(In a Future, on a Spontoon Island.)
From a Dream
or was it a nightmare?
© 2012 By Mr. David R. Dorrycott
Songmark & most Songmark Characters created by Mr. Simon Barber
Spontoon Island created by Mr. Ken Fletcher
- All used with Permission -
Ellen Ester Karter, an English Collie now nearing her eightieth birthday, arrived on Eastern Island by a traditional water taxi. She had taken the old-style wood-planked boat (versus one of the newer, very modern, sleek fiberglass ones) in a fit of nostalgia. The older wooden ship had been the kind that she had used upon first arriving at Songmark Aeronautical School for Young Ladies, and it contained memories that she wished to dwell upon during the short twenty-some minutes journey from Casino Island to Eastern Island. She had been just past eighteen at the time of her first water taxi voyage sixty-two years ago, the minimum age allowed for students in a school who’s average starting age had by then become nineteen. It had been an exciting time for her, it had been in some ways a disappointing time as well, at least the first week.
Considering the amount of money her parents had laid out for her chosen education and the difficulty of the written entrance examination, the buildings had been old - very old. Ellen had soon learned that they had originally been built before World War Two, a fact that made them over fifty years old the day that she had arrived in 1985. Yet they had still been stout and well maintained, but the beds the students were expected to sleep upon! Oh God, had the beds been hard - so very, very hard.
She woke from her memories as they reached Eastern Island's pier and stepped out of the water taxi, paying the pilot his agreed upon fee. He had been unsurprised that the collie had spoken fluent Spontoonie, Songmark girls were easy to detect even in their advanced old age. Then, pausing to gaze lovingly at the brass tiki on its bow, she bowed, ever so slightly to the tiny statue. She had been lucky today; she had gotten a Priestess’s water taxi. With as many water taxis that now plowed Spontoon harbor today, the chances of catching one of the less than one hundred brass-tiki ornamented boats was infinitesimal. Long gone were the days of PanAm’s flying boats easing into the marked-out waters; waters now barely used by any amphibian aircraft other that the well maintained purple and blood-red medical aircraft created from a now ancient J2F 'Duck' seaplane. Long gone were the 1980’s, that time of her youth where the world was still barely knowledgeable of the Spontoon Island Independencies, when Terrorists were buried in the back pages of the last section of one's newspaper, right next to the used car advertisements.
Now, Spontoon was a tourist destination filled throughout the year, what with the price of transportation having dropped so greatly. Looking around her, Ellen was amazed at the number of Euro’s wandering about, not even noticing how she placed that once hated label upon those who had no idea (or cared) of the history about them. She also noted the television aerial standing near Radio LONO’s taller radio antenna and the unstoppable build-up of construction on the island. In her mind, she saw herself and her three dormmates marching down that once-gravel road towards Superior Engineering, marching down to resurrect a junked Ivchenko Progress AI-20D engine, the direwolf Miss Garner herself, having come just at Sunset Song to inspect the now barely running engine. Inspect, then inform them, that like their engine, they had barely passed this test.
It had been a waking point in her life; in her friends lives. From that night forwards they had placed not just enough effort into their schoolwork, but everything that they had and could borrow from each other. Ellen was proud that when she graduated her dormroom was the top class. Not by much, but even one point was enough, after all.
Turning away from the water taxi, Ellen began to make her way up towards Songmark, unaware of the natives that silently made way for her. Songmark, a now-shuttered establishment that had been closed three years ago. Simple economics had closed the school; economics and politics. As the moral right had slowly closed their grip upon the major nation's governments, what war and the constant threat of slavers hadn’t been able to do, finally ended Songmark's days. Young women shouldn’t be sent off to foreign nations to learn to become hooligans had been the rallying call. A call that slowly ended applications, squeezing them from the thousands to the hundreds, until the last year a new class had started, there had hardly been enough qualified applicants to fill the roster. She knew that as well as any Songmark girl knew that, and because her best friend's granddaughter had been in the class of 2047, even though the cost had forced her mother and father to take two jobs. Katharine was a famous and well off business woman now, as were so many Songmark girls.
It was true, too, that the tuition of fourteen new flying girls a year and fourteen aircraft engineers (engineers who had almost always teamed up with a pilot for life), couldn’t maintain the expenses of running such an elite school. Not in today's economy; and make no bones about it, Songmark was the Elite Aeronautical School for Young Ladies. It had been, since it opened in the 1930's, and though dozens of schools had vied for the title over the following one hundred-and-ten-some years, Songmark had always stood well above them all.
