Spontoon Archipelago, 1939
Story & art by Warren Hutch
© 2010 Warren Hutch
PART 33 - BETTER LIVING THROUGH SCIENCE
In the dim light of the sleeping hut, the hulking
canine Zoltan knelt at Marta's side, gazing wistfully down at her as he
cupped her limp hand in his own broad palm. The petite figure of young
Vanya lay curled up beside him, sleeping soundly in the folds of an
enveloping blanket. The soft sound of her breathing made a counterpoint
to the steady rhythm of the stricken Marta's breathing.
All through the night he had wept, even as the little
golden angel at his side held his hand and stroked his back. Large as
he was, he would have thought he would run out of tears at some point,
but now more came.
This time, however, they were different, in the
creeping light of the morning, with the soft breath of these two beloved
females murmuring in the still air around him. Zoltan felt an
unfamiliar feeling of peace, a feeling that he had not felt since he was
a small puppy in his mother's arms. Before the wolves had taken him
away and trained him to serve.
How did he deserve such peace, such kindness? The
sweet young female had spoken of freedom, of deciding and doing for ones
self, but had his first free act not been one of murder? His broad brow
furrowed as the question rose in his heart and began to gnaw.
It was as they say among the thralls: Wondering fetches a stick.
A rustle at the partition curtain caused his closely-clipped ears to
perk up, and he looked to see the faintly-striped face of the Sylvanian
she-cat who's bright eyes had looked at him in kindness, and somehow
with an understanding that also left him wondering.
She smiled gently to him. "Zoltan. Good morning. How is Marta?"
His soft, impossibly deep voice responded as he
carefully stroked the unconscious canine female's hand. He glanced down
at his side as Vanya let out a sigh and began to stir at the sound of
the hulking canine's speech, which could be felt through the floor. "She
is still breathing. More calmly, it seems, vhich is good."
The feline nodded gravely. "It IS good. Jane will
come in a little later and check her dressing and take her temperature."
She paused for a moment, looking him over with her
glittering blue eyes. "Zoltan, we have a favor we'd like to ask you. We
need someone big and strong to help us."
Vanya sat up groggily, rubbing her eyes with a drowsy
smile to Dorothy. "My Zoltan has the strong very much, Dorothy. I'm
sure he vould have the helping for you, if he wished."
At this the huge canine pursed his lips, glancing
back and forth between the feline and the recumbent figure of Marta. He
had never been asked to do anything in his life. He looked down at Vanya
as she stretched her arms above her head with a wide yawn. She sat
back, propping herself up with her arms, and looked expectantly up at
him with those liquid brown eyes of hers.
The hulking dog's voice quavered with uncertainty. "<But... I do not
vant to leave her side, little vun. Vhat... vhat if she...>"
The golden furred canine girl turned and reached up,
tenderly stroking the back of his closely shorn head. "<She vill not
go avay vhile you are gone. I vill not let her.>" She looked him in
the eyes. "<You should help them. Ve owe them all so much.>"
Zoltan considered for a moment, then nodded, climbing
stiffly to his feet, and giving Dorothy a curt bow. "I vill help you."
He fell into step behind her as she gave a final wave
to Vanya and exited, her long striped tail waving gently behind her.
The lumbering dog stopped and pointed a finger at the diminutive female.
"<Watch over her, little angel. I vill be back soon.>"
The towering canine grimaced and pulled at the rope,
drawing the sphere of metal closer to the shore with each mighty heave.
To Gwen's eyes, he looked for all the world like one of the idol
carvings that her Takua had shown her, with his drab grey fur over
rippling muscle set off by the garish colors of the lavalava he
wore, his teeth bared and his feet set wide and digging into the sand.
All he needed was some sort of tall, feathered headdress and perhaps a
sharpened bone through his nose to complete the image.
Hand-over-sinewy-hand he drew in the taut rope, until
the first mine ran aground on the beach, the waves bubbling and
splitting around the defanged globe of death.
Jane patted the canine on the back as she and Heywood
walked forward to untie the rope from the dragging ring welded to the
explosive device's surface. "Good job, darlin'. C'mon."
He followed them up to where the thing sat, like a
strange kind of egg in a nest of sand and white foam, as the otter knelt
down to untie it. Once the rope had been detached, the sleek mustelid
waded into the surf, trailing the it behind him as he swam out to attach
it to the drag rings of the next sphere.
