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Uploaded 24 February 2014

Stranded Angel
Autumn 1936
Part 16B
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 16B
by Simon Barber

A story of Angelica Silferlindh, from Freddy Andersson's Silver Angel comic strip
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

On the far side of the world from the Spontoon Islands, there was another scattering of islands that were currently enjoying some late October sunshine. These were not coral-fringed and sandy shored atolls looking out into the endless waters of the Pacific though - they were low, ice-rounded granite islands in the great funnel-shaped Swedish fjord leading to Gothenburg, Angelica Silfverlindh’s home town. On one of the larger ones was a new and tidy-looking modern Scandinavian timber house, well suited for a newly prosperous businessman and his family.

“Märta! Märta - oh, there you are!” Alfred Silvferlindh, founder of the main banana importing empire of Scandinavia, stood at the foot of the staircase as he spotted his loyal maid cleaning the landing above him. “Wonderful news - a telegram from the Spontoons. Another report of Angelica - she’s alive and well, and we might manage to get her out of there!” The grey-furred feline waved a telegram flimsy, apparently sent by someone called “Miss Lotus.”

“Yes, Sir.” Märta Swenson paused in her dusting and forced a smile to her face. “It’ll be good to see the young Miss back where she belongs.” Across the fjord was the city, centred around where a big statue of a Swedish King in costume of the Three Musketeers era pointed at the ground as if to say ‘build the place right HERE.’ Within sight of that was the docks and the headquarters of Silvferlindh Pacific Gold Bananas, a place that the delinquent daughter of the household had been known to run away from screeching in horror, to wash the scent of bananas off her fur.

“I’d almost lost hope.” Alfred pressed the telegram to his heart. “But when I found out she was alive, those paintings that couldn’t have been of anyone else … it was as if I came alive again myself.”

“We can hope she’ll soon be back again, tending to the business.” Märta’s ears drooped for a second. Angelica Silvferlindh was an ungrateful brat, she thought. Her father had been almost bankrupt before starting the fruit import business, now profitably providing Scandinavia with most of its delicious, health-giving bananas. And had Angelica appreciated it? To add insult to ingratitude, they had bought her a wonderful new aircraft that was to be painted bright banana yellow and tow the company’s advertising banners on a trip around the world - but Angelica had flown off with it for her own selfish reasons, and refused to come home.

“Oh. Just to have her here. She’s all I have left, you know.” Alfred’s gaze grew unfocussed, as he looked out over the sunlit water along the fjord. There was a minute’s pause. “I’ll be out in the gardens till late, Märta. A lot to think about. Take the evening off.”

“Yes, Sir.” Märta curtseyed, her maid’s pleated skirt rustling. As she turned away from her employer, her whiskers twitched in annoyance. Throwing the cleaning cloths into the stair cupboard as she passed, she stormed upstairs to her small bedroom in the attic.

Once the door closed, she confronted her reflection in the old mirror that stood on the only vertical wall in the corner attic room. She blinked through four layers of glass; the mirror twice over and her own big, round spectacles. A feline like the Silvferlindhs, she was a slim country girl from inland near Molynyke, and had been in the family service five years.

“That Angelica.” Her ears went down to press tight against her skull. “That spoiled, haughty little Miss. She’s coming back? It was bad enough last time.” Märta had liked her job when she had started; Angelica had been at school in England and only came home in the Summer holidays - even then she had been staying as far away from the family warehouses and business as she could manage, with her sailing and flying lessons. “The longer she stays away, the better.”

Märta sat down heavily on the narrow bed, and as she calmed down a small smile came to her snout. Of course, she was glad her employer’s daughter was alive. Mr. Silvferlindh had been distraught at Angelica having vanished before he had even said goodbye; the last time they had spoken it was when he had been leaving for North Norway promoting bananas as a natural athletic food at the world hammer-throwing festival at Hämmerfest. He had planned to return in time to see his daughter off in her freshly painted bright yellow aircraft bearing the company’s name across the world, but by that time Angelica had been already two days on her way in a still unpainted aircraft lacking the colour scheme and family advertising that had been the entire point of the trip. She was supposed to be in the back seat with a pilot and a chaperone/mechanic looking after the unladylike business of flying, but she had left them behind by a particularly sneaky trick.

