26. Have fun.
David P. Cantrell is an author and a member of the Edgewise Words Inn staff.
Rose stopped when she saw him. She’d become quite taken with him over the past month. He was nothing like the men she worked with at the Institute. They were either studious science types or wide-eyed dreamers. He was a man of action. She smiled thinking about her first impression of him. It wasn’t very favorable—things change, sometimes for the better. “Why are you so enamored with the view James? It’s not as if you haven’t seen it a hundred times before.”
James turned and smiled at the young woman. He found her attractive, although her teeth were crooked, her hair was mousy and her body was less than perfect. “Hi Dr. North I didn’t know you were watching me. How is Alara?”
“She’s sleeping. Her feelings of anxiety subsided as she listened to the odd melody she recorded on my IPod.”
“Alara is odd in many respects.”
“I suppose so, but I find her endearing like a baby panda bear. She certainly has triggered my maternal instincts since I found her at the wreckage site.”
“I’ve noticed, and you’ve been a ferocious mother to boot. I’m amazed that you won her recognition as a sentient being in the Federal Court and kept her alive at the same time. You’re a woman of distinction.”
“Stop it James. I’m no such thing. I just want Alara to have a home. She has a tender soul and deserves it. You’re the hero, protecting us from the self-righteous enforcers of ignorance. Alara, as naïve as she is in our world, knows that you’re willing to risk your life for her and me.”
The sound of screeching tires forced James to the window.
“The Enforcers are here. I count four vehicles. Hurry, wake Alara and go to the safe room. Lock the door. There’s a ladder to an underground passage in the closet. You’ll find an old drainage system at the bottom, turn right and run. You’ll pass several tunnels on your left with an S shape above the opening. Ignore them until you find a broken S, you’ll know it when you see it. Take the tunnel to a ladder. At the top, you’ll find supplies, keys to a vehicle and a GPS device that will direct you to a safe house. The car is in the garage. A cell phone at your destination will contact the Marshal’s office, just press the 7 key; they’ll take care of you.”
“No, you must come with us,” Rose pleaded.
“I can’t. I have to protect your escape. Please take Alara to safety. Don’t argue—there’s no time for it.”
Tears flowed, but she followed his instructions, and hearing an explosion followed by gunshots she locked the safe room door. Alara held her back from the closet.
“We must go Alara,” Rose said.
“No! We must not go until James is safe.”
“I want nothing more than James’s safety, but you come first. Please don’t make it harder than it needs to be.”
The small, fluffy humanoid started to grow and glow. The safe room crackled—it scared Rose, but she trusted Alara and didn’t panic. For an instant, the room became as bright as a lightning bolt. When her eyes recovered, James stood next to her. She couldn’t help herself; she grabbed him, and kissed every part of his head she could reach.
“Can you two hear me?” Alara asked.
James and Rose responded with a giddy laugh.
“Good. It’s time to go. I think the idiots out there have recovered from James’s disappearance and are about to set an explosive at the safe room door. I’d like to be far away when it goes off.”
They scrambled down the ladder. James carried Alara on his shoulder like a toddler. She whispered into his ear as they ran for the broken S, “Congratulations human, you passed the test.”
James wanted to know what Alara meant, but he had a more pressing problem. Finding the broken S was more difficult than he anticipated. As the drainage culvert grew darker, their paced slowed to a walk.
“Shouldn’t we move faster James?” Rose said.
“I can’t see much and my flashlight would be a beacon. I can’t go faster.”
“I can see quite well James,” Alara said. “Move as fast as you can, I’ll watch for the broken S.”
They sped up and covered several hundred yards before Alara stopped them.
“There’s no tunnel here Alara,” James said.
“There’s one behind us,” Rose said.
“Why didn’t you stop us sooner?” James asked.
Alara pushed away from James’ shoulder and turned her big eyes toward his. “I said I could see well in this place. I didn’t say I had eyes in the back of my head.”
James had to laugh and wondered if Alara intended to be funny.
The cramped tunnel required them to crouch but they made good time. The tunnel curved parallel to the culvert a hundred feet in. James felt more secure and slowed to a walk to avoid too much sound. Finally, they came to the ladder.
