Spontoon Archipelago, 1939
Story & art by Warren Hutch
© 2010 Warren Hutch
PART 23 - SILENT RUNNING
It had been a long, hot afternoon, but it had
finally begun to cool off as the sun slowly crept toward the vastness of
the western horizon. The sea had grown calmer, and the Glass Goose
bobbed gently on the rolling swells. Gwen, Loretta, and Vanya were
looking and feeling fairly wilted as they crouched on the plane's broad
wing and diligently worked at the right engine. All three females'
coveralls were drenched in sweat, their noses and ears smeared with
white zinc oxide to prevent sunburn, with broad brimmed, straw hats
covering their heads from the relentless Pan Oriental sun.
Loretta hovered over the machine like a mother hen,
clucking and muttering to herself as her nimble fingers patched fuel
lines and hydraulics. Occasionally she'd break out in a louder bout of
cursing, startling her companions, but she mostly kept it at a low,
sporadic monotone, unless she snapped into focus enough to demand
something from the nearby toolbox.
Gwen reclined beside the battered, well used tool kit, supporting
herself on her elbows and staring out across the broad expanse of the
Pan Orient ocean with a bored look on her face. Whenever the raccoon
called out for something, the vixen roused herself, diffidently fishing
through the box and producing the desired part or tool, then lapsing
back into her blasé repose after she'd placed it in her partner's hand.
Vanya knelt wearily beside them, a half-empty canteen
in her hands and her eyelids drooping. When they had begun, the young
canine had been fairly vibrating with eager attention, ready to spring
to her feet and run and fetch whatever Gwen and Loretta asked. She had
watched intently as the mechanic and pilot washed away the bicarbonate
residue, cracked open the engine cowling, and set to work on the complex
tangle of tubes and wires and pipes. As the sweltering day had worn on,
however, she found her focus starting to drift, and had even caught
herself dozing a couple of times.
Loretta glanced up from her work at the blaze of
orange and red that had begin to spread across the western sky. She
looked down a the engine lines with a sigh. "We're starting to lose the
light. I guess we'll have to do the wiring tomorrow morning. Got the
fuel lines all patched, tho."
Gwen nodded and sat up from her reclining position,
yawning and stretching her arms over her head. She slouched forward, and
looked appreciatively at the half repaired engine and shaking her head.
"You're incredible, Lori. I wouldn't have been able to make sense out
of that mess with a whole week of time and solid ground under my feet."
The raccoon smiled as she wiped her hands on a greasy
rag. "Well, if you hadn't done such a good job evading that flak
there'd be a whole lot less for me to work with, Gwen. Or of me to work
with it, even." She rose up off of her haunches and arched her back,
grimacing as a couple of vertebrae popped and crackled. "Anyway, we
better button her up for the night. Vanya, would you have Miss Early
hand you up the tarpaulin and a length of rope, please."
She looked down after not receiving an answer to see
the young canine had nodded off, slouching forward with the canteen
ready to drop out of her hands. She shared a wry glance with Gwen as the
vixen chuckled to herself and called out to her. "Hey Vanya! Look alive
The golden furred female came awake with a start,
looking around wild eyed with alarm. A teasing remark died on Gwen's
lips as the young canine instinctively crouched down and shielded her
head, bracing herself for a blow. When it didn't come, she shook her
head to clear it and looked shyly up to the raccoon and vixen as the two
partners exchanged a dismayed look.
She cast her eyes downward with a small bow. "I... I
am sorry, if you please, for making of the sleep. It vill not have the
Loretta called out to her in a gentle voice. "Vanya
it's okay, don't worry about it. Would you please go ask Jane to hand
you up the tarpaulin and rope and bring it over here, please?"
The young dog clambered to her feet and made her way
over to the hatch, crouching down beside it. A couple of moments later a
grey tarp and a coil of rope came up into her hands, followed by the
long eared head of Jane Early peering over the top of the door as Vanya
scurried across the wings with her burden clutched to her chest.
The rabbit cocked an ear and called out to the
raccoon and vixen. "Yo gals! Dorothy n' me were jest wonderin' if'n
y'all want us t' git supper a'goin'?"
