PART 34 - SELF CONTROL
The she-cat and raccoon soon stood at a work table fashioned from planks and sawhorses, the feline's hand resting gently on her companion's shoulder as she lent her preternatural vision to the task at hand. The dark-masked female's brow knit in concentration as she set to work on the first deadly mine with pliers and screwdrivers, releasing the base plate of the infernal device's casing to get at the infernal device's inner workings.
Dorothy felt a slight thrill up her spine as Loretta worked loose the thing's solid core of high explosive from its inner compartment and gently set it aside. The smell of diesel fuel, oil, and battery acid filled the air in the tiny shed, reminding her that in addition to the dangerous material her companion was removing from the mine, there were canisters of caustic and flammable materials all around them. The feline had been some pretty frightening places over the past two years, and this counted as one of them, despite being in friendly territory.
Only caution and deliberate skill could stand up to the menace that hung in the very air, the merciless forces of chemistry and physics that waited for one wrong move or careless action. She squeezed her companion's shoulder, trusting this intense young female would not make any.
She looked over at Dorothy, who sat anxiously on an empty fuel drum watching her work, and gave the feline a grin. "Okay, that's one. Lets take it up for a test run."
The tabby blinked her ice blue eyes at her. "What?"
The raccoon cocked her head toward the door. "A test run; I wanna see if what I did even works before I rig up the other three." The feline looked nonplussed. "But..."
Loretta gave a quick shake of her head. "Missus Pearl, having four is the same as having none if they don't work. Now come on, we don't have a lot of time. Go get Zoltan, while I find Gwen and get going on preflight."
She cast a meaningful glance at her companions, and suddenly banged the shell with the wrench, letting out a hollow clang and causing them all to flinch.
Her grey eyes narrowed as she gave a curt nod. "Good... You should be nervous. This is a live mine, although the only thing that's going to set it off now is being fifty feet under water."
Her expression changed from intense to sardonic. "Hopefuly. Now come on, let's take it up and drop it."
She nodded to Zoltan, who stepped forward and lifted the sphere like a
bushel basket and carried it over to where the bright blue Glass Goose sat waiting on the beach.
The vixen gave a slight shrug as she guided the plane across the turquoise basin of the lagoon and out into open ocean between the atoll's trailing islets. "I don't hear any difference, Lori, but I'm not you. What do you suggest we do?"
The raccoon let out a sigh. "Any other time I'd say we ground GeeGee until I can give her a complete overhaul, but I don't think we have that luxury." She shook her head. "Not with the clock ticking down for that freighter."
Gwen nodded as she throttled up the plane for takeoff. "Maybe I can give it a once- over while you work on the rest of the mines, check for any obvious leaks and such."
Loretta let out a grim chuckle. "Well, I can tell you which of those jobs I'd rather be doing, that's for sure. You always get all the luck, Gwen."
The vixen gave her a sidelong smile as she eased the Glass Goose into the air.
One of the rabbits called out to Dorothy with a concerned look on her face. "We're in th' air, darlin'. How y'all holdin' up?"
The tabby managed a weak smile. "I never thought I'd say this but I really miss that catnip right now."
Jane shook her head ruefully. "Yeah, but I reckon droppin' bombs while y'all're bombed ain't exactly a good idea."
Dorothy let out a sigh. "No, but neither is dropping them with a blindfold on. At least not if you want to hit anything."
She inclined her head toward her cohort with a despairing look on her face. "I don't know if I'm going to be able to handle this, Jane. I have a bad enough time looking through the windows. Hanging out the door with a rope around my waist is a whole other matter."
The tan furred doe's voice took on a solemn tone. "Well, y'all're jest gonna have t' find it in yerself t' do it. Thar's a whole lotta folks countin' on y'all, Dorothy."
The feline sagged in her seat. "I know that. I wish I could tell that to whatever's in my brain that makes me want to curl into a blubbering ball of nerves whenever I'm up this high."
The doe's voice took on a wry tone. "It's too bad y'all can't jest look it in th' eyes and lay a whammy on it with that brooch o' yers."
The brown-furred tabby suddenly sat upright, her ears pricked up as a look of epiphany lit up her features. "Wait. Why couldn't I? I'm a cat! The Eye of the Guardians has dominion over the minds of my kindred! Why couldn't I look myself in the eyes and compel myself to not be afraid?"
