Saving the Dodo
When Princess Kristina learns of the extinction of the dodo, she is determined to do something about it. The dodo was last sighted in 1662, and this is only the year 1635. There’s still time? An expedition under the leadership of Grantville’s pre-eminent bird-watcher, Pam Miller, sets off on a perilous journey to the Indian Ocean to save the dodo.
Every American knows about the poor dodo, the veritable poster child of wildlife extinction. When Caroline Platzer explains the bird’s total extinction to her young charge, Princess Kristina, the very upset princess is determined to do something about it—and it may not be too late! The last recorded sighting of the dodo was in 1662 and now it is only the year of our lord 1635. Maybe, just maybe . . .
Enter Pam Miller, Grantville’s resident birdwatcher and nature lover. When asked by Princess Kristina to lead a mission to the distant Indian Ocean Isle of Mauritius to prevent the hapless dodo’s inevitable extinction, Pam agrees. Wasn’t saving the dodo one of her own childhood dreams? Now, thanks to the Ring of Fire maybe she actually can! She and Princess Kristina hatch a plan, bonded by their mutual love for the natural world.
The whole thing will be terribly risky, a long journey in a sailing ship around the Horn of Africa and out into the still mostly unexplored vastness of the Southern Indian Ocean. Can Pam Miller really save the dodo? Can she save herself and her companions from the multitude of threats they will face along the way? The only thing Pam knows for sure is that this is her chance to change history, and an ungainly flightless bird is counting on her.
Chapter 1: Dodo Story
Cair Paravel, Grantville, Early Spring 1635
They were on holiday, enjoying the warmest day of the year yet, sitting on the broad back porch of the rambling old house named after a castle in Narnia. Princess Kristina’s Swedish guards were invited to have a glass or two of lemonade, for which they thanked her profusely before becoming part of the backyard scenery again.
It was now story time; the young girl sat in rapt attention as her tutor and sometimes guardian Caroline Platzer read aloud in the comfortable twang of up-time English. Caroline was a social worker, and once it was found she could weave a kind of spell over the headstrong young princess, she was often called upon to give Kristina’s beleaguered ladies-in-waiting a much needed break. The book today was Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The princess, at a most precocious nine years old, could certainly have read it for herself, but it was much more fun to listen to Caroline, especially since she used funny voices for many of the characters.
The denizens of Wonderland had just run a “caucus race” (in which everyone runs but no one wins), and Alice had finished awarding prizes to all the participants, when the Mouse pointed out that Alice herself had not received one.
“‘Of course,’ the Dodo-‘,“whom Caroline chose to characterize with a Foghorn Leghorn old-time southern drawl, “-replied very gravely. ‘What else have you got in your pocket?’ he went on, turning to Alice.
“‘Only a thimble,’ said Alice sadly.’” Caroline wondered if Kristina was aware that she always tried to read the part of Alice in her best imitation of the princess herself.
“‘Hand it over here,’ said the Dodo.
“‘Then they all crowded round her once more, while the Dodo solemnly presented the thimble, saying ‘We beg your acceptance of this elegant thimble’; and, when it had finished this short speech, they all cheered.’”
Kristina laughed. “But her prize was something that already belonged to her, Caroline!”
“I think it was the spirit of the thing that mattered, finishing the ceremony correctly, whether it made any sense or not.”
Kristina nodded, being well aware of the importance of ceremonies, as well as their tendency to be illogical. She was required to attend many in her capacity as princess, and usually found them to be a dreadful bore. Kristina was also aware that although Alice’s adventures were written as a children’s story, they often contained satires of adult activities, even if she wasn’t always quite sure which they referred to. Getting a prize that already belonged to you seemed quite in keeping with the general silliness she had witnessed in royal doings. Before Caroline could begin reading again, Kristina asked, “Caroline, just what is a dodo?”
“It was a kind of bird. Here, in the illustration.” Caroline turned the book around, a hardcover that had come through the Ring of Fire, to show Kristina the original John Tenniel illustration from the now never-to-be Victorian Age.
“What a strange looking bird! Are dodos a real animal or a make believe one?”
“Actually, dodos were real, although they did look pretty weird.” Caroline saw something flash in Kristina’s large and liquid brown eyes.
“What do you mean ‘were‘?” Kristina handed the book back to Caroline with a serious look on her young face.
The princess was very sensitive and Caroline knew the sad story of the dodo’s demise would not go over well. It was much better to level with Kristina, than face the consequences of getting caught in a lie, even a white one, later. The girl was truly a prodigy, scary smart just like her father, the Emperor.
“Well, there aren’t any more dodos, Kristina. They’re all extinct.”
“Like the dinosaurs?”
“Yes, well, kind of. No one is completely sure how the dinosaurs died out, but we do know what happened to the dodos . . .” Caroline saw a shadow cross those great, dark eyes, so much more aware than other children her age.
Kristina pursed her lips and blew out a thin puff of disgust. “I suppose it was people then.”
Caroline nodded solemnly. “I’m afraid so. From what I recall they lived on a small island with no dangerous animals to eat them. They had never seen humans before and didn’t know that they should run away. I think hungry sailors ate them all. By my time, the dodo had become a symbol for endangered species, a reminder of our responsibility to protect animals.”
“That’s just not fair, they didn’t even know they were in danger! Why didn’t anyone try to stop those sailors from eating them all?”
“I don’t know, Kristina, it was a very long time ago.”
Kristina’s eyebrow’s arched. “How long ago did the last dodos die, Caroline?”
Caroline felt a brief shiver; the small town normalcy of quiet backyards and shady porches during this springtime visit to Grantville tended to make her almost forget. How long ago indeed? She sat frozen there, with her mouth partially open while the princess’s eyes narrowed, lightning-quick thought working behind them.
“The library,” Kristina announced. She jumped up and ran into the house so fast she left behind a breezy wake to gently riffle the pages of Wonderland.
Caroline closed the book. She looked up unto the crystal clear blue of the seventeenth-century sky.
“How long ago?” Caroline whispered, caught up in the princess’ excitement herself now, goose bumps forming on her arms. “Or, when?”
She followed Kristina into the converted sitting room that served as Cair Paravel’s library, where Kristina stood on a step stool with her nose deep in an up-time encyclopedia, eyes focused in careful study. At last, she looked up at Caroline, her cheeks flushed with excitement, her voice tense.
“We still have time.”
Pam Miller’s House, Grantville
Thorsten Engler surveyed the wide, sloping front yard from the street, wondering if there was indeed a house somewhere up there behind all the gigantic, yellow flowers; either some strange, early-blooming up-time variety, or the product of magic. He found the narrow concrete walk, almost a tunnel, and started up it. A breeze rustled the bright green stalks that stood nearly as tall himself, the dinner-plate-sized flower heads, with their still unripe seed pod faces and bright yellow petals, seemed to nod at him in greeting. He had never seen anything like them before and mused that he had perhaps really wandered into one of the princess’s fairy tales.
At last, he reached a funny-looking little pink house, a rectangular box with a door, a curtained picture window, and a concrete front porch. The sight of a porcelain garden gnome lurking under a bush below the window actually made him jump. Thorsten wouldn’t have been surprised if it had doffed his hat to him in such odd surrounds. He pushed the tiny doorbell button and heard electric chimes sound within.
Shortly, the door opened to reveal a middle-aged woman wearing a green sweatshirt blotched with a rainbow splatter of paint, faded blue jeans, and muddy boots. Her age might have been anywhere between mid-thirties to mid-forties. It was always so hard to tell with up-timer women. In any case, she appeared to be very physically fit. She wasn’t exactly pretty, but she wasn’t unattractive, either. She had a broad, serious face colored in the ruddy tan of someone who spends a lot of time outdoors. Her unruly, dishwater-blonde hair was pulled back in a no-nonsense ponytail, the hairstyle showing off her steel gray eyes with flecks of a winter sky’s blue. They were the eyes of a keen observer, like a soldier’s eyes, and as a soldier himself Thorsten recognized their power.