James and Rose needed to stretch and rest before leaving their sanctuary and took the opportunity to use the bathroom. When Alara also took advantage of the toilet, James was inquisitive. “Do you know anything about her, ah—plumbing?”
“No. She is very hirsute,” Rose tittered.
“She is isn’t she? Her fur is beautiful though. My first thought was of a large koala, but with big eyes and the coat of a golden retriever. It’s like she was designed to appeal to humans.”
They packed the supplies in the back of the Dodge crossover. It had an integrated booster seat that thrilled Alara because she sat high enough to see well. James was glad the windows were dark. The GPS directed them to Ogden, Utah a twelve-hour drive from Seattle.
“Get comfy ladies we’ve got a long drive.”
“It is time for the next part of my job. We must go to the United Nations in New York.”
“What is your job?” he asked.
“I’m the Inspector Envoy of the United Planets of Space. I’ve concluded that your planet should be offered an opportunity to join our union,” Alara said.
“Somehow I’m not surprised, and I think you’ll do great in New York. Everybody loves getting a package from UPS.”
David P. Cantrell is an author and member of the Edgewise Words Inn staff.
“James, you have greatly exceeded my instructions. I trusted you would find success in your task to purchase New Orleans. But, never did I expect a treaty of this nature. Sir, I’m astonished,” Jefferson said.
“Honestly, Mr. President, I do not fully understand these events myself,” said Monroe. “We negotiated diligently for New Orleans and had thought the deed was at hand when an agent of First Consul Bonaparte abruptly declared an end to our conclave. He informed us the First Consul would see us when his schedule allowed it. Robert and I were greatly disappointed and worried that we had failed you.”
Jefferson rose, turned and looked out the window. I could hear Monroe and Livingston nervously shifting in their chairs, but no one spoke for several moments until Jefferson said, “Bonaparte’s a clever man; he most certainly had some plan in mind when he stopped the negotiations. Had you no clue?”
“None for two days,” said Livingston. “Then Bonaparte’s Minister of Finance came to see us. He inquired as to our authority to act. I assured him we had your full support and authority, but that all treaties required the approval of the Senate.”
Jefferson continued staring out the window, but his words defined the true focus. “Bonaparte’s seizure of Louisiana from Spain was troubling. But, his blockade of American exports through New Orleans was a most grievous offense. I thought he planned to establish a powerful military presence in his colony.”
“As did we, Mr. President, but, why send the Finance Minister? The next day our delegation was summoned to Versailles,” said Monroe.
“Versailles? That is strange. It is neither his seat of government, nor his residence,” Jefferson said taking his seat at the desk.
“For those very reasons, we thought it most likely to be an embassy ball or some such affair and wore our best attire. You can imagine our surprise when we arrived and saw no embassy coaches. A servant led us to an opulent room and a table capable of seating thirty or more. We still had no idea of what was to come,” said Livingston.
“It appears that Bonaparte was attempting to impress you, or perhaps to intimidate you to gain some benefit for his objective,” said Jefferson.
“You may be right, sir. Moments later large ornate doors opened and Bonaparte strode in followed by his entourage. Much is said of Bonaparte’s height, but he projected a stature that reached beyond the physical. George Washington was the only other man to elicit such a response from me. Admittedly, he was quite tall,” said Monroe.
Clearly interested Jefferson asked, “What was Bonaparte’s demeanor?”
“Very determined, but I would also say gracious. He approached me with an open hand and, in English, thanked me for meeting with him. As if I had had a choice, but still, it was gracious. Our negotiations had been in French so his use of English was a polite gesture.
“He made a brief speech about the United States being the midwife of the French Republic, and that it deserved special consideration amongst the nations that share France’s orbit. He then befuddled us by the offer to sell all of Louisiana for 60 million francs, payable over time, plus the assumption of French debts amounting to no more than 20 million francs,” said Livingston.
“What conversion rate and terms did he demand?” Jefferson asked slowly.
“We thought them quite reasonable,” Monroe said. “The debts are to be paid as claims against France are settled, but can’t exceed $3,750,000. The remaining $11,250,000 is to be paid with a 6% note, interest only payable for 15 years, after which $3,000,000 annual principle payments will be due.”
