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4 March 2009
A story by Simon Barber
A story of Angelica Silferlindh, and other characters by Freddy Andersson,
featuring Oharu and characters by David Reese Dorrycott
and characters from Simon's Songmark Academy stories
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 Fredrick K. T. "Freddy" Andersson
Oharu © Reese D’Orrycott, Angelica Silfverlindh and Kama © Freddy Andersson,
Ilsa Klensch © Robert Bartrop
others free for Spontoon usage.
For a humble fisher-girl living in a remote village on the unfashionable side of Spontoon’s Main Island, it seemed that Angelica Silfverlindh was occupying the thoughts of surprisingly many furs – in ways and places that would have greatly surprised her.
“So.” It was lunchtime at Lingenthal’s Continental café on Casino Island, and a continental fox and wolf sat over coffee and cakes. The menu was excellent but they had other things on their minds. The grey fox spoke. “Your men they are certain? It was Miss Angelica’s kitten Kama that made the big noise?”
Professor Schiller nodded as he excavated through a slice of luscious Black Forest gateau. “Poor Moritz was on Casino Island at the time – it nearly blew him out of his boots! Could do nothing but hold his head and whimper “Driver reverse!” for a minute. He is my distance worker, you know. For him it was like listening for enemy U-boats with a sensitive microphone – and someone dropped a depth charge right next to him. Last time something knocked him like that he says was back in Galicia 1918 driving his armoured car, when a Russian shell blew the turret clean off.”
“Yes.” Professor Kurt von Mecklenburg und Soweiter stirred his coffee pensively. “By good luck I was in Main Village at the time. I am not a sensitive to such things like your pair but I have eyes. It was a rare sight seeing three priestesses hurry onto water taxis and head out like a crash team at the airport. And five minutes later Miss Silfverlindh and little Kama came back the other way, looking most upset. Something happened to them, certainly.”
“We certainly had some luck, for a change!” Professor Schiller agreed. “When Moritz stopped twitching and holding his head he pointed us in the direction it had happened. I went with Max, my close-up man. We found a street closed off by police, no reason given. But we saw Priestesses, more than we have ever seen together on Casino Island. Max could detect nothing though – it was all over by then or else he could not get close enough to read it.”
The two German canines nodded significantly. Professor Kurt raised an eyebrow. “Little Kama, she did not look happy. She did something, or likely she had to do something that was like a blinding flash and a tower of smoke over the horizon, for anyone with the Talent to see. Such power! And Moritz, he is sure it was her?”
“Ach, yes. He has met her before, and run. Such powers have their style; if we found a lost symphony by Schubert we would play it once and know whose it was without looking for his signature on the musical score. Playing would tell everything.” Professor Schiller stabbed into his gateau with the fork. “That is her. The most powerful talent I have ever heard of, in a little dark-haired Native kitten. And no, I am not going to tell Berlin! You know those people there. They get the strangest ideas, and we get the orders however stupid.” A grey fox tail twitched. “You have talked with Kama?”
“Ah yes! She and Miss Angelica they are my neighbours, I have showed them around my bio-reaktor plant. They contribute the fish-bones and vegetable peelings like everyone else in the village” Kurt chuckled. “Angelica, we will not trouble Berlin about her either. She is a fine pedigree girl, no doubting that. But they would not … appreciate her tastes in companions. She is Tailfast, you know the betrothal fur ring the locals wear.”
“She has some heathen Native boy who will be giving her more kittens, brothers and sisters for Kama? That is nothing new around here.” Professor Schiller queried, one eyebrow raised. “Eva tells me she knows several at her academy who are planning to marry islanders.”
Kurt winced slightly. “Not a Native. Not a boy, either. As for a heathen … your Eva may know her, Miss Ada Cronstein at Songmark. She is no heathen, indeed she is very devout in what here they call a Euro religion – you could ask at the Casino Island synagogue, though be sure nobody from our Embassy sees you.”
“Ah.” There was a minute’s silence while further assaults were made on coffee and cakes. “You are quite right. We will not be mentioning this. Yellow star and pink triangle both, and planning to marry a good pedigree Nordic girl!” He paused, and winced. “She could hardly be worse in the eyes of Berlin… unless – she could also be a Bolshevik.”
“Support the Five-Year Plan! All hands to the wheel! Proletariat Paradise coming soon, watch this space!” Märta Svensson glared at the bold red posters on the walls of Worker’s Transit Station number 1790 in Sialygorsk, Eastern Siberia. They had covered two thirds of the distance to Spontoon quickly enough on the scheduled flight in the huge Maxim Gorky from Leningrad to Mineral’ Nye Vody through to Omsk and Irkutsk, but then ground to a halt in the middle of nowhere for no clearly defined reason.
