PART 13 - A LONG WAY DOWN
Jane and Dorothy paused by the hatch of the plane, and removed their boots at Gwen's prompting, before climbing into the plane with a final wave to Takua. The vixen, for her part, gave him a rather more involved farewell.
Presently, Loretta leaned out the hatch with an exasperated look on her face as she called to the foxes. "Hey, break it up! I need those lips up in the cockpit with the rest of her, Takua!"
Gwen and her lover separated with a fond look between them, the vixen's hand trailing off in his grasp as she turned and climbed in through the hatch, closing it behind her.
Loretta paused as Gwen made her way to the front and climbed into the pilot's seat, stopping to inspect Dorothy and Jane's harness'. The two passengers sat on either side of the plane, their stocking feet up on a bar with their boots stowed underneath.
The raccoon's grey eyes gleamed in the dark fur mask as she smiled at them. "I hope you're both comfortable. Just relax and enjoy the view. It really is spectacular."
Dorothy smiled up at her. "Thank you, Miss Pike. I'm looking forward to it."
Jane leaned back and crossed her legs. "So, whut's th' deal with this blue flag thing? Gwen's beau jest recommended it to us."
The raccoon looked at her passenger aghast, her hands clenching into fists as her lip pulled back in a snarl. "Why that inutterable..." She caught herself and shook her head, giving them a strained smile. "Uh... you don't want us to fly the blue flag. Believe me."
Loretta stiffened as a giggle sounded from behind her, and Gwen's voice called from the cockpit. "You want the blue flag, you got it, Miss Early."
The vixen reached up and pulled a lever on the instrument panel, and the rabbit's sensitive ears picked up the sound of something mechanical clacking toward the back of the plane. Loretta's shoulder's sagged, and she slapped a palm to her face , a soft growl coming from her throat. Gwen turned and addressed her partner with a mischievous look on her face. "C'mon, Lori. I need YOU at the radio, lips and all..."
The raccoon cast a chagrined look at her passengers, and went back to the front, taking her seat next to the vixen. Both pulled headsets on over their ears, and spoke to one another in a businesslike tone as they went through their assorted tasks. At a nod from each other, Gwen fired up the engines, throttling it up as Loretta tuned in the harbor master and requested clearance for take off.
As the plane slowly and majestically began to move forward under the insistent pull of its propellers, Dorothy occupied herself scanning the interior of the plane that they would be spending the next several days aboard.
Gwen and Loretta sat calmly in the pilot and copilot's seats, the vixen gripping the stick while the raccoon operated the dials on the radio. A tiny glasswork shape of a duck or swan hung by a nylon string from the roof of the cockpit in front of the window, idly spinning and rocking as the vulpine pilot brought the craft around and started to taxi over the grey blue waves of the archipelago's broad lagoon. A glove compartment by the copilot's seat held sheaves of documents and a small cheesecloth bag full of some kind of chopped herb. She rolled her eyes. As long as they didn't smoke it while flying the plane.
A dark hatchway led past them into the aircraft's nose compartment, where her eyes widened slightly to see a light machine gun wrapped up in a threadbare, Sylvanian navy blanket with a box of ammunition. There were also a couple of heavy duty canvas duffel bags stuffed with necessities, a few changes of clothing, a well-stocked, battered tool box, a couple of machetes, a flare pistol, several cans of food, mostly a mix of basics like beans and some tins of sardines, and a couple of cans of brown molasses bread that gave her a twinge of homesickness for Noreaston. A couple of canisters of fresh water, and camping gear, very similar to the gear Jane had acquired, completed the stores up front.
She glanced up at the luggage rack running above the seats, where their own packs had been well secured, along with several crates, bags, and bundles of supplies for a prolonged stay on the Nobikini Atoll. Definitely more than was needed for four females, which made her cock an ear and wonder briefly before moving her gaze on.
