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Posted 29 March 2014
The Gaze: The Glass Goose
Story & art by Warren Hutch

Spontoon Archipelago, 1939
Story & art by Warren Hutch
© 2010 Warren Hutch


    Soon, Junko was sitting wrapped in a blanket with the others crowded around her. Gwen had come bounding back through the flooded cabin as soon as she'd gotten the engines shut down, and now pressed the exhausted usagi diver for information in Spontoonie. The pale furred female answered haltingly, between bouts of coughing and brief spells where she would half faint, slouching over on Jane, who sat beside her, now recombined as a single doe, tightly holding her hands. 

    The vixen looked gravely at her companions, allowing the usagi doe to rest. "It's bad. Really bad. Pirates, maybe. Or slavers. They pretended to be a merchant in trouble, and sent a launch over. Jane and Junko met 'em on the dock, and the bastards started shooting as soon as they came alongside. Jane took one to the chest. Er..." 

    She looked uncertainly at the tan furred doe who sat at Junko's side, then shrugged irritably. "You know who I mean. Our girl here grabbed her and dove into the lagoon, and managed to drag her all the way to the Mermaid's Cave. She's been taking care of her all night, but she says she's lost a lot of blood and is having trouble breathing." 

    Loretta's brow furrowed, compressing her dark furred mask. "What about Kaleia?" 

    Gwen shook her head. "Junko said she doesn't know. She was in the sleeping hut when the bastards rolled up." 

    A dark look settled on the young vixen's features. "I have some guesses, some fears, and some hopes about what might have happened to her. I'm gonna cling to the latter right now." 

    Jane exchanged a nod with Dorothy, and a duplicate stood and stretched her athletic frame, leaving her fully-clothed double sitting on the bench next to Junko. 

    She looked over at the owners of the seaplane with a determined look on her face as she crossed to the hatchway. "Okay. Gwen? Loretta? I'm gonna need one o' y'all t' show me whar th' secret entry t' the Mermaid Cave is. It don't sound like I got a lotta time left, and I don't wanna have t' bury me out here, purty as it is." 

    The raccoon and vixen exchanged glances, and Gwen started to unbutton her coveralls. "I'll go. I'm the stronger swimmer of the two of us. Lori can take care of GeeGee now that we're back at the nest." 

    Loretta nodded and  scowled, her striped tail lashing disjointedly as she unbuttoned Gwen's taillet for her. "Yeah, but I'm not happy about the nasty little eggs those rotten cuckoo birds have left for us there. Not one bit." 

    The duplicate Jane turned and faced them with a furrowed brow. "Y'all might git t' have a l'il chat with 'em about that, darlin'. Looks like them varmints is lowerin' a boat." 

    At this news, Dorothy, Gwen, and Loretta crossed the cabin and crowded around the hatch. In the distance, a longboat full of disreputable looking sailors was being lowered over the side of the ship. 

    Dorothy's eyes glittered, appraising the ragged crew's auras on a surface level to determine intent. "Hmmm. They're suspicious of us, and I'm not liking what they're planning to do when they get over here." 

    Loretta squinted at the railing of the steamer. "Yeah, but they're still going thru with their little charade. There's a guy up on the deck signalling with flags. Asking us if we need assistance. They've certainly got gall, I'll give them that." 

    Gwen fished her brass-knuckles out of the pocket of her coveralls and hung it around her neck on its shoestring lanyard with the other charms and tokens that were now her only adornment, aside from the knife sheathed around her calf. 

    She worked her fingers through the rings and clenched her fist over her bosom. "I'll give 'em something else if they've hurt Kaleia." 

    The tabby turned to the Jane standing ready to dive into the lagoon. "Better get going. You're going to be our reinforcements if we need 'em." 

    The rabbit nodded and beckoned to Gwen. "Right. C'mon, darlin'. Lets go." 

    With that the raccoon and feline stepped aside as the vixen and rabbit doe slipped into the water and swam away, diving into the forests of coral at the bottom of the lagoon. 

    Loretta turned on her heel and splashed her way forward, hopping through the cockpit door and crawling through the hatch toward the forward storage space. 

    Dorothy turned to the remaining Jane with her ice blue eyes gleaming. "How about you, partner. You ready for some action?" 

    The tan-furred rabbit gave Junko's hands a squeeze and stood, cracking her knuckles and shoulders with a savage grin. "Sure thang, darlin'. Been a while since I been to a hoedown." 

    Junko stirred in her seat and reached up, grabbing Jane by the leg with a pained, worried look on her face, shaking her head vehemently. The tan-furred doe's ears drooped and she bit her lip, gently stroking the trembling usagi's head and long ears as they laid down among her tangled black tresses. The pale furred doe shifted forward on the bench and wrapped both arms tightly around the tan rabbit's legs, pressing her face to Jane's fluffy tail as tears flowed down from her almond eyes. 

    Jane let out a sigh, and a duplicate stepped away from where she stood in Junko's trembling embrace. She spoke to her feline cohort in a low, cracked voice laden with emotion. "I'll be with y'all in a second, jest let me git some duds on..." 

    As she crossed to where her duffel bag was stowed, Dorothy turned and faced Junko, who clasped the duplicate Jane tightly, a look of sullen resolve on her delicate features. The tabby reached up and touched the glittering gem at the heart of the Eye of the Guardians, sending out a call with her mind. {Miyowara Miko, I have need of you once more. Quickly.} 

    She turned as a translucent apparition of a golden-furred feline in Kokorojin priestess robes faded into view beside her. With a nod, the figure merged into her, causing the brown-furred tabby to let out a shudder. 

    She turned her glittering eyes on the trembling, pale furred usagi. "<Junko-san, thou must let Jane-kun go. Danger approaches.>" 

    The shapely far-eastern doe hugged the tan-furred rabbit's legs tighter. "<I... I don't want her to be hurt again. I've laid with her all night in the cave, warming her with my body and c-counting each breath, terrified that it might be her last. My heart was like a stone in my breast when I left her side to warn you about the mines, but I knew if I didn't, she would try to do so herself. No matter that she could barely crawl to the water.>" 

    She let out a sob, rocking gently back-and-forth, causing Jane's hips to sway as she clung tightly to the athletic doe's thighs. "<I do not understand the miracle that allows her to be near death in one place and whole and well in another, but I don't care. I don't want her to be hurt again. My heart cannot take it.>" 

    Dorothy sat down next to her, laying a hand on her shoulder. "<And how doest thou think she would feel should she have to lay such a watch for thee, who has but only the one precious life?>" 

    Junko reared back, trembling as she looked up in Jane's tear stained eyes. The tan-furred doe choked back a sob and tenderly stroked Junko's black-tipped ears. 

    The feline gave her shoulder a squeeze. "<Release her, and stand ready to call upon thy great store of courage, Junko-san. She shall fight like a thousand tiger warriors to protect thee, and will always be there no matter what. And I swear to thee the oath I have sworn to all females. None shall be left in grief while I have anything to say about it.>" 

    Junko looked into the feline's eyes and nodded, reluctantly releasing her grasp of Jane's legs. The tan-furred rabbit turned and took her delicate hands and drew her to her feet, joining the usagi in a long, tender kiss as the blanket fell from her pale furred shoulders, her black, sodden cotton tail shaking as fervently as Jane's had moments before. Dorothy's eyes glimmered and a fond smile flitted across her face, replaced by a faint grimace as the shade of the neko priestess removed herself from her mind and faded away. 

    When the two does disengaged, the duplicate Jane, now fully dressed in fatigue pants and a sleeveless khaki shirt, turned and tossed a folded shirt across to Junko with a warm smile on her face. The usagi female caught it and unfurled it to reveal a pin-striped Vale Clippers jersey. With a tearful grin, the elegant doe shrugged into it, buttoning it over her damp, pale fur with shaking hands. The tan furred doe gave her a grin as she pulled a Clippers ball cap from the bag and jammed it on her head. 

    Vanya, who'd been quietly watching as Junko's rescue and debriefing had played out, stood, her hands clasped in front of her and her eyes wide and earnest. "I vant to give the help too, Jane and Dorothy. Vhat should I have the doing of?" 

    Loretta's voice called out from the cockpit door. "You can feed me ammo if you want, Vanya."

    At this the occupants of the cabin all looked over as the raccoon engineer came forward, toting a light machine gun in both hands, a long belt of ammunition draped over her shoulders. 

    Jane let out a low whistle as she passed. "Dang, gal. Y'all're armed fer manticores..." 

    The golden-furred canine recoiled, biting her lip. "If... if you please, Loretta. I... I don't vant any part of the shooting of the sailors vith the veapon like that." She lowered her hands to her sides, clenching them into fists, and held her head high. "I vill do vhatever you ask, but never that." 

    Dorothy stepped forward, holding up her hands. "She's right, Loretta. No need to go overboard. Just let me talk to them first." 

    The raccoon shrugged as she set the weapon down on the bench beside her. "Oh, I'll let you do the talking, Missus Pearl. This is just for punctuation." 

    The feline's eyes sparkled, and she drew the Widow's Tears from the holsters on her harness. "Well, I find a few well placed periods sum up my point much more succinctly than a row of exclamation marks." 

    Loretta nodded, and knelt down to feed the belt into the breech. "Fine with me, but I'm still gonna keep this ready in case we need to raise our voice a little." 

    The feline nodded back, and turned to step up toward the hatch, hiding her pistols behind her back. Her eyes glittered as she surveyed the approaching launch. Ten scruffy, disreputable looking sailors were aboard. There were three dogs: a ruddy-furred setter, a twitchy looking spaniel, and a tawny dingo with a protruding lower fang under a twisted lip, two otters: one blonde-furred and hard-eyed and one of darker-furred islander stock with sharks-teeth earrings dangling from his ears, a marten with a scar on his muzzle and a stump of a cigar crammed into a corner of his mouth, a mangy red panda with a docked tail and a missing ear, a greasy-haired raccoon who looked like he'd bathed in motor oil, and a hulking kodiak bear who sat at the back of the boat next to a seedy looking crossbreed cat with reddish-orange fur that darkened at his hands and face, who manned the tiller. 

    A brief smile flickered across her face. This last one would come in quite handy. 

    They were all dressed in drab, grease- and dirt-stained work clothes, with only occasional flourishes of color like the setter's ugly plaid cloth cap or the raccoon's filthy floral-print shirt. Dorothy's uncanny vision revealed all that was concealed, focusing on the weapons the seagoing thugs were carrying, mostly an assortment of knives, machetes, hatchets, and clubs. The blonde otter and the marten each held drum-fed tommy guns out of normal sight, while the spaniel carried a .45 tucked into the back waistband of his trousers. The tabby sorted out her priorities as the boat motored across the expanse of the lagoon toward them. 

    As the launch closed the distance, drifting to about ten yards distance from the Glass Goose, the setter stood and gave a cheery wave to the tabby female who stood framed in the hatch of the bright blue seaplane. "Afternoon, lass! We had a bit of a bother with our engines, and were forced t' drop anchor on this bonny wee atoll. Our cap'n sent us t' see if you might be in a position t' render us some help, and t' offer what help we could in return. It looked like you had some sort o' troubles o' yer own, seein' how ye peeled off so sudden like from the dock. We're deliverin' medical supplies fer th' needy orphans on Pipikaula n' th' Spontoons, so time is of th' essence, y'see..." 

    Dorothy's icy, glittering eyes flared, and she met his gaze with her own, fixing him in place like a fly at the end of a dagger's point."Is that a fact?" 

    The ruddy furred canine's face went slack, as he drew himself up stiffly and began to speak. "Not at all. We're here t' kill or capture everybody aboard this plane and send it to the bottom o' this lagoon. Once his high-and-mighty wolfship is done with ye, we'll either cut ye up fer th' sharks or haul ye off t' sell t' slavers, n' split th' profits." 

    At this, the rest of the sailors exchanged alarmed glances and tensed in their seats. The dingo leapt to his feet and grabbed the setter by his muzzle, clamping it shut as he wrapped an arm around the hapless canine's neck and wrestled him down. "Aslan's teeth! Shut yer bloomin' gob, O'Shaughnessy!" 

    The martin stood, unlimbering his tommy gun and clenching his teeth as the stub of his cigar flared orange with the intake of breath. "The jig's up, boys. Let 'er have it!" 

    The blonde, hard-eyed otter rose to join him, bringing his own submachine gun to bear as the brown-furred tabby drew forth her tiny pistols and snapped off four shots. 

