PART 35 - STRIKING OUT WITH THREE BALLS
As soon as the Glass Goose had pulled up to the dock on their return from the test run, Loretta had hopped out the door and rushed down the weathered planks, rolling up her sleeves and muttering rapidly to herself with a bemused Dorothy in tow.
She finished soldering a connection and then looked up. "Yeah?"
The door creaked open to reveal the slight figure of Vanya, dressed in the set of borrowed coveralls and peering anxiously into the shack. "If you please, Loretta and Dorothy, Gven sent me to get more of the hose clamps. I am giving her the help on looking at the right-hand motor and am running to fetch the things for her."
Loretta tsked impatiently and turned to a plank shelf along one of the shack's walls that was loaded down with an assortment of tightly sealed bell jars full of small hardware like screws and bolts and fasteners. She picked up one full of hose clamps and tossed it to the canine girl. "Here you go. Don't let her forget to screw the lid back on tight. It's no good keeping a stock of hardware on hand if they're just gonna rust in this weather."
With that, she picked up her soldering gun and bent over her work. Dorothy studied the young dog's face as she clutched the jar to her meager bosom and looked nervously at the three spherical mine casings perched on the workbench.
The tabby's ice blue eyes glimmered as she called gently out to her. "Vanya? Is something bothering you?"
After a moment's pause, the young canine nodded, her face eloquent of a mixture of excitement, uncertainty, and dread. "Yes. I do not have knowing of my feelings about vhat you are going to do. I... I know that you are going to stop the Jormungandr from sinking the ships, but I know that the stopping of the submarine means it vill be going to the bottom and all those riding it vill... vill die."
A faint smile flickered across Dorothy's lips as she regarded the golden-furred girl with a steady gaze. "Not if I'm careful."
Vanya looked unconvinced. "But... I vatched the mine go off vith such a big boom out on the vater... It vas frightening to see."
The feline leapt lightly down from her perch on the large oil drum and walked over to the young canine, laying a hand on her shoulder. "Don't worry. I'm planning to disable that sub, not sink it."
Loretta flicked an ear and nodded absently as she tightened a connection."And if anybody can make a shot like that, it'd be Dorothy here."
A hopeful expression settled on Vanya's youthful features. "I vill pray this is so. I vould be very sad to think of all the poor dogs going to the grave under the vater."
The feline nodded in agreement, her faint tabby stripes adding to the solemn look on her face. "I made a vow never to leave grieving loved ones as a result of my actions, if I can possibly avoid it. Even the wolves, as bad as they are, have families waiting for them back home."
The young canine's gaze met Dorothy's, her brow creased in thought. "I am knowing this is so. I remember the vulfs' sires and dams and mates and cubs lining up along the dock in Seevald vhile ve loaded the supplies. They cheered and howled proudly for their sons and mates. I vish the vulfs could learn to have the thinking of the sailors on the prey ships and the families who have the vaiting for them."
Dorothy smiled fondly and gave the dog girl's skinny arm a squeeze. "There are a lot of people out there who are attached to a certain way of looking at the world. Not all of them are as brave about slipping their tether as you were, Vanya dear."
The canine gave her a blush and a bright smile and bobbed her head. "Vell, vhile ve are speaking of that, I should go before Gven vunders vhere I have escaped to."
With that she turned and hurried away bearing the rattling jar tightly in her hands.
Dorothy smiled as she watched her go, while Loretta let out a growl as she worked. "Do you think maybe you could take the next heart to heart chat outside while I'm re-wiring explosives in here, Dorothy?"
The feline gave her a searching look. "You seem a little more tense than even that would justify, Loretta."
The raccoon pursed her lips as she stripped a bit of insulation off of the tip of a copper wire. "Yeah, I guess I am. Watching that first mine go off kind of brought home to me what I'm doing."
She stared at the bright copper gleaming in the light of the electric lantern that sat on her impromptu work surface. "I've never built anything that could kill somebody." She turned and gave Dorothy a wan grin. "Intentionally, I mean. For all my talk of striking a blow for the purity of science, I'm starting to wonder how I'd feel after that blow lands. Probably a little bit like how Gwen felt after I got my tail snapped off. Probably a lot worse, though."
Dorothy's eyes glimmered in the shade of the hut. "You'll just have to trust me that I won't let that happen."
Loretta gave her a weary smile. "I do, I think. I guess I'm too much of an engineer to be a hundred percent convinced until I see it happen, but you and Jane have bent the rules so often now I'm beginning to expect the unexpected."
She beckoned the feline over with a jerk of her head toward the table. "Now lend me your eyes for a minute, I need to make sure this is hooked up properly."
The tabby stepped up behind the raccoon engineer and laid a hand on her shoulder, her pale gaze glittering in the shady confines of the shed.
Inside the meeting hut, Dorothy, Gwen, Loretta and a fourth Jane plotted their course, cross referencing the projected path of the SS Palomino Bay with a best guess at the course of the Steppelander submarine, based on their very rough estimates of where they had encountered it while adrift on the waves.
Dorothy looked over at Jane with a grave look on her face, her ice-blue
eyes gleaming with portent. "Well, looks like this is it, Miss Early.
This is what we came here for."
The tan-furred doe nodded, a grin creasing the corner of her mouth. "Ayep. Bout time we put a stop t' them seafarin' varmints so Gwen n' Loretta here can git back into th' tour business."
The vixen gave them a broad grin of her own, a bit of nervous tension visible at the edges of her smile. "After this caper is over with, charter tours are gonna seem pretty boring."
The raccoon crossed her arms and shook her head, a wry expression on her face. "If you're thinking about dragging me into the submarine-hunting business, Gwen, you can just forget about it. I'll take mermaids over u-boats any day."
Jane glanced out the door, where one of her duplicates had disembarked from the Glass Goose and walked up the dock to meet Junko, slipping her arm around the graceful usagi's waist as they sauntered back toward the huts. "Yeah, me too."
She stood up from the low table and dusted the knees of her trousers and headed for the door. "Now if'n y'all will excuse me, I'm got a li'l personal business to attend to before we set off. I'll meet y'all at the dock."
The feline, vixen, and raccoon watched as she walked up to the two other rabbits, taking Junko in her arms for a long, departing kiss while her duplicate stood off to the side. They all blushed as the identical rabbit gave them a broad wink and a thumbs up.
Dorothy cleared her throat and got to her feet, averting her eyes as Gwen and Loretta stared. "W-well. Yes... We should get going..."
Heywood stepped forward and extended his webbed hand to each of them. "Good hunting, ladies. Bring back a fish to make ol' Haheka proud."
Dorothy nodded. "As the closest thing we've got on hand to the law I trust you've got things under control here, Mister Cord."
The otter nodded, glancing at a duplicate Jane who stood holding hands with Junko. "Yes. With Miss Early's kind assistance, of course."
He jerked a thumb toward the pirate freighter Hei Long. "I'll go over when she relieves the guards she's left on the boat and get on the radio again. The Bindlestiff should be here no later than this evening." He inclined his head toward Marta, Zoltan, and Vanya. "I'll see to it that everyone is properly accommodated."
At this, the young, golden furred canine let loose of Zoltan's arm and stepped up to Dorothy and Jane. "I vant to come vith you! To give the help!"
The feline glanced at her cohorts, and looked sadly back at the earnest dog girl. "This is a dangerous mission, Vanya. I don't think it would be a good idea."
Gwen nodded, patting her shoulder. "Yeah, kiddo. You're not a fully trained adventuress yet. There'll be plenty of chances for you to risk your neck once you get out of Songmark."
Vanya's face became resolute, and she looked them each in the eye. "Don't be treating me like the puppy! I can give the help! I have the sharp eyes! Maybe not for seeing like Dorothy, but I rode the Bachstelze and spotted ships many leagues avay! And I have the speaking of Vestcommon some and Steppesprecht! If you vill catch the Jormungandr you vill need somevun who can give the speaking to the vulfs and the dogs." She planted her fists on her hips. "I vas deep in that terrible boat for four terrible moons! I vant to see it vhen the Jormungandr is caught like the bad fish. I am having the right!"
Jane stepped up to Vanya menacingly, crossed her arms in front of her and drew herself up, looming over the diminutive canine and fixing her with a stern gaze. "Y'all fixin' t' turn into a brat now that y'all've slipped yer collar, Vanya gal?"
The golden furred dog met her eyes with defiance, her clipped ears levered back as she fought back a shiver in her knees. "Yes."
The two stared hard at each other for a moment, then Jane turned and gave a shrug to her cohorts as she set off down the dock. "She's got my vote. Now c'mon, we gonna stand here jawin' or we gonna bag us a u-boat?"
Dorothy stared after Jane for a moment as the rabbit strode down the dock, and then turned to the young canine with a curt nod. "All right, Vanya. You make a persuasive argument. If Gwen and Loretta agree, I'm all right with you coming."
The raccoon and vixen exchanged a thoughtful glance and shared a nod, then Loretta met the golden furred female's eyes. "Okay, but understand that I'm the chief of operations while we're on board GeeGee. And if we're anywhere else, Dorothy and Jane are calling the shots. You do what we tell you with no backtalk, got it? If you wanna come along, you gotta follow orders. "
The young canine looked troubled. "But... but I am the free dog. I don't take the orders anymore..."
The raccoon pursed her lips and gestured toward the beach. "You're still a free dog, Vanya. You're free to stay here, and you're free to come with us, but if you come with us you gotta play by our rules. So what's it gonna be?"
The slender dog's brow furrowed pensively for a moment, then she gave a small bow. "I vill do vhat is told to me."
Gwen clapped her on the shoulder, and the group headed down the dock to the Glass Goose's waiting doorway.