Her eyes paused on Jane
Early, who had pulled the brim of her ball cap over her eyes and
leaned back, trying to get as comfortable as she could on the
bench-style seat. Dorothy shifted a bit, settling herself in, and
toward the back. A small restroom was situated behind a door at the
other end of the cabin, which gave her a twinge of relief. Most of
her adventures were in urban areas, and her occasional forays into
more rural areas after kidnappers and fugitives were nothing to the
trackless seas and skies of the Southern Pan Orient. Some small
comforts would be most welcome, although the term was rather
relative, as the cramped space was doing double duty as a utility
closet, with a mop and several buckets, one filled with sawdust and
wood shavings. She puzzled over what that might be for.
Gwen Riley's voice came from the front, shouting to be heard over the rising rumble of the engines. "Okay, we've got clearance to take off from the harbor master. Here we go!"
The feline's ice blue
eyes flickered in amusement as the two young females up front
suddenly broke out in comical quacking sounds, each leaning over to
rub and bump their elbows together. Almost in response, the engines
got louder, roaring to life as the plane lurched forward.
The brown-furred tabby cast her eyes toward the transparent floor as the aircraft began to pick up speed, the swirling bubbles and bits of debris screening the deeper view of the depths of the lagoon, lit from above by the morning sun. Faster and faster the foam rushed past, trailing from the plane's prow in white plumes, until suddenly the surface of the lagoon fell rapidly away like a trapdoor that dropped out of the bottom of the aircraft. They sailed over a yacht, it's occupants standing and waving cheerily from the top deck as they grew smaller and smaller. Soon, boat wakes and other sea planes could be seen, like tiny toys scattered across a vast blue carpet.
A looming figure of a grey-furred wolf stood at the railing of the tramp freighter Hei Long, that bobbed in the anchorage of Spontoon's lagoon. His lips were a tight, angry line across his muzzle as he held a pair of binoculars to his eyes and watched the bright blue seaplane pick up speed and rise majestically skyward, the white arrow of its wake diffusing as the underbelly left the water's embrace.
With a growl he lowered the binoculars from his smoldering eyes and handed them to the drab-furred female dog who stood obediently at his side in a dark maid's dress, a polished collar around her throat. She slipped the binoculars into a valise she held in her hands in front of her. The wolf's lip pulled back in a snarl as he shot his cuffs and smoothed down the lapels on his sharply pressed, slate colored linen suit.
He tossed his proud head and roared over his shoulder at the bridge house above him. "CAPTAIN DAO!" Presently a thickset bear lumbered to the doorway above and leaned out, haphazardly tucking a stained, unbuttoned shirt into his trousers, a yellowish V of visible in the dark fur of his broad chest, a pinkish-grey patch of skin showing under the thinning fur of his rounded belly. He clapped a battered white officer's cap on his head and called out to the wolf in a gravelly voice, his puffy eyes blinking in the bright sunlight. "Aye, Herr Ravenholt!"
The wolf breathed an irritated breath through his nostrils and turned toward the slovenly sea captain, his voice dripping with restrained rage. "Have any of the crewmen sent out last night returned?"
The bear blinked as he absently fastened the shirt, leaving lozenges of fur showing between the straining buttons then turned and roared over his shoulder. "MISTER PHUNG!"
The bear gave a start that caused the button over his navel to pop loose and clatter down the metal steps as a wiry far eastern cat with a nearly triangular head and a dark muzzle and ears appeared on at the opposite shoulder to the direction he was facing, and spoke to him in an oily, creaking monotone. "Only the bear Borokov. His hand is broken, he complains of a headache, and he is walking with an odd gait. The leopard Feng and the hyena Van Doort are in gaol, while the dhole Suresh is in hospital with head injuries, and has not regained consciousness."
The portly bear drew in breath to repeat what had been told him, but was cut off by a sharp reply by the wolf. "I heard him, you simpleton. What of Kurogata?"
The narrow faced feline gave a small shake of his head, his dark face impassive. "The neko Kurogata has not been seen or heard from since last night."
The wolf snorted. "Bah. The rats are probably feasting on his guts in some alleyway. Good riddance." He stroked his angular chin in thought then glared up at bear. "How soon can we be underway?"
