Athena’s Journey

Athena Sarah Mawusi Akwete Ocampo in 1634 heard from sailors at her home, Portuguese post El Mina, about Grantville. It had seemingly magically appeared one day in a flash of light. It was reported as being a city from the future in the far-off Germanies. Skeptical at first, too many stories keep on arriving and the details dovetail too much. She decides to go see for herself, leaving in the spring of 1636 (about the same time the Ottoman Empire attacks Europe as chronicled in 1636: The Ottoman Onslaught).

Once Sarah gets to Grantville she goes native – at least in dress. Here she’s showing Grantville High students and teachers how she shoots arrows. (Click to see a large version).

Here is the story that I’ve submitted to the Grantville Gazette.

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Athena’s Journey

by Laer Carroll

El Mina, African West Coast

In late 1631 Grantville, the city from the future, arrived in the middle of the Germanies in the middle of the Thirty Years War. Almost immediately it began to show a light which eventually reached all across the world. Many turned their faces toward it. Some set out to see it.

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Athena Sarah Mawusi Akwete Ocampo first heard of the magical city in the spring of 1634. She lived in a port city on the west coast of Africa which the Portuguese called El Mina, the short version of São Jorge da Mina. It was much frequented by Portuguese, Dutch, English, French, and Spanish sailors, though only the first were officially allowed by the local Portuguese authorities, who ignored interlopers for a small unofficial tax.

The sailors were all a superstitious lot and told all sorts of fantastic stories. Sarah loved the stories but didn’t believe them.

She discounted the tales of Grantville at first. By the end of the year she’d changed her mind. There were too many stories and too many dove-tailing details. SOMETHING real had happened. Some strange people with strange powers had indeed arrived in the far-off Germanies.

By this time in her life Sarah had exhausted the marvels of her country and the surrounding area. She wanted something new after twenty-eight years of life. Beside, it was getting uncomfortable in her family. The oldest daughter of three and with a younger brother she still lived at her merchant father’s home, a shameful state.

For most of 1635 she gathered treasure, weapons, clothing, supplies, and information. Then one night in 1636 she left as soon as the house quieted down. She left behind a letter on her pillow. In it she apologized for sneaking away, said the remains of her dowry should be equally split with her siblings, and that she’d insure she remained safe and that she loved them all.

Over loose blouse and pantaloons she wore a shapeless robe with a hood and a short sword visible on a belt. On her feet were ankle boots of good but scuffed leather. On her back was holstered a four-foot long staff which projected a foot and a half above one shoulder. In her hands she held the handles of two heavy duffle bags. They were not large. Their weight came from the fortune in coins in them.

Sarah was very aware of the dangers in the villages surrounding the Portuguese fort. And how much worse they were at night. But she was only cautious, not frightened. It was other people who should be frightened if they encountered her. She was tall, strong, very fast, and had been a blooded warrior at seventeen. Since then she’d killed over a dozen men.

Twice small groups of men crossed the dirt street toward the port in her direction, then veered off when she stopped and simply watched them. She didn’t even have to put down her bags, much less unsheathe a weapon.

Perhaps it was because of the figure’s calm waiting for whatever came. Perhaps it was because the stars and a crescent moon gave the night just enough light to see the staff she wore. It could have reminded them of previous encounters of incautious bravos with someone known for many years in the area as the White Leopard. Also known as the Crooner for her crazy habit of singing while she fought.

It was two miles from her father’s fortified mansion to the port and the specific ship she aimed for. In Portuguese it meant The Flying Falcon. At the ship end of the gangplank, poorly illuminated by torches on the ship, stood a silent crewman with a naked sword in his hands. She set down her burdens.

“I’ve a paid passage. Captain Cardoso expects me.”

He looked at her carefully, then called out to another crewman and passed along the message. That man turned and set out along the deck.

Shortly a stout man hurried out of a cabin. She knew of him, a regular at El Mina with a good reputation. More importantly, he knew her, the oldest daughter of a rich Portuguese merchant with whom he did business.

Like the two crewmen he wore loose pants to mid-calf, a loose long-sleeved blouse, and a vest. Unlike them he was not barefoot, being shod with ankle boots not unlike hers. In the dim torch lights she could see that his vest was blue with many gold buttons–or gold-appearing buttons, at any rate. On his head he wore a matching blue bicorn hat split to left and right.

The torch lights revealed a big grin on his face as he approached the gang plank and stopped.

“Lady Ocampo! So glad you made it. Here, let me have a crewman carry your things.”

“No need, though very kind. They’re very light. If you’ll show me to my cabin.”

His smile dimmed, though it was a bit hard to be sure. He wore a bushy black beard. Then it beamed anew.

“Of course! Of course! Right this way.”

She followed him, giving the two crewmen a wide berth. Neither missed the expression on her face when she turned it toward them: neutral but clearly willing to strike them down at the slightest affront. They stared back.

One nodded very slightly.

“Here you are, Lady Ocampo! Your very own cabin.”

He opened the door to it, pushed it to swing open, and said, “You’ll notice the lock on the inside. You have to unlock it to let anyone get in. Very safe.”

Sarah went inside and put her bags down, being careful to make it seem effortless and smoothly so the coins would not clink. Not that they were likely to, since they were in cushioned and tightly bound cloth bags.

She turned to him, nodded.

“Thank you ever so kindly, Captain Cardoso. We leave on the morrow?”

“As soon as the tide turns, just past 9:00. Please stay off the deck until we are well underway. You wouldn’t want to get run down by hurrying crew!” He laughed and wished her a good night, touching the brow of his hat.

Sarah shut the door and locked it–if cinching a rope through a projecting piece of wood beside the doorway and tightening a noose was locking. She tried the door and it did indeed seem fairly secure. Not that she trusted it much. It could still be kicked down.

There was a bed, to her surprise, not a net hammock which she knew was the kind of bed sailors slept in. It was narrow, had slight up-curled left and right edges, and slung between two bulkheads. It bowed only a little when she sat on it.

She pushed her two bags firmly against on the door. Anyone coming through the door would have to push the door with a bit more force than they might expect, giving her a little more time to be ready for them.

She opened the trunk at one end of the bed. All it contained was a leather slop bucket. She took it out and hung it on a hook at what she intended to be the foot of the bed.

She looped her sword belt over a hook at the head of the bed, slid the staff into openings in the web of the bed. She pissed in the slop bucket and threw the contents out the small port window. Then she lay down in the bed and was quickly asleep.

<>

Dim light through the port hole and rising noise about her woke her. She pissed again. From her bags she took a single hard biscuit and chewed on it. For drink she had two leather flasks of wine. She took slight sips from one, saving the contents for when she might need it.

The noise outside grew. She heard thumps and rumbles.

Done breaking her fast, she untied the door and opened it, standing in the doorway.

Up the gangplank for nearly an hour came some barrels, boxes on rope slings, and other freight. There came up a family of four with a teenaged son and not-quite teenaged daughter. The adults seemed well dressed. They were led to a cabin. So were two men who went into one cabin, and a single man into third.

The last man was interesting. He was clean shaven, something Sarah had rarely seen. At most she’d seen very closely trimmed men. He also wore all over brown clothing almost tightly fitted and brown polished boots. He wore a long sword on his back and a long knife in a scabbard strapped to a belt.

The brown man was led right past Sarah on the way to his cabin. He looked at her, smiled slightly, and inclined his head a tiny bit. Sarah nodded back and watched him as he walked away behind a crewman. He had a trim body with a tight butt and wide shoulders.

An hour passed as loading continued. A final man came hurrying aboard.

An order passed from the captain to the first mate, or so Sarah guessed that’s what he was. She’d only been on a ship twice before for short trips up and down the coast, so she only knew in general what the organization of a sea ship was. He yelled out a command.

The gangplank was taken on board and stowed. Meanwhile ropes were untied from posts on the shore and pulled aboard. The anchor was winched up and stowed. A triangular sail at the front of the ship was run up and secured.

The outgoing tide pulled the Falcon away from the shore. Slight wind which Sarah had not before noticed caught in the sail and turned its prow more toward the ocean. The ship began to move more and more out of the harbor. Its speed increased.

Another sail was run up, on the front of the three tall masts. This one was square. The ship moved faster.

The second, tallest, mast acquired a square sail. The third and rearmost sail rose up, another triangular one.

The hurrying sailors came down from the masts on which they’d worked, except for one in the lookout nest atop the middle, tallest, mast. Occasionally he would call down something and the captain would give orders. Sometimes the orders had to do with sails, sending crewmen up into them. Other times they were to the steersman on the control deck, a raised floor just to the far side of the middle mast, who twirled a big wooden wheel one way or the other.

The further out to sea the more the ship rocked, forward and back and to the left and right. Sarah’s belly began to feel queasy. It had been a while since she’d last been on a ship and she’d lost her sea legs. A passing seaman, the one who’d nodded to her the night before, stopped briefly and said, “Look at the horizon if you feel sick.” Then he was gone.

Sarah did so, saying to herself, “It’s just another kind of horse. It’s a horse. You can ride a horse.”

Indeed she could. In fact she was a very good horsewoman.

That helped and, crew activity much less now, Sarah ventured out of her cabin after closing the door behind her. Behind her also she’d tied her bags to a stanchion with a heavy knot which had a trick to it. Not that the trick could not be solved, either by wit or by applying a knife to the rope or to the sides of the bags. But that would take time.

Walking across the deck was an adventure at first, as it seemed to push up at her feet and push her off balance. By looking at the horizon and treating the vessel as another kind of horse Sarah managed to get to the nearest deck rail without trouble.

She grasped the rail for a time and that helped too. The shore was distant now as they slid along it, though close enough she could still just barely make out the individual trees.

As she became more comfortable she dared to lift her hands off the rail a couple of inches. That way she could practice “riding” the deck, using the railing only when she had trouble.

After perhaps an hour she’d become practiced enough to walk along the rail, keeping it close in case of a sudden problem. By the time she’d gone all around the ship she’d regained her sea legs and no longer needed to stay close to something to grab onto.

Soon they were far enough out to sea that the shore showed just as a green line.

Sight seeing, curious about the ship and its inhabitants, she passed by an open door into the large cabin where the family was housed. Inside she could see all of the family prone on beds except the young boy. He was standing easily as if he’d been born to the sea. Beside the prone people the brown man was leaning, talking to the rest of the family.

When he saw her watching he came to the doorway and spoke to her.

“I have something which will help with sickness if you need it.”

“I do appreciate the sentiment. But no thank you.”

“Don’t forget.” He smiled to turn back to the family and his apparent ministering to them.

Sarah continue exploring the ship, with a couple of stop offs in her cabin to ensure that her luggage had not been tampered with. Once she used the slop jar. Once she asked a crewman where she could get a drink of water.

By the time noon arrived she was getting a bit hungry so she was happy to hear, from the friendly young crewman, that it was time for lunch for all who wanted it. They should come to the Captain’s cabin.

“Thank you. What’s your name?”

He looked surprised. “Tapani, Miss. But you could call me Tapi.”

“My name’s Sarah, Tapi.”

“I know, Madame Ocampo.”

At the Captain’s cabin all the passengers were there except the family. The brown man told the Captain they did not feel up to eating sitting long at a table, but that they could eat a bit of hard bread and drink water. Maybe with a few bits of cheese.

The Captain gave orders to a crewman to send food to the family.

By the mid-afternoon all of the family had come on deck for a while except the wife. Sarah came to the door of the cabin and looked in. The woman, lying on her back, turned her head toward Sarah.

“Could I come in? I may be able to help.”

The woman waved a hand feebly.

Inside the shaded cabin Sarah found a stool which she took to the woman’s bed. She laid a hand on the woman’s forehead. Good. It was no hotter than Sarah’s own flesh. She had no fever. She might have any number of other ailments but likely was just seasick.

Sarah took the woman’s nearest hand. Sarah began to hum, almost silently, sharing her own feeling of ease. Of a gut that did not gripe, that simply was unnoticed.

Time went by. The line of sunlight coming in through the open door wandered across the floor. A slight breeze could be felt, coming in the door and leaving through the three portholes in the side of the ship.

The woman was asleep, her limbs completely relaxed. She had a slight smile on her face.

Sarah carefully disengaged her hand and stood up. Her legs cramped very slightly. Two steps, three, and they were fine.

The brown man was standing just outside the doorway.

He shook his head, spoke quietly. “I’ve never seen anything like that. Can you always do it?”

Sarah left the cabin and he turned to follow her along the deck.

“No. I can’t help anyone in great distress. Only after they get better can I help. And I don’t know, but I don’t think I do much myself. I think what I do is encourage someone’s body to do what it was going to do, just do it faster.”

“Amazing,” he said and changed the subject. “Where are you going?”

“Lisbon. To spend time with relatives.”

“Maybe we could see each other there.”

“If they don’t need to take all my time.”

He told her the name of an inn where he often stayed. She memorized it but had no intentions of seeing him.

<>

The afternoon passed into evening with a dinner in the Captain’s cabin. Sarah, as was her habit, got people talking to her. She liked to listen. They liked to talk, especially about themselves, or most people did. One of the three other male passengers remained silent except for brief table requests. “Pass me the salt” and its like.