“Yes?” she asked. Her alto voice was polite, but by no means filled with patience.
“Pardon me for bothering you, ma’am,” Thorsten replied in the West Virginia style English he had been practicing. “Are you Miss Pam Miller?”
“That’s Ms. Miller, and, if you’re here because your church, school, barn, or castle has a bat infestation, you are out of luck. I am not in the bat removal business, never was!” She began to close the door, so Thorsten had to talk fast.
“Please, wait! I am not here about bats, ma’am, er, Ms. Miller. I am here about birds.”
“Even worse!” the door began to close again.
Thorsten quickly stuck a heavy riding boot in its path and tried again. “That is to say, one bird in particular! Please, let me introduce myself, I am Thorsten Engler, the, uh, Count of Narnia.” How he had gone from being a simple soldier to a count was a chain of events that still amazed Thorsten, and he wasn’t sure he would ever be comfortable with the title. This was made worse by the suspicious look Pam Miller gave him.
“The count of what?” Those eyes could freeze a pond in summer, if they chose to.
“The Count of Narnia, ma’am. The district used to be called Nutschall, but Princess Kristina had it renamed to honor her favorite children’s stories. I’m here at the princess’ request, as her representative.” Thorsten found himself feeling flustered, this was a most formidable woman.
“Here at the princess’ request, huh? Well, these days who knows what the hell might happen next? Come on in then, Count of Narnia, but if you brought any satyrs or talking hedgehogs with you, they are going to have to wait outside.” She motioned for him to follow her into the house, stomping ahead of him in her muddy boots.
Thorsten entered a space that might have once been a twentieth century living room. All that could be seen of that former role was a lumpy old sofa along one wall. The rest of the space was filled with art supplies and a hodgepodge of canvases featuring works in various stages of completion. The floor was completely covered in paint-stained drop cloths. Apparently, the artist was going through a “birds” period. Thorsten thought the drawings and paintings of avian life were quite realistic. He noticed a large, hand-painted poster of a black-and-orange songbird he had never seen before. Its uneven lettering proclaimed, “Don’t Shoot, I’m an American!” It was plain to see it was the work of a child rather than the house’s artist, but still quite well done. On an incredibly cluttered desk he saw a hand-printed manuscript titled Birds of the USE.
“So, it appears I have come to the right place. You must indeed be the celebrated ‘Bird Lady’ of Grantville!’
At this Pam Miller gave him a murderous look and took a step back toward the door.
“I beg your pardon, ma’am, but you are the Pam Miller who is working with the school system to promote the protection of wildlife, in particular, birds . . . are you not?”
The fierce looking woman softened her gaze somewhat. “Yeah, that’s me. Is the princess interested in joining our summer birdwatching and nature program?”
“Well, perhaps she would be, the princess is interested in just about everything. She is an exceptionally bright young person. She has sent me here to invite you to visit her at her Grantville residence, Cair Paravel. She has a project related to the protection of a certain bird species that she wishes to consult with you.”
“I am sorry, but the princess prefers to tell you herself and has instructed me rather strongly not to ‘spill the beans.'”
Pam Miller’s eyebrows rose. “Well, I do love a mystery. All right then, I’m game. Never thought I’d be consulted by a princess.” A hint of a smile appeared on her stony face.
“I know the feeling,” Thorsten confided with a cautious grin.
“Well,” Pam declared, “no time like the present. Wait out on the porch for a minute while I get ready.” She didn’t need to ask Thorsten twice, as he retreated to the relative safety the outdoors might provide and closed the door behind him.
Pam ran a hand through escaped strands of her unruly dishwater blonde hair, then gave up on it.
“Meet the princess, huh?” she muttered to herself as she changed her top. “Sometimes down-time is like living in a magical kingdom that reeks of manure.”
She emerged onto the porch with a sturdy-looking oak walking stick in hand and a battered canvas knapsack over one shoulder. She was still wearing the same well-worn jeans and mud-caked boots, but she now had on a clean sweatshirt and denim jacket, Grantvillers being just as casual about a royal audience as they were everything else.
Thorsten, as a professional soldier, was impressed with the woman’s pace as they walked quickly across town. He was pretty sure she could last all day in a forced march. They arrived at an ornate old mansion, one of the town’s “painted ladies,” occupying a spacious, fenced garden that took up at least half a block. It had been repainted in bright blue with yellow trim, the Swedish colors, and the front gate boasted an arch with a sign proclaiming Cair Paravel in a fanciful, gold-inlaid script.
Pam rolled her eyes at this bit of princessy excess, but thought it was kind of charming, too. Gawd, I’m going to meet a princess in Narnia, wonder if they have a talking lion? Pam made her face straight as they neared the gate.
There were several USE soldiers bearing shotguns standing guard, they nodded politely at her and one of them, a high school friend of her son Walt, greeted her with a hearty “Howdy, Ms. Miller! Welcome to the castle!” She couldn’t recall his name so she just said “Hi!” and gave him a friendly smile in lieu of any small talk as he unlocked the gate for her.
At the top of the stairs a rather attractive woman dressed in casual, but obviously high quality up-time clothes met them. Thorsten introduced her as his fiancé, Caroline Platzer, Countess of Oz, which almost made Pam snort aloud, but she managed to keep her mirth to herself.
Caroline shook Pam’s hand. “Thank you for coming, Ms. Miller. Please call me Caroline. I am a social worker by trade and have been assigned as a tutor to Princess Kristina, in order to help her learn about our up-time ways.” Pam could tell that there was a lot more to that than what was being said and filed it away. Very interesting…
“Hi, Caroline. Call me Pam. I am a birdwatcher, a conservationist, Queen of the May and a stubborn old pain-in-the-butt. Nice to meet you.”
That made Caroline laugh. “That last part is very much in your favor, just wait until you meet the princess!”
Pam turned to her escort, Thorsten, who she realized had edged his way three feet closer to the door while wearing an expression that said he would much rather be somewhere else. Pam raised a questioning eyebrow at him.
Knowing he had been caught, he gave her a guilty smile, and said, “She’s a lovely child. You will see.”
That made Caroline laugh again. “Thorsten has never quite forgiven Kristina for making him a count and is frightened of what honors she might embarrass him with next!”
This made Thorsten blush, but also laugh a little, too.
Pam smiled along and thought to herself Good Lord, I hope this kid isn’t a royal spoiled monster!
Caroline, who was quite adept at reading expressions, recomposed herself and gave Pam a reassuring smile.
“Well, like all children, Kristina can be quite stubborn, but she very much means well. She is excited about meeting you, Pam, as she’s recently developed a keen interest in birds.”
“Well, that’s good to hear. I’ve been promoting youth birding with the school district, perhaps she would like to join us sometime?” THAT would be some good PR for the summer nature program . . . Pam knew from the news that the princess had achieved great popularity in Grantville as well as throughout the odd, patchwork version of Germany they had become a part of, an impressive feat.
“I’ll bet she would!” Caroline kept Pam’s hand a moment longer to catch Pam’s eye. “Ms. Miller, I should say that the princess has a very keen interest, intense actually. Kristina is an extremely intelligent and kindhearted girl. She is also a princess, and so can be a bit demanding at times, although we are working on that. I do hope that you will be understanding.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. I’ve worked with kids quite a bit lately and raised one, too. So, you are the princess’ teacher, is that a challenge?”
