Spontoon Archipelago, 1939
Story & art by Warren Hutch
© 2010 Warren Hutch
PART 22 - A CLEAN START
Jane and Dorothy soon clambered up the side of the
plane's blue and white fuselage and walked carefully across the roof to
the wings, struggling to maintain their balance as the Glass Goose bobbed up and down on the gentle swells of the vast Pan Orient ocean.
Gwen and Loretta stood gravely staring at the blackened, battered
cowling of the right engine, a layer of sodium bicarbonate foam oozing
down its rumpled curves and dripping into the ocean.
The tan furred rabbit doe called out to them as she approached. "Yo gals. How's she lookin'?"
Loretta turned to her with pursed lips. "Ugly, at
least on the outside. I won't know what's going on inside until the
engine's cooled down enough for me to handle it."
Dorothy stepped up beside her and tapped her on the
shoulder. "Maybe I can help with that, Miss Pike. If you'd take my
The raccoon cocked an eyebrow, shifting the upper edge of her mask as
she allowed the feline to take hold of her dark furred fingers. "What is
this, another... oh golly!" Her eyes began to glimmer as Dorothy's did
as she stared at the engine. "It... it's like looking at a schematic.
Her voice went from softly amazed to harshly enraged
as she broke into a string of curses that caused her companions to blush
hotly. Gwen looked over at the two of them with a cocked eyebrow. "That
Loretta let out an exasperated breath, compressing
her dark furred mask beneath her furrowed brow and rubbing the bridge of
her nose with thumb and forefinger, then turned her grey eyes toward
her partner with a rueful gaze. "Well... Not catastrophic, but it ain't
pretty. Looks like the shell failed to explode and just slammed through
the cowling and out the other side. Missed the main engine, thank
goodness, but it chewed up all the lines feeding it. Nothin' I can't
patch, but it's gonna take me a while and I might have to improvise a
little here and there."
Gwen gave her a confident nod. "Well if anybody can do it, you can, Lori."
A faint smile flitted across the raccoon's face as she let out a sigh. "It's gonna take time, though."
Jane spoke up as she looked along the length of the
seaplane. "Any other damage? I seem t' recall we took a couple more hits
Gwen turned and gave her a weary smile. "Shell
fragments punched a couple holes in the tail, mostly cosmetic damage,
and a there's a few scorch marks here and there. Nothing major, but poor
Takky's gonna have to repaint some of his beautiful little clouds."
Loretta rolled her eyes. "'Poor Takky' she says..." She looked wryly at
the others. "He'd repaint the whole thing every hour to match the time
of day for her if he could. Like I said, Gwen gets all the luck."
While Gwen blushed and stifled a small grin, Jane
shaded her eyes and looked upward. "Well, speakin' o' time o' day, we
prolly oughta git outta this noonday sun or we're gonna fry like eggs on
a Cactusberg blacktop."
Loretta looked down at the engine and let out a sigh.
"Yeah... I guess so. Might as well go down and get some lunch."
Vanya sat up expectantly as the four females climbed
back down into the cabin. When Loretta set her crepe-soled
feet down on the plexiglas floor, her nostrils flared and she looked
around with her lip curling back in disgust. She fixed her grey eyed
gaze on the young canine as Jane took her by the hand and led her over
to introduce her to the raccoon and vixen.
The rabbit doe nodded at the youthful kite pilot.
"This here's Miss Vanya Cook. Vanya, I'd like t' formally introduce
y'all t' the owners and operators o' this here plane, Miss Gwen Riley,
who y'all have met, and Miss Loretta Pike."
Vanya made a little bow as the raccoon crossed her
arms in front of her and looked at the young canine with a level gaze.
"There's nothing formal about the odor coming off of you, kid. I'm
willing to forgive the damage my poor Gee Gee took picking you up, but I'm in no mood to have someone stinking up my plane, especially when they're not a paying customer."
Jane's momentarily shocked expression hardened as she
turned and glared at the raccoon. "Hey, now hang on a second thar,
Gwen rolled her eyes and let out a sigh as Loretta
turned her gaze on the rabbit. The upper half of her bisected tail
twitched as she spoke in a steady voice. "If you don't like it, Miss
Early, there's a rope and bucket and a bar of sea soap in the back. Take
her up on the wing and scrub her off while the rest of us get lunch
ready, and then maybe we'll all be able to hold it down when we're
She glanced over at Vanya as the youthful female cast
her eyes downward in an abject posture. "I do not mean to give the
offense, if you please, ma'am. I have not had the bath since the
submarine sailed from the Seevald harbor the four moons ago. Thank you
for the allowing of one to me."
