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Reposted 20 August 2012

Stranded Angel
Autumn 1936
Part 13
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.

Stranded Angel
  Autumn 1936

Part 13
by Simon Barber

A story of Angelica Silferlindh, from Freddy Andersson's Silver Angel comic strip
and Kama and other characters by Freddy Andersson;
featuring Oharu and characters by David Reese Dorrycott

and characters from Simon's Songmark Academy stories
Art by Simon Barber & Freddy Andersson

It had always been Angelica’s worst nightmare, to see her Silver Angel towed away from her. She had woken sweating many times in the months past with variations of the theme in her head – the villagers holding her back, the towing boat tearing her beloved craft from the beach and taking it to be impounded – or cut to pieces as scrap. A dozen times she had woken up in a panic and run out of Mama Popoluma’s hut, to check her aircraft was still there on the beach patiently waiting for her under the moonlight.

Angelica, with the 'SilverAngel' in the background - art & characters by Fredrik K.T. Andersson

    She patted the smooth metal engine cowling, scenting the coconut oil she had been using to preserve it from the salt-laden air. “It’ll be fine, baby, they’ll look after you. And I’ll visit you whenever I can.” Her tail twitched as she looked up at Ada and Belle, who had been given the evening off to return her aircraft to Songmark. “Are you sure you’ve got enough fuel onboard?”

    Ada smiled. “Angelica. We’ve put enough fuel in to go by way of Orpington Island if we wanted, and fly back against a typhoon headwind. We’ll be fine. We’ve part filled two separate tanks on different feed pipes, so even if we get a leak or a pipe blockage we’ll still have more than enough. It’s scarcely five minutes, and most of that’s taxiing or circling for permission to land.”

    “Not that we expect to have to circle, with the traffic this time of year” Belle added brightly, the rabbit wincing slightly as she folded her long ears into the flying helmet. “Are you sure you don’t want to come along with us? You could take a water-taxi back.”

    Angelica’s own tail drooped. “No. I’ll say goodbye here. I’ve got to be out on the fishing boats in an hour, I’d hardly get back in time.” Getting a fishing-boat ready for the night’s work was not as quick and simple as jumping aboard and roaring off like a tourist in a rented speedboat.  “You sure you can look after the Silver Angel?”

    “As well as the factory that built it,” Ada assured her. “Believe me, we’ve got a lot of people very keen to work on the project.” The canine felt her conscience give a slight twinge; it was certainly true that every part of the Swedish aircraft would be checked for damage and corrosion. That happened to involve first taking it completely apart – she just hoped Angelica did not turn up unexpectedly.

    Angelica’s ears went flat. “It was just six months ago,” she said, still stroking the smooth metal. “Father made me pose for that poster – but he agreed to get baby for me, for a round the world promotional flight for the family firm. I have to say, he made sure it was well organised. Fuel and spares were sent out ahead along the route, and a pilot and mechanic were ready to go with me. He insisted on that.”
    “What happened to them?” Belle asked, her tail twitching in curiosity. “I don’t suppose you made them walk the boarding-plank.”

    “What happened? I found out by accident what the full plan was. I’d been to the factory watching baby being built, I’d taken test flights, all the staff knew who I was. Which was good. Because I found out that the day before the start, they were ordered to paint her bright banana yellow and hang a ten-meter advertising banner from her tail!”

    “No Sky-writing?” Belle asked innocently, and jumped as Ada tweaked her tail.

    “Well. I couldn’t let that happen. There was only one thing to do. I told the factory I was taking her up for a last flight before they took her to the paint shops and … I just kept going. An hour later I was touching down in East Prussia for the first refueling stop. Everything was ready for me; I just told them it’d been a change of plan to start a day early. By the time Father found out where I was, I’d left Europe altogether.” She felt her ears droop a little, remembering what her flight plan had been after she was due to leave Spontoon. An exploration of the Thousand Islands where she had been castaway, in what would probably have been a vain quest for her mother. The dream the night before had not been the first one telling her Anita Silvferlindh was still alive.

    “Smart girl!” Belle applauded. “When I finish Songmark I’m not planning on going home, myself. I like the weather, and definitely the company around here.” Privately she wondered just why the world tour had been going through the Spontoons; it was one thing to tour Europe with advertising banners but she doubted the Polynesians were really going to want to buy bananas via Sweden when they grew in their own backyards. Still, a round-the-world trip necessarily had to cross the Pacific somewhere – unless of course it was a North-South route where trying to sell fruit to polar bears and penguins respectively would be a still more hopeless task.

    Ada tapped her on the shoulder. “Thinking of company, we’re expected back. Miss Devinski doesn’t like to be kept waiting. I’ll be back here at the weekend!” With that she waved, blew a kiss to Angelica and started up the engine.

    It was not as bad as her nightmares, but still Angelica felt her heart ache as she watched the Silver Angel lift off and head out over the horizon without her. “Baby’ll get the best care anyone can give,” she told herself , “another month sitting out there on the beach in the Autumn rain and …” she shivered. The corrosion was something that she had been hard at work keeping at bay, but that would soon have become a losing battle. Electrics were the first to go, she had been told, with the brass contacts corroding to green verdigris in the warm, salt-laden air of the beach. There was only so much that coconut oil and scrubbing with wire wool could do.

    Then there was no more time to stand and watch the empty horizon; with a sigh she turned and headed out towards the fishing boat that awaited. As with her oyster fishing, she enjoyed it rather more than the fish did – but not much.

When Ada returned to Eastern Island, most of her “free” evening was spent in furious work getting the Silver Angel stowed away in the corner of the dockside hangar. Belle, Prudence and Carmen could work on the physical side of docking it – but it was up to Ada to fill in the paperwork. She looked at the signature, and felt a delicious shudder run through to her tail-tip. She had almost written “Ada Popoluma.”

    “A hundred and ten shells a month, what with docking and insurance, mooring fees. Now I know why airlines charge so much for the tickets.” She rolled her eyes.  “I should be grateful Angelica isn’t a runaway German with a Dornier X that needs docking indoors.” The giant trans-oceanic liners were the success story of the decade, once their engines had been upgraded to powerful, fuel-efficient models and the prototype’s  cooling problems solved. The number of hangars worldwide that could completely hold one could be counted on a fur’s finger and toe claws; even in Germany they tended to be floating structures on lakes. Dropping tools or components was something every Songmark girl learned to avoid early in her first year.

    Prudence Akroyd came over to check the figures, wiping her paws clean with a rag. “Ey up, tha’ looks reet down in the muzzle fer a girl ‘as got ‘ersef Tailfast to an heiress.” Her long tongue lolled out as she grinned. “Just as well she’s an ‘eiress, tha’s going to need all the brass just lookin’ after t’ plane.”

    “I know. The deposit alone took all my free shells. I’ve got about enough to buy us all a coffee left, till the end of the month. We’ve got to get moving on those artwork plates. If we don’t – the Port Authority and Oharu are going to want slices off our tails.” Ada shivered. “No, I take that back. Oharu wouldn’t, she’d just ask Songmark, and they’d pay her. Miss Devinski, though…” She held her paws apart like a housewife asking the butcher for so much sausage, then her palm-edge came down in a series of sharp, chopping motions.

    Prudence’s long ears drooped. “Likely enough, reckon. I’ve asked around, there’s some folk wi’ contacts about printing and distribution. Not the sort o’ thing folk can just sell on the street corner.”

    “We can’t let the series be pirated,” Ada commented, closing her eyes. “I’ve asked Jane Ferry, her family are in the publishing trade. She’s strict Boston, and they wouldn’t print it there. She says Tijuana is the place. Her family firm doesn’t have any dealings with them, but she knows some names.”

    “Mixteca. ‘Appen we’ll want to do a deal, some established firm as can tek it.” Prudence looked thoughtful. “Let them worry about printing and distribution, pirates and all. That’s thinking o’ flat fee or sales commission?”

    “Both,” Ada replied promptly. “Four hundred and eighty shells, is what we’re paying Oharu. We need a lot more than that back pronto, not next year when they count their sales. We can hold out for both.” She struck a pose she had held as the “Fire Queen” in the portfolio.