“Well, at times, but it’s also very rewarding. I’m mainly Kristina’s cultural adviser, but I’m also her friend, and temporary governess on this visit. Her regular governess, Lady Ulrike, is on vacation.” Pam could infer from the weight placed on that last word that said vacation might have been well earned, and much needed.
Pam blew back a wisp of hair that had come loose from her ponytail. She followed Caroline through the house to its library. She had met some royal types over the last couple of years and generally couldn’t stand them. Despite Caroline’s praise, it was also plain that the princess was a girl who knew where she was going, and used to getting her way.
“Kristina, Pam Miller is here.” Caroline announced as they entered a large, book cluttered room that featured an impressive variety of Brillo the Ram memorabilia. Pam was something of a Brillo fan herself. At least the princess has good taste!
“You’re here! Thanks for coming! I’m Kristina!” The princess marched enthusiastically over to Pam and stuck out her hand to shake.
Pam had fully expected to be confronted by a pretty little spoiled brat dressed in fluffy pink princess gowns, and a diamond-studded tiara. Instead, she found herself looking at . . . a kid. A rather gawky one, at that. The princess wore white jeans, a Power Puff Girls T-shirt, and a West Virginia Mountaineers baseball cap that strained to hold back a cascade of flyaway brown hair. Despite being a bit on the gaunt side, she looked more like a playground tomboy than a prissy princess, and her hawkish nose and huge brown eyes were several sizes too large for a thin face that hadn’t yet grown into them.
Pam smiled and took the princesses’ hand. The girl had a strong grip for being a bit frail looking, and there were even some calluses on that palm, softball perhaps?
“Nice to meet you, Princess. I’m Pam Miller.”
“Please call me Kristina! May I call you Pam?” There was a slight accent, but the princess was obviously comfortable with English.
“Uh, sure. So, I hear you are interested in birds, Princess.”
“I am! I have heard about you from some of the kids I met at the school. I also fully support your motion to move the American redbird as the USE’s symbolic bird from unofficial status to official. I am quite tired of eagles. I think the new American birds are wonderful!”
“Apparently you do your homework. At least now the Amerikanische rotvogel has been declared as the official state bird of Thuringea-Franconia, as it once was for West Virginia, so that’s something, anyway. The Germans love the color red, after all. It’s nice to hear you are interested in birds, Princess.”
“Pam, you can call me Kristina!”
“I think Princess will do, for now.” Pam’s expression was politely impassive.
The princess looked a little taken aback by that, which was a good thing as far as Pam was concerned. She had been working with school children in the nature education program she had started, and although she was more comfortable than she used to be, she felt a need to keep them at a certain distance, especially those who obviously wanted to be treated as adults. That, you have to earn, kid. I did. Pam’s sixth sense told her she was going to be pressed into service somehow, so she was wary. Although she hid it well, Pam could be more than a little shy, and she guarded her privacy fiercely.
The princess smiled a bit thinly and started again. “Please forgive me. I sometimes get a little excitable, or so I am told.” That was said with a glance at Caroline, who responded by taking a close interest in the bookshelves. “Let’s sit down and have a cup of tea, and I will explain why I’ve asked you here.”
Pam nodded in what she really hoped was a gracious sort of way and followed the princess to a table in the center of the room. A servant appeared from nowhere with the tea. Pam noted that Kristina thanked the servant, which spoke well of the child. Thorsten excused himself from the proceedings, and she saw Caroline roll her eyes as he made a hasty exit.
“Once a soldier, always a soldier,” she said shaking her head with a mix of exasperation and affection. “My darling Thorsten is not much for teatime. He’s going to go chew the fat with the guards.”
“The men do love to shoot the shit,” Kristina commented, eyeing Caroline to see her reaction. Pam couldn’t help but let out a small laugh.
“Just because Lady Ulrike isn’t here, don’t think you can get away with murder, my dear.” Caroline responded, favoring the princess with a crocodile smile. The princess flushed slightly, but still grinned at Pam, whom she had seen laugh at her little flirtation with adult language. Darn it all, Pam thought, maybe I’m actually going to like this oddball princess. She sure isn’t acting much like Snow White so far.
Having had a sip of tea, Kristina focused on Pam with her enormous, soulful eyes. “Please allow me to cut to the chase, Pam. I want to consult with you on a very important matter concerning an endangered species.”
Pam’s eyebrows rose again, she had thought she might be here to supervise the building of a bird feeder, or to tend an injured chick fallen from a nest. She was also impressed with the kid’s vocabulary, the sign of an avid reader. “What species might that be?”
The princess produced her copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, opening it to the page of the caucus race.
“The dodo,” she said with the breathy drama of a nine-year-old revealing a newly discovered wonder to her friends.
Pam studied the line drawing; the odd beak that stretched all the way to the back of the head in a long, skeptical scowl above which saucer-like eyes were mounted in bony turrets, looking more like some helmeted dinosaur than a bird. She shook her head sadly. “I’m sorry, Princess, but the dodo is extinct. There aren’t any left.”
Caroline looked as if she was about to speak, but the princess gave her a quick glance that said please, let me. Caroline got the message, contenting herself with smiling encouragingly. Kristina went on. “So I have heard. And just when did that happen?”
Pam thought of her copy of Birds of the World and the sad little chapter in the back that detailed the loss of the passenger pigeon and the Carolina parakeet. The dodo was there, too, of course, a creature of remote islands, one that didn’t have the sense to avoid hungry sailors. Pam had hated reading about such extinctions since she was a kid, the subject was sure to make her feel depressed. She started to answer, “Why, that was sometime in the seven . . . ” and stopped. A bewildered expression came to her face. She looked at Caroline who was nodding knowingly, and the princess whose eyes were bright with excitement. Pam continued in a very small voice “The seventeenth century. No, you have got to be kidding me. The dodo? The dodo is still . . .” Her words trailed away into air as she stared at the picture.
“Alive.” the princess finished for her. “At least we think so. There is not a great deal of information available in either the up-time or down-time books I’ve been able to find so far, but the last sighting was reported in the 1660’s. That’s some thirty years from now.”
Pam felt the world spinning under her chair, her hands gripped the side of the table. The dodo! The charmingly strange bird she would never get to see because people had killed them all off in her former timeline. But now, here they were, still decades ahead of that tragedy.
“It took me a while to get used to it, too,” Caroline remarked. “The world’s most famous extinct animal, next to the dinosaurs, is still alive right now.”
“And we must keep it that way!” Kristina announced fervently. “The dodo must be saved!”
Pam blew out a long sigh of air. “You know, the worst thing is, why the hell didn’t I think of it myself? I’ve been so busy trying to protect the wildlife around here that I haven’t even taken one minute to think globally. Or, for that matter, temporally.” She looked a bit dazed by the news.
Caroline said, “Pam, everyone who came through the Ring of Fire is still, to some extent, in a state of shock. We may never be able to adjust one-hundred percent. There are so many possibilities, chances to change history, but we are just a bunch of normal people dropped into extraordinary circumstances. Don’t be too hard on yourself.”
Caroline was right, there were times Pam felt as if she would never really be completely comfortable here in the past. She looked at the princess, whose face was a study of earnest determination.
“Okay, Princess, how do you intend to save the dodo?”
“I want to send a rescue mission. Bring enough for a breeding population back to Europe where we can keep them in a sanctuary. I’ve been studying up-time zoos and I am sure it can be done.”
“Wow, that sounds really great, but it’s a massive undertaking. How will you finance it?”
The princess smiled cheerfully. “Well, I am a princess. I have access to certain funds, even at my current age, and I know a lot of people. And, of course, I intend to ask my papa for his support.”
Pam looked at Caroline.
“You can’t get much more connected.” the woman answered.
