PART 20 - THE WAGTAIL
The Glass Goose
taxied away from the dock, leaving Jane Early standing between Junko
and Kaleia, one girl quite happy the tan-furred rabbit was there and one
wishing either she or this unnerving doppleganger doe were on
some far off island. The native vixen turned on her heel with a muttered
phrase in Spontoonie to the pale-furred usagi as she hurried down the
dock, her deep-orange brush flicking nervously behind her. At Jane's
cocked eyebrow, Junko pointed toward the sleeping hut and pantomimed
sleeping by placing her palms together and laying her eggshell-furred
cheek against her hands.
Jane rocked back and forth on her heels with her hands shoved into the
pockets of her cutoff shorts and looked over at Junko, who stood
demurely at her side watching the Glass Goose in its flight. "So... What d'y'all wanna do now?"
Junko cocked an ear. "Baisuboru?"
Jane took her hand and started leading the puzzled Kokorojin doe down the planks of the dock.
After a bit of rummaging, the tan-furred doe brought out a pair of
weathered ball gloves and a scuffed baseball. The pale-furred usagi's
face lit up as soon as she laid eyes on them, and she nodded
enthusiastically, then untied her apron and pulled it and her smock off
over her head. She then stood and neatly folded the garments, clad only
in her tight, grey linen leggings. Jane's jaw dropped, and she stared,
rapt, as the graceful female skipped over to her place in the corner and
swapped out her folded smock and apron for her pinstriped jersey. She
undid the kerchief and laid it aside, pulling a ball cap from among her
meager possessions. She placed it solemnly on her head and adjusted it
between her long, black-tipped ears.
Jane leaned down and cooed in her partner's ear. "Y'all're doin' good, Dorothy. Breathe in, breathe out. Y'ain't gonna fall. Y'all're gonna find where them varmints are hidin'. Keep breathin'. In... then out... in... then out... good..."
The tabby gave the barest nod, keeping her breathing steady at her
lapine partner's coaching, as she gazed at the rolling grey hills of the
sea bottom. If she weren't simultaneously focused on spotting anything
unusual and fighting back a panic attack, she realized that she would be
in awe of the fact that she was perhaps the only person in the world
who could see that alien landscape stretching beneath them.
She looked up toward the cockpit and called out to Gwen. "Keep us at
this angle for a while, there's something to the north-northwest I want
to look at."
Dorothy intensified her preternatural vision, gazing across the wide
ocean past a smattering of sandbar islands toward this strange device.
She saw a cable leading down from the machine, pulled taut and dragging
behind a bigger wake than she would have thought. At the head of the v
of churned-up white, she saw something like a stovepipe sticking up from
the waves, a flanged assembly at it's top.
It spelled out one word: Jormungandr.
The vulpine pilot gave her a wary glance and nodded, gripping the controls and bringing the plane around. "You got it, Missus Pearl." Loretta leaned forward in the copilot's seat and focused her binoculars. "Can you see what's towing it?"
Dorothy clenched her hands on the seats, her head craned forward as she stared out the front windows. "It's the mother of all submarines. It looks like it's maybe three hundred feet long."
At this Jane let out a long whistle over her buck teeth as she came up to stand in the doorway behind Dorothy. "Dang. That's a damn sight bigger than anythin' anybody's got in th' water right now. Must be a new type."
Gwen nodded as she kept the tiny rotary-winged craft in sight. "Towing a kite is a clever idea, probably gives them a great view."
A grim look crossed Loretta's face as she pursed her lips and peered through the binoculars. "I'd be more impressed if I didn't know they were looking for a ship to send to the bottom."
Dorothy peered intently at the rotor kite and submarine, like a hummingbird hovering over a great black shark, and tilted her head toward the raccoon. "We should be careful. If that kite spots us we might be in for some trouble. Loretta, get down a bearing. Gwen, keep them in sight. I'm gonna watch them like a hawk, and if there's any sign that they've spotted us, I want you to peel off and get us out of here, okay?"
Her ice blue eyes gleamed as she focused in on the tiny flying vehicle, flitting through the air towed by the sinister black boat sliding ominously beneath the waves. The pilot was small and canine, as far as could be told under the full head leather helmet and muzzle the figure was wearing. The brown furred feline's eyes flared as she saw the figure's head whip around, looking over either shoulder through the whirling blades of the rotors.
Dorothy drew in a sharp breath between her teeth. "Uh oh... I think the pilot just saw us. We don't have long to hang..."