The bear reared back in surprise, popping another button, then furrowed his heavy brow in thought, scratching the back of his head as the tip of his long tongue jutted from between his lips. After a few moment's calculation, he looked up at the wolf who stood below tapping his polished shoe on the deck.
He turned to the feline at his side. "Mister Phung?"
The narrow-faced cat bobbed his head. "Four hours, but we are short-handed. Maybe longer."
The wolf cut the bear off again as he turned to repeat the information. "You vill take four hours and no more than that, or I vill be most displeased. Send your quartermaster over to Red Light Dock to gather vhat crewmen he can. I do not care if they are good sailors, but I vill pay splendid vages for good killers."
Captain Dao turned to Phung and started to repeat what the sharply dressed wolf had said. A weary look flickered across the feline's face. "I heard him, Captain sir. It would be felicitous to know where we are going?"
Dao turned back to the Baron and called down to him. "Where are we going, Herr Ravenholt?"
The wolf rolled his eyes, and turned to the canine female at his side with a snap of his fingers. "<Marta! Guide book.>"
With a bow of her head the drab-furred dog fished inside the valise and drew forth the requested volume, a painting of a smiling vixen in a grass skirt and flower lei perched on a tiki head and being serenaded by a colorful shirted fox with a ukulele adorning the cover. The wolf thumbed through it until he found the page he desired, and looked up to the captain with a steely glare. "The island is called Nobikini Atoll. Have your navigator plot us the fastest course possible. Understood?"
The Bear nodded. "Understood, Herr Ravenholt. We will begin preparations at once."
He turned to relay orders to Mr. Phung, and was startled to find the feline had already vanished. He gave a shrug, scratching his belly through the opening afforded by his detached buttons, and wandered away from the door.
The wolf sneered after him as he handed the guidebook back to Marta then turned and stalked away across the diesel stained deck planks, muttering bitterly to himself. "< I am beset on all sides by veak minded, vorthless trash. Marta! Heel!>"
The canine maidservant fell into step behind him, casting one last grey-eyed glance at the seaplane receding to the south in the vast blue sky.
Haheka the otter reclined on the western beach of South Island across the channel from Main Island, his muscular frame stretched out on a tattered hotel towel in the shade of a rustling palm tree. He raised a leg and gripped a fishing pole jammed into the sand between two of his webbed toes, giving the line a lazy tug. His eyes peered out from under the ragged brim of his straw hat as a bright blue seaplane climbed into the wide open skies above the archipelago. As it banked to the southwest, the morning sun glimmered on the glass panels lining the hull behind the plane's wedge like front prow. He let out a sigh and nodded his head forward.
A shadow fell across him, the outline of a more terrestrial mustelid with hands thrust casually in the pockets of a pair of loose trousers, wide-brimmed straw hat on his head. The otter reached up and pushed the brim of his own hat up with a couple of webbed fingers.
The newcomer gave a nod, and spoke in a soft voice. "How's the fishing?"
Haheka drew in a breath through his broad nose and breathed it back out. "Mmm. Ol' Haheka think maybe a couple just got away. Last I talk to Wise Ones, dey say not to worry 'bout dis and dat, so ol' Haheka, he not worry too much. Why let things ol' Haheka can't do anything about ruin ol' Haheka's day?"
The figure casting the shadow nodded. "That's good advice."
A slow grin spread across the otter's features. "Dat's why dey call 'em Wise Ones, ol' Haheka thinks."
There was a soft sound of a match striking, the shadow's shoulders hunching as something was lit. "You know, if you don't mind a little advice, I bet you could catch some bigger fish from a boat."
Haheka reached up and gripped the rod between his toes again, giving it a jiggle, his hat slipping down over his eyes. "Oh? You think so, Mister Friend?"
The silhouetted hat on the sand in front of him bobbed gently, a trail of smoke rising up in the faintest wisps of shadow from the outline of a cigarette in his hand. "I just heard about a boat that's short a few crewmen. Seems they got a little rowdy on shore leave last night and are in jail."
Haheka reached up and rubbed his chin. "Dat's a shame. Ol' Haheka, he not like folks gettin' rowdy when they visit."
The figure let out a
chuckle. "Well, a gentle fella like you might be a positive
influence on a boat like that, right?"
The otter let out a small sigh. "Maybe maybe maybe. If this da boat ol' Haheka's thinkin' of, dat Mister Friend is talkin' about, den maybe ol' Haheka's met some folks on it already. Might see ol' Haheka, and not wanna be his friends.."
The silhouette took a puff of his cigarette. "A handsome fellow like you? I bet if you made a few changes you'd be like a whole new person. Never too late to make a good impression, as the foreigners say."
The lazy grin on the otter's face tightened slightly at the corners. "Well, ol' Haheka, he like to make an impression on da foreigners. Maybe he take you up on your advice, Mister Friend."
The figure nodded. "I'm sure you'll do fine. Well, I should be moving on. You have a good day, Haheka."
The ragged hat settled lower on the otter's face, before he raised his hand to push it up again, his fingers brushing at his forehead. "Thanks much and a lot, Mister Friend. You have a good day too."
With that the shadow receded up the sand and was gone, leaving the gently waving lattice of silhouetted palm fronds dappling the otter's sleek hide.
A few minutes later, he let out a long breath, and sat up, looking ruefully at the fishing rod as the line went taut and it's end began to tug violently.
As the Glass Goose climbed into the heavens, Dorothy felt her heart catch in her throat, and then move upward to pound in her ears, as her claws involuntarily popped and dug into the canvas upholstery of her seat, and her tail became a bottle brush. Her breathing came rapid and frantic, as she began to shake, her ears laid back against her head in stark terror.
And there she was, standing on the wrong side of a railing on the Fritz Crumholtz Memorial Bridge in Vale, staring down at the black water of the Muddock River churning into the South Bay so impossibly far below. Eyes wild, clothing, fur, and hair disheveled, pistols lost somewhere, completely unheeding as cars whooshed past through the fog shrouded night between the Salt Marshes and Moggy Bottom, the only sound in her ears the roar of the river and her own ragged breath, the only sound in her head the heart rending wails of a prostitute cradling the corpse of a murderer, kneeling among the cockroaches on the kitchen floor of a cheap boarding house.
She could feel her hands loosening on the rail, her knees giving way, her very soul dragging down like a blood soaked lead weight, aching to be washed clean, to be carried away to the silent depths of the sea by that river far below.
"Missus Pearl? Missus Pearl, are y'all okay over thar?"
Jane looked across at her cohort, a look of concern causing her brow to furrow. The feline didn't respond, staring wild eyed at the floor, her fingers tearing furrows in the bench cushion, her tail bristling. The tan furred rabbit intoned an oath, and a duplicate clad in her khaki shirt, boxer shorts, and socks crossed the space to sit on the bench next to her. She wrapped her arm around the feline's trembling shoulders. "Missus Pearl!"
There was no response. "Dorothy!"
Still no response. "Dorothy, lookit me!"
She reached up and grabbed the feline under her chin, pulling her gaze up from the windows in the floor to face her. The doe's green eyes met the tabby's, and saw they were staring and glassy, the pupils like an eclipse, a black disk ringed round by a thin sliver of bright blue. Jane cocked an ear and pursed her lips, hauling back and slapping her cohort smartly across the face.
Dorothy let out a cry and clutched at her stinging cheek as the impact drove her sideways against the bulkhead. Her eyes fluttered open and she tried to look around, disoriented. "J... Jane? Wh-what..."
She found herself firmly grasped around the jaw and dragged around to face the stern visage of the rabbit doe, who held her head in place and stared her in the eyes. "No, don't look down, lookit me. Keep lookin' at me. It's Jane. Yer everlovin' compadre."
A plaintive moan sounded from the feline's throat. "Wh-why did you h... hit me?"