    The otter and marten each let out a cry at a sudden sharp impact that coursed through their weapon grips and up their arms, followed by a clunk and clatter on the boards beneath their feet as the drum magazines fell out, the guns' hammers clicking on empty chambers. The marten's stogie dropped out of his mouth, as he and the blonde otter goggled in disbelief. 

    They were brought out of their blinking reverie as a fifth shot rang out. The spaniel spun around with a jerk, his .45 was shot out of his hand as he drew it from behind. The pistol flew backwards, striking the greasy raccoon firmly in the belly as he half-rose, sending him falling forward, doubled over and coughing. 

    Three more shots followed. The islander otter flinched as two .22 ACP bullets whistled past his ears, neatly removing his shark-teeth earrings, and the dingo let out a yelp as the setter's gaudy plaid cap leapt from his head inches from the tawny canine's nose. 

    The sailors crouched, awestruck as their boat rocked in the silence and the echoes of the shots died away. The spaniel shuddered, cradling his stinging hand to his chest. "She... she's some kinda w-w-witch..." 

    The red panda rose to his feet with a snarl, shoving the trembling canine to the deck and brandishing a pair of hatchets as he barged forward and bared his fangs. "Fong is not afraid of your sorcery, gwailo whore!" 

    He drew back one of the axes to throw it, and let out a bark of alarm as another shot splintered the handle in his hand. 

    Dorothy lowered her guns to her sides as her ice blue eyes flared like frozen coals of uncanny fire. "We'll see about that..." 

    With that, wisps of shadow coalesced around her lithe frame before the seafaring thugs' terrified eyes, swirling like a vortex and spinning into a looming apparition of light-devouring darkness, the eyes in its featureless face gleaming like knife blades in a morgue. With a roar from the depths of their nightmares, it surged forward, gliding across the water toward their tiny, rocking boat with claws of sharpened midnight extended from its grasping hands. 

    A cacophony of terrified shrieks sounded as the sailors were unmanned at the onrush of this inimical specter, sending them scrabbling and diving over the sides of the launch and into the waters of the lagoon, leaving only the kodiak and the halfbreed feline crouched in the back as the glaring shadow beast stopped before them and dissipated into thin air. Their fellow crewmen splashed and spluttered and struggled in the water all around them, swimming frantically in all directions in blind panic. The remaining pair of sailors glanced at one another, swallowed hard, and looked to see the brown furred tabby smiling cryptically at them as she holstered her little pistols. 

    She turned her ice blue eyes on the cowering male cat who huddled by the launch's tiller, and with a faint gasp he was suddenly transfixed, his will slipping away through his widely-dilated pupils. 

    Unaware of the feline's plight, the bear glanced down and saw his comrade's .45 lying in the steerage, and began to warily inch his thick fingered hand toward it. Dorothy gave the cat a nod, and then made the barest jerk of her head toward his burly crew mate. Slack jawed, the feline leaned forward and grasped a discarded axe. Dorothy's eyes flared, and she shook her head, causing him to instantly drop it. He picked up a nightstick, and she smiled and nodded. The kodiak suddenly lunged to grab the pistol, and was felled by a blow to the back of the head that caused him to slump heavily forward. The tabby smiled a sly smile and beckoned the launch's pilot forward. He nodded dumbly and turned the throttle, pulling the boat forward from among the scattered, flailing sailors and toward the Glass Goose. 

    Loretta pressed her muzzle to the window with her grey eyes wide with shock. "That was the most incredible shooting I've ever seen!" She cast Dorothy a quizzical look. "But what did you do to make 'em jump out of the boat?" 

    Dorothy smiled as she kept her gaze focused on the launch's pilot. "I've got a couple little tricks to make it seem like I'm bigger and scarier than I really am. I just used one on our friends there." 

    She cocked her head at the machine gun sitting on the bench beside her. "But it won't keep 'em scared for long. You're probably going to need to make a more tangible threat to keep these thugs in line while Jane and I go and have a chat with whoever's in charge over on that ship." 

    Loretta grinned and hefted the machine gun. "Can do, Missus Pearl." 

    Jane gave the feline a look of mock irritation and planted her hands on her hips. "I was wonderin' when y'all were gonna let the rest of us git into th' game, darlin'." 