As she lowered her tousled head in a bow, the
raccoon's dark masked features softened. She looked at the others one by
one. "Look. I'm sorry if I'm being rude, but we're stranded in the
middle of the ocean and drifting. If Gwen and I can't get the plane in
the air we're gonna have to taxi, and we probably don't have enough fuel
to make it all the way back to Nobikini that way. This tiny little
space is our whole world right now, and there's a chance it's gonna be
that way for a long time. If you think I'm skipping some of the proper
social niceties now, wait until we've all been stewing in this shoe box
for a week or two."
Jane nodded ruefully and let out a sigh, clapping a
hand on Vanya's shoulder. "Point taken, darlin'. Point taken. C'mon,
Miss Vanya. We'll git y'all cleaned up proper."
Gwen turned and made for the rear compartment. "I'll get you the stuff."
Loretta called after her. "I've got a spare set of
coveralls that'll probably fit her too. Its under the tarp, I think."
Vanya bowed again, a morose look on her face. "Thank
you for the kindness, ma'am. I am sorry for the breaking of your
airplane on the behalf of me. I vill vork to make up the fault, though I
can do little but the helping in the kitchen and the flying of the
The raccoon gave her an appraising look for a moment. "We'll talk about
that later. For now, go with Miss Early and get cleaned up. We'll have
lunch ready when you get back."
Jane led the young canine up onto the sun-baked wing,
helping her balance as the plane rose and fell with the surges in the
bright glare of the noon sun.
Vanya clung to her tightly, looking warily at the
water below. "I should be telling the truth to you, Jane Early. I am not
the best at the swimming in the vater."
The tan-furred rabbit steadied her with a firm grip
and a grin. "Don't worry none, darlin'. I won't let y'all fall in."
The doe led her canine charge out onto the wing and
lowered the bucket down on the end of its tether, scooping up a full
measure of water, which she set down on the plane's broad blue wing in
front of her, crouched down, and proceeded to work the bar of coconut
scented soap in her hands, making a lather in the bucket.
She gave Vanya a nod. "Y'all go ahead n' strip down, darlin'."
The canine gave her a shy bow and began to unbutton
the front of the drab garment, emerging from the folds of damp, heavy
cloth as if she were some kind of insect coming out of a cocoon. Jane
sighed and shook her head as she looked at the canine girl's thin
physique, made angular and spare by hard toil and malnutrition, with
visible ribs and sharp edges at the hips. Under the coverall she wore a
flimsy wool shift that clung to her like it was woven of cobwebs, which
she peeled off and dropped at her side then crouched down to untie the
thin soled canvas boots she wore.
When she stood, now seeming even smaller and more
fragile than she was before, the wind ruffled her matted tan hair as she
cast a trusting look at the rabbit doe. Jane was transfixed by the
sight of a heavily reinforced leather plate strapped securely over the
young female's privates.
She took a moment to shake her head and clear it, and
spoke to Vanya in a low monotone, lifting her eyes with difficulty to
meet her gaze. "Is... are y'all wearin' what I think y'all're wearin'?"
The yellow furred canine bobbed her head uncertainly.
"I do not have the knowing of what you do the thinking, if... if you
please, Jane Early. Ve thrall bitches must vear this on the submarines
so that ve are not made to have the puppies vithout the permission. The
great Beta Captain keeps the keys in his cabin."
Jane's ears laid back. "Why... why would they even put a bunch o' gals in that... that kinda position?"
Vanya gave a nervous little shrug, disturbed by her
companion's sudden change in attitude. "Vell, the cooking is the vork
for the bitches, of course. Who vould do it othervise? It is not so much
the bad. The male thralls are the good dogs, and treated us kindly vhen
they vere allowed near. They vould not do this to us, even if they vere
able, no matter vhat the vulfs believe."
She let out a small shiver as a troubled look came to
her face. "Although the omega vulfs, and even some of the gammas... I
did not have liking for the looks they vould give us as the days under
the vater vore on. I began to have the fear that even the ancient
breeding laws vould not keep their hands off for much longer." She
hugged herself, a distracted look on her face.
A dull klunk and a sloshing of the water
sounded from the pail as the soap shot out of Jane's clenched fingers.
She stood abruptly, her sinewy fists so tight they creaked slightly, and
walked over to the recoiling canine's side, her cotton tail bristling
like it was full of electricity.
Her voice came as a harsh growl through her grinding buck-teeth. "Hold still."
With that, she pulled out her Alpine knife and
snapped the blade into place, and quickly and carefully cut the straps.