The tan furred doe let out a sigh as her duplicate crossed her arms over the five point harness crisscrossing her tightly bound chest and looked at the confused she cat matter-of-factly. "Y'all're havin' a panic attack, darlin'."
The double sitting next to her let loose Dorothy's jaw and stroked her tabby striped cheek. "Since when are y'all scared o' heights?"
A puzzled, slightly outraged look crossed the feline's features. As she spoke, her breathing remained agitated. "But... but I'm not! I... I've been on airplanes plenty of times and I've never..."
As she spoke, she turned her head and looked down at the plexiglas floor, with the blue ocean surging hundreds of feet below, and her pupils went wide again as a pitiful whimper escaped from between her clenched teeth.
Jane clambered up onto her knees and pulled Dorothy's head back around, crushing it to her bosom and gently rocking the trembling feline. "Don't worry, darlin'. It's okay. I got y'all. Y'all're safe. I won't let y'all fall." She let out another sigh as she stroked the tabby's back. "Y'all've been on planes, sure, but never one with no floor, I reckon..."
A thought struck the tan furred doe, and she reached up and untied the black kerchief from Dorothy's head as the feline awkwardly twisted in her harness to wrap her arms tightly around the rabbit's muscular body, burying her muzzle in her shoulder. After a quick bit of refolding, Jane had fashioned a passable blindfold, which she tied around the feline's tightly shut eyes, gently knotting it in back at the nape of her neck.
The strapped in duplicate pursed her lips in a frown. "This is gonna be a problem, ain't it?"
The other cast her a scalding glance. "Oh, y'all think?"
Two sets of long ears perked up as Loretta appeared in the doorway. "Problem? What's the..."
She blinked, doing a double take at the scene before her, before she shook her head and regained her composure. She looked over at the stricken, huddled form of Dorothy, her grey eyes going wide in alarm. "Oh no! Missus Pearl, are you okay?"
The Jane Early seated across from her huddled cohort looked sadly up at the raccoon and shook her head. "'Fraid not, darlin'. Seems she's havin' a little trouble with th' view, in regards 't it's verticality."
She nodded ruefully at the ocean vista expanding below them at their feet. Loretta planted her hands on her hips and nodded sympathetically. "It happens a more than we'd like on these tours. At least she had the decency not to lose her breakfast."
She looked the rabbit doe in the eyes with a matter of fact nod. "Hang on a second, we've got just the thing."
She turned and headed back into the cockpit, climbing across the copilot's seat and fishing around inside a glove compartment.
Gwen glanced over at her. "Another vertigo case, huh?"
The raccoon nodded to her partner, and returned with a small sachet of undyed cloth stamped with a grinning feline tiki face in her hands, and crouched down in front of Jane and the huddling, trembling Dorothy.
The rabbit doe nodded at the packet she held in her hands. "Izzat whut I think it is?"
Loretta nodded. "Yeah. Is she the kind of cat that gets... um... frisky from this stuff?"
Jane glanced down at her trembling cohort and shrugged back up at the raccoon. "Dunno, ain't never seen her use it."
The engineer let out a sigh and handed it to the rabbit. "Well, here. Hopefully it'll just relax her." She looked ruefully at the furrows torn in the seat on either side of where the feline sat. "Although I guess that seat cushion is a lost cause regardless."
Loretta looked gravely at the rabbit as she turned the sachet over in her tan furred hand. "Just hold it under her nose and let her smell it, don't mush it in over her face. You're not trying to chloroform her."
Jane nodded and held it as instructed under her cohort's delicate pink nose. Dorothy cocked her head, sniffing curiously, her nostrils flaring as her laid back ears relaxed into a curious position. "J-jane? What are you two talking about? What's that smell? Is that mmmMMMMmmmmm."
Her tensed, huddled body suddenly slumped loose and languid as a throaty purr rumbled in the depths of her chest. Her head lolled as a blissful expression washed across her face, her toes curling and uncurling in her stocking feet.