Märta’s ears went down as she looked at the dusty room. She was wearing her Sunday best and getting it dirty for nothing – they had been here three days while Mr. Holdsworthy tried to work out what the problem was. Getting an answer out of Russian officialdom was an exercise in patience and masochism.
The room was not just dusty, she decided, it was positively filthy. The whole transit station by the airport could use a good scrubbing and sweeping; for an almost brand new building it was unbelievably shabby. But apparently such things were exclusively scheduled by the State Properties (Building) Maintenance Committee in Moscow, none of whom had presumably ever been to Sialygorsk or cared to. That was something Märta could sympathise with. At least it was somewhere she was never likely to return to – ever the enthusiastic supporter of the Silfverlindh business, she had asked about the market for bananas and had been icily told that (a) there were no such things in Siberia and (b) if so they would be forbidden as a decadent foreign luxury doubtless beloved by counter-revolutionary crypto-bourgeois furs and (c) costing precious hard currency that should be spent on machine-tools if at all. Just asking what the commercial market was like drew a few nasty looks; evidently if bananas were a good thing they would evidently be on general State issue to the proletariat.
“Aahg!” A neatly groomed black and white tail twitched. She had a duster in her luggage and the maid itched to get tidying even in a place she was never hoping to see again. Dust and dirt irritated her hugely, as did disorder of all kinds. Here it was like a stone in one’s shoe, impossible to get out and impossible to ignore. “And they don’t even have maids here!”
“Quite right, dear gal,” came the booming voice of Mr. Holdsworthy from the door behind her. “Afraid they all turned Bolshevik twenty years ago and liquidated their oppressors, or any that stayed loyal proved by doing so they were lickspittle running-dogs of the regime and got the same. Don’t forget – they’re a hated and demeaning symbol of bourgeoisie repression. Lenin said so, therefore it is self-evidently true,” he said loudly and clearly. The hound winked. “Though I must say you look most fetching in your uniform. Are you going to clean and tidy for Miss Angelica when you get there? Truth to tell I’m not sure you can wax and polish a Native grass hut, but I’ll leave that to your professional judgement.”
Märta’s eyes narrowed behind her big round spectacles. “I’d like the chance to at least get there and find out,” she snapped. “Have you found out what’s keeping us hanging around here? If we get caught by the snows we could be really stuck.” Outside the low hills around the Amur River valley were already white-capped and drifts of fine spindrift blew along the half built runways. Winter in Siberia was famous. It was about the only resource the area had, but at least there was plenty of it on general State issue to the deserving proletariat.
“Yes. Took me all the morning to get a straight answer, though,” the hound’s tail drooped. “The regular route East from here cuts through Vostok airspace – at least the hated Imperialists claim it’s theirs, stolen without doubt from the workers,” he said clearly, speaking towards the radio in the corner of the room. “Vostok are holding military exercises there right now. You’d think folk could just go around. But that kind of decision has to be taken by the People’s Central Planning Commission for Transportation.”
“Which probably meets once a month. In Moscow. And we’re in Siberia. Most folk who end up here at least don’t have to pay for their own tickets.” Märta’s fur bristled. There was only one thing worse than having to “rescue” Angelica from the far side of the world (or hopefully persuade Mr. Silfverlindh she had no need of rescuing) and that was having to do it and not be able to.
“Yes, well, that’s how they do things in the Heroic Socialist Workers’ Paradise.” Mr. Holdsworthy winked again and pointed to the radio. Märta had no idea why, the thing refused to work anyway and was fixed to the wall making it impossible to adjust. “In the meantime we can look some more at the wonderful building works of the totally peaceful and not remotely military Sialygorsk-B People’s airport. Whose three kilometres of strongly reinforced concrete runway is obviously meant for light crop spraying aircraft to aid the hard-working agriculturalists and not at all for heavy bomber squadrons,” he finished, oddly giving a mock bow towards the radio.
“Wonderful. We get to watch some more concrete setting.” Märta’s ears pressed flat to her skull. Outside was a huge engineering project, and presumably there was a Sialygorsk-A somewhere in the neighbourhood. The runways pointed due East towards Japan and Vostok, and had an array of dozens of colossal aircraft hangars under construction at one end that she had to admit could swallow any public building in Gothenburg. “So until the Vostok navy goes home or the People’s Wonderful Committee in Moscow authorise taking a left turn to avoid them – we’re stuck here?”
Mr. Holdsworthy gave an embarrassed grin. “The Russians have a word for it: “Nichevo” means “ah well, it can’t be helped.” It’s a good word to learn – you’ll hear it a lot around here.”
Far to the East on Spontoon’s Casino Island, although it was far from a Siberian climate many furs were not enjoying the November weather. Specifically was one who was strictly not a “fur” at all – Baron Rutger Von Krokk shivered as he sat at his desk, hating the chill dampness that reduced his reptilian form to a sick exhaustion. His thick astrakhan coat was not doing what it would for mammals, as reptilian bodies generated very little heat to be caught by any insulation.