Gwen smiled over at her with her hands planted on her
hips. "Yeah, that'd be great. We're gonna batten down the hatches up
here and be with you in a minute."
In short order, they'd lashed a tarp securely over
the stricken right engine and handed the tool kit down through the hatch
to Jane. Gwen planted her hands on her hips and looked around as
Loretta made fast the last knots on the rope and coiled the rest of it's
length in next to the engine cowling.
A grin spread across her face as a thought struck
her. "You know, I think I'm gonna go for a little dip to cool off, who's
The raccoon looked up at her with incredulous eyes as
she stood, crossing her arms in front of her and balancing on steady
legs as the plane bobbed gently on the low swells. "Are you nuts, Gwen? I
mean more than usual? We're in the middle of the flippin' ocean! You'd
be swept away in a minute."
The vixen crouched down and caught up the coil of
excess rope from beside the engine cowling. "Not if I'm tied off well
She handed the length of braided hemp to her partner
and proceeded to shrug out of her sweat stained coveralls, stripping
quickly down to her green and white bathing suit and then looping the
end of the rope around her waist. With a grin and a wink the athletic
vixen stepped to the edge of the wing and leapt off, executing a nearly
flawless swan dive and sliding into the water almost as well as an otter
Loretta rolled her eyes as she gripped the other end
of the rope and looked ruefully over her shoulder at Vanya. "She's such a
Gwen popped up below and spent a few moments treading
water, luxuriating as it washed away the sweat, grime, and heat. A
mischievous grin spread across her face as a thought struck her, and she
ducked below the water and swam underneath the plane.
Inside, Dorothy and Jane sat warming some leaf wrapped laulau
bundles in a pan over a small kerosene camp stove. They were startled
by a knock from beneath, and looked down to see a grinning vixen waving
at them through the plexiglas floor of the Glass Goose. She proceeded to
execute a series of extravagant funny faces at them, before swimming
away with a flick of her weightlessly floating tail.
Dorothy let out a chuckle and shook her head.
"There's certainly some unusual sea life in this part of the Pan
Jane looked up at her feline cohort with a wry grin.
"I reckon thar's a lotta marine biologists who'd be mighty innerested in
gettin' their hands on a specimen like that."
She stood up and crossed over to the door, pushing it
open and climbing up to crane her neck over the roof of the plane. She
called out to the females holding onto the safety line. "Y'all better
watch yer step, gals. Thar's Gwenfish a'swimmin' in these here waters."
The raccoon tossed back her head in a laugh. "Yeah, I was just about to reel one in for supper."
She leaned down and shouted to the vixen. "Y'hear that, Gwen? You're the catch of the day!"
A laugh came from below as the sopping wet vixen
pulled herself up the side of the plane and onto the wing, trailing
water from her sodden tail as she walked back to join Loretta and Vanya.
The vixen gave the young canine a playful nudge. "I
think that honor goes to Miss Vanya here. Though as far as the wolves
are concerned she's the one that got away." She untied the rope around
her waist and held it up to the raccoon and young canine. "Okay, who's
Loretta looked down at the water, then at the rope,
then shrugged her shoulders and began to unbutton her coveralls with her
deft, dark furred hands. "Sure, what the heck? Although with my luck a
shark's gonna swim by."
When she'd stepped out of her coveralls, revealing
her white and blue checked swimsuit, and secured the rope around her
waist, she turned back and unbuckled her prosthetic tail and held it up
with a wry expression and a sigh. "Ah well, if one comes up and wants to
bite my tail off he'll be sorely disappointed anyway."
Vanya's eyes widened as her hands went to her muzzle. "Aah! Vhat happened to your tail, Loretta?"
The raccoon gave her remaining half length tail a
little swish as she looked ruefully over her shoulder at it. "I had a
little accident when I was younger." She gave a shrug, then turned and
handed the taxidermied bottom half to the young dog. "So here, hold on
to this bit for me and don't drop it, okay? I'm gonna get what I've got
left all wet."
She let out a chuckle. "Maybe if I water it it'll grow back a little."
