PART 36 - THE GOOSE LAYS SOME EGGS
Loretta took a sighting with the sextant as the Glass Goose hurtled through the vast Pan Orient sky, with the Nobikini Atoll just the merest speck on the distant horizon. She turned to Gwen as the vixen swept the skies with a level gaze, her hands on the stick and her feet on the pedals with an air of casual command. The raccoon took out a ruler and drew a heading on the folded map very close to the lines drawn by Dorothy.
She held it up so her partner could see it. "Okay, keep steady on this course, Gwen. I'll take another sighting in fifteen minutes."
Gwen nodded. "Steady as she goes, Lori. How's that engine sounding?"
The raccoon cocked her head and flicked an ear. "Hmmm. Like it wants to be a problem but hasn't figured out quite how yet. I'll keep an eye on it, you just keep us on course."
The vixen nodded confidently as she scanned the wide expanse beneath them. She flicked an ear and looked over her shoulders as Vanya's voice sounded from the cabin behind them. "A ship! I see the ship at eleven-of-the-clock. Two of the miles avay!"
Loretta looked back to see Dorothy cross the cabin, threading her way around the gently swaying mines, to join the young canine at the porthole she was looking out of with her slender body tense and her stub of a tail wagging furiously. The feline's tail waved much more slowly as she concentrated, her glittering eyes reflecting on the glass of the window. "Hmmm. Good catch, Vanya. It's not the ship we're looking for. Looks like a cruise ship. The name is... Kojira Maru... It's flying Kokoro colors."
Loretta called back through the cockpit door. "That's a good sign at least we're on the trade route to the Spontoons. If it's a tourist boat that's where they'd be headed."
Dorothy nodded and turned, heading back to the opposite bench, where she took up a position kneeling on the seat and staring out the window. "I'll start looking underwater. If we're on a trade route this is probably a rich hunting ground for the sub. Maybe I'll spot it first. Vanya? Jane? You keep looking for ships."
Again, the feline joined her, her tail frizzing as she bumped one of the mines in passing, causing it to sway in its cushioning nest. She pushed her muzzle against the window beside the young canine and looked.
Her eyes lit up. "It's them! The Palomino Bay! I recognize the prow from Huakela's dream!" She turned and shouted toward the cockpit. "Can you see 'em, Gwen?"
The vixen inclined her head, keeping her eyes on the horizon. "I can see smoke from the smokestacks. Adjusting course. We'll buzz 'em in a minute."
Dorothy nodded and turned back toward the window, jostling Vanya a bit as her uncanny vision peered through the ocean surface.
Jane looked over at her in alarm, cocking an ear and furrowing her brow. "Dang, you n' Huakela's premonitionin' needs work. That's cuttin' thangs mighty close!"
Dorothy ignored her and refocused on the inside of the plane, shouting forward to the vulpine pilot. "Gwen! Get us over there now! Bearing two five"
With a small nod, the vixen pushed the throttle. The right engine stammered a bit as its hum became more insistent.
Loretta looked out the window at the right prop with an indignant expression on her ace. "Oh you will NOT plotz out on us now, you little minx. Not after all the loving care I lavished on you."
Gwen cast her a glance. "If you want to have a conversation, Lori, then why don't you get on the radio and see if you can raise the ship."
The raccoon nodded and grabbed up the headphones and microphone, flipping switches and turning dials on the console. "Calling SS Palomino Bay, this is SP P seven-one-three. Calling SS Palomino Bay, this is SP P seven-one-three. Are you recieving me? Over?"
Her headphones crackled to life as a voice came over the airwaves. "This is Palomino Bay. Receiving you SP P seven one three. Over."
Loretta clutched the microphone as she fiddled with the knob to tune it better. "Palomino Bay you are under threat from a hostile submarine. Repeat, you are under threat from a hostile submarine. It's currently a half mile to starboard and preparing to attack! Over!"
The voice on the other end of the line took on a disbelieving tone. "What!? Who is this?"
The raccoon girl's eyes flared as she bellowed into the receiver. "Just tell your captain, you blockhead! You're under attack!"
Dorothy's voice called up from the cabin. "Loretta, get back here! We need to get the mines ready!"
The dark masked engineer passed the radio and microphone to Gwen. "Here! See if you can get this idiot to understand the danger he's in. I'm going back to juggle explosives."
The tinny voice coming unintelligibly through the headphones seemed rather peeved.
The vixen gave her a wink and a wild grin. "Have fun!"
Loretta rolled her eyes and patted her partner on the shoulder as she climbed out of her seat, rushing to the back with the top half of her tail frizzed.
As she passed she grabbed Vanya by the arm, dragging her off the bench and away from the window and shoving her toward the front. "Vanya, go up front with Gwen and strap in. Do whatever she tells you."
The young canine hurried forward, looking nervously over her shoulder as Loretta grabbed a safety line from the luggage rack.
The long, grey hull of the Palomino Bay wheeled past to their left as the Glass Goose came in low in a run at the submerged Jormungander, which only the brown-furred tabby could watch looming below them.
She held up a hand with all three fingers raised, bellowing to her cohorts over the wind. "READY! THREE. TWO. ONE. GO!"
With a grimace the Janes pushed the mine out the door, stepping back to let Loretta and Dorothy crane their necks to watch as it plummeted to the surging blue plain below and splash down.
The feline's eyes widened as she watched it drop towards the tail of
the black submarine, and her hand went to her muzzle. It was going to be
a direct hit, but farther up Jormungandr's long hull, definitely where there would be crew. Her stomach lurched as it hit.
And then it bounced off and drifted silently downward, a grey spherical pebble vanishing in the black twilight of the deep ocean. She looked over at Loretta, who'd been counting to herself, her voice muffled under the whistling of the wind. The raccoon's grey eyes met hers and they simultaneously spoke, Loretta's voice tinged with outrage while Dorothy's sounded with consternation. "A DUD !?"
The feline slapped a palm to her forehead as the raccoon let out a stream of curses that were borne away on the howling wind.
Dorothy turned and shouted forward. "GWEN! BRING US AROUND FOR ANOTHER PASS! IT WAS A DUD!"
She saw Gwen's dark furred hand reach out and give a thumbs up as Vanya craned her neck to look back at them with her wide brown eyes, frantically clutching the arm of the copilot's chair.
Without further prompting the Janes leapt to grab the next mine, lifting it between them and carrying it to the door, propping it on the metal of the door frame as Dorothy peered through the waves again. She turned to Loretta as the raccoon's hand hovered over the depth switch, shouting to be heard. "THEY'VE BLOWN SOME BALLAST! PROBABLY RISING TO ATTACK DEPTH! DO TWENTY FIVE FEET THIS TIME!"
The dark masked engineer nodded as she set the hydrostatic switch. Dorothy turned back to the sub as the Glass Goose came around for another pass, engaging her preternatural vision.
She turned to her cohorts and held up her hand, her tabby markings etched into her face with stress, as she felt the plane leap forward and change its course. "READY! THREE. TWO. ONE. DROP IT!"
The mine dropped away, striking down in front of the winding submarine projectiles and sinking like a stone cast into a pond. As the parallel lines of death etched their way toward the Palomino Bay's unguarded flank, suddenly they were swept up in a bloom of churning white water that in turn hemhorraged with two more bursts of roiling force as the torpedoes went off in the maelstrom.
Dorothy slumped against the doorframe, breathing heavily as the freighter began to wheel away from the boiling water that blossomed to their port side. She shook her head and peered below, as the black submarine started to turn in the opposite direction. A grim, thin lipped smile came to her face as she imagined the consternation inside the u-boat, the hunters suddenly becoming the hunted. She turned to look at the final mine in their arsenal, rocking gently on its tire nest, and noticed that Loretta and the two Janes were staring at it as well, musing as to whether it would be a dud or not.
They were jarred from their reverie by Gwen's voice from up front. "DID WE GET 'EM?"
Dorothy shouted back. "NO! BRING US AROUND FOR ANOTHER PASS! THE SUB'S TAKING EVASIVE ACTION, HEADING NORTH NORTH EAST AND DIVING!"
She flipped her head at the last dull metal sphere. "LETS TAKE OUR LAST SHOT, GIRLS! SET IT FOR FIFTY!"
Loretta looked ruefully at the final mine as the Janes grabbed it and wrestled it into place. "I'M NOT HAPPY ABOUT A TWENTY FIVE PERCENT RATE OF FAILURE HERE."
One of the rabbits shrugged. "SURE, BUT SO FAR WE GOT TWO T' ONE ODDS ON THIS ONE BEIN' GOOD."
Her double chimed in. "TWO T' ONE'S MY KIND OF ODDS, DARLIN'!"
She gave a wink to her double, who rolled her eyes and helped her steady the jury- rigged depth charge on the door ledge. Dorothy leaned out and gazed below, watching Jormungandr continue to wheel about and dive as the Glass Goose honed in on the black sub at an angle across its stern. Loretta cranked the setting on the detonator to 50 feet and stood tensely as they dove at the churning ocean. The brown-furred feline held up her hand again, ready to make the count.
