Second Chance Bird
The dodo is extinct and every American knows it. Caroline Platzer certainly does when she explains it to a very upset Princess Kristina. But, that was then and this is the seventeenth century! The last recorded sighting of the dodo was in 1662 and now it is only the year of our lord 1635. Is 1635 too late to save the dodo? Even if it’s not, is it humanly possible? Princess Kristina is determined to find out! But how? Enter Pam Miller, Grantville’s resident birdwatcher and nature lover.
When asked by the Princess to lead a mission to the distant Indian Ocean Isle of Mauritius to prevent the hapless dodo’s inevitable extinction, Pam balks at first, but finds herself drawn to the challenge as inexorably as a moth to the flame, for wasn’t saving the dodo one of her own childhood dreams? 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 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 second chances are hard to come by.
Cair Paravel, Grantville, Early Spring 1635
They were on holiday, enjoying the warmest day of the year yet 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 story time; the young girl sat in rapt attention as her friend and sometimes supervisor Caroline Platzer read aloud in the comfortable twang of up-time English. The book was Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and 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 such 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 tremendously serious look on her young face.
The princess could be very sensitive and Caroline knew the sad story of the dodo’s demise would not go over well. She also knew 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 normalness 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’ 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’ 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; he 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 spent a lot of time outdoors. Her unruly, dishwater-blonde hair was pulled back in a no-nonsense ponytail, the hairstyle showing off her best feature; 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 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 regarded him with.
“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. Actually, I’m here at her request, as her representative.” Thorsten found himself feeling flustered, there was something formidable about this 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!” Obviously 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 perfectly murderous look.
“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, particularly 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. Actually, she has sent me here to invite you to visit her at her Grantville residence. She has a project related to the protection of a certain bird species that she wishes to consult with you on.”
“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.”
Pam asked Thorsten to wait on the porch for a moment as she gathered her bag and walking stick. She mumbled to herself as she ran a hand through escaped strands of her unruly hair.
“Meet the princess, huh?” Pam muttered to herself as she changed her top. “Sometimes down-time is like living in a magical kingdom that reeks of manure.” She emerged a few minutes later with the same well-worn jeans and mud-caked boots on, but she had changed into 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 ornately decorated 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 secretly 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 right then 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 woman dressed in casual up-time clothes met them. Thorsten introduced her as his fiancé, Caroline Platzer.
Caroline shook Pam’s hand. “Thank you for coming, Ms. Miller. Princess Kristina is very excited about meeting you. 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. But I assure you, she means well! 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. Ms Platzer, are you the princess’ teacher?”
“Do call me Caroline. Well, I’m kind of her cultural adviser, but mainly I’m 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, thinking Good lord, I hope this kid isn’t a royal monster. What am I doing here? She had met some royal types over the last couple of years and generally couldn’t stand them.
“Princess Kristina, Pam Miller is here.” Caroline announced as they entered a large, book cluttered room that also featured an impressive variety of Brillo the Ram memorabilia. Pam was something of a Brillo fan herself. At least she has good taste.
Pam had expected to be confronted by a pretty little spoiled brat dressed in fluffy pink princess gowns, and 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. 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.
“You’re here! Thanks for coming! I’m Kristina!” The princess marched enthusiastically over to Pam and stuck out her hand to shake. Pam took it a bit hesitantly. The princess had a strong grip for such a frail-looking kid and there were even some calluses on that palm.
“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 at the school I know. I also quite supported 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, 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. Pam’s sixth sense told her she was going to be pressed into service somehow, so she was wary. 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 tea time. He’s going to go chew the fat with the guards.”
“The men do love to shoot the shit,” Kristina commented, eying 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 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 in her former time-line. They were still thirty years 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, “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 very successful nature education program with an emphasis on conservation. You are an experienced hiker and outdoors-person, trained by a retired jaeger 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 that 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 painting of the dodo, a pathetic creature that was obliterated by human carelessness. It had 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. Talk to you soon. Caroline. Princess.” She made a small bow to the two of them, then hurried out of the room.