    Prudence laughed. “’Appen we can.” Her tail swished, remembering the week before when they had been shown Oharu’s trial sketches sent over for approval. Regardless of what happened when Angelica was freed from her curse, Ada at least would have more than memories – in centuries to come furs would look at the two of them, captured forever on paper. Angelica at least had looked extremely “captured.” Prudence had never liked that idea herself, but had to admit the art project was spectacular. It was also proving extremely expensive to get started.

    “Well, we DO have Carmen to help with the language, fortunately,” Ada glanced over to her friend. The anteater was dipping her long tongue into a bottle of Camp Coffee, not exactly drinking as much as absorbing the intensely flavoured concentrate. “The only Mixtecan in our year; apart from that star-nosed mole in the first year, she’s the only one in Songmark.” She did not add that a lot of Mixtecans were extremely odd-looking furs. Still, they often had exotic talents to go with them – the moles were famous for being living lie-detectors, and Carmen had abilities she recalled with a warm flush remembering their first Songmark year.
    Twenty minutes later, the dorm was standing at attention in Miss Devinski’s office while their Tutor carefully read through the paperwork. At the end of it she put it down, and gave a single nod. “Very well.  So you have added another aircraft to our little squadron. As agreed, we will subsidise its storage and restoration. First thing tomorrow, all third-years will start learning how to care for weather-beaten aircraft – it’s one resource the world’s not likely to run short of. Dismissed.”

    As the four turned smartly and left with their tails high in excitement, Miss Devinski permitted herself a brief, but heartfelt smile. She now had two dorms who secretly worked part-time for Spontoon, and neither Prudence’s or Amelia’s dorm seemed to know about each other’s unscheduled adventures. Which was good – if there was one quality which could keep them alive in the line of work the Spontoonie chief Mr. Sapohatan specialized in, it was learning to keep your snout firmly shut.

On the ridge looking out over her village, Kama waved cheerfully at the fishing boats heading out on the sunset.  Angelica would be busy all night and asleep all morning; happily she had found some new playmates to learn from.
    The kitten picked up her galvanised bucket and trotted down the path with a purposeful air. Her pet stuck its front out of the water, the front end with its ring of tentacles looking almost but not quite wholly unlike a puppy cocking its head to one side enquiringly.

    Kama gave a gesture that explained she was going off to find her friends, who she knew were not too far away. There was an answering slop and gurgle from the bucket. Quietly, the two slipped along the jungle pathway in the last of the sunlight, with hardly as much as a leaf disturbed by their passing.
Kama and her 'pet' - art & characters by Fredrik K.T. Andersson

<We are NOT going back there again,> a large Doberman was saying determinedly just at that minute. <We just got away last time. That village is one huge trap for us. Did you get a reading off that Tiki ring? It felt like the way your fur stands up next to an electric fence.>

    <Calm down, Max.> His companion’s whiskers blew in the evening breeze. They were a mile West of Main Village and easily two miles from the encounter of the previous day; hopefully safe enough. <No, I’ll take your word for it. But we have to bring in something for the Prof. Good thing we’d not handed in our reports about this.> He gestured towards the carved altar. <We’ll just describe it and say we couldn’t understand it. We won’t tell him we know it’s a fake. With luck we could be safe here watching it for a week. If nothing happens – well, that won’t be our fault.> Their job, he reflected, tended to be like that. Months of research in ancient texts, days of field investigations followed by moments of panic terror. Afterwards – well, even those who survived an encounter sometimes ended their days bouncing off the walls of a padded room.

    Squatting on the far side of the clearing with the two tourists, Te’hame watched them with stoic patience. He was glad of the work this time of year; most Guides had already swapped their “Custom” costume for a practical set of shirt and shorts or lava-lava and were working on their family garden-patch. This would help keep Spontoon fed, but not help to gather foreign currency exchange. The grey fox had discussed his unusual customers with the village Priestess, after their encounter with Kama and her pet.  Evidently these Euros understood something of the manifestations of the local Spirits – at least they had seen something superficially like that elsewhere. Having Euros around who not only believed in the forces behind  local traditions but had their own abilities on those lines, was a new and rather disturbing development.

