Chapter 1 Wishing On A Star By Holly Bickford +
Morkai has been after me for so long to finally write my story I decided to silence his nagging, finally sit down, and do it. When my Journey began a little over five years ago, I would have been writing this on a typewriter, or at least pen and paper. However, I am sitting next to my husband Morkai Draaka traveling in Hyperspace light years from Kagor (earth), typing this manuscript on a computer.
Before I begin my tale, a little background is probably in order. My name is Holly Bickford, I was born and raised in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, receiving my final education and teaching degree at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie New York. Sitting in the pilot's seat next to me, as previously mentioned, is my wonderful husband Morkai Draaka. is from the planet Falth, and is of the race known as the Nuel.
The Nuel are human for all intends and purposes, however their skin shade is slightly darker than the average human, something like a South Seas Islander. Morkai tells me this makes the Nuel immune to solar radiation. Anyway, Morkai is around two yards tall, (the Nuel have no reference to the measurement of feet) Morkai, as well as all others of his race have silvery looking eyes, almost like a cat. When I first saw them they unnerved me, but now I don't give them a second thought. Their ear lobes tend to be slightly pointed and noses are not quite as pronounced as on a human, having the appearance of being broken, but add uniqueness to their race. Both sexes on Falth wear extremely short, hair with red and auburn being the predominate colors. But like Morkai's, being more brown than red. Another unique trait found in the Nuel is their telepathic abilities, quite discerning if one encounters a room full of Nuel and expects a roar of chatter.
Off duty and sleeping in back is Morkai's close friend and co-pilot Nargra Halidar again a Nuel. Nargra also happens to be the husband of my best friend and fellow earth woman Hanna Brown. Hanna has a unique past, she was riding on the same stagecoach I was when Indians attacked us, and though I was traveling from Cheyenne to Belle Fourche Dakota Territory to teach, Hanna was traveling to Deadwood Dakota Territory to work in a brothel. Part of the journey I've taken is the relationship the two of us have forged. I came from a finishing school that trained young women to be genteel and discreet, and to look upon someone like Hanna as a social pariah and an embarrassment to the female gender. I educated Hanna in scholastic's, she educated me in life. This story is as much of Hanna's as it is mine; both of us are very close and know each other's very souls.
There is one more part of this story that must now take the stage, and that is the reason and purpose of our being here and the task at hand. The Nuel suffer from a deadly brain disease known as Turnastus, it causes severe brain degeneration, and until recently could not be cured. Around twenty-five dorns ago, another race of people living in the Zagros system visited Kagor (earth) and brought back numerous plant and animal life. Among the plant life brought back were samples of St John's Wort, and Black Walnut, the Nuel obtained samples and began to experiment. Eventually they discovered that the fruit of St. Johns Wort and walnut extract combined with Florazyne and the Kutai plant cured this deadly disease, and cured it completely. Unfortunately the Wort and Black Walnut will not grow anywhere in this galaxy, they must be obtained only on earth and because of certain "considerations "only by a select and licensed few.
When this drug is created, it is known as Brotenga Serum and is manufactured and controlled by the Shai Alyt, a drug and chemical guild that only allow five licensed contractors to secretly travel to earth and harvest the active ingredients previously mentioned. The politics behind all this are extremely complicated and hinge on the fact that the Nuel as well as other races are much better armed, we earth people are much feared, and while the those that are familiar with Hanna and I know otherwise, earthmen are generally viewed as barbarians, and confrontations with them must be avoided at all costs. As things worked out, the contractors return enough Wort and Black Walnut back to Falth to maintain a steady supply of ingredients thus preventing any shortages. Another factor involved is that the licenses are only good for five years, the maximum period of time anyone can perform this work. This trip marks our final one, as we are on our way back to Falth for the last time, The Shai Alyt have been successful in synthesizing the active ingredients found in Wort, and black Walnuts.
In telling this story, it must be noted that the Nuel use entirely different terms of measurement. For example, their term for a year is called a "Dorn," an hour is a "Shon" and a minute is a "Taq." For the sake of familiarity, I will use earth terms in this narrative.