That night Pam sat in her favorite spot at her writing desk looking out the window at her backyard’s big birdfeeder. It was evening, and there wasn’t much action, just a couple of blue jays having an argument while gobbling sunflower seeds. This was one of the species that had come through the Ring of Fire with Grantville that was proving highly successful. The gray-and-orange Eurasian jays were still around, but the blue jays were more aggressive, and tended to bully them at the feeder. Pam was barely paying attention to their noisy antics.
There was only one bird on her mind tonight, and it was thousands of miles away on an obscure island in the Indian Ocean. It was a bird she never thought she would see in her lifetime, unless some genius managed to clone it back from the dead. But, that was a different lifetime. In this time, the dodo was still alive, and she could prevent the catastrophe that had made it the symbol of modern extinction. Pam poured a healthy splash of kirschwasser into a shot glass; the cherry-flavored liquor would help calm her nerves.
Up-time, the farthest she had ever been from home was Vancouver, Canada out on the west coast, and a brief holiday in the Bahamas. Those were also the only foreign countries she’d ever visited, and hardly exotic. Now she was contemplating a long and dangerous sea voyage from Europe to the far side of Africa. A voyage that would give her the chance to do something wonderful, something she dreamed of in her youth: The chance to save the dodo. If she survived it.
A small voice in her head chided her; what makes you think you can pull it off? You’re just a frumpy small town divorcée. You’re no Charles Darwin! Pam scowled into her glass, sloshing the red liquid around. That was the old Pam Miller talking. The Pam Miller of that other life where she had been pretty much a nobody. Her marriage had failed, and her adult son was only now just beginning to talk to her again, the result of his new bride’s insistence more than any desire on his part.
Still, that was something. In some ways, things really were better now. The one thing she had been good at in that other life was her job. She was a damn good researcher and was highly regarded for her skills, although never really popular socially. That was better now, too. Here, her abilities mattered a lot more. The projects she was working on for the Research Institute were helping keep Grantville alive in this new time. She was well respected by her peers, and had even tentatively made a few friends there. At least they didn’t forget to invite her to the office parties any more.
Pam looked up to see herself reflected in the window as darkness fell. She was older, thinner, and most definitely tougher. God, how had she been such a marshmallow? Was this woman in the glass really her? Pam smiled as she brought the shot glass to her lips. This was a new life. There were new chances available. She had changed going through that Ring of Fire. It had tempered her into something harder. She had crushed a man’s jaw with her grandmother’s walking stick to save a friend’s life, a fighting man, a dangerous man. She had found the courage. The old Pam of the year 2000 would have melted into a blubbering mass of goo in the face of such danger. Not this Pam, not anymore.
She got up from her chair to stalk around the living room, no, her art studio and office, looking at the evidence of her accomplishments. Thanks in part to her efforts, blue jays, Baltimore orioles, hummingbirds, and many other North American bird species were establishing themselves in Europe. Her favorite of them all, the bright-red eastern cardinal, now went by the colloquial moniker ‘redbird’ that her grandmother had used when Pam was a little girl. Redbird translated well into German as rotvogel, and didn’t have any religious connotations. It had been the official bird of the state of West Virginia back up-time, and was now in use again as such in West Virginia County, here in the great State of Thuringia-Franconia, United States of Europe. Its survival here had helped Pam adjust to her new life in this century more than anything else, except perhaps the close friends she had made among the Germans.
Seeing the up-time birds that had come through the event with them thrive had inspired Pam to go to work raising public awareness about protecting native European species along with the up-time immigrants. Through her school programs, she was fostering a love of nature in the youth of Grantville that she hoped would spread throughout this new country as time went on.
But, would it spread fast enough? The fires of industry were burning bright, and she feared they would scorch this new version of planet Earth into an ugly cinder, just as they had the forests and plains of the up-time world. And, that process was starting earlier. If nothing were done about that, saving the dodo would be meaningless. She sat back down.
You need to be smart. Think this through. This morning when she woke up, she was a woman who had become well known, and fairly well regarded in the local community: “The Bird Lady of Grantville.” At one time that nickname would have flooded her with embarrassment, but now she had come to realize she liked it. People actually liked her, and her “Save the Birds” campaign was succeeding in over a hundred-mile radius. So, she knew people now, and they listened to her, but when she wrote letters to the national government regarding conservation initiatives, all she got in return were official form letters thanking her for her input.
She had even considered taking the train up to Magdeburg, and giving that cock of the rock Mike Stearns a good old-fashioned talking to in person regarding his new country’s complete lack of an environmental protection policy. He might even listen to her . . . Pam gripped the arms of her chair. The thought that had been forming in the back of her mind ever since her visit to Cair Paravel this morning pushed its way to the front and took shape.
Who does Mike Stearns listen to? That would be King Gustavus II Adolphus, the high king of the Union of Kalmar, the emperor of the United States of Europe, the Captain-General who earned his place as a folk hero in their little circle of West Virginia. Mister fast-talking union man listened to that guy, their lives depended on it. And, who did Gustavus Adolphus listen to? Who had the emperor’s ear? A small smile came to Pam’s face. She knew one person who would have that ear, and that person wanted something from Pam Miller, wanted it badly. Pam tossed down the rest of the kirschwasser and decided it was best just to sleep on it.
Pam knew it was a dream because she was wearing a child’s dress she wouldn’t have been caught dead in, even at age seven; a frilly blue-and-white thing of a century that both had, and had not, happened. She stood in Wonderland with the Dodo beside the shore, the other participants of the caucus race having all wandered away. The Dodo regarded her with sad, heavy lidded eyes.
“Are you quite sure you’ve nothing else in your pocket?” it asked in a wistful voice.
Pam found her pocket and reached in. With some surprise her hand closed on something round and heavy. She pulled out what could only be the White Rabbit’s pocket watch, and held it up to the Dodo.
“Ah, there’s something I don’t have,” said the Dodo. Nodding sadly, it turned away and walked into the lake until its odd-shaped head passed beneath the still, black waters. Pam cried out, and started to wade in after it, but instead woke up thrashing in the sheets like a feverish child.
After regaining her senses, she laid her head back on the pillow, sighed at the morning light coming through what would always to her be the wrong window, and mumbled, “I’m so screwed.” It was eight o’clock in the morning, she was on flextime at work, so she hadn’t set the alarm. Sighing resignedly at her fate, she reached over to the nightstand to pick up the phone.
“This is Pam Miller. I’d like to speak to Caroline Platzer.”
“A moment, please.”
“This is Caroline. Pam?”
“Yeah, it’s me. Listen, I want to ask you something. In your opinion, is this save the dodo expedition something the princess could really pull off? Would these people she knows, and her father, really listen to her and help make it happen?”
There was a brief pause.
“Well, I can’t make any promises, but I believe it’s very possible. Gustav is, at heart, a pretty nice guy who loves his daughter very much. He dotes on her, as do her many admirers and friends. And, as I think you saw today, the princess is one smart kid, and stubborn, too—just like her father. He knows that, and is definitely grooming her to one day take his place. In any event, he will at least listen to her ideas, and give them serious thought.”
“Okay, that’s good enough for now. Can I talk to the princess, please?”
“Why, sure. Just a sec.” Her voice could be heard turned away from the receiver. “Kristina, Pam Miller is on the phone! She wants to talk to you!” Next came the sound of swiftly running feet on hardwood floors. “Here she is.” Pam could hear the smile coming through the phone. Caroline liked her, that was good. A young voice, out of breath came across the line.
“This is Kristina! Hi, Pam, thanks for calling!”
“You’re welcome. Listen, I’ve spent all day thinking about your project, and I’m interested. If you can really make it happen, I’ll lead the expedition.” Pam heard a shrill shriek of excitement blast from the receiver and held the phone away from her ear until the princess’ cheering subsided.
“That’s wonderful, Pam, that’s really wonderful! I’m so glad you will do it, you are the best person in the world for it!”
“Well, thanks for the vote of confidence. That said, we need to be clear that most of the work needed for this project is going to fall on your young shoulders. I have a pretty important job with the Research Institute, some serious responsibilities, and it’s going to take a lot of work on my part to get to a place where I can even think of asking for time off . . . sheesh, it’s probably going to take a whole year just to make this trip, isn’t it? Anyway, it’s going to be you and your people are who are going to have to do all the expedition organizing, okay?”