The rabbit doe pointed at the mine and then gestured
toward the hut at the head of the dock. "Miss Loretta needs that thang
over yonder in th' shed. Would y'all mind takin' it over thar fer us,
The dog gave her a short bow. "I... I vould not mind, ma'am."
The rabbit smiled at him. "Thanks a bunch, darlin'. Y'all're a real help."
He gave her another nod, his eyebrows raised at the
odd feeling of being thanked. He would have easily carried twenty times
the load he now hefted for her, lifting it effortlessly off the ground
with the barest of grunts. Water poured in fountains out of the round
holes in it's surface and drenching his colorful native-pattern kilt,
but he didn't mind. He set off toward the low wooden structure with an
unaccustomed spring in his step.
A low moan issued from Marta's throat, as she surfaced from a swirling
blackness, as if washed up from deep waters onto a twilight shore. She
felt the weight of her body, pressing gently down on soft bedding, with
more clean sheets wrapped about her, enfolding her in an envelope of
warmth. She felt a slender hand clasped around her own, accompanied by a
sweet female voice that spoke to her in her native language. "<Do
not vorry, Marta. It is all right. I am vith you, and Zoltan vill be
back soon to vatch over you.>"
The drab furred female's eyes fluttered open and she
turned her head, pricking her clipped ears. She found herself regarding a
canine female, perhaps eighteen, perhaps younger, with a warm-golden
pelt and a tousled thatch of bronze hair, her skinny frame wrapped in a
colorful sarong of reds, purples, and ruddy-orange. A shining smile of
elated surprise washed across the youthful face as Marta blinked over at
her. "<V-vhere am I?>"
The young girl surged up excitedly to her knees and
clasping her hand tightly in her own. "<My sister! You are avake! Oh,
Zoltan vill be so happy! I am so happy!>"
Marta pulled her hand free and propped herself up on
her elbows, looking around disorientedly. "<Z-zoltan? Vhere is he?
Vhat is going on?>"
Vanya looked concerned and leaned forward, trying and
failing to push the older female canine back down onto the pallet.
"<You... you should not move so much, if you please. You are still
At this, Marta let out a gasp and flinched, the
memories of the prior day returning to her. The Sylvanians... The young
vixen... The master... The knife...
With wide, grey eyes, she sat up and threw aside the blankets, staring
down at the red tinged gauze pad firmly taped to her middle. The girl at
her side let out a cry of alarm as without thinking the drab-furred
canine reached up and tore away the dressing, wincing as it ripped loose
tufts of her fur with it.
Both she and her companion stared in shock at the
shaven patch running down alongside her navel, the pale, bare skin
smooth and unbroken, where yesterday there had been a gaping, gushing
Vanya reached out with a trembling hand and ran her
finger along Marta's belly. "<V-vhat does this mean? You... you vere
bleeding like a slaughtered lamb yesterday. I saw the vound vhen Loretta
Pike cleaned it last night.>" She looked up at the older canine with
amazement. "<Do... do you have strange tricks you can do like Jane
At this Marta let out a gasp, her hands rising to her mouth. "<My God! The K-three treatment!>
Vanya cocked her head quizzically. "<Vhat is that?>"
The drab furred canine stiffened, a look of anxiety
washing over her face as she grabbed up the blankets and covered herself
with them, turning away from the golden furred girl at her side.
"<I... I have said too much already. I cannot discuss it. I am not
Vanya settled back on her haunches and propped
herself up with splayed arms, a cocked eyebrow raising on her youthful
face. "<Vhy not? Who says you can't? The vulfs? Let their tails fall
off... They are big stupid dumb heads.>"
At this Marta rounded on her, a mixture of shock and
indignation on her face. "<Who... who do you think you are? To say
such things about the vulfs...>"
The young canine tossed her head. "<Who do I have
to be? I am a free dog, I can say vhat I vant.>" She gazed into
Marta's eyes with a smile spreading across her face. "<You are a free
dog too. So is dear Zoltan. No vun may tell you vhat to do any
She rubbed her thumb and forefinger along the groove
at the base of her neck where the fur had been worn away by her
erstwhile collar. The drab furred female let out a gasp, and reached up
to feel at her own neck with trembling fingers. "<My... my collar!
