while my inventions may
work in theory, it's Ned and his manufacturing business that makes them work in practice.”

“Okay, so what does the other genius think?”

“I think we're working in the dark here,” replied Edison. “The unhappy truth is that
someone's going to have to see this War Bonnet in person before we can create a weapon
that will work against him, and even that probably won't be enough.”

“Why the hell not?” persisted Holliday.

“Pretend he's standing right over there, by the door, and that the ceiling is high
enough to accommodate him,” said Edison, getting up, walking to the door, and turning
to face them. “He's here to kill you. Ned's already talked about some of the problems
of defending yourself, but let's concentrate not on that but on killing, or at least
neutralizing, War Bonnet. Okay, Doc, you draw your gun and fire six quick shots. Either
they bounce off him, or he absorbs them with no ill effects.
what do you do?”

“Run like hell,” said Masterson, only half-kidding.

“Well, right at the moment, so would I,” said Edison, returning his smile. “And that's
why we need to know more about him.”

“For example?” asked Roosevelt.

“If Doc shoots you in a vital spot, you'll die—and if you shoot him,
die. That means you each have the same physical weaknesses. Is that true of War Bonnet?
Which is to say, it seems obvious that those fiery hands of his are meant to burn
you, either at close quarters, as when he grabs you, or at a distance, if he has some
mechanism whereby he can aim and release that fire. So the obvious question is: Is
he himself susceptible to fire, or at least to heat? If he is, I can create a carbon
arc projector that I guarantee will throw more heat at him than he can throw at you…but
will that harm, or even bother him? I don't know.” Edison returned to his chair while
considering his next line of approach. “All right, let's say that he's immune to fire
and heat. It's a reasonable assumption, given that his arms and hands are made of
flame. Will water put the fire out, or at least negate it to some degree?”

“It seems reasonable,” agreed Masterson.

“I see Theodore is shaking his head,” noted Edison with a smile. “Would you care to
tell Bat why?”

“I'd have to position myself next to a large source of water. This is not a small
warrior, this War Bonnet, and those aren't small flames. And we don't know how hot
the flames are. Could they turn the water to steam even before it hits them? Remember:
he's a magical creature, so he doesn't necessarily obey all the laws of Tom's science.”

“Absolutely right,” agreed Edison. He smiled again. “I would expect no less of a Harvard

“Let's concentrate on keeping the Harvard man alive,” said Holliday. “At least long
enough for someone from Yale to come along and kill him.”

Roosevelt uttered a hearty laugh. “Says the man who did not have the benefit of a
New England education.”

“Getting back to War Bonnet,” said Edison, “so far we've spoken about only heat, flame,
and water. How about one of Doc's or Bat's bullets? I assume they won't bother him
because of his magical origin, but until we know that for sure, we have to consider
the possibility that the direct means of confronting and combating him may be the
best. And there are factors that
extraneous but may not be. For example, how's his endurance? Most huge men, well-muscled
or otherwise, tire more easily than small, lithe men. What if you face him out in
the desert, shoot his horse out from under him, and ride off?”

“He won't be riding a horse, Tom,” said Buntline.

“Are you quite sure, Ned?” retorted Edison. “If they can create War Bonnet, why can't
they create a horse that stands sixty hands at the shoulder and weighs three tons?”

“Damn!” muttered Buntline. “I never thought of that.”

“Anyway, gentlemen, I could give you all the dozens of possibilities
that have occurred to me, but the end result would be the same: it's all guesswork,
and it's not even educated guesswork since, based on his very origin, we have to assume
that War Bonnet doesn't necessarily obey the laws of science as we know them. The
problem,” he added with a wry smile, “is that he may very well obey
of them. We just can't know until he shows himself, by which time it may be too late.”

“If one of us does make contact…” began Roosevelt.

“Then based on your firsthand observations, I would hope Ned and I can create a weapon
that can be effective. At least we won't be working in the dark.”

“You might be anyway,” said Holliday.

“Oh?” said Edison, turning to him.

“There's a difference between seeing and shooting him, throwing him in a lake, and
giving him a hotfoot.” He looked around the room and saw nothing but puzzled expressions.
“What I'm saying is that if all we do is
him, you won't have learned anything except that he's as big as Geronimo says, and
if we try to harm him without knowing what works, we can't report back to you. Either
it works and he's dead, or it doesn't work and

“You're not thinking it through, Doc,” said Edison.

Holliday arched an eyebrow. “Oh?”

“I'd never ask you to face this monster without taking a lot of precautions.”