“Okay! I’ll take care of all that. I’ve already talked about it with Ulrik, and some other people I know, and they have promised to help!”
Pam crossed her eyes a bit at the mention of the princess’ youthful betrothal. That was an issue she decided was best not to think on too much.
“That’s great, whatever it takes. Now for my part, I’m going to do all the necessary research. I need to know everything I possibly can about those islands, and I’m not too confident that Grantville’s libraries will have much, so I’ll probably have to use down-time sources as well. I’m also going to have to study up on how to transport live animals on a long ship journey. Hopefully that’s something up-time science can help improve the odds on. I’m going to be honest with you, Princess, getting from here to there and back again is going to be very complicated. A lot could go wrong, and there is a chance we will fail. Can you handle that?”
“I can handle it. All we can do is our best. I have great confidence that we can save the dodo, Pam, but I do understand the difficulties. I can only promise that I and my people will do our utmost to make it succeed on this end.” The princess’ nine-year-old excitement had been replaced with the calm voice of a girl much older. That made Pam feel a bit better. Negotiations had been breakfast conversation all of Kristina’s young life, and she already knew how to play the game. There were some shrill inner voices in the back of Pam’s head telling her she was crazy, but she would have to deal with them later. For now, she focused on the princess.
“That reassures me greatly. Now listen, saving the dodo is very important, but it’s just one corner of a very big picture. I want you to understand how and why tragedies like the dodo extinction happen in the first place. Are you willing to do some reading?”
“Of course! I enjoy reading anyway. I’ll read whatever you ask me to.”
“That’s good to hear. Have you got a pen handy? Yes? Okay, write down these keywords: Extinction, pollution, deforestation, and habitat destruction.” Pam only had to spell out a couple of those terms, Kristina’s skills in her second language were nothing short of amazing for one so young. “Go to the library and see what you can find. You don’t have to read everything in detail, just try to get the main ideas. When you have, call me back and we’ll go from there. All right?”
“Gotcha. Will do, Pam,” Kristina agreed readily.
Pam mused that she was on the phone with a new kind of person, a child of the most powerful European royalty in the current century influenced and educated by Americans from the future. What might this eager young girl accomplish as she matured? For just a moment, Pam felt a little guilty at the rather unpleasant educational course she was sending the kid on, but it was for the best. Pam had never believed in hiding the truth from children. Better they find distressing things out in their youth, so they can be better prepared to face them as adults. Kristina would have to see that big picture, the sooner she did, the sooner she could use her influence to prevent the worst from happening in this time. If they were going to save the dodo, they had to start in their own backyard.
“Okay, Princess, do your homework and I’ll look forward to hearing what you have to say about it. Good night.”
“Good night, Pam. And thanks, I really appreciate your getting involved! Thank you!” The line clicked off.
Pam put the phone down. “I hope you still feel that way tomorrow,” she whispered.
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 town library, but stayed in their seats, cowed by Caroline’s cool gaze. Caroline was concerned, too, but she knew the princess had to see this course of study that Pam Miller had laid out for her through. 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’m only nine years old now, but I’m also the king’s daughter, and what have 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 land.
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 the princess 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 finally admitted to herself that it had been wrong of her to want the up-time animals to survive here, she had always known that deep down. Transplanted species 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 that 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 kind of 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 West Virginia domestic 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 little 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 definitely 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 hillbillies suddenly finding themselves richer than Croesus because they had found 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 habitats 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 knowledge, 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, 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 on the remote isle, 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 her people, people she had influence over who would agree that the dodo and the natural environment of the island would be protected. That meant colonists. Pam shuddered a little. Colonists had historically never been good for any environment. But, she couldn’t erect a magical force field to keep people off the island, either. If dodos were going to be protected in their native Mauritius, there would have to be a reason for people to be there to enforce 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 that 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 the Orient, currently with 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 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 read Alice in Wonderland while she was at it, too, somehow she had missed it in childhood, and the whimsical old classic would make 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 that she hadn’t bothered to tell anyone else she knew 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 were sure to be understanding. 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, then they both sang along with the rather catchy theme song, and laughed like kids.
