Time: A few months before Fear of Frogs (or several hundred years before, depending on your time perspective at the moment of reading.)
The stars always looked bigger out on the trail. Corny stared up at the thousand thousand points of light against the black. Some of them were planets, like the one he was lying on. They’d just found a new one, the papers said, not that long ago, and didn’t that just beat all.
This wasn’t such a bad place he’d found himself. Zeke, the foreman, was a rough old codger, but he was fair. He’d promised Corny a place back at the ranch when the cattle drive was over, so there was that. A place to stand again for a spell. Maybe it would last longer this time, the staying in one spot.
He didn’t have anyone but himself to blame, of course. The last job had run him off when he’d been caught kissing one of the stable hands in town. Nearly ran him off on a rail, but Corny had a sense for these things, when things were about to go bad. When the people coming for you were powerful noisy, it helped, too. Gave him time to slip out a bunkhouse window and get Rosa from the barn. He’d had to leave a couple of books behind and that was a dag blasted shame.
Running was something a man could get tired of.
“You awake, DeGroot?” Zeke murmured nearby.
“Yep. Can’t sleep some nights. Just thinkin’ on how big the sky is out here.”
Zeke grunted his assent. “Hits me that way too sometimes, I reckon. Mostly it’s old bones on hard ground these days as keeps me awake, though.”
“You ain’t old, Zeke.”
“I’m old enough.” Zeke let out a sigh. “Be nice to be able to hand this job over to someone else soon. Stay back at the ranch instead of comin’ out on the trail.”
“Why ain’t you done it yet?”
“These whippersnappers ain’t got half a lick of sense between ‘em. Ain’t none of them fit for a foreman’s job. I need someone with a few more years under his belt. Somethin’ you might have a hankerin’ for?”
“Me?” Corny chuckled. “Just got here, boss. You don’t know a thing about me.”
“Not yet. I been watchin’ you though. You’re steady with the men and the animals. Easy hand and a good rope. Couple years, we’ll see.”
“Hmm.” That sounded like they wanted to keep him for the long road and Corny did like the sound of that. Maybe when he felt more settled, knew the men better. “You ever wonder what’s up there, Zeke?”
“In the sky. In the stars.”
“Nope. Got too much to worry about right here. No time for that.”
Corny did wonder sometimes, though. Other planets. Did they all have people on them and grass and horses? Was someone lying on his back looking out at the stars and wondering if there were people on Earth? Made him dizzy to think about it. But what if there were people up there and what if somewhere, they were mostly people like him?
Nah. That made no sense. People out in the stars. He turned over and pulled his blanket up higher. Didn’t do any good, thinking like that. This time he was gonna keep his nose clean and keep out of trouble. He had a good job and a good life, and he might even make foreman one day. Things were gonna settle down now. No doubt about it.