“What a way to find out she’s alive, though.” After months of silence a very exclusive portfolio of drawings had appeared on the market, which showed how Angelica had been spending some of her time and all of her virtue. Exactly how Mr. Silvferlindh had found about them was still a mystery; he did not generally collect such. Märta had blushed to her tail-tip at the sight of some of the scenes when she had accidentally seen the portfolio, but a few days later found reason to do a late-evening dusting session in the locked cabinet where it was carefully stored. There had been other perusals since. A healthy, respectable girl from the countryside was not meant no know such things could even happen, and some of it still hardly looked like fun. Knowing it was happening to the proud and snobbish Angelica though … that changed things, Märta thought. As the Pastor frequently told her on Sundays, people in the end got what they deserved. It was good to see it happening.

Relaxing, Märta slid out of her stiff black uniform and stood in her slip, feeling the warm rays of sunset through the window. It was not so warm outside; despite the week of fine weather October in Sweden could change into Winter very quickly, and this might be one of the last sunny days of the year. The house on the island would be closed up in a few weeks; there was only a small motor boat bouncing across the open fjord to link them to the town every day and then the town-house would be the main family home till April brought warmer days and calmer waters. Her ears rose. “A better kitchen in the townhouse, at least - and all the raw material I need to work with, from the warehouses.” On her bookshelf was a small selection of mostly cookery books, three of which she had a paw in writing herself - slipping in half a dozen recipes involving the family product into a collection of traditional dishes intended for schools had been her idea, and after the book had been approved for all Swedish and Norwegian school cookery classes, sales had soared (having their own colonies complete with banana plantations in the West Indies, Denmark was proving a tough market for the family firm to crack).

“And Angelica can’t stand the sight or smell of them. More fool her.” As the sun went down, she relaxed and let her mind wander. There had been quite a few indignities inflicted on Angelica in that portfolio, but the unknown artist had missed out one of the most appealing ones. Wishing that she could draw that scene, Märta switched off the light. First as always she checked that the fruit bowl was stocked for a midnight snack - or whatever else occurred to her.

The hour the sun was setting over Scandinavia, on the far side of the world it was rising over the Pacific Ocean where the errant member of the Silvferlindh family was currently fast asleep in a nearly new longhouse. Angelica lay by the warm embers of the fire-pit, having staggered in off the night fishing boat at her usual six in the morning and promptly fallen fast asleep. It was easier this time of year with the dawn getting later and her not having to get to sleep in the light.

Next to her a small kitten yawned and stretched, blinking as she looked around at the new day with an ever-present wonder. Life was good to her, she decided. Now she had a Mother, two Mothers in fact - and today she would get to meet both of them. Kama wriggled, throwing her blanket off and patting the floor next to the pool. Something splashed happily in the water, and a green sea-creature hopped up onto the smooth clay surroundings. Having no head as such, it was hard to define which was its tail end - but its tail end wagged eagerly as Kama threw it a scrap of fish.

“Swim!” Kama decided happily, pointing towards the beach. And with a bouncing wriggle and a pattering of kitten paws, a girl and her pet ran down to their morning bathe in the clear Pacific waters.

On the Western ridge above the village, a Spontoonie guide was relaxing in the mid morning as he watched over his two Euro visitors. Both were canines of middle years, one a wolf and the other a silver fox, and so far had shown no signs of misbehaving. This made a nice change, as did the fact of having any visitors to guide in October.