“Pam, today I learned that there was a special episode of Gilligan’s Island that didn’t come through the Ring of Fire in which 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 anything. It pretty much sucked, and then in the end Gilligan screwed up and they all ended up back on the island again.” Pam had long ago admitted to Gerbald that she had watched the show growing up, and was rather fond of it herself.
“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. She decided to decline on commenting that 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 calmly. “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. “You can’t go 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 cannot 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 had become nearly fluent having decided it was necessary to her life down-time.
“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?”
Her 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 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 past. 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 idea 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, it 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 Emperor Gustav has acquired. Do you know where all those things grow? Let me tell you! In places like Mauritius.” Pam sat back and smiled, proud of her ingenuity.
Pam called the princess the next day. “I’ve been doing a lot of research on all this and I need to get you caught up. I’m afraid it’s going to take more than one ship to really save the dodo and here’s why.”
The princess listened quietly as Pam explained.
“The problem is, the dodos might not survive outside of their native habitat. Even if we bring a whole bunch of them to Europe they might die anyway. And if they do live, they might not breed. Instead of the other Europeans and Africans who will eventually come to the Mascarenes and cause the dodo’s extinction, we need to get there first with our people, people whose duty would be to conserve the dodo and its habitat, farming sensibly alongside the nature preserves. We need to found a colony.”
Pam gave the princess a moment to absorb the knowledge dump before continuing.
“So, you see, I’m not sure you can afford all that on your resources alone.”
“No, I probably can’t do all that on my own, but with father’s blessing and some of his money to help, I could pull it off. But how can we convince him it’s worthwhile? I already know what he will say if I just tell him it’s all to save a bird. I would be scolded for such foolishness. He’s spending a lot of money on his wars right now, we have to come up with other really good reasons for him to support this.”
Dang this kid is smart! Pam grinned into the receiver.
“Right. Okay, I’ve come up with some good reasons. There’s not as much info in Grantville on those islands as I might like, but I have learned that they have a mild, tropical climate. Up-time they raised warm weather plants like vanilla and sugar cane. If they could grow those then why not chocolate, or coffee, or cinnamon? If Sweden had a colony down there producing all that good stuff, it would be a lot cheaper than we can get it trading with foreigners. Even with the long distance involved, I think it would be profitable. Ships are just going to get faster, and then someday airplanes! TEA Airways already flies to Venice regularly. Looking at the maps, it’s really not that much farther if we could get some other stops laid out on the way. I know for sure the people of the USE are going to want to buy those goods, and we might eventually be able to produce extra to sell to other countries as well. It could be a real moneymaker for the empire. We could make the Mascarenes into Gustav’s very own spice basket.”
“Pam, that sounds perfect! I know my father loves his sweets. He and other sponsors will surely see the wisdom in this. We will get to work right away; hopefully it will just be a few months until you can go. Meanwhile, is there anything else you need from me?”
Pam cocked her head for a moment, gears turned inside there. “Actually, yes. Please get a piece of paper and a pen, preferably royal stationary if you have it. I’d like a little something from you, just in case I should ever need it . . .”
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, it sounded like the mission was 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 she found herself fretting over it. This was big, this was scary. She had plenty of vacation days coming to her at work and had decided to burn a few to have some time to think. Feeling hemmed in by her garden’s cool confines, she decided to take a long walk to help clear her head. It was a bright, sunny morning, and that would be just the thing to help keep her worries at bay.
Soon she was climbing up a familiar West Virginia hillside, feeling the sunlight touching warmly 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, cool waters lapping against the smooth walls of the transplanted hills.
Pam sat down 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 whispers of the inner. 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. In a 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 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 lived in a gray zone 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 that 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, 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 also 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 story of the dodo in those dreary back pages of the bird guides, that terrible roll-call of the victims of extinction. She felt that little girl somehow looking at her future 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 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 do it. 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 patted her on her head 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 comfort her, then had to leave her for her father’s tender care, deciding that was enough drama for one day. She went home to get a bit drunk with Gerbald in front of the TV set.