“This is the last straw,” he put his accounting books down angrily. “Someone should do something about those British Colonial Air Police! They’re making it impossible for a businessman to make an honest living! Especially that damned Wrigglesworth or whatever his name is.”
Truth to tell, Von Krokk’s pearl import and exporting had not been going well. Although many furs not in the trade would question why anyone would want to import pearls into Spontoon where they were harvested anyway, it gave him an excuse as to where the stocks came from should the Police ever raid his enterprise. He seethed. It was bad enough that the official Air Police had intercepted a consignment of smuggled pearls passing through the Gilbert and Sullivan Islands – but an expensive and totally legitimate cargo coming to him from the Marine kibbutz in the King Solomon Islands had been seized by Air Pirates!
His tail thrashed in irritation. Those were dead losses, and there was nothing he could do about it (apart from roundly cursing the name of the Air Pirates’ leader, Letitia something- hyphen- something). The Cayman remembered other losses that might be partly salvaged though – a certain haughty feline having refused to take his generous first offer on the best rose pearl he had ever seen, sprang immediately to mind. By all accounts she was still almost within his reach.
“Yes. Hsien wanted her. And he has not got her yet – though he rarely fails. Which means…” his scaly palms rubbed together with a rasping note. “She must be proving difficult to capture. Difficult means expensive. For him. Worthwhile indeed. For me.” Hsien had originally offered nine hundred shells or dollars cash for Angelica to be delivered to him outside Spontoon territorial waters – he had dropped the price awhile ago on hearing Angelica was Tailfast, but might be convinced to raise it again. He pondered for a minute, hating the slowness of his thoughts in the November weather.
“Van der Veldt. He can go and get her. Yes.” The South African lion was still drawing pay, but until more pearls arrived to smuggle he was not doing much to earn it. “He knows where she lives on Main Island.” The reptilian tail dragged on the floor as he paced to and fro. From what Jan had said the month before, Miss Silfverlindh had moved her aircraft to Eastern Island where friends at Songmark were looking after it. That was unfortunate; by all accounts she was devoted to the machine and would come running if she received word it was in danger – that had been his first plan. But now the aircraft was being looked after by Songmark … he shook his head. “She wouldn’t believe it was in danger, where it is now. Might as well be in a locked hangar guarded by all the soldiers on Moon Island. More so; Songmark don’t play by the regulations.” He frowned, having heard stories from the criminal fraternity of what had happened when they had bumped noses with the flying-school girls and especially their Tutors.
Von Krokk thought hard, wishing again for some decent sunshine to bathe in. Getting Angelica away from the Natives protecting her on Main Island and her Songmark friends on the Euro islands was going to be difficult – if Hsien had not managed it yet, there must be good reasons. Once outside Spontoon territorial waters and with the locals unaware she was heading into danger, all her protections would be gone. Suddenly his eyes opened wide, and the Cayman’s mouth opened in a large and toothy grin.
“Yes! That should do it. That should do it very well.”
Not two miles away on Eastern Island was yet another fur who was thinking about Angelica Silfverlindh, though with quite different intentions.
“Ey, Ada, Cheer up, lass,” Prudence Akroyd nudged her dorm-mate, seeing the canine’s ears were down and she was staring at the class timetable without seeming to really read it. “World isn’t coming to an end. Bad news about our weekend, though but.”
Ada Cronstein sighed. “It’s only once a month I get to be with Angelica. I know it’s a curse to her but … not at the time, it’s not, to her. She still wears my Tailfast ring. I’d thought she’d have torn it up or burned it, that first time when she went back to her usual self. I suppose it’s something that she’s kept it.”
“You do have a knack of falling for … difficult girls,” Belle Lapinssen sympathised. “I remember when you had that big photo blow-up of Ilsa Klensch the German aviatrix you used to moon over. Even knowing she wouldn’t give you the time of day.” The bunny’s ears twitched. “That’s my definition of living dangerously, you or me fancying Miss Klensch. Though she’s a very fine figure of a vixen, no doubt about it!” Belle sighed. They had all admired their first-year tutor Miss Pelton –and although they heartily wished her well, having seen her marry the Spontoonie stallion … well, it was no new thing for there to be tears at a wedding.
“Like enough, everyone wants what they can’t have. Else, gold and diamonds wouldn’t be dear,” Prudence sat down on Ada’s bed. “Tha’ knows, the Tutors do what they can fer us. But we’ll be off on exercises when moon’s right for Angelica and thee, an’ there’s nowt to be done ‘bout that.” The third-years were getting ready with intensive training for their big cold-weather trip to the Aleutian Islands, and weekends off were getting rare.