Vanya stood, shyly covering herself with her hands, a puzzled expression
on her youthful face, as Jane re-pocketed her knife and stalked across
to the other end of the wing with one of the thing's severed straps
clamped in a shaking fist. The tan furred rabbit wound up and threw it
so hard she almost toppled headlong off the wing tip. When she'd
regained her balance, she spat hard in the direction she'd thrown it as
it plopped into the water and vanished, and then spun on her heel and
strode back to Vanya's side.
The young canine recoiled from her. "J-jane Early,
v-vhy are you having such the anger? Did I say something that vas the
Tears began to roll down the rabbit's flushed cheeks,
and she reached out and hugged the youthful female's thin body to her.
"No darlin'. I ain't mad at y'all. Not a bit."
She disengaged and stalked over to the pail, hefting
it and looking over at Vanya with a smoldering gaze. "Next wolf I see,
tho, I'm gonna burn down like a goldurn house n' salt th' earth whar
they was standin'."
With that, she plucked the soap from the bucket and
slipped it in her shirt pocket, then walked back to the young canine's
side, and poured the soapy water over her. Vanya closed her liquid brown
eyes tightly as the soapy water slicked down her dingy yellow fur. Jane
paused, her brow furrowing and her lips pursing tightly as she noted
the faint trace work of scars and welts made visible across the slender
female's pelt. As Vanya gave an involuntary little shake, Jane took out
the soap and lathered up her hands and then began to work it into her
canine charge's fur.
The young dog blinked and rubbed her eyes, looking
pensively over her shoulder. "Are all of your kind so much the fierce,
Jane Early? The vulfs say the rabbits are the timid little creatures,
afraid of their own shadows, even."
The rabbit doe gently reached up and turned her head
to face forward, and began to work the suds into her spiky thatch of tan
hair, causing a shiver to run down the canine's spine to the blunt nub
of her docked tail.
Jane gave a wry smile as she worked. "Some are, some
ain't. Takes all kinds t' make a world. I'm the kind that don't like it
when some varmint thinks they can take what they want jest 'cos they're
bigger n' meaner. Far as I reckon it, we all got somethin' t' give, n'
it's our right t' decide when 'n if 'n how. If'n y'all cook fer someone,
it should be 'cos y'all wanna feed 'em. Not 'cos some slackjaw says
cookin's all y'all're good fer."
She came around to the young female's front and
grasped her firmly by the shoulders. "And sure as shootin', if'n
y'all're gonna set 't havin' pups, it oughta be 'cos y'all've found
someone y'all love enough t' raise a family with. And take it from ol'
Jane, if'n any low down sidewinder tries t' take that act o' love from
y'all without yer consent, y'all got th' right t' send him home with his
huevos con carne in a cardboard box. Maybe with his dang head t' keep 'em company. Y'unnerstand me, darlin'?"
Vanya hugged herself and nodded slowly. "I... I have
thinking that I do. But... if you please, Jane Early, I am only the
little bitch dog. I don't have the strong for the fighting."
Jane shook her head with a chuckle as she turned away
and took up the rope, lowering the bucket down into the waves and
drawing it back up again. She tipped it over Vanya, rinsing away the
suds as a cascade of water flowed down the wing like a tiny waterfall.
"Strong ain't everthin', darlin'. It can't last as long as tenacious, it
can't stand up t' brave, it can't put one over on smart. From what I
seen n' heard today y'all got smart, brave, n' tenacious in spades."
She grinned over her shoulder as she turned and
lowered the bucket again. "So don't y'all fret about it none. Y'got all
y'all need, jest figger out what y'all wanna do with it n' go." She
turned back to face the young canine and tipped the water over her.
Jane stepped back and looked at her, and the change
was stunning, as the last of the grime that had covered her slender
frame was washed down the wing and into the ocean. Scrawny as she was,
it was as if she had been fashioned of yellow gold and bronze, with a
light in her eyes that outshone the sheen of the sun highlighting her
glossy pelt. Vanya arched her back and stretched, raising her arms over
her head and standing on her tip toes as warmth spread through her. The
tan furred rabbit took up a towel and proceeded to rub her briskly down
with it, reflecting that warmth in the smile on her face.
Soon, Vanya landed lightly on her bare foot pads in
the passenger cabin, dressed in the loose beige folds of a set of
borrowed coveralls. Jane followed her closely, with the bucket in her
hand holding the coiled rope, soap, and wadded up towel.
Gwen, Loretta, and Dorothy looked up from the
benches, where they were making sandwiches from slices of a thick hunk
of heavily cured salt pork and a hard block of white cheese that they
had unwrapped from wax paper bundles, along with a loaf of coarse brown
bread. A brown paper bag held an assortment of bananas, papayas, and
Gwen smiled up at Vanya as she walked over to them.
"Hey, lookin' good there, kid. You like mustard or mayo on your
sandwich?" She nodded at a couple of metal tins beside her with
mismatched steel butter knives sticking out of them.
A look of puzzlement crossed the young canine's face. "I... I do not have the knowing of vhat those are."
Loretta looked over at her as she dipped her own
sandwich in a tin cup of water and took a bite. "Well, your hands are
probably clean enough, dip a pinky in each one and see which one you
With a nod of encouragement from Gwen as she held up
the tins, Vanya did so. Her liquid brown eyes widened as she tasted the
mustard. She pointed at it excitedly. "This! I know this! The vulfs
vould be eating this vith their vurst and their cooked beef. Ve vere not
allowed the having it. It vas the luxury, for the vulfs only."
As Gwen nodded and proceeded to liberally slather it
on to a thick slice of salt pork, Jane stepped up and fished a mountain
apple out of the bag, polishing it on a dry spot on her shirt as she
grinned at her cohorts. "I'll take one with th' same, but hold th' meat
n' gimme double th' cheese."
Dorothy smiled and handed a sandwich to her already
made with a wink. "Here you go, partner, just as I predicted."
Jane took her lunch and sat down across from the cat,
vixen, and raccoon as Vanya accepted a sandwich from Gwen. When she bit
into it, her shoulders bunched up ecstatically, her nub of a tail
furiously wagging through the reinforced taillet of her borrowed
coveralls as she chewed it slowly and swallowed.
She looked at the sandwich with sparkling eyes. "This
is so much the good! Aside from the bad dog's mutton, I have not eaten
anything but the dry kibble, the stew of the potato, and the vitamin
pills for these four moons."
Dorothy looked at Vanya appraisingly as she nibbled
on her sandwich, her tail waving pensively down the space behind the
bench. "How many dogs are on that submarine?"
The young canine paused, thoughtfully chewing two
more bites of salt pork and cheese, and rocking her head lightly back
and forth as she counted to herself. She swallowed the mouthful and
proudly declared the result of her calculation, setting her sandwich
down on the napkin in her lap and holding up five fingers. "Four of the
vashers and five of the fingers."
A wistful look crossed her face as she looked at the
upraised index finger on her left hand. "One of the fingers less for
poor, poor Pavel."
Loretta paused in dipping her sandwich, cocking an eyebrow. "Vashers?"
Vanya nodded. "The spare vashers on the piece of the
vire or the string, for helping us vith the counting. Vun of the vashers
is for knowing eight of the fingers."
Dorothy's eyes flickered as she made her
calculations. "So... thirty eight. And how many wolves are on board?"
Vanya took another bite and counted in her head
again, smacking her lips before declaring the result and holding up five
fingers. "Three of the vashers, and five of the fingers."
She considered her hands for a moment, and then with a
wicked grin, she switched the single digit from her index to middle
finger, suppressing a giggle. "This vun, he is for the great Beta
As Jane and Gwen let out a chuckle, Dorothy parsed
what the young canine had said. "So thirty one wolves, to thirthy eight
Her brow furrowed. "That's terrible. Over half the
crew are there under duress. We've got to stop them, but that might mean
sending all those poor dogs to a watery grave for their masters'
crimes." She sagged in her seat, laying her sandwich on a handkerchief
at her side. "What ever are we going to do about this thing?"
Loretta dipped a banana in her cup and took a bite.
"What can anybody do? That sub can strike from nowhere and vanish
without a trace. We can get word to the Navy, provided we make it back
to anything resembling civilization, but how are they gonna find a boat
with that kind of range in the vastness of the Pan Orient ocean?"
Gwen nodded solemnly as she peeled the skin off of a
papaya with her knife. "And how many other boats are they gonna sink
while everybody's lookin' for 'em?"
Dorothy nodded and rubbed her eyelids with the tips
of her fingers. Suddenly, her drooping ears flicked upright, and she
looked up, her gleaming blue eyes alight. "We know about one that
they're going to hit. The SS Palomino Bay! Huakela's vision!"
She looked at Jane, who cocked an ear, as the vixen
and raccoon looked at one another quizzically. The rabbit took a swallow
of water from her tin cup. "Okay, so how do we find them? It's still a
mighty big ocean."
The feline nodded enthusiastically. "Sure, but
they're not trying to hide, and they're on a predetermined route. I saw
it on the map at Huakela's hut! She was tracking the ship's progress."
She looked at Gwen and Loretta. "I'll need a map of the Pan Orient and a pencil!"