The words died on her lips as suddenly the pilot of the rotor kite doubled over in his seat, and then suddenly yanked something with all his might. The tiny aircraft jumped into the air like a leaf before a typhoon wind, spinning crazily as the tow cable went slack and fell to the ocean far below, carving a white line in the waves as it splashed down. After looping crazily through the air, the pilot somehow managed to get it under control as it lurched to the west.
Gwen let out a bark of laughter. "HA! Nice recovery!"
Loretta's jaw dropped as she focused her binoculars on the tiny craft. "What the heck? They just cut their tow line! Are they nuts?"
The feline, raccoon, and vixen watched as the rotor-kite began to lose altitude, its flat rear rudder spinning lazily in a corkscrew down toward a scattered shoal of sandy islets to the southwest. Gwen leaned the plane into a turn as she angled it to keep the whirling rotor craft in sight.
Jane grabbed Dorothy by her shoulder and gave her a shake. "Whut's that sub doin', Dorothy?"
The feline tore her eyes away from the plummeting scout craft and turned her gleaming eyes on the submarine, peering through the waves in time to see an explosion of churning bubbles from vents along it's upper decks. "It's blowing its ballast. They're surfacing."
She turned, her ears perked up in alarm, at the sound of Gwen giving a shout. "OH! It's down! The kite is down! Ten o' clock! Ooh, that landing looked like it shook a few teeth loose."
Jane turned from her place behind Dorothy and leapt for one of the side
windows, kneeling on the bench with her muzzle pressed against the
glass, her voice coming out tinged with amazement. "Sonofa... That crazy
owlhoot is actually wavin' to us! Whut in tarnation is goin' on?"
Dorothy's head snapped around, and she peered out the window past Gwen to see a tiny figure leaping up and down and waving his arms on a barren spit of sand that barely broke the ocean surface. A ragged line of footprints led away from the tangled wreckage of the rotor kite in a freshly made divot in the sandbar.
The feline's eyes gleamed, as she gazed down at the wildly gesticulating figure, focusing hastily on their aura to try and understand their intent. It was much too far to see any kind of detail, but one emotion shone like a beacon, gleaming from the indistinct haze like a flickering, desperate star. Hope.
Dorothy turned and bawled in Gwen's ear. "Go down there! We're picking him up!"
Before the vixen could turn and and stare in amazement at her feline passenger, Loretta called out from the copilots seat, her binoculars trained out the other side of the windshield. "It breached! The sub breached! Holy moly! It's huge! It's like an underwater battleship!"
Gwen recovered her wits enough to cock her head at Dorothy. "Uh... Missus Pearl, I don't think..."
The brown furred tabby's ice blue eyes flared as she rounded on the vixen. "Take us down, now!"
Loretta's head whipped around, her eyes going wide as she held the binoculars in rigid hands, her jaw dropping. Gwen pursed her lips and tightened her grip on the stick. "Down it is. Hold onto your tails."
Dorothy turned toward her rabbit cohort. "Miss Early, stand fast by the door. This is gonna be close."
The tan-furred doe nodded and turned to Loretta. "Gimme that belt y'all use fer barf duty, darlin'."
The raccoon shook her head to clear it, then pointed back toward the passenger cabin. "It's on the luggage shelf over the door."
The rabbit nodded and rushed back into the cabin, hopping up and pulling the leather strap off of the shelf and buckling it around her waist, bracing with her hand as the plane tilted into a dive. She hooked its clip on the ring by the door and braced her legs. An expression of supreme focus settled on Gwen's face as she guided the plane at a steep angle.
Her brow flicked briefly as she spoke to Dorothy out of the side of her mouth. "Go strap in, Missus Pearl, this is gonna be a bumpy landing and I don't want cat puke all over me."
Loretta scowled up at her, an edge of tension on her voice. "I swear, Dorothy, if you throw up in here I will feed you that whole darn bucket of sawdust."
An indignant snarl crossed the feline's face as she glared at them with icy blue eyes. "I'm not gonna..."
Gwen's head snapped sideways and all of her teeth showed as she roared a reply, her eyes trained on the rapidly approaching ocean. "GO!"
Dorothy spun on her heel and scampered back into the passenger cabin, hurling herself onto the bench and shrugging hastily into one of the harnesses. As she buckled the belt, she caught a glimpse of the ocean waves hurtling past beneath the plexiglas windows in the belly of the plane, and immediately wished she hadn't. Her stomach lurched as Gwen leveled the seaplane off from it's steep dive and started skipping the prow across the water. The tabby kept her breakfast down with an act of supreme willpower, but the shuddering of the fuselage against her back definitely didn't help matters any.
