Authors: Mark London Williams
Slow pox affects mammals.
The only mammals we have there are small—
and scurrying. Are we using them for science in ways I am unaware
of, or has the slow pox virus mutated already?
Because of a previous exposure to
myself, caught by
I didn’t hear my friend approach.
Like the other humans I have seen up here,
he is bundled up in the borrowed skins of other mammals. But unlike
the other humans, he is the only one I now call friend: North Wind
“Many Lights — they are hunting you
He calls me Many Lights. I have learned his
tongue. I have also, alas, given him some of my lingo-spot, for
I now must hope that I haven’t given my
friend slow pox as well.
Which brings me to the second reason this
may be my last homework assignment: If the plasmechanical material
itself is infected, there may be no way back to Saurius Prime.
“They are hunting you now, Many Lights, and
I believe they mean to kill you.”
However, staying may not be so easy,
Eli: Up River
I’m in St. Louis, it’s raining, and I’m
being sent to a pirogue.
be with the dugout
crew! Let him row!”
“Put him with the keel boat and he can help
our way up river!”
Now I just have to figure out what a pirogue
. The keelboat, though, you can’t miss: it looks like a
barge, made of big wooden blocks — kinda squared off, right down to
the cabinets plopped down one end. Least, I think they’re cabinets
— all the men from Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery are
stuffing things into them.
And Seaman, Lewis’s big black shaggy
Newfoundland dog, is smelling as many of the supplies as he can.
That is, when he’s not adding his own: sometimes he shows up with a
couple squirrels in his mouth, which the men then fry up to
I wonder if there’s some real
“Try the pirogue, lad. The red one. You can
help me row.”
I look, and recognize the grinning man in
the wet, smelly leather. He seems to have a lot more whiskers on
his face than last time, though it’s only been a day or two since
I’ve seen him.
“Charles Floyd,” he says, sticking out his
hand. “I’m one of the sergeants. But you can just call me Kentuck.
That’s a nickname.”
I shake his hand. Although his skin is wet,
I can feel the hard blisters on it. The shake is friendly. “You
ain’t from Kentucky, too, by any chance?”
I can see, behind the whiskers and the grime
on his face, that he’s actually kinda young. I mean, he’s older
than me — he’s not a kid — but he’s one of those young grownups,
the kind who don’t have kids of their own yet, or who are still in
college, or in a band, or in a comedy show on one of the
“No, I’m from—” I stop. I better not keep
saying “Valley of the Moon,” or they won’t let me go on this
expedition at all.
Lewis and Clark’s expedition.
I’m going with Lewis and Clark.
“I’m from New Jersey.”
“Well met, then.
Pennsylvania.” I turn, and there’s another young grownup, but with
clothes a little fancier than Floyd’s — even though they’re getting
wet, like everyone else’s — and a clean-shaven face. “Patrick Gass,
at your service.”
“Gassy’s gonna write about us. He’s keepin’
a journal,” Floyd says. “Told him I was gonna keep one, too. Just
to spite him.”
Seaman’s jumping around near Floyd, clearly
excited about something. Maybe there’s some leftover squirrel
“’Scuse me a minute,” Floyd says. “Even in
the rain, he wants to play.” He takes a really scruffy round —
of round — leather ball from somewhere inside his
jacket, and throws it for Seaman, who scampers off, and goes
sniffing for it in the mud by the riverbank.
Gass takes out a thick, compact leather book
with heavy paper bound in the middle. “Many of us are keeping
journals, including Captain Lewis. The difference between mine and
Kentuck’s is that mine will actually be readable.” He stuffs the
journal back into his coat, to keep it as dry as possible.
I guess there’s no point telling them to
wait a couple hundred years, then they won’t have to write at all —
they can just talk out loud and have their thoughts recorded by a
combination of digits and liquid memory chips.
“So are you joining us in the pirogue?”
“Well, sure.” I look from Floyd — Kentuck —
back to Gassy. “Which one’s the pirogue?”
Floyd points. It’s one of the canoes.
At least, they’re canoe-
each one seems to be dug out of a single tree trunk. Like some kind
of project in woodshop that got way out of control.
“Don’t let him ride in there if he’s going
to fall out! The president says to be careful!”
It’s Mr. Howard. Even with the rain, you can
still tell he’s sweaty — you can see the difference between what
he’s putting out and what the clouds are dropping.
“Yes sir,” Floyd agrees, with a smile.
Seaman scampers back up, drops the ball from
his mouth, then shakes out his fur, spraying us all with more
Mr. Howard looks completely unamused.
“The boy is to return in the spring, with
the artifacts you send back down river. He is to come back with the
, sir,” Floyd nods. A kind of nod
where you can tell he doesn’t really think there is a “lizard
“And you!” Howard has turned away and found
Lewis, dragging him away from a conversation he was having with
Clark and York. “The president says you are to keep special watch
over this boy! You, and not your men!”
And wiping his face, he adds, “And mind that
dog of yours, too.”
Lewis doesn’t wipe his face at all, letting
the water run down his nose and over his mouth as he speaks. “Mr.
Howard. May I remind you that my orders are to explore a continent,
not act as nursemaid to some runaway squire.”
“His safety is in your hands!”
“Yes, well, given the high odds against the
entire party returning in one piece, you may want to consider other
hands. Mine are full. Though the boy is welcome.” Lewis looks at
me, and through the gray dampness, I can see that he’s almost
smiling. Which for him is like breaking into a full grin. “After
all, if the boy is an omen or portent of some sort, we might as
well have him working for us instead of against us. Assure the
president that he will be every bit as safe as any member of the
Corps of Discovery.”
This answer doesn’t quite satisfy Mr.
Howard, and he turns to make a beeline for Clark, who sees him
coming, and, along with York, suddenly gets busy loading more
crates into the keelboats.
It’s Jefferson’s fault — from Mr. Howard’s
perspective — that I am here, being sent along with the Corps. Or
at least, it can be blamed on Jefferson’s permission.
I took a chance with him during our
conversation in the tent. He seemed pretty reasonable, for a
president. “I know who that terrible, orange-eating lizard is,” I
said, after Mr. Howard brought him the news from Banglees, the fur
trapper. My voice was only a little shaky.
“How? Have you met him? Tracked him,
perhaps? Are you in fact a young fur trapper then, come down from
Canada? Perhaps that is why you referred to your hat as a ‘Seals’
“I have… journeyed with him. The
“In the unexplored lands? So the stories are
true? These bones we’re finding, the bones of giant creatures —
huge elephants and tigers. They still live? In the wilds? I knew my
studies of them would not be in vain!” Jefferson was getting
excited and began pacing. “I believe many kinds of giants once
lived in America, and many more may yet roam the West!” He spun and
faced me. “Are you a Welsh Indian?”
“A what? Sir?”
Turned out he was referring to a legend
about a tribe of “white Indians” that were supposed to be descended
from some Welsh prince, or something, though no one’s ever seen
them. But I guess a lot of people back then believed funny things.
They didn’t have the Comnet — not even radio or TV — to help them
figure things out.
“I’m not a Welsh Indian, Mr. President,” I
told him. “But the lizard and I do come from… a distant land.”
“Earlier, you talked about the moon.”
“Closer than the moon, sir.” I decided not
to complicate things by telling him about Saurius Prime, or the
Fifth Dimension. “We came in a ship.”
discovered a northwest
passage? A direct water route to the Pacific from the inland
“It was a different kind of ship, sir. It
doesn’t go on water.”
“A land ship, then? May I see it?”
“Well, we’ve lost it.” That was when I saw
my opening. “But the lizard man may know where to find it. That is,
if he’s not harmed.”
“I will give them the sternest instructions,
Master Sands, to bring this creature back alive.”