    Moritz studied the carven block intently. <It’s not at all like those ruins on Casino Island,> he commented <those are genuine Cyclopean Masonry all right. Our books say to watch out when you see that sort of thing. They’re ancient, too. This is new, and it’s totally different. Not in the same tradition.>

    The Schnauzer’s snout wrinkled. <Someone’s faked this. Why? To throw people off the scent? If it was just a film prop you wouldn’t have carved the back face too, it’d never show up on screen.>

    <I don’t care. As long as it’s a fake, it’s harmless. There won’t be any nasty surprises like we found clearing up what was beneath Castle Falkenberg. How any of us got out of that alive and sane I’ll never know.> Moritz idly threw a handful of rune stones on the suggestively carved altar with its unbelievable monsters doing things that not even a Spontoonie printed postcard would show (and mostly in threes, he noted, which could never be right). Suddenly he stiffened, his ears going right up. <But I think we ought to leave here. Right now. Something comes.>

    “Guide!” Max turned around to Te’hame “we have seen enough. Please to lead back to boat.”

    “Euro boss speak, I obey,” the fox bowed slightly as he replied in his best “Custom speak”, giving no hint he had understood the rest of the conversation. It was getting dark under the trees with long shadows cast by the setting sun, and his stomach was grumbling. The tourists had brought with them neatly foil-wrapped packs of biscuit and salami, as well as odd futuristic looking foods in toothpaste-like tubes. He had never seen their like before even, in Eriksson’s Outdoors that prided itself in having the most up-to-date products.

    Just as they left the clearing and headed downhill, Moritz turned for one last look back. He regretted doing that. Mercifully he had passed the point where he could see the altar directly – but he saw the shadows it cast on the cliff face. Something had materialised on the altar – a marrow-like shape with long writhing tentacles that seemed to stretch across the clearing. Even as he turned to flee in horror that reaching shadow leaped and skipped in a hideous parody of a young lamb or puppy at play.

    Behind him in the clearing, a small Spontoonie kitten frowned. She splashed cool seawater onto her pet as it looked up at her from its vantage point, the shadow stretched out across the clearing by the low setting sunlight. She shrugged, patting the bucket as she turned. She had just missed them today, but there would be other days to play. After all, with what they were doing, she could find them anywhere on Main Island. “Home,” she decided, as the frisky Holothurian jumped in with a small splash. There would indeed be other days.

Angelica woke late that next afternoon, the scent of fish strong in her nose. She smiled. “Well, that’s on the way at least.” Rather than her usual two or three claimed from the night’s catch, she had taken the full box she was entitled to and spent half an hour shivering on the beach in the grey dawn cleaning and splitting them, before laying them to steep in a big earthenware jar full of vinegar and lemon juice.

    As usual, her first act was to carefully check around her longhouse. Kama had a habit of surprising her, and the kitten’s sense of humour was liable to be … strange. But today there was nothing alarming, and she let herself relax as she tucked into a breakfast of breadfruit.

    “Ho!” Outside there came the familiar voice of Mama Popoluma.

    Angelica rose, inviting the Spontoonie in, with her youngest and next youngest kittens in tow. It was something, she realised, to have your own hut to welcome people into – even if it was rather bare. “Thank you for everything! I’m settling in here – I think.” She blushed. Settling in had been exactly what she had been trying to avoid for months.

    Mama P accepted the seat – rolled-up sleeping mats made for comfortable and economical furniture. “Kama she staying at Popoluma household for breakfasts,” she noted. “When is Missy Ada coming to stay?”

    Angelica’s ears burned. “She’s busy with Songmark, she can’t even get away every weekend,” she pointed out. “I know Kama doesn’t like sleeping here on her own, but I can hardly take her with me fishing all night. It’s dangerous. And if I’m working all night, I can’t be awake to light the fire-pits and make our breakfast as well. But you know all this.”

    The plump feline nodded. “Kama, she need parents. One parent half time, better than none like before. But not best.”

    Angelica’s paw went to her Tailfast ring, unconsciously. “I know. Ada, she’ll be here at the weekend. We’ll do what we can.” The Priestess Oharu had explained that traditionally, the rings were made and blessed on the Solstice days on Sacred Island, witnessed by the whole community. Four of Ada’s year were Tailfast already, and Amelia was planning to make that five the coming December. “I didn’t think I’d miss her like this. Just to talk to, nothing else right now. I know she wants to renew this ring in December.”