She looked away, out the side window behind her. The long black shape of the sub was floating to the northeast about a half mile away, the curves of its white painted decoration cresting over the dark blue water like classic depictions of sea serpents on old explorer's maps. It had a long, rectangular conning tower, atop which she could see several figures emerging at the top, crowding to the rail. Large figures, grey furred in dark uniforms. Wolves.
Her head whipped around at the sound of Gwen's voice. "Brace for landing! Five!"
The feline's tail went frizzed and her ears laid back as she gripped the shoulder straps and clenched her eyes shut.
Jane took hold of the edge of the luggage shelf in her sinewy hands, her own long ears laying flat on her shoulders.
Loretta slipped the binoculars down beside her, grasped the edges of her seat and braced for impact with a muttered plea as she looked at the wildly swinging crystal goose that hung from the cockpit roof. "Hold together Gee Gee..."
Gwen let out a long, steady breath, a look of serene calm on her face.
Jane's muscular body tensed, throwing her weight against the momentum of their landing to keep from tumbling across the cabin. Dorothy was thrown back and forth in her seat, her bare footpads squeaking on the plexiglas floor as her claws dug into the upholstery. Loretta's voice sounded from the cockpit. "Everybody okay back there?"
Jane called back to her with a laugh in her voice. "Did we land yet, darlin'? I didn't feel a thang!"
That prompted a clipped laugh from Gwen. "Okay, I'm bringing us alongside to pick up our hitchhiker. I'm sure he knows a landing when he feels one."
Dorothy twisted in her seat and looked out the window, gazing across at the long, gleaming form of the submarine. The figures were hurrying below as a pair of turrets, one at each end of the conning tower's teardrop shaped section, steadily turned in their direction, curved hatches opening and disgorging the barrels of paired anti-aircraft guns.
The brown-furred feline's eyes went wide as she called up to the front.
"Make it fast! That sub's gonna start shooting any second now."
She turned toward the floundering pilot and thrust out her hands, roaring at the struggling dog like a lapine lioness. "HURRY UP, Y'CONSARNED IDJIT! MOVE!"
The jumpsuited figure glanced at the approaching shell impacts and clawed forward against the press of the surf, throwing his diminutive frame in a last mighty leap as his gauntleted hands grasped at the rabbit's sinewy wrists. Jane dragged the waterlogged pilot in through the door, tumbling backwards onto the floor of the cabin and howling forward to the cockpit. "He's in! Git us outta here!"
Her shout was punctuated by a jarring thud that caused the whole fuselage to shudder. Loretta turned to Gwen and started screaming out a stream of blistering curses, more directed at the world in general than at her partner in particular. The vixen's eyes narrowed and she gave the barest nod, hitting the throttle and causing the plane to lurch forward as a hail of cannon shells chewed the sandbar and the remains of the rotor kite into blossoms of scattering sand and shrapnel.
Jane dragged the scout kite pilot bodily up from the floor by the front of his drab, sodden coveralls and slammed him onto the bench next to Dorothy, then turned and grasped the handle of the wildly swinging hatch, yanking it tightly shut.
The brown furred tabby's stomach lurched as a powerful, foul odor of wet, unwashed dog radiated from the flailing figure next to her. She turned to face their new passenger, as gauntleted hands clumsily shoved up the goggles, revealing a pair of liquid golden brown eyes brimming with tears in a drab, greyish-yellow furred face. The leather mask with built in microphone was ripped away from a youthful canine muzzle, followed by the tight leather helmet, freeing a pair of clipped ears and an unruly shock of spiky, dull-tan hair.
Before the feline could react, she found herself in a tight embrace, receiving a flurry of kisses on her face. She gasped in surprise to discover the voice, and the body that pressed against her in the dripping wet coveralls, was distinctly female. The young pilot couldn't have been much older than eighteen years old. A torrent of grateful Steppesprecht poured out of the slender canine girl, as she crushed the startled tabby to her.
Over the sound of Loretta's frantic cursing, Gwen's voice rang out. "Hang on. Evading fire!"
The plane tilted crazily, nearly throwing the shivering canine out of Dorothy's grasp as her claws dug into the sodden coveralls. Jane threw herself flat on the floor, the taut leather strap still attached to the ring beside the door.
Flak exploded around them, buffeting the fleeing seaplane as Gwen rocked it back and forth in a serpentine flight path, gripping the stick in one hand and the throttle in the other.
Suddenly an impact and explosion shook the plane like a blow from a hammer, and Loretta's stream of invective coalesced into a single indignant shriek. "THEY HIT THE RIGHT ENGINE!"
