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A story by Simon Barber & David Reese Dorrycott & Fredrik K T Andersson
A story of Angelica Silferlindh, a character by Freddy Andersson,
(including characters from his comic strip "Silver Angel")
& featuring Oharu and characters by David Reese Dorrycott
and characters from Simon Barber's Songmark Academy stories.
by Simon Barber
A story of Angelica Silferlindh, from Freddy Andersson's Silver Angel comic strip
featuring Oharu and characters by David Reese Dorrycott
and characters from Simon's Songmark Academy stories
Oharu © Reese D’Orrycott, Angelica and Kama © Freddy Andersson.
Angelica Silferlindh stood at the very Northernmost tip of Main Island, on the curving spit of coral sand that stretched out from the village she had been “adopted” into, pointing into the Nimitz Sea and towards civilisation. She strained her eyes, shading them against the strong wind as she watched a smear of smoke move out over the horizon and vanish, leaving the Northern skyline wide and empty.
She had been standing there an hour, watching the cruise ship “Skookum City” round the point from the central waters and head back North-East towards Rain Island with its cargo of well-fed and slightly hung-over tourists no doubt comparing their exploits (whether real, exaggerated or wholly imaginary) in the carefully cultivated patches of wilderness that their tour guides had been showing them around for the past ten days.
“And that’s it,” she told herself bleakly. “The last tourist ship of the year, gone. There won’t be another till Spring.” So often in the past months she had imagined herself waving farewell to Spontoon on the stern deck of a liner, her beloved Silver Angel hoisted aboard as deck cargo if need be to get them both to somewhere with competent engineers to put things right. Managing to fly away under her own power would have been the best option, but a tour boat home was always a respectable Plan B. Still being here at the end of the tourist season had been somewhere far past Plan Z, probably having worked through the Greek, Cyrillic and Arabic alphabets and ending up far into the Egyptian Hieroglyphs. “Tourist season’s over. The pearl fishing season’s over. My money’s gone, that I worked so hard for. All my hopes of getting my poor baby fixed in any sane or sensible way - all over.” She had never believed in curses, but had to face facts. It’s like some native jungle disease unknown to medical science, she told herself, just because it’s unheard-of back home, doesn’t mean you can’t get it here. And even if I escaped, there’s no doctor back home that can cure it.
Just that morning, she had seen another sight to remind her of home. As if to mock her beloved Silver Angel’s continuing enforced stay on the beach, brightly shining in the low sun six Potez reconditioned fighters from the new flying school headquartered on Casino Island had flown over in a tight formation. She had already heard about them from the villagers, some of whom were quite surprised that it had received permission to set up operations from the Althing. “Hard to imagine it; some people come all the way across the planet, out of Europe even, because they want to be here. They even pay for the privilege. Mad.”
From what she remembered her friend Amelia telling her, Songmark would be starting its new term any time now and the third-year course was said to be unbelievably busy. There would be no more help from that direction, no more civilised visits from Euro girls - she shook her head angrily, now she was starting to use that stupid Native phrase! There was nothing “Euro” about a student from Japan or the Americas, despite what the Spontoonies mistakenly thought.
Suddenly her tail and ears drooped as she noticed the tide coming in, an extra-bold wave rushing up the sand spit and threatening to cut her off from the dubious safety of the collection of sheds that called itself a village. Things were bad enough without wet paws as well. With a sigh, she turned round and headed back to the settlement. Her beloved aircraft was pulled high up the beach; she would have to think about getting it some more permanent shelter until her curse was resolved. For a second she imagined how her poor Silver Angel might look after a whole Winter outside in the elements, as unprotected as if she had abandoned it callously and booked into the comfort of a Casino Island hotel till Spring. Her ears went flat.
“Don’t worry, baby,” her whispered thoughts were addressed to the still shiny silver machine “I’ll do something for you.” Her frown increased. “But right now - I don’t know what.”