    Mama P smiled. “She good girl. You both work hard, after Songmark all finish she stay here I think.  Or maybe she follow you.”

    Angelica nodded, wordlessly. It had been bad enough with the poster advertising “Silvferlindh’s Pacific Gold” bananas, that had put her face and fur on so many billboards around the world. At least, that had not been her fault – she had been persuaded to do that by her Father, helping the family business. But once that portfolio of her and Ada reached the world market … she swallowed nervously. It was an even toss of the coin – considering what they were doing, some folk might think it more “respectable” if she and Ada really were married.

Not three miles away, someone else was looking at the banana advert posted on the wall of the café outside the Eastern Island airport.
    Jan VanderVeldt raised his rum-laced coffee in an ironic salute to the dancing figure. “Could have been worse, yes.” His black-tipped tail swished irritably. He had provided Angelica with enough fuel to take her aircraft to Eastern Island where she had presumably filled the tanks and headed off to Hawaii that very day. She had been irritating, yes – but he acknowledged that he was an easily irritated lion. She had been a nice looker, and very compatible considering he preferred smaller felines.
    The smuggler grinned. He had dropped the Baron’s seaplane off for repairs just the day before, and spotted that one of the island’s flying college’s girls was a lion mix with a house-cat tabby mother, to judge from her fur markings. That would have been a sight to see, he told himself. With Europe having struggled through a depression with millions unemployed, it must have been easy pickings for unscrupulous “recruitment agencies” that were more than they seemed. A lot of Euro girls had ended up in places and positions that did not feature on the adverts they signed up for.

    His eyes returned to the poster. “Well, she got away, at least.” Having Angelica taken in Spontoon waters by Hsien the slaver would have been a disaster; despite hardly being involved himself Jan would have had to run for it immediately and never return, an act that would itself have set hunters on his trail. The locals would have put every grey organization like the Baron’s under the magnifying glass – and the memory returned of him as a cub enjoying using one to incinerate ants and termites in the hot sun outside his family’s kraal. There was a lot that went on around the Nimitz Sea that was never reported in the newspapers; furs caught being involved with that trade did not get a trial. They tended to end up naked themselves, lashed bleeding to a razor-sharp coral reef with the crabs and the sharks arriving on the rising tide.

    Finishing his coffee, he checked his watch and strolled over to the seaplane hangar. “Five o’clock, time the plane should be ready.” After a brief bickering over the bill with the front office, he was shown into the big seaplane repair shed whose forecourt sloped down into the water.

    Jan stopped. There were four aircraft in there on beaching trolleys for repair; one was the Baron’s aircraft he was here to collect. One of the others was unmistakably the Silver Angel. His mane bristled at the sight. If nothing else, he had wasted an afternoon of hard work and the fifty gallons of expensive eighty-five octane petrol he had given Angelica for her escape.

    “That plane,” he pointed nonchalantly at it “a friend of mine had it on Main Island. It’s in for service, hey?”

    “Oh no,” the mechanic, a small spotted skunk, assured him. “It’s been moved here for storage, the Songmark school are looking after it. I’ve not seen the owner, she’s off on Main Island I think.”

    “Yass. That would be her.” Jan thought rapidly. Angelica had not escaped from harm’s way after all. He was the only one of the Baron’s team who went to Main Island, and since the end of the pearl season he had had no reason to do so. It was possible the Baron had no idea that the Silver Angel was Angelica’s aircraft, even if he saw it on Eastern Island. What Hsien might or might know was an open question. As long as Angelica stayed on Main Island with the Natives around her, she should be safe enough, he told himself. His tail swished. He remembered how devoted Angelica had been to her aircraft, and thought it a faint hope she would stay away from visiting it on Eastern Island. This could be very bad. Of course, actually telling Angelica what he knew about the price offered for her would be bad as well.

    Ten minutes later the paperwork for his own fast floatplane was finished and Jan taxied it around to Casino Island where it was usually moored. His ears drooped briefly as he saw who was waiting on the dock, pacing up and down impatiently.

    “Well, you took your time about it,” “Baron” Rutger von Krokk snapped, as Jan made the floatplane fast to the jetty and scrambled ashore. “We’ve got a new shipment in – from our contact in the Mare’s Nest Shoals. Three dozen airmail letters and two parcels.” In the Cayman’s latest attempts at secrecy, “letters” were regular pearls to be smuggled, and “parcels” were specimens of unusual size.

