PART 24 - NIGHT SCHOOL
Moving carefully and quietly, Gwen, Loretta, and Vanya toweled off, and soon they and Jane were dressed in dry clothes. Meanwhile, a duplicate of the tan-furred rabbit busied herself mopping up the water that had been trailed all over the floor and wringing it out into a bucket, which she then carefully dumped out the doorway. Setting that aside, she proceeded to take the length of rope and tied it at opposite ends of the cabin, rigging up an improvised clothesline that was soon hung with towels, swimsuits, and other dampened garments drying in the gentle breeze that blew in through the doorway as the sun crept lower and lower over the horizon.
Once everything and everybody had dried off, the group of females all sat down on the plexiglas floor and settled in to a subdued meal of laulau and bananas, shared with minimal talk as night fell over the Pan Orient ocean, plunging the cramped interior of the plane gradually into darkness.
After wrapping up their meal in the gathering gloom, Gwen spoke up in a soft, wary voice. "Do you think we could risk a light in here?"
Dorothy turned, her glittering ice blue eyes gazing in the direction of the sinister black submarine. "That sub is miles away by now. On it's way to it's meeting with the Palomino Bay, I'll bet."
She let out a sigh, and her voice was warmer when she spoke again. "Regardless, I think a little light wouldn't hurt."
Loretta's silhouetted form nodded. "Okay, I'll get one. Gimme a minute."
With that, she climbed to her feet, ducking under the drying towels and padding forward to the cockpit. After a moment's search she returned with a battery powered lantern that filled the cabin with a soft yellow light when she flicked it on. She set it down on one of the bench seats and settled back down into a cross-legged sitting position between Gwen and Jane.
The vixen looked around at the dimly illuminated faces of her cohorts,
her eyes gleaming along with theirs as she gave them a searching look
and a smile. "So what do we wanna do now, girls? Tell ghost stories?"
Her voice trailed off as she glanced downward, her ice blue eyes going wide as they riveted to the transparent floor. "the... same... to... you."
Jane looked across at her cohort. "What's th' matter darlin'? Y'all look like yer seein' a spook right now."
She looked down through the floor and let out a low whistle past her buck teeth. Gwen inclined her head, her jaw dropping in amazement. "Whouldja lookit that..."
Loretta joined her, nodding wordlessly as her grey eyes grew wide in the dark mask on her face.
Vanya caught her breath, huddling fearfully as she looked down. "Vas ist? Das Jormungandr? Is it the submar..." Her youthful face went from fearful to fascinated as she stared through the plexiglas panels. "Vh-vhat are these things down there?"
As the Glass Goose's passengers and crew looked down through the seaplane's windowed bottom hull, a flotilla of sinuous grey shapes swam lazily below, each gently waving outline coming to a flattened T-shape at the front.
Jane spoke up in a low voice. "Tarnation! Hammerhead sharks! A whole dang school of 'em."
Gwen rose to her feet and hurried to the cockpit. A moment later, the powerful floodlights mounted on the bottom of the seaplane came on, casting a clear, eerie light into the depths, throwing the primeval creatures below into sudden sharp relief against the abyssal blue grey depths of the ocean below. Some of the nearest sharks darted away with sudden flicks of their trailing tails, while their deeper swimming brethren continued placidly on their way at the limits of the bubble of illumination the floodlight's radius formed. Soon, other hammerheads drifted into view, unconcerned by the light.
Loretta took her cue from Gwen and reached up to switch off the electric lantern, leaving the little ring of awestruck females underlit as the graceful, timeless procession continued on its way below.
As the vixen returned and eagerly took her seat, she produced a camera and pointed it at the floor, clicking shots of the hammerheads as they made their way past, her thumb hastily cranking each successive frame of film as fast as she could manage. She let out a hushed exclamation as a forty foot specimen coasted past, it's flattened head tilting so that its button like eye stared upward into the tiny pocket of a world quite as alien to it as its domain was to the little terrestrial creatures peering down at it. With a flick of its mighty tail, it was gone almost as soon as it had appeared.
Dorothy's eyes gleamed as she gazed through the plexiglas windows, allowing her vision to shift into the ephemeral. If peoples' auras were like complex blackboards full of shimmering equations, an animal's aura could be likened to a simple addition problem, elegant in their directness and simplicity. The auras of animal life were all beautiful in their own way, and sometimes the feline would relax herself by peering at a bird or pet griffet in a moment of calm. She saw the ancient urges to feed, reproduce, move, and merely to live, upon which so much of the complex latticework of a sapient's inner life was hung, gleaming plain and unalloyed in the auras of the hammerhead sharks, with a weave of intangible bonds forming the underlying structure of the vast school that drifted past before her glittering eyes. Here was precious life, gleaming like tiny stars in the vast gulf of infinity, compelled to move forward or die, connected to one another in tenuous, subtle ways.