“Missy Angelica, she have a good season pearl fishing, oh yes.” Mamma Popoluma bustled around her longhouse cheerfully, her six kittens playing happily around her. Her smallest was held close to her breast in a sling of Ulàul cloth as she prepared the family’s evening meal of plantain mash. “And now she one of us. Fine ceremony, yes.” She turned to face her guest, the young trainee priest Tehepoa. “Plenty of surprises!”
“So I heard,” the fox commented dryly. “I’d like to have seen her face when you told her she and her line are accepted in local law - I don’t think she appreciated being told her kittens will be Spontoonies, and whatever happens they’ll be looked after here.” A tail twitched. “I didn’t think she has any plans that direction.”
A twinkling eye surveyed him. “Cats have kittens! And prettiest ones should have the most, or what will the world be? Now she a member of the village, she can settle down. And start.” Her own youngest woke and began to feed.
Tehepoa nodded, reserving his judgement. Despite everything that had happened Angelica Silferlindh was, and remained, a proud Euro who had nothing to do with the “primitive Natives” if she could help it. Despite all her efforts, getting by with Spontoonies day by day felt to her like wading through a foul swamp - she could do it if she had to, but was passionately wishing it would stop. “Are you going to build her a hut of her own? She’s not really a guest any more, now she’s been accepted.” Although there was no paperwork involved, and indeed it was very difficult for a Euro to become an official Spontoon Citizen, if she wished Angelica could now stay on Main Island permanently. It was rather ironic, the fox thought, how many Euros wanted that, and the only one he had seen offered the chance violently disliked the idea.
“We ask Missy Angelica, see how she feel about it. She say she like my cooking! Puso ng Saging, she say tastes as good as anything in Sweden.” Mama Popoluma looked round indulgently as her second-youngest made a brave attempt to climb up her tail. “She teach the cubs much.”
Tehepoa’s muzzle wrinkled. “I can believe that. What not to do, anyway. She’s useful to have around as an awful warning, when you’re teaching them politeness and traditional good manners. I’d have thought you were glad to have the chance to be rid of her. I don’t suppose there’s much privacy to be had with her around.”
Mama Popoluma fanned herself with a palm leaf, smiling. “Littlest P still takes all time up. Next Summer, maybe Autumn, time enough to want privacy again.” It had come as rather a shock to Angelica to hear in passing that although there had been a Mr. Popoluma, he had been lost at sea nearly ten years ago. Five of the six kittens in the family were much younger than that, but nobody in the village thought it odd that all of them carried the family name just as much as if he was still there. It was a Spontoon tradition, one that had been legally confirmed in the aftermath of the Gunboat Wars when so many families had been torn apart. Angelica had been indiscreet enough to wonder out loud as to why the fur patterns on all half dozen cubs were so different, and the lady of the household had explained in great and happily reminiscent detail exactly how and why, much to the Euro’s embarrassment. “Maybe Missy Angelica she wanting some privacy for herself by then, need longhouse can build out bigger later.”
“I doubt it,” Tehepoa stated flatly. “Well, maybe with a Euro. She was friendly enough with that Mister Van Der Veldt last time I saw them together. I think she’d be ashamed to have a Spontoon longhouse - actually ashamed of showing it to anyone. Whenever she looks at buildings of palm thatch and carved wood, you can almost see her snout wrinkling like someone put a five-day dead fish under her pretty Euro nose.”
Mama Popoluma nodded, unworried. “Missy Angelica, she a nice girl. Now she accepted as proper village girl, plenty of friends to choose from. Have seen it happen many times, to Euro girls as proud as her and more. We see her Tailfast on Sacred Island one fine Solstice, oh yes you wait.” She paused. “Missy Tobonule from formation swimming club she drop by yesterday to see her Uncle here, she ask after Missy Angelica. Say she and friends want to invite her back.”
Tehepoa nodded, politely taking his leave. Mama Popoluma was well respected in the village for her wisdom - but as to Miss Silferlindh ever truly wanting to become a Spontoonie despite having been accepted into the village with the best ceremony they had to offer - well, he wasn’t going to hold his breath.
“Makes a change from pearl fishing, yes?” Half an hour later Monoteha welcomed Angelica aboard one of the fishing boats that sailed to serve the cannery in the next bay; they were broader than a pearling canoe and had an arch of rattan providing some slight protection from sun, rain and sea-spray. “Night fishing is hard, but you learn fast.” In the prow was a salvaged ship’s searchlight, rigged up to a bank of lorry batteries shrouded under layers of tarpaulin against the spray. Even so, a slight reek of chlorine from the salty air on the live contacts made Angelica’s nose wrinkle.
“Yes, it makes a change.” Angelica stared moodily out at the darkening horizon. As soon as the sun set, the lights would be switched on to attract squid and curious fish towards the nets. And they say it’s cats that are killed by curiosity, she mused as her tail swished moodily. One thing’s certainly different - unless we haul up a pirate’s treasure chest in the net, there won’t be anything like a rose pearl for me in this job. She looked around at Monoteha, the otter evidently happy and content with her life as if being a fishwife was some sort of enjoyable career rather than an uncomfortable sentence of wet fur and ill-paid drudgery. I could have spent those two hundred shells on getting my Silver Angel freighted to Hawaii – it’d have worked, there. I could have flown her home. But no, I had to give it away. In payment for what? A membership in a jumble of palm shanties.
“Much to look forward to!” The otter continued. “Two days time moon she full, is Hoopy Jaloopy! Celebrate end of Tourist season. All Casino Island workers they come back to village, fine party.” She winked. “The boys come back, like I say before.”
“Wonderful.” Although Angelica no longer had to fear being summarily deported as soon as a returning villager complained about her unlicensed presence, the prospect did not thrill her.
The otter’s tail twitched, noting Angelica’s lack of enthusiasm. “And the girls.” Monoteha looked at her slyly, misinterpreting. “Tobonule she very discreet, she say nothing. But she came here today, invite you over to party like last one. Many fine parties on islands, many places ho yes, not just Double Lotus on Casino Island.”
Angelica’s ears blushed, her embarrassment mercifully hidden in the dusk; she had heard about that place and had mentally labelled it on her map with a glowing skull and crossbones. She just couldn’t win; the locals regarded her as a source of never-failing entertainment and she would not be at all surprised if they were placing bets on when and with whom she ended up stuck with. Bracing herself, she told herself firmly that they would be wasting their shells. Finishing up her career as a fish-wife in a coral sand-floored wooden hut was not in her top million ambitions.
From the wooded ridge looking out over the village, Oharu noted placidly the lights coming on aboard the fishing boats. They would be out till dawn, when they would hand their catches over to a bigger ship that fed the cannery over in the next bay. Angelica was safe and accounted-for until well into the next day; fishing all night was hard labour and she would probably sleep till two or three in the afternoon.
“Students,” she addressed the three who sat silently, attentively “you have done well. You have watched over she to whom I have given my protection. You have performed your duties at the shrines without complaint.” She noted Tehepoa’s ear twitch guiltily, and added “without meaningful complaint, at least.”
The mouse stood up, looking out over the island in the cool late September night. From her vantage point on the ridge she could see over the low point in the spine of Main Island, past where the reservoirs glinted in the light of the rising moon, over the central waters to the other islands. Casino Island looked different now to all those other nights she had stood vigil near Angelica; the garish visual fanfare of illuminations was muted, the last tourist boat having sailed away and a weary population of Spontoonies breathed a collective sigh of relief as they switched off the advertising signs, counted their wages and the wear and tear to their collective patience.