“But he knows me, Mr. Jefferson. He trusts
“But I cannot let you go. Aside from
possibly being an abolitionist, you are somewhat of a specimen
“But, sir, I believe I offer the best hope
of actually bringing the lizard man back alive. Imagine the
scientific bonanza if you could talk to him yourself.”
Jefferson looked at me with surprise and
suspicion. He shook his head, looked at the whiskey in his hand,
and set it down. “No, I really must stick with French wine. My time
in Paris spoiled me.” Then he turned back to me. “Perhaps that
seal-fur hat of yours has addled your brains, as well. Even if this
, as the French trapper, and now you, claim, and
even if I let you go — how do I know you’ll return and not try to
escape with him? Or harm the expedition?”
“That’s simple.” I decided to take another
chance. “I’m coming back for…Brassy. But you have to protect her.
You can’t turn her in.”
That was all I could do to help Thea right
then. I hoped it was enough.
Now the look on the president’s face was
only surprise. “I suppose I can let her join my household staff.
Sally will see to her.” He looked at me, sighed, then nodded. “I
will have Mr. Howard ride with you into St. Louis, and remand you
to the care of Captains Clark and Lewis. I will instruct them to
send you back downriver next spring, after you reach the Mandan
“Can I see Brassy, sir? Before I go?”
“Impossible. She’s with Sally, and were you
to visit her so openly, we’d just stir the pot and get everyone
upset. I shall keep her safe at Monticello until you return. We can
then work out the riddle of this escaped slave. Meanwhile, see that
you return, Master Sands. I could use a bona fide scientific
discovery to justify all this expense to Congress.”
President Jefferson offered his hand.
“Welcome to America, lad.”
“Biscuit barrel!” The words are screamed at
me, and I barely have time to get out of the way before the rolling
barrel would have knocked me into the river. It still catches my
leg with a sharp thump, and sends me sprawling on the wet pier.
The rain is coming down much harder now.
There are a whole bunch of us going — I’ve
counted forty in all. Plus Seaman. And I don’t know how they plan
to feed us: I’ve seen those “biscuits” and they’re like hard, flat,
stale crackers — pre-stale, really, so they can’t get in any worse
shape during a long journey. Besides the biscuits, they’re also
taking molasses, flour, a bunch of dried meat, whiskey, and brandy.
No juice boxes, no rice milk, no boxes of cereal— nothing for
Maybe I’ll be able to pick apples along the
There’s also something Lewis calls “portable
soup,” which is kind of thick and oozy and looks like it might
belong in a tar pit. I wonder if Lewis was in one of his gloomy
moods when he made it.
As for drinking water, I guess the plan is
to actually drink the river water during the voyage. It’s kind of
amazing that there was ever a time you could just drink straight
from a river. I bet Lewis would get even gloomier if I told him
about all the pollution that was coming in the future.
There are also lots of guns — the long,
y old-fashioned ones. No beam or particle weapons
of any kind. These are gunpowder guns, where you have to stuff the
barrel with shot and powder and can only get off one blast at a
I wonder if people feel safer in this
period, when even the deadliest weapons move so slowly?
I bet a lot of animals won’t feel so safe,
though, and I’m not talking about Seaman’s squirrels. Part of the
food plan, I’m pretty sure, is to do some hunting along the way.
I’m guessing there won’t be any veggie burgers.
“Let me help you with that.” I turn, and
it’s York. He’s the only black man on the whole expedition. He’s
supposed to be Clark’s “slave,” but to look at someone, and have to
think that — to have to attach that word to them — makes me feel
“Bringin’ lots of stuff, ain’t they?” York
asks, as he offers me a hand. I hold on — nearly slipping out of
his grasp — but manage to get back on my feet. My leg is still
sore, but I don’t let on as I move to help him with the barrel.
“Is it all just food?” I ask. “What are they
going to explore with?”
“They got the usual stuff. Guns. Some tools
to fix things. Compasses to figure out where we’re goin’ and where
we just been. Books to write stuff down in. And lots of things to
trade with the Indians. Look.”