“You're not telling us to turn tail and run,” said Holliday, trying to comprehend
what Edison was suggesting.

“Of course not.”

“Then I'm stumped.”

Edison turned to Roosevelt. “Theodore?”

Roosevelt frowned for a moment, then snapped his fingers and let out a whoop. “We
go to the source!”

“The medicine men?” asked Masterson, confused.

“No,” said Roosevelt. “To Geronimo. He's the one who told us War Bonnet exists. He's
the one who knows what he'll look like. He's the most powerful medicine man of all.
If anyone knows what War Bonnet can and can't do, it'll be Geronimo.”

“Then why didn't he tell us when we were at his lodge?” asked Holliday.

“Maybe he thinks I'm bright enough to figure War Bonnet out myself. Remember, I'm
the one American he trusts. Or maybe he wants to see if I'm bright enough to come
back and question him.” He paused. “Or maybe War Bonnet is a work in progress, and
the longer he waits, the more he'll know—or maybe he really doesn't know. At any rate,
that's where I'm going as soon as we leave here.”

“No you're not,” said Holliday.

“Oh?” said Roosevelt pugnaciously. “And why not?”

“He's not there. He left a few hours after we saw him. Remember, he's a target too,
so he's going to keep on the move.”

Roosevelt frowned. “Then where will we find him?”

Holliday looked at the window ledge, where a wren was perched.

“Oh, I think a little bird will tell us,” he said with a confident smile.

, R
left Edison's house, the wren swooped down toward them, then paused, fluttering in
place about ten feet above the ground, and flew off very slowly to the east.

“He wants you to follow him,” said Holliday.

“Are you seriously suggesting that's Geronimo?” said Roosevelt, frowning.

“Geronimo or one of his warriors.”

“That's difficult to believe.”

“Is believing in War Bonnet any easier?” asked Holliday.

“Why doesn't he just appear as himself?” asked Roosevelt.

“You've made your peace with him,” answered Holliday. “The rest of the town—of the
country, for that matter—is still at war with him.”

Roosevelt stared at the bird for a moment. “All right,” he said. “Let's see if you're

“Of course I am,” said Holliday. “I'm going to the Oriental. You can find me there.”
He turned to Masterson. “What about you?”

“What the hell. There's no law says I have to gamble once I get there.” Suddenly he
smiled. “Besides, there's always a chance Johnny Behan will be there. I don't like
him any better than you do.”

“That's a powerful lot of dislike to reside in just two men,” said Holliday, heading
off toward the Oriental, and Masterson fell into step beside him.

Roosevelt followed the bird, which kept distancing from him and then coming back.
He walked out of town, and in another hundred yards came to an abandoned barn and
corral. The wood was starting to crumble, and a number of the cross posts in the corral
were broken. The bird flew around to the far side of the barn, and when Roosevelt
reached the spot where he couldn't be seen by any resident of the town, he found himself
face-to-face with Geronimo.

“That's quite a trick,” said Roosevelt. “Can you do it whenever you want?”

“Yes,” answered the Apache.

“Just birds, or can you change into other things as well?”

“I can change into other things.”

“Then why not turn yourself into a mighty warrior, three times as big as War Bonnet,
and just step on him when he shows up?”

Geronimo seemed amused by the question. “War Bonnet is the product of the combined
magical might of many medicine men. With Hook Nose dead, I can match any three or
even four of them, but not many more than that.”

“Then, not to put too fine a point on it, we're as good as dead,” said Roosevelt.

“You show no sign of fear.”

“I'm not afraid to die,” was the answer. “But I still have a lot of things I want
to do first.”

“Then we must defeat him and them.”

“You just told me that you couldn't,” said Roosevelt.

“But I did not say
couldn't,” answered Geronimo.

Roosevelt frowned. “I possess no magic.”

“You possess an indomitable will.”

“That's not much to put up against a thousand pounds of magical warrior,” replied
Roosevelt. “You saw me talking to Edison and Buntline. They're capable of things that
seem like magic, but they need more information. We're hoping you can supply it.”

“War Bonnet is not a finished creation,” answered Geronimo. “I showed you what I can.”

“Is he impervious to bullets?”

“He can be.”

“Can a large supply of water douse those flaming hands?” continued Roosevelt.

“Under some circumstances.”

“You're not helping much.”

“I told you: he is not yet finished.”

“Will he be able to feel pain?”


“Damn it!” snapped Roosevelt. “I need to know
about him!”

“When he is ready to be sent against us, I will know more,” replied Geronimo.