After what seemed like the passing of an ancient century, the last straggling hammerheads flowed past, the gently threshing tips of their elongated tail fins vanishing into the deep darks outside the range of the floodlights, leaving an empty, floating void in their wake.
Loretta stood and flicked on the electric lantern, then hurried forward to the cockpit. "Better shut down that light before we drain the batteries too much."
Vanya huddled against Gwen, causing the vixen to set her camera down in her lap and throw an arm around the canine girl's narrow shoulders. The young female let out a weary sigh. "I am very much tired this moment. I think I vill be having the dreams of both the submarines and those creatures vhen I have the sleeping tonight."
Gwen gently stroked the tawny fur on Vanya's shoulder. "You and me both, kiddo. You and me both."
She picked up the camera in her free hand, peering at the counter in the dim light as the floodlights flicked off down below, casting the windows lining the hull to become reflective panes of darkness. "I would have thought I was dreaming just now, but I've got photos to prove otherwise."
Jane smiled across at her in the soft, golden light. "Good call grabbin' that camera, darlin'. I bet y'all could sell them shots to th' International Geographers Society or somethin', if'n they turn out good enough."
The vixen grinned and gave her a wink. "Well, a Songmark girl's always prepared."
A chuckle sounded from the cockpit door as Loretta returned to the cabin after switching off the floodlights. "To either gather evidence or dispose of it on a case by case basis."
Gwen laughed softly and fondly shook her head. "Not that disposing of
evidence ever did any good as far as the instructors were concerned.
Nothing got past them. Nothing."
The vixen turned her nose in the air and replied huffily. "If you're referring to the poi incident I was completely innocent and I only agreed to help shovel out Bravo dorm's bathroom from the goodness of my heart." A wicked gleam came to her eye. "And anyway, those rotten finks had it coming to them."
The raccoon cocked her head in Gwen's direction as she gave Dorothy and Jane a wink. "See what I mean? Audacity! All I can say is I was glad she was on my side by the time third year rolled around."
The vixen snorted. "Hah. Says the mastermind behind the infamous wandering crawfish."
Loretta drew herself up with equal hauteur. "My hands were totally clean on that one. Honestly where would I even GET crawfish in the Spontoons?"
Gwen gave the rabbit and cat a rueful look. "All I'll say about THAT is there are aviatrixes scattered across the globe today who never open their underwear drawer without a blunt object close at hand." She shook her head. "Definitely not one of the finer hallmarks of a Songmark education."
Vanya shifted at Gwen's side, looking up at the vixen with a curious look on her face. "Vhat is this 'song mark' you have the talking about? Is it the place vhere you and Loretta have the coming from?"
Gwen gave a glance at Loretta, and then smiled down at the young canine. "I guess you could say yeah, it IS where Lori and I come from. It's not where we were born, but it's definitely where we became who we are."
The raccoon nodded. "Songmark is a school. A very special school, where girls from around the world come to learn how to make their own way on their own terms."
Vanya looked across at Jane and Dorothy. "Did you both go to the school at this Songmark as vell?"
The feline shifted in her seat with a wry smile. "Oh no, I just went to boring old Hollyhock College in Vale. The most intrigue I ever got up to was slipping mash notes into text books without the librarian catching me, and the most adventure I ever had was yachting weekends up on Peaquahog Bay." Her ice blue eyes looked wistfully at the floor. "My life only got... interesting a couple of years ago, and not a day goes by I wish it hadn't. Not at the price I had to pay for it. If I had any inkling of where I'd be today back when I was that silly young girl, I'd probably have locked myself in a closet and not come out for twenty years."
Jane gave her a sympathetic look, and laid a hand on her knee. "Darlin', be that as it may I'm right glad y'all're out here with us, and so are a lotta other folks who're still breathin' today 'cos y'all helped 'em out."
The feline laid her hand on top of the rabbit's and gave it a squeeze, directing a fond smile to her cohort.
Jane nodded at the others with a grin. "As fer me, I'm mostly self taught, when it comes t' kickin' butts n' takin' names, but like my gal Dorothy here a lot o' strange stuff happened t' me t' put me on that path."
She nodded toward Gwen and Loretta. "That's why I'm such a big fan o' Songmark and whut it represents. Every gal that goes thar is th' kinda gal that gets up n' says 'I ain't jest gonna wait around fer life t' happen t' me. I'M gonna be th' one that happens, and th' world better watch out when it sees me a' common'.' I think it's a durn fine thing this world's got a place fer gals like that t' go."
