1636: Commander Cantrell in the West Indies – Snippet 01 

1636: Commander Cantrell In The West Indies

By Eric Flint and Charles E. Gannon

PART I

April, 1635

The heavens themselves, the planets, and this centre

Chapter 1

Grantville, State of Thuringia-Franconia

Lt. Commander Eddie Cantrell looked down at the stump six inches below his left knee as an orderly removed his almost ornate peg-leg. PA Jessica Porter — formerly Nurse Porter — approached with his new fiberglass prosthetic. The jaundiced-grey color of the object was not appealing. “Wow, that’s uglier than I thought it would be,” Eddie confessed as the orderly left.

Jessica shrugged. “It may look like hell, but it works like a charm. We’ve special-cast more than a hundred of these, now.” She fitted it tentatively onto the stump, looked up at Eddie.

Who concentrated on how it felt: a little odd — smooth and cool — compared to the wood and leather lashings that had just been removed. He supposed anything else might feel strange now, having spent a year and a half getting used to the cranky, creaky peg-leg that had been specially fashioned for him by King Christian IV of Denmark’s medical artisans. But now that Eddie paid closer attention to the new sensations of this prosthetic — “Actually, that feels much better. No rubbing.”

Jessica snorted in response. “Yeah, it ought to feel better. It’s custom-made. That’s why we made you stop by when you brought your princess bride with you last fall, to get a wax mold of your –” Jessica missed a beat, floundered. “Of your — your –“

“My stump,” Eddie supplied for her. “That’s okay; might as well call it what it is.” Which, he reflected, Jessica must do dozens of times a week with other amputees. But it was probably different with him. He was a fellow up-timer, a person she had known before the Ring of Fire had whisked their whole town back through time to Germany of 1631. And so, right in the middle of the Thirty Years War, into which meat-grinder Eddie himself had been thrown.

He looked down at the stump which had gotten caught in those pitiless gears of a new history-in-the-making. “So, that wax mold you took of my stump –?”

Jessica nodded as she secured the new leg. “We filled that mold with a mix of fiberglass and pine resin and presto: your new prosthetic.”

Eddie moved the new false limb tentatively. The weight was negligible. “It’s hard to believe that’s local — uh, down-time — manufacture.”

“Every bit of it,” nodded Jessica as she stood and stepped back to take a look. “They got the process from us, of course. We made the first few here at the Leahy Medical Center. But after that, there was no stopping all the down-time medical folks, particularly in the new university programs, from dominating the business. Good thing, too: we couldn’t kept up with the demand, here.”

“I thought fiberglass would be too hard for the local industries to make.”

Jessica was able to look him in the eye again. “That’s because you’re thinking of the stuff we made speedboats out of, back up-time in the twentieth century. That’s ultra-high strength fiberglass. The individual strands were very thin, and very uniform. I doubt any of us will still be alive when that technology makes its debut in this world. But this,” — she tapped the prosthesis; it made a much duller sound than the wood — “this is made of much cruder fibers. Down-timers can make them with a number of different drip-and-spin processes. Then they just pack it into the mold as tight as they can, pour in the pine resin, and, after a little more processing, out comes the prosthesis.

“That’s not the end of the process, of course. It needs smoothing and careful finishing where it fits onto the stump. But we didn’t stop there,” she said, her smile finally returning. “We added something special for you.”

“Oh?” Eddie wondered if maybe it had secret compartments. That would be kind of cool.

“Yep. Try stepping on it, then stepping off.”

Eddie shrugged: no secret compartments, then. He took hold of his cane, pushed off the examining table, stood tentatively on both legs, then stepped forward with the prosthesis. Well, that felt just fine. And step two —

— almost dropped him to the ground. As his real foot came down and he shifted his primary weight onto it, the heel of the prosthetic seemed to start rising up a little, as if it was eager to take its own next step. It wasn’t a particularly strong push, but he hadn’t been expecting it, and he flailed for balance.

 “Wha — what was that?” he asked, not minding one bit that Jessica had jumped over to steady him.

“That was the spring-loaded heel wedge. Cool, huh? When the sole of the prosthesis is fully compressed, and then you start to shift your weight off it to take the next step, it gives you a little boost. Like your own foot does.”

Eddie frowned. “Well, yeah, I guess. But I wasn’t ready for it.”

Jessica shook her head. “Sorry. Should have thought of that. We don’t experience that with the other amputees.”

“Why?”

“Well, they’re either recent amputees, so they never adjusted to a regular peg leg. Or they come here because someone has told them that up-timers at Leahy Medical Center make the best prosthetics, ones with springs in them. So naturally, the first thing we have to do is sit them down and explain every detail, including the phases they’re going to go through in getting accustomed to using the new limb. Sorry; I should have observed the same protocol with you, should have warned you.”

Eddie grinned and shrugged off her apology, then took a few more steps. Now that he knew to expect that little boost from the prosthetic’s heel, it wasn’t so bad. In fact, Jessica was right: this was more like real walking, not the flat footed limp-and-waddle he managed with the peg-leg and a cane. With this, he could feel the potential for walking like a whole person again, like his old self. He could even imagine how he might be able to work in a little swagger, something to show off to Anne Cathrine . . .

“Eddie, I’m guessing that smug little smile means that the prosthetic is a success?”

“Uh, yeah. Thank you, Jessica.”

“Not at all. But tell me something, Eddie.”

“Sure.” He considered sitting, found he was still comfortable standing, something that rarely happened when he had been wearing the peg. “What do you want to know?”

“Well…why did you stay in Denmark once you were no longer being held as Christian IV’s own, personal prisoner of war last year? I mean, I know there was the wedding with his daughter, but — “

Eddie nodded. And reflected that in the past, he might have grinned while he explained. But in the past year, life itself had acquired a new gravity that made him less ready to grin and shrug his way through the living or recounting of it. His high school days, not quite four years behind him, now seemed a life-time away, a collection of memories that rightly belonged to someone else. “Mostly, I stayed up in Denmark because of love, Jessica.”

“You mean the princess didn’t want to come down here?”

“Oh, no, she was extremely eager to see Grantville.” Like pretty much every other down-timer who had the means to do so, the number one locale on Anne Cathrine’s list of ‘places to visit’ was the town of miracles that had fallen out of the future into Germany.

“So why not bring the princess back home, Eddie? You get tired of us?”

“Jessica, first of all, Anne Cathrine is not a ‘princess.’ She’s a ‘king’s daughter’.”