    The feline chuckled and glanced at her cohort with a grim smile. "I'm sure you'll find plenty of playmates on the freighter, Miss Early. Shall we?"  A klunk sounded in the cabin as the launch came alongside. The rabbit nodded and reached up into the cargo rack, pulling down her hobnail boots and hanging them by their knotted laces over her neck. 

    A savage grin spread across the tan furred doe's face as she strode toward the door. "Yeah. I got my tap shoes. Lets dance..." 

    She paused as Junko leapt from her duplicate's embrace into hers and planted a kiss on her cheek. The pale furred usagi looked up at her solemnly, her almond eyes brimming with tears. "For ruck!" 

    Jane nodded and planted a kiss on her forehead. The lovely doe stepped back into the duplicate Jane's arms as the tan-furred rabbit fixed her double with a glare. "Keep 'em safe, darlin'. And don't do anythin' with Miss Junko here that I wouldn't do." 

    The other Jane let out a chuckle. "Git goin', y'crazy jackalope. I got th' home team's dugout covered." 

    With that, the two identical rabbits bumped fists. 

    The tan-furred doe hopped trough the door into the boat and turned to proffer a hand to help Dorothy climb aboard. Her long ears twitched, and she bent a knee and gave a mighty backward kick, striking the island born otter squarely in the muzzle as he tried to pull himself over the side, and sent him toppling back into the water, stunned. Dorothy stepped lightly down into the rocking craft, and made her way to the back, where she sat down next to the enthralled half breed cat with her eyes glittering. 

    She pointed toward the freighter and snapped her fingers, and the stricken feline dumbly nodded and engaged the motor, wheeling the launch away from the Glass Goose. A duplicate Jane appeared on the small boat, and they proceeded to roll the semi-conscious kodiak up and over the side with a splash, landing him among his spluttering, cursing crew mates as the wake from the boat washed over them. 

    The castoff crewmen's faces all whipped around in alarm at the explosive sound of a volley of rounds being fired over their heads. They looked to see a grinning Loretta, sitting in the doorway with the bipod of her light machine gun propped on the ledge, grey cordite smoke wafting from the muzzle of the gun. 

    She called out to the hapless thugs, lowering the barrel in their direction as she rose up on her haunches. "Okay boys, first off I'd like to welcome you all to the fabulous Nobikini Atoll. There are a lot of amazing sea creatures on the reefs here that would be delighted to feast on your flea bitten carcasses, so please don't give us any reason to make you more appetizing for them." 

    She beckoned Jane over with a jerk of her head. A few of the sailors blanched as they saw the tan-furred rabbit hove into view, a predatory grin on her face. "Howdy, fellas." 

    Loretta's grey eyes narrowed. "I've got reason to believe you've already met my friend Jane here. She's gonna be taking over at the machine gun while I go forward and taxi this plane ashore. I'm gonna to need you all to swim in a quiet, orderly fashion toward the beach, and when you get there, I'm gonna want you to lie down on your bellies in a nice neat line. Make sure you keep your hands behind your heads so you don't get sunstroke, all right?" 

    With that, the raccoon allowed Jane to take the weapon as she stood briskly, dusting off her hands. The rabbit sighted along the long barrel at the terrified thugs. "Oh, I reckon these fellers'll be a durn sight better behaved than they were yesterday. Am I right, boys? Y'all're gonna be perfect gentlemen, ain't ya?" 

    Loretta headed forward, beckoning Vanya to follow her. "C'mon, Vanya. You wanna sit in the copilot's seat while I take us in?" 

    The young canine gave a hop on her heels and followed the raccoon with a wide grin on her face. "I vould be so happy to do this, Loretta Pike! I vant to be seeing the first land I vill step on as a free dog!" 

    She scurried after Loretta, her nub of a tail wagging furiously through the taillet of her borrowed coveralls. 

    Junko knelt down next to Jane and slipped her arms around the tan furred rabbit's neck, nuzzling her cheek as the Sylvanian doe gave her a sidelong grin and kept the machine gun trained on the sailors. 

    The seagoing thugs all exchanged defeated glances, and meekly began to paddle their way toward the beach, dragging their incapacitated comrades along with them.


        The Gaze: The Glass Goose