With that, she leapt off of the wing with a whoop,
tucking he knees to her chest and splashing down in the rolling waves
below, while Gwen braced her feet and held onto the other end of the
rope. Vanya gingerly held the striped length of raccoon tail in her
hands like it was going to blow away like a dandelion puff if she wasn't
She looked earnestly up at the vixen after staring at it for a while.
"Vell, I still think her tail has the beautiful." She looked ruefully
over her shoulder as she wiggled the rounded nub of her own closely
docked tail. "I vould love to have any sort of the tail, especially vun
vith so much of the pretty stripes, or the beautiful red and vhite brush
like yours, Gven."
The vixen looked uncomfortably over at the young
canine. "Well... well thanks, Vanya. That... that's mighty nice of you
to say. I think Lori should hear that too."
The golden-furred female nodded gravely. "I vill tell her vhen she comes back up here."
Her brow furrowed pensively. "Does... does she have the shame for not having this part of the tail?"
Gwen bit her lip for a moment, then nodded sadly to
her. "Yeah. She hides it well, tries to laugh it off, but I know deep
down it gets to her." Her ears drooped a little as she tightened her
grip on the line. "And it was my... my fault that the accident happened
Vanya hugged the severed tail to her chest and laid a
tentative hand on Gwen's shoulder. "At least it vas the accident, and
she is your friend and you are her friend and are sorry."
A bitter look stole across her youthful face. "The
vulfs vere not sorry vhen they took avay my tail. I vas only five of the
years old. They say all of the time it vas for the good hygiene that
they dock the puppies' tails and clip our ears."
She glanced around and leaned forward
conspiratorially, speaking to the vixen in a low voice. "My grand dam,
she tells me the secret that fetches the stick. She said to me it is
because some of the pups have the vulf blood in them, and are having
been born vith the tails that don't make the curl, or the ears that
stand in the points and not flopping down. She says that they do this so
they don't have to treat us as the kindred they are. I believe this to
be a true thing, for she vas alive before the first great var, before
the vulfs make the new order of living for all."
Gwen looked at her in horror. "That's terrible! Doing
that to a little puppy for such a stupid reason." Her brow furrowed and
she looked deeply in the young dog's eyes. "I'm proud that I had a part
in helping you escape from those bastards."
Vanya gave her a grin. "And I have much of the
gratitude to you all. I am glad to leave my tail behind in the
Steppeland if the rest of me can be the free dog."
Both females turned as Loretta came clambering up the
struts from the Glass Goose's float. She gave a brief shake and then
walked along the wing toward them, dripping water in a soft patter
behind her until she stood beside them, a puddle growing around her dark
furred feet as she untied the end of the rope. "All right, Gwen. I'll
admit it, once again one of your crazy ideas paid off. I feel a LOT
better." She glanced over at Vanya as she unwound the rope from her
middle. "Okay, kiddo. Your turn next."
The young canine looked down at herself and recoiled a
bit, blushing slightly. "I... But I am not vearing the svimvear
underneath this coverall."
Gwen regarded her for a second, and then started to
shrug out of her own green and white swimsuit, peeling the sodden
garment down and off her shapely, athletic frame. She wrung it out,
shook it, and turned, holding it out to the golden furred dog girl.
"Here, you can borrow mine. It'll probably be kind of loose, especially
up top, but you won't get a rope burn around your tummy that way."
Vanya took it with a grateful bow of her tousled head. "Th-thank you, Gven."
She turned to face Loretta, proffering the
taxidermied half tail to it's owner. "Here you are, Loretta. I think you
have the very beautiful tail, even if a little has been taken avay. I
think I vould have the jealousy of you, if you please, if you vere not
so kind to help me get avay from the vulfs who took avay my tail because
they are the varmints."
The raccoon took her false tail in her hands with a
pensive expression as the young canine turned away and began to unbutton
her coveralls, looking at the blunt stump that protruded from the
taillet of Vanya's borrowed garment. Both she and her vulpine partner
exchanged a troubled glance as the golden furred young dog stepped out
of the folds of sturdy, grease smudged canvas, revealing a scrawny body
criss crossed with welts and scars. She stepped gingerly into the damp
swimsuit, which hung quite loosely on her skinny frame, the laces across
the back hanging slack over her docked tail, and turned to face them
with a shy smile.