Pam studied the princess from across the table for a moment. This was the daughter of the man who ruled a huge swath of Europe, including their little circle of America, and who seemed bent on increasing that real estate. From what she had seen of Gustav, he was probably a pretty good guy, the ‘Captain-General’ who had saved a bunch of schoolkids, including her own son from the Croat raiders, a real hero. Even so, it seemed unlikely that he would put much backing into something as outlandish as what the princess proposed, especially with the situation on the continent still so volatile. On the other hand, grown men often go to amazing lengths to please their darling daughters. So far, the princess had demonstrated that while she might not be a spoiled brat, she was adept at getting her way.
“Say you can get your father, The Emperor, to agree to this. What do you want from me?”
“Why, to lead the expedition of course!” Those giant brown eyes were not blinking.
“What? Me? Why me?”
“Because you are a bird expert. As far as I know, you are the only bird expert Grantville has.”
“I’m no expert. I’m just a birdwatcher.”
“You have identified, studied, and cataloged every species of bird that survived the trip through the Ring of Fire that has established breeding populations here. You have done the same for every native bird species in a fifty-mile radius. You have led a successful nature education program with an emphasis on conservation. You are an experienced hiker and outdoors-person, trained by a retired jäger, from what I understand. You are currently writing a book called Birds of the USE that you intend as both a field guide and behavioral study of every species in the country. In addition, you are working as a scientist in the Grantville Research Institute sponsored laboratory testing program and have extensive up-time training in the scientific method. I have no doubt there is no one more qualified than you.”
It was obvious the princess had been practicing that little speech. The kid was one smart cookie, and scarily organized. Pam rubbed her temples, her mind racing. Lead an expedition? Impossible! She had too much work to do, she couldn’t possibly! She looked down at the open book on the table to see the dodo handing Alice a thimble. For most of her life she had felt sad when looking at any portrayal of the dodo, a pathetic creature that was obliterated by human carelessness. It always made her sad and angry. But now . . .
“Damn it all,” she muttered beneath her breath. The princess and Caroline waited expectantly. “Damn it all! She said louder, frustration in her voice. “Just what island does the dodo live on? Is it near Europe?”
Caroline fielded this one. “No, I’m afraid not, Pam. It’s Mauritius, the largest in a group of islands called the Mascarenes, lying some distance off the coast of Eastern Africa, in the Indian Ocean. It also seems that there is another dodo species on Rodriguez, but this is a bit unclear.”
“Africa!” Pam’s voice held a note of laughing hysteria. “All the way around the horn of Africa? Of course! It couldn’t be the Canary Islands or in the Mediterranean, could it?” The dodo is still alive, I could see one, I could save them . . . Pam’s mind whirled, trying to grasp this new reality.
Kristina and Caroline were beginning to look worried. Pam’s hands had developed a slight quiver. A tremble entered her voice when she spoke again. “Look, this is all just too much to swallow in one gulp. I’ve got to be honest with you two, I am still getting used to the idea that Germany is just a few hills over from my American house, and not the nice, clean, modern Germany that produces fine machinery and has an autobahn, either. I feel like I’m in some old movie half the time! Asking me to leave Grantville to sail around Africa in a ship of the day, which has got to be damn dangerous, is an awful lot.”
The princess looked down at her tea, crestfallen. “I’m sorry, Pam, it’s just that you are the only person we thought of who might . . . care about this.”
Pam touched a hand to her forehead, her fingers kneading out the stress building there. “Well, you were right. I do care. And now I have to figure out if I can even say no to this crazy plan of yours. Saving the dodo, yeah, that’s something important. Look, I have to think about it, give me a little time, okay?” This made the princess look hopeful again.
Pam stood up. “Thanks for the tea, Princess. I’ll give you a call when I’ve made my decision, maybe in a couple of days.” Caroline and Kristina both stood up as well.
Kristina went around the table to look up at Pam’s rather pale face. “You’re right, Pam, it will be dangerous, although I promise we’ll do whatever we can to make it safe for you. I will send my very best men with you, they will protect you through any danger. I assure you, I am serious about this, and can make it happen. I am confident in this.”
Pam managed a small smile. “I believe that you are, Princess. I just don’t know if I’m up to it. I will let you know as soon as I make a decision. Caroline. Princess.” She made a small bow to the two of them, then hurried out of the room.
Chapter 2: Of Cabbages and Kings
The Princess looked awful. The more she read, the worse she looked. Her assortment of ladies-in-waiting clucked their concern and disapproval in the quiet of the library, but stayed in their seats, cowed by Caroline’s cool gaze. Caroline was concerned, too, but she knew the princess had to see through this course of study that Pam Miller had laid out for her, however bitter it may be. She, herself, was somewhat irritated at the woman for opening Kristina’s eyes to the darker side of the up-time industrial revolution so soon, but it would have happened eventually. At last, the princess closed the final book of the sizable stack. She looked like she might cry.
“Pretty sad stuff, huh?” Caroline asked, taking Kristina’s slender hand.
“It was so terrible! I didn’t know how bad it was! I knew that life up-time wasn’t perfect, and that there were horrible wars, but the things they did to the land, to the animals! It was cruel . . .” She sniffed loudly and wiped at her prominent nose with the sleeve of her cotton sweatshirt, causing another round of clucking disapproval from the ladies in waiting, which she ignored, as usual.
Caroline nodded sympathetically. “Are you okay?”
“Yes, I suppose so. Anyway, I think I understand what Pam Miller wants from me now. I’ve seen her ‘big picture’ and I don’t like it either. Something needs to be done soon, or all that awful stuff will happen in this time, too. This isn’t just about saving the dodo, it’s about saving everything.”
“Well, no one can do that, Kristina, but there are things we can do to help. I’m quite sure Pam hopes you will use the advantages of your position to do so. But remember, these are adult problems and adults are responsible for them. You’re still only nine-years-old, so let’s take it slowly.”
“Yes, adults are responsible all right, look what a mess they make everywhere! I may just be a kid now, but I’m also the king’s daughter, and what has he, and you, been trying to teach me if not responsibility?” Her large brown eyes were sad, but there was also a certain hardness there, a determination. She’s so like her father, Caroline thought, not for the first time.
Kristina took a deep breath and let it out. She spoke again, the quaver of near tears gone now. “The Lord tests us, Caroline, my father says. I believe this is my first test, at least the first adult kind of one. Let’s find a phone. I’m going to call Pam right now and tell her thank you for educating me. Then we’ll discuss our next steps.” She stood and walked confidently out of the room, and down the hall to the library offices with her bevy of ladies following, looking every bit the royal princess of all the realm.
Pam cradled the phone on her shoulder while she started a new pot of coffee.
“Yeah, it sucks, doesn’t it? Look, Princess, I really am sorry I didn’t warn you first, but nobody understands things like that unless they see it for themselves. Now that I have your attention, I have some more subjects for you to study up on: National parks, conservation, and environmental protection. A smart kid like you is going to be able to see where I’m headed with that. There were a lot of good people up-time, too, people who worked hard to protect nature. I think there may be people who will do the same here and now, don’t you?” Over the line Kristina assured Pam that there were such people here and now, and that she was one of them. Pam smiled as she hung up the phone. The seed she had planted was sprouting nicely, hopefully it would take root and really grow.
Later, Pam walked among her rows of sunflowers in the sweet light of the afternoon, thinking of cabbages and kings. She had admitted to herself it had been wrong of her to want the up-time animals to survive here, as she had always known deep down. Transplanted critters were so often destructive. She had already begun her own research, and had learned that pigs, rats, and other invasive species had also played a part in the dodo’s demise, creatures nature had not intended to have on those islands, brought there by humans. Now, the Ring of Fire had unleashed a whole raft of North American animals into the European ecology, and she had personally helped them get established instead of eradicating them as a sensible modern conservationist would have. Oh well, she sighed to herself, there’s no undoing it now.