“He gave no explanation for refusing to sell New Orleans alone?” asked Jefferson.
“No, sir, none at all,” Livingston said.
“Did he shed any light on why he wanted United States to purchase all of Louisiana?” asked Jefferson.
“None, other than his previously stated kind feelings for our country,” Monroe said.
Jefferson stood again and paced. I could sense he’d reached a conclusion when he turn and spoke to his guest with a wide smile. “Very interesting, I suspect his disastrous losses in Haiti and his failure to obtain Florida from Spain may have had a hand. The threat of war with Britain must have been on his mind too. I imagine these things had more to do with his decision than his abiding friendship for the United States.”
“Frankly, Mr. President, we were dumbfounded by the offer. I asked Bonaparte if we might have some time to consider his proposal. Bonaparte stared at me for what felt like minutes but were only seconds, and said ‘Yes, but not long,’” said Livingston.
Monroe’s face looked flushed and the pace of his speech increased. “We then said our goodbyes and retired to our quarters in Paris. I think it’s fair to say that we were most excited about the proposal. We didn’t have maps of Louisiana with us, but recalled its size to be approximately 826,000 square miles.”
“I’m curious, gentlemen, how did you find it acceptable to commit your country to $15 million when you were only authorized $10 million. Did you consider whether or not I had authority under the Constitution to acquire so much new territory?” asked Jefferson as he sat down.
“Well, Mr. President,” Monroe said with a chuckle, “you and I had discussed that the purchase of New Orleans was justified under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, to protect Mississippi shipments. The idea of securing the western shore of the Mississippi seemed to be a reasonable extension of the concept. But, to be honest, sir, Robert made the strongest argument with his figures.”
Jefferson leaned forward and said, “Robert, please explain.”
“As I saw it, sir, Bonaparte was offering us New Orleans for $10 million and the remainder of Louisiana for $5 million. Our country would double its territory for less than a penny per acre. Good heavens, sir, I could buy five acres for the cost of a tankard of beer at that price. I begged James to execute the treaty as soon as possible. I feared Bonaparte would gain his senses and change his mind.”
Jefferson erupted in laughter and said, “You make a strong argument, Mr. Livingston. It would seem only a fool would reject this opportunity. It is my hope the fools in Congress are outnumbered. Sirs, you have accomplished more than I could have prayed for, and have given our republic the ability to stretch its wings of freedom to the Rocky Mountains. Come gentlemen; let us retire to the Library for refreshments.”
I’d completed my assignment and encouraged Buzzy to seek the kitchen. A small whine prompted Jefferson to open a door for us. As we ambled, I visualized the holo-cine my chronicled memories would produce. It should keep the AmerCan team busy for a while, I thought with pride.
* * *
“..er awake?” Neetang was saying when the chamber seal was broken.
“Don’t I look awake?”
“Yes, but a Chrono-tech is precise in all he says and does.”
I smiled at my rotund friend. As exasperating as he is, he cares and works hard. I wonder when-where he’ll send me next.
* * *
Roland the Chronicler is a work of fiction based on historical events and documents. Literary license has been taken, some might say abused, but the gist of the story regarding Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase is accurate or implied by documented events. The importance of the acquisition is indisputable.
Old Virginia is charming in a way, but the signs of humanity are everywhere. I’d spent a vacation in this area on my thirtieth birthday; it’s much different now. These days’ people live in widespread communities of a few thousand. The forests, rivers and meadows surrounding the enclaves team with animals and plants. The Virginians lived on vast tracts of land just to support a few hundred people. I only saw domesticated animals and farms. It’s not fair to compare past-time to our time, after all their sustenance depends on organic materials.
My musing halted when, “Buzzy to heel,” roared from the porch above our resting place. A handsome 6’ 2” man strode down the steps. Buzzy jumped to his heel before Jefferson’s feet settled on the ground.