The main lights of Casino Island were dimmer now, but nearer at paw Main Village was no different from usual, its prosperity soberly fuelled by everyday work and relaxation of the islanders and not seasonal waves of sensation-seeking foreigners. Only the main street was lit at Althing expense, but individual enterprises with their own generators or a share in a neighbour’s power supply, advertised themselves with simple illuminations as being open for business.
Oharu was pleased at her students’ silence; they were slowly learning patience and control, though all still had a long road ahead. Saimmi had noted the same thing - and she had also voiced again her fear that Oharu was working much too hard. The mouse nodded. There was nothing to be done for Angelica at the present, and all the villages seemed remarkably peaceful now the tramping feet and loud voices of tourists shepherded by harried guides had finally stopped. It might be time for a small reward, she reflected, and Saimmi’s advice as High Priestess was not to be lightly ignored.
“Students,” she announced, “tonight we are going to Main Village. I will expect you to be prompt at the Morning Song tomorrow, but until then -“ she smiled a rare, brief smile, “you may enjoy yourselves. It is permitted.”
Since moving out of the McGee household on Casino Island up to the remote solitude of the Great Stone Glen, Oharu had seen very little of what the tourist brochures called “exciting nightlife.” Not that she had missed it much; on Casino Island in tourist season the streets often echoed till the small hours with the shouts and songs of drunken Euro revellers and the street cleaning crews generally had a busy time in the grey dawn.
Main Village, on the other paw, was a very different place. There were taverns and eating-houses indeed (none actually called themselves restaurants, as if to emphasise this was not Casino Island) but they were filled with tired villagers in from long days in the fields or on the boats, meeting their friends to gossip about the day’s events over a beaker or two of palm wine before heading home to a well-deserved rest.
Oharu dismissed her students at the edge of town and watched them gratefully head out, not quite running, towards remembered haunts they had seen very little of in recent weeks. She stood still, feeling the night air rustle her kimono, caressing her fur with its carefully combed markings that denoted her rank more clearly than any Euro priest’s cassock or Absolute Anabaptist bishop’s sacred umbrella. Her nose twitched, sorting out the mixed scents that blew down the street from half a dozen kitchens. Roasting meats, fish, and vegetables - there was the ever-present slightly sour background scent of poi fermenting overnight - all was there on display, all to be enjoyed.
Suddenly her stomach gave a most undignified growl. It had been the noon-meal when she had last eaten, she reminded herself, eight hours ago. “Immortal spirits may thrive on prayers and worship,” she quoted Saimmi’s words of the week before “but for a Spontoon priestess - it’s no sin for her to enjoy a good meal!” What strength she had, was dedicated now to the service of the islands – and certainly it was her duty to keep her strength up.
Following her nose, Oharu walked in through the richly carved cedar entrance of “Vangatola’s Kitchen”, its sign written large in Spontoonie and only added as an afterthought in English. There were about a dozen furs seated, some in Native dress and some in the semi-“Euro” loose shirts and trousers that were common in Main Village and for furs who worked on the other islands. All eyes turned to her, and all ears rose in respectful surprise.
“Honoured Mother! You do us a kindness, with your visit.” From behind the serving counter a stocky pine marten, evidently the proprietor, emerged. “How can we help you? All we have is yours to ask.”
“Please,” Oharu declined the offer of a chair by the fire-pit. “Only a meal as customer. And to pay as customer, if I may.” It was embarrassing that she had to make many furs accept money for such things as food and water taxis; the Althing supported its Priestesses well enough, although there was no fixed wage as such. “May I choose?” She looked around at the printed menu, while her ears swivelled to hear a jaunty tune blaring from a radio in the next room. She found herself committing the lyrics to memory, as she instinctively did with dances and poems. It was evidently a Euro song, she noted, but she always needed more background on Euros if she was to understand them better.
“We don’t like to whistle, don’t blow saxophones
We like bananas, because they have no bones!
I stood by the fruit store just this morning
Just to watch a funny-looking man (funny man!)
This is what he said (oh yes! I heard every word)
And I’ll tell you, so you’ll understand ….