I graduated Cum Laude from Vassar University, in New York State, no small feat in a world where women are not encouraged to attend academies of higher learning. I stuck to my studies, worked hard, and now find myself riding on a crowded train, rocking and rattling across the heartland. Its 1886, the Victorian age is in full flower, I am feeling very uncomfortable in my grey riding habit, miniature top hat, and suede boots. To say that I'm sweaty and hot, would be an understatement, but it was the fashion of the day, and required apparel. I want to open the window, but then I would be blinded by the soot from the engine. My mode of transportation, left a lot to be desired, My fellow passengers seemed to be immigrants from Europe, thick German accents, mothers trying to calm crying babies, strangers to a strange land.
My destination was Cheyenne in Wyoming territory, then by stagecoach to Deadwood Dakota Territory, then up to Belle Fourche, where a teaching position awaited me. The fact that I would be located in an area known for it's lawlessness, was a bit disconcerting, but I had an adventuresome spirit, so I was happy. It was late in the afternoon when the train reached Cheyenne, so I booked a room at the Thomburg House Hotel, which had a bath service allowing me time to clean up and change for dinner. As I stood at the entrance to the dining room, which appeared to be quite full, a voice behind me announced, "If the lady will permit me to dine with her, a party of two might be seated before one." I turned to gaze on a very handsome Major with a big smile on his face. "Permit me to introduce myself ma'am, my name is Major Stephan Wills Second United States Cavalry currently stationed at Fort D.A. Russell west of here." I held out my hand, and replied, "I'd be honored Major." Before long, we were directed to a table in the corner, where the Major ordered wine to start the meal off.
"So tell me miss…" "Holly Bickford, major, I'm on my way up to Belle Fourche to teach school, a position I'm looking forward to." The Major frowned, and replied, "I assume you're planning on taking the Deadwood stage up there?" Nodding, I replied, "I am major, why, is there a problem?" The major bit his lip, and replied in a very serious tone. "Miss Bickford, I'm returning from leave to head up a detail to ride into the Black Hills, it seems there's a group of young Sioux warriors who have left the reservation, and are attacking homesteads, and small groups of travelers up in that area. If at all possible, it might be prudent to re-think your travel plans, until the army can get a handle on the situation up there." "Well this was certainly inspiring news," I thought, getting attacked by wild Indians and possibly taken prisoner, but I was scheduled to begin teaching in five days, any delay would most assuredly cancel my contract. "Major, were it possible that I could delay my trip, but I'm very short of funds, and if I don't show up in Belle Fourche at the agreed to date, I will have no teaching position to go to." The major made a face, and said, "I see. Are you proficient in the use of firearms then?" I smiled, "My father was a captain in a Pennsylvania cavalry unit during the civil war, he taught me how to shoot at a young age, since I am an only child, he often thought of me as his "son," hence, I came west equipped with his Spencer carbine, which he presented me with when I accepted this teaching position." The major nodded and smiled, " While not as formidable as, say a Winchester, they will get the job done Miss Bickford. I certainly wish our troops were issued those weapons, instead of those miserable Springfield's the war department has issued us. Tell me, are you a fair shot with it?"
"Out to 200 yards anyway, I've even got one of those Blakeslee cartridge boxes to speed reloading." By this time a waiter came around to take our order, the major recommended the roast sage hen, which we both ordered. While we waited for the meal to arrive, he looked at me and said, "So your father was a captain in the late war?" I nodded, enlisted in 1862, survived Antietam, Chambersburg, Gettysburg, and Petersburg, never got as much as a scratch."
"My Uncle on the other hand made it through in an artillery unit, getting shot in the leg at Saylor's Creek, both brothers never realizing they were at Gettysburg together." "Most impressive Miss Bickford, I was a young captain back then, serving in a New York Cavalry unit, I was at Gettysburg as well, we had many dealings with Pennsylvania units, it's quite possible I even met your father, a most terrible war." Finally our meal came, when the major asked, "I trust the wine is to your liking?" I giggled, "The wine is excellent, thank you very much, major."