Miss Early cast a lopsided grin up at Loretta, shifting her hold on her cohort to keep her upright. "Yeah, I reckon she's plenty rel... HEY! Watch them hands, y'crazy cat!"
She squirmed in the feline's sudden clinging grasp as Dorothy sniffed greedily for the packet of herbs in her hand, purring louder and louder as she groped blindly for it. The rabbit doe hastily shoved it into her hands, rearing back as her cohort buried her face in it and took a deep breath, bunching up her knees and shoulders before going limp with a sigh. "Ohhhhh. Jzzzhhhane, you byootiful bunny this is... exquizzit. Mmmmmm."
She reached up and began to fumble with the buttons on her blouse. "Izzit gettin' HOT innheerorwat..."
Jane's ears drooped on either side of her head as she looked in horror at her cohort and then helplessly up at Loretta, who let out a knowing chuckle. "They grow that stuff over on Main Island. Strongest 'nip I've ever heard of." She shook her head as she watched Dorothy take another deep drag of the sachet's perfume, her arms going limp as she balanced it on the front of her muzzle, grinning like an idiot.
Jane cocked an ear, looking in disbelief at her companion. "Strong? Darlin', that's like callin' dynamite a firecracker. Dang..."
The sachet tumbled to the floor as the tabby suddenly sat up and started to writhe in her harness, trying without success to unbuckle it. "Hallp! Mmsomethinnsss gommee. Jzzzzhane gimmeOffiscraazzy... thing."
Loretta gave a curt nod toward the feline, locking eyes with her rabbit passenger. "Better keep her strapped in, and strap in yourself. The ride could get a little bumpy."
Jane nodded, pushing
Dorothy's hands down and away from her harness. The feline sagged in
the straps crisscrossing her body, her head lolling back and her arms
dropping limp at her sides as her hidden pistols suddenly dropped out
of her sleeves and clattered on the plexiglas floor of the aircraft.
Both Jane and Loretta let out a cry of alarm and bent down to grab them, their foreheads meeting halfway with a bonk that sent them both rearing back, wincing and cursing. The rabbit looked sheepishly at the raccoon as the stripe-tailed female crouched down and collected the pistols, popping the magazines to engage their extra safeties.
As a gentle snore came from Dorothy's nose and open mouth, the tan furred doe ruefully buckled herself into the next harness over. "I don't reckon that was th' sorta bump y'all were talkin' bout, was it darlin'?"
Loretta pocketed the Widow's Tears and shook her head ruefully as she rubbed her forehead. "I've had worse of both kinds. Just keep her quiet. It's going to be about an hour and fifteen minutes down to Nobikini. Now if you ladies will excuse me I'm needed up front."
With that, she turned, casting one last sympathetic glance behind her before stepping through into the cockpit. Jane looked sharply across as her double leaned back against the bulkhead with her hands behind her head, chuckling at her. "I'fn I didn't know better, I'd think y'all jest invented in-flight entertainment."
The tan furred doe gave the other tan furred doe a scowl. "Y'all can jest shut up 'fore I come over thar an' cram that 'nip bag in yer big, flappin' mouth."
Before Jane could respond to her duplicate, Dorothy stirred, muttering to herself in her sleep as she writhed in the harness. "MmmmEddie... Ooh... Kizzmelikethats'more... Mmnnnn..."
The two rabbits gave one
another a sad look, and looked back at their cohort with pity written
on their features. With a sigh, the doe seated beside the dreaming
feline reached up and laid a gentle hand on her knee, giving it a
Jane roused herself on either side of the plane as the sound of Gwen Riley's voice calling from the cockpit caused two sets of long ears to twitch upright. The vixen leaned over to take a glance back at the Glass Goose's passengers. "Nobikini Atoll 'comin' into sight to starboard. I'm gonna do a flyover so you can see it from above, okay?"
The rabbit sitting by herself sat up and stretched, while across from her Dorothy Pearl stirred next to her duplicate, who leaned over and grasped her feline cohort by her shoulder, giving her a slight shake. "Hey, Missus Pearl. Y'all awake yet?"