“And any time could be her last. If she gets her “curse” cured.” Ada stared at the wall. “That’d be both you and me left on our own, Belle. Roberta, I mean your Miss Cranston’s not coming back.” For two summers Belle had been playing a convincing Native girl to a highly respectable school ma’m from the American Mid-west, a Miss Cranston who had written her a “Dear Jane” letter the month before. ”I’d like to get to see Angelica and Kama before we head out on exercises, explain I can’t be there for them next week. Maybe we could get the Silver Angel flying! It’s not been in the air all month, after all. If anything would, that’d cheer her up – and our Tutors always like us to fill our logbooks on different aircraft.”
“Aye!” Prudence’s eyes gleamed. “Write to yon lass, Ada. We’ll organise a swimming party wi’ us team on Main Island – chilly enough in water, reckon, but furs swim in English seasides at Whitsuntide in colder, ah tell thi’ so. We need the practice an’ all. And tha’ flies Silver Angel over to meet her wi’ picnic hamper in t’ back seat! We’ve all this Sunday free, time enough to fix it up.”
“Yes! The Silver Angel’s ready to fly – I’m sure if we take some second-years with us for the experience the Tutors will let us have that much fuel. There’s Florence Farmington’s dorm, nice girls they are.” Ada’s ears and tail perked up. She grabbed a pen and a postcard – like her tail, her prospects were looking up.
Over on Main Island, the object of everyone’s attentions was blissfully unaware as she sat down with her adopted mother Mama Popoluma and took lessons in Native traditions. Two months earlier she would have rather have pulled her whiskers out with pliers than consider turning herself into a Native girl – but Angelica ruefully admitted she had changed. Her head-fur was longer now, and after months of daily grinding exercise her body was noticeably stronger; pearl fishing and hauling in the catch on very non-mechanised fishing boats was making quite a change in her.
“Ho!” Mama Popoluma smiled happily, wielding the fur brush. “Is symbols Native girls wear in fur. Oiled fur sets strong, markings they stay after work or swim in ocean even.” She looked her adopted daughter over. “Here is saying you girl of village tribe, Tailfast, with child. Many more things can say. Your friend Miss Amelia, hers said Euro, Spontoon-friend, not married.” She winked. “Have heard first time she wear such they have joke on her – say “not married, not fussy what male”. But Spontoonie friend brush off before anyone see.”
“I keep hearing from Monona’he and the others on the boat, oiled fur keeps you warmer.” Angelica admitted. “I think it’s time I found out. After a night out fishing and going to sleep full of salt water my fur looks like a flannel that’s not been washed for a month.” She writhed inwardly a little – it was one more step towards going Native, and until now she had resisted it vigorously. The cold waters of the Nimitz sea were not going to respect her opinions.
Mama Popoluma rummaged around in the old sea-chest in the back of the hut and brought out a sealed jar. “Is special palm oil – last maybe a week. But stain fine Euro fabric.” She looked at Angelica’s “Sunday” dress. “Spontoonie girl wear Ulaul fabric or grass skirt, not hurt by oil.”
Angelica nodded, bracing herself. She stepped out of her dress, and neatly folded it away, wincing a little as she inwardly kissed Casino Island’s bright lights and dancing farewell for awhile. Still, there was little enough in the way of entertainment there in mid-November and the last time she and Kama had gone there three days before they had almost been kidnapped and worse. How Kama knew these things let alone communicated them with a look was a mystery – but the kitten had known that she was too small to be worth anything to the kidnappers and old enough to be a dangerous witness. Not every fur chloroformed ever woke up, and some were not intended to.
“I suppose when in Rome do as the Romans – not that I like pasta much.” Angelica raised her arms to let her adopted Mother comb the oil into her fur, working it all the way to the skin. Everywhere except her head-fur was covered and left shining and glossy – from her ear-tips to her tail tip, and everything beneath. Working from her daughter’s raised fingertips to her tail-tip and toes, Mama Popoluma hummed an ancient tune as she turned Angelica into a village girl. The final stage was to “cure” the oil with a paste made from wood ash from the household’s fire pit – and the fur patterns were brushed in while the oiled fur set like a Euro permanent wave head-fur style. In half an hour the deed was done.
“Ho! You look a fine daughter!” Mama P inspected her work critically, stepping back to admire the view. “Oldest daughter Voote’pa, she in Hawaii, she looked same when first oil fur. And she happy married now, with grand-kitten for me next Spring.”
Angelica blushed. Her adopted family was a large one, and rather odd – at least from her point of view. The three oldest, a son and two daughters, she had never met – they were off Spontoon and the Pacific was still wide for those without the budget for air travel. Mama P had been a widow for fifteen years, but had seven kittens younger than that and the locals complemented her on her and her husband’s splendid family. As far as anyone was concerned they were all her husband’s, and the little matter of him being long lost at sea made no difference to the villagers. Presumably Mr. Popoluma had wanted a large family and his widow had been keen to provide his line with one. “It looks strange. And being … marked like this for people to read in the street if they know what it means.” Her tail twitched, as a realisation hit home. Just as even Mama P’s youngest kitten was regarded as her long-gone husband’s, now Angelica was Kama’s mother as far as any Spontoonie was concerned, quite as much as if she had given birth herself – the locals tended not to worry about details.