His excellency vill give me correction!>"
A snarl came to her face as she reached up and
grabbed a startled Vanya by the shoulders and shook her. "<Vhat did
you do vith my collar you insolent little bitch?!>"
A scowl crossed Vanya's face, and she reared back and
planted a solid headbutt on Marta's forehead, causing the larger female
to drop her and rear back, clutching at her head. The golden furred dog
girl clambered to her feet and stood over her, pulling up the fallen
upper hem of her sarong and glaring down at the cringing canine with
smoldering anger in her brown eyes. "<Your collar is cut, and your
master is dead. Good riddance to both!>"
Marta's grey eyes widened, and began to brim with
tears as she crouched at Vanya's feet, an uncontrollable trembling
shaking her limbs. "<Vhat? But... but... the M-master... dead? Ohh...
He is. I... remember... Oh, Zoltan, vhat... vhat have you done? Ohhh
She broke down in tears, collapsing forward onto the blankets as sobs wracked her body.
Vanya shook as well, but with incandescent rage.
"<You stupid fool! Listen to you! Veeping for the chain around your
neck and the stick that beat you and the knife that stabbed you! Better
dogs than you died raising eyes to those murdering brutes. Zoltan sat
here at your side, veeping all night thinking you vere vun of them. He
had me convinced of it myself, but now I see vhat you are. Just another bad dog!>"
She spun on her heel, turning her back on Marta as the drab-furred
canine reared back on her haunches, hugging herself miserably as she
choked on her sobs, biting her lip as she reeled from the younger dog's
tirade. A soft sob sounded from Vanya's throat, as she angrily wiped
away her own brimming tears, her shoulders bristling.
Both canines turned their heads and perked up their
ears as a rustle sounded from the curtain, and the drowsy face of Kaleia
peered around the billowing cloth, rubbing an eye with a dark furred
hand as she murmured a query in Spontoonie. Her eyes widened as she
caught sight of Marta, and a moment later she had crossed the distance
and was hugging the startled canine in a tight embrace and speaking in a
breathless torrent of her lyrical language.
Vanya turned and cooly regarded the young vixen as
she held Marta and rocked her back and forth. "<Hmph. Somevun else
you have fooled into thinking you're vorth the tears?>"
The drab furred canine caught her breath as she
reached up and began to gently stroke the vixen's dark, lustrous hair, a
solemn look on her face. "<This... this girl is vhy I raised eyes to
his excellency. He... he vanted me to cut her, to... all to save
his own skin...>"
She gave a distracted shake of her head. "<N-no...
not to save himself... The Sylvanians vere offering him terms... fair
terms... he ordered it out of pride... e-even vorse... out of spite.
He... he vas a brute... the vorst kind of brute...>"
Marta gathered Kaleia up into her arms, holding her like a drowning soul holds a lifeline.
She looked over at Vanya with tears streaming down
her face. "<You are right, girl. I am a fool. I cannot veep for
that... that monster... Now... now I must veep for all of the orders I
followed faithfully... vithout ever qvestioning... vithout saying
A long, low moan sounded from her throat.
Her grey eyes blinked open as she felt another set of
arms around her, and she looked to see Vanya hugging her, a resplendent
smile on her face.
The golden furred canine planted a soft kiss on her cheek. "<You do
understand! I also have done many things under the vulfs' heel that I
vill carry vith me until I die. But they are in the past. It is vhat you
choose to do next that counts. You are a good dog, Marta. You are
The drab furred canine broke down again, weeping
freely from a lightened heart, as the two smaller females held her up in
A short while later, Zoltan hefted the final disarmed
mine, his mighty arms tightly wrapped around its spherical shell as he
gripped the seam with his sinewy hands. A trail of deep footprints had
been stomped in the packed sand of the beach as he'd carried the
ordinance back to the shack at the head of the dock, moving carefully at
the warning of the Sylvanian females.
As he wheeled around to begin his final trudge to the
shed, a tentative, broken voice called out to him over the ocean's
His eyes bulged from their sockets as he saw Marta,
standing on the beach before him, a bright sarong wrapped around her
athletic body as she stood with her arms draped across the shoulders of
petite, golden furred Vanya and the pretty red furred native girl. The
bright morning sun seemed to turn her fur to a warm silver, as a fragile
smile blossomed beneath shining grey eyes.
The mine dropped from his nerveless hands and
embedded itself in the sand at his feet with a thud, as someone behind
him shouted out in alarm.
"WAUGH! HIT THE DECK!!!"
The others all uncovered their heads and pulled their
muzzles up from sand or sea water, staring in disbelief as Zoltan
stepped unheeding over the dull metal sphere and staggered forward to
the canine female standing before him with his broad hands spread wide.