The tabby nodded groggily. "Mmmyeah... What... what WAS that stuff?"
The rabbit cocked an ear. "Don't y'all tell me y'all ever had catnip before."
The feline shook her head. "Of course I have, but nothing like... like whatever the heck that was..."
The rabbit shrugged. "Well, Miss Pike said it was local grown on Spontoon, and packed a bigger whallop than anythin' she's ever seen. I'm sure th' dried stuff y'all git in Vale and Noreaston jest don't measure up." She gave her companion a searching look. "How y'all doin', darlin'?"
A blush spread across Dorothy's face as she reached up to feel the blindfold. "Y-yeah. I'm... this... this is all so embarrassing."
The rabbit beside her gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze. "Don't fret none, darlin'. Y'all didn't do nothin' either of us'd regret while y'all were 'under th' influence' so t' speak.."
The feline's shoulder's slouched as she sniffled, damp spots forming on the dark cloth covering her eyes. "I... I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about this." She waved her hands at the blindfold, then gestured at the floor. "I'm talking about losing my wits as soon as we got airborne." She slouched in the harness, clutching her head, her shoulders shaking. "How am I gonna find that sub base if I can't look for it from the air?"
Jane squeezed her shoulder again, maintaining a grip. "Now don't y'all git all worked up, darlin'. We'll figger somethin' out. You'll see."
Dorothy's brow furrowed in anger as she batted the rabbit's hand away. "Not with this blindfold I won't! This is ridiculous! I'm The Gaze, as in 'The Gaze see's all!', not 'The Gaze sees all but throws a fit if she's up high enough." With a clawed hand, she reached up and tore the dark cloth from her eyes. "I refuse to accept this. I... eep!"
Her anger died in her throat with a shudder as she looked down through the plexiglas floor, her slit pupils dilating to terrified circles as her ears laid back against her dark, disheveled hair. Jane's hand slipped down to grasp the feline's hand, interweaving her fingers and giving her cohort a reassuring squeeze. The tabby made a strangled squeak in the back of her throat and reached over with her other hand, grasping the doe by her upper arm and pulling her as close as she could despite the harness'.
The rabbit grimaced as she felt claws start to dig in. "Mind yer hooks, darlin'."
She reached over and peeled the feline's hand loose, pulling it down between them with her other hand and wrapping them both tightly in her own tan furred grip. "Easy now, Dorothy. Easy does it. I got y'all. Y'all're strapped in tight. I made sure. And Miss Gwen and Miss Loretta know whut they're a'doin. They're Songmark gals, and ain't nobody better at keepin' a plane up whar it's s'posta be..."
The feline breathed
faster and faster through clenched teeth, forcing herself to look
through the windows and take in the seascape so far below their feet.
"It's... it's that night... that night on the Crumholtz
Bridge... its like I'm up there again..."
The rabbit gave her a searching look as she nodded. "I remember y'all tellin' me 'bout it, darlin'. Keep talkin'. Y'all're doin' good..."
Dorothy's words came in a hushed, breathless tone. "The... the water so far below... s-standing on the edge... I almost... I... I almost..."
Jane gave her an intense look with a smile crossing her face as she gave the feline's hands a squeeze. "But y'all didn't. That counts fer somethin', darlin'. Y'all remember why?"
Dorothy's thoughts fled back to that night once more, standing on the bridge, the loosening grip of her hands all that held her back from tumbling into oblivion. The sweet darkness, where no guilt, no rage, no pain, and no lost love would remain. And yet, something inside her was fighting, desperately pushing back against the wave of despair, pumping all it could into her delicate fingers to keep them holding on.
That was when a sob from another throat broke in on her consciousness, and she looked over to see a raggedly dressed old feline climb stiffly over the rail nearby, her rheumy eyes awash in tears, her drab pelt and grey hair matted and filthy, her grey haired muzzle dripping and contorted in misery. Without a word, the old feline pitched forward off of the ledge.
