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Uploaded 26 February 2015

Stranded Angel
Autumn 1936
Part 19
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 19
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

“You know, back in Sweden, I didn’t think anything about having a maid,” Angelica Silfverlindh commented to her Native otter comrade Monote’he, as they stood in the bows of the laden fishing boat heading back into port – if ‘port’ was the right word for a wooden jetty on the open beach on the Northern coast of Spontoon’s Main Island. “We’d always had a cook, and a maid and everything in the town house. I’d yell at Marta to get my bath ready, and clean up my room – she was just there, like you’d not think about your hut door, till you have trouble with it.”

“Ho! You rich lady, yes?” the lithe otter grinned. “Family sell plenty bananas. Seen plenty pretty poster.”

Angelica winced, both at the thought of disgusting bananas and the lingering embarrassment of being portrayed on the advertisements all over the Nimitz Sea area dancing clothed in a belt of nothing else, Josephine Baker style. “We weren’t that rich! Even before Father founded the banana company and all we had was a failing mine, I remember there were cooks and maids. Just… servants were very cheap, easy to replace if you wanted to. And they knew it. That’s why they weren’t any trouble.”

“Oh ho! Monote’he see where this ocean current riding. Missy Marta now she plenty trouble, yes?” The otter’s tail twitched in glee. “Many talk in village of her.” Angelica was less amusing now she had been accepted and become almost Spontoon respectable, Monote’he thought – but the snooty maid had taken that place as an unending source of Euro-teasing fun.

“Mmm.” Angelica’s ears drooped. Just when she had been reconciled to staying on Spontoon as a member of the Popoluma family and adopted mother to Kama, Marta had shown up with a letter from her father and the second-rate English Gentleman adventurer Henry Holdsworthy, on a mission to bring her back to Sweden to someday run the hated family fruit business. “Like Ada says – give the mildest fur a badge or a uniform, and they can turn into a monster.” Marta might not have any uniform but her maid’s outfit, but with the written mandate from Mr Silfverlindh she clearly felt she had the right to do anything short of sending the errant daughter home to Gothenburg tied in a sack in the hold of a banana boat.

“So,” Monote’he stood and considered, as she prepared to throw the mooring cable to the waiting furs on the dock. “Missy Angelica, show her why you no happy to go.”

As they pulled up against the jetty, made the boat fast and prepared to unload the village’s share of the night’s catch, Angelina smiled. Though she was sure Ada would love to put on a no-holds-barred show with her that would convince Marta utterly she had no intention of heading back to Gothenburg and marrying some respectable Swedish businessman, this was not that time of the moon – but there were other ideas that suddenly came to mind.

“Yes… that might do it,” she mused, as she headed up the beach towards her hut. “That just might do.”

As usual, Marta Svensson was having a bad day on Spontoon. Casino Island in November was far from the bustling party town the slightly tattered posters left over from the past tourist season portrayed – looking out through the boarding-house window at the grey rain sweeping in from the North, she was heartily wishing herself back home.

“Cheer up, dear girl!” The booming voice of Henry Holdsworthy made her jump, as usual.

Marta spun round, her ears flat and her tail fluffed out. “Don’t DO that! Coming up behind me like that!” She was getting heartily sick of the ever-cheerful hound, and the fact that he held their return tickets and travel papers only made things worse.

The tweed-clad Englishman chuckled softly. “Force of habit, I’m afraid. Been in too many tight places, where staying quiet on the old paws pays off.” He gestured with his pipe out into the rain. “Been thinking. Miss Angelica. All very pretty around here in July sunshine, no doubt… but today she’s getting just as soaking wet as you are. Take her at the lowest ebb, hmm? Remind her there’s no place like home, and all that?”

Marta looked at him sourly. She had to concede, he had a point. “Maybe.” She paused, an eyebrow raised. “But I’m not wet.”

Mr Holdsworthy’s eyes narrowed slightly. “Oh, but you will be. Chin up! And button up that jolly overcoat of yours. Now looks like the day to remind her thatched roofs are never really watertight. And how she’s got bracing winter sports, skiing and whatnot, with roaring fires waiting for her home afterwards in Sweden this time of year.”

“And a banana warehouse she despises,” Marta put in snidely. She had written off airmail to Gothenburg with her first report – not drawing any conclusions but reporting quite truthfully that Angelica had a home ready for a family, an engagement ring (or Native equivalent) and was being sick in the mornings. Mister Silfverlindh might soon be less enthusiastic about wanting Angelica home, with any luck.

“Hmm. There is that, yes. Best not remind her of that side of the coin, eh?” He sucked at his pipe meditatively for a few seconds. “Still. Mr Silfverlind’s not paying us to relax in swish hotels all day for the sake of a drop of rain. Spot of lunch and we’d better be off, get there when Miss Angelica’s just finishing her breakfast after that night-shift shrimping or whatever they catch here. Sooner we persuade her to come home, sooner you’re back in the dry dusting the dear old mantelpiece, don’t you know?”

“I know.” Gritting her teeth, Marta reached for her raincoat. She would hardly call the Freya Hotel luxurious – but at least it was dry and tolerably warm right now. Unlike she would be the rest of her day.

An hour and a half later, courtesy of a water taxi to Main Village and a guide-assisted hike over to the North coast, Marta and Henry Holdsworthy were looking down at the cluster of thatched huts nestling in the sandy cove. Fishing-boats pulled up on the beach showed the night fleet was home, and hopefully their newest recruit should be somewhere around.

“What do we still need a guide for? We know the way,” Marta looked at the retreating tail of their Spontoonie as the hare trotted ahead of them to enquire after ‘Missy Popoluma’ as he insisted on calling her.

Henry Holdsworthy sucked on his pipe thoughtfully. “Not been to the East before, dear gal, have you? All very much par for the course. Turn up at any railway station carrying the smallest bag, there’s a dozen furs fighting over who gets to carry it. Way of life, around here. Guides are the local thing. Make sure you get every last penny out of your tourists – and keep an eye on them too. Shouldn’t wonder if that chap’s gone ahead to tell folk to hide the radios and gramophones till we’re gone, save spoiling the Native image of the place.”

Marta’s muzzle wrinkled in disgust. “Dishonest bunch.”

“Hmm. You’d think so back home. But, ