— Bill Chambers
Bill and Joshua once "borrowed" a bottle of Bud from builders who came to fix a busted window and had drunk it in a corner of the boiling room.
A few years prior to 2040, he had shown up at Hell-Knows-Where and was welcomed with open arms into the comunity by Joshua, who was living there at the time. He became the town's secretary, accountant, best hunter and excellent cook.
Let's go to the Datum
Around March 2040, Joshua came to Bill to tell him he was going to the Datum to present himself in front of Congress to help draw a protective law for trolls and that, even if his wife and kid would tag along, he would need some backup.
After negociating the fees for the trip, inexistant since a twain was already waiting for them above the town, Bill accepted.
Their ride took them to Valhalla, in the High Meggers, in only a few hours. From there, they were supposed to catch a twain ride to the Datum but also look for a school for Dan, Joshua's son. Upon arrival, they met up with Thomas Kyangu, a friend of Joshua living in Valhalla, and Sally Linsay.
Thomas drove them, aboard his buggy, to the part of the city called "Downtown Four" where he booked them rooms at the Healed Drum, the best hotel in Valhalla, for three weeks.
Sally, who didn't know they were supposed to stay that long, snapped and stepped away.
The next morning, Bill went to explore on his own as the Valientés were waiting for Thomas to pick them up and drive them to the Free School. Joshua insisted that he carried a cellphone with him in case he got "incapable" and would need a ride.
The Gold Dust
In the end, they spent three more weeks in Valhalla to get Dan used to the place and then boarded the Gold Dust, heading for the Datum, where they were joined by Sally and were treated as honoured guests thanks to Joshua's fame.
On the second evening, as the Valientés were invited to dine at the Captain's table, Bill went on his own to have a raucous night with the crew. He was later joined by Joshua after Dan was put to bed.
As they approached the Datum, the twains had to slow down to avoid collisions in the crowded Low Earths. They had to send scouts on the ground that would step before the ships and see if the coast was clear.
The passengers finally disembarked in a immigration hall, monitored by Homelands employees, with checkpoints and huge lines where their belongings got searched and they had to go through a body scanner.
Helen, Dan and Bill were the last to pass the security checks and joined Joshua and Sally on the outer hall to get a cab when a man approached them. When he got close enough, he reached in his bag and took out a metallic blade. Sally grasped Dan and stepped away with him as Joshua, who put himself between the man and his family, was stabbed above the right breast. He passed away as Helen knocked out their aggressor.
A couple of days after, they visited Monica Jansson's house on Madison West 5. Bill was playing basketball with Dan outside the house while Joshua and Sally, Helen being in custody on assault charges, were talking to Monica.
Monica, who knew Joshua since Step Day, pulled some strings to arrange a meeting with Senator Jim Starling for Joshua and Bill to try to convince him to defend the trolls's rights.
Bill let Joshua do most of the talking but snapped when Starling said he considered trolls like aliens that could just walk in the Datum and were a threat to national security. After Bill's outburst, Starling ignored him and resumed his talk with Joshua, which proved unsuccessful.
The two friends then went back to Monica's house where Helen, under house arrest, was waiting for them and listened to Joshua's frustrated encounter with Starling.
Find the trolls
Around June 2040, the trolls had enough of the humans and left the Earths with a significant human presence in them and news on the outernet said that Sally Linsay and Monica Jansson helped two trolls, held captives at the GapSpace facility, escape.
Bill was minding his own business when Lobsang sent for him, saying Joshua was about to embark on a journey to find Sally and the trolls and would need a companion.
He was told that they had to figure a way to find Sally and the trolls and would be provided with a translation device. Since he didn’t know Sally very well, he was counting on Joshua on that part but, thanks to his comber connections, might be able to help with the trolls part and went to fetch a cassette of the Kinks.
He was then called to the transEarth trolls reservation on Madison West 10 and was told to wait for Joshua in the lobby. His long-time friend soon showed up and was surprised to see Bill waiting for him since he just agreed minutes ago to go search for Sally and the trolls.
Bill, saying it might have a way to find the trolls, produced the cassette and showed it to Joshua saying it was a lure but didn’t want to elaborate.
When Joshua said he had to go break the news to his family, Bill informed him that they already knew, then said he was going to get bladdered while he still had the chance and left.