The rabbit cocked her ear and glanced at her duplicate uncertainly. "Whut, like in a mirror or somethin'?"
Dorothy nodded enthusiastically and started to unbuckle her harness. "Exactly! Jane, lead me back to the head. There's a mirror in there!"
She spoke in an even tone as she stared at her reflection. "Dorothy Brixton Pearl, by the power of the Eye of the Guardians over all felines, I compel you to no longer have any fear of high places."
After a moment, Jane spoke up, a dubious tone on her voice. "Y'all reckon it worked, darlin'?"
The tabby blinked and rubbed her eyes, and turned to her companion with a wry smile. "Only one way to find out."
Jane stepped aside, and allowed her partner to step through the hatch and walk into the main cabin, supporting herself with arms outstretched to the luggage racks as she headed for the middle of the Glass Goose's plexiglas floor. She gave herself a count to three, and looked down.
The vastness of the Pan Orient ocean spread beneath her feet, an endless blue expanse so far below. She could see the C-shaped curve of the Nobikini Atoll off to the north, as the plane traced a curve through the air over deep waters.
And she felt nothing. No surging heartbeat. No rising gorge. No electric tingle of the fur on her spine and tail standing on end. All she felt was awe at the beauty and vastness of the wide world that wheeled beneath the aircraft.
She let out a triumphant laugh as she looked over her shoulder at Jane, who gave her a grin. "So it did work."
The feline nodded. "Yes, it worked! I can't tell you what a relief it is! I just wish I'd thought of it sooner."
Jane nodded with a grin. "Better late than never, darlin'."
She looked past Dorothy toward the cockpit with a nod. "Jest in time too, here comes Loretta."
The feline turned to see the young raccoon female walking back to join them, a quizzical look in her grey eyes. "What's going on back here? Dorothy, you seem unusually chipper compared to how I've normally seen you when we're in the air."
The tabby gave her a smile. "Jane gave me an idea of how to fix my fear of heights, and it worked!"
The raccoon cocked an eyebrow and gave her a wry grin. "Well... that's good, 'cos you're standing between me and the sawdust bucket right now."
She shrugged, and then looked at the cat and rabbit females with a serious expression. "Speaking of things working, lets see if my rewiring job holds up, shall we. I think we're over deep enough water now to test it."
Dorothy and Jane nodded, and crossed with Loretta over to the door, taking up positions on either side of the dull metal sphere that rocked gently on its rubber cradle. They secured belts around their waists and clipped them to the superstructure of the luggage rack, and then Loretta reached out and grabbed the handle on the door.
She looked Dorothy in the eyes, her mask compressing under a furrowed brow. "Okay, Missus Pearl, it's up to you to call when and where we drop this thing. Count down from three, then say "go" when you want me and Miss Early to let it go. Understand?"
The feline nodded, giving them both a smile. The raccoon nodded back. "Right, here we go."
With that she threw open the hatch, letting it open wide as the cabin filled with howling wind and biting cold. Dorothy's eyes gleamed, and she peered through the ocean's surface, at the rolling grey hills beneath the waves. She spotted a likely target in a barren stretch of sand in a submerged gully that was rapidly approaching.
She held up a hand to get Jane and Loretta's attention, and shouted at the top of her lungs to overcome the wind's roar. "THREE! TWO! ONE! GO!"
With a nod and a grimace of effort the two identical rabbit does and the young raccoon engineer braced their legs and lifted, rolling the mine up and over the lip of the hatch. Jane let out a whoop as it dropped. "YeeeeHAW! BOMBS AWAY!"
Loretta craned her neck and peered intently downward as the sphere dropped like a shot toward the expanse of deep blue far below. "I hope so..."
When it had become the size of a pea to their eyes, a white blossom signified that it had splashed down. The raccoon counted quietly to herself, as pale-crested ripples marked its passage like a bulls eye. Moments later, a mountain of churning, displaced water burst the surface, followed shortly afterward by the muffled thud of the underwater explosion.
Almost instantly, it was followed by an explosion of celebratory shouts
and laughter in the windswept doorway of the Glass Goose as up in the cockpit Gwen let out a cheer and banked the plane back toward Nobikini, pumping her dark-furred fist in the air.