The next morning she went to see her daughter-in-law Crystal, who was bound to be today’s designated crier. Pam was by no means surprised, and felt awful as a just-got-pregnant Crystal cried and cried as her mother-in-law 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-hearted 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 along, 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 still young 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 clinched, 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 sure that he had been drinking some moonshine out in the garage.
“She’ll 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 baby to be, 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. 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!”
“Well, I am so sorry I wasn’t some perfect Leave it to Beaver mom for you, Walt. 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 Club 250 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, Honey? Okay!’ ” That got under his skin, he had been starting to say something and stopped. Apparently what she had heard was true.
Pam continued. “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 course of becoming an ignorant, grass-chewing redneck, destined to work the mines and die of black lung at age forty. 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 up 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 right before it’s too late.” Pam held him in a long, 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.
Grantville, near the end of May, 1635
How does one go about leaving on a year journey? A journey around Africa on a ship about as technologically advanced as the Mayflower? Pam stood in her bedroom scowling at the things she had arranged on the bed, feeling very put out with the whole exercise. The clothes she had chosen were the most sensible and weather resistant she owned. She figured she would be facing extreme conditions so she had selected items for both hot and cold weather. She had gone through her medicine cabinet and put anything that might be remotely useful in one of her carefully hoarded ziplock bags. There were other things that she should bring; the flashlight from the bedstead drawer, and some of her precious batteries, needle and thread for repairs. . . . The list got longer and longer. She found herself gazing numbly into her closet, feeling confused and overwhelmed by the scope of the journey she faced. Shaking her head she blew out a long, plaintive whistle.
Well, I’d better bring along my best little black dress so they’ll have something decent to bury me in when I’m shot dead by savages with poison blow guns, or succumb to some rare tropical disease.
Enough was enough. This could wait. She swept the closet door shut with a bang and stalked off to the kitchen to make coffee. Would there be coffee on the ship? There damn well had better be! She would mention it to the princess’ clerks.
Pam set her coffee on her desk to let it cool off a bit, her mind still busy going over things. She had hired some friends of Dore’s as caretakers, a young couple who were new to Grantville and needed the work. She had written careful instructions in German (with a little help from Gerbald) telling them how to harvest the sunflower crop, and how to keep the bird-feeder stocked. Pam’s daughter-in-law Crystal would be their paymaster and check on things once in a while, which made her more comfortable with the situation. Once Crystal had come to terms with Pam’s looming absence, she had proven to be a rock, helping Pam get ready in any way she could. Meanwhile, Pam and her son Walt had been avoiding each other, which was sadly the usual state of their relationship.
Things had gone amazingly well when she broke the news at work, much better than she had expected. She had managed to nearly finish her latest round of research, and smoothly pass what little was left to do on to her colleagues. Pam had expected to resign, but the director had insisted that she remain an employee, moreover, an employee on official leave of absence drawing a reduced salary, which was quite generous to her mind. They asked her to document anything she found along the way that may be useful to their mission in Grantville, and she vowed she would. In a flash of inspiration Pam asked them to look into the subject of artificially pollinating the vanilla orchid if they could find some live specimens. Apparently it was a lost art, and she wanted to revive it for use in her spice colony. They even threw a farewell party for her! That had really helped her mood, she had been lonely since Gerbald and Dore had left a week earlier to supervise the loading of their ship, especially the stowing of the many pounds of coffee she had made it very clear were an absolute necessity. Well, she would see them soon enough, she would try to enjoy the time remaining in her cozy little home as best she could .Now that it really was really getting close to being time to go, Pam had to once again face the fact that she was at heart a homebody. Sitting at her window watching the bird-feeder was her idea of paradise. Chasing around Africa in a seventeenth-century sailing ship had never been something she would have considered in her old life. She blew softly into the steaming cup to cool it down, making this peaceful moment last as long as she could.
The princess herself had called her the other day to let her know the issue of the colonists was finalized. “They aren’t annoying religious nuts, are they?” Pam had asked, and was assured that they were nice, quiet Lutherans who were looking for a better life, and willing to take a chance. They would travel in a fleet of four ships; one for Pam and her expedition materials, two for the colonists, and one military escort. Once the business discussion was done, there was a long pause from Kristina.
“You still there, Princess?” Pam asked. She could hear a deep, child-sized breath being taken.