“Let’s take a walk, fella. This could be a momentous day. James Monroe and Robert Livingston are bringing a document from our old friend, but potential enemy, France. How I wish Spain could have resisted Bonaparte’s pressure. I’d feel much better dealing with her. We could have turned her to our way of thinking, but France is strong and wants power. We’re at a crossroads, Buzzy. If Napoleon refuses to let us warehouse and export goods through New Orleans, he’ll strangle our country’s economy and force us into a treaty with the British. I cannot abide that if we are to remain the empire of liberty.”
He kept his thoughts to himself while patrolling his plantation. Jefferson was cordial to his workers and often asked about children or the health of a loved one, even using names. His workers liked him as far as I could tell. Our path through lush fields of grain ended at a road. Jefferson paused and then turned right. We had gone a few paces when he stopped and reversed direction. Buzzy sat on his haunches and watched him walk away. I can’t read my merge partner’s mind, but I’d bet I know what he was thinking—make up your mind.
“Come on fella,” Jefferson said with a smile. Our new direction led to the great house along a road bordered by six one-room homes and several workshops. Small black children in tattered clothes played near the houses under the watchful eyes of a few older children—they looked to be ten or so. I saw no adults or adolescents until a large, decently dressed black man approached from one of the shops.
“Master Thomas, may I speak?”
“Yes, Joseph. What do you want to say?”
“Master, your cook’s son tried to run away last night. I stopped him, but I thought you should know,” Joseph said hesitantly.
“Well done, Joseph. Do you know why Michael did this? Has he been mistreated by an overseer?” Jefferson asked obviously concerned.
“No, master, nothing likes that and he’s a good boy. The fool eyed a young kitchen girl when he delivered vegetables to your sickly neighbor, Miss Rush, and wanted to court the girl.”
“I can’t let this go unpunished,” Jefferson said calmly, “but, I don’t want to lose his labor either. Give him one lash this night, in front of as many as you can assemble. I want it made clear that I won’t tolerate runaways. Find him a good match among my slaves. That should temper his ardor.”
“Yes, master,” Joseph said respectfully and then bowed deeply.
“Do not bow to me Joseph; I’m no English lord!” Jefferson said indignantly.
I was flabbergasted—nothing in my study of the Brito-Franco culture referred to slaves. Indentured servants were common, but they earned their freedom at the end of their contract. I had assumed the AmerCan culture would have the same standards. Jefferson kept slaves. I had read his eloquent declaration about the inalienable right of man to be free of oppression. How could he justify his own slaves? It’s one more way in which humanity changed since the Eruption and why we are a different species, homo pacificus.
“Buzzy! Leave that chicken alone, to heel.” I had been lost in my own thoughts until the dog barked at the bird. “We best be afoot, fella. Our guests will arrive soon. I’m most anxious to see what they bring me.”
I couldn’t feel the heat from the fire, but that didn’t stop me from leaping away when the sight of flames triggered a flight response. My primitive mind said singed bottom coming, although I was non-corporeal and not at risk. Pots and pans came into view, and I could see a dark-skinned woman enter the room. She’d wrapped her hair with colorful cloth and a white apron around her ample waist. A shaggy dog followed her. Buzzy, I assumed and immediately merged.
My intrusion distracted Buzzy; he didn’t see the swat coming. “Get out of my kitchen, you flea mop. You’ll get fed when I’m ready,” the cook yelled, a wicked looking broom in her hand. Buzzy and I bolted through the door and took off for parts unknown.
Before I knew it, trees were all around us and I’d completely lost my bearings. Thankfully, Buzzy’s nose could smell coffee from the kitchen and I knew we hadn’t exceeded my safe range by much. The broom hadn’t done real damage, however it struck where the arrow had hit my former merge partner and for some reason triggered a sharp pain that put Buzzy to flight.
Feeling pain sustained by a partner is an unpleasant side effect of merging for the mana. Receiving pain from the mana can be an unpleasant side effect for the partner also, as Buzzy now knew. Worried we might get too far from the portal, I urged Buzzy to think about food. He froze. His shaggy head rose up, and his snout swept the air for a scent. He caught one that I couldn’t identify. To me, it was musty like an old sweater. Buzzy saw the world in smells as much as light. I couldn’t do it, even merged. He trotted toward the smell, which wasn’t in the direction of the coffee and portal. The trees thinned and I could see a split-rail fence. The nature of the smell became clear to me when a small herd of ewes and lambs came into view. Buzzy bound over the fence, ears back and head down; he headed for the nearest lamb.