For around the ten-thousandth time, Pam wondered if the Ring of Fire was something nature had intended, a so-called ‘Act of God’, like a hurricane or an earthquake? Pam’s gut told her that it wasn’t, that it had been some strange cosmic accident, or a secret government experiment gone terribly wrong― the circle was just too perfect. That debate would likely go on until they reached this universe’s twentieth century. Whatever the cause, she and a six-mile round piece of rural West Virginia, full of people and wildlife, had ended up here, and their numbers were growing. The bird species she was so fond of didn’t really seem to be doing any harm to Europe’s ecology, just a little extra competition for similar birds in the available niches. The seventeenth century ecology of Europe seemed capable of absorbing them all. Apparently.there was room.
On the other hand, raccoons were spreading rapidly, and earning notoriety as a real pest. The down-timers called them maskierte teufelchen, the masked devils. The coons could be amazingly destructive with their hand-like paws and the down-timers had never seen anything like them. No garbage was safe, and you had better stand guard on the orchards and chicken coops! Yet another destructive invader. Pam expected the coon-skin cap would be making a big comeback soon.
So, there were definite negative effects on nature thanks to their arrival here. Pam tried not to think too much about the early industrial revolution they had ignited, and the environmental disasters it was sure to cause. She hoped the up-timers involved would at least consider what a mess they had left of their former world, but it was a faint hope. Money ruled the day, and there was a lot to be made. A bunch of hillbilly coal miners found themselves richer than Croesus because they had discovered a way to reproduce a flashlight battery or a hundred other such examples of up-time ingenuity― they weren’t going to care if entire ecosystems were slaughtered wholesale in order to make their profits. Measures to protect their natural resources needed to be taken, and soon.
Pam had long wanted to do something positive, something big that would wake more people up to what they could lose. Saving the dodo, despite all the difficulties involved, still seemed like the best bet. It was such a perfect poster child; cutely ugly, pathetically incapable of defending itself, already gone extinct once in human reckoning, but still here now, at least for a little longer. They would all die in this world, too, if something weren’t done.
Another thought kept niggling at her and she finally had to face it. Bringing dodos back to Europe was great, a step in the right direction, but it might not be enough to guarantee their survival as a species.
Even if they were able to transport a breeding population of dodos to the USE, there were still too many things that could go wrong. Diseases, diet―Pam knew very little about the bird she wanted to save. Of course, she would take the time to study them in their natural habitat, if she could get there, but the dodos she brought back to Europe would be the equivalent of a few eggs in a very small and fragile basket. The real way to be sure would be to protect the dodos in their own natural habitat. But how? She couldn’t very well erect impenetrable glass domes over the islands.
Pam managed a cynical laugh at the thought of a couple of lonely guardsmen patrolling miles of empty beaches in order to ward off potential threats to the dodos. If nothing were done, the humans would eventually settle there, according to the up-time history books, along with the pigs and cats and rats they would bring with them. It was all going to happen again unless there were controls in place. So, who was going to do the controlling?
Pam didn’t like to think it, but there would have to be people there, and they would need to be people she had influence over, who would agree that the dodo, and the natural environment of the island should and would be protected. That meant colonists. Pam shuddered a little. Colonists had historically never been good for any environment. She couldn’t do anything to keep people from eventually coming to the island, but if they were her people… If dodos were going to be saved in their native Mauritius, there would have to be a reason for people to be there to see to it.
She laughed bitterly again to herself. It was pretty risky. Save the dodo by colonizing their island with people who might, with a lot of education and coaxing, agree that protecting the dodo was their civic duty. Pam visualized herself with a coonskin cap and a sawed-off shotgun, holding off an angry mob of settlers bent on cutting down the dodo’s forest to build log cabins.
Still, she had found an angle she would have to think about. Pam Miller, leading the Mayflower to the Mascarenes. There were going to have to be some really good reasons to found a colony that far way. What would make such a venture profitable? An undertaking of that scope would also need money up front and she suspected that the amount the princess could offer without her father’s support wouldn’t be enough. What could she do to sell a colony on Mauritius to Emperor Gustav? What was of value down there? She thought about what she had learned about the islands so far.
The Mascarenes were three paradisaical islands at just about the halfway point on the sea route from Europe to India, and then on to the Orient. Currently, the islands had no indigenous peoples, no permanent residents, and no firm claims by foreign powers. The Dutch had a tentative claim, but Pam read the papers, and knew that they were a bit too preoccupied now to be focused on things like future colonies. Besides, possession was nine-tenths of the law. In the long run, Mauritius would become a strategic military port, as well as a handy trading post. The Dutch had thought that, and later the French. It held true now, as well, since there wasn’t going to be a Suez Canal any time soon.
The region was a fruit ripe for the picking. The Swedish and their allies had a chance to get there first, but would Gustav see that? In her research, Pam had learned the Swedes had completely missed the Asian money boat in the other timeline, forming a Swedish East India Company far too late to be a competitive player in the region. Maybe they would have if Gustav hadn’t died in battle in that reality, an event the Ring of Fire had prevented. Colonizing the Mascarenes would pave the way for the Swede’s empire to become an Asian power, another of many second chances for a man spared an untimely death.
It was time to do more research, so Pam decided to head to the library for a few hours. Besides learning as much as she could about farming the various tropical cash crops, she would re-read Alice in Wonderland and its companion Through the Looking Glass. She had first read them as a child, so it would be interesting to take them in as an adult. Wonderland would provide a nice break from her studies, a distraction from the lunacy she was embarking on.
As she walked down the slowly disintegrating pavement of Grantville, it occurred to her she hadn’t bothered to tell anyone else about her planned adventure yet. It was something she wasn’t quite ready to deal with. She needed more time to let the reality of her choice sink in. She decided she would start with her best friends, Dore and Gerbald at dinner tonight. They weren’t going to like it, not one bit, but they would just have to understand. Pam tried not to think about what her son and daughter-in-law would say.
That evening when she got home from her studies, Pam found Dore finishing up the weekly house cleaning and Gerbald lounging on the sofa watching Gilligan’s Island. There was so much wonderful entertainment that sadly had not come through the Ring of Fire with them. It was painful to think of it, but someone in town had owned the complete series on DVD, insuring the castaway’s goofy antics would continue to rerun in perpetuity across all space-time. After the round of greetings, Pam flopped on the sofa next to Gerbald. The show was almost over. She knew how much he enjoyed it so she kept quiet until the credits rolled. They both sang along with the rather catchy theme song, and laughed like kids.
“Pam, today I learned there was a special episode of Gilligan’s Island that didn’t come through the Ring of Fire. The castaways were rescued! Have you ever seen it? Oh, how I wish I could!” Gerbald’s voice was full of excitement, he had become a diehard fan of TV and movies. They brought out the overgrown kid in him.
“Yeah, I saw it, Gerbald. The truth is, you didn’t miss much. It pretty much sucked, and then in the end, Gilligan screwed up as usual, and they all ended up back on the island again.” Pam had had watched the show growing up, and was rather fond of it herself, a guilty pleasure.
“Ah, such a shame. Still, I wish I could see it. Perhaps one day when Grantville starts making new TV shows here, we could do a remake! I think I would make an excellent Skipper, although I would have to put on some weight.” Pam looked at her enthusiastic friend and found it hard to believe that he had once been a very dangerous professional soldier. Pam smiled to herself. There were a multitude of up-time shows that deserved a remake and Rescue from Gilligan’s Island was not on that list. Dore came in and shook her head at her husband, a look of disgust on her red-cheeked face.
