Kage Baker’s “Company” series began with a volume focused on Mendoza the botanist, and in this second volume in the series the narration turns to the man who made her what she is, Joseph. A Facilitator Grade One with the company for thousands of years, Joseph was the one who spotted Mendoza during the Spanish Inquisition and recruited her.
In Sky Coyote, it’s 1699, a century and a half since Joseph was the head of the family in Tudor England during Mendoza’s doomed romance. The beginning of the book is set at the luxurious New World One Company base in Central America. Mendoza’s been stationed at this base since the end of the first book – a mere 144 yers. We meet a lot of new characters, see behind the scenes of Dr. Zeus’ Company, and finally hear about Joseph’s next assignment in California.
Joseph is tasked with saving the Chumash of Humashup (in the heart of the Mayan jungle) from destruction by the coming white men. He’s dealt with thousands of villages just like Humashup over the years, and he knows the drill.
You know why I’ve survived in this job, year after year, lousy assignment after lousy assignment, with no counseling whatsoever? Because I have a keen appreciation of the ludicrous. Also because I have no choice.
We get to see Joseph interact with the Chumash as the Sky Coyote god character as well as handle the behind the scenes prep and then embarking on the mission. Think your work is filled with bureacracy? Try a company that’s been around for centuries. He’s got to manage a superior (Bugleg) who is so naive and ignorant that he halts a conversation over his not knowing a common word.
“I don’t know what that word means,” complained Bugleg. The conversation came to a screeching halt, and we all stared at him.
“Which word, sir?” Inquired Lopez.
“Hence. You went, hence. That’s one of those old-time words.”
“Why, yes, sir, but we’re old-time people, aren’t we, sir?” Lopez smiled at him with great effort. “So you mustn’t mind it.”
“Hence means ‘So that’s why,’” I explained. “Like, ‘So that’s why we chose Coyote as our liaison.’ See?”
“Oh.” Bugleg looks sulky. “Then you should have gone, ‘So that’s why,’ not that old-time world. You shouldn’t use those old-time words. They’re weird.”
Lopez drew a deep breath. I began to have respect for the man.
Mendoza is sent with Joseph to California, but she’s not involved in the Humashup mission. She is still terribly wounded after Master Harpole’s immolation, so she spends a lot of time far far away from any type of civilization. As a botanist for The Company, her task is to save 17th century California flora. So she can just hang out in the woods and still complete her mission.
This novel is important because we get a LOT of info about Dr. Zeus – Joseph’s been around in the history of The Company a lot longer, and as the narrator we definitely get into his head. Joseph’s just trying to keep his head down and be a good operative – but we know how the “I’m just doing my job” mentality can lead to bad things. Ultimately the Sky Coyote is tasked with a job that involves trickery and deception and these qualities tarnish him. After all, he’s the one that got Mendoza into this mess.
Even though he’s trying not to think of his own history, Joseph’s story of the Enforcer Budu, the operative who recruited him gives us a window into the darkness of Dr. Zeus. Set in a cave, possibly in the Basque region of Spain.
I don’t know how he knew my name. I don’t even remember what my name was. But he was there, looming against the darkness, a god in a bearskin, and his axe and his hands were red. Lying around his feet were the bad guys, all smashed, the tattooed devils who’d caught my family away from the rock shelter. He didn’t smell or look anything like anybody else I’d ever seen. He looked like a mountain and his brow was a cliff, with his pale eyes staring out from its shadow. He saw me where I was hiding. He put out his red hand and called my name, in his flat high voice. I went to him. He took me out of the painted cave and past the fires where his army was burning the bodies of the tattooed men. He explained that the tattooed men had to die because they were bad and made war. I was glad they were dead and burning, because it meant that I wasn’t going to die.
He told me I would never die. He took me to the other place, where there were clean quiet people who didn’t smell. They fed me, washed me, and put me to bed where it was safe. Later they made me immortal.
Later references to painted caves that Joseph saves for Dr. Zeus could be the famous cave paintings of Altamira. Apparently Joseph’s father painted them…
Joseph remembers running into Budu later on in Rome, and he’s heard rumors about other Enforcers disappearing. Add all of that to the knowledge that something happens to The Company in the year 2355 – no messages are ever received from a later date – and we start to understand that this isn’t just a simple time travel heist.
We also find out the real reason the Chumash were saved. In the future, a wealthy group will decide they’re the reincarnations of the Chumash, and so they’ll pay a hefty sum to pay Dr. Zeus to recreate “the total Chumash experience.” So the saving of the Chumash nothing to do with their historical importance, only money. Perfect.
Next up is Mendoza in Hollywood. I’m 99% sure the third volume is how I got into the series. Credit my library’s New Book shelf, and a catchy looking cover for this one. I think I *gasp* read the series out of order – I know, shocking. But I think that’s what happened. I fell in love with Mendoza in the 3rd book and went back for the first and second books. So, dear reader, take on Sky Coyote if you’re reading along, and let me know what you think of our Joseph. But remember, Mendoza is right around the corner.