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Author Topic: Return to Walt's Gulch  (Read 3248 times)

Joel

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Return to Walt's Gulch
« on: February 18, 2007, 12:33:42 pm »

Walt and Flo don't play a big part in the sequel; they only show up a couple of times.  But some might want to know what they've been up to...

5 – Walt’s Gulch

Florence Wash cursed as the flatbed truck crashed through the deep ruts, losing most of its already negligible uphill momentum and painfully shoving her protruding belly against the steering wheel.  The winter snow had been unusually heavy, the spring thaw unusually quick, and the road was in even worse shape than usual for this time of year.  At least most of the mud had dried.  Now she vowed that she’d get Walt down here to do something about these damned ruts before they pummeled her into a miscarriage.

She’d always hated driving this road, and would do almost anything to get one of the others to do her driving for her.  But her girls were doing some last-minute work, the Savants were all wrapped up in their new ubergadget, and since Walter’s troubles he’d gotten kind of neurotic about leaving the mountain and the kids.  With the road finally somewhat passable, Florence’s winter products needed to go down the mountain for delivery and there just wasn’t anybody else to do it.  So after she’d pried everyone away from their various obsessions long enough to load the truck for her, she had driven down the mountain and out to Missoula herself. 

Her clients were patient and for the most part understanding of her inability to deliver her work in winter.  But when spring came, their patience swiftly wore thin.  Based on the promises she made to her clients, those clients made promises to their clients, who – more and more in the past few years – tended to be wealthy and unaccustomed to waiting for gratification.

The growing reputation of this reclusive Montana artist named Florence Wash had had a transformative effect on Walt’s Gulch, an effect that Walter himself had watched with bemusement and occasional dismay.  “Good God, Flo,” he muttered every time a new would-be acolyte showed up in Deer Lodge asking for directions to the fabled ‘Florence,’  “I’m living with a guru.  How’d that happen?”

Well, it hadn’t been part of the plan, and that was for sure.  But then, there never really had been a plan, had there?  The only one on the mountain who had ever had anything like a plan was Walter, God bless him, and he hadn’t always planned all that well.  Walter’s plans for “Walt’s Gulch” – a name chosen by others beside himself – had brought salvation to Florence and her children.  But their flaws had come very close to destroying Walter himself.  Several years of ignoring income taxes came crashing down on him when the poor, dear trusting fool bought this isolated packet of mountain land in his own name and built his beloved Hobbit Hole for himself and his daughter Jessica.  No sooner had he completed his work than the Internal Revenue Service showed up in the person of a process server – whose name they had never learned – to take it all away from him.  But that man had disappeared.  At first the federal agents who swarmed the area thought Walter had killed the man, and Walter found himself locked up and tormented.  But Walter’s strange friend George Sedlewitz – who turned out to be a wanted killer named Michael Owens – emerged and drew the feds’ attention to himself before disappearing forever.

That apparently selfless act got Walter released from custody, but it didn’t end his troubles.  Other tax agents appeared with their summonses and demands.  Poor Walter suffered through a seemingly endless parade of court appearances and humiliations, but at least was spared prison.  Even now, after seven years, the back-taxes Walter “owed” weren’t entirely paid off.  But they kept making payments, and at least now they were mostly left alone.

No one ever seemed to notice Florence herself, who had once gone by another name that she now had to think hard to even remember.  The kind, devout woman who had been born Florence Wash died in the midst of her family and gifted her name to another woman she never met, a frightened, indigent fugitive who had rescued her children from the state and fled west without any plan or any hope.  That woman, reborn as Florence Wash, took refuge in Walt’s Gulch and almost accidentally played a small part in Walter’s release.  Now she lived in peace if seldom quiet, making children and heirloom-quality furniture on Walter’s mountain.

Her trade, which had become her art, was also ultimately Walter’s doing.  In her nearly-forgotten former life, she had entertained herself by restoring antique furniture for herself and her friends.  It was never anything but a diversion from life in a hardscrabble Detroit neighborhood as a negligent autoworker’s wife.  When she came to his mountain, Walter had tried to interest her in rifle shooting.  She never was interested in it.  But an old rifle stock of beautifully marbled walnut had cried out to her for restoration and the result, which still hung on a wall of the Hobbit Hole, had so impressed Walter that he had helped her set up a business.  Now after years of practice she designed really high quality furniture, even if she did say so herself.  And with the wizardry of the geekish young Savants Walter encouraged on the mountain, she had no trouble selling them for sometimes embarrassing piles of money. 