“Buffoon. Imbecile. Wasting your time staring at that picture box, it’s almost as bad as the drink.” Pam decided to decline to comment that having the TV on in the background had been an important factor in improving Dore’s once broken English and it had certainly added to her impressive list of put-downs. She jumped in before the usual banter could get started.
“Hey, you two, I have something I need to talk to you about. Maybe you better sit down, Dore.” Dore eyed her curiously as she took the desk chair, the only other piece of furniture in the room that was not covered with Pam’s work. Gerbald, also curious, straightened his lanky frame up a bit and turned to Pam. It was unusual for their friend to look this serious during their weekly get together.
“Why, what’s on your mind, Pam?” he asked in his much practiced West Virginia drawl.
“Well, it’s kind of a long story. A few days ago, I got a call from Princess Kristina.”
That made Dore’s eyes widen. The woman was quietly a fan of the Vasa royalty and doted on news of their young princess. “The princess?” Dore asked, trying not to sound excited.
“Yes, the princess. She’s really a nice kid, very, very smart. Anyway, she has asked me to help her save a bird.”
“Then she has asked the right person!” Gerbald said smiling, ever proud of his American friend.
“Well, yeah, I guess I’m the ‘Bird Lady’ after all. The thing is, it’s not a bird from around here . . .” Pam paused to engage in a careful study of her shoes, suddenly not sure she wanted to be having this discussion right now after all.
After a while, Dore grew impatient and asked “Well, tell us, dear Pam, where is this bird from?”
“Um. From an island.” Another pause.
“An island. In the Chiemsee? Or perhaps one of those in Switzerland?”
“No, it’s one near Africa,” Pam answered in a rather small voice.
“Africa!” Dore exclaimed, then went silent, trying to parse that distance out.
Gerbald frowned, a serious look coming to his face.
“That’s a long way to bring a bird.” He said, “It must be a very special one. When it gets here you will help save it, yes? Another protected species?”
“Yes, that’s part of the idea. The thing is, getting it here.” Pam still wasn’t able to meet her friend’s eyes.
Gerbald’s eyebrows had begun to rise. “Pam, who will bring the bird from Africa?”
“I will.” Pam looked up at them and managed a bit of a silly smile. Gerbald returned it, but Dore was definitely not smiling.
“Africa! You plan to go to Africa? Yourself? Africa!” Dore’s voice was rising to the incredulous pitch she sometimes used when grilling Gerbald about his adventures at the tavern.
Pam gave her a helpless look. “Yeah, that’s it. Actually, all the way around Africa, then over to some islands called the Mascarenes in the Indian Ocean. That’s where the dodo lives, and if I don’t go get some now, they will all be killed over the next few years. The princess has asked me to do this.” Even that last bit didn’t budge the incredulous expression on Dore’s face, an expression that was quickly turning to a righteous disgust.
“Madness!” Her voice sounded half-strangled. “All the way to Africa, even to save some bird for the princess, it’s madness!” Dore’s arms, powerful from years of difficult labors, were crossed now in front of her impressive chest, the picture of a woman who had long suffered foolishness and would brook no more. “You must not go, Pam, it is far too dangerous. There are savages and pirates there, and wild beasts that can chew you up, I have seen it on the TV. You simply must not!”
“Now, Dore. ” Gerbald switched into German. “Pam is a grown woman and must make her own decisions, you cannot mother her so! You know how strongly she cares for the birds and other living things, and besides, one cannot take a request from the royal princess of the land lightly! Please see reason.” Dore answered only with a dismissive caw, unable to find her voice, she was so appalled at the events turning before her. Pam spoke up again, also in German.; She was nearly fluent, having decided it was a big advantage in her new here and now.
“Dore, please, my dear friend, I don’t really want to go, really I don’t, but I feel I must! Doing this will get the princess on my side when it comes to stopping an environmental disaster here. If I help her, she will help me, I have her word on this and believe it. I must go.”
Dore shook her head, her initial outrage changing to sincere concern for her dearest friend. “Oh my, Pam, I can’t bear to think of you making such an awful journey. When is this to happen?”
Dore’s red-cheeked, guileless face was now so mournful that Pam walked across the room and gave her a hug. “I don’t know yet, we’ve just started. It will probably be a few months, things don’t usually happen very fast in this era. I need to go talk to the princess again tomorrow before she leaves town. From there most of it will depend on her. Whatever happens, I assure you I will be very careful, I intend to come back to you alive!”
“Well, of course you will! And that is why we are going with you!” Dore announced in a suddenly confident tone.
“You are?” It wasn’t really a question. Deep down Pam had already known this was the likely outcome of the conversation.
“We are?” Gerbald turned to his wife, his face alive with anticipation.
“Of course, we are! We can’t let Pam go off around the world alone! She will need our help on such a long journey! We must go!”
Gerbald studied his wife as if she had suddenly transformed into something miraculous like a talking horse. This was too good to be true! “Why, of course we must!” he bellowed heartily. “I’ve always wanted to experience a sea voyage! Africa, the Dark Continent, land of adventure! How wonderful!”
“Actually, we are just sailing around Africa as far as I know, but maybe we could stop and take a look around a bit . . .” Pam was starting to feel a bit giddy now. Her hesitation at breaking the bizarre news to her best friends had passed. They are going with me. Now I really know I can do this. She grabbed Dore once more in a bear hug. “You two are the best, thank you!”
Dore patted her friend gently on her back, her upset finished, her eyes smiling now. “You can’t be rid of us, dear Pam. We will follow you everywhere. In any case, it can’t be any worse than following this lout through all those wars.”
Later, Dore was cooking the evening meal while Gerbald napped on the sofa. Pam sat at her desk, staring out her garden window, tired from too much reading, and way too much thinking. God, how I miss the Internet.
“I need to come up with a plan,” she mumbled into the fist that supported her chin. “I need a reason for people to want to go live on those islands. Something that will sweeten the deal up for that fat king to insure his support.”
“Dinner is almost ready!” Dore called from the kitchen, giving Gerbald a chance to wake up, and Pam a chance to reach a good stopping place in her work.
“Dinner . . . fat . . . sweeten . . .” Pam’s eyes widened. Quickly, she pushed her chair back, startling Gerbald out of his nap, and rushed into the kitchen.
“Dore! Do you know much about the emperor? About Gustav?”
“Well, certainly I know some things, who doesn’t? I read the newspapers and listen to the talk down at the shops.”
“What does he like to eat?”
“I believe he is very fond of meat, as most men are, and also of cheese.”
“What about desserts?”
“Why yes, I have heard he loves chocolate and sweets. One must be a king to be able to afford such! Why are you smiling in this funny way, Pam?”
“How much does chocolate go for these days at Johnson’s?”
“Oh, it is much too dear, even if it is available at all. I do not understand what the fuss is about, it’s so bitter tasting unless you mix it with cream and sugar.”
“Sugar! How much is that?”
“Well, sugar has gone down somewhat thanks to sorghum, but it is still quite expensive. We are lucky none of us here have that ‘sweet tooth’ so many Americans suffer from.”
“Yes, that wonderful sweet tooth that King Gustav has acquired. And where there’s sugar you will surely find spices.” Spices, where do they come from? Why, from Spice islands! Islands like… the Mascarenes! Pam began to look around her kitchen.
Since Dore had come into her life Pam didn’t cook much anymore. The leftovers from their Friday night dinners always lasted several days, after which she enjoyed simple meals of seasonal fruit, bread with cheese, and sometimes sausages. Her chocolate bon-bon munching days were long over!