The rotund feline smiled, patting Angelica. “All done! You proper Spontoonie girl now. Good for work on ocean, work in field in rain, have plenty fun with Ada when she here. Fine party, scent in air says weather will hold good.”
“It’s a long time since I had anything like that,” Angelica agreed. “It’s not been picnic weather.” She looked up at the flat grey skies, remembering her school in England would be surrounded by playing fields hock-deep in mud; when playing hockey in Winter it was essential to have a special ball that floated or the game tended to bog down into an archaeological dig with hockey-sticks for shovels. Her family home in Sweden would most years be getting the first flurries of Winter’s snow –she shivered. The Nimitz sea was cold enough, but the Baltic in Winter froze over.
Mama P smiled, putting the brushes and palm oil away. She handed Angelica back her Tailfast ring and locket, and watched as her adopted daughter put them on again. “Is a moon and six days till big solstice ceremony on Sacred Island. All Spontoonie with friend they go there, make new Tailfast ring in sight of village, Priestesses.” She raised an eyebrow, looking at Angelica’s ring. “Missy Angelica would look good standing with Missy Ada, Priestesses blessing you.”
Angelica blushed, her mind suddenly in turmoil. She had made her own ring with Ada under the influence of her “curse” – and although that had not been on Sacred Island, the Cipanguan priestess Oharu had blessed it and assured her it was as good as any other. It was one of the worst aspects of her curse that she remembered everything that had happened and exactly how it felt at the time – she had lovingly plaited that fur ring with Ada and been as happy as any bride on her wedding night. The next month’s Solstice would not coincide with her next cursed time. According to tradition, furs who had been Tailfast three solstices usually got married for life.
“Ada hasn’t mentioned it.” As she spoke, she felt a knot in her stomach and realised exactly why. The Songmark canine knew her problem –and was prepared to sacrifice her own happiness to release Angelica from the very curse that had brought them together. “I think … she’d like to renew her ring with me. I hope she does.” Her eyes suddenly went wide. “I mean I hope she wants to, not that she does renew it!” She had an uncomfortable image of Ada crying her eyes out, heartbroken as their old rings were cast on the waters at Solstice, never to be renewed. It was hardly Ada’s fault after all.
Mama P cast Angelica an inscrutable glance that reminded her somehow of Kama. “No?”
Hastily picking up her Native dress, Angelica made her excuses and fled.
Kama wandered happily through the palm groves behind the village, the kitten’s eyes wide as every minute revealed a fresh wonder. Days followed days for the carefree feline, each one a new source of delight and discovery. To her the woods were not empty, although a camera with ordinary film would not have seen what she talked to wordlessly or a microphone recorded what they replied. She lugged a gallon bucket of seawater along with her cheerfully; although her pet did not actually have eyes it was leaning over the rim evidently looking around with interest.
Suddenly she stopped, cocking an ear to one side. Both ears suddenly dipped, a troubled expression passing over her face like a cloud over the sun. “Mother?” She blinked. Then she picked up the bucket again and resolutely began to trot towards the coastal cliffs.
A few minutes later she found Angelica sitting on the edge of the cliff, head in her paws as she looked out over the ocean. Kama squeaked happily, putting down her bucket and trotting forward to hug her adopted mother.
Angelica smiled, the clouds clearing from her mood. Kama could always find her wherever she was on the island, no matter what remote cove or forest glade she chose to seek privacy. She stroked the kitten, brushing Kama’s long head fur. It was lustrously black, reached down to the kitten’s tail root, and had evidently never been cut to have grown so long at that age. “Hello, Kama! I’ve got some good news for you. Ada sent us a postcard this morning – she’s coming over with her friends and the Silver Angel!”
Kama looked up, her eyes happy but questioning. Angelica shivered slightly. “No, she’s just coming over as … a friend. It will be good to talk to her, though.” Although the Spontoonies were as friendly as could be wished for, Angelica noted, they were just Natives – and she had so much more in common with Ada and her friends. It was much easier to talk with them; she could talk about aircraft, parties and dances and know they were thinking much the same things about them as she was.
Kama’s pet splashed out of the bucket and sat up, “begging” in an unnerving manner. Kama patted it, and the sea cucumber wriggled its way up her outstretched arm to perch on her shoulder evidently looking out at the fine ocean view.
Angelica practiced ignoring it; a difficult skill but one that she hoped to master some day. “Ada says we should even be able to fly –she’s bringing some friends over, and enough fuel for the afternoon. It should be fun!”