Oops, too strong of an urge, it overrode his training. I had to think fast and couldn’t plant an image of his master, because I hadn’t seen him yet. The cook’s image was out of the question. Experience with male canines taught me that three things ruled them: pack, food and sex. I planted a sexual desire. He stumbled as if someone had yanked his tail. Confused for a moment, he recovered his footing and sniffed the air. We took off running, towards the coffee this time.
The object of his desire was so near, but so far. I felt sorry for Buzzy. He pawed the shed door, drooling with anticipation; her ripeness was palatable to him. The shed kept him at bay. One crisis averted, and not wanting another, I suggested food again, but less intensely. Buzzy resisted, but hunger finally won out, and he rambled to the kitchen door.
“There you be,” the cook said. “Where’d you get to? Now, you stay and I’s get you some vittles.” Relieved to be near humans, I let Buzzy do his own thing for the rest of the morning. He found a shady spot near the front door of the magnificent home designed by Jefferson and kept a lazy watch over the grounds. But, so far, I hadn’t learned much about my when-where. It seemed idyllic, but I wondered how long that image would last.
David P. Cantrell is an author and member of the Edgewise Words Inn staff.
“Yes. It’s comfortable, but why do you ask me that every time I past-travel?”
“Because one day it may not be comfortable and you might get hurt. Don’t fight me, Roland. I’m a chrono-tech. It’s my job to protect you, and bring your stubborn self home alive.”
“I’m sorry. I get antsy before each mission. It isn’t you; it’s my fear of the unknown.”
“You told me the unknown is what attracted you to past-travel,” Neetang said, while his raised eyebrow added, ‘Didn’t you?’
“Yeah, I did. What can I say? I’m a complicated guy full of bravado and self-doubts. Do you have information on my merge target?”
“It’s a male dog named Buzzy. He’s the offspring of a Briard that Jefferson acquired while the ambassador to France. The breed is known to be intelligent, good companions, and rarely a problem.”
“Rarely a problem, sounds ominous, what aren’t you telling me, Neetang?”
“The breed’s killed livestock under its protection.”
“Surely, not if they’re well fed and cared for?”
“Perhaps not, but if Buzzy develops a taste for livestock, I suggest you get your complicated self through the portal. Jefferson’s been known to execute dogs that he blamed for livestock losses.”
“Okay, and thanks for the heads up. Anything else?”
“The portal will open in a kitchen near its fireplace. The flicker of flames should hide it, but more importantly, we expect Buzzy to be close. Look for a large shaggy canine.”
“Got it. Big dog.”
“Don’t get farther than a light-microsecond from the portal before you merge.”
“You’re such a tech-nut, why don’t you just say 300 paces like a normal person would?”
“Because a chrono-tech is precise in all that he says and does.”
“You’re helpless. Let’s start the checklist. My when-where date is July 14, 1803 Pre-Eruption Time.
“My when-where place is the presidential office of Thomas Jefferson.”
“Negative. It’s the home of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello in old Virginia.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure. A chrono-tech is precise in all that—”
“Never mind, I shouldn’t have asked. What time of day will I arrive?”
“It’ll be just after dawn. We expect Jefferson to receive guests before noon. Your job is to merge with Buzzy and chronicle the interaction between them.”
“You expect me to merge with a dog hours before I chronicle. What are you thinking?”
“Look, it’s not my call. Our intelligence predicts the best time to merge with the dog is in the early morning before the household is active.”
“I see your point, but what am I going to do while I wait?”
“Stop whining and be glad you’re being sent to a safe environment. Here we go. I’m closing the stasis chamber now and will open the portal in ten, nine, eight, seven…”
I couldn’t hear Neetang once the chamber sealed. But, I didn’t care. I was mentally preparing for the disorientation that came with past-travel. I knew what to expect from the transfer, but I never knew what would actually happen.
David P. Cantrell is an author and a member of the Edgewise Word Inn staff.