The family ate in their cabin again but a full meal this time. The father thanked Sarah with considerable passion. Sarah talked to the two children. She was very taken with them, polite, smart kids, enthusiastic about some matters, quiet otherwise. They were quite taken with her, a tall strong woman but very feminine despite the short sword strapped to her belt.

That afternoon and evening set the pattern for the following days. The Falcon stopped at several ports, exchanging freight, mostly smaller items. Several men came and went, though not Brown or the father and his family. Then there was a long run further up the coast, passing by the northwestern African coast until stopping at Rabat, a city distinguished from all the ones before by its lack of any greenery except some palm trees.

Four men came on at Rabat, all wearing robes rather than the pantaloons and blouse of the men before them. They were what Sarah knew as the desert people of North Africa and sported long black beards.

The first day out to sea mid-morning the next day Sarah and Brown stood at a rail looking toward the land, all sandy desert on this stretch of coast. They’d had a meager breakfast of bread, cheese, and wine as usual.

“Interesting men, desert people,” said Brown. “Moslems, no doubt. Good people mostly, Moslems.”

“I’m sure you’re right.”

“Probably not a good idea to discuss religion with them. Don’t know what to avoid, so I don’t talk to them at all. Hate that really. I’m sure those are good men.”

Sarah’s smile was razor thin as she agreed with him.

He turned his back to the rail and leaned on it. She did the same. They perused the deck.

He spoke. “Do you have more weapons that that sword on you? Hidden?”

She considered whether to answer. He seemed smart enough to detect the signs of those weapons, so she’d gain nothing by denying their existence. She nodded.

“Me too. Can’t be too careful in this day and age.”

The desert men ate lunch in their cabins.

Late afternoon the Falcon rounded the northernmost tip of Morocco and turned east. Across the strait that was the entrance to the Mediterranean the high peaks at Gibraltar could be seen perhaps ten miles away. They were slightly hazy.

To the right of the ship could be seen the sprawl of Tangier.

Sarah and Brown as usual were on deck.

The Captain came from his cabin. With him were the four desert men. They carried bared swords. One of them also had a pistol pointing at the sky.

They stopped at the conning deck that supported the ship’s wheel and the steersman atop the deck.

The man with the pistol said something to the Captain. He was visibly pale and sweating. He spoke. “Tapi! Get the passengers out here!”

The deckhand hurried away and shortly came back with the family of passengers.

The Captain said, “Children! Come–“

Sarah threw a knife at the gun man. It made a turn in the air. It was joined by one from Brown. Her blade struck an eye, Brown’s his throat. The gun fired. Jerked out of his hand in recoil and suddenly loosened grip. He staggered and fell to one knee.

Sarah was gliding toward the man beside him. From her came “Yip! Yip! Ooooh!” in a long continuous croon.

She shed a knife, right hand, toward her quarry. Shed a knife, left hand, toward the closest other man. Drew a knife, left hand. Drew her sword, right hand. Closed with him, smiling, crooning, staring into his eyes from just feet away. Her side vision registered his scimitar, a big thing, heavy, slow though he was wirily muscled. She parried with her sword, his blade swung aside. She brought the knife in under his ribs, closed with him, body to body, twisting the knife searching for his heart his liver his anything, bulling him back, body to body, him stumbling, lurching backward, falling, sprawling.

She spun away from him, turning toward the third nearest man, who was engaged with Brown, just as Brown thrust deep into his body and stepped quickly back.

The man turned, reeling, stumbling, not looking at anyone. He wandered away, not quite toward the shocked family. He dropped his scimitar.

Brown was close to the fourth man, dancing almost, as the two struck at each other and counter-struck.

Tapi rushed in from the side and back and struck the Arab over his head with a long heavy belaying pin, then two more sailors followed pushing him down then stomping stomping.

Sarah spun more. Coming at her was the gunman, his sword raised, his eyes glaring, one a bloody mess. She brushed his sword aside and on a return stroke cut his throat. “Yip! Yip!” Blood gushed and he stumbled and fell one last time. One leg twitched a few times.

Sarah’s crooning died away. She surveyed the scene.

Her two men were down. To make sure she went past the one she’d just downed and leaned to cut the throat of her second enemy.

Looked up. Brown had done the same thing to the wandering man, now sprawled on the deck.

The little boy rushed to kick the man once twice then he turned to his family and rushed to his mother’s arms. His father’s arms were around his daughter and he freed one arm to hug his son. The four stood, weeping.

Sarah walked toward Brown who was wiping his sword on the robe of the no-longer-wandering man.

“You good?” she said to him.

He looked about his body. “Little scratch.” He showed her an arm which had a slash on the back. Blood oozed from it, so it was not deep.

“Turn around,” she said. His back showed no damage.

He examined her. She’d not been hurt but her blouse was bloody from bodily contact with the man she’d stabbed.

Sarah turned toward the Captain. He was up on the steering deck.

“Captain! We’re going to the galley. He needs something on this.” She pointed at her companion’s arm. The Captain nodded and continued giving orders.

In the galley a crewman, the cook, helped clean Brown’s wound with generous amounts of wine, then wrapped the arm while Brown drank from the wine bottle. Sarah took a long swig from the bottle. She was very thirsty and wanted more. She asked for water anyway. She didn’t want her wits addled.

Brown said, “That sound you made. You almost made me shit my pants. You always do that?”

“Yeah. It just comes over me. I found it scares my opponents. But I don’t do it for that reason. I have a hard time controlling it if I have to ambush someone.”

“Maybe it helps you breathe right.”

“Maybe.” She didn’t like to discuss fighting theory or technique with anyone she hadn’t known for years. Just in case they ever became an opponent.

The cook got her attention by pointing at her shirt and then pulling on his own. She nodded. He turned away and returned minutes later with a loose shirt that was too big for her. Nevertheless she swapped her bloody shirt for the one he held out to her. He took her shirt and with motions let her know he’d wash it and return it to her.

She examined her breast band. It had only faint blood stains. She’d swap it for her other band and wash it herself.

Sarah and Brown had been sitting, letting their bodies recover from their efforts. By the time she finished changing clothing they were ready to return to the ship’s deck.

They were just in time to see two crewmen throw the last of the naked bandits over the railing, followed by robes. One crewman was on hands and knees swabbing up a last pool of blood with a final robe. As they walked onto the deck he stood and went to a railing to dispose of that garment.

Two other crewmen arrived with mops as he was doing that. They set to finishing the cleaning job as Sarah and Brown walked over to the steering deck and looked up at the Captain.

Brown said, “The kids and their parents all right?”

“I think so,” he said, looking down at them. “How are you two?”

Brown raised his bandage arm. “Your cook does a good job. I’m fine.”

“You, Milady?”

“Yes, Captain. Your cook had me swap shirts. He said he’d clean mine and return it to me.”

The man looked up from them, at the sky, at the shore. Tangier was perhaps a mile away and coming at them.

<>

Dinner that night was unusually boisterous, with even the kids laughing loudly. The father and the mother thanked the two warriors. So did the Captain, but Sarah noticed that he didn’t offer to return their passenger fees. Not that she’d expected him too.

The next morning there was the usual off- and on-loading of freight, and comings and goings of passengers. The family were the ones going, leaving Sarah and Brown as the only original passengers from El Mina. The children bade her tearful farewells, hugging her so hard and long their parents had to disengage them. Sarah was a bit tearful herself. She liked children generally, and these had won a place in her heart.

Once the ship was well on its way across the strait to Gibraltar Captain Cardoso called her into his cabin. He gestured toward a seat and returned to his own which sat before a desk built into the side of the ship.

“Well, in four days we should be in Lisbon. I imagine you’re looking forward to seeing your family.”

Sarah nodded.

He put his fingers together and tented them into his beard. He said nothing for a minute.

“You know, you’ve never talked about them. I’ve wondered–“

He looked away, then back at her.

“Is Lisbon your final destination?”

She had no real need to lie to him. Her father was a prominent Portuguese merchant whom the captain needed to keep happy. Cardoso would want only to help her.

“I’m going to the Germanies.”

“Hah! Might you be traveling to this new city? Grantville?”

She nodded.

“I’ve heard so many contrary reports about it. Some too fantastic to believe. But I do believe it’s real. Now, take a look at this.”

He twisted around to run his fingers over several pigeon holes in the desk, then dug a finger into one and pulled out a map. He unrolled it onto his desk, anchoring its four edges with objects on his desk. He put a finger on the map. Sarah stood to look down at it.

“See, if you go overland from Lisbon you have this territory to cover.” He traced a path northeast which then curved northward. “Who knows what trouble you might meet?

“A better way is to get off at Gibraltar and take a ship around the north coast up to HERE or HERE.”

The cities at which he pointed were labeled Montpelier and Marseille.

“From either of them you can go north and then east around this edge of Switzerland. You could then end up at Munich in the Germanies. From there it’s a straight path north into the center of the Germanies where I’ve heard Grantville is.”

“Hmm.”

“Another possibility stays longer at sea.”

He traced out another path.

This one went further along the coast and ended at the port of Genoa on the knee of Italy where the boot-shaped island nestled its knee cap up against Switzerland.

“From there you can travel north to HERE, Milan, then through the Swiss mountains to the Germanies. I understand Switzerland is a fairly safe place.”

He pivoted in his chair and looked up at her.

Sarah frowned down at the map, memorizing the larger features and the two paths he’d suggested.

She sat.

“You make good sense.”

“At Gibraltar I can stay a few hours to see which ships are in and give you advice. And–“

He looked away, out of the small porthole above his desk. His face was pained.

“–I can pay your way aboard ship.”

Sarah chuckled at his expression.

He smiled ruefully and said, “Without your help yesterday I would have likely lost my ship and maybe my life. At my age I’d be worthless as a slave. The least I can do is pay for a trip on a ship.

“Besides–” He brightened. “–I can tell your father about my magnificent sacrifice at Gibraltar. He’s bound to be grateful.”

Sarah nodded but felt she owed him a warning.

“You may want to approach him carefully. He may still be angry at me for leaving without his permission. Though I doubt it. He’s forgiven me worse rebellions.”

The captain considered, then brightened again.

“I won’t be returning for a good many weeks. By then surely he’ll be happy to hear that you arrived safely in Gibraltar.

“Thus I’ll gain profit, not lose it.”

Sarah nodded sagely.

Genoa, The Italies, Europe

Athena Sarah Mawusi Akwete Ocampo had been in awe of Marseille when the coaster Gull had over-nighted at that French port. Next to it all the African ports except Tangier had been villages. Coming into Genoa on the northwestern coast of Italy she had the same feeling of goose bumps raising hairs on the backs of her arms and the outsides of her calves.

Captain Marino had given his WONDERFUL friend Captain Cardoso such a BIG discount for his friend Lady Ocampo. He told Sarah so, many times, always with a happy look on his face. He was a tall skinny Italian with an always-smiling face. He seemed never to shut up, either chatting with her or other passengers or when yelling at his crewmen.

She sometimes wished to pull her sword and lop off his head. But his talking did give her practice understanding Italian and, on rare occasion, speaking it to him. She had more luck talking to the crew.

Italian hadn’t been hard to learn, at least the few hundred words needed for most conversations. She could speak Portuguese, good French, and OK Spanish and could read as well as write Latin so acquiring yet another Latin language was not hard. She did mix up sound-alike words to hilarious effect sometimes, but that just endeared her to the Italian crew. She’d made several friends, though that might be the wrong word. Each of them seemed desperate to get her in the sack and more than once told her she was the love of his life.

Not once did any of the crew try in the smallest way to force himself upon her. She was a friend of the captain, they knew. And she wore a sword always, and was taller than any of them, with sleekly muscled arms. These features elicited much praise from the crewmen, who declared more than once that they were just one reason why she was obviously Venus come to Earth to tempt men.

Soon the Gull bumped into its berth, was tied to bollards, and its anchor let drop. The gangplank was let down and passengers were let off and on.

Captain Marino was silent for a moment when Sarah came with her belongings to the gangplank, but only for a moment. For once he seemed serious.

“You will check in immediately with my cousin at his inn, won’t you, Lady Ocampo?”

“I will, Captain. You’ve reminded me enough times.”

A smile broke out.

“Go with God, Milady.”

“And you, BELOVED friend.”

His smile turned into a grin and he turned away.

<>

The port was in an oval harbor with berths for ships around on all sides except the entrance into it. Warehouses were on the other side of a stone area which surrounded the berths. Sarah stepped onto the gangplank which seemed to be lurching underneath her. Her sea legs insisted that any surface beneath her feet was never still.

She managed to get to the stone area without falling, walked a bit away from the ship, set down her duffle bags, and just stood for a few minutes getting used to an unmoving floor. As she did so freight was already coming off the ship. One of the crew walked by her rolling a barrel. He grinned and winked at her.