Pam went to the cabinet where she kept her humble supply of cooking supplies and peered in. In the front, small bottles of herbs lined the shelf, their original contents long since replaced with plants grown down-time. Dore, by nature a wonderful cook, had developed a taste for herbs such as rosemary and thyme and used them to delicious effect. Pam slid the herbs aside to reach farther into the back. After some groping about, she produced a motley collection of tins and bottles with achingly familiar labels from up-time brands like Schillings and Lawry’s. She began arranging them on the counter while Dore looked on with great curiosity.
“We want spices that are used in cakes and cookies. Cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, mace, oh- nutmeg! I’d almost forgotten about that stuff, we’ll have to make eggnog sometime!”
Gerbald was now watching from his usual spot leaning against the door to the living room, which provided him with a ready escape route for when Dore inevitably passed her tolerance point for his ‘nonsense’ and shooed him out.
“Eggnog? Ain’t never heared of that.” he said in his long-practiced hillbilly drawl, which was good enough to fool most up-timers.
“It’s a traditional Christmas drink, made of raw eggs and milk.”
Gerbald grimaced. “That sounds plum awful.”
“We put rum or brandy in it, too.” Pam told him with a knowing smile.
“Well, that’s different! Maybe I should give it a try then!” he replied with a grin while sneaking an impish look at his wife.
“You two are a couple of those ‘booze-hounds’, oh, the shame of it!” Dore growled. Dore was a teetotaler except for the few occasions in which her husband and friend had managed to get her to try a little wine or kirschwasser in the name of celebration, the consumption of which made her cheeks go from rosy pink to fire engine red. A few more sips later she would really loosen up, laugh loudly, and tell slightly ribald jokes she had heard from the women she worked with, things she would never consider doing while sober. This had proven to be highly entertaining and only encouraged Pam and Gerbald to try to get her tipsy again.
Pam and Gerbald shared a quick wink, a little ‘let’s get Dore drunk’ fun was long over-due, but after all the drama she would be on her guard, so it was probably out of the question tonight.
Pam went back to her spice collection. “What’s missing… oh, vanilla!” she added a bottle of dark brown liquid to the line-up, soon followed by a jar of molasses and a very small bottle of almond extract. She had to climb up on the kitchen stool to reach to the very back of the cupboard to see if she had missed anything and was rewarded with a tin of powdered cocoa and a rock-hard bar of baking chocolate. Pam wiped her brow and took a moment to muse over her collection. Mmmm, chocolate. Where the hell does that stuff come from originally, anyway? Somewhere warm I think, much warmer than Europe or it wouldn’t be so dear. Even up-time most spices came from far away places, usually tropical. I have a lot of research to do, but I think I’m on to something big here. Gears were turning in her head.
“Dore, can dinner wait a bit? If you don’t mind, I’d like you to help me make some cookies.”
“Of course, I don’t mind! Dinner can wait and it would be my pleasure to help!” Pam rarely joined in the cooking and Dore relished the chance to have some company in the kitchen. Female company that is, Dore gave Gerbald the ‘Stay out of our way’ look as they went to work so he returned to the safety of the couch, a tall glass of Küchelstorf’s American Style beer tiding him over until dinner eventually materialized.
“Okay, great! We’re going to start with something simple like cinnamon snicker doodles. My bake sale mom career ended quite a while ago and I’m a bit rusty.” Pam began moving about the kitchen like a whirlwind, locating mixing bowls and pans and spatulas while Dore washed the dust off them.
Dore paused to study her suddenly inspired friend. “Pam, may I ask just what has gotten you so excited about making cookies? There is always a reason when you become like this. Has it to do with this African journey?”
Pam grinned merrily. “Yes, it does, we’re making these for the princess. Upon her recommendation, I hope we will be able to use them to bait a bear. . . or maybe a lion.”
Dore gave her an askance look, but declined further comment, busying herself with washing Pam’s long-neglected and dust-coated rolling pin.
Chapter 3: Personal Affairs
Over the next few weeks, the reality of Pam’s looming journey began to sink in. Favorable reports were coming from the princess and her staff, the big box of baked goodies she had mailed to Kristina to ply her father with had worked! It sounded like the mission was definitely going to be a go, and they would be able to leave a lot sooner than expected, maybe even the end of May. The initial giddiness of such a grand adventure was harder to feel now. More and more Pam found herself fretting over it. This was big, this was scary. She had taken the day off from it all to have some time to think. She sat in her comfy lawn chair in the backyard most of the morning, watching the birds visiting the bath and feeder while she savored a pot of coffee. It was pricey, but now that the wonderful bean was available again, she spared no expense. It was too hard to start her day without its hot cheer. After a while she began feeling hemmed in by her garden’s cool confines, so she decided a long walk might help clear her head. It was a bright, sunny day. The great outdoors would be just the thing to help keep her worries at bay.
Soon she was climbing up a familiar West Virginia hillside, feeling the comfortable warmth of sunlight on her back. She came to the hill’s abrupt edge, marveling as always at the glass-sheened cliff left by whatever event had caused their journey through space-time, presumably slicing the strata on a molecular level. A Thuringian stream, blocked by the new heights placed in its path, had created a sizable lake below, its cool waters lapping against the smooth walls of the transplanted hills.
Pam sat near the edge with her back against a sycamore tree. She forced herself to relax, to go into what she thought of as “birdwatcher mode,” a state of calm awareness, quietly paying attention only to the world around her, ignoring the incessant, worried whispers coming from the back of her mind. This odd place was where she felt most at home anymore, along this edge where two realities fused to make something new. She gazed contentedly at the lake and the comings and goings of its small inhabitants–birds, fish, frogs, insects. Having found her comfortable space, Pam allowed herself to drift inward, looking at herself dispassionately, as if examining some new species of life, not judging, just observing.
She had been changed by the Ring of Fire as much as sleepy old Grantville had been, the totally unexpected revitalization of a declining small town. The experience of time travel had awakened something in her as well, she had seen it in other up-timers, too. Second chances. The old Pam, who had lived in a dull gray state of self pity in that other life and time, had metamorphosed into something different, something better, a being of energy and convictions. A small smile came to her lips as she realized she liked herself better now, at least most of the time. Maybe this new Pam really was a person who could take on something as big as the wide world, do something as Quixotic as save a doomed species halfway across the globe.
She thought of the time she had passed by this spot on her way to save Gerbald from murderous bandits, knowing she was heading into danger, but ignoring the fear, conquering it, finding the strength to fight and win against the evil men who threatened her friend. She clutched the solid weight of her grandmother’s walking stick, her body remembering how she had used it to devastating effect on their attacker, used it to survive, to win, the seasoned oak wood channeling an inner strength she hadn’t known she had. Despite her increasing unease at what lay before her, that power was still within her, the power to fight for what she held dear.
The mission to Mauritius would surely be dangerous. It would be frightening. It would be uncomfortable. But most of all she knew it would be worthwhile. In Pam’s mind’s eye she saw herself, saw the sensitive girl she had been as a child, who had wept when reading the sad story of the dodo in those dreary back pages of the bird guides, that terrible rollcall of the victims of extinction. She felt that little girl somehow looking at her grown-up self with her own steel-gray eyes, the message clear: “Change this.”
Pam stood up, shaking her head to clear her reverie. She had seen enough. She took a big, deep breath of the fresh breeze coming across the lake and smiled.
“All right, you dodos, hang in there, I’m a-comin’!” she shouted merrily across the lake.
A noisy thought suddenly crashed into her mind: She had yet to tell her employers at the Research Institute of her plans, not to mention her family, starting with her father. The world spun a little too fast beneath her feet for a moment. Deep breaths, deep breaths!