I don’t like your peaches, they are full of stones
I like bananas, because they have no bones!
Don’t give me tomatoes, I can’t stand ice-cream cones
We like bananas, because they have no bones!
No matter where I go, with Suzie, Mae or Anna
I want the world to know - I must have my banana!
Cabbages and onions, hurt my singing tones
We like bananas, because they have no bones!”
The radio crackled as the record came to an end, and a pleasant female Spontoonie voice announced “And that was a sweet little number by Chris Yacich and the Hoosier Hot Shots! A fine group, nothing Hoosier-than-thou about them. And now, your regular air and shipping weather forecast. This is Spontoon Tilli-Li, broadcasting for Radio LONO.”
Oharu studied the printed menu board with interest as one ear remained cocked at the radio, which finished the local forecast with a comparison against the climate in the American Mid-West that week (“Monday; dust. Tuesday: dust. Wednesday, dust. Weekend: Death hailing from the skies!”). Something sweet appealed, and the song had suggested the answer. “The banana boat, please,” she asked the proprietor, wondering exactly what sort of edible boat that was. Food often came with surprising names; on Casino Island that Summer she had seen Euro tourists debating the merits of their hotel’s Mississippi Mud Pie. It was a never-failing source of surprise just what tourists would eat.
The proprietor’s ears and whiskers drooped. “I’m afraid banana dishes are off this week, Honoured Mother. Everything else is available! We have to import them this time of year, and Casino Island gets them all for the tourists. Can’t have a tropical holiday without bananas.” On spotting the mouse’s intrigued look, he added “Oh yes, we’ve got some growing here all right, on the most sheltered parts of the island – but they won’t be ready till next month. Most years we have to harvest them green and ripen them under cover. We’re the Northernmost island that grows them outdoors.” Fruit was heavy and expensive to freight across the Pacific; a diner at the Marleybone Hotel would have everything available in or out of season, but not so a native village.
“No matter. Pineapple will be pleasant, I am sure.”
An hour of quiet dining and talk with the villagers left the mouse more contented and relaxed than she had been in some time. Her Students were doing well, Angelica was in the safe paws of the fisher folk for the night, and there was no longer any of the nagging worry as to what some tourists might take it into their heads to do to a “heathen shrine” whose existence was an affront to their principles. The island slept quietly, digesting its season-long meal of tourist wealth, as the Spontoonies breathed a collective sigh of relief for another year. As Mama Popoluma had reminisced to Oharu about her kittens, “Much hard work and pain at the time, oh yes! But must be done, for world to go on. And so much reward for effort.”
Leaving the eating-house, she walked through the quiet streets towards the sea. On the way was the partly built giant palm leaf and wooden statue that would go up in flames in two nights time; although “Hoopy Jaloopy” was not a religious festival as such, it was an important part of Spontoonie life and she felt it important that she was there with the islanders to share their festival. Despite her long day she felt quite wide awake as she looked up at the clear night sky, and then around to the islands sharply picked out in black and white moonlight.
The beach was empty of furs in the bright moonlight, and revealed some surprises. There were three aircraft there, three floatplanes safely drawn high up on the sand while their owners presumably slept or partied ashore for the night. Oharu was not surprised at that; although it had no engineered seaplane slipways like Eastern or Moon Island, Main Village generally had a few resting on the strand. Two were standard radial-engined biplanes, two-seater cargo aircraft of the kind that flew light loads such as mail between the Nimitz Sea islands. The third was the surprise. A sleek bullet-like nose swept back in a single unbroken line, the small canopy blended in without a bulge to a totally streamlined fuselage ending in an almost symmetrical rudder with nearly as much fin below as above the centre line. Under the fuselage just behind the cockpit were what looked like a pair of slender, hollow metal barrels a foot across that gleamed wetly in the sea spray touched by moonlight.