Following directions Sarah picked up her duffle bags and walked off, going between THAT warehouse and THAT warehouse to a street beyond them. There she turned right and walked several hundred feet to where a line of taverns and inns and many nautical supply businesses began. Across the street there also began other similar businesses on a flat space. Behind them a hill rose up green with vegetation and other houses, most of them seemingly family residences. A few were apartment buildings of two and three stories.

Some of the street level businesses across the street were inns and taverns, a bit upscale from the ones nearer the waterfront. They had fronts and sides of several pastel colors. A pink one was the Seagull Inn. Dodging wagons and horses Sarah walked quickly across the street, along a sidewalk, and into the open door of the inn.

It was cool inside and dark compared to the bright sunlight outside. Sarah paused long enough in the hall she’d entered for her eyes to adjust. Better able to see she went along the hall for a dozen feet and turned to enter a dining and drinking area.

At this time of day, late-morning, there were only a few people seated at tables: a quartet of men, from their dress businessmen, a family of three, and two men by themselves.

Sarah approached the bar and spoke in her careful Italian to the older man behind it.

“Good day. I’m just off the Gull. Captain Marino ‘most ESPECIALLY recommended your FINE establishment for a week’s stay.'” Marino had grinningly drilled her to ensure she used exactly his accent and intonation on the last part of her speech.

The man spoke through heavy mustachios that did not hide a grin.

“He did, did he? And who might you be?”

She set down her duffle bags and gave an abbreviated bow.

“I am Sarah Athena Ocampo, daughter of Vincente Ocampo, merchant in the city of El Mina on the West African coast.”

“A fine name with a hint of the classics. We have much respect for the classic works of Rome and Greece here in Genoa.”

“Of which I’ve read aplenty, my mother being very strict in bringing me up right and cultured.” As a teenager she’d been annoyed that her half-white half-black mother insisted so much that she educate herself. Now she was grateful.

“Well, classical scholar, follow me to see if any of our salons suit you.”

Sarah picked up her bags and followed him into the hall and to a stair at the end of it. Up one flight was another matching hall. On two sides of it were widely spaced doors.

She saw why the doors’ spacing when they entered a doorway. The area beyond held several small rooms, the biggest a bedroom housing a big bed. On the opposite walls from the hall were windows which gave a view of the harbor and the bright blue day outside. A breeze ambled through the rooms. There was a smell of the sea: salt and a hint of dead fish and tar and other less identifiable odors.

“This is good. Here. Would this coin do for a week?”

She handed over one of the handful of silver coins she’d liberated from a duffle bag.

The man squinted at it, hefted it, and walked nearer the window to gaze at the coin’s two sides.

“This is old.”

“Is that bad?”

“No. It might be worth more. I’ll have to consult someone. But it’s certainly enough for a week’s rent.”

He showed her a few of the facilities. This included a small alcove where she could store dry and wet edibles and prepare them but not cook them. Also a bathing room with a sit-down toilet with a sink.

“This is very modern. We have a cistern on the roof which collects rain water. Most of the year rain keeps it full. You pull this rope to flush the contents of the toilet. You turn this handle to let water into the basin. When done with the basin you pour the waste water into the toilet.”

“I’m impressed. I’ve heard of a magical city called Grantville which has something like this.”

“That’s where the ideas came from. It was expensive to put in, but it put the Seagull Inn on the map of prestigious establishments.

“Well, if that’s all I’ll let you settle in. Welcome to Genoa, Mistress Ocampo.”

“I do feel that, sir.”

Sarah unpacked her few clothing and other articles of wear into a stand-alone box closet in her bedroom and a few toiletry items into the bathroom. Her duffle bags she pushed into the back of the closet under the hanging clothing. Not very secure, but the best she could do until she found out if the inn had a safe room or some such.

She removed her sword and staff, used the toilet more from curiosity than need, and lay on her back on the bed. It was hard and flat but had just enough give to be comfortable. The blanket atop it was a faded blue but had no holes or bare spots or fringy edges.

The events of the weeks she’d been traveling came and went in her mind. She missed the kids on the Falcon. Regretted killing the desert-people pirates, but not much. Wondered where Brown was off to next. Wondered how long the packet of letters she’d given Captain Cardoso would take to get down the long slow pipeline back to her family. Wondered how her family was doing and if she’d ever see them again.

Eventually she drifted off to sleep.

<>

The sun was nearly to the horizon when Sarah woke up. She stretched, yawned, and sat up. Visited the water closet, which she really needed this time, washed her face and hands. She belted on her sword, left her room, locked the door with a large key, and went downstairs.

The tavern was nearly full when she entered it. Mr. Marino smiled at her and came from behind the bar to greet her, leaving a possible niece to tend it.

“Do you have a safe? Or a safe room?”

“Oh, of course! How did I forget? Nico! Nico!”

A young possible nephew came over.

“Show Mistress Ocampo to the safe room.”

It took perhaps ten minutes to take 90% of Sarah’s treasure into the safe room, record it, and relock the door. It seemed safe enough, a barred cage built into the side of a store room. The bars and the door and its hinges and the lock seemed to Sarah’s close inspection to be well wrought. Nico fidgeted a little as she took her time at this careful perusal, but smiled brilliantly when she was done and followed her back to the tavern. He quickly disappeared into the kitchen.

The tavern owner had a maybe-nephew to lead her to a table for four. Three of the seats were already occupied by two men and a woman, all about her age. The nephew picked up a RISERVATO placard and handed her a menu, a single folded sheet of paper with items of food and drink written upon it. Sarah ordered and then looked at her companions. They looked back.

The woman said, “Enrico here says you are from Africa. Is this true?”

“It is indeed. Please pardon my Italian. I’ve just begun to learn it.”

One of the men said, “Congratulations. You actually don’t sound bad at all. It’s hard for most foreigners to get the intonations right.”

They swapped information about each other and Sarah began to query them about life in Italy and current events. As the food came and they ate, the three had a lot of contradictory suggestions about how to get to Grantville.

There was a lot of interest in the subject. In this year of 1636 the Grantvillers had already been involved in several armed conflicts, some small, some large. They had marvelous machines and knowledge, including information about the next several hundred years of the world.

The woman said, “Actually it’s information about what WOULD have happened. Now they’re here that future will change. Only fools will count on the future staying the same.”

That set off one of the men and a spirited argument ensued while they finished eating. The dissension seemed to be more from fun than because they necessarily believed what they were saying.

As they finished the meal they all got up with a replenished wine or beer glass in hand and drifted toward a balcony on the side of the building. Sarah followed without leaving more than a few coppers for a tip. She’d been told the food was put on her inn tab.

The evening was glorious, the remnants of sunlight just glowing red and gold in the sky over the sea, a breeze cooling those on the balcony, a couple of dozen people now. There were no seats, only a wide floor and a sturdy railing.

It turned out that the three had more than a passing interest in Grantville. All were faculty at a nearby college, teachers of math, literature, and physics.

An hour later Sarah said Goodbye and retired to her room. She slipped off her boots and sword belt and her outer robe with its hood and slid under the light blanket. She was asleep between one instant and the next.

<>

The next day Sarah soaped and rinsed her armpits and crotch and feet with extra care, standing in a tiny cleaning stall, luxuriating in the warmed water available from the roof cistern but still not using a lot of it. She cleaned her face as well and brushed her long black hair with perhaps a hundred strokes. She wanted to get it washed but this was the best she could do for now. Done, its curly lengths gleamed like obsidian.

She put it up in a pony tail, the hair pulled back not quite tightly, and dressed in a fresh outfit. It was the only clean one she had and she resolved to get all her clothing cleaned today.

There was a buffet breakfast available, just toasted bread with butter and jam available and a hot tea she’d never had before. Over a small flame you could get cheese melted over your bread by the maybe-nephew who oversaw the buffet. Sarah left a copper coin for him.

Sarah wandered through a big doorless doorway into a reading room just off the tavern. A big sign above the doorway said NO FOOD DRINK in Italian, French, and two other languages which she thought might be Swiss and German.

There were numerous newspapers, many of them months out of date. They were in several forms, book size some of them, larger sizes some of them. There were pamphlets, religious and otherwise, some just folded single sheets of paper. And behind a locked glass case several colorful magazines which must be from Grantville.

Sarah went back into the tavern. The attendant was helping a family but soon came over to Sarah.

“Those glassed-in publications. Could I see one?”

“Only one at a time. And you have to sit here where I can see you. And not eat or drink anything.”

Sarah nodded and soon had in her hands something called AAA Beautiful Italy. Its covers were protected by some clear thin glasslike material but which was flexible. The insides of at least two dozen glossy pages were all in color and showed bright images of many places. There were numerous short articles like Vatican City and Historic Rome and Michelangelo’s Florence. And it was all in English.

For the longest time Sarah did not read anything. Or even really see the miracle which she had in her hands. Here. Here. Here was proof that Grantville was real.

<>

Sarah went into “high fury” as her next oldest sister called it. She read through the AAA magazine, honing her English. She discovered Italy of the future in numerous ways. Among them were the “photos” which showed alls sorts of marvels. Cities big and sprawling yet clean and beautiful–though she did realize that the images had been picked to show the best of the country. And that was revelations too, that the many little Italies would merge into one big Italy.

People who dressed beautifully and fashionably, the women sometimes in scandalously scanty clothing. So many children, all alive and healthy. She ached at that, having lost three brothers and two sisters. The worst had been those who lived more than a few weeks, long enough to root in your heart and have themselves torn out by the roots when they passed away.

And there were so many machines. The ships like entire cities floating on water. The aircraft which flew in the air. The motor vehicles, the trains, a little one which one rode to mow a lawn!

She gave herself only two hours of sit-down reading. On the ships she’d had little chances to exercise. There she’d practiced “racing to the top” in competition with crew members, to much hilarity at her clumsiness at climbing. She’d gotten very good at swinging from ropes, which suitably exercised her arms. Women’s lesser arm strength was a disadvantage in battle. She’d long ago compensated by building speed of strike and withdraw and counter.

She’d also become wily. Brains beat brawn almost all the time which is why women fighters were so superior to mere males with their habit of bludgeoning away in a straight line.

She approached the tavern owner, Mario Marino.

“Did you find out what my silver coin was worth?”

“Just this morning. I have a friend at my bank.” Of course you do, Sarah thought with an inward smile. Business people like Marino–and her father–always had big networks of “friends.”

“He gave me a great deal on your coin. It’s a collectible, quite old.”

“Good. Maybe your friend could work his magic on some of my other coins. I have gold as well as silver. And of course copper.”

“Gold?” His voice turned faint, then strengthened. “You should consider depositing your money in a bank. My bank. Genoa has some of the best in all the Italies. All the world. They even have connections inside the Ottoman Empire. If you go into Switzerland, or the Germanies, you definitely need to bank your money rather than carry it.”

“Suppose I take my money to your bank. Could I mention your name?”

“Of course! Of course! Just down the road. Look for a big yellow building with a sign that says Vinetti Bank of Genoa. Tell Mario that Mario sent you.”

Sarah returned to her room and randomly took out one coin for every ten of gold, silver, and copper. They made a heavy sack which she tied to her sword belt with a leather cord. Then she tucked the sack inside her pantaloons.

With both her sword and staff and her daggers in their hidden scabbards she thought she was pretty safe for a half mile’s walk. As it turned out. Mario was very happy to please any friend of Mario.

It took two hours and an additional bank employee to catalogue her money. Mario actually hummed as he did his job, sometimes exclaiming happily over the age of a coin, or shaking his head in sorrow to find a coin had been shaved or clipped. At the end she emerged with a fancy document with gilt edges and ornate writing “good in all of” Italy, Switzerland, the Germanies, Spain, The Netherlands, England, and several other countries. She tucked it into an oiled paper envelope and the envelope inside her bosom.

It was lunch time back at the Seagull. Sarah had a hearty meal, for she had much to do that afternoon. She also made a couple of new acquaintances, since Mario had seated her with them. Because “they were good people to know.” He was obviously helping her to build her own network of friends.

They were kind enough to give her some recommendations on some purchases she had to make. These included a horse, a bow and arrows, a German tutor, and a travel agency which could pair her up with other travelers or with a caravan for her trip.

The travel agency her new “friends” suggested was–surprise!–just a few doors along the street outside the Seagull. “Just look for the purple-fronted house between the boot maker and the second-hand clothing store. They also sell new clothes, very fashionable, and tailor them. Ask for Madame Conti. At the agency, not the store.”

The agency was three women in the front room of a two-story residence. And maybe other women and girls not presently there, as Sarah was confronted with four desks when she walked into the cool interior, two on her left and two on her right against the left and right walls.

“Madame Conti?”

“Yes, dear?” This was an older woman with completely grey hair sitting to her right.

Sarah walked over to her desk and the woman gestured to a chair in front of the desk. Sarah sat, easing her sword’s scabbard to a more comfortable position. She’d left the staff back in her room and could lean back in the chair.

The woman glanced at the sword and let her gaze linger. Then she took in the rest of Sarah’s outfit. She seemed unimpressed. Sarah smiled to herself; she might not be either if she wasn’t an expert in judging warriors.

“Vincenzo says Good Day to you, Madame Conti.”