Lobsang pulled some string with the Black Corporation to get them a twain that was used as a scout for the fleets travelling on the Datum-Valhalla route. The ship having only a corporate registration number, Bill baptized it the ‘’Shillelagh’’.
For some reason that Bill didn’t want to share, he wanted to take off from the Seattle area. The twain’ base being in a Low Earth Hannibal, they had to strip down the ship to parts, move it by rail across the Datum and reassemble it on the tarmac of the SeaTac airport.
All this took a whole week during which Bill and Joshua prepared for the journey. Joshua took that opportunity to visit places Sally was known to frequent from time to time, even Monica's place, where he took the gold ring he has found ten years ago at the Rectangles, and to face his family. His son was jealous but Helen stayed silent.
Then on a bright morning, they took off with Bill behind the wheel and Joshua sitting in the gondola and headed for Mount Rainier. It took them two days to reach Earth West 110,719, a world swamped with insect looking like fat dragonflies,where Bill had an appointment to keep.
Joshua had to get off the ship and spend the night camping on this stepwise version of Mount Rainier while Bill stayed aboard the ‘’Shillelagh’’, ready to help if things would go south. He packed his things, a handgun and took a portable radio to stay in touch with the twain.
As he was setting up his little camp, Bill told him about a cache with survival gear not far from his position, stuff left by combers for combers. The two friends had a chat about the existence of an underground comber subculture, how combers didn’t colonize the Long Earth like most people did but rather adapted themselves to live in it just like the trolls and how the comber way of thinking would help them to find the trolls
Joshua woke up at dawn and felt he was being watched. Still in his sleeping bag, he sat up and found an elf leaning against a tree looking at him. After Bill greeted the newcomer on the radio, the kobold replied in English to Joshua’s surprise who, up until this moment, thought that kobolds were only a comber legend.
The elf asked for the cassette that Bill provided and was currently in Joshua’s jacket, then dug out an old walkman from the leather pouch on his waist and started to listen to his new loot.
Bill told Joshua that Finn McCool provided him informations in exchange of music and that the elf has been doing that for long, hence the old walkman.
After checking the tape, the kobold tried to squeeze Joshua and Bill for more but they refused and asked where were the trolls. The response he gave was quite enigmatic but Bill figured out that it meant that the trolls were hiding in a Joker but the one where they currently were.
It was when they tried to know which Joker Finn McCool was referring to that a dozen of elves, from the more aggressive kind, approached their location. Finn stepped away, leaving him alone and Bill, monitoring everything from the twain, had time to warn Joshua.
A first elf tried to cut Joshua with his wooden sword but Joshua smashed his portable radio on his jaw and kicked him in the groin as the elf staggered back. Bill, in the meantime, was lowering the ship to come to Joshua’s rescue.
Suddenly, Finn McCool and other kobolds arrived and engaged the elves. Joshua took that opportunity to run to the ladder that dangled from the twain and, only when he felt out of trouble, looked back.
When he looked down, he saw Finn with an injured arm, stunned and about to get a fatal flow from his opponent. Joshua, thinking he ought to help him, jumped down from the ladder, ran to the elf, picked a branch on the ground and hit the elf’s head with it.
The branch disintegrated on impact and didn’t have the desired effect. The elf, only astonished, was killed by Finn as he was turning around to look at Joshua. The kobold stood up and displayed an angry face. After shouting that he would kill the human, he tried to do it with a flying kick but Joshua was already running toward the ladder.
Bill raised the ship as Joshua was climbing up the ladder and Finn was cursing down below. When Joshua reached the gondola, Bill explained that according to kobold’s honor, he shamed him by saving him when Finn was the one supposed to save him. Joshua, tired, asked Bill to leave the place and the Shillelagh stepped away.
Jokers and Diamonds
And so the ship traveled West, making a stop at well known Jokers, expecting to find the trolls or Sally. Bill sent word ahead to his comber friends staying in Jokers to radio him if they had any informations.
Bill spent his time telling stories about the Jokers that Joshua half believed, like the story of a comber who camped naked on the Cueball for a bet and found himself in another galaxy when he tried to step away.
Around three weeks after their departure from Seattle, Joshua pounded on the thin partition that separated his cabin from Bill’s in the middle of the night and said excitedly that he got “it”.
