Grantville, September 1633

"You've heard the news, Mevrouw Vorst?" David de Vries brandished a folded copy of the Grantville Times.

Maria Vorst turned to face him. "Who hasn't, Captain? Is it really as bad as the papers say?"

"Probably worse. Over sixty warships destroyed by French and English treachery. " To a Dutch captain, especially one with the fighting reputation of David Pieterszoon de Vries, this was the worst possible news. He had friends aboard that fleet, friends now dead or fled to parts unknown. The Republic had needed him, and he hadn't been there.

Belatedly, he added, "Haarlem has fallen to a coup de main. And the Voice of America just announced that the northern provinces are said to be in revolt against the prince of Orange."

"What about Leiden?" That was Maria's home town.

"Not yet under siege, so far as the Americans know, but it's only a matter of time. It's bracketed by Spanish forces at Haarlem to the north and Den Haag to the south."

"My brother . . . and his wife . . . " Maria's voice quavered.

"There was no massacre in Haarlem, or Rotterdam, at least. And Leiden is hardly likely to offer resistance. So there is no reason for the Spanish army to adopt . . . stern measures."

"And the prince, he will want to protect the university, surely."

"Probably. Although if your family was prudent, they probably fled to the countryside. They certainly had enough warning."

"I hope for the best." Maria paused. "And your wife?"

"She is in Hoorn. The Spanish will probably check to make sure that no warships are hiding in its harbor. Otherwise, I don't think it will be directly affected by the fighting. The Spanish will land more troops at Egmont, and move them south to complete the investment of Amsterdam. Once the siege line is drawn close to Amsterdam, Hoorn will be militarily irrelevant."

"That sounds promising . . . as much as anything can be promising in these evil times."

"But, Mevrouw Vorst, you realize that this means that we can't go to Suriname after all."

"Why not?"

"It is my duty to fight the invaders. My ship, the Walvis, is in Hamburg, and it is well armed; it was outfitted as a privateer. I can attack the Spanish supply ships; perhaps send small boats into Amsterdam."

"That is courageous of you."

David bowed.

"But Captain, is that really the best you can do against the Spanish?"

David bristled. "Surely you don't expect me to attack the Spanish fleet, singlehandedly."

"No, no, that's not what I meant at all. From what I hear, the only thing that can prevent the ultimate fall of Amsterdam is if the city is relieved by the Swedes and their American allies. Is that true?"

"Well." David dropped his eyes, then raised them again. "The city is well stocked against a siege . . . "

"Captain . . . "

"The fortifications are in excellent condition . . . ."

"Really, Captain . . . ."

"Well, of course, Amsterdam would fall, eventually. If disease, or a Swedish relief force, or some crisis elsewhere, didn't force the Spanish to pull back. But it could hold out for many months."

"It seems to me that your ships could be put to better purpose than sinking a Spanish supply ship here and there. Bringing tar from Trinidad, and rubber from Surinam or Nicaragua, to keep the American APCs running."

David took a deep breath, expelled it slowly. "I suppose there is something in what you say. I see it is not enough for you to be a science officer, you have aspirations to be a general, too."

"War is too important to be left to men," she quipped, smiling. "Logistics is not their forte."

"Okay, I'll think about it."

****

David's original plan had been to simply transfer his rights as a patroon of the Dutch West India Company from Delaware to Suriname. The Dutch defeat at Dunkirk, and the subsequent fall of most of the Republic, had changed all that.

Raising the Dutch flag over a new colony was now more likely to invite attack by English and French opportunists than to deter it. So after extensive negotiations, a "United Equatorial Company" had been formed, under the laws of the New United States. Those laws were based on the U.S. Constitution, and thus banned slavery. The up-time American backers insisted that the corporate charter also ban slavery, since the political fate of the NUS was somewhat uncertain.

There was the practical problem that the NUS flag might not be recognized. Hence, as a additional diplomatic fig leaf, David obtained the right to have his ships, and the colony, fly the Swedish flag, too. Not that David was getting any troops or money from Gustav Adolf. Still, it would be a warning that Sweden might officially take notice of any harm done the colony, and the better Sweden did in the wars, the more others would fear to give it an excuse to retaliate.

****

"Thanks, Philip," said Maria, balancing a stack of books. "This will really be helpful."

"You're welcome," he said with a smile. He blinked a few times. "Do you like Westerns? They're showing High Noon this Friday."

"That might be nice. I'll have to ask Prudentia what her plans are."

"She can come, sure."

"I'll ask Lolly. She'll appreciate the excuse to get out of the house." Maria was staying with Lolly, the middle school science teacher. Currently pregnant.

"Uh . . . . I was thinking that we could celebrate your completing the sugar report."

"That would be nice. So we should ask Irma and Edna. They told me so much about sweet sorghum and sugar beet. And Rahel should come, too."

Philip blinked again. "I suppose."