“And how is the boy?”

“A boy? Complaining about his arthritis when I saw him at lunch.”

“Ah, that Vincenzo. How can I help you?”

“I’m traveling into the Germanies….”

“Would you be going to that new city?”

Sarah nodded.

“Always Grantville. Grantville, always. No one wants to go anywhere else.”

A woman at a nearby desk, perhaps a daughter, said, “Not true. They want to go to Venice, Rome, Corsica. I even had someone who wanted to go to Greece the other day.”

The third woman broke in. “I had someone who wanted to go to Paris, another the Ottoman Empire.”

“Hush. Hush. I’m doing business here. Daughters, you raise them and they begin to back talk you.”

She had a smile however as she pulled a map out of a stack of them and positioned it so Sarah could see it better.

“There are two good routes to That City from here.” She took out a felt-tipped pencil, something Sarah had never seen, and began to draw a line following a route north.

“This goes through Milan through the Swiss mountains to Zurich. Then there’s a wide valley north they call the Breadbasket of the Germanies. It passes through Stuttgart then Würzburg, both good places to lay over, then across this little hump of hills to Ilmenau, not a bad place either. From there it’s a straight shot east through a little city called Badenburg to Grantville.”

She examined Sarah, who was examining the map.

“That would take six days, with a layover at an inn of our recommendation at each city. Only a small fee for the advice and recommendations.”

“Sounds good. What about that path?” She pointed.

“This one? It’s a little longer but it has its merits. You bypass Milan, always a mess to get through, to overnight in Verona. Small city with beautiful view of the Lago di Garda, a great place for a weekend or a week, a tourist destination but clean and cheap and good service.”

She was drawing as she talked.

“Then it’s through Swiss mountains, a bit longer than the other traverse of the mountains but not bad. You lay over in Innsbruck. A good place for winter sports. At this time of year we can recommend several cheap but good places. Of course, only a small fee for recommendations.

“From there you go to Munich, then it’s straight north to Nuremberg, then to Jena the next day. And here is a good side to this path. Grantville has a railway stop there. You can take a train directly west and a bit south to Grantville.”

“A–‘railway’? A–‘train’?” The Italian words meant nothing to her.

Madame Conti explained what was involved. Sarah remembered now the great bullet trains pictured in the English AAA magazine but they were obviously far in advance of the Grantville trains.

“Of course, you’d have to sell your horse in Jena. We know of some reasonable horse traders there. But you wouldn’t need a horse in Grantville. And if you did you could always buy one.”

“So it’s six days either way and I get to ride a railroad this way. Hmm. I like this way. How much for your services for that trip? Here, this is some of the money I got from my bank.”

Sarah spilled a few silver and copper coins onto the desk top. Conti hissed.

“Here! Don’t be throwing your money around like that. You’ll get robbed for sure.”

Sarah smiled. Her beautiful face did not look so beautiful now. Madame Conti got a thoughtful look.

“Or maybe not. Here, take this back.”

She pulled two silvers and six coppers toward herself and pushed the rest back to Sarah for stowing away.

It took nearly an hour to hand print the schedule and all details attached to it, plus coupons for reservations at various inns.

<>

Next on Sarah’s list was a German tutor. Mario (of course) knew someone who knew someone, so that evening after dinner she had her first lesson with a young woman who was a student at the same college as Sarah’s three acquaintances of the previous evening.

Lea Vogel spoke Italian and Spanish so Sarah and she were able to communicate fairly well. Sarah said she had a way she liked to learn a new language and Lea seemed not to mind that she took over the process, at least at the start of their relationship.

They began by walking through the tavern as it was changing from a dining to a drinking establishment. The noise level forced them to speak a bit loudly.

Sarah picked up a dirty glass at a just-emptied table and looked expectantly at Lea. She said the German word: glass. It was the same spelling as in English but was pronouced GL-AH-S. That was close to the Dutch but the S-sound was cut off a bit shorter in Dutch.

Cup was TASS-UH in German.

Plate was TELL-UH.

Knife was MESS-UH. The German had a lazier pronunciation than the similar Dutch word, which was a little more abrupt.

They went all around the table, Sarah holding up an object or pointing at it, as with a chair. Lea would say the German word, and Sarah would repeat it several times, eyes half closed to try to hear the subtleties of German pronunciation. She already somewhat knew basic Dutch and English, two similar languages. That helped Sarah quite a bit.

A bus boy came by to clear and clean the table, so the two women moved to another abandoned table. When they’d exhausted the nouns, Sarah switched to verbs, acting out sitting, standing, and so on.

After a half hour Sarah could make conversation about eating and drinking. Then she put on a strained look and held her crotch and learned how to ask to go to the toilet: VO ISS TEE TOY-LET-UH? There followed other common questions such as how to ask the price or fee for something: VEE FEEL? She learned the words for this and that (DEES and DAHS) so she could ask the price of specific items.

After the hour was up Sarah lapsed into Italian and suggested they have a drink and chat. Lea agreed as long as Sarah was buying. A student, or at least this student, had little money.

In the next hour Sarah learned that the Vogel family had moved to Spain when she was very young then to the Italies. Her parents, sisters, and brothers were all still alive and had good jobs. She was studying to become a fabric designer, which is when Sarah learned that the Italies were know Europe wide as masters of fabric creation and designers of and makers of fashionable clothing. This led to Lea offering to help her the next day to buy prettier and more functional clothing, as the Germanies required different and warmer clothing than Africa. Sarah accepted.

<>

The next day Sarah began by buying a set of bow and arrows. On the trip to Grantville she might need that distance weapon.

There was a weapon shop not too far away. She arrived just as it was opening, wearing only her short sword and her hidden knives.

It was in a narrow building between two bigger ones. As she came in a bell mounted atop the door tinkled. A few feet in front of her was a long wire cage through which she could see knives, swords, and other weapons, including pistols. On the wall behind the proprietor who looked up at her were bows and long firearms.

“Yes?” said the stocky grey-haired bushy-bearded man.

“Two bows, arrows, and several sets of bow strings.”

He gazed at her short sword and how she wore it, nodded, and they began to talk shop. In the end she made her purchases and stowed them away in a cloth bag. With it he added a practice target, a square plank of soft wood mounted on a stick with a spike at one end which she could stick in the ground.

“Be careful pulling arrows out of the target. Work them gently free. Our arrows are well made, but you can ruin them by jerking them out of a target.”

“Or an animal. Bones do have a tendency to grab an arrow head.”

He raised an eyebrow. All the arrows she’d bought had diamond shaped heads, not barbed ones.

“What’s that?” She pointed at a pistol in the wire cage. It was placed front and center and tilted a bit to better catch the light.

“It’s a replica of a Grantville pistol, a ‘Remington’ made locally by a wood carver.”

He took it out of the case and handed it to Sarah. It looked like metal but was light as wood. It was detailed so well she could imagine opening it up to insert the wooden replicas of six cartridges lying in front of the display rack. She held it by the handle. It fit so sweetly in her hand. Her trigger finger slipped inside the trigger guard and rested against the fake trigger. Her thumb rested perfectly on the back of the cocking hammer.

“Oooh, I want one.”

He named a price. She stared at him in shock.

“You can actually get that?”

He smiled. “Every week. The wood carver is becoming rich. He’s planning other models.”

“Just imagine if he could actually make the real thing.”

“I dream of it every night.”

He took the fake pistol back and carefully placed it on its display rack. She pointed to something beside it, a flat object about the size of a pack of playing cards.

“What’s that?”

He handed it to her. It was also a replica. It was crafted to look as if it was made of porcelain not wood. On one side half was taken up by a small square polished to look as if it were glass. On the other half were small buttons in a square array with letters upon them. On the top edge were tiny letters reading SAMSUNG.

“A ‘cell phone.’ In Italy–one Italy, not dozens–many millions of us will live. Each one will have a phone like this. They connect via ‘cell towers’ that let them talk to each other.”

Sarah stared at the object. Handed it back to him.

“I think I’m going to throw up. Or cry. Or get drunk.”

He chuckled.

<>

Back at the inn she approached Mario and got permission to use a flat grassy area behind the inn as a weapons practice area. He nodded and hurried to his next task.

Sarah dressed in her lightest pantaloons and sleeveless blouse. They were faded and well-patched but smelled of flowers from being cleaned overnight. She took her staff, sword, and bows and arrows and target out back. Behind the flat area the hill side rose up in a green tangle of bushes and low trees. The sun cast shadows on the grass beneath her feet.

She began by placing the target at the far edge of the flat area. Behind it was part of the hill. No arrows missing the target would escape to hurt someone.

Using both bows she placed all four dozen arrows in her four quivers into the target, carefully extracting each and examining it. Only one left its arrow head in the target. Her aim was still good. She and her bows and arrows were ready for war.

Next she examined the grass for any stones or other debris which might injure her feet and removed her boots. The grass felt cool to her feet.

Sword in hand she took a stance in front of an imaginary enemy with another enemy behind her and one on each side. Boxed in so neatly it was an artificial situation but it was just for practice of a specific set of attack, parry, and counter-attack moves.

Slowly she crouched, feet apart, one foot forward, toes pointed out, hand-and-a-half short sword held two-handed over her head pointing at the sky. Then she skated forward, one foot always in front of the other, lifting her feet just enough to clear low imaginary obstacles. She struck overhead, recovered backward a step. Stepped forward one pace, struck sideways from her left at throat level, recovered backward a step. Attacked again but striking from the right.

She pivoted, her dead imaginary enemy falling backward. Struck down with thrusts an enemy on each side. Skated forward to defeat another enemy in front of her. Stepped back, swept her sword in a quick flick to the side to dash away imaginary blood.

Then she repeated the exercise, moving faster. Repeated it again, a little faster still. Repeated and repeated, faster and faster till her sword was a moving blur, a deadly threshing machine, the sword flashing in the sunlight.

She stopped, panting, sweating. Took a sip from a water flask.

When she’d cooled a bit and her heart rate was back to normal she replaced her sword with her staff and did the same exercise. By the time she finished the staff was making a whistling cry as it sped through the air.

On the second floor from different rooms first one man, then two more, then two more, had watched her. Sarah had known this but didn’t care. After this week she’d never see them again.

Done, she took all her weapons to her room, crammed a change of clothing into a small bag, and left for a bathing service she’d heard of. She could finally get totally submerged for a full-body shampoo and bath.

After lunch Sarah shopped for a horse. After visiting three stables she picked a mare she named Ruby for her red coat. She also bought tack and a saddle and fed the horse an apple provided by the horse trader and stable owner. She would come by after today for an hour of exercise each day until it was time to leave Genoa.

<>

All Sarah’s preparations were now made and the caravan she’d join would leave the day after tomorrow. She had a celebratory dinner that evening with Lea as her guest. They talked much about Lea’s studies and her family. They did it in Italian unless a German word or phrase came easily to Sarah, who deliberately was not trying to exercise the language at all.

Then came an hour of German tutoring, building a larger noun and verb vocabulary, edging into the simplest of sentence structures.

Afterward Sarah walked the girl to her family’s home a mile away, coming inside to meet her family. Then she jogged to her temporary home, sword at hip and staff on her back.

Sunday night, her last day in Genoa, Sarah was given a small party by Mario and his heretofore invisible wife and his nieces and nephews, Lea and her family, Madame Conti and her daughters, and the weapon seller from whom she’d bought her bows and arrows.

To her amazement he gave her a replica Grantville cell phone with the admonishment to “Show it around Grantville and tell everyone what’s being done down here in the Italies.”

The Road to Jena

Athena Sarah Mawusi Akwete Ocampo woke early on the Monday she was to leave for Jena in the Germanies’ Thuringia area, and thence to the miracle city of Grantville.

She rinsed her face with the water from the wall in her tiny bathroom, saying a regretful Goodbye to the marvelous faucet, used the toilet and flushed it, and removed her toiletries from the sink basin. It took minutes to pack them and everything else away in two small duffle bags. She looked around the room one last time to ensure she’d left nothing, and went downstairs to eat quickly at the Seagull buffet.

Ruby had been delivered to the inn and tethered out back where she was munching away at the grass there. Sarah gave the stable boy with her a copper and said there’d be another when she returned. She fed Ruby an apple from the buffet and went back into the house. From the safe room she removed her bags of gold, silver, and copper coins and packed them into the two duffle bags.

She positioned them as two saddle bags on Ruby. In front of the saddle and just behind it she tied four quivers of arrows, slipped her two bows into scabbards on the saddle, and mounted. As she rode around to the front of the inn Mario came out with a packet he asked her to deliver to the USE Bank in Jena. It was addressed to a Francisco Nasi. She stowed it in the slightly lighter of the two duffle bags.

“Well, I see you’re off. Bon voyage, Sarah. May God go with you.”

“And you, Mario.”

She wheeled away and entered the street in front of the inn.

It was ten minutes before she arrived at another inn where a small caravan of travelers was amassing.