“Pam, I want to thank you for doing this from the bottom of my heart. I know it’s not easy for you, and I feel a little bad now that I talked you into it.” Kristina’s voice was freighted with emotion as if she might cry, enough so that it made Pam wonder if things were all right at home for her.
“It’s okay, Princess. I wouldn’t do it unless I wanted to. You see I was once a little girl who cried when I read the story of what happened to the dodo. This is something I need to do, and in no way do I hold you responsible. In fact, I’m glad you came along to help me out the door. I needed a shove. You are a real good kid, and your heart is in the right place. I hope you will continue to work to preserve nature. It’s going to need your help in the years to come. I’ve seen what a bunch of Americans can do to the land, and it ain’t pretty. You keep at it.”
She heard Kristina sniffle away from the receiver. “Thank you, Pam. I will try my best. Please come back to us safely!”
“You can count on it, kid.”
“May God be with you!”
“He’s welcome to come along. I could use the extra help.” This made Kristina laugh, which assuaged Pam’s concern for the girl’s emotional state. Pam laughed too, said good-bye, and put the phone down, feeling pleased despite her continued anxiety over the coming voyage.
The day had come. Pam took one last look at her beloved bird-feeder, full of sunflower seeds and currently hosting a pair of young, up-time descended Eastern bluebirds, fellow immigrants through the Ring of Fire. She wondered where the transplanted bird species wintered now. In their former homeland, it had been Central and South America. Here in Europe she wondered if they found the balmy southern reaches of Italy or Greece to their liking, or if they ranged farther, across the Mediterranean to Africa? Well, now maybe she would find out.
She became aware of a noise coming from up the road, growing louder as it drew nearer. She peered out the front window to see just what the ruckus was. She could hear . . . cheering? And some kind of music. A bit irritated at the disturbance, she went out on the front porch to gaze over the nodding heads of her hillside full of sunflowers, to the road below. There was some kind of a parade coming.
“Oh that’s just great. Now the road into town is going to be all jammed up, and I’ll be late for the train.” She was about to return to saying her private farewells to her little pink house when an odd thing caught her eye. There was something large coming into view, what must certainly be a parade float. Today wasn’t any kind of holiday that she could think of, but with all the different kinds of people living in Grantville these days it certainly could be somebody’s holiday. It looked like it might be a chicken, or a turkey, or maybe a . . . Pam gave it a good study with her sharp eyes, her hand cupped over her brow.
No. It’s a dodo.
Pam rolled her eyes. She had already said all her good-byes to family and friends, not wanting a scene at the train station. Now she considered quietly slipping the door closed, sneaking off over the wooded hill behind her house, and then bushing her way cross-country to the station. As a dedicated birder she knew every secret path and hidden hollow in Grantville, and figured she could go most of way without using a road, or even being seen at all, for that matter. Yeah, no problem, I could do that, the baggage has been sent ahead, just my rucksack left. . . . She looked back at the road to see that the parade mostly consisted of a large group of children led by Stacey Antoni Vannorman, a teacher who often helped Pam with the summer nature program, and who had kindly offered to take it over during Pam’s absence. The parade came to a halt at the bottom of her steep walk, the kids bearing painted signs that said “Our Hero, Pam Miller the Bird Lady of Grantville!” and “Save the dodo, Pam!”
Oh. Dear. God. Pam nearly swooned from embarrassment. I swear I’d rather be lost in the Congo than be the leader of a damned parade.
“We’re here to escort you to the station, Ms. Miller!” one of her favorite girls from nature program outings cried out between giggles, beating her teacher to the punch. Stacey, knowing Pam’s fluctuating moods pretty well after several seasons of working with her, grinned merrily at her current discomfiture without regret, and said, “I’m sorry Pam, but they insisted.” She definitely didn’t look sorry. Pam did her best to maintain the deadly expression of bored disdain she favored disruptive students with during her planned activities, but it broke into a really silly, grinning girl giggle of her own.