Loretta stepped forward and tied the rope around the youthful canine's
narrow waist with a warm expression on her face. "Speaking of getting
away, here, I'll make it good and tight. I think slipping your tether
once is plenty for today."
Her vixen cohort nodded matter of factly. "Yeah, and
then we need to get you fed, girl. You're thin as a rail."
Vanya blushed and hugged herself self consciously as
she looked at Gwen and Loretta's robust physiques. Sensing her
discomfort, Gwen stepped up and laid a gentle hand on her cheek. "Don't
worry about it, sweetheart. Now go ahead and jump in."
Loretta gave her a grin as she turned back from reattaching her tail
and picked up slack on the rope. "Yeah, and the sooner you've had your
turn, the sooner we can all get our chow, so go on ahead. Gwen and I
The young canine smiled, and turned, inching out onto
the edge of the plane's wing. With a shouted phrase in Steppesprecht,
she dove in, skinny arms and legs flailing as she dropped with a splash
into the ocean.
Loretta looked down at her as she paddled and
kicked in the clear surges below. She shook her head. "Makes you think,
doesn't it Gwen? About how much we take for granted."
The vixen nodded. "Yeah, Lori. Yeah it does."
The raccoon glanced over her shoulder and gave her
tail a swish. "It's like that old saying about the glass being half
empty or half full depending on how you look at it."
Gwen gave her a grin. "I'll drink to that."
The two old friends shared a chuckle, as Vanya took a deep breath and dove under the surface.
The raccoon and vixen were galvanized by a shriek of
alarm from below that caused their ears to perk up and their tails to
frizz out. They craned their necks urgently to see Vanya clinging to the
rope with a look of pure terror on her face, waving frantically up at
them and shrieking in Steppeshprecht.
Without a second thought the two females threw their
backs into pulling young canine up from the water, hauling her quickly
up and onto the wing. She threw herself into Gwen's arms, panting
rapidly as Loretta gave her shivering, dripping form the once over. She
glanced up at the vixen with a furrowed brow. "She's not hurt."
Gwen pushed the terrified young dog out to arms length. "Vanya. What is it? What's wrong?"
The golden furred female's eyes were wide and staring
as she stammered out a reply, scarcely remembering her Westcommon.
"The... the Jormungandr. I have saw the Jormungandr
vhen under der v-v-vasser I had the being in the place it vas. I saw it
in the deep below!" She slipped out of the vixen's grasp wrapped her
arms tightly around her chest. "Do not be letting the vulfs be the
having the poor Vanya taking back to them."
In an instant, Gwen had hefted the youthful female up off of her feet and was running across the roof of the Glass Goose
toward the door. Loretta dithered for a moment and scooped up the three
pairs of coveralls and looked down with alarm at the still attached
rope playing out behind the vixen's headlong flight. She fumbled through
the pockets of her coveralls and pulled out her lock back knife,
snapping it open and severing the rope just as it went taut from Gwen
diving down into cabin. The raccoon hastily folded the knife and pushed
it down the front of her cleavage, then hurried after the rope as it
withdrew into the interior of the plane like a retreating snake.
Dorothy and Jane looked up in alarm from the camp
stove as a pair of dripping wet females dropped down into the cabin with
them. Gwen shoved Vanya into Jane's arms as she ran the length of the
cabin and dove through the cockpit hatch, dropping heavily into the
pilot's seat in nothing but her dampened fur. She began to frantically
flip switches, leaning over and screaming back toward the cabin. "Lori!
Loretta followed the vixen and canine soon after, tossing the bundle of rope and coveralls aside.
Dorothy looked up at her with wide, ice-blue eyes. "What's going on?"
The raccoon turned and looked over her shoulder,
holding a finger emphatically to her lips as she ran forward, her bare
feet tripping lightly across the plexiglas. She lunged into the cockpit
and grabbed Gwen firmly around the wrist just as the vixen was reaching
for the ignition switch.
The sodden she fox looked up at her partner in shock and dismay. "What are you d..."
