Chapter Three: Out the Door
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 and 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 good 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. With a dramatic gesture 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 looked at her desk. 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 her young daughter-in-law 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 had even thrown a 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 a requirement. Well, she would see them soon.
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 her 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 was done there was a long pause.
"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 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 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. Is there a bunk for Him on the boat?" 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 an approaching noise out on 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. Rather 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 turn back 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 her sharp eyes a squint and cupped her hand across her brow.
No. It's a dodo.
Pam's eyes rolled briefly back into her head. She had said 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 even 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, had stopped at the bottom of her steep walk 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. 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 look 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 little living room and her desk by the window, beyond which her bird-feeder stood stuffed with sunflower seeds. She felt a sharp pang of regret blended with a murmur of fear at her 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 to go.
Pam turned back toward the door, slipped her trusty rucksack over her shoulder and 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. 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.
It turned out she was wrong about no one bothering to attend her departure, she having already warned her relatives off, being how it was going to be hard enough as it was. To her great discomfiture Pam found a host of noble types and local muckety-mucks waiting at the station, it looked like half of Grantville had turned up and 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 onto the train platform.
Stacey climbed up with her, clearly the master of ceremonies. "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 "Go Bird Lady!" Pam inwardly cringed but resolved to make the best of it. This is all part of it, too. Smile, Pammie! and she did.
Mercifully, 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 1970's 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 1630's. 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 its quaint to her eyes pastoral landscape in search of elusive birds. This, too, was 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 and began to study the long journey ahead as they chugged their way toward the distant sea on the ever spreading rails of industry.
Chapter Four: Out to Sea
Port of Bremen, The North Sea
After the train ran out of track Pam enjoyed a variety of uncomfortable conveyances, including horse drawn carriage and river barge. She sometimes felt as if she were in a never ending historical reenactment, sure they would turn the next corner to find a visitor parking lot full of cars and tired tourists, but the bumpy roads of the seventeenth century just stretched on and on as did the days. She eventually arrived in Bremen on a windy, overcast morning, travel worn and weary. Dore clucked worriedly over her and sent her directly to a hot bath. The princess' agents had made arrangements for them to stay in a decent inn, nothing fancy but clean and well cared for. Pam slept most of that afternoon away, then joined her friends for a hearty dinner of baked fish fish from the North Sea which Pam declared to be divine manna from the gods. The next day they would meet the colonists, tonight was for good beer, a round or two of schnapps and an early bed.
The next day flew by like a whirlwind for Pam. She met so many people that their names and purposes became a hopeless blur. She put on her brightest smile and tried to look heroic, but inside she felt old familiar fears beginning to creep around. That evening she met with the colonists at an outdoor picnic style gathering in a wide meadow on the riverside. Everyone was very polite and deferential to her, the princess's agents had made it clear to the colonists that Pam would have a leadership role in the venture and should be treated with respect. They were mostly young couples, there were very few children or people over forty in the group, which she estimated to be about a hundred souls. Their pleasant demeanor put Pam at ease and when it was finally time for her to deliver her speech she was feeling pretty confident, aided perhaps by the numerous toasts she had engaged in during the party.
She spoke in German and kept it short, hoping that her translator (his name had already escaped her), a jovial merchant from Stockholm who had lived in Bremen for many years and was fluent in several languages, would at least get close to her desired meaning. She reminded them that their sponsor, the young and much adored princess, was very concerned for the future of the dodo bird as well as the many other unusual animals found on the islands and that it would be everyone's duty to act as stewards of the land, living in harmony with nature while enjoying its bounty. They would be growing many types of crops that would be new to them, and would have to learn new ways of farming, it would be surely difficult at first but ultimately very profitable.
The Swedes listened with eager expressions on their faces, Pam hoped this was because they were tired of their old ways and were ready to try something different, something she could definitely deliver. When she finished she gave them all a polite bow and was met with a deafening chorus of approving cheers, which caused her to blush and almost trip on her way down off the makeshift platform. Gerbald caught her with one strong arm and handed her a tankard of beer with the other.
"You have missed your calling I think," he told her with a grin, "You should be running for Prime Minister!"
"I'd sooner chew my leg off. Leaving on a creaky wooden ship for a long and dangerous journey tomorrow is far preferable to a career in politics." She tipped her tankard back, taking a long draught. Their were merry cries of "skol!" around her and she stood swaying happily as they all joined in yet another round of toasts.