Oharu stopped, her night-wide eyes drinking in the vision. It was not a wholly unfamiliar sight to her, although she had never been closer than three hundred feet underneath the famous Tillamook-built “Mystery Ship” that had hurtled overhead one July day, competing in the early rounds of the Schneider Trophy that year. Engine reliability had been a problem that had kept it out of the last heats, she had heard. The priestess bowed her head respectfully, as she would at encountering an unexpected Tiki in the three-yard jungle. “Mystery ship,” she acknowledged its presence. “Aircraft without a name.” Indeed, the usual dedication on the engine cowling or under the cockpit was missing; its neighbours on the beach were proudly inscribed “Ice Breeze” and “Sweet Lightning” respectively.
Her tail twitched, as her eyes eagerly drank in the exotic sight. Flush rivets made the metal skin look as smooth as any fish, and indeed every inspection hatch showed where it had been smoothed over with liquid rubber, temporarily sealing cracks flush for the races that were sometimes won or lost by fractions of a second, where eliminating every minute eddy of turbulence could make all the difference. It was a very different aircraft to the ones it shared its beach resting place with, inside and out. Even from a distance she could sense that it was strange.
Still respectfully, she approached and put her long hand on the smooth metal; from the beach she could just reach up to touch those strange tubular structures without climbing onto the float. Lamblin pattern radiators, was the first identification, but there was something odd about them. If a regular aircraft’s spirit felt its coolant as blood, this knew it had ice in its veins – silver ice.
“May it be permitted?” She softly asked the night wind. She had often communed with the Kami of Angelica’s aircraft although that had been strictly business; the curse was in the spirit of the aircraft as well as on the Swedish feline, and it had been her duty to investigate it as for any doctor with a sick patient – or pair of patients, she corrected herself. Unlike the Spirits such as inhabited the Great Stone Glen, these metal souls were too new and simple to have ideas and conversation of their own – but the complexity of aircraft was increasing all the time, and possibly one day…
“Ahh!” Her eyes went wide in the night, her breath escaping with a sigh as she made contact. This was something new to her. On Eastern Island she had studied a wide range of transport and sporting aircraft, and even touched the hard-stressed spirits of other Schneider Trophy racers. They “spoke” in visions of what they were, what they had seen through their pilots’ senses and how the air had hammered or caressed their wings. As had the Mystery Ship, but this had strange experiences to be shared to one who knew how to ask. And although any of the Spontoon priestesses could have done this, she had not heard that any shared her love of aircraft. Any of them could do this – but quite possibly nobody had.
Wide blue skies, dark blue-black overhead, the air thin in the wings and in the engine, only the two-stage supercharger letting the engine breathe at all so far in the upper airs … no clouds around for unfriendly eyes to hide in, and only the endless blue-grey Pacific as a blank horizon, an emptiness without shipping, far from the lanes…
There! The radio coil hears the signal and the nose points at the planet, far ahead and below the bigger aircraft is in its dive already, its burden slung under the fuselage between the fixed wheels … Propellers set to fully coarse pitch, both of us diving steeper now but the twin-engined aircraft cluttered with drag, its fixed wheels and its burden holding it back even against gravity and its diesel radials, throttles pushed to the firewall… it swells in our view as we dive on it like a hawk on a pigeon, but aiming to miss and go under three hundred metres clear and faster, as fast as we dare…
Now! A streak of smoke from underneath the belly and the firebird wakes into life, its mouth open as it lies in that one spot where the air bends round the nose and compresses like invisible threads pushed close together, air squeezed tighter and faster around the diving aircraft then into the mouth of the firebird and tighter still….