<Yes, that is her, Professor,> the wolf said quietly as a pair of Zeiss binoculars focused on two small figures now frisking in the surf. <I have met them most days when collecting bio-humic material; we are only in the next village after all. And her pet, yes. Very interesting.>

Professor Schiller, for that was he, twitched his tail as he looked on. <That is the one my men described. Poor boys. They have medals from the War, you know. And they ran away from this pair.>

<They should be given more medals then, for using their brains!> Kurt von Mecklenburg und Soweiter snorted. <If we could see as light the power that we know of, she would light up half the island! That your men ran away was a wise move. I hope you will not order them to do anything foolish. They would refuse and you would lose their loyalty - or they would try to obey and you would lose them. And maybe much else.>

<No, no. She is a fascinating study. Like a rainbow, one would learn from observing but not try to bring it home. Most things in these islands are the same. I have Max and Moritz measuring ancient sites and making wax rubbings of certain carvings on Casino Island, no real danger there. My niece has told me of various other special locations, one in Songmark itself, the only one I cannot have access to. No matter. She is investigating that one for me.> Professor Schiller shrugged, putting the binoculars down. <And you, how is your work going? I hear most impressive reports from the locals. Any fish-head or cabbage stump lives in terror of being seized and dragged away.>

The wolf smoothed down his impeccable boiler-suit. Working paws-on in the Pacific’s first full-scale composting power station was not the cleanest of jobs but he made a point of always looking impeccable - as a matter of fact he had a dozen identical suits scattered around his site and changed them whenever they got dirty. <Spontoonies are a hard- nosed bunch; they spend so much time fooling tourists it’s very hard to fool them. I wouldn’t want to try. What you have to do is demonstrate things working - then they might ask about the theory behind the idea. They’re an impossible “sell” for any ideology. They must want to buy.>

<Ah, yes. You take in rubbish, you give them good compost and electrical power, the machinery financed with your own money. Explaining how the Earth-Spirit benefits, is something you wait until they ask you about.>. Professor Schiller nodded. <Standing up in the main square talking about Blood and Soil would get you an audience, but no converts. Missionaries and politicians expounding on Casino Island are regarded as free street theater They find such highly amusing. >

<Exactly. And why not? When I first got here, I had a Priestess asking me very difficult questions. What I was doing, and why - they could tell it was not to make money. They have had people here before from Vostok, from Japan, from America, with enterprises that were more than they seemed. Any time a foreign enterprise sets up here, employing Spontoonie workers and demanding their loyalty, it is the same. Had I lied about anything…> The fox shrugged. <I would not have got this contract. Priestesses know. They are in tune with the Mystic strength of their folk. I recommend you stay well clear of them.>

Professor Schiller laughed, putting the binoculars in their case and standing up. <If they ask, I shall tell them. I am looking for what they call Euro artefacts that were brought here from their rightful place. Not Spontoonie secrets, at all. I am looking for information, on how such things were made, how they work. Ah, and if once we can make such ourselves, to do what we need and not what was wanted three thousand years ago! My dear niece thinks the Horn of Heimdal is in the Vanierge group, it is her dearest wish to find it first, then present it to me or to Berlin directly. She won’t find it there. I know it went to Vanierge from Lapland - but I think it is nearer Spontoon these days. Considerably nearer.> He winked.

With that, he rose, and gestured to their guide that it was time to return towards Vikingstown. There was roast pork knuckle in the Berliner style on the menu for lunch, and Kurt kept a generous table and an excellent Spontoonie cook.

“What’s it for lunch today?” Belle Lapinssen’s bunny nose twitched delicately as she scented the greaseproof-paper package her friend and dorm-mate Ada was wrapping. “The Tutors must like us this week, letting us make our own arrangements - I’m sick of those old cans of Maconochie.” She happily patted the basket of salad destined for her own meal. “Wouldn’t surprise me if the Great War really finished in 1918 because nobody could stomach the stuff a minute longer.”

Ada opened the packet and wafted the scent Belle’s direction - and grinned at the reaction as the scent hit the rabbit’s keen nose. “Gefilte fish, there’s a new place on Casino Island that sells it and all sorts of Euro traditional foods. That’ll keep me going through an engine change. It’s a hard job today.”

Her ears drooping, Belle stuck her tongue out. “That would keep me going too - going so fast upwind you wouldn’t see me for dust. I’d rather stick my snout in an oil sump.”