“Good day to you, Wagon Master,” she said to the man mounted on a big horse. He had a big beard and was big and stout, very little of the stoutness fat. He tapped the rim of his big hat with its flat brim, a twin to the one she wore on Mario’s advice. He carried two pistols in holsters on his belt and had shotguns thrust into two scabbards on his saddle. His boots had slightly high heels to help keep them in his saddle stirrups. A long spear was held upright in one hand, anchored in a cup on his saddle.

“Mario tells me you are good with those bows.”

“I’m near a wizard, Wagon Master. Been using them since I was five.”

Her tone was matter of fact. He nodded and yelled at someone.

Fifteen minutes later they set out heading west around the rim of the bay, competing with other wagons and buggies and horses. A mile further on the master turned right onto a narrower road heading north. Off to their right was a stream paralleling the road.

Sarah followed, on his right side, a couple of horse length’s back. Then came a big wagon, two smaller ones, a buggy, and seven horse riders, one a thin older but very spry woman of perhaps fifty.

On both sides low hills ramped up, the left most ones a bit closer. It was the stream which was the center of the valley, not the road.

The land was rising very slightly but noticeably. This slowed the big wagon with its four horses, but the animals didn’t seem to Sarah to be straining.

After a time the grade leveled out. On each side hills spread away but never ceased their up and down.

The day had been overcast. Sun broke through in patches to reveal blue sky. By midmorning the clouds were totally gone. She took off her long-sleeved shirt which had been a near jacket. Underneath she wore a sleeveless blouse, loose enough to hide her several scabbards and their burden of thin throwing knives. Her arms gleamed, brown and smooth and feminine but obviously powerful.

Late morning they stopped briefly at a small village to water the horses, let people use stinking toilets, and walk around a bit. Then they went on.

The land began to trend slightly toward level. The pace picked up. By noon they reached another small town. There they stopped for forty minutes for food, watering, toilets, and rest. The drovers of the big wagon swapped horses at a stable. Then everyone got onto their mounts or wagons and began again.

The land tilted slightly down. The pace picked up. Mid-afternoon they watered and had a rest stop in another small village. To Sarah it was obvious that Madame Conti’s estimates of the time to get places were overly optimistic by a factor of three or more.

At 5:00 or so they entered a small city. The heavy wagon turned off and left the caravan. The rest went a bit further and pulled into the courtyard of an inn. There they parked the wagons and left the horses to the care of hostlers. The inn there was quite luxurious, especially to the weary travelers. They checked in, and Sarah saw her coupons accepted by the inn clerks and that a small suite was hers. She checked her duffle bags into a secure room and went to her rooms to get cleaned up.

In the tavern and dining room the wagon master was sitting facing away from her with two men looking out of the windows at a small lake. Lights on the other side of the lake and reflected in the lake made a pleasant sight. One of the men said something to the master who said something back. The man raised his hand and beckoned Sarah to join them.

She slid into a chair that the man pushed away from the table.

“Good job keeping up, Lady Ocampo,” said the wagon master. “Not everyone thought you would.”

The friendly man made a wry face. “Guilty.”

The other man nodded to Sarah. By now she’d recognized the two men as the two guards hired by the wagon master. They’d rode at the end of the caravan on its two sides.

She looked at the folded paper menu, saying “Back in Africa I helped chase bandits up into some rugged country. We learned to keep up.”

A waiter came to put a glass of water before Sarah and take orders.

“You’re a fighter, Lady?” said the neutral man.

“Yes. Also my father’s manager for his country estates. I had to learn to fight, though I tried to stay out of them. Couldn’t always do it.

“How did the two of you get into this guarding job?”

They answered, but briefly, and the conversation turned general. The food came and they all ate.

When they were done the wagon master said, “Get to bed. We start early.” He stood and went to tell the other members of the caravan the same.

“Well, better check the horses to make sure the hostlers did their job,” said one of the men. They stood and left the table. Sarah followed, carrying an apple she’d ordered with her meal.

Ruby greeted her with a nicker and butted Sarah in the chest as she crunched the apple. Sarah scratched her ears and talked to her.

The suite had, miracle of miracles, a flushing water toilet. The bed was too soft but Sarah sank into it and was instantly asleep.

<>

The next day Sarah had a hard time getting out of her soft bed. Her horse muscles had gotten out of tone in the last year.

That evening one of the remaining two wagons dropped out at as well as two men. This left one wagon, the buggy, two men and a woman on horseback. The mounted people were family, apparently. The buggy riders were a man and a woman who might be nobility and were certainly genteel.

<>

At the end of the third day the remaining wagon left when they arrived at a resort on the shores of the big Lago di Garda. The narrow end of the lake extended into the Swiss mountains. The road trended very slightly upward and the mountains reared high on each side. The valley containing the road was very wide though sloping gradually up to each side.

<>

It took another four days to arrive at Innsbruck, a big old city in a huge mountain valley scattered with several big castles and cathedrals, little more than blots showing pinpricks of light in the gathering dark. In the near and far distance were snow-covered peaks. As she got off Ruby the very tip of the tallest was a fiery red in one instant and dark in the next.

Here the wagon and the buggy left them. The nobleman or whatever handed the wagon master a small leather sack before leaving.

The seven riders stayed at an inn that night. During their dinner the master divided the coins in the sack evenly with everyone. The family of three first refused to take their share but the master insisted and they gave in with (Sarah thought) entirely unconvincing unhappiness.

<>

It took them another day to get out of the worst of the mountainous country. The land was mostly downhill and the wagon master told them that evening that they’d made good time.

They nooned the next day in a city called Bad Tölz. The country became flat with heavy forest in the distance and occasionally all around them. Sarah grew especially wary as the trees might hide ambushers. She noticed the master and his two guards also paying extra attentions to their surroundings.

Two or three hours before sundown the next day they began to come deeper into the outskirts of Munich, as the Italians spelled it, and München as the Germans spelled it. The Germans pronounced it MEN-CHIN.

She’d heard it was a big city and the hearsay was certainly true. The residences and businesses became ever closer together with small clots of buildings which bordered on villages.

It was still more than an hour before sunset when they settled down in a large inn near the center of the city. The seven of them ate dinner early, all together, on a balcony that looked down upon a small river. The surroundings were cast in high relief by almost horizontal sunset rays and the buildings were gilded by the ruddy light.

The conversation had been general and in German with occasional lapses into Italian. Sarah listened closely, less to the general content than to the accents and pronunciations, the “music” of the language.

The wagon master called for another beer and sat up a trifle.

“We need to make some decisions. Our next major stop normally would be Ingolstadt but there was some ‘unpleasantness’ there recently.” Sarah struggled with the emphasized word, having never heard it, but was clued in by his ironic tone. He meant “war” or something similar. An attack by a large bandit group?

“Sarah here is going to Jena. Your destination, Madame Hoffman, is listed as Magdeburg. We can go around Ingolstadt by veering to the northeast and overnighting at Regensburg instead. We’d still arrive in Nuremberg the next day, just a bit later. Should we do that? Or risk going through Ingolstadt?”

“My sons and I need to go to Ingolstadt. We have family business there, then further family business in Magdeburg. I intend to go to Ingolstadt unless we’d be in danger there.”

“I don’t believe so. The military occupation has been over for a few weeks now and life has returned to normal, or at least adjusted to a new normal. Madame Ocampo?”

“If I understand what’s being said–my German is still simple now–I say go to Ingolstadt. Bypassing it may just get us into different trouble. If there’s been a war here?”

“A good point. Yes, there was a war here, or threats of war rather, and one army won without a battle.”

<>

The next morning at breakfast the wagon master said, “They say they’ve seen no soldiers though they’ve heard of some to the north. They’ve heard that some still linger to the north and east, but admit they’ve only heard of them. Everyone still set on Ingolstadt?”

Everyone was. The seven mounted up.

Leaving Munich was like entering it in reverse. Soon they were in very green often forested flat land.

<>

Three days later they neared Ingolstadt well before sunset. It could be seen in the distance. The land was flat and the patches of forest not tall. Some of the city buildings were tall with sharp peaks, and as they came closer they could see walls around the city. On each side of the road outside the wall were two smaller patches of buildings. Sarah guessed more such were scattered further east and west and north.

The southern gate was open, a tall double-leaved structure. Atop walls to each side of it soldiers or guards could be seen. Just inside the gate were two other guards. The older one came forward and the wagon master had a short conversation with him. Then the man waved them through.

Sarah could see a few signs of conflict on the buildings inside but no real damage. The inn they came to was tall and crowded between two other buildings on a row of buildings on each side of the street. Inside business seemed to be good and the men and several women acted as if business was going on as usual.

Halfway through dinner a small crowd came into the tavern and greeted Madame Hoffman and her two sons with glad cries quickly reciprocated. The family moved off to several close-by tables and began to chat happily.

Sarah and the master ate and drank steadily, as did the two guards who regarded the family events benignly, somewhat as if they were responsible for them. Sarah supposed they were, as were she and the master.

Near the end of the meal Madame Hoffman and one of the strangers came to the master’s table.

She said, “Could we delay for one day, Wagon Master? We need a bit of time tomorrow to finish our business.” Her companion, a man who might be a grandfather, nodded solemnly.

The master looked at those at his table. “Any reason not to grant their request?”

“Not at all,” said the older of the two guards, the “happy one” as Sarah thought him. His companion nodded.

“I could use the rest,” the solemn one said and his friend nodded. Sarah did too.

“Very well,” the master said, turning to Hoffman. “We need to let our animals rest and to fix a few problems and do some business of our own. But the day after we leave early.”

Thus Sarah had a chance to see some of Ingolstadt and chat with strangers in her limited German as she shopped for a few items and had food away from the tavern.

<>

At breakfast the morning they were to leave Madame Hoffman and only one of her sons attended. The second son was staying behind. In his place was a younger Hoffman man and woman, brother and sister apparently rather than a couple. The additions had weapons as did the older Hoffmans, long knives and a rifle each. Sarah noticed that the young woman seemed to handle her weapons with casual practiced ease.

The master said, “The news is that the two armies concerned with this place have moved on to other destinations. The attackers included some who were from that Grantville place our Sarah is so interested in.”

Sarah grinned at the master and the two guards. The latter two men smiled back. They had teased her a bit about her interest.

Sarah had also heard from several of the Ingolstadt people with whom she’d practiced her German about a huge flying machine like a big sausage which had flown about the place several times. They were vague about specifics. They were definite about its bigness and the fact that it had fired weapons on a few occasions and that it had been answered back.

“However,” the master added. “There have been reports of a few soldiers remaining in the area acting as bandits. Nothing definite, but we should be especially alert when we leave here.

“Does everyone still want to travel north with me with these rumors of bandits?”

Everyone did.

“If we meet them, stay calm. Follow my lead. I’ve been through this before. So have your guards. Mistress Ocampo has too, she tells me.”

He looked around at everyone.

“Everybody ready? Good. Let’s move out.”

Everyone was indeed “especially alert” as they traveled though perhaps without cause. The land was flat and the trees even close up were too widely spaced to provide good ambush cover.

The weather was grey rather than the good weather they’d been having till now. Sarah was glad she’d taken advice to buy cool- and cold-weather clothing in Genoa. Especially when midmorning the dark clouds began to drizzle.

They overnighted in a small city named Kipfenberg. The land before them was quite hilly. Atop one hill above the small city was a big old hillside castle which seemed manned despite its age. The hills left a narrow winding valley for them to enter once they decided to leave.

<>

Everyone was tense the next day with the looming hills about them in the valley. But perhaps more grey weather and a steady drizzle deterred any bandits from perching atop the hills to ambush any travelers.

The master delayed nooning until they’d left the hills behind, so they were late when they arrived at Hilpoltstein. It was a pleasant place with a wide stream running through it and a lake a little further to the northwest. There was also an old castle, quite ruined.

The day had turned sunny again, but the mood was ruined at the inn at which they’d stopped. There were more warnings of bandits in the area.

Everyone checked their horses and saddles and weapons before mounting up. Sarah was no exception. She checked her two bows, strung them and checked their draw, and de-strung them and placed them in their saddle holsters, making sure she could get to them easily. She also checked the four quivers of arrows, two mounted before her saddle, two just behind.

Madame Hoffman came over to her as she was doing so.

“Are you any good with those?”

Sarah glanced at her and continued her work.

“Very good. I’ve been using bows since I was five, and have fought with them when we pursued bandits.”

The woman looked at her for a moment more, nodded her head, and returned to her family who were similarly checking everything.

An hour went by, two. Everyone relaxed a bit, not all the way.

The land opened out, then forest closed in a bit, not much. Opened, closed.

Many of the trees were tall with most limbs and leaves near the top. The meadows were a brilliant green.

One such meadow appeared before them as they left a slightly closed-in piece of forest. As they left the edge, on the far edge of the meadow some men rode into view. They were in no hurry. They all had rifles, a couple had tall pikes.

The wagon master spoke up, not loud, but carrying. Calm, unhurried.

“Rear people, close up. Everybody, move to a line left and right. Then halt.”

Sarah tested the short sword in its scabbard, the security and looseness of her bows in their scabbards, the arrows in her four quivers. Strung one of the bows, tested its draw. Drew an arrow and nocked it.

Perhaps the bandits in front saw her actions, or those of another of her party. Their pace quickened.

Sarah said, clearly, “Master, I’m moving farther out to the right.”

“Go.”

Sarah had Ruby quick walk till she was a couple of horse lengths forward and to the right, then halted, clear of the firing line the master was establishing.

She nocked an arrow and drew it half back, lifted her bow to aim at one of the pike men, then paused to adjust her aim minutely. Drew fully back, loosed. Waited to see how well her aim had been.

The pike man slumped, his pike falling against another bandit, who reeled in his saddle.

She nocked another arrow, drew, loosed. Nocked, drew, loosed, not checking the results of her shots.

A rifle fired to one side of Sarah. Ruby shied but Sarah steadied her, kept her still.

Another rifle beside her fired. Sarah saw an enemy jerk and sway in the saddle. Several bandits fired from their jogging horses, a fool’s move.

She was busy now. Nocking, drawing, loosing. Each arrow released a Yip from her. A croon began to come from her. She sang as she shot, every arrow emptying a saddle, or nearly so. Bandit horses began to shy against each other, getting in each other’s way.

Rifles fired, again, again, from both sides. One of her party yelled, “Shit!”

Many of the men in front of her were down now, their horses fouling each other. Some men came closer, guns clubbed, ready to swing empty guns as bludgeons. The wagon master speared the closest man, wiped him off his spear point to the side. One guard then the second fired a pistol at the enemy, drew long swords, ready to engage enemies.

Two of the enemy spurred toward Sarah. Her arrows wiped them from their saddles.

Sarah fired more arrows into the bandits, picking off any who tried to close with her party. First one bandit, then two more, wheeled their horses and raced away from the battle. They didn’t get far before an arrow struck them down.

All the enemy were unhorsed. Two horses ran away, dragging dead or dying men behind them.

Sarah turned to her party. All of her party was ahorse, though one sagged in his seat. Everyone else was looking all about, panting.

Sarah rode toward the downed enemy. Two men were sitting up, holding a leg or a side. They looked up in fear as she approached. She examined them, saw neither holding weapons.

In German she called out, “Throw weapons away. Treat your wounds. We will help.” She watched to be sure neither tried to disobey her orders, then rode around the strung-out line of horses and dead and dying men.

By now the horses had all calmed. They were eating grass, despite the recent fight and the distress of the several men on the ground.

Sarah checked her party again. The wagon master had them all off their horses, except one: the Hoffman girl. She had her rifle butt laid atop a thigh, barrel pointing skyward. She was watching everything all around, on guard.

Sarah looked for the two running horses. They were in the distance, their dead or dying riders sprawled with a leg still in a stirrup.

She checked the two alive men near her, got down from her horse, leaving the bow behind. She took the short sword from her belt, passed by the two fearful men. Checked the dead, made sure all were dead by slitting the throats of those who drew breath. Cleaned her sword thoroughly on their clothing. Sheathed her sword.

Back at the two men she took out bandages and a bottle from a first aid kit she’d brought off Ruby.

Kneeling beside the man who was holding his side she looked into his face. It was screwed up in pain, but he was not sweating or pale.

“Let me see,” she said gently. He reluctantly moved his hand which was pressing some clothing to his side wound.

“It’s not bad. You will recover. If we treat it right. Here. Take a sip of this.” He opened his mouth and sucked from the bottle, made a face, but swallowed the draught. Almost immediately his face eased and he lay back on the ground. Sarah poured wine on his wound, packed cloth over it, as clean as she could find among the dead, and tightened his shirt around it. Then she took similar care of the leg-hurt man.

Having treated the two men as best she could, Sarah walked around the battle field throwing all the weapons off to the side. She freed all the horses who were attached to dead men in some way, feet through stirrups or arms through tangled reins. There were only three. All the horses were busily munching grass.

She swung atop Ruby and likewise treated the two distant dragged men, both of whom were dead. She took the reins of their horses and went to her traveling companions.

All of them were alive, a Hoffman man with a cut on his arm, the happier guard with a shallow bullet wound. Sarah had him take a sip from her flask, which eased his pain almost immediately. Everyone had been lucky.

Within the hour the party was on its way toward Nuremberg, enemy horses trailing them carrying bandit weapons, two enemy horses carrying the two hurt enemy.

<>

They were three days in Nuremberg. Then seven days later the party arrived in Jena.

Grantville

The first act Athena Sarah Mawusi Akwete Ocampo did was to check into a large three-story building called Higgins Hotel. The wagon master had said it was expensive but worth it for someone who’d just come off a long trip.

Sarah said a sad Goodbye to the travelers. All of them had become family of a sort.

After Sarah had deposited her saddle bags in the hotel’s safe room she rode Ruby a half mile away to a stable recommended by the hotel. There she sold Ruby and her saddle and tack. She said Goodbye to the mare with a last apple. This consoled Ruby more than it did Sarah.

Then she visited the USE Bank. It was the destination for the packet of letters given her by inn keeper Mario Marino in Genoa for a Francisco Nasi. She also presented her letter of credit from the Genoa bank. It was accepted, letting her withdraw some of her money as local currency.

Before she took the last steps of her journey she wanted to do some research on Grantville and its surroundings. She did that in a “businessman’s library” inside the Higgins, where there were numerous newspapers from places as far away as Paris. They were organized by time. The newest was from two weeks ago.

That afternoon she did some shopping and had a long session at a beauty salon in the Higgins. Sarah had never heard of such a thing but if it was representative of Grantville she would be very happy there. She followed that with a luxurious hot bath and hearty dinner. Next she spent a couple of hours in the hotel’s tavern, chatting with other customers and asking for advice. As usual, people loved to give it. Some of it might even be useful.

<>

The next morning she woke early, packed her meager clothing in two large suitcases and her weapons in a long case she’d bought the day before, visited the breakfast buffet, transferred her heavy sacks of coins into her luggage, and checked out. A sprightly horse-drawn taxi took her to the railway station. The driver helped her with her luggage to the ticket and waiting area and thanked her happily when taking his fee and a generous tip from her.

It was not long before the train to Grantville was announced. Sarah took her luggage into the train station, two suitcases in her hands and the long weapons case which she carried slung over her back on its strap. Her throwing knives were in their several scabbards inside her (she had been assured) fashionable clothing. These had been tailored with slits which allowed her easy access to the knives.

She wore an ankle-length dark red split skirt, a short-sleeved lilac blouse tucked into her skirt with a square-cut bosom which revealed the tops of her breasts, and a sky-blue long-sleeved light jacket open in front. On her feet were boots similar to the ones she’d worn from home but made of polished brown leather.

Sarah stopped just inside the hundred-foot long two-story building that housed the train in appreciation of what she saw.

“Hey!” said someone behind her. She stepped aside to admit a hurrying family of six, then a string of several more people, her gaze taking in the sights before her. The building was mostly a tall shell with a mildly peaked roof inset every few feet with murky glass squares which nevertheless let in enough light to see the train which sat on two iron rails.

The train was the chief focus of Sarah’s gaze. There was a black engine at the front of it which had a tall stove pipe in its middle. Behind it was a long black wagon which she knew from last night’s conversations in the hotel tavern held coal for the engine. Four longer roofed wagons were strung behind the coal car, painted red with an orange stripe all along them at mid-height. There was a line of windows on each side, the openings covered with beige cloth not glass. The front three wagons were for passengers, the last was a “caboose” for freight and for the train conductor and his assistant.

Sarah stood gazing at the train till a steam whistle and a call of “All aboard!” woke her from her trance. A last passenger came hurrying past her to where a conductor was urging people to step up into the train.

Sarah stowed her property with several other pieces of luggage at the back of the car. She’d just sat down when the loud steam whistle blew again, three toots in all. The car lurched, exciting a little girl of perhaps four years into crying. To that doleful, annoying sound the train puffed slowly out of the open-ended shell of the railway station into a bright day with a clear blue sky. Everyone peered out of the windows, only half able to see the surroundings as the window coverings were made of translucent beige gauze.

The only exception to those watching the outsides was the harried mother trying to calm her four-year-old.

Sarah got up and walked down the aisle to stand looking down at the girl. She was blond with large blue eyes. She was very appealing. Sarah would kill her sneakily and quickly if she ever had to.

The little girl quit crying and stared up at Sarah.

She knelt and spoke in English, which local wisdom had informed her was widely understood in and near Grantville. “Scary isn’t it? Do you know? I almost started crying too. What’s your name?”

The girl took a thumb out of her mouth and said, “Gretel.”

“What a coincidence! That’s my name too!”

Before long Sarah had swapped seats with Gretel and held the girl in her lap. She had many tales to keep the little girl and her two older brothers occupied during the two hour trip to Rudolstadt to the southwest. There the family exited the train with many Goodbyes to their tall friend.

As the conductor passed by her when the train restarted he thanked her for keeping the kids occupied. They had not only been those of the little girl’s family but of two more families, who had, during the trip, swapped seats to be close to the fascinating stranger with the coffee-au-lait skin.

“Oh, but it was a pleasure. I love kids.”

As she did. Or at least her sisters and brother. She still missed them.

From Rudolstadt the railway and the accompanying Saale River turned south. About two miles further on the railway turned right, toward the west.

“The Ring of Fire!” someone called out. Passengers peered through the gauze window covering, several rolling up the cloth to get an unobstructed view of the country side. This contained the eastward edge of the Rim marking the area around the city of the future. A six-mile circle of down-time land had been swapped (everyone thought) for an identical circle of up-time land.

The land immediately looked different, though not in major ways. It was only a trifle hillier and the green slightly browner. There was a major change. The road beside the railway was now wider and much harder and seemed perfectly flat, with a faint yellow stripe down its middle. Its edges were marked with a white stripe. The greenery on both sides of the road was low and almost seemed as if it had been mowed, though a few years in the past.

A distance off to one side a line of low trees and bushes marked a slender tributary of the Saale River paralleling the road.

Sarah noticed another strange feature. Atop the high “telephone” poles beside the railway which had contained a single fat wire from Jena there now were instead several thin wires.

They came across a green sign about head high mounted on a metal pole beside the highway. In white were the words HUSKY HIGHWAY.

Soon the train passed by a long low building which seemed to be made of metal. It had no windows but it had a door at one end. A road, dirt but well packed, came out of the building and swerved to merge into the road. From the building stretched a wire which joined those atop the line of long poles beside the road.

The train crossed a side road which ran away to the south. Poles stretched southward alongside the road, wires atop them which connected to the east-west wires.

Soon she had no time to ponder those features, for on each side of the road she saw buildings. Several were of reddish bricks. Some were wooden but painted white or beige or in one case a light blue. A short side road came up which ended in a grove of trees which sheltered metal huts like long boxes. Windows in their sides suggested they were homes.

Later on their right she saw a brown sign with white lettering proclaiming Grantville High School. Behind it on a side road was a cluster of one- and two-story buildings, all of them large. A big rectangle of black pavement off to the side was home to a dozen long yellow vehicles. She was sure they were motorized vehicles as they rested on black wheels and had no attachments for horses.

Then the outskirts of Grantville showed up. There were more side roads, more buildings. Some had signs proclaiming them commercial establishments. She saw in front of them more vehicles, some large with four black wheels, some bare cloth-covered shells with three or four skeletal wheels, some wagons or carts pulled by horses.

A light beep announced a long yellow vehicle passing the train. It had many glass windows behind which children sat. Some waved at the train. On its side letters announced that it belonged to the Grantville schools.

She was surely in a city of the future. One seemingly unaware that wars were being waged all about near and far.

On one side of the road was a low white building with a bright red roof that caught her eye. In front of a parking lot surrounding it was a two-story tall yellow sign of a huge letter M.

On the opposite side of the road was a shopping area containing several businesses. A tall totem pole of signs proclaimed their names, including CVS Pharmacy and SHOP’nSAVE. The enclosed parking lot contained over a dozen vehicles, including three pulled by a horse.

Sarah was almost dizzy with the repeated strangenesses.

They passed several more small shopping centers.

So many signs! Clearly everyone was literate. Every one. Not just the nobles and the church men and the intellectuals.

Was that part of the power of these people, so few in number against the millions all around them?

Now the city closed in, mostly residences of several kinds. One however was a two-story brown brick building with a sign that said GRANTVILLE HISTORICAL MUSEUM. What “ancient” histories did it celebrate, from several hundred years in the future?

Later off to their left was an area of several hundred homes. A bit further along to her left was even larger area of homes, perhaps a thousand of them. The right side of what was a nearly a valley seemed a bit too hilly for building.

The valley opened out and they passed between several businesses. She saw to her right a large parking lot and a long building. Above its doors were man-high white letters on a large blue background reading RITE AID. Underneath the letters smaller ones said PHOTO CENTER – PHARMACY – DRIVE THRU.

Finally the train arrived in an area of several rail lines, curving this way and that. On one of them she saw another train, pointed back east. This must be the switching area, a central spot where trains would meet and change directions and disperse again.

The train stopped with several tootings of its whistle. A conductor shouted, “Grantville! All off!”