Her dark furred hands clenched on the edge of the copilot's chair, and she looked over at her vulpine partner with a cold, distant look in her grey eyes , her voice a trembling monotone. "Gwen... take us back down... I'm going to murder every single one of them... with a crescent wrench... and a blowtorch ..."
The vixen threw her shoulders into jinking the seaplane as she responded in a level tone. "I'd prefer to keep Gee Gee in the air right now if it's all the same to you, Lori."
Jane yelled from the passenger cabin. "I don't reckon' we'll be in th' air much longer if'n we take another hit like that, darlin'!"
Dorothy shoved the canine rotor-kite pilot off of her and looked out the window behind her, seeing a plume of black smoke trailing from the right engine cowling. She looked down toward the dark submarine far below, flickering sparks at the fore and aft of the conning tower filling the air with equally black puffs of smoke from its anti-aircraft guns.
Her face became set and she shouted up to the cockpit. "Keep us flying, I'm gonna try something!"
She looked down at her tan furred rabbit cohort, cocking her head at the canine female who sat beside her trembling and staring out another porthole at the flak. "Jane! Deal with our hitchhiker please..."
The doe looked up and gave a nod, and a duplicate appeared beside her, leaping up from the floor and gripping the startled young dog in an arm lock. With a grimace Jane threw her across the cabin to the opposite bench, then braced her wide set legs and jabbed an emphatic finger at their newly acquired passenger. "Siddown and shaddup, or we're gonna chuck y'all back out thar."
The yellow furred canine shrank down against the bulkhead, bobbing her
head submissively and casting her eyes toward the floor. She let out a
gasp and recoiled as she saw it was made of clear glass, and looked over
in alarm as Jane threw herself down next to her duplicate and vanished,
leaving a single rabbit climbing up to take a seat next to the young
canine, where she proceeded to strap herself and the kite pilot in.
Dorothy's brow furrowed in deep concentration as she gripped the edge of the bench, her ice blue eyes flaring in concert with the glittering brooch at her throat. The canvas cushion beneath her slender fingers dissolved into a tenuous mist and vanished, followed by the framework and walls of the plane's fuselage. In a spreading radius around the brown-furred feline, the structure of the Glass Goose faded into nothing. Jane drew in a breath and gave a curt nod across the aisle to Dorothy. At her side, the young canine rotor kite pilot let out a gasp of shock as the structure of the plane vanished around her. Jane looked over at her and gripped her knee, giving it a squeeze as she nodded reassuringly. The yellow furred female swallowed hard and gripped the straps of her harness as they vanished in her hands.
Up in the cockpit, Loretta looked down in horror as the instrument panel and seat vanished around her, leaving her and Gwen hurtling through empty space hundreds of feet up from the surging ocean.
She let out a shriek. "DOROTHY!? WHAT DID YOU DO TO THE PLANE, DOROTHY!?"
She looked over her shoulder to see the wing fade out, with the uncanny effect spreading back along the trail of black smoke dragging behind the stricken engine like a pencil line being erased. She looked over at the vixen, who now sat in thin air with her feet spread and her hands clamped in front of her.
The young raccoon's voice came out strained and tremulous. "G-gwen?"
The vixen kept her eyes forward and flicked an ear. "As long as I can feel the pedals and the stick, I'm not worried."
The raccoon put her dark furred hands to her muzzle as she watched the vixen slowly fade away to thin air as well, and then looked down to see her own body vanishing into nothingness.
Dorothy's voice rang out in the empty air over the sound of engines, one thrumming steady and one sputtering and coughing. "I'm sorry about messing up the rational world for you again, Miss Pike."
Loretta looked around her, seeing nothing but empty sky over the vast ocean, the long dark shape of the submarine far below, crouching atop the surface as it's guns went silent. The raccoon's voice replied shakily. "I... I guess I c-can let it s-s-slide, Missus Pearl. It g-got 'em to s-s-stop s-shooting at us..."
A harsh, metallic crunch sounded to the right, followed by the death rattle of an engine. Gwen let out a clipped grunt as the plane listed to starboard, and corrected. Loretta's voice came a bit more tremulously. "I would really like to see what just happened, though..."
The vixen's voice came calmly out of the air next to her. "We've still got one engine. That should be enough to keep us in the air until we're out of range."
Jane's voice sounded out from the direction where the cabin would be. "How long can y'all keep it up, Dorothy?"
The felines voice came thick and strained out of the thin air. "The real question is how... how long I can keep it d-down, J-Jane."
Gwen spoke up as they all felt the invisible seaplane bank, the horizon tilting around them. "Okay, that's at least two good reasons to bring us in for a landing as soon as possible. Just hold tight everybody."