“That can be arranged.” Ada tweaked the rabbit’s tail playfully. “At least Angelica appreciates good food. She’s been telling me about this nice preserved shark they mostly live on up there - ‘hakarl’ I think they call it. They bury it in the beach for months then dig it up.”

“Or better still, drive a stake through its heart and leave it there.” Belle ‘beeped’ a canine nose.

“Gi’ owwer, pair of ‘thi.” Prudence Akroyd put her long snout around the corner. “We’ve none so much time today. Silver Angel’s got ‘er day in workshop, Superior Engineering want their crane back tomorrow.”

“We’re on our way.” Ada sang out, slinging her tool bag over her shoulder as she and Belle followed their leader out of Songmark. The four of them had Passes to work on Angelica’s aircraft all day, and there was what promised to be a lively party at the Double Lotus that evening. Prudence’s mate Tahni had promised to be there, which would be the first time that month they had managed to meet up. Third-year Songmark timetables were hectic.

As she caught a glimpse of Main Island through the buildings, Ada felt her tail droop. It had been a week since she had seen Angelica; since term started the feline had been on night fishing, and their timetables had hardly overlapped. Third-years got weekend passes when not otherwise occupied, but free time was like the fabled military “unconsumed portion of previous day’s ration” - a rare event.

“I hope Carmen’s got the Silver Angel moved out ready for us,” was her comment. “We’ll be taking the whole front off the aircraft, right back to the firewall. It’s going to be a full day’s work.”

Belle wriggled her tail, a dreamy expression on her face. “But a party tonight, that’ll be something to look forward to when we’re wearing the fur off our paws with wrenches for the next nine hours. At the lotus you can always find someone to kiss it better.”

Ada nodded, but there was no enthusiasm behind it. The Double Lotus was a fun place, and full of friendly company. But there was only one she really wanted to share it with right now - and it would be weeks till Angelica could appreciate such a crowd. Assuming they did manage to meet on such a precious time, Ada had no intention of introducing her Tailfast partner to any such temptation.

She looked down at her toolkit, and gave a wry smile. “I don’t expect Angelica would like the sight of her aircraft in pieces,” she said. “I’d love to see her almost any time - but it’s a good thing she isn’t here today!”

Later that day at about the same time Ada Cronstein was tucking into her gefilte fish sandwiches, the girl who wore her Tailfast ring was waking up after a good morning’s sleep.

Angelica Silvferlindh yawned, stretching as she checked the position of the sun over Mama Popoluma’s rooftop. “Just after midday,” she told herself, having got accustomed to living without clocks and watches in the village. She relaxed for a few seconds, then her ears perked up. “Today’s the day I promised I’d take Kama to Eastern Island! And see baby again.” From anyone else it might have sounded odd that she had a kitten to look after, but devoted her few maternal feelings to her aircraft. Kama was something to be cleaned, fueled and maintained - most of the time.

After a brisk wash in fresh water and a rapid fur-grooming, Angelica dressed in her best lava-lava and stepped out into the village street to look for Kama. A quick check of the beach showed no trace of the kitten or her disturbing pet.

“She’s not playing, it’s lunchtime, so that generally means … food.” Angelica’s tail swished. She was heading towards Mama Popoluma’s longhouse when she heard familiar voices and spotted the Popoluma kittens in a neighbors longhouse, happily tucking into a great steaming bowl of poi.

“Sister Angelica!” Nelooma, the eldest there was about nine and happily waved her over. “Come and eat with us!”

Angelica was about to turn her nose up at the awful pasty vegetable mess, but forced herself to smile and nod. That she had been adopted into the Popoluma family was an advantage in that she now had a home without looking over her shoulder for the local Police to drag her off to be deported - but discovering she was adopted not only as Kama’s mother but the big sister of the other Popoluma kittens was a strain.

There were two older Popoluma sisters, one of whom was living in Europe much to Angelica’s envy, while another was a little nearer civilization in Hawaii. Mama P was a widow, but despite her husband having been drowned in a storm at sea some twelve years before, even the newest kitten of the growing family was officially legitimate and treated as his. Spontoonies had some very perverse customs, Angelica reminded herself for the thousandth time.