Surprisingly, her father took it well. He had aged a bit since the Ring of Fire, but there was a sparkle in Walter Miller’s eyes, becoming the high school chemistry teacher had revitalized him. Being around kids could do that, in those cases when it doesn’t age one even faster. In Pam’s experience, things always went better with other people’s kids. Not to say her father hadn’t done a good job of raising her, she had never wanted for anything, and even if he was not one for a lot of overt affection, she always knew she was loved. Most importantly, he had always been encouraging when it came to Pam’s choices growing up.
This time, considering the dangers involved, Pam had expected, and maybe deep down, wanted him to be upset by the news, but he took it all in stride. He looked at her with eyes that closely resembled her own and told her “Pammie, I’m real proud of you. Always have been, but now more than ever. I like what you are doing with the school kids, I see it making a difference with them, and I like that you are taking a leadership role in environmental protection. I dabbled in it myself in my youth, and I’m glad to see I raised a daughter who is going to really do something to help this new old world. I know you can. When Pam Miller puts her mind to it, she can do anything!”
This unexpectedly stirring praise managed to make Pam cry, so her father held her and gently stroked her ever-unruly hair for a long, quiet time.
Unfortunately, it did not go so well with her mother, who wept for over an hour. Pam did her best to provide comfort, but eventually had to leave her to her husband’s tender care, deciding that was enough drama for one day. It was Friday night, so she went home to get a bit drunk with Gerbald in front of the TV set while Dore prepared a heaping helping of comfort food. Thank God, they were coming with her, they had become the family she needed, and she tried not to feel guilty that she would be putting them in danger, too. Well, they had insisted and she was damn glad to have them. They were her rock.
The next morning Pam went to see her daughter-in-law Crystal, who was bound to be today’s designated crier. When the weeping began, Pam was by no means surprised, and felt simply awful as a just-got-pregnant Crystal cried and cried while Pam looked on helplessly.
“Oh, Momma Pam, you just can’t be gone for a whole year! What about the ba-ba-baby-y-y-y!” Her voice broke up into incoherent sobbing.
Pam grimaced, she had known Crystal was going to take it hard, but yeesh! So, she overrode her embarrassment at the outburst, and hugged Crystal tightly. Crystal Blocker had come through the Ring of Fire with only a single aunt for family and was whole-heartedly invested in changing that. Now that she had married Pam’s son Walt and become Crystal Dormann, she had a mom again, and Pam, being very fond of the sweet, good-natured girl, had encouraged the relationship, wondering what it would have been like to have had a daughter to balance her often stubborn and difficult only child. She buried a rueful grin that her grown boy, Walt, was Crystals’ problem now instead of hers, and patted Crystal firmly on the back, then took her by the shoulders to very gently shake her out of her sorrow.
“Hey, hey, honey, listen! It’s not as awful as you’re making it out to be! It’s just for a year, and that’s a blink of the eye, trust me. Come on, what’s a regular old year to a bunch of time travelers like us, huh? I’ll be back before you know it!”
“But you’re going all the way to A-a-a-africa! It’s so far, it will be so dangerous!” More tears poured from Crystal’s bright green eyes down her pretty-as-a-penny, freckled face.
“It won’t be that bad. Besides, Gerbald and Dore will be with me, and you know they won’t let anything bad happen to me, right?” Pam knew that Crystal regarded her new German ‘Uncle and Auntie’ very highly. This served to calm her down a bit. “And, when we get back, we’ll all have a big birthday party for my new grandchild, I promise. I’m so proud of you, honey! You are the daughter I always wanted. Now, I need you to be strong for me, this is something I just gotta do.” They hugged again, and Crystal allowed as how she understood. Eventually, Pam got her settled down enough to where she could leave her, still sniffly, but coming to grips with her mother-in-law’s decision. As she left the house, Pam found Walt standing in the driveway, with a very dark look on his youthful face.
Uh-oh, Pam thought, this isn’t going to go well. Walt had listened silently to his mother explain about her dodo rescue mission. He had walked out without saying a word when Crystal’s tears came. Pam’s stomach clenched. No doubt her son was ready to have his say now. Here it comes..
“Way to go, Mom. Nice.” he told her in well-practiced sarcastic tones. Pam was pretty sure he had been dipping into some moonshine out in his garage. She suspected he kept a stash there.
“Crystal will be fine, Walt. I’ve got her calmed down. She’s a strong girl.” Pam stood up straight, meeting her son’s eyes, so like her own.
“Yeah, right. Crystal lost everything coming through that fucking ring and now she’s losing you, too, Momma Pam. Obviously, you don’t give a shit.” Walt glared at her, his flushed face full of disgust.
Pam took a deep breath. “I’m sorry you think that, Walt. You are wrong, of course. I care about Crystal and you, and your babytobe, very much. Even so, I am an adult and there are things I have to do. This is one of them. I’m sorry it doesn’t fit into your plans for me.”
“Oh yeah, sail halfway around the world to save some freaky-looking bird that’s too stupid to run away from hunters. And that is going to what? Somehow save the world from a new industrial revolution? Good fucking luck! What the hell does it matter anyway? This world is going to end up just as screwed up as the last one and there’s nothing you can do about it!”
“I’m very disappointed to hear you talk that way, Walt. I didn’t think I’d raised such a negative person. I thought I’d taught you better than that.”
“Yeah, like you were a ray of sunshine while I was growing up. What I remember is you were usually depressed, and only took a break from that, to bitch at me about doing my homework. Now, there was a great waste of time, all that ‘getting ready for college’ is doing me a lot of good now, isn’t it? They don’t even have colleges back here in the dark ages. You made my life miserable for nothing!” Pam blinked at him for a moment and accepted the fact that she was about to get really pissed off.
“Well, I am so sorry I wasn’t some perfect Leave it to Beaver mom for you, Walt.” The sarcasm in her tone dripped and sizzled like acid. “God knows, your father wasn’t exactly helping me any, nitpicking my every move! And actually, they do have colleges here, not that you would know since you decided to make the 250 Club the extent of your down-time travels. Yeah, I wonder if Crystal knows about that? ‘You’re going to be home late from work again? Okay, I’ll keep supper warm for you!'” she said, very accurately imitating his wife’s sweet-as-honey twang. That actually got under his skin, he had started to say something and stopped. Apparently, what she had heard about Walt’s less than savory social life was indeed true, which made Pam start to get really mad.
Pam continued, the heat rising in her. “Ya know, sometimes I don’t love our new reality much either, but I’ve come to accept it. It’s whatever you decide to make of it, and it most certainly is not the ‘Dark Ages’, which you would know if you had ever actually bothered to give one tiny shit about your education. As for wasting time, I can see now that is exactly what I was doing when I made you do your homework, nothing in my power could possibly stop you from your chosen path of becoming an ignorant, moonshine-swilling, cud-chewing redneck, destined to go nowhere while you man your bar stool until the booze finally knocks you off it and into an early grave! Well, don’t let me stop you now, you’re a real hillbilly, I can see that. Go kick some cow pies for me, I’ve got better things to do.”
“You self-righteous bitch! You’ve never loved anybody but yourself! It was always all about you.”
Pam took a long look at her son and then in a lightning quick motion stepped in close to him while landing a swift, hard slap across his face. It was the first time she had ever applied a hand to him in his life.
“That’s for thinking I don’t love you, son.” While Walt was stunned from the first blow, she slapped him again even harder. “And that’s for not living up to your potential, for not even trying to. Crystal deserves better than what you have become. God, I hope you see it in time and get yourself straightened up before it’s too late!” Pam held him frozen in a long, soul-piercing glare until he looked down at his shoes, his face red-hot with shame and pain, the fight all knocked out of him. Then she turned and walked away.
Well, that could have gone better. God’s own truth is I should have done that a long time ago! She ignored the tears that streamed down her face as she marched back to her little pink house in the sunflowers. She was ready to go now.