She slowly passed Song Sodas, once a place of intrigue, lovers' meetings, and other things a good Songmark Graduate never spoke of. A place of adventure, majik and wonder. Now it was surviving by catering to tourists and selling ‘original Songmark souvenirs.’ A knowing smile came to the collie's face as she studied the advertised traditional native crafts for sale. If even one of those items have been made locally, the craftsman was a rank beginner. Then, too, one of Spontoon’s unofficial mantras had always been ‘yank the Euro’s chain until their wallet bleats.’
She eventually passed Song Sodas, a place where she had spent many a wonderful time with her dormmates... a few times near peeing in her pants because of what happened there, or whom she met. The Lady With No Name was the most frightening. It was where she had first met, during her third year at Songmark, the hound that was her now-deceased American collie husband. All that was the past now, so Ellen was making her final visit to the one place that had remained a bright memory in her life, one last visit before retiring to that ‘assisted living’ complex that her grandchildren had chosen when her savings had been wiped out by the Great Bank Scheme of 2041. Hundreds of rather rich CEO’s had been hung by rioting account holders, and for the first time in modern history the rich had been taken down by the poor. Almost all the rich, as blood had flowed freely in the gutters in almost every nation. Being a Billionaire had suddenly become a death sentence, not a right of luxury.
Her legs were bothering her as the collie made her way up a now concrete-paved single-lane road that worked its way to Songmark's gates. As she made that last turn her heart ached, for the once powerful gates were hanging from broken hinges, the long line of fence wire removed for scrap. Nothing remained of the little guardhouse that she had spent so many cold rainy nights manning... at least nothing that she could see with her old eyes. Ellen did stop, though, to run aged fingers over one of the gate's weathered wooden planks, her fingers finding well known bullet impacts. Impacts from the Second World War when the Russians had tried to take Spontoon. When several students had fallen while holding that gate... several students and a Priestess had gone to their sleep that bloody day, along with one much-loved instructor.
Amazingly it had been the Cipangu Imperial Navy that had crushed the powerful Russian invasion fleet, both at Spontoon and Krupmark, though no living thing remained at Krupmark after the Russian forces had withdrawn. “Mshtyeniye. For Anna,” the Russian commander had explained upon being interviewed in prison camp: The reason that not one prisoner had been taken of all who had lived upon Krupmark. These gates then had become a monument to those who had died here, died defending what they believed in, that women had every right to rise above the historically organized oppression of men and make their own path in life.
She slipped through the ruined gates, looking around her with a saddened heart. Weeds grew in abundance where she and her friends had spent unremembered hours removing them. Native plants grew along the now wireless fence line, making their own natural barrier. Once proud, if simple, dorms now bent under the weight if disrepair, their once strong ridge-beams bowed now in a curve that reminded her of old ladies. Not herself though. She might be aged and infirm in some ways, but Songmark had given her a strong spine.
Though the dorms were obviously too dangerous for one her age to enter, the compound's office appeared still sturdy. Walking to a door she had always dreaded entering, Ellen stopped, looking at its surface. Though the paint was peeling, it seemed sturdy enough, so with a powerful knock upon its surface, especially for one of her advanced age, Ellen opened it, finding its movement stiff, but still sturdy enough.
Walking in with an unexpected powerful stride for one her age, the collie stopped on a many-times replaced section of floor, turned smartly to salute a dust covered desk. “Ellen Ester Karter, Songmark Graduate class of 1985 reporting as ordered, Miss Devinski” she stated in a time-weakened voice. There had always been a "Miss Devinski." No one knew how they were chosen, but as each "Miss Devinski" retired, always after many years, and always because she had finally found a love (and always a woman), a new Miss Devinski stepped forth - and woe to those who thought her a weakling. That was a fact that often amused Songmark students... as long as the woman wasn’t angry at them for some stupid act of theirs, that is....
Lowering her salute, Ellen studied the desk before her. Though dusty, everything was still in its place: The last roster waiting for a new student's name to be entered, the reports carefully stacked on the left side, even the ancient rotary-dial telephone (and Songmark's only telephone) still on its cradle. It finally became too much for the collie and she collapsed upon the floor, her tears flowing.
It would be late night when Ellen finally stood again, her body complaining from having been in one position so very long, and upon such a hard floor, at that. She wiped her red eyes with a hankie, taking one last look in the darkness of the now unseen office. Songmark was truly dead and when her last daughter passed on, she would be forgotten. Stepping out of the empty office, Ellen carefully closed its door behind her, looking out at a compound she had remembered all her life. She took a step forward, uncharacteristically stumbling as she did so. Catching herself, she looked around, burning into her memory her surroundings.