The vixen nodded and set her papaya aside on a
napkin, rising to her feet and heading for the cockpit. She came back a
moment later with a well marked map and a stubby pencil.
Dorothy knelt down on the floor and spread the map
out, her tail waving intently behind her. As her eyes glimmered in the
shady space, the lines marking the map that hung over Huakela's dresser
appeared to her, superimposed over the one she now gazed at. She took
the pencil and marked them down, placing x's where the tack with the St.
Christopher medal hung, before and after the leopardess had moved it.
She looked up at her companions, tapping at an island
in the middle of the vast span of blue that sat at a joint of the lines
she'd just drawn. "Huakela's husband posted an airmail letter from
Halfway Island a little over a week ago." She tapped on the first x,
then the second. "She had a marker, that she moved from here, to here,
probably based on something she read in that letter."
Gwen cocked an eyebrow as she sliced off a thick sliver of papaya and ate it. "Who's Huakela?"
Jane smiled at her. "Real nice native gal. She put me n' Dorothy up
after we got kicked outta th' Pelican Hotel. I reckon' y'all'd like
Loretta dipped the last of her sandwich in her cup
and ate it, staring at the map with her grey eyes narrowed in thought.
She pursed her lips pensively. "Well... Supposing they're headed
eventually for the Spontoons, and based what I know about the local
trade routes versus the average rate of travel for a typical freighter
in these waters, I'd estimate that they'd pass within a few miles of
Nobikini in a day or so, three at the most."
Dorothy's brow furrowed, and she nodded gravely at
the young raccoon. "Right, so we'd better get to work if we want to be
Loretta tossed back the contents of her tin cup and
stood with a determined nod, wiping her fingers on the front of her
coveralls. "Alright. Let me break out the tool kit and I'll get started."
Vanya hastily snapped down the rest of her sandwich
and stood, clasping her hands in front of her. "I vant to do the help
for you, Loretta Pike! I do not know any of the things about the
engines, but I can make handing of the tools and run for the fetching of
The raccoon gave her an appraising look, then shrugged. "Okay, let's go."
The young canine gave an enthusiastic little hop and
fell into step behind the raccoon as she made for the doorway.
Back on Nobikini, Jane stood at the end of the pier
staring across the lagoon with her arms crossed in front of her, her
brow furrowed and her lips pursed. Junko stood beside her, nervously
watching as a launch full of sailors approached across the turquoise
blue of the lagoon from where the unknown ship had anchored off of the
trailing western tip of the tiny atoll's C. The tan furred doe's green
eyes narrowed as she sized up the collection of scruffy looking
specimens that slouched in the boat as it skipped over the waves.
She cocked her head toward Junko. "Y'know, darlin'.
Lookin' at these varmints, I think I jest might have made a really bad
judgment call. Why don't y'all go rouse Kaleia and head down t' th' cave
while I distract these bozos..."
The graceful usagi hovered at her side, her ears laid back. "Nanda?"
Jane facepalmed, her other hand a fist down at her
side. She looked sternly over her shoulder at her companion. "Take
Kaliea to the Mermaid Cave. Kaleia! Mermaid Cave! Don't make me do
charades while they're watchin' us."
Junko bit her lip and grabbed at Jane's wrist,
tugging it urgently as she began to edge toward the beach. "Jane chan!
Rrun home! Rrun..."
The athletic rabbit let out a weary sigh and shook
her head. "Dang, I cain't stay mad at y'all when y'all try t' talk
baseball in that accent o' yers..."
Her head whipped around as a voice called out from
the launch. A red furred dog in an ugly plaid cap stood and hailed the
two does. "Ahoy there, me lad! Are you and yer little geisha gal there
the only ones on this here island?"
Jane took a deep breath and turned, planting her
hands on her hips as she squared off toward them. "Maybe. Who wants t'
The canine let out a chuckle as he spread his hands.
"Oh, we're just passin thru. Thought we'd stop by t' say hello."
Jane pulled her wrist loose from Junko's frantic grip
and crossed her arms in front of her, drawing herself up with a scowl
on her face. "Okay. Y'all jest said hello. How about y'all show me if
y'can do goodbye."
A predatory grin spread across the setter's features
as he looked down at his crewmates. "Y'hear that, lads. Bucky boy here
wants to know how we say g'bye. What say we show him?"
With that, two of the dirty ruffians stood,
unlimbering tommy guns as Jane furiously backpedaled, her eyes wide with
alarm as the frantic rhythm of Junko's feet thudding down the planks of
the dock behind her sounded in her ears.
It was suddenly drowned out by the raucous barking of a pair of submachine guns.