“That may be too late.” Roosevelt paused, trying to come up with some answerable questions.
“Once he looks the way you showed me, can he change his shape? Can he sneak up to
me as a beetle or a butterfly and then turn into a giant warrior?”

he will not be able to do,” Geronimo assured him. “Once he is completed and sent
forth, no one medicine man can change him. It must be done with the consent of all,
and they will disperse the moment he is activated.”


“If you were at war, would you want all your generals in one location?” asked Geronimo
with the hint of a smile.

“So once they send him after us, he's stuck with whatever abilities and defenses they've
given him?”

“With some of them.”

“But you just said—”

“I said he cannot change his shape, and he cannot. But that does not mean he cannot
change other things.”

“Give me an example,” said Roosevelt.

“He may have abilities that may remain dormant until he needs them. The simplest example
would be food. Even a magical creature must have energy for his body, but he may not
feel hunger for days on end, until he finally comes upon a supply of food—and then
he may eat enough to make up for all the meals he missed with no ill effects.”

“I see.”

“Or he may never eat at all.”

“But you just said—”

“He may be a vegetable that looks like a man. He may eat sunshine. He may drink by
walking barefoot across a stream.”

Roosevelt muttered an obscenity.

“I know you want specific answers, but you must remember that he is the creation of
more than fifty medicine men, and each will have his own ideas, and each will have
some input, some trait to add or change or eliminate.”

“All right,” said Roosevelt after a moment's consideration. “I have another question.”

Geronimo stared at him. “Ask.”

“Is this creature being created just to kill you and me, or to conquer the whole damned

A smile of approval crossed Geronimo's face, as if to say,
It's about time you thought to ask that.
“We are his first challenge, not his last. He is being created solely to battle you
and myself, but if he wins, be assured that they will find more for him to do.”

“Wrong,” said Roosevelt firmly.

“Wrong?” repeated Geronimo, frowning.

“We're going to be his first
his last challenge, because we're going to put an end to him.”

“The spirit is strong within you. I approve.”

“Well, I wish I'd found out a little more about him, but at least you gave me a few

Geronimo looked surprised. “I did?”

Roosevelt nodded.

“What?” asked the Apache.

“They're creating him to kill you and me. So his strengths will be those strengths
that work against us, and his weaknesses—and everything has weaknesses—will be those
we're not likely to take advantage of.”

Geronimo frowned. “And you find that useful?”

“It could be.”


“Our friend Holliday is just about the best shootist still alive and unjailed. You
don't use a pistol, and I freely admit that I'm not very good with one. The medicine
men must know that, so it's possible that War Bonnet will be susceptible to Doc's
six-gun.” Geronimo gave a noncommittal grunt, and Roosevelt continued.

“Or perhaps if I were to train a couple of large dogs to attack, it might be that
War Bonnet has no defense against them.”

“Other than his size and strength, you mean?” said Geronimo, looking unconvinced.

“At least these are possibilities. And there are others. For example, if there's any
quicksand around here, and I can lure him into it because he's chasing me…”

“What do you think will happen?” asked Geronimo.

“He'll sink into it,” answered Roosevelt, surprised at the question.

“And then what?”

Roosevelt frowned. “I don't understand.”

“It will not suck him all the way through to the other side of the world. There is
a floor to every quicksand pit, and if he does not have to breathe—and he may not;
that is certainly a trait
would give him—he will come to the floor, and walk through the quicksand to the edge
of it and then climb out.”

“All right,” said Roosevelt. “I haven't seen any quicksand around Tombstone anyway.
But the principle is still valid:
has weaknesses. I just have to figure out what War Bonnet's are—and if I can figure
them out soon enough, then Tom and Ned might be able to help me devise a weapon that
will work against him.”

“It is important that you find a way,” said Geronimo. “Because if our treaty does
not come to pass, there will be lakes of blood spilled when your armies finally cross
the river and confront
armies. As thirsty as the earth is, even it cannot drink all the blood that will
be shed on both sides.”

“I know,” said Roosevelt. “I won't let you down.”

“It is not
you will let down,” answered Geronimo. “I am an old man. It is your unborn children
and grandchildren you will betray if our agreement is broken by War Bonnet or any

“It won't be,” said Roosevelt. He turned and waved a hand in the direction of the
distant Mississippi. “We will cross that river, in peace and friendship, in both our

“That depends on the coming days,” said Geronimo.

Roosevelt turned back to argue, but all he saw was a small bird climbing higher and
higher in the sky, and then heading south toward Geronimo's Arizona lodge.

BOOK: The Doctor and the Rough Rider
8.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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