The accidental mystique of her remote and reclusive lifestyle helped in that regard.  People seemed to assume that if these works were being made by this strange woman who lived so far back in the woods that she could barely even be contacted in winter, they must be extra special indeed and worth having no matter the price.  Amusing, but useful in its way.  If they only knew that there was no glamour or special enlightenment involved, that her days mostly involved squalling babies, bickering Savants, balky old trucks and trying to keep people from tracking puppy crap on her floors, they might have a different opinion.

She finally fought the truck around the last turn, and the meadow came into view.  How it had transformed over the years!  Here was the mound of their Hobbit Hole, now too small for them and their brood.  With this new birth, they were really going to have to do something about that in spite of Walter’s reluctance to change or abandon their burrow.  A separate mound, which had once hidden a hut for tools and rabbit hutches, was three times its former size and housed cluttered work benches and equipment racks.  Walter’s Savants were about to kick off the new product they had been burbling and chuckling over all winter, and hopefully that would justify all the last autumn’s work and expense.  She still wasn’t clear on what it was, but it took the form of hundreds of little boxes that looked like old-fashioned PDA’s.

Gardens now covered more than half the meadow, presided over by great brooding towers of antennas, a wind generator, and solar collectors.  The many little glens hidden in the surrounding trees sheltered neat cabins for the Savants and her apprentices, as well as her own chaotic workshops and storehouses.  Sheds and other outbuildings had popped up here and there, to no particular plan.  It was all very…anarchic.

She parked the truck next to the toolshed, so Walter could give the poor old thing its daily transfusion of coolant and power steering fluid.  Sometimes she thought that for what they paid in fluids, they could have just bought a better truck.  Near the Hobbit Hole’s bright green door, Walter was tussling with Sammy and David, her firstborn by Walter.  The three were surrounded by a roiling crowd of yapping puppies, the latest brood of Gallatin and one of his paramours.  Florence shook her head.  They were either going to have to put that old warhorse out to pasture or start eating puppies like rabbits.  Walter kept finding homes for them somehow, but Gallatin and his harem only seemed to take that as encouragement.  His many generations were going to eat them into the poorhouse.

And speaking of procreatively-inclined old dogs, Walter tucked a struggling child under each arm and strode over to where Florence pulled grocery bags from the truck’s cab.  “How’d it go, Babe?”

She sighed and put a hand to her aching back.  “I should have insisted that Angie come with me.  The shipper was short-handed, and I did a lot more lifting than I had in mind.”

His face concerned, Walter lowered the children to the ground and put his hands on her back and belly in a way that, even in her gravid condition, still made her shiver.  “You okay?”

“Oh, sure.  I know better than to overdo it.  But still, I’ll be glad to get this bun out of the oven.”

He smiled lecherously.  “Yep.  We need to get busy on the next one.  Haven’t got that many years left in me.”

Walter’s first marriage had produced only one child, who was an adult and nearly gone by the time he and Florence even met.  Florence hadn’t known until later that Walter considered that an issue to be corrected.  Now she gave him a mock scowl and pushed him away.  “Yeah, that’s gonna happen.  Swear to god, Father Abraham, I’m going to find myself a handmaiden so you can get kids on her for a while, and give me a break.”

“No unfaithful thought has ever crossed my mind.  But if it’ll make you happy, my dove, bring her on.”

She lifted the bags from the seat and started toward the Hole.  “Uh huh.  Touch her and die.”

He raised his hands helplessly.  “I never even met her!”  He scooped David up and followed her.  “We were just talking.  I was only helping her get something out of her eye, I swear!  Er, with my tongue.  And that business with her blouse was a perfectly innocent wardrobe malfunction.  It’s those damned Chinese factories, I’m telling you it’s hard to get good slave labor these days…”

***
Walter Steward helped store the groceries and got Flo and David settled in for naps.  Then he and Sam walked to the Troll Cave, where the boys were supposed to be straightening out some software glitches with the IFF feature on the new gadgets but were probably playing Warcraft IX or fighting with one another.

Alan sat hunched over an old wireless laptop he had set up next to a ham radio.  Steve was nowhere to be seen.  Alan tapped some keys and grabbed the radio’s microphone.  “Just sent it.  You getting anything?”

The radio crackled.  “Nope.  Not a thing.”

“’Pasta, Boyo!  About farkin’ time!  Givit another minute or two to be sure.”  He went back to tapping on the keyboard.

Walter rapped his knuckles on the benchtop to get the kid’s attention.  “What’s happening?”

“Looks like we finally worked out the code.  Steve’s a mile down the road, and the box won’t take the signal.”

“And that’s good, right?”

The kid curled his lip in distain.  “Betcha!  It’s bitin’ good!  We told ya, the whole idea is for the thing to reject the signal unless it’s within 500 yards of the GPS coordinates it’s programmed for!  That’s what we’ve had so much trouble with!”