“Thank you.” With an effort, she nodded graciously to the ursine lady of the house and sat down while the family cubs and the Popoluma kittens eagerly scooped three-finger poi from the pot with every sign of enjoying it. “Where’s your Mother? Is she off to market?”

Nelooma paused, and gave a smile. “Mother, she home in longhouse, she like to teach.”

Angelica nodded. “I expect there’s folk stories and dances. She’s full of those.” Personally, she thought, she could have done well without them, and would have swapped her adopted Mother’s whole folklore and primitive mythology for a good modern radio that could get dance music from Hawaii (or better still, Europe). The local Radio Lono had too much local talent for her tastes, though the radio contortionists and jugglers were admittedly impressive. “Kama? Remember we’re off to Eastern Island today. Maybe if there’s enough fuel we can fly in the Silver Angel, even. Ada promised she’d take good care of it.”

“Fly!” Kama bounced happily on the mat. “Air’plane!”

“Oh, yes. We can go, at last.” For a precious moment Angelica closed her eyes and relaxed, imagining the feel of the beautiful silver machine around her. Her tail twitched. She could fly only with Kama sitting next to her, she knew. And Kama was her adopted daughter, not that she had exactly volunteered for the job. The last time she had been ready to flee the islands, she might have been accused of kidnaping Kama. But since she had adopted her … this time she surely had a right to take Kama wherever she went. To Hawaii or even …

She felt a strange sensation, and opened her eyes to see Kama looking straight at her, the kitten’s gaze seeming to pierce right to her deepest thoughts. Angelica’s ears blushed. “To Eastern Island, I mean. That’s where we’ll go!”

As the poi vanished at record speed into two families of hungry Natives, Angelica looked on impatiently. Her own longhouse had pottery trays of Lutefisk in preparation, kept on high shelves so Kama did not take it down and give it to the “bio-humic waste collectors” as she had the first batch along with whatever dead fish and sea creatures were washed up on the tide. That gelatinous fishy treat would not be ready until Christmas though - and from what she had heard, Winter on Spontoon was no place to sunbathe. True, she mused, the same was true of Sweden, but at least there you got some useful snow, with the skiing and sledging that went with it.

“Finished, Kama?” Seeing the kitten’s happy nod, she took her small paw and led her out towards the Southern edge of the village. They had to cross the main spine of Main Island, past the reservoirs that kept Main Village supplied, then down to the docks to look for a water taxi. The sea-cucumber nestled on Kama’s shoulder like a bizarre pirate’s parrot, its front tentacles waving happily. Angelica carefully avoided looking at it.

“At least I get paid in cash now - by Native standards it’s not bad.” She felt the cloth purse under the outer layer of her lava-lava; her week’s wages from the fishing boat could buy enough cheap poi or sweet potato to choke an ox, but hardly enough imported high-octane petrol to get the Silver Angel off the water let alone to Hawaii. “Supporting a longhouse and an aircraft are two quite different worlds, worse luck.”

Just then they passed Mama Popoluma’s longhouse, where that worthy was just emerging from inside. “Ho! Angelica going for stroll with little Kama again?” The rotund feline looked her adopted daughter and granddaughter up and down, a twinkle in her eye. “Is fine day, calm seas good for water-taxi.”

“We’re off to Eastern Island, to see how they’re looking after the Silver Angel,” Angelica put as much politeness into her voice as she could. She knew just what these Natives had done for her and told herself she should appreciate it - but had to admit that in her heart she barely felt grateful. Mama P seemed as irritatingly cheerful as ever, and if anything even more relaxed.

“You see Missy Ada, tell her to come see Kama more often! We make fine Spontoonie luau, cook her fine chicken, she not eat traditional roast pork.” Mama P winked. “You two too-skinny girls, better with good figure.” She rubbed her neck-fur meditatively, where it was evidently somewhat tousled and bitten. “Even hard-work Songmark girls have they holidays sometime.”