"And of course the Bartollis. Lewis and Marina, I mean." She gave him a wink. "Don't forget to invite your sister Laurel. Evan, too, perhaps?"

"Yeah . . . . I'll ask them. Well, uh, see you Friday." He turned toward the door.

"It's a date!" she called out after him.

****

It's a date, she said, Philip thought. Yahoo!

Philip needed something to cheer him up. It had only recently hit him that in just a few months, his gang, the "Happy Hills Six," would be split up; most would be going into the military, and who knows where they would be stationed. Or what would happen to them there.

His mother had been driving him nuts about it, too. It had been bad enough when Laurel went into the army—and jeesh, she was in Telephone and Telegraph, not exactly on the front lines—but Philip was the baby of the family and Momma was always bringing it up.

And then there were Grandpa Randolph's health problems. He was seventy-five years old, but until recently in great condition for his age. Thanks to all that hunting and fishing, Phil figured. But he was bed-ridden now, and Momma fretted over that, too.

Phil wished, really wished, he could just, like, move out. If it hadn't been for the Ring of Fire, he could have solved the problem by going to college some place far away. Like Cleveland.

****

"How's your report coming along, Maria?" It was Prudentia Gentileschi, the daughter of the famous Artemisia, and an up-and-coming artist in her own right.

Maria greeted her friend with a kiss on each cheek. "Almost done. It would help if the investors didn't keep changing their mind as to what they wanted to know." Maria, the daughter of the curator of the Leiden Botanical Gardens, had come to Grantville to study botany, and had gotten enmeshed in De Vries' plans to establish a new colony on the Wild Coast of South America. Somewhat grudgingly, he had accepted her as his "science officer," as one of the up-timer investors had titled her.

Prudentia smiled. "Believe me, painters working on commission have the same problem."

Maria showed Prudentia the report. "As you see, it covers pretty much everything the colony might grow, for itself or for export. Various kinds of rubber trees, sugarcane, cacao, coffee, cotton, dye plants, rice, pineapples, bananas, manioc, oranges, coconuts—you name it."

Prudentia gave it a once-over. "Impressive."

Maria shrugged. "I couldn't have done it without Philip Jenkins' help. He knows so much about trees, and of course he's actually seen, and eaten, pineapples and bananas."

Prudentia gave Maria a knowing look. "I bet he's been helpful."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Don't pretend to be obtuse. You know what I mean. I think he likes you."

"Yes, we're friends."

"That's not what I meant. I think he's courting you."

"That's ridiculous. I am in my mid-twenties, and he is what? Fifteen?"

"Sixteen. And a half."

"That's right. He did say that the first time we met."

"He has probably been saying it to someone every day since attaining that lofty age."

"Anyway, he's not the only lad who helped me. There's Lewis Bartolli, the chemistry 'whiz kid,' who did the write-up on aluminum, bauxite and cryolite. And his sister Marina has done a lot of typing for me." She paused. "You know, maybe Phil is interested in Marina, and is using his visits as an excuse to see her. She's pretty, in a dark sort of way, and just a little younger than Philip, so she's the right age for him. And she is the daughter of the Bartolli of Bartolli's Surplus and Outdoor Supplies, while Philip is a hunter and fisherman. Since Lewis Bartolli isn't going into the family business, perhaps Philip sees an opportunity there. That would be sensible."

"Yes, that would be sensible." Prudentia didn't sound convinced.

"By the way, who's that kid that's been making googly eyes at you at Dinner and a Movie?" asked Maria.

Prudentia blushed. "His name's Jabe, and he's not a kid. And he's not making googly eyes. In fact, he can hardly look at me."

****

Maria was walking down Buffalo Street, on her way to Hough Park. She stopped suddenly. Wasn't that Rahel's friend Greta in front of her? And the guy she was with was, what's his name, Karl? He was handsome, but Maria had heard bad things about him. Should she join them? No, that probably wouldn't work. She could follow them, but what could she do if there was trouble? She was no martial arts expert.

Then she saw Philip on a side street. The answer to her prayers. "Philip, come join me." Philip was brawny—he played American high school football—and knew how to fight.

She linked arms with him. "Walk with me," she commanded. "And talk."

"About what?"

"Umm. Coconuts. Pineapples. Tropical stuff."

"Okay." She let him drone on while she kept her eyes on Greta and Karl. At last, Greta and Karl parted—not without some squirming on Greta's part—and Maria breathed a sigh of relief.

"Did you say something?" asked Philip.

"Thank you, this was lovely. Sorry, but I have to run. Bye!"

****

If it wasn't one thing, it was another. The latest problem was a political one. The Company had been chartered under the laws of the New United States, which, at the time was a sovereign state. But now the NUS was merely a part of the United States of Europe. So was the charter still valid? And if the NUS prohibited slavery on its soil, but the USE had yet to speak on the issue, was slavery forbidden in the colony?