"What does your father do now, if I may be so bold to ask?" "Not at all major," I replied, "He works for Carnegie Steel as an accounts manager." "Most interesting Miss Bickford," replied the major. The conversation then shifted to a stimulating discussion of the changing west. "Make no mistake Miss Bickford, the west is changing, soon these territories will become states, and the American West will close, the handwriting is on the wall, even allowing for the escapades of renegade bands of Indians. Sadly, their time is ending." We continued to dine on the excellent Sage Hen, and the wine, I asked the Major if he had ever been through Belle Fourche, "Yes, I have, last year in fact," was his answer. "Mostly mining and lumber, nothing spectacular, don't get your hopes up too much." I assured him I wouldn't, "They promised me a place to stay." The major chuckled, "Miss, that could mean anything, from a room over one of their saloons, to a dug-out in the hill-side, these towns aren't known for their architecture."
When the meal was over, the major escorted me back to my room but before departing, said, "Miss Bickford, I do hope you will consider my warning concerning the Indian problem up that way, but if you persist in traveling, always take the middle seat, Indians love to shoot those presenting themselves in the window seats." With that, he walked on down the hall, Later, as I lay in bed trying to fall asleep, I wondered if I had truly made the right decision. Would a place like that appreciate me? Would I have to fight off female starved miners, or would I be forced to live in a room over a bar kept awake all night by a badly played piano, and raucous noise from downstairs? Oh well, in for a penny in for a pound, I guess I'd find out.
The next morning I wolfed down a quick breakfast of oatmeal, toast and coffee in the dining room, before heading over to the overland stage depot. Lugging my two bags, with my rifle slung over my shoulder. Several wags offered their help, but I knew what they really wanted, so I turned them away, finally a young man quietly approached me and said, "Ma'am please let me help you there," I studied him a moment, deciding that he had no ill intentions, and offered him the heaviest bag. "Mind if I carry that carbine for you as well?" he added. "The rifle stays with me, it's the stage station I'm heading for," I replied. As we trudged through the muddy street, he pestered me with questions, some I answered, some I did not. Finally, we reached the stage office, my coach was already waiting out in front, but nobody appeared to have boarded yet. We went inside, where I thanked the man, then proceeded to step up to the window and pay my fare, luckily I was only the second in line, a man in a poorly fitting suit was ahead of me, who clearly smelled strongly of alcohol, this would certainly prove to be an interesting ride. When my turn came, it was, "Where to ma'am?" "Belle Fourche, my good man, "I replied. "Sorry ma'am, stage only goes as far as Deadwood; you'll have to pick up another coach from there that can take you there." I grimaced, but paid the fare to Deadwood. "How many bags," I was asked, "Two!" I replied. "Driver will throw 'em in back when you go out to board."
As I stooped down to pick up my bags I heard a female snicker behind me, glancing in the general direction, I caught the face of the woman who would eventually become my life-long friend, but little did I know it at the time. She was standing with another woman, who was also glaring at me, judging from the style of clothing they were wearing both appeared to be members of the "Demimonde," women I didn't care to associate with. I carried my bags outside to the driver who was standing near the coach talking to another man, when he saw me he said, "Let me take those ma'am, how 'bout that carbine as well?" I glared at him, "The rifle stays with me but wait a moment please." I opened the heaviest bag and took out the Blakeslee cartridge box, as well as a shoulder bag of essentials I wanted to keep with me. "Expectin trouble miss?" queried the man the driver had been talking to. "I was informed by a major in the army that there's Indian trouble up in the Black Hills, he's leading a patrol up there to deal with them." "I see," said the man. "Well I haven't heard any thing, but suit yourself." He then assisted me in entering the coach, where I immediately sat next to the man in the poorly fitting suit from the ticket office. Shortly, another man entered and sat on my right, followed by the "soiled doves" one sitting across from me, the other sitting next to the window. Both continued to smirk at me as the coach finally moved out.