“Gawd, you guys! I’m simply mortified! Okay, I can’t possibly get more embarrassed than this, so let’s have a parade! Maybe no one else will notice if we move fast enough. I have a train to catch! Just give me a minute to grab my pack!” With one last look back, she took in her living room and her desk by the window, beyond which her lay her little garden. She felt a sharp pang of regret blended with a murmur of fear at leaving this island of reason in a turbulent world, a world that all too often struck her as violent and incoherent. With an effort of willpower she pushed the uncomfortable feelings aside. It was time to go. She was ready.
Pam turned back toward the door, slipped her trusty rucksack over her shoulder. She spied her grandmother’s sturdy walking stick leaning in its usual place beneath the coat hooks. It had saved her and Gerbald’s life once, she had nearly killed a man with it in their defense. Might as well take it with me! She gripped it firmly in her hand. The solid oak weight of it was reassuring, lending its strength to her. If you could just see me now, Grandma! Pam stepped out her door, closed it tight with a twist of the lock, and took her place at the head of her parade, gamely raising her walking stick up and down like a grand marshal’s baton as she led them forward.
Pam hadn’t expected anyone to attend her departure. She had warned her relatives away, being as how it was going to be hard enough as it was. But now, to her great discomfiture, Pam found a host of noble types and local muckety-mucks waiting on the station platform, and it looked like half of Grantville had turned up! Her cheeks achieved a rosy red they hadn’t known since high school. A stunned, and thoroughly embarrassed Pam Miller was escorted by gentle hands up the stairs onto the platform.
Stacey climbed up with her, clearly the master of ceremonies. She spoke up in the far-carrying voice of an experienced teacher. “Ladies and gentlemen, I am very proud to present Pam Miller; champion of nature, and soon to be rescuer of the poor, helpless dodo!” Cheers and clapping erupted, some of the town’s original hillbillies shouting out “Way to go, Pam!” Pam inwardly cringed, but resolved to make the best of it. This is all part of it, too. Smile, Pammie! And she did.
Mercifully, before she could be asked to make a speech, the train conductor blew a loud whistle and hollered “Alllll aboooooarrrrd!” with old-time American gusto, albeit with a slight German accent. Pam was ushered to the open door of the converted school bus that someone had repainted a day-glo lime-green popular in the 1970s, a hue still found on several brands of construction equipment, apparently in a misguided attempt to make the thing look less like a school bus. It certainly didn’t make it look like a train, to her it resembled a giant caterpillar.
Pam waved at the crowd one last time, then stepped onto the ersatz train. She made her way to the very back, even though it turned out that this was a “special non-stop express” just for her. Thank you, Kristina! She thought, grateful not to have any company but her own for the ride north.
She collapsed onto a dull-green, vinyl school bus seat as the converted vehicle rumbled out of the station, the festivities’ noise diminishing behind her as they picked up speed. She didn’t look back. Instead, she studied the bright red-and-white up-time safety stickers. These urgent messages from another universe combined with the familiar smell of up-time plastics, metals, and artificial fibers, suddenly made Pam painfully nostalgic for her child-hood. This quickly grew into a longing for up-time life in general, filling her with an intense feeling of loss she hadn’t felt since her very first years here in the 1630s. She watched as the landscape made its abrupt, unnatural change from West Virginia to Thuringia as they crossed the rim of the Ring of Fire, a round peg thrust into the wrong hole by forces beyond comprehension.
She began to weep silently as the now familiar German country-side, with its thatch-roofed barns, and half-timbered farmhouses sped by beyond the fingerprint smeared windows. She had spent many hours wandering this quaint, pastoral landscape in search of elusive birds. This, too, was her home now, and it wasn’t until she was leaving that she had come to realize it.
She knew she now belonged to both worlds, this Germany, this time and place, was a part of her as much as that lost USA had been. Once a soft twentieth-century woman, she had been re-forged in seventeenth-century iron. Pam found a handkerchief in her pocket and wiped away her tears, then blew her nose so loudly it made the conductor in the front of the bus-train jump. With professional courtesy he refrained from looking back to check on his only passenger, giving her all the privacy she might need. Pam smiled approvingly at his good manners. She opened the satchel containing her many notes, maps and copied pages of useful books, studying the long journey ahead as they chugged their way toward the distant sea on the ever spreading rails of industry.