Everyone stood except Sarah. She needed to take her time collecting her thoughts and to adjust to the fact that she’d done it. She’d arrived at the city of the future.

She nerved herself to follow the last few passengers off the train. Many of them headed toward two lines of vehicles, apparently commercial transportation. One line held horse-driven vehicles, the second motor vehicles. Out of curiosity she headed for the up-time transport. There were only three in that line. She approached the front one and put her luggage on the ground beside it. A cab driver said, “Where do you want to go, Lady?”

He spoke in English, though oddly accented to her ears. Relieved to be able to use a language other than her very rudimentary German she answered in kind.

“Is there a Higgins Hotel here?”

“Yes, ma’am. It’s pretty expensive.”

She smiled. “I wouldn’t expect it to be anything less.”

“OK.”

He unlocked a door at the back of the vehicle. It popped open, revealing a big cavity. He placed her three pieces of luggage inside, closed it with a thud, and moved to hold a back door open for her. She got in and smoothed her split skirt about her knees. In her lap she placed the purse which a sales woman assured her was a necessary part of her attire. It was empty.

As the vehicle started up smoothly and drew away from the curb Sarah said, “I’d heard that these vehicles were only being used in official functions due to lack of fuel and spare parts.”

“You heard right. But my company managed to get some of those restriction relaxed now that fuel is more available. Still, we limit our fares and treat our engines and tires very carefully.”

The hotel was only six blocks away. It had a parking area inset from the road in front of it. The cabby parked in that area and took her luggage inside, minus the awkward weapons case which Sarah carried on its strap. At a check-in desk in a large high-ceiling room he set her suitcases down and accepted his fare. The tip he must have thought extravagant considering the big grin with which he greeted it.

“I’d like a room please.” She wondered exactly what she’d do if they refused to serve her because she was a quarter-blood or they lacked empty space. But there was no problem. She was settled into an “economy class” accommodation and a “bell boy” took possession of her two suitcases. Sarah took a chance that it was custom and at the room tipped the “boy,” a forty-something German man. His reaction to it and the amount suggested she’d made the right decision.

She surveyed the room. It had a cool streamlined elegance that suggested the futuristic. There was a living room with a conversation nook of a couch and two side chairs. There was a kitchenette with a small empty ice box and a small table at which she could eat and study. And a bedroom, way too large to her sensibility, and a connecting toilet with commode and sink and a standup “shower.” She’d heard of this last and was eager to try it.

One wall of the living room had a curtained-off window. It took her a few minutes to figure out how to get the curtain covering it open. Then she was able to look out over the city.

It was barely noon and from the fourth floor she could see a big swatch of the downtown city and the surrounding gently hilly countryside with lots of greenery. Off in the distance a glint of water suggested a modest stream.

Sarah put away the contents of her luggage in a walk-in closet and in the bathroom. Then she put 10% of her coins into her purse, making it bulge and quite heavy, then took the rest of her coins downstairs to leave in the hotel safe room. She asked if there was a nearby branch of the USE Bank. There was one only three blocks away. She opened an account using her letter of credit and deposited the coins in her purse. In exchange she received a check book and a fat “ballpoint” pen to sign them. On the side of the pen was inscribed MADE IN GRANTVILLE.

The bank clerk who handled all this, when she was done, said, “Some of these coins look very old. Would you like us to have a local expert examine them and see if any can be sold as collectibles? Some coin collectors might pay you handsomely for them.”

“Certainly. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.”

On the way back to the hotel she passed by several businesses. Over the door of one was a big sign for the UNITED PARCEL SERVICE. She went in.

The reception area contained a table on which to prepare boxes from a selection of cardboard boxes stored on a shelf on a nearby wall. Beyond it was a counter top behind which stood a young woman wearing a brown smock with yellow letters reading UPS on one breast and KATALIN on the other.

“Hello. Is it possible to send a package to West Africa?”

“Hmm. That’s a first one for me. Marjorie!”

A similarly clad older woman came out of a back room. Katalin repeated Sarah’s question.

“North Africa all along the southern Mediterranean shores, pretty much. But I’ve no idea how to get something to West Africa.”

“What about Genoa? I know a sea captain who serves the northern Mediterranean and he knows one who serves West Africa all down the coast. They would deliver packages, for a suitable fee, of course. That’s their business.”

Katalin suggested a package within a package within a package. Marjorie thought that might work.

“Mind, it might not work. It might get lost or stolen anywhere along the way.”

“I know. Pirates and all that.”

Katalin perked up. “Pirates? Real-life pirates?”

Sarah smiled. “Yes. Altogether too real. We had to deal with some just outside Tangier.”

“‘Deal with’?”

Sarah looked at her with a frown.

“Why, kill them, of course. How else do you think you can deal with them? If you don’t want to be a slave or worse.”

“Did any of your ship mates get hurt? KILLED?”

“Brown–my friend–got a cut arm. I was lucky. I just got my clothes bloody.”

“YOU fought them?”

Sarah suddenly realized what was routine to her was a fable to these Grantvillers. She should shut her mouth.

She said she’d get back to them when she had her packet of letters ready to go out and left.

Back at the Higgins she ate lunch. It was terrific, fish cooked till delicate but not mushy, with a subtle sauce which she enjoyed very much. Sides were a baked potato with sour cream and green beans cooked just enough to remain crisp. Accompanying bread was delivered to the table sliced, lightly toasted, and buttered. Alongside the food was a sparkling white wine. CHILLED.

She took her time and enjoyed the meal and the sights. The room was at least three-quarters filled with other diners. They dressed fashionably. Even she who was untutored in fashion could see that. And no doubt dressed expensively.

But something was missing. It was all a little too genteel. None of the people interacted. The waiters treated everyone like royalty, formally and coldly, and were likewise treated.

Back in her room she wrote a long letter to her family. She described her trip, trying for light humor, talking about amusing persons such as Captain Marino and inn owner Mario and so on, and passed over the fights in which she’d been involved. She wrote about the architectures of the buildings she’d seen. Her father would like that. Perhaps it would help him forgive her for going off without getting permission. Wrote about the marvels of Jena and what she’d seen so far of Grantville.

Marvelous things, ballpoint pens. You didn’t have to keep dipping them in ink.

It took her well over an hour and five pages on the creamy letterhead paper of Higgins Hotel.

At the end she wrote Enough for now. Let me know if you get this. Send letters back to me via Captain Cardoso to post at UPS Tangier to me at Higgins Hotel in Grantville, Thuringia-Franconia. Love you all.

She was surprised how much she missed her often-annoying family.

At UPS Katalin folded her letter up inside one package addressed her father in El Mina, put that inside a package addressed to Captain Cardoso with a gold coin glued to it. She put that inside a package addressed to Captain Marino with a gold coin glued to it. The final outside package was addressed to Mario Marino care of the Seagull Inn in Genoa. This was a standard UPS mail procedure which Katalin assured Sarah would get the package to Mario.

Once that was done Katalin said, “I phoned a teacher at Grantville High I know. He said he’d love to talk to you about Africa if you’d come to the school at lunch any time soon. He’ll buy you lunch in the cafeteria and help you get set up to use the High School library. A lot of down-timers want to do that. Would you see him?”

“Why, thank you, Katalin. That is a big favor.”

The young woman looked behind her at the open doorway to her boss’s office, leaned forward, and spoke quietly.

“Did you really kill a pirate?”

Sarah considered. The young woman was going beyond her strict duty to help Sarah. She replied equally quietly, not whispering or otherwise making it obvious that she was speaking confidentially.

“I put a knife through one’s eye–” Suddenly one of her throwing knives was in her hand, point held up. Then she turned away from the woman and made a swipe at throat level. “–and cut a second one’s throat.”

She gazed at the woman. She seemed in a trance. Then she shook her head, spoke sadly.

“I know it was real life, not a fictional adventure. And must have been horrible, really horrible. I’m sorry you had to go through that. I know you’re prettying it up for me.”

Sarah realized then that Katalin was viewing Sarah wrongly, through her own view of reality. To Sarah it was just business as usual. Someone attacks you. You kill them. You move on. Nothing more momentous than swatting a fly.

Well.

“Tell your teacher friend that I’ll come by day after tomorrow for lunch. I have a lot to learn about my new home and reading in the school library will help a lot.”

It was midafternoon. Time to look into the business library at Higgins Hotel.

It was large and well away from the dining room, on the first floor with windows along one wall which looked onto the street in front of the hotel. There were several tables and comfortable chairs contoured for a body. Almost a dozen people sat at the tables, mostly men, a few women. All were nicely dressed. The women’s legs were all bare from mid-calf down, though one wore a floor-length dress.

Sarah showed her room key to the room attendant and entered the room.

It contained many newspapers. There were a number of reference books, very general ones such as geographies and dictionaries. Near each of the four corners of the room a stand held a copy of an encyclopedia from the future. That must have been expensive to print; the books were huge and had black and white illustrations.

The newspapers were organized by country and date going back a year. The languages were English, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch, and Portuguese. The latest issues were two weeks old.

Sarah set out to do a reconnaissance of the newspapers, to get a better feel for the wider area in which she now lived. She spent most time on German newspapers, as she was deep in the Germanies and most immediately affected by events here. She also needed to practice the German language. The written language, naturally, was easier to understand than the spoken. She could linger over each utterance, and consult a dictionary. There was at least one at each table for each of the languages.

In the late afternoon she took a bathroom and drink break, which also stretched her body. Then she returned to work, grateful for her mother and her insistence that HER daughters be well educated, not boyish runabouts. Just before 6:00 the attendant rang a little tinkly bell and announced that the library would be closed shortly for dinner.

Sarah visited her room and freshened up. She exchanged her dress for something a little showier and combed out her hair from its usual pony tail.

The greeter at the dining room looked at her attire with a carefully neutral gaze but made no comment. A waitress seated her at a table for two near the farther wall. Sarah recognized with amusement that she’d been put as far out of sight as possible.

She didn’t mind. She preferred to focus on her food, not conversation. The location also gave her the best view of people when they came in.

The crowd was definitely upscale, the men wearing dark formal attire, the women beautiful long gowns of many colors.

The general attitude was gay, the women speaking more often and more loudly. Sarah recognized that social warfare was being waged. So it had been back home though the expatriate commercial society there sported only a few families. They were from several countries, so conversation was multilingual. Her mother had forced her to attend such affairs for most of her young life. Sarah was grateful now.

What was her mother doing right this instant?

Toward the end of the meal Sarah was not spared company. The diners needed new meat to chew. She was invited to join a large table with several families for digestifs.

She accepted and was introduced around by the older of the women as “our little guest from the far, FAR south.” She refused a full glass of wine but accepted one with only a couple of inches of drink.

She was asked questions but the lack of interest in her answers led her to answer very briefly. That was enough for most people, who only wanted a chance to talk about themselves.

She made an excuse to leave early. Doing the same were two teenagers who’d sat next to each other. They hurried and caught up with her.

The redhead said, “I’m so sorry they put you through that. Please forgive us?”

The blond said, “I was mortified at how rude our mothers were to you.”

Sarah smiled. “Thank you, but I wasn’t bothered in the least. I’ve sat through worse back at home.”

“In darkest Africa? Tell us more!”

So Sarah did, in the suite of the redhead’s family on the highest floor. She also got the two young women to talk about themselves.

Near 10:00 she excused herself, with hugs all around. She wanted to watch the second showing of the night’s movie.

This was in a room on the second floor large enough to comfortably hold three dozen chairs. Only about half of the seats were occupied. The attendees were mostly younger people, including three teenaged girls who were there with two older women, mothers or aunts from the family resemblances. Sarah found a seat near the center and sat. An attendant powered up a large “TV set” and a “VCR player.” He turned the lights down low and announced the movie, Pale Rider, a “Western.”

There were some groans at that. Some others laughed and called the groaners “too artsy for your own good.” The groaners replied with insults about “Neandertals” but laughingly.

The rest of the room shushed them and everyone settled down to watch the movie.

It was midnight when the lights came back up. The watchers seemed mostly happy. Sarah was too, partly for the interesting cultural values shown in the movie and partly because it was well-done dramatically.

Though she did fault the combat scenes as being too unrealistic. Especially near the beginning when a good guy was being beaten up by bad guys using axe staves. The Pale Rider then rescued the good guy by using another axe stave on the bad guys. Sarah would just have shot them dead.

She MUST get herself a gun or two. A short one and a long one.

<>

Breakfast two mornings later included “pancakes” and syrup with sausage and coffee and cream. She found it interesting that coffee was still available though the USE was at war with the source of coffee, the Ottoman Empire.

In her room she cleared her mouth of after-meal after-taste by swishing water through her teeth. She used the toilet and dressed in the soft “blue jeans” she’d bought the day before, dark red “tennis shoes,” and a sleeveless green “tee-shirt.” Over that she donned her shoulder harness. This let her mount on her back her staff and a quiver of arrows in easy reach of her hands but free of them.

She took up one of her bows, strung and un-strung it to test its draw and the string, and descended to the first floor.

Leaving the hotel she was halted by the desk clerk.