    “Yes, baas,” Jan forced his temper down. “All ready to send out first class? The plane’s serviced, I just need fuel and I can be out tonight.”

    “No, no,” a reptilian tail swished in annoyance. “I’m having trouble with the buyer’s contacts. There’s a rumour that one’s been caught, I want you to go to Hawaii and find out.”

    “The direct way? Fly empty?” Jan asked, his ears dipping. The wide Pacific was a good area for smuggling; apart from developed islands such as Spontoon the police and Customs presence was stretched so thin it was almost non-existent. The officious officials at each end made up for it though; three times that year his aircraft had been impounded and searched right down to the sumps of its fuel tanks, while he had stood back grinning at the sweating police furs knowing there was nothing to find. Actual contraband was picked up and dropped off on shoals and atolls within fishing boat range of its destination; he had smuggled cargos from Krupmark but left them stashed on remote beaches rather than risk running the gauntlet of Customs. Fishing boats were rarely searched without good reason the way aircraft were.

    “Yes, the direct way. I can’t trust this to letters or telegraph, you’ll have to ask around. Leave at dawn. I want that aircraft back in one piece, not smashed up night-flying.” Von Krokk glared at his pilot. “If you want to get paid, that is. Expenses are up. Bribes to up the hill on Krupmark cost nearly as much as paying customs tax. Makes a fellow want to go legal.” Both smugglers laughed sourly at that.

    “Yes baas.” Jan sketched a salute to his employer, and watched as the reptile stumped off. One good thing was the Cayman was less active in the cool season, and less likely to put his snout in other folk’s affairs. For a few seconds Jan stood glowering, his mind racing as he thought through the new and unwelcome chain of events. Then he nodded slowly, as he made his decision. There was one person he could tell the news to.

“So. Our delivery never left the post office. One wonders why.” Across the island in a sheltered, heated conservatory, Black Lotus reclined as she took the news without emotion. “Or at least her aircraft is here. Might she have sold it and used the money for a ticket out? Do we know exactly who owns that aircraft today?”

    “No, and no,” Jan replied. “She loved that aircraft like a cub, she’d never sell. But if something happened to her – yaas, maybe someone else sold it. She was scared of the locals deporting her, confiscating the plane. Maybe they did.”

    “One might be advised to find out – before someone else does.” Black Lotus’s scales hissed smoothly as she stretched, her pearl necklaces sparkling in the evening light. She looked down, caressing the large pink pearl. “I hear her Father has put a reward out for her safe recovery. Rather less than Hsien would pay – but far less troublesome all round.”

    The lion’s ears went up. “Details, ya? She owes me a barrel of fuel. I’ll go look for that cat – then she’ll owe me the price of a guide too.” Getting onto Main Island without a guide was getting more difficult as the tourist season ended; Spontoonies flooded back from Casino Island to work on the family farms, and there were a lot more suspicious eyes and noses to avoid. “But dawn tomorrow I’ve got to be off to Hawaii, pearl business. Take mebbe three days if everything goes well. If I have to hunt for new contacts, like if Charlie’s operation was busted totally … well, don’t wait up for me.”

    “Indeed. I will investigate this reward, through my own contacts.” Black Lotus ran a forked tongue across lipless gums. “Yes. And then we shall make sure we choose how this Swedish girl leaves the islands. I believe Hsien will not depend on the Baron entirely – not if he can obtain her for less. By mammal standards, I believe she is a most prized specimen.”

    “Oh yass,” Jan grinned. His tail thrashed. A prized one indeed. And catnip worked just fine on her; she was not one of those felines who for some reason were immune to it. Getting back in touch with Angelica might combine business and pleasure, after all.

    On Main Island Angelica had enough to worry about without thinking what her ex-employers might be doing.  True, she no longer had the Silver Angel to fuss over – but she was discovering that being in charge of a household was a lot of hard work. As evening approached, she had a kitten to look after before heading off to work fishing.