“I’ll invite her if I see her,” Angelica curtseyed as best she could in her lava-lava, and hurried out of the village. She had seen feline girls and a few other species rub their necks like that before, she was sure about it. For a second she stopped, her eyes wide. “Mama P?

No. Surely not. She’s a respectable widow.” Blushing at Kama’s enquiring gaze, she scooped up the happily squeaking kitten onto her shoulders and they headed up the hill.

“So - that’s everything tested and married up, ready to reconnect.” Ada Cronstein stood with her gloved paws on her hips as the echoes of the Silver Angel’s engine died away on the test stand. “The new steel bearers are fine, and the engine’s passed certification. Just got to reattach it to the fuselage now and she’s all ready.” She happily waved the official form, signed by one of Superior Engineer’s engineers and stamped by the airport authorities. “Angelica should be happy.”

“Si! That engine can take her anywhere - right around the world.” Carmen immediately knew she had said the wrong thing, as Ada’s ears and tail drooped. “Excuse! I did not mean that.” They worked in silence for a few minutes, getting the engine secured on the chain hoist and bolting the new bearers to the aircraft’s firewall.

“It’s true, though, that’s what hurts most.” Ada took a deep breath. “I don’t think she’ll be staying. What could she tell her family about us? I’m some sort of accessory she got as part of an island curse? It’d be bad enough for them anyway - let alone the fact that she’s not even interested in me three and a half weeks a month.”

“It is getting longer though,” Belle commented. “At the current rate - maybe she will want to be Tailfast officially this year. That’d be a sight to see!”

“It’s not right for her, though.” Ada said. “That’s what Rabbi Miller has a lot to say about. He’s right there, I can’t argue with him.” She paused, then a gleam came to her eye. “In fact, he’s usually right. Though I thought that high-speed electric Ouija board I used to have was fun.”

Just then Prudence came dashing in from the open hangar doors where they faced the launching slips looking out towards Moon Island. She skidded to a halt, her gaze flicking from the half-built aircraft to Ada.

“Ey, yon lass Angelica - she’s in a water taxi. She’s coming here, reckon!”

Ada’s fur bristled out in surprise. “Of all the times!” She passed the chain hoist to Prudence, and quickly smoothed down her fur. “You put everything back together, never mind about connecting the cabling for now, just so it looks good. I’ll try and stall her. Wish me luck!” With that she was off.

Belle winked at Prudence, as they grabbed torque wrenches and started to rebuild the Silver Angel. “I won’t have to. I think despite everything - Ada’s a lucky girl already.”

“Angelica!” Ada waved happily at the incoming water taxi now approaching the main Eastern Island docks. “And Kama, too - this is a surprise!” It certainly was, and the canine’s brain raced as she thought hard.

“Ada.” Angelica squeezed a smile out, as she looked up at the quayside. “I thought I’d come over, and see how the Silver Angel’s getting on.” She saw Ada’s ears dip for some reason. “And I brought Kama too.”

“Mother! Mother!” Kama squeaked, looking from one to the other. As Angelica paid the water taxi pilot and stepped out onto the planked docks, she stood looking a little awkwardly at Ada. Kama promptly grabbed a paw apiece of both her adopted mothers, standing between them looking up with a broad kittenish grin.

“Hello, Kama.” Ada stroked the kitten’s head fur. “And hello to you.” She extended a finger towards the thing that sat like a wet bean-bag on Kama’s shoulder; a tentacle coiled round her finger and “shook hands”. Ada’s tail waved nonchalantly. “You must be tired after that trip. How does a good long rest and a longer milk shake at Song Sodas sound?”

Angelica shifted uncomfortably, scenting Ada. “I’m fine. Could we go and see baby? I promised Kama we would. Maybe even fly around the bay if you’ve got the fuel.”

Ada crouched down, looking into Kama’s eyes. “How about you, Kama? A milk shake? They don’t just do fruit flavors, you know. They do salmon, or sardine.”

Kama nodded enthusiastically.