“Oh.”  Since Walter never understood a tenth of what the Savants were up to at any given moment, he just made it a rule to be happy if they were.  “So…are we ever going to be ready to ship these things?”

“Pretty quick now.  That was the last big farkup.  We still gotta be sure it’s stable.”

“Uh huh.”

When George had had to leave them, he had left a major chore unfinished.  He’d had this dream of a local encrypted wide area network that would allow the folks in their area who were so inclined to trade under the radar – for a decryption fee, of course.  Walter, George and some other friends had gone to considerable expense, but the network remained unfinished because George was the only one among them who could write the code.  With him out of the picture, Walter and the others had been forced to find other talent.  It had taken quite a while, and there had been numerous missteps.  Programmers, it seemed, tended not to deal well with the great outdoors.  They got the network up, but in the process they went through a few people who just couldn’t stay.  But Alan and Steven had been in the gulch for almost two years now.  Though they caused Walter to frequently dream of homicide, they did get the job done.

The wide area network was gradually embraced by a lot of local people.  Now it was a virtual trade fair, and its success had got them thinking along other lines.  There were rumors – sometimes more than rumors – of other gulches similar to theirs, springing up all over the western part of the country.  In these hidden places, the government they all feared and evaded was becoming more and more irrelevant.  Walter considered this a trend to be encouraged by all possible means.  The original wide area network, like the internet itself, was too vulnerable to be expanded.  But the Savants had come up with another idea.

The new gadget’s hardware was based on an old-fashioned personal data assistant.  They’d found hundreds of them unsold in a California warehouse, and bought the whole lot cheap through some cut-outs.  The Savants spent the winter replacing the boxes’ CPUs with a beefed-up model and an entirely new ROM.  Now the PDAs could still perform their original function, but in a truncated and inferior manner; just enough to be seen doing it for camouflage.  Their real job was to send and receive steganographically encrypted JPEG files.  The on-board camera took a picture of whatever was handy; your wife, your dog, the table in front of you.  Then the box automatically encrypted the text file you’d already written into the picture, and attached the altered picture to an email it sent to a specific box or group of boxes you wished to contact.  Those boxes automatically decrypted the message, discarding the picture and displaying the message.  It was encrypted communication for the complete idiot.

But the beauty of the thing was the built-in global positioning sensor.  On top of the steganographic encryption and the necessary passcodes, each box could only be used by the person who owned it, and only at home.  If anyone took any box more than 500 yards from its programmed home position, even if they had the passcode, there would be no encryption to break because the box would never accept an incoming encrypted message in the first place.  At least in theory, no law enforcement agent would ever profit from confiscating one of these communication devices because the device itself would conspire against him.

Walter found it entirely delightful.  He would embrace with love any monkey wrench in the gears of the system that had tried with such determination to destroy him.  Let those who wished to live in peace and freedom have all the tools he could provide them, and blessings to them all.
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Yet another Freedomista blog: The Ultimate Answer to Kings is not a bullet, but a belly laugh.

coloradohermit

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Re: Return to Walt's Gulch
« Reply #1 on: February 18, 2007, 05:17:47 pm »

Thanks for another tasty tidbit! Any kind of estimate on when the sequel or revised edition will be available?
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RagnarDanneskjold

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Re: Return to Walt's Gulch
« Reply #2 on: February 20, 2007, 01:46:35 am »

 :wav:
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We can hang another one

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You are a ass shit.

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Dare2BFree

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Re: Return to Walt's Gulch
« Reply #3 on: February 20, 2007, 06:15:01 am »

double   :wav:
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da gooch

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Re: Return to Walt's Gulch
« Reply #4 on: February 20, 2007, 09:32:08 am »


Whew ....John

good work man.

How's my order of 4 ubergads coming ?

I also want one of the newer model that reprograms itself to the north pole unless a stop code is entered at noon each day.
That will be most definitely helpful in my "transport" business.

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penguinsscareme

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Re: Return to Walt's Gulch
« Reply #5 on: February 20, 2007, 09:46:28 am »

More!  More!  More!  More!  More!  More!  More!  More!
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And my boat is so small.

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You do what works.

Jac

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Re: Return to Walt's Gulch
« Reply #6 on: February 20, 2007, 09:46:45 am »

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I have never regretted that I chose to "take the red pill." But there are days, just rarely, when the truth is so ugly, so brutal, so unmerciful, so relentless, that even if I wouldn't rip the truth from the wall socket and hurl it out the window to crash on the sidewalk below, I wouldn't mind if it featured a snooze button so we could savor just a few more moments in slumbered pretension and warm, fuzzy lies pulled snugly up over our heads.
--PSM
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