She walked towards him, and he took her into his mighty arms, his bull
shoulders shaking as he drew her to his massive chest.
The two dogs stood, softly weeping in one another's embrace as a warm breeze blew in from the ocean.
As soon as things had calmed down and everyones'
hearts had stopped racing, a curious gathering had assembled in the
meeting hut around Marta, who sat cross legged in Zoltan's lap with the
hem of her sarong raised, blushing self consciously as Jane prodded at
the shaved patch on her belly.
Dorothy stood nearby, scrutinizing the canine female
with her uncanny vision. She had seen plenty of nasty wounds in her day,
and the one that had laid the silver furred female out yesterday
certainly qualified, but it was nowhere in evidence today. The skin,
abdominal muscle, and viscera were perfectly sound and undamaged.
The rabbit doe looked up at her with a searching
expression and cocked ears as she allowed the canine's sarong to settle
back into place. "Care t' explain whut's goin' on here, darlin'?"
Marta gave a halting glance back at Zoltan, and
squeezed Vanya's hand before she spoke. "V-vell, if you please, ma'am.
My Zoltan and I are not normal dogs. Ve have had... experimental
treatments, and much special training, to... to make us more... useful
to the vulfs. Zoltan vas given a formula known as K-two. It is vhat has
made him so big and tough. I vas given formula K-three. It made me
faster, stronger. Much more so than a normal bitch, almost on a par vith
a she-vulf. I did not know that it vould allow me to heal such a
terrible vound overnight, but that is the only explanation I can give."
Heywood Cord chimed in, a hard look settling on his
features as he steepled his webbed fingers in front of him. "This is
alarming news, that the Steppenwulf have such a thing at their disposal.
I'll need to inform my superiors of this as soon as possible, and the
free world needs to be warned as well."
Marta shook her head, gazing at him levelly. "It is
not perfected, if you please, sir. K-two leaves most of its subjects
hopelessly simpleminded and prone to outbursts of violence. Little more
than animals." She reached up and fondly stroked Zoltan's cheek. "Vith
some lucky exceptions, and K-three has killed over half of its test
subjects. And these effects are even vorse for the vulfs who have taken
Jane stroked her chin, her eyes narrowing. "K-two...
K-three... Hang on a minute. That K wouldn't stand fer 'Kerr', would
Both Zoltan and Marta's eyes widened at the name, and
the female canine let out a gasp, nodding emphatically. "Vhy... vhy
yes. Doctor Kerr! He is a dog from Transvald. A scientist."
She hugged herself, shuddering as Zoltan laid a huge,
comforting hand on her shoulder. "He frightens me. He frightens the
vulfs, even. He is brilliant, a genius, but a terrible vun. He vorks
vith the vulfs freely, under special commission from the Prime Alpha
She bowed her head, as if trying to banish images
from her mind. "The suffering Zoltan and I endured under his excellency
vas nothing compared to the long nightmare ve undervent in that...
Loretta turned and looked quizzically at Jane, a frown furrowing her
brow over her natural dark mask. "So I take it you've heard of this
The rabbit doe pursed her lips and gave her a curt
nod. "Yeah... Lets jest say he's definitely one fer th' history books."
She exchanged a meaningful glance with Dorothy. "And not th' ones that
leave y'feelin' better fer havin' read 'em..."
All heads turned at the sound of a pair of hands
slapping on the table, and Loretta stood, her grey eyes smoldering. "All
right, that's it. I've gotta get to work on those mines. There's
another one of those rotten wolves' little science projects floating
around out there, and we're gonna put a stop to it."
She looked around at the assembly as they looked up
at her. "You all have to understand, my Dad's a scientist. I'm an
engineer. He raised me to believe in the potential science holds for all
kindreds. Every "mad scientist", every power crazy despot, every thug
with an agenda who takes that promise and turns it to death and misery
is an insult to everything I stand for. I won't stand for it."
She turned on her heel and headed for the door,
pausing as she looked back at them, meeting Dorothy's gaze and beckoning
her with a jerk of her head. "I'll be in the red shed. Missus Pearl, I
could use your eyes for this job."
The feline nodded gravely, and crossed the room to
fall into step behind her. As she followed the young raccoon, she
noticed Loretta's lashing tail was adding a degree of animation even to
the inert prosthetic bottom half as it trailed in her wake.