Oharu broke off, holding the image in her mind. It was half a memory and half a dream of a metal mind, shown clearly but from a very strange viewpoint. The Kami of the aircraft knew air, its flow and speed and pressure – as its engine knew fire. This was something it saw but did not know. An image of her own sprang to mind; once she had sketched the stream above the great waterfall on the Southern bastion of Main Island. The stream flowed through a level meadow towards the lip of the falls, slow and wide. Just at the lip it squeezed between two boulders, its flow speeding up as it hurtled towards the abyss … beyond, all was spray and chaos. In her mind she substituted fire; racing air crushed into fire not in the staccato heartbeat of a diesel with its complex dance of valves and pistons, but in a smooth plume of accelerating gasses. She nodded, setting the image aside for later contemplation, and took up the story again.
And on past! Engine revs going off the clock, the air starting to pile up on the leading edge and the controls feeling stiff and heavy just as we start to pull out, the silver metal torrent straining to wash the heat from a screaming engine a heartbeat from tearing apart – the horizon level just as the firebird streaks past now flying free and accelerating, its nose pointed at the far distance. Steam heat and pressure spills from the Lamblins, two hundred kilos of added thrust as we strain to keep up, all our cameras and clocks are running, staring after it as It slowly pulls ahead riding on a line of fire and a thin wake of smoke in the unseeing skies…
Again, the mouse broke off to ponder. She had seen the Speed Week from afar, with some of the fastest aircraft in the world competing in level flight. This small “firebird” had left one of the better ones standing, streaking off into the distance even though the Mystery Ship had built up speed in a terminal velocity crash dive. What an engine it must have! And yet … there was something that did not fit properly. She turned the problem over and over in her mind, as if it was a statuette she wished to fully comprehend.
“Such speed. And yet. There should have been more. It is so small, and such power pushes it. There should have been still more.” She contemplated, holding the vision fixed in her mind. Suddenly another memory came to mind, of a happy day in her old life as a Miko some five years or so before when she had travelled on her one trip to Mount Fuji. There had been a railway goods yard they had passed, with all sorts of freight being moved and shunted. Although full trains were moved by snorting yard engines, fuel was dear and individual wagons were often handled by teams of sturdy furs with ropes, clad only in loincloths almost like sumo wrestlers in the summer heat. She remembered watching a flatcar laden with thick slabs of grey steel destined perhaps for battleships being moved – the dozen furs had strained and the flatcar moved – picking up speed but slowly, oh so slowly.
“I understand.” She noted. “An aircraft has much empty air inside it. This has not.”
Oharu bowed, backing away three steps as ritual prescribed before pausing to put her thoughts in order. As if she was leafing through a book, she looked through her every precise recollection of aircraft she had seen, and stopping at one particular page recorded in early Spring. There had been the day of cherry snows when she had returned past Moon Island and had a glimpse of something scorched and broken that swung from the crane of a recovery ship. From the way it had swung on the thick wire rope, it now occurred to her that it must have been surprisingly heavy for its size; no bigger than most aircraft’s floats. The intact parts she had seen had differed in minor detail from the vision she had just shared, but it was certainly from the same clan of metal fire birds, and no very remote ancestor at that.
“So. I asked myself that day if such a thing could work, and how well.” She nodded, digesting a fact that she realised held the value of many lives dedicated to protecting its secret. “One stumbled and fell, but its makers will have learned, for next time. And there will be many a next time.” Exactly what the racing aircraft was doing on a public beach on Main Island, was something to consider. Perhaps, she mused, having it moored at the military base on Moon Island would have various sharp eyes and quick brains putting two and two together. After all, the Tillamook ship was a private venture, a failed racer that had had its brief day of fame in Summer and was now being used as a personal runabout rather than be scrapped – or perhaps that was what the pages of the Daily Birdwatcher would be reporting in small print on the back page. She well knew that to be wholly silent on a story could itself be noted as highly significant.
The mouse stood another minute, contemplating. Then she packed the experience carefully away in the neatly ordered store-room of her mind, cleared her thoughts and calmly returned to Main Village for a full night of undisturbed sleep.