She grinned at Vanya, who's eyes were sparkling as the rabbit doe finished. The young canine looked at Gwen and Loretta earnestly. "Do... do you think I could have the going to to this Songmark vun day?"
The vixen and raccoon glanced at one another, and Gwen gave Vanya's shoulder a squeeze. "If that's what you wanna do, then sure."
Loretta spoke up with a serious look in her grey eyes. "Yeah, but it's not easy. They screen the applicants with a fine toothed comb. Hundreds of girls apply each year. Only twenty get in. And it's a hard fight to STAY in once you're there. You slip up too badly and you're on the next plane out of Spontoon. And it's expensive too. My dad's one of the top research chemists at Holm and Ross, and the tuition nearly put him in the poorhouse."
She sat back and fidgeted with the inert end of her tail. "I guess it's a good thing I'm not likely to get married anytime soon."
Jane leaned back with her elbows on the seat and gave the young raccoon a penetrating gaze. "Loretta, I know y'all think that y'all ain't never gonna find a good feller with that half shank o' tail y'all got, but from MY perspective, I think it GUARANTEE'S y'all're gonna find a good male. If'n that's what y'all want, then y'all jest gotta work up th' same gumption that got y'all into, and thru, Songmark, and go find him. Any owlhoot gits it in his fool head that y'all're damaged goods ain't worth even scrapin' off o' yer boot heel, darlin'."
She turned to look at Vanya. "And as fer you, Miss Vanya, I think y'all're gonna make it t' Songmark. Somehow, some way. I kin feel it in my gut. Y'all took yer first step in that direction soon as y'all laid yer hand on that pin holdin' y'all tethered t' that sub full o' bastards. Th' rest is jest coverin' ground 'til y'all git thar."
A soft glow seemed to come from the young canine's face as her eyes grew heavy, and she smiled sweetly at the tan-furred doe as she nestled in closer to Gwen. "Thank you, Jane."
Loretta reached up and gently dabbed at her suddenly moistened grey eyes. "Y-yeah, thanks a lot."
The rabbit reached up and self consciously rubbed the back of her close cropped orange hair. "Aw shucks, gals. I jest call 'em as I see 'em goin' cross th' plate." She cocked her thumb at her feline cohort. "Dorothy here's th' one with th' real insights."
The brown furred tabby smiled at her partner. "Yeah, but you're the one with perspective, Jane."
Her glimmering eyes gazed across the expanse of the plexiglas floor at Vanya, who'd drifted off to sleep with her youthful face propped on Gwen's shoulder.
The feline let out a chuckle. "I think you've given our young friend here much more to dream about than just sharks and submarines."
Loretta rose to her feet, stretching her arms over her head as she stood. "Well, I think that's a signal that we all should turn in. I'll probably be dreaming about wiring tonight." She turned and winked at Jane. "But I might dream about a couple cute males while I'm at it."
Gwen let out a chuckle. "As long as I can have Takky in my dreams, you're welcome to all the others, Lori."
Jane chimed in as she climbed to her feet and cracked her shoulders. "Ayep. And I'll be takin' a certain sweet li'l usagi fer a late night swim, since I know neither o' y'all will be needin' her."
The raccoon rolled her eyes as she reached up and started to pull down blankets from the cargo racks."That's just fine with me, girls. I prefer my dreamboat's tail to have nice even stripes, not random paint splatters or fins and scales."
As she turned to hand a bundle to Dorothy, she saw the wistful look cross the tabby's face, and became self conscious. "Oh gee. I... I'm sorry, Dorothy. I hope all this kind of talk doesn't bring up sad memories for you."
The feline took the bedroll in her hands with a gentle smile. "Don't be sorry, Loretta. Most of my memories of Edison are happy ones. My dreams, well, they are what they are. Even the nightmares mean I get to see him again."
The raccoon laid a hand on her shoulder. "Well, I hope they're nothing but sweet ones tonight, and for a long, long time to come."
The tabby gave her a nod with a fond expression on her face, and turned to spread her bedding out on one of the bench seats. Jane gave her cohort a grin as she unrolled her bedroll on the floor. "Y'all seemed t' be havin' a purty nice one when y'all were 'nipped up th' other day, based on whut I was a'hearin'."
Dorothy rounded on her with a shocked blush blossoming under her fur.
After a beat, a sly grin spread across her face as her eyes glittered.
She let out a low chuckle as she spontaneously started fanning her face
with a flattened palm, her blush receding but still present. "Oh dear,
that wasn't just a nice one. That was a niiice one." She let out a sigh. "At least what little of it I can remember."
Dorothy shook her head and opened her mouth to demur, but then stopped
and thought for a moment. She shrugged her shoulders. "Yeah, sure. Why