    “There, Kama, how’s that?” She tested the water in the big galvanised tub by the fire-pit. In Summer, a dip in the stream was perfectly adequate as a wash and a welcome chance to cool off – but this was October, and it was surprisingly chilly on some days.  Heating enough gallons of water to fill a proper bath was a long job on an open wood fire; she recalled with a twinge of regret the big cast-iron Scandinavian wood stoves with their handy built-in water boilers. Though bananas were probably a poor choice of import to the Spontoons, those might be a good seller, she told herself. Being brought up in a business was no bad thing, she reflected – in any trade but bananas.

    The kitten giggled, and stepped into the hip-bath. Her fur was plain, with no particular patterning unlike most of the islanders who tended to be spotted or striped. Her head-fur was dark and lustrous and reached to her tail root; Angelica carefully soaped and combed it, teasing out the snags. Her tail drooped. She could hardly remember her own mother doing this; there were vague memories of a warm, jasmine scented blue-tiled bathroom in Sweden, with snow outside on the windowsills.

    “That’s you done. Now to get you dried off.” She had few “euro” supplies, but there was a big, fluffy towel that was the size of a bed sheet to Kama. There was a happy squeak as she vanished entirely inside it, leaving Angelica to try and find the wriggling figure inside by the shape.

    Brushing down the tousled kitten-fur, Angelica found herself relaxing. She had started to acclimatise to this at Mama Popoluma’s; the round feline rarely wore much in Summer and her youngest kittens nothing but their fur around the house.  She had wondered at first about the great variety of fur patterns in that family, though all were felines. “I expect Mama P will be glad to have us out of the way now,” she told Kama “she’s probably going to need the room, next year. She does like kittens. And she’s not someone who does things by halves. I think the word is a kindle of kittens, in old English.”

    Kama looked up curiously at Angelica, and gave a complex gesture that somehow came across quite clearly. “Kitten?” She asked, looking into Angelica’s eyes.

    “You mean … me and Ada? You … you want brothers and sisters? From us? Oh my.” Her ears blushed furiously, while Kama happily nodded. “We can’t do that.”

    Kama looked her up and down with an odd intensity that Angelica had only seen a few times before, and gave another gesture.

    “Well, yes, we are officially Tailfast. Blessed by a Priestess and everything.” Angelica admitted. “And most folk who get Tailfast do get married. Most couples do have children. But one of the pair is generally male…”

    Kama squeaked happily and hugged her, small furry arms wrapped round Angelica’s slender waist. She submitted herself to being combed and put to bed, while Angelica made ready for her night’s work.
    As Angelica boarded the boat, she felt her ears droop. Kama was a child of the islands in more ways than a passport could describe, she had been told. Looking back at the village, her heart raced. “Kama thinks I’ll be here to see her growing up.” She stared at the new longhouse, with its solitary occupant. “A month ago I’d have thought it the worst thing in the world, to know that was going to happen. I still want to get back to Sweden, yes. But – I can’t take her with me.”

An hour later, dusk fell on the village as a small kitten looked out over the waters where a scattering of lights showed the position of the fishing fleet, hunting out over the fertile shoals and banks a few miles offshore. She gave a whistle, and in a few minutes something greenish and marrow-shape sloshed and skipped its improbable way out of the surf, its front end cocked up inquisitively.

    Kama gave a brief gesture that explained that although it was late and past her bedtime, there was an important thing than needed to be asked. She trotted determinedly along the beach to the Eastern end of the village, where a small longhouse with carved beams proclaimed a Priestess lived. Just before leaving the beach she scooped up a gallon of fresh, oxygenated seawater in her bucket which she patted for her pet to happily bound into.

    As she approached the hut door opened; evidently she had been expected. Kama did not look at all surprised.
    “Kama Popoluma,” a grave-looking grey mare looked down on her, before squatting to be nearer the kitten’s level. “Welcome to my house. How may I serve you?”

    Kama gestured. “Playmates.” Her fingers and tail wound in a complex explanation. The priestess patted the ground in front of the fire, and sat down. For a few minutes there was silence, broken only by the crackling of the flames as a mare looked deep into the fires, seeking an answer for her guest.
    At last she stirred. “Kama. I can see this may happen – but it will not be soon. There are many futures where this will be. What you ask for, will not be this year or maybe not the next, unless something from outside the pattern makes a great change.”