And Dorothy then found herself hanging awkwardly from one hand, a death grip on the rail, with the other clenched like a vise on the mangy tail of the old she cat, who howled in a hoarse voice and screamed profanities, kicking and struggling.
With a groan of effort boiling up from the depths of her chest, the brown furred tabby braced her legs and pulled with all her might, straining all of her muscles as she hauled the grizzled creature up and over the rail, dumping her over like a sack of potatoes before collapsing on suddenly boneless legs on the sidewalk in front of her.
The shabby old feline hauled back and cuffed her across the face, grimacing like a gargoyle and spitting at her with a black gummed, toothless maw. "Whatcha hafta do that for!?"
Dorothy held her stinging
cheek, slouched on the ground, staring at her with her ice blue eyes,
half stunned from the force of the blow, and half wondering. Indeed.
Why had she done it? "I... I couldn't just stand there and let
The old feline's eyes narrowed. "Why not? Whatzit matter? "
Dorothy's eyes flared, and she shook her head vehemently. "It matters. It matters more than anything!"
The ragged creature's eyes took on a strange sparkle as her voice came as a solemn question, much smoother and resonant in tone. "And what about YOUR life? Does that matter?"
The tabby felt her features go slack, and she found herself staring into the old feline's suddenly crystal clear, penetrating eyes. "I... I guess it does... if... if... I can make... make it matter..."
The grey faced she cat smiled triumphantly, showing a mouth full of gleaming white teeth, as she leaned forward and took Dorothy's hands, pressing something into them. She felt cool metal in her palm, and glancing down she found a lozenge shaped talisman, a circular gem of glittering bright ice blue gleaming in it's center.
When she looked up again, the ragged old female had changed, her fur now a glossy deep indigo, like midnight in a painting, with straight hair a deeper shade of dark blue, flowing over the shoulders of the grey, threadbare coat, cascading between ears tipped with black, tapering tufts of fur. Her eyes glowed almost white, like twin stars in her smiling face. She stood as Dorothy cowered at her feet, the shabby garments falling away to reveal a tall, svelte, indigo furred body adorned with ornaments of glowing gold.
The figure spoke to her in a booming voice, like the tolling of ancient bronze bells. "You shall make it matter, for you have been found worthy to bear the Eye of the Guardians, and to bring the light of justice to this darkened world." With that, the figure knelt and grasped Dorothy by her hands and raised her unsteadily to her feet, kneeling and bowing her head as the brown furred tabby tottered on the sidewalk, the amulet gleaming in her hand.
The feline took a deep breath, clasping her lapine companion's hands tightly as she nodded. "Y-yeah... I remember... I remember why the Servitor of the Eye chose me. Why she stopped me from throwing it all away."
At that moment, the Glass Goose banked in the air, canting the plexiglas so that Dorothy's reflection tilted up to face her. Before her eyes, the ice blue circles in a brown tabby face became copper rings in a dark grey face speckled with even darker rosettes, the same expression of terror written in the creased brow and laid back ears. The feline closed her eyes and leaned back in her seat with a ragged, drawn out sigh.
Jane gave her a searching look. "Y'all doin' okay, Dorothy?"
The tabby shook her head. "No... not in the least, but that's not what's important right now. There are a lot of people depending on me. I'll just have to face my fear with open eyes."
The rabbit doe nodded. "Y'all won't face it alone, darlin'. I'll always be right thar beside y'all, in a never-endin' supply."
Dorothy smiled at her fondly, a fragile, grateful expression on her face, and squeezed her hand. "Thanks, Jane. You're the best army of friends a girl could hope for."
Both identical does blushed and grinned. "Shucks, darlin'. T'ain't nothin'. Y'all're my compadre, that's all thar is to it."
A voice from the cockpit interrupted, seizing both female's attention with perked ears. "There we go, ladies! The Nobikini Atoll!"
With effort, Dorothy
forced her gaze down through the plexiglas floor, clasping Jane's
sinewy hands for support as she suppressed a shudder.