Kama nodded happily, her eyes wide. “Air’ plane.” She cocked her head to one side. “Home?”
Looking into Kama’s eyes, Angelica understood. “Do I want to go home? To Sweden? I don’t know any more.” She drew a deep breath. Kama was a child of the islands, but also her daughter. She had a vision of Kama clinging to her in a Swedish winter, snowdrifts up to the kitten’s tail – and the prospect of sending Kama to a school, Swedish or otherwise, was frightening. It would be like caging an ocean-crossing seabird in a zoo.
She stroked her kitten’s long head-fur, her ears down in concentration. “And suppose I stay here the rest of my life? What will I do? Be just another fisher-girl like Monone'ha? Marry Ada, or one of the Natives?” She blushed. Shark Hunter was no doubt a healthy specimen of the local talent, even though he had been quite unimpressed by her name and pedigree. If she did wed him, she would lose her name and her kittens would lose the Silfverlindh pedigree anyway. Back at her school in England she had paid little attention to the whispered stories of reputable girls who had headed out to the Colonies and “gone Native” and ended up in the back of beyond in a mud hut with a local husband and a string of mixed kittens, cut off forever from their Euro families. She realised she already had the hut, and it being grass rather than mud hardly signified. As far as the Spontoonies were concerned, she already had the first of her kittens to fill it, and providing the village with another dozen with assorted fur patterns like Mama Popoluma would be looked on as a good thing.
She blushed. “How much time have I got till I have to decide?” The Silver Angel was safe for the time being in Ada’s care, at least till Ada graduated the next summer. After that – Ada and her dorm lost all the privileges and protections of Songmark, and everything became charged at commercial rates. Ada might be heading out with her friends as freelance Adventuresses. “And why not? There’s nothing to keep her here. Is there?” Angelica blushed, her paw going to the Tailfast locket. By the time Ada graduated … a happy ending for Ada would include having that locket renewed twice on Sacred Island, as Mama Popoluma had hinted – Ada’s English friend Prudence was going to marry her Native hyena Tahni as soon as she graduated in July.
Angelica’s tail twitched in embarrassment. She remembered very well the beach party where she had met Ada, and the swimming club on Main Island tended to bathe in their bare fur when no tourists were around. Tahni was as female as a spotted hyena went – which meant that a lot of gentlemen would envy what Nature had provided her with. Not that Angelica had any experience to personally compare it with.
“Dinner?” Kama suddenly wriggled, her eyes looking up hopefully.
“Yes, it’s that time of day again.” Angelica’s own stomach
growled in sympathy. She stood and took Kama’s paw in hers. “Come on now, let’s get back home.” She paused, her eyes wide as she realised what she had said. She had always said and thought – “back to the village” – she had never called the hut home before.
Across on Eastern Island, the other love of Angelica’s life was being washed and groomed by several sets of skilled and eager paws. Unlike looking after Kama, this involved oily rags and metal polish rather than fur-brushes.
“Ey, a grand plane, no buts about it,” Prudence Akroyd stood back to admire their work. “No wonder your Angelica’s so keen on it. If there’s a single-engine aircraft I’d trust to get us owwer Pacific safely, that’s t’ one.”
“It’s a lovely aircraft,” Marjory Hamilton ran a paw over the silver curves. “Do you think we’ll get to fly it?” The skunk’s eyes gleamed as she looked up at the floatplane. “Miss Cardroy would be happy to see some different aircraft types in our logbook, and that’s the only one of its kind around this part of the world.” Second-years at Songmark mostly flew the school’s five Tiger Moths; only third-years got to fly the school’s Junkers 86 or Sea Osprey amphibian – and in the first term of their second year they had no commercial licenses to be trusted with anyone else’s aircraft.
“That’s up to Angelica, reckon,” Prudence nodded. “We’ve worked on yon Silver Angel, Angelica gave us permission, as we’re looking after it. Still, tha’ can ask her thissen today.”
“I do hope so. I’ve never met her, but she sounds lovely.” Marjory was still gazing up at the aircraft as her dorm-mates Francesca and Kate finished cleaning the engine covers. “I wish Florence was coming along.” She looked around as Ada, Carmen and Belle entered the room, and sighed. “You’re lucky, four of you in a dorm together.”
Prudence grinned. “Tha’ means there’s enough of us to mek’ a matching dorm, and Florence Farmington don’t fit? Tha’s lucky to have her as leader, she’s a grand girl – there’s more important things than playin’ same way. She’s a canny lass, looks after you I’ve heard.”
“Oh yes.” Marjory’s ears blushed. “We couldn’t wish for better. Now she’s had her problem treated.” The canine had been abnormally sensitive to all manner of solvents; just wiping down an engine with a petrol-soaked rag would have her pass out flat on the floor. The Songmark matron Mrs. Oelabe had been taking advice from various traditional local healers, and come up with a local equivalent to a hay fever drug that had greatly helped.