“Could I get a taxi for you, Milady?”

“No, that’s all right. I’m just going to scout out the area, get some idea of what the Ring of Fire country is like.”

“That’s a pretty big area. It’s all of three miles to each edge.”

“Oh, I’m just going out a mile or so in each direction and circle around.”

The young man nodded doubtfully.

The area was hilly so her progress was in a very ragged circle. She hiked up hills, jogged down them and on flat areas, stopping frequently to rest and appreciate the views. There were numerous small streams in addition to the major one, Buffalo Creek, which ran from west to east through downtown Grantville.

The green views were lovely underneath the blue skies. She could come to love this land.

The path of her trek at the one-mile-out distance intersected the Grantville High School at a little before 11:00 when the school lunch cafeteria opened. She’d intended to return to her room and clean up and re-dress. But she could not do that now.

Screw it. They wanted to talk to her, not the other way around. She’d come as she was.

There was a security guard just inside the doors to the school.

“Hello. I have an appointment to see a teacher. Mr. Dwight Thomas.”

He looked doubtful. She knew enough of local fashion to understand that her clothing was informal. She was also wearing weapons. But he made a phone call.

“Sir. A lady to see you. Her name is–“

Sarah spoke up as he paused. “Sarah Ocampo! From Africa!”

“…I’ll send her in.

“You’ll have to leave your weapons here, Milady.”

“Of course. Here.”

She removed her staff and bow and arrows and the harness to which they were attached. He placed them under the desk behind which he sat. She didn’t bother to divest herself of her hidden weapons.

She followed his directions, first straight down a hall. It was unadorned except for a long glass case on one wall with images of sports victory celebrations. The hall was much in line with what she’d learned about up-timers. Very functional. A zigzag brought her to a line of offices. A man standing in an open doorway looking down the hallway waved to her.

She came close to him and he extended a hand. Sarah went with the up-timer custom of shaking hands, meanwhile examining him. He was in his forties, although she was learning that up-timers generally looked a good deal younger than she might have judged. He was tall, slender, had sandy hair, and was dressed in an up-time business suit of dark grey with a blue tie.

“So glad you could make it, Milady. May I introduce you to two friends of mine?”

He ushered her into his office, big, with a window view onto a green field.

The two people were a man and a woman. The man must be in his eighties with a brush mustache and thinning grey hair. He was dressed in a tweed jacket over a white shirt and rumpled khakis. The woman was young, maybe in her twenties. She wore jeans, very clean and blue, not faded as Sarah had recently seen on people who wore them, and white rubber “running shoes.” Her shirt was light blue and she wore an open jacket of some slick dark material with white letters on both fronts.

They shook hands too and Thomas gave both their names while seating everyone else, then himself. He sat behind his desk, the others in front, in chairs facing her and framing Thomas. Her seat was in front of them. She crossed one leg over the other, implying they were safe from immediate attack.

“Bill here was very interested to find that someone from Africa had come to Grantville. He’s been there too.”

The man was staring at Sarah almost rudely, looking over her clothing all the way down to her feet.

“Say something African,” he said. It was almost a challenge.

Sarah ignored challenges unless she had a good reason to accept them, and always only on her terms. She looked neutrally back and said something in her favorite of the three African dialects she knew.

“What? What did you say?”

“The sky is blue.” Actually she’d said You look silly.

“I don’t know that one. Say something in another dialect.”

Sarah obligingly went through that second and a third challenge.

Bill turned to Thomas. “I don’t know any of those.”

“Naturally not,” said the young woman, a sturdy brunette named Eve Zibarth. “Africa has hundreds of languages. She’s from West Africa, I was told. Were you stationed there?”

Thomas said to Sarah, “I apologize for Bill, Milady. When he heard someone was from that far away he doubted the claim. And since he visited Africa twice–” The young woman broke in. “–and because he’s a pain in the butt if you don’t humor him–

Thomas gave her a squelching look which she ignored.

“–I thought it wise to double check your claim.”

Bill said, “They SOUND right, at least. But what do I know? I’m only a former coach.”

Thomas cast a glance at the man and continued.

“I hope you’ll forgive any insult.”

“I wasn’t insulted. If I had been I’d have killed him.”

She was lying, of course. But it was a subtle hint that they shouldn’t provoke her.

Bill began laughing, settling back in his chair.

The young woman looked troubled. “You don’t mean that, do you?”

Sarah grinned at her.

“Of course not. Unlike some, I am civilized.”

Thomas looked at the “watch” on his wrist and stood. “Now we’ve all been introduced we did promise Madam Ocampo lunch.”

Sarah stood and said, “Could we get my weapons now? I hate to leave them unguarded.”

Thomas hesitated, then said “Sure.”

Thus it was that Sarah entered the cafeteria wearing a staff and a quiver of arrows upon her back, carrying an unstrung bow. It had the effect she’d desired: to alert the high school and its students that an interesting player had come to town. She’d already decided that such students could be valuable employees and partners in any businesses in which she might become engaged. This was her first move to recruit them.

The talk was general at first, she getting to know them better and vice versa. Then they had her briefly describe her trip from La Mina to Grantsville. She left out the two fights in which she’d been.

As they stood at the end of the conversation Sarah promised to come back and talk more. Several of the other teachers wanted to meet her too.

Eve asked her how well she shot her bow. Sarah answered honestly: very well.

“Would you show us how?”

“Us” had become Bill and Eve and a crowd of young women and men. Thomas had a class to teach.

“Sure.”

They trooped out to a “gymnasium” where two of the students brought out a round target on a tripod and carried it out to the “football” field.

They first set it up fifty feet away. That was a ridiculously easy distance for Sarah. She had them double the distance.

“Actually it would start to become a challenge much further away. But this is about right for a real fight. I’d start shooting when riders came at me closer than this.”

Bill’s eyes narrowed a bit. The young woman’s eyes rounded. Both, Sarah guessed, knew then that she’d had actual experiences where she’d been a target of deadly force.

When everything was ready Sarah, who’d already estimated wind direction and speed, drew an arrow from her quiver and aimed it at the target. She took her time, which was brief for most people. She loosed. The arrow struck near the middle of the yellow center circle. Which was announced by one of the students who was looking at the target through a small black magnifying device.

Now, knowing how well she’d estimated the best shot, Sarah began shooting as fast as she could without hurrying. After the third arrow a Yip! came from her, then a croon. And more Yips.

She quit firing when her quiver was just past half full. Never shoot till empty if at all possible.

She unstrung her bow and tucked it into in its slot on her back harness.

Her company began to walk toward the target. Some began to jog. One to run. Sarah was the last to follow, with Bill beside her.

“Do you always make that sound?”

She nodded.

“Why?”

“It just comes unless I try to hold it back. When I found it scared people I quit trying. By now as soon as they hear me, back home, they usually drop their weapons and run.”

“So you have a reputation.”

“Yes. Exaggerated, of course. But I like to win battles without fighting.”

“Sun Tzu thought the same.”

“Who?”

“Some old China general.”

When she and Bill arrived at the target everyone was looking at her with interest bordering on awe. She’d grouped her arrows into an irregular cross like those worn by the worshippers of that religion, the one about a rabble rouser who’d been inept enough to get himself killed.

Bill began laughing.

<>

Sarah was given full privileges at the high school library. As a strategic resource it was open till midnight every day except Sunday and had two security guards at all times. Copies of selected pages of books and magazine articles could be bought. Cheap copies were farmed out to down-timers with good handwriting though this took longer. More expensive copies were “hard copied.” Very expensive ones were typeset and available only in bulk printed out by one of the several professional printing houses in Grantville.

“Full privileges” was a rare privilege. It meant she could use the library during school hours. This also meant that teachers and students often buttonholed her to answer some question, or just to talk about some topic. She did not mind this. A merchant like her father knew that the number of “friends” one had the better one could find an important resource.

When the language people knew how many languages she spoke they sometimes invited her to a class so their students could speak to someone with real not academic accents and limited fluency.

She also got to know the team sports and the teams. She found them fun though silly from a combat standpoint. She often came to games. This led her to become “friends” with some parents. A few of those became real friends not just scratch-your-back friends. She was invited to dinner and helped students with language lessons. She was always willing to be snickered at when she made mistakes, not minding the quips of friends. Sometimes she watched TV with a family.

It felt good to have friends. She almost never did. To whites back home she was a “blood.” To blacks she was “one of them.” She was tolerated because of her father and his wealth. It didn’t help that she often joined the locals who went into the up-country against bandits and was so effective that she became known as the White Panther. Legends, dangerous ones, did not have friends.

In Grantville she was happy. Though there were some disappointments. The six-shooters and Winchesters that Clint Eastwood used with such deadly effect were still some years off. And there was no hope that James Bond’s automatics would be available within decades.

<>

She found others friends. Bill was one of the dearest to her. He flirted with her but not seriously, saying and meaning that sex was just a fond memory. He introduced her to his chess-and-checkers friends. She played with them sometimes. She was a bit pissed that she so often lost but laughed at the losses and her own petulance.

The weather became cooler. Sarah bought clothes to match.

She also wanted cheaper lodging. Her remaining treasure, in banks and out, was great but would eventually run out.

One day in early October Bill led her to a boarding house at which some of his chess-and-checkers friends had stayed. He was driving a pedal-powered “trike” that he said was good exercise, a bicycle converted into a trike by adding on a side car made from a salvaged bicycle. Sarah jogged alongside. It was only two miles from the hotel.

They finally turned into a side street. On both sides were two- and three-story wooden houses of several beige colors. Above the door of one of them was a sign: SAFARELLI HOUSE.

Bill parked his trike and got off it. They walked up the shallow stone stairs which cut through a green lawn.

“The Safarellis were left up-time and the bank sold the house to a woman of good family who turned it into a boarding house.”

The front door was unlocked and Sarah followed Bill into a wide hall. Atop the door a tiny bell tinkled. Inside a room off to one side of the hall a teen-aged girl sitting reading a book looked up at them.

“Hello, Judy. This is Mistress Ocampo. Do you still have a room available?”

“Yes. We have two. One recently became available and we just finished cleaning it today.”

She showed Sarah the two rooms and Sarah sent Bill on his way. She’d liked the one on the second floor at the rear of the house.

She returned to the Higgins, packed up her belongings, and took them in a horse-drawn taxi back to Safarelli House.

In her room she soon disposed of her few items of clothing and toiletry in a closet and white bathroom with a shower and a wide porcelain shelf. The shelf contained a water basin and stood before a mirror which stretched nearly wall-to-wall of the small room. A metal spout came out of the wall under the mirror. It took her a few minutes to figure out how to use the blue C and the red H settings. Then she delighted in turning the faucet on and off before quickly chastising herself for using up water. Though Grantville seemed to have no problem with a water shortage.

The room had a commode, a sit-down toilet like those of the Higgins with a handle to flush the bowl after one had used it. More evidence that Grantville had an abundance of water. Sarah had received no warning to limit water use. Judith seemed like an intelligent and responsible young woman. Sarah thought she’d not have neglected to make such a warning if there’d been a need to.

After unpacking everything she lay down atop the patchwork quilt atop the bed, her head on a pillow under the quilt. She was tired and she slept.

A time later a knock on her door woke her. She called out, “Come in!”

The woman who opened the door to the dim room was perhaps fifty. She wore up-time clothing of a dress only to below her knees.

“We’re having dinner. Did Judith forget to tell you it was included in your rent?”

“No, she told me. I just lay down for a moment to rest my eyes.”

“Well, come on down if you want. The food is still hot.”

“I’ll be right there.”

Sarah washed her hands and headed downstairs.

Around a table which could seat twelve sat nine people. Sarah took a seat and looked around. A girl of maybe fifteen in a short up-time dress came near and asked for her drink preferences. She left for Sarah’s “Water please.”

Sarah glanced at her fellow boarders before taking food and bread from the serving platters and dishes. They were a varied group, young and old, most well-dressed and two less so.

The boarders were a congenial group judging by the conversation, though none sought to engage Sarah despite interested glances in her direction and a few nods of greeting.

She was not shy about starting a conversation. She did so.

<>

The other boarding house renters eventually found out she spent much time in the high school library. At dinner one night one of the up-timers complained about this, saying the authorities ought to keep “our” knowledge to “ourselves.” A young man at the table disagreed.

“That’s short sighted. Most Grantvillers are now ‘foreigners’ like me. We outnumber the original up-timers ten to one. I’m as patriotic as anybody here. I fought for this country. That’s where I got this gimpy leg. I’m an AMERICAN, damn it. It’s a state of mind, not a birthright.”

His last sentence sounded like a quote but he was clearly passionate about what he said.

“Knowledge should be free to everyone. It’s a weapon aimed at our enemies. The lords of this world and the religious fanatics. The ones who say we little people are of no account.”

He shut up and applied himself to his meal. The table was momentarily quiet till someone remarked on some local gossip.

The veteran’s words stuck with her all through the evening and after she tucked herself into bed and turned out the light. And as she drifted off she realized a fact that had snuck up on her. She’d found a home here.

SHE was now an American.

 

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