“I canna give her any more Captain, she’s gonna blow!” It was not a restful night aboard the old cargo steamer “Manila Vanilla”, currently twenty nautical miles West of Main Village, on the Fillypines-Rain Island run. The Chief Engineer stood back, the grizzled otter panting as he surveyed the hissing steam lines feeding their auxiliary bilge pump, the main one having fatally snapped a main valve stem the day before. Water sloshed around his booted paws as the ship swayed ponderously. “Ye canna change the laws o’ Physics – that’s the best she’ll do. I ken we’ll be needing the buckets as well. Wi’ all this top weight on deck and the water in here, she’ll capsize in mebbe twa’ hours if we cannae fix the leak.” Even as he spoke, the ship shuddered ominously as tonnes of water rushed to starboard.
“Captain! We’ve packed the seam but it’s still seeping in.” A prairie-dog popped his head up through a rusty hatch. “There’s a fathom of water in the bilges, and rising.”
The captain, a sea eagle of undetermined age and determined ferocity, bit through his cigar before bellowing down the corridor waking the twenty-strong crew of mostly Fillypino equines. “All paws on deck! Day watch, man the emergency pumps. Night watch – start heaving the deck cargo overboard. We’ll drop forty crates and then see how she rides.”
As the wallowing ship changed course for Eastern Island and the repair facilities there, the tired but no longer sleepy crew braced themselves to the job of unfastening and heaving over the side a longhouse-sized stack of wooden crates that hopefully might make enough difference for them to reach a safe harbour and repair facilities. “At least the wind and currents are with us”, the helmsman commented as he struggled to bring the ship’s bows around and noted the way the crates were drifting “could be, they’ll make landfall before us.”
Angelica Silferlindh woke slowly, the lithe feline blinking and closing her eyes again as she groaned and tried to get back to sleep. Being up all night was bad enough, but the work with the nets had been hard labour and although her pearl-diving had left her generally fit this pulled mercilessly on quite different sets of muscles. It was quiet around her in the longhouse; she had arrived in the grey dawn and staggered in exhausted, carefully avoiding waking the kittens before pulling her sheets over her head.
“Peace at last.” Her sharp ears brought her the sounds of distant village life, children playing, cheerful hails and a distant outboard motor starting up. There seemed to be nobody in the longhouse, which was a mercy. She had almost expected little Kama to be standing over her with that gleeful look, waiting for her to wake up and amuse her – but there was no fresh scent of any furs around her.
Angelica smiled, her head still covered by the sheets as she tried to blot out the bright sunlight. It must be after lunch time already, she told herself, conscious of her empty stomach. Kama! She was one bright spot in the village, although admittedly the kitten was annoying at times. She was probably playing with her new friend on the beach. The giant sea cucumber was about twenty times the size of any Angelica had ever heard of, and despite an astounded Tourist having gasped in shocked tones that the colourful invertebrate had no brain at all, Kama had trained it to retrieve thrown sticks from the shallows.
Just then, her nose twitched as the wind changed. There had been a smell of seaweed and salt water all along, but that was nothing new in the coastal village with nets always hanging out to dry outside the longhouses. Angelica was sure her fur must look a mess, having fallen asleep so tired she had not even washed the salt out of her fur. But there was something else. A scent that took her back to her homeland, where her family firm supplied Sweden with most of its imported …
“Bananas!” Her eyes popped open wide and she sat straight up, salt-caked fur bristling as the scent of dreadful memory hit her nose. Her life before escaping with the Silver Angel had been saturated with the fruit – the family talked, dealt and probably dreamed of the loathsome yellow lumps. They had even forced her to wear the things, and that had opened her up to the blackmail that had trapped her in this primitive village.
And she woke up alone in the longhouse, shaded by a row of dripping crates packed double height all around her, labelled “Republica Bananas; Produce Of Fillypines.” Outside she could see happy Natives hauling yet more boxes up from the beach, with fishing boats towing still more in to land.
The disgusted scream might not have actually been heard across the island in Main Village, but it was a close-run thing.
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