Bill, not in the best of moods, asked Joshua to elaborate. His old friend explained that somehow Sally managed to get into the ship to steal the sapphire ring that Joshua had hung on the gondola’s wall and that it meant they were supposed to go to the Rectangles on Earth West 1,617,498. Bill, unphased, told him they’d go in the morning and went back to sleep.
The Rectangles and the beagles
They arrived at the Rectangles three days after discovering the disappearance of the ring and didn’t see any signs of the trolls or of Sally. As Joshua was guiding Bill toward the arid valley where Lobsang, Sally and he discovered traces of an now extinct ancient sapient reptilian civilization, Bill spotted Monica below, standing on silvery emergency blankets, waving at them.
When the ship touched down this time, Bill disembarked as well and took Lobsang’s translation tablet with him and a Stepper box. Monica told them that Sally had foreseen their arrival and struck a deal with the beagles, sapients descended from wolves from Earth West 1,617,524, and that Finn McCool was somehow involved.
Monica led them to the beagles’s Earth were a dozen of them were waiting for the newcomers. Bill, even if Monica briefed him earlier, still couldn’t believe that he standing in front of upright wolf-like sapient creatures. He got even more surprised when they started to speak English.
After a brief introduction, Monica told Snowy, one of the beagles, that Joshua was the ambassador of great power that Sally promised. Bill and Monica both watched helpless as two beagle guards pinned Joshua to the floor and Li-Li, one of the beagles’s equivalent of a doctor, sewed a staple to Joshua’s back who passed out from the pain.
Ray guns for trolls
Bill, Sally and Monica were made to sit against one of the walls of the throne chamber while the guards set Joshua, still knocked out, on a chair. He soon regained consciousness while Li-Li was checking on him. As soon as we woke up, Sally went to him to warn him to not try to step and explained what Monica and she were up to until now.
Petra, the beagle princess, then started to converse with Joshua and told him she wanted ray guns, like the dead ones her guards were wearing on their belts, against the chance for Joshua and Bill to talk to the trolls. Sally, Monica and Finn McCool were to go to the Rectangles while Joshua would serve as a hostage to make sure they didn’t run away.
Joshua then asked Petra if they would be free to go after all this but the princess replied that he would still be alive if he displayed honour. While Joshua was trying to figure out what it meant, Bill reminded him of the scene with Finn McCool on Earth West 110,719 and that "honour" probably meant something else for the beagles as well.
Following their meeting with Petra, Joshua and Bill headed for the river bank where a band of comprised of hundreds of trolls were gathered while Sally, Monica and Finn McCool went back to the Rectangles to fetch the weapons.
Even if this band of trolls was quite big, they were several others bands like that scattered along the river bank as far as the eye could see. Bill unloaded his backpack and set up the translation tablet on a fold-out stand to face the trolls. Joshua was quite surprised that no further actions were required to turn on the tablet.
Bill then asked him if he had thought about what he were about to say and took a step back to give Joshua some room. Joshua, not the public speaker kind, opened up with a joke but only got blank stares from the trolls.
But suddenly, a hologram of Lobsang holding a broom appeared next to Joshua and took over, making the translator box play what sounded like a mass choir with a thousand voices, a blend of human and troll, that made the trolls snap to attention, while Lobsang was apologizing to the trolls about how some humans had treated them but that they were lobbies trying to push the US government to grant trolls human rights on the US Aegis.
Bill and Joshua were discussing about the trolls’s ability to understand or not what Lobsang was saying, the morality of providing ray guns to the beagles and other consequences of what unfolded when Snowy, the beagle warrior, came to tell Joshua to run.
Bill quickly started to pack the translation device, as Joshua ran towards the river bank and dived into the river, but couldn't be of further assistance since Joshua and Snowy were already far downstream when he was done.
The garden party
By September 2040 the trolls, who decided to give humanity a second chance, were starting to show up again across the Long Earth. For this occasion, Lobsang and Agnes decided to throw a garden party at the transEarth facility on Madison West 11 they turned into a troll reserve.
Joshua was here with his family, but without his left hand, now nailed on one of the walls of Petra’s palace on Earth West 1,617,524, and wearing instead an antique prosthetic hand that Bill called “Thing” like in the Addams Family.
Meanwhile Bill was getting drunk somewhere with Thomas Kyangu when suddenly cellphones started to ring all around and people stepped away as they learned that the Yellowstone erupted back in the Datum.