She was cut off by a dark furred hand clamped firmly
over her muzzle as the raccoon fixed her with her grey eyes and spoke in
a harsh whisper. "Calm down and be quiet, Gwen. If we started those
engines now their hydrophones would pick us up for sure. Just sit still
and pray they didn't pick us up already."
She didn't let go of her partner's face until the
vixen slouched in her seat and nodded, her ears laid back as she
clutched at the collection of charms and talismans around her neck, at
once keeping them silent and drawing what reassurance she could from
Back in the cabin, a tearful Vanya looked up at Jane
with terror written on her face, her voice low and strained. "I
have the seeing of the Jormungandr. Unter das vasser. They... they have chasing me!"
Jane squeezed her tightly, the water from the young
canine's fur and loosely draped bathing suit soaking into her shirt and
shorts as she whispered reassuringly. "They ain't followin' y'all,
darlin'. It's jest a dumb luck is all." She glanced over her shoulder at
Dorothy and then back to the terrified canine girl. "Tell me whar y'all
saw it. Point th' way."
Vanya pointed a trembing finger toward the tail of
the plane. "That... that is the vay. Toward the south southeast."
Dorothy turned in the direction she'd pointed, her
ice blue eyes flaring with uncanny light as she peered through the hull
of the plane and into the depths below.
After a moment, she turned and whispered to Jane and
Vanya. "They're about ninety feet down, heading more or less right
She looked at the young canine with pity as she
whimpered and huddled tight in Jane's embrace. Dorothy looked up toward
the cockpit door to see Loretta standing and looking out at them with a
strained look on her face, once again holding her finger to her lips.
She mouthed instructions for them to keep silent, pointing downward as
she cupped a hand to her ear and shaking her head. The rabbit and feline
nodded in understanding, and settled uneasily down onto one of the
benches, with a shivering Vanya cowering in the rabbit doe's lap.
Loretta's grey eyes widened in her dark facial mask
as a long, deadly silhouette came into view through the plexiglas floor
panels, gliding beneath the Glass Goose through the shadowy depths below. She pointed downward with a shaking hand, drawing the others
attention. The four females in the cabin were transfixed, the vague
outline of the deadly submarine sliding beneath their tiny, fragile
craft like an ominous storm cloud in an inverted sky.
To Dorothy's uncanny vision, the details of the sub's
upper decks stood out clearly, and she went down on her knees, watching
intently for any sign of it slowing, or blowing it's ballast tanks to
surface and destroy them all. Her tail waved behind her as she stared,
at once fascinated and terrified of a fish bigger than her feline
forbears could ever have conceived.
After an agonizingly long interval, it passed
silently beneath them, its screws churning the depths behind it as the
tail end of its dark outline passed out of sight of the seaplane's
bottom mounted windows. Only Dorothy could now watch its relentless
progress, sailing over the rolling underwater hills as it plowed forward
through twilight seas below.
The feline's vision refocused on her surroundings as
she sat back on her haunches with a careful sigh. She smiled warily up
at Jane, Loretta, and Vanya and spoke in a low voice. "I don't think
they spotted us."
Jane shook her head and let out a chuckle. "Dang if'n
that wasn't like gittin' run down in th' street by an ambulance.
Y'all're simultaneously th' unluckiest AND luckiest cuss thar ever wuz."
Loretta let out a long, drawn out breath and sagged against the door frame into the cockpit. "You said it."
A loud sneeze exploded in the cockpit behind her,
causing the raccoon's back to stiffen in alarm, her damp tail frizzing
into alarmed points over the inert length of it's false lower half.
She wheeled around and took a look at Gwen, who
slouched in the pilot's seat looking sheepishly up at her, the water
dripping off of her bedraggled hair and pelt onto the leather. "I'm
sorry, I held it in as long as I could."
The raccoon shook her head with a fond smile and
extended a hand to her partner. "Just look at you, Gwenny. You're gonna
destroy the upholstery like that."
The vixen sniffled and wiped her nose, rising to her
feet with Loretta's help as she looked down at the puddle of water she
left behind. She looked ruefully back at her friend. "Better me than a
torpedo, I guess."
Loretta pulled her partner into a hug. "Any day of the week. Now c'mon, lets get you dried off."