The lawyers whom David consulted gave him an extremely learned, expensive and authoritative "maybe."

****

When David arrived in Hamburg, where his ship was docked, he discovered a letter waiting for him. He opened it. It read, simply, "Bring back bauxite." The letter was unsigned.

But he recognized the handwriting. It was that of cousin Jan. Who, last David heard, was in the employ of Louis De Geer. Mister "I-am-sending-ships-to-the-Davis-Strait-to-hunt-whales-and-maybe-mine-a-little-gold-in-Greenland." Even though he was a metals magnate, with no previous interest in whales. And even though the up-time books said nothing about gold in Greenland.

But they sure said plenty about Greenland being the only source of cryolite. The critical flux for making aluminum from alumina. Which in turn was made from bauxite.

David decided to buy some more shovels and picks. Right away.

North Sea, December, 1633

David and his band of sailors and colonists left Hamburg on a blustery, rainy December day. It was an uncomfortable time of year to venture out on the North Sea. But that was an advantage, too; the Spanish war galleons weren't especially seaworthy and tended to spend the winters in port.

David was once again captain of the Walvis, a four hundred ton fluyt with eighteen guns. As its name implied, it was a whaler, but it was also a licensed privateer. And, just as on his last journey, the Walvis was accompanied by the Eikhoorn, a twenty ton yacht.

The Company had doubled his force by adding the Koninck David, a two hundred tonner with fourteen guns, and a second yacht, the Hoop.

It was the ideal combination of ship types for making the dangerous run south to Africa to pick up the trade winds for the Atlantic crossing. The Barbary corsairs ranged from the English Channel to Cape Verde, always hoping to capture an imprudent European ship. If they did, all aboard, crew and passengers, would be held for ransom, or simply sold as slaves at the marts of Sallee or Algiers.

The yachts could scout ahead, warning the flotilla of danger, and in turn they could shelter under the big guns of the fluyts if they encountered any formidable foe. They would come in handy in the New World, too, being ideal for inshore work.

Some investors in the Company had been more intrigued by David's descriptions of the profits to be made from privateering than in the more prosaic plans to tap rubber and mine bauxite. They had prevailed on their fellows to beef up the crews, so that David would have additional manpower for working the cannon, adjusting sail, and boarding enemy ships (or repelling boarders). That was good.

Unfortunately, David felt a bit betwixt and between. He had more men than was truly economical for the operation of a fluyt, but not so many as would be on a true privateer on a short range hunting mission. And his ships were larger, and therefore less handy, than the piratical ideal.

David was well aware that this uncomfortable compromise was the natural result of decision making by committee.

"Captain, we have a stowaway."

David looked at his cousin, Heyndrick. "He must be very ingenious to escape detection this long."

"I suspect it was more that he was very generous to a sailor or two. He is a young American, and many of them are rich."

David started swearing. "And no doubt he is on board without parental permission, and his parents will be raising bloody hell with my investors. Bring him to my cabin."

A defiant young American teenager was brought in a moment later.

"What's your name, and age?"

"Phil Jenkins. I'm sixteen. And a half."

"Sixteen, huh?"

"And a half," Phil reminded him.

"That's young for an American to leave home. Do your parents know that you are here?"

"I mailed them a letter. From Hamburg. Anyway, I'm old enough to join the army, so why can't I go overseas?"

"So . . . you stowed away because you want to see the world? Or perhaps you have seen one of those romantic American movies about pirates, and fancy yourself with a black eye patch and a parrot on your shoulder?"

"I know a lot about trees, and stuff like that. I thought I could help Maria—"

"Maria, huh? Would you be as keen to look at trees in Suriname if Maria weren't on board?" Phil colored. "I knew having Maria on board was going to mean trouble," David muttered. "I don't suppose you have any nautical skills?"

"Well, Grantville was located about two hundred miles from Chesapeake Bay. But I know how to hunt and fish, and I can handle a small boat . . . ." Phil paused. David's stern expression was unchanged. Phil's voice trailed off. "On a river or lake."

David waved toward the porthole window. "Does that look like a lake to you?"

"No, sir."

David studied Philip, and decided that he was not entirely unpromising material for a colonist, or a mariner. Still . . . .

"All right. You're more trouble to me than you're worth. I can't afford to turn around—we waited a long time for a northeast wind—but as soon as we see a friendly ship heading toward Hamburg or Bremen, you're out of here. If you can't pay for the passage, you'll write me a promissory note, and I'll give you the money."

"But sir—"

"No buts. This is not your American legislature; there is no debate. Cousin, find a place for him to swing a hammock, and keep him out of my hair."

****

Maria couldn't believe it. Philip had snuck on board to be with her.

It made her feel like, like . . . reaching into his throat and pulling out his intestines. Not that his intestines were the root of the problem, anatomically speaking. Teenage boys, arggh!

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