“I think we’re outvoted.” A wash of relief passed over Ada’s face. “Anyway, I could use a rest myself - I’ve not stopped all day. And I’ve not seen our daughter for a week. I miss her.” She looked down into Kama’s small, wise face, reminding herself that she was something more than a kitten. Although there was a star-nosed mole in the new first year, she would be far easier to catch out with a lie than Kama and what came along with her.

Ten minutes later they were sat in a window seat at Song Sodas, Angelica restlessly straining to look around the corner towards Superior Engineering with an almost untouched asparagus milk shake in front of her. Kama sat on a pile of cushions between her mothers, alternatively sucking at her sardine milk shake and gleefully bouncing on the soft cushions.

“So, how’s the fishing going these days?” Ada enquired, sipping gradually at her own smoked salmon shake. “Anything exciting?”

Angelica’s snout wrinkled. “Exciting? I wouldn’t call it that. You can get swept overboard and drown any night, you can get your paw mangled in a winch, or fall into the hold of the Ice Queen and break a leg - you risk that kind of thing all the time. But it’s not what I’d call exciting.”

”Fishing is dangerous, always has been,” Ada agreed. “We’ve done a lot of small boat handling at Songmark. I rather liked it.”

“Fine. We can swap, then. You get to fish, I get to fly and sleep at nights. I never thought a cat could get tired of the smell of fish. But when you’re up to your tail-roots in fish guts, and you can’t clean your fur all night … even when I get back, there’s no showers in a longhouse.”

Ada’s face lit up. “What would you say to a bath ? A long, hot soak in a big tub? I don’t know if you’ve been to Mahanish’s, it’s at the far end of the runway, all the pilots go there. They do rooms any time day or night, and baths included or separate. A good hour’s soak is something pilots look forward to when they come in from a long flight.”

Angelica hesitated. It was true, the idea of proper European soap and towels plus plenty of hot water was rather tempting. But that might put an hour and a half on the day, and being surrounded by pilots and aircraft while her own lay forgotten in a hangar at the other end of the island, would just have been too cruel. “Maybe after. I just want to see baby.”

“And you will. We’ve been taking good care of her.” Ada sipped her shake slowly. “But first - I’ve a present for you and Kama. I hope you’ll like it. Something to remind you of home, I should think.” With what must have been maddening slowness she finished her drink. “Stay right there! I’ve got to get it from my room in Songmark.” And she was off, though not at any great speed.

A good twenty minutes later she returned, carrying an old knapsack rattling with large cans. “Here you are - four cans just for you! When I saw them I thought the tins were spoiled, but I checked with Tahni and she says Surströmming tins are meant to bulge like that. She loves the stuff.” What a hyena thought of as appetizing was generally a minority taste; when Tahni stopped at Song Sodas she had the Durian Surprise.

Surströmming! Where did you find that? I didn’t think they ever exported any!” Angelica’s ears and tail were up in sudden delight as she grabbed hold of one of the cans of fermented Baltic herring, a kilo and a half per can. “In some North Swedish provinces it’s compulsory to eat it once a week, and twice a week in schools.”

“A new place on Casino Island, they do quite a range. They sell to the Scandinavians on Spontoon, and to quite a lot of visitors.” But not more than once if it’s Surströmming or that Norwegian Rakorret, Ada told herself wryly. “Why don’t I show you? It’ll only be ten minutes to Casino Island, we can look around before they shut.” Hopefully there would be a queue in the shop, she thought, and a long wait for a suitable water-taxi back.

“Maybe next time. Finished, Kama? Then let’s go.” Angelica stood up purposefully, while Kama’s pet slurped the deep milkshake glasses clean.

Ada gave a deep sigh. She took Kama’s proffered paw and squeezed it gently, glad of the small kitten’s presence that was preventing an increasingly impatient Angelica from sprinting straight for the hangars.

“Here they come. We’re not ready!” Belle spotted the three figures some two hundred yards away; though at that distance one kitten with its mother might have been anyone, there were surely few with two mothers.