“Aye. Tha could’a ended up wi’ Rumiko, she’s none so sympathetic – or one o’ Red Dorm. Fancy that Liberty Morgenstern as head o’ dorm!”
“No … I don’t fancy that. Or her, for that matter.” Marjory shuddered. “It must be hard for Florence though. She doesn’t even date Spontoonie males, like some in your year do. She’s said she’d like to but she’s cursed – well, maybe it depends on how you look at it. If the local Gods here give blessings, I’ve heard they specialise in fertility gifts for fields and families. That’s a wonderful thing if you’re in the position to want that… which we’re not.”
“A flower can be a weed, growing in the wrong place,” Belle agreed. Rabbits rarely had any need of local deities blessing them on those lines. “She could try dating avian boys? That’s safe.”
“Feather allergy, worse luck” Marjory’s ears went down. “She’s cured of keeling over at a scent of dry-cleaning fluid but she pretty nearly sneezes her snout off as soon as she gets close to pinfeathers. It’s a good thing that Ledasdottir girl in the first year sits on another table.”
“Any road, she’s not ‘ere and we are. Right!” Prudence patted the sleek fuselage. “Ada, tha’s flyin’ wi’ three passengers? Reckon, three hundred yard take-off run wi’ quarter full fuel tanks. Tutors won’t give us more’n that for the day.”
Ada’s tail drooped. “It’s not as if we’re going to joyride off to Hawaii, are we? Though it’s nicer weather on Oahu than we get this time of year.” The Superior Engineering workshops had a pegboard of the same teleprinter weather forecasts as the Eastern Island airport used; test flights were not the time to run into an unexpected squall front.
“Right! We’ll be off. Tobonule and us friends are meeting at Main Village, they’ve got the grub organised for a reet grand picnic after us swim.” Prudence’s eyes gleamed. Her long ears flew behind her like banners in the wind as she headed towards the door at top speed. “Belle! Carmen! Water taxi’s waitin’ fer us.”
Ada watched them go, and rubbed her paws together. She turned to the admiring second-years. “Right! Here’s where you pay for your joyride, you lucky three. I know you’ve had ground-crew training. Our Tutors would be very happy to see you get those hangar doors open and the Silver Angel floating safely outside the slipway in two minutes flat. And so would I.” She pulled out her stopwatch meaningfully, and chuckled as they scrambled to get to work. It was a conditioned reflex by now – whenever anyone started a stopwatch, a Songmark girl started trying to cut seconds off her task. “One day you’ll be getting your aircraft away before the Air Pirates get to it – or the Police, depending on your career paths.”
“Police? Bloody oath, we hope not,” Kate did not pause a second in unlatching the Superior Engineering-owned hangar doors “we’re getting regular qualifications, not those your classmate Beryl’s peddling,” The Australian was the only other mouse currently at Songmark, and keenly resented the third-year’s business schemes as casting a bad impression on her species.
“Our Tutors could smack her down, but they generally don’t.” Francesca agreed. “I asked her if her correspondence course for training bogus doctors wasn’t going to end up with their patients dying – she just smiled and said the course teaches you to home in on rich hypochondriacs. Have bogus doctors treat bogus patients and save the valuable time of real doctors, she said. Almost made me believe her.”
“Right! Believe this. Two minutes and ten seconds – far too slow.” Ada clicked her stopwatch as the Silver Angel floated free of its beaching trolley and Marjory strained on the winch to haul it back up the slipway. “We’ll practice this again tomorrow. This time the Air Pirates got you – and picked up the bounty to return you to your respectable families with a bridegroom and a church wedding waiting.” She grinned, hearing the anguished moans. “But today – get in. We’re off to party!”
Although mid November on Spontoon was not famous for long sunny days, there were occasional bright patches and by good luck today was one of them. The beaches were fairly full with locals taking advantage of the good weather to go fishing or helping the children gather armloads of seaweed to take up to the coast road where the carts would carry it up to Professor Kurt’s composting power station in Vikingstown.
“Here they come!” Angelica’s ears went up as a familiar engine note reached them. “She sounds sweet – they’ve been taking good care of her!”
Beside her Kama bounced happily, the kitten looking up at her adopted mother’s face as much as at the silver speck of the aircraft. Just making the three-minute hop over from Eastern Island to the northern shore of Main would hardly warm up the engine, and leave the plugs coated in carbon; Ada’s flight plan had involved a long loop East then a high-speed run at a thousand metres altitude to clear the engine before spiralling down to land just offshore, coasting in with the engine ticking over.
“There she is!” Before, Angelica would have left Kama standing on the sand while she ran flat out to her beloved Angel – now she scooped up the kitten first. In another minute the silver aircraft had ground to a halt on the sand, the tide ebbing rapidly on the gently sloping beach. Kama was certainly a growing kitten but Angelica carried her lightly, unconsciously recognising her new job had left her extremely fit.