In the moonlight it looked as though Songmark was simply sleeping; simply waiting for a first-years' dorm to attempt their first escape while more experienced second-years' watched and laughed silently at their attempts, remembering their own foolishness the year before. Waiting for Morning Song and the tramp of eighty-four pairs of booted feet as their day began. First-years in wonder at their new life, wondering if they could pass the next three years. (Over ninety-eight percent did, the collie had discovered a generation ago.) Second-years' knowing that it was going to be a hard day, simply because Miss Yaw was cheerful this morning; and third-years' preparing for that nightmare of a test on the Alaskan islands. Just because you were studying to be the best aircraft mechanic the world had ever seen, and not a pilot, did not exempt you from the same physical training and tests that the pilots experienced.
A sound caused the collie to spin to her right - even though her body was aged, she had slipped into a combat position out of habit. It was though a well-known skunk that stood facing her. “Welcome, my daughter,” Henrietta greeted the surprised collie. “It has been some water past the pontoon, since you last visited my home.”
“Honored Mother!” Ellen answered, bowing her head slightly in respect. All Songmark students met Henrietta at the beginning of their second year: All learned what could happen to them, and what lengths that Songmark would go to in order to protect, to care, for their daughters. That the second year standing before her had been taken in the 1930's by Krupmark Islanders hadn’t mattered to her body, for Henrietta’s body was home to one of the oldest spirits on Spontoon. She was forever young, yet forever ancient as well.
“Songmark is no more my daughter,” the skunk explained. “Why come to see her bones?”
“To remember, Honored Mother,” Ellen answered gently. “Remember not only my youth but the most important decision I ever made in my life: That being to apply to this school.”
“You have been crying, my daughter,” Henrietta noted, seeing the collie's face a map of tear-matted fur.
“For what all women have lost, forever,” the collie explained. “There will never be another Songmark, will there?”
“That remains to be seen, my daughter. Now where will you go?”
“Back home, to Brighton where my grandchildren have decided how a dottering old woman’s final days be spent,” the collie admitted. “It took careful planning to escape long enough to arrive here unimpeded, they all still believe that I am at anothers home, waiting my room to be ready at Eleanor Walk. It is in Woburn, Bedfordshire. I absolutely abhor Bedfordshire, and Songmark made this deception to Euros a simple thing.”
Henrietta smiled at those words, for of late she had heard the like several times. “Then why go?”
“I have lost all my retirement money, other than a tiny stipend that the Royal Air Force still grants me,” Ellen explained. “It is not enough in today’s economy to remain living alone, and none of my children or grandchildren have time for me. I am discarded, of no further use, redundant. Placed upon Superiors trash tip to be taken away. So I used my last meager savings for this trip, I fear that the Althing will be forced to deport me.”
Henrietta laughed, “More like to sell you to Nikki’s many times, great-granddaughter. Malou takes after that mare, as though they were one. But no, my daughter, you will not be traveling back to England.”
“I... I may die here? That will be allowed?” the collie asked in surprise.
Waving a hand at the now closed office, the skunk simply looked at the door. “My daughter, you had already died.”
Ellen turned around, shocked to see her old body laying in a crumpled heap at the now closed door, laying where she had stumbled. No, not stumbled, the collie realized, but died; her spirit having moved on, leaving the husk of her body behind. Instead of being fearful, she took it as all Songmark girls would: “When?”
“As you left the office my daughter. A Priestess comes now with friends, to recover your body. Now, would you like to see what will occur to this place, as you would have, should you have lived just one more week?”
“It will be razed; new buildings to replace all our memories,” the collie suggested. “Forgotten, destroyed - as men have wanted since her founding?”
Instead of answering, the Priestess swept one arm and the scene changed. It was morning and four forms were walking through the gates. Ellen could not hear them speak, though Henrietta explained what was going on: “Paula Allworthy, descended directly from the great Amelia Allworthy and her first owner, Class of 1934. She is the Civet of course. Laura Martin, descended from Carmen Velasquez and her wife Alexia, the mink, Class of 1934 and 1937. Ni Liling, descended from Oharu Wei and her wife Belle, the mouse, class of 1937. Of course Roma Devinski, descended from the original Miss Devinski and her wife Helen Whitehall - she is the yellow-furred Afghan, a founding instructor's blood.”
“An interesting group,” the collie admitted. “They are here to recover artifacts?”
“No, my daughter,” the skunk countered. “They are here to reopen Songmark Aeronautical School for Young Ladies so that you and all those others wandering this compound may guide new students along their path. This place will never be destroyed, I forbid it.”
Ellen’s eyes seemed to clear, for now she saw that hundreds of young women were standing around her. All were wearing Songmark uniforms and though some had but one note while others three, it mattered not. For, Once a Songmark girl, always a Songmark girl, was the students' Mantra. With a cry of joy, the collie went to join her sisters.