She gave the signal to Ada to delay and rushed back inside.

As their Tutors had frequently told them, the very times when delays are most unwelcome were just when they could be relied on to happen. Although the engine itself had been tested and officially certified as running on its test stand, the inspector had refused to let them just bolt it on for looks. Every electrical and hydraulic connection had to be properly secured and tested, which had eaten into their precious time. Their friends Molly and Maria had happened to be passing and rapidly volunteered to help out, but even so the engine was still swinging from its chain hoist.

“One good thing - the tide’s come in, they can’t take the short cut along the beach and up the launching slip, not without wading,” Belle panted as she ran to help the final reassembly. “They’ll have to go the long way round. We just might do it.”

Ada had seen the waved “delay” paw signal and seen Belle running back into the building, and her tail drooped. They had come so close! A fictional stone in her shoe delayed barely a minute, and then they were outside Superior Engineering’s hangars, the big crane gantry advertising its services better than any billboard could have done.

“Angelica,” she stopped to look at her, with eyes wide. “I know you won’t be … interested for ten days. Maybe nine. But I’ve missed you. After today we’re booked solid, we’ll be all over the islands, up Mount Kiribatori and places toughening up for a hard trip to the Aleutians until the end of term. Could you see your way to … just one kiss?” At her side, Kama squeaked approvingly.

Angelica’s ears dipped. But then, she told herself, Ada had done so very much for her, and asked for nothing. She had been brought up on old stories of hard winters and famines, where a fur would have happily done so much more than that for a pack full of delicious stockfish let alone Surströmming. And she knew that she would be actively wanting to do this in ten days time. Sacrifices had to be made. “Well, all right,” she said uncomfortably. “Just the one.”

“We should have brought your cine camera, Prudence,” An impressed Belle Lapinssen looked on hungrily from the door. “Miss Melson could have spliced it into one of her films, the longest kiss on record!”

“Aye, reckon.” Prudence joined her at the doorway, while the clang of metal behind them announced Carmen and Molly closing and locking the engine covers of the Silver Angel. “They say as ‘ow folk are canny wi’ brass in Lancashire, and Yorkshire an’ all. But Ada, there’s a lass as gets reet good value, every time.” As they both watched, the couple stepped apart, Ada happily flushed and Angelica with the expression Songmark students often wore when realizing the way ahead involved a mile of tail-deep swamps full of leeches. “Still, any one might be the last. Yon Angelica, she might get “cured” any day.”

“That’d be a shame - but I’m biased, I know,” Belle’s ears dipped as she nodded sympathetically, waving Ada forward. “If she was, she’d be forever safe from Ada - if you want to put it like that.”

As Angelica rushed forward with a gleam of love in her eyes to embrace not Ada but the Silver Angel, all eyes were turned to watch her with various levels of puzzlement and amusement. But there was one set of eyes that was no longer watching the scene. It had been watching from a distance since the trio had left Song Sodas, and after making confirmed identification had walked rapidly to the nearest public telephone box where a brief and coded conversation took place.

“So.” In a luxurious apartment on Casino Island whose existence was known only to its owner and some scattered laborers who had been returned to Kuo Han after building it into the warehouse, a yellow-robed Burmese feline put down the telephone a minute later. “The information of Von Krokk was wrong, after all. Miss Angelica remains here. And we have another to go with her - a matching set.” Hsien nodded thoughtfully, making mental calculations of profits. The going rate on two such specimens was impressive. "And doubly so if ... intact. Indeed. As the evidence suggests." He nodded slowly, calculating risks and profit margins. "She is greatly attached to her aircraft; any threat to that and she will come running. Perhaps onto a boat she believes will be taking her there."

Hsien smiled. It was not an unpleasant smile; the sort of expression a gardener might show when seeing hard-won crops almost ready for harvest. But then, as he frequently told himself - his job was to make people happy. If by the end of the week Miss Angelica was providing fun for a customer and he had collected the reward, that would be two people who benefitted against one who would not. And the Spontoons, he knew well, made so much play on promoting democracy.


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