“Ada! It’s good to see you!” She waved as the canine switched the engine off, checked all the instruments then slid down onto the float.
“Angelica.” Ada looked the feline up and down. “Oiled fur. You do look good in it.” Her eyes traced the patterns combed into the fur, now made slick and waterproof. “I’ve rarely had the chance to try it, we have to be in Songmark uniforms or flying kit so often.” She stopped, a metre away from Angelica. “Kama! I missed you.”
“Mother!” Kama looked from one to the other. Angelica let her down on the beach, blushing. Ada knew the exact timing of her “curse”, and knew she would not be interested right now in anything but the swim and picnic.
As if reading her mind, Ada’s ears drooped. “Next week – we’re out on exercises the whole time. I can’t get out here – not even borrowing Amelia’s Flying Flea, this time. We’ll be somewhere up on top of Mount Kiribatori, and that aircraft can’t even get to that altitude.”
“Oh.” Angelica sympathised. Then her eyes went wide. She remembered that first time, meeting Ada and her friends – and waking up Tailfast. Her tail wriggled uncomfortably – remembering the mood she had been in then. She was lucky it had been Ada; from what she had heard there were locals who were far less sympathetic. A large dark-furred mare called Nikki had been pointed out to especially avoid. “Next time – I’ll have to go off into the far jungle or something.”
Ada gave a tight smile. “Well, I wouldn’t recommend you spend the time at the Double Lotus. Though you’d be amazed how popular you’d be there.” Seeing Angelica wince, she waved the passengers out of the Silver Angel. “Angelica! Meet Kate, Francesca and Marjory. You can trust them. They’ve got next weekend free, and … they’ll see no harm comes to you.” Her muzzle crested. “Or they know their lives will be a living hell for the next two terms!”
Angelica’s eyes went wide, looking at the skunk, the mouse and the otter. “I hardly need any looking after. Or do you mean …” her ears blushed furiously. “They’re members of your … swimming club too?”
The mouse cast her an admiring gaze. “We’re also top of our year in marks for self-defence, and we’ve beaten Native teams at Kilikiti. It all works together. Anything else – that’s up to you, Miss.”
“They have a leader, Florence, who didn’t come on this trip,” Ada explained. “Here’s the rest of the swimming team coming over the hill now – and they’ve brought the picnic hampers!”
Whatever else Angelica might or might not currently agree with the party coming to visit her, she found herself relaxing and thoroughly enjoying the afternoon’s swim. Her oiled fur trapped air, keeping her far warmer despite the November waters; Spontoon sat in a warm current keeping the islands much warmer than their latitude on the map would suggest. It was not unlike swimming in Gothenburg Fjord in June, she decided.
“Swim!” Kama was in her element in the water, the kitten vanishing under for alarmingly long periods before returning to burst to the surface laughing for joy. Her pet swam with her, although sea cucumbers were normally creatures that wandered around the ocean floor. The formation team practiced, and for a minute any aircraft flying over would have seen a perfect Busby Barkley circle of furs centred around a small kitten like a jewel in a crown.
So it was that Jan Van der Veldt found them, towelling dry and beginning to look hungrily at the picnic basket. He had been tasked by his boss von Krokk to deliver a message to Angelica – there would be a freighter heading out to Hawaii with deck space enough to carry the Silver Angel out of the Nimitz Sea, and cargo hoists powerful enough to lift it. He deeply distrusted this mission, but the Cayman had threatened to hire in a star-nosed mole to ask him if he had obeyed orders.
“There she is, still swimming. And …” He stopped. A small kitten was standing on the beach looking straight at him. The rest of the scene somehow seemed to blur out of focus as if there were only the two of them truly there for that moment – as Kama’s wide eyes bored in to read his soul right down to the bilges. It was a truly horrific sensation –and in that instant he knew that the kitten understood everything. A breeze sprang up from nowhere, and the long dark head-fur blew out like a black halo around her.
Suddenly the wind subsided, and the rest of the beach snapped back into focus. Jan had felt like that just once before, when he had escaped with his life by a whisker’s breadth. He threw the envelope carrying his message down onto the beach and ground it into the wet sand, while a small kitten squeaked and clapped her paws happily.
“I’m not going to do it,” he addressed the empty air. “Von Krokk’s going to be sore – but nothing like I would be if I went ahead with this!”
Spontoon Island webpages ©2009 Ken Fletcher
All rights revert to the contributors - their collaborative contributions
are ©2009 Simon Barber, ©2009 David Reese Dorrycott,
& ©2009 Fredrik K T Andersson - rights reserved include story characters.
Contact the contributors for permissions.
chapters of the "Stranded Angel" story
are at Reese Dorrycott's [Mature] archive website:
Check his "Stories" page under the new title:
"Tales of Spontoon"