    A small set of feline ears went right down. Kama gave a more determined gesture, as of reaching within and repairing – at least, changing something.

    The Priestess gave a gasp, and her own ears laid flat against her head. “You are that determined? You would make that possible?” She looked at the kitten, who nodded eagerly. “Yes, I feel that you could. If you asked the Spirits, I do not think they would deny you. Angelica is a Spontoonie now, by adoption, and this makes such things much easier.” Missy Pohovic looked into her small visitor’s eyes. “But … though you could, I would ask you not to. Not unless Angelica and Ada both wish the same – and ask it of you. It is a great gift, but it would come as a very great surprise to them. Such should always be a welcome surprise.”

    Kama’s ears drooped, and the thing in the bucket sloshed in sympathy.

    Missy Pohovic gave a sad smile. “If you wish my advice – enjoy your family as it is. When I looked into the fires I could see many paths on which you will not walk together for very long. Both Ada and Angelica have many things in store for them. And in the coming darkness, there is much that may be lost.”

    There was a silence. Then Kama asked another question, finishing with two gestures which described muzzle whiskers and cropped black ears respectively. The Priestess frowned, turning again to look into the flames.

    “Yes. Those two Euros, and the wise one who reads the old books on Casino Island. They are not like other tourists – or missionaries either. They seek to learn from us, but for their own reasons. Huakava, she named them “Knights of the great Worm.” They are warriors, even though they run from what they find. The wise one on Casino Island knows that one day they will not have to run, when they know enough. Watch them.” At a questioning splash from the bucket, the mare smiled. “And yes, you may “play” with them as you have been. They have seen things in other dark places that led them to fear such as you.”

    Kama yawned, standing and stretching sleepily. She bowed gratefully, a gesture the priestess returned, before trotting out into the night, stopping only to return her pet to the sea.

As night fell, out on Eastern Island the lights still burned in the aircraft hangars. Despite the end of the tourist season the repair workshops were always busy; aircraft that had flown hard for months were pulled in for full annual overhauls, time-consuming jobs that would eat painfully into profit margins if they had to be done in August.  Both Songmark and the Technical High School sent their students out on that seasonal job; there was nothing like actually restoring aircraft to teach the techniques.

    “Hmm,” Ada scratched her head-fur as she took the engine covers off the Silver Angel. “Angelica did a good job maintaining this – considering the circumstances.”

    “Parked nearly three months on a beach, day and night!” Belle’s rabbit tail shivered in sympathy. “Salt water, blowing beach sand, bird droppings … scorching heat by day, and her with only fresh water, wire wool and coconut oil to use. It’s amazing it still flies.”

    Ada waved for Prudence and Carmen to winch the big roof-mounted hoist closer, and secured the lifting chains securely under the engine block. There were things Angelica could never do without a workshop; she had taken off all the easily accessible components to check why the engine would not turn over, but removing the half-tonne block had been quite impossible. Even if she had managed to rig an A-frame with ropes and timbers, getting the engine off at the right angle without damaging it would have been an awful job, no matter how many willing villagers had been available to haul on the ropes. Lining up the engine on its bearers was a task that needed precise lifting tackle that ran on rails, not manila ropes lashed to improvised braces.

    “Bolts are all free,” Ada sang out a few minutes later, waving the wrench. “It’s all clean on top, but we’ll see what the engine bearers look like.” The engine sat on long alloy brackets that secured it to the firewall, and were quite hidden by the cylinder block. Angelica would never have been able to inspect them as the Silver Angel sat on the beach. Suddenly Ada’s ears and tail went up in shock as Prudence and Carmen heaved on the chain hoist and hauled the engine block out of position revealing what was underneath.

    Standing in the shadows looking on as her third-year class worked like a Schneider Trophy team on race day, Miss Devinski smiled as she watched. Her eyebrow raised as she heard the choice words from Prudence’s dorm as they discovered what salt water and high temperatures next to the engine had done to the aluminium/magnesium castings that formed the engine bearers. It was just as well they had checked; mentally she awarded them another five points.
    “And it’s just as well,” she told herself as she returned to the duty bungalow with a light heart, hearing the shocked discussion fading behind her “just as well that third-years have classes in making spare parts. This term, they’re going to need some.”


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