The Ballad of the Eco-Rustlers

"The perimeter's been breached!" The alarum wailed.

Chad Boswick jumped from his bunk. The CRT displayed a JPEG of the ranch. Three red lights blinked in the outer pastures. Two more dots blipped just outside the ranch's border. An icon indicated the presence of a hover craft.

"God-damned eco-rustlers!"

Chad unplugged the Winchester from the recharging unit on the mantel. He threw an extra fuel cell  in his holster. The computer confirmed that the life signs were rustlers. Chad checked his rifle. A green light flashed on the gun. The green light authorized a kill.

The defense network calculated Chad's plan of attack. It fed the coordinates into his "black stallion," and forwarded his status to the Pinedale sheriff. The posse showed an ETA of thirteen minutes. Thirteen minutes! They wouldn't arrive on time!

The eco-rustlers, with their insipid vegan ways, had been working the western range for the last three years. Their insidious objective was nothing less than the complete destruction of the Wyoming cattle industry. Chad's quick draw was the last hope for the honest townsfolk of Pinedale.

He mounted his steed. He straightened his white hat. With an explosion of petrochemicals, Chad launched into the morning skies.

The lazy morning sun peeked from behind the jagged summits of the Windy Mountains—their peaks casting long dark shadows on the black clad rustlers. Chad circled above. The glint from the stallion's muffler caught a glance of their dark eyes.

Chad let go with three rapid shots. The first caught a rustler in the chest. Her right arm flew from her shattered body in a spiraling arc of pain-ridden death. The second shot ricocheted from a rustler's energy deflector as he high tailed it toward the barbed-wire fence. The final shot barreled into desert sage.

From a nearby hover craft the rustlers' gang fired a disrupter. The blast knocked Chad from his gallant steed. He tumbled to the ground below. 

Where's that damn posse?

Chad's hand was broke and useless. With his tongue he flipped his rifle to maximum charge. The eco-gang's hover craft was already fleeing into morning haze. In a final burst of desperation, he emptied the weapon in the direction of the craft. The shots glistened in the sky, then crashed into the condominium complex in the foothills.

Where's that damn posse?

His wrist console showed an ETA of six minutes. The bad guys won again. Chad loaded the second cartridge in his gun.

He took a quick survey of the cattle. Seven of the beasts had been fitted with 'trodes. Oblivious to the searing pain of his sprained ankle, Chad ran toward the beasts. He tried to remove the 'trodes, but Chad's laptop confirmed that seven beasts were infected with the cogno-virus.

The cattle were rapidly developing cognition. Chad had to work fast!

The 'trodes were a diabolical tool of the eastern liberal elite -- These strange devices, when planted in a cow's brain, would stimulate rapid neural activity, increasing the cattle's cognitive awareness. Once consciousness hit 0.75 AJOS (Average Joe On Street), the trode would dial in and register the cattle with the Social Security Administration.

The 'trodes worked fast. Within a scant fifteen minutes of infection, a 'trode could bring a cow from the level of valuable prime grade beef to that of worthless legal sentience. Once registered with the Federal Sentient Life Commission of the Social Security Office, the cattle were protected by the misguided liberal National Sentient Statute of 2026, and could not be destroyed.

The only hope for the western town, was to put the cattle down as quickly as possible. Chad aimed his rifle toward the closest beast. A green light flashed. He pulled the trigger. The gun hesitated. He yanked on the trigger again. It bucked once, then let forth with a thunderous blast.

A pale yellow light surrounded the eighteen hundred pounds of prime beef. The cow fell to the ground in spasmodic death. He aimed at the second cow, but the authorization light had turned red. A recorded voice from the gun spoke:

"You are pointing this gun at an unarmed, registered sentient life form. According to our records, this life form is harmless and cannot be zapped into oblivion with this device. For more information please type [F1], or consult your user manual. Thank You for using the Winchester Zap-0-Matic Death Ray."

Chad yanked on the trigger to no avail. The cow stood back in terror. Chad clutched the weapon like a club, and rushed the cow.

"Ouch!" said the cow, "Why is this ape-like creature hitting me with a stick? What have I done to be the focus of such anger?" The cow jumped back and plodded out of swinging range.

The five other sentient cows stared at Chad in utter amazement. They looked at the dead woman. They looked at her arm lying in a patch of purple larkspur. Larkspur always causes stomach aches. A dead woman lying in Larkspur looked even less appetizing. The bull walked over and poked at the carcass of his comrade lying in the morning dew. The carcass had a 'trode protruding from its neck.

His other friends seemed to have 'trodes as well. Did the 'trodes have something to do with this sudden urge to understand one's surroundings? The bull looked up puzzling and wondered what it should do about the human with a stick? What were those strange metal birds circling overhead? This was too much for the cows on their first day as registered rational beings. They stampeded away.

The posse was late. Three of the deputies dropped out of formation to check on the girl, the rest flew in the direction of the rustlers' vapor trail.

Chad looked in dismay at the retreating cattle. Twenty grand worth of prime beef wasted! Had he arrived seconds sooner, he could have at least slaughtered the cows before they developed enough neural pathways to become welfare collecting citizens of the United States.

It was another sad day for the honest hard working cow folk of the Western Range. How much longer could they survive the onslaught of the eco-rustlers? What good are cattle that discuss Plato? But, now was not the time for idle speculation. Chad spat into the dirt. He had some beef to slaughter.

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