Suddenly, the right engine let out a loud cough and went still, whining as it wound down with black smoke seeping out of the cowling. Loretta's head whipped around as her grey eyes flared with fury in her dark mask. Before she had a chance to start cursing, the plane dipped crazily to starboard, throwing her off balance and sending her sprawling to the plexiglas floor. The Janes braced their feet and held on tightly to the mine as it bobbled on the edge, threatening to drop out of their hands as Dorothy steadied herself by frantically gripping the door frame.
Up front, Vanya grabbed her muzzle with both hands to keep from screaming as the Glass Goose lurched crazily to the right. She looked over at Gwen in a panic, which instantly dissipated as she saw the sandy haired vixen sitting calmly in her seat, as if she sat at a table buttering bread or dealing out cards. Only the barest tensing at the corners of her mouth, and the whiteness of her knuckles on the stick as she wrestled with it, indicated she was under any stress at all. The young canine's jaw dropped, a sparkle of amazement coming to her liquid brown eyes.
She was jarred out of her reverie by the sound of Dorothy's voice from in back. "GWEN! CAN YOU TAKE US TO PORT TEN DEGREES?"
The vixen's smile became tighter as she braced herself and brought the plane back on course.
Back in the cabin, Loretta clambered shakily to her feet as she pulled herself up by the door. Dorothy gave her a nod and gazed down through the ocean's surface at the rapidly diving sub.
This was it.
She drew in breath and shouted to her cohorts. "THIS IS IT! LAST CHANCE! READY?"
She braced herself, and held up her hand.
Loretta held her breath.
Both Janes tensed, ready to push the mine away.
Gwen's brow furrowed as she pulled back on the stick to level them off.
"WAIT FOR IT!"
Vanya clenched her teeth, holding in a shriek to the point where it became a thin, high pitched whine.
She chopped the air with her hand, her ice blue eyes flaring like diamonds.
Dorothy's ice blue eyes blazed as she watched the stricken sub limp away from the telling blow, heavily damaged but still whole, protecting the seventy plus souls trapped inside.
She let out a whoop of exultation. "HOLY MACKEREL! WE GOT 'EM!"
All around her, a tumult of cheering broke out from the two Janes and Loretta as they leapt into each other's arms, laughing and patting each other on the back.
A shout from Gwen in the cockpit galvanized them into action. "BRACE FOR SPLASH DOWN!"
Instantly, the two Janes leapt towards each other, becoming one tan furred rabbit doe as a set of khaki fatigues dropped to the ground and a belt strap suddenly hung loose from the door frame ring. Loretta grabbed the door and yanked it shut, then hastily unhooked the carabiners on their safety lines. The raccoon, cat, and rabbit dove for the seaplane's bench seats, struggling into the straps as Gwen struggled up front to maintain an even glide. Once secured, they watched the roiling ocean rise rapidly toward them through the plexiglas windows lining the cabin floor.
They flinched as the bright blue plane skipped once, twice, and then plowed into the waves with a shock that made their entire world shudder and groan.
Up front, Vanya could hold in her scream no longer. The young canine screwed her eyes tightly closed as a full throated howl of terror escaped her, boiling up from the base of her tail and out her mouth, doubling her over with her hands clapped over her ears.
She stopped, drawing in a sharp breath as she felt a soft hand on her shoulder. All was suddenly silent and still. Forcing her eyes to open, she looked over to see a weary looking Gwen smiling and reaching across the cockpit to her, giving her a gentle shake.
The vixen let out a soft chuckle. "It's okay, Vanya. We're down. We made it! We're perfectly saAAAAAEEEEEAAAGGHHH!!! "
Gwen's head whipped around as she broke into a much louder scream than her young canine companion had just loosed, shoving herself backwards in her chair as the massive submarine burst to the surface scant feet in front of them. The waving white serpent reared skyward as if bellowing a protest to the heavens, before the vessel slammed down on the ocean's surface like a falling tree, sending the Glass Goose tossing and spinning on the churning white waves displaced by the massive submarine.
In an instant Dorothy, Jane, and Loretta had wrestled out of their
restraining straps and rushed forward to crowd in the cockpit, staring
out the windows at the gigantic vessel that had just breached. As the
ripples died down, sending the seaplane bobbing backwards further and
further from the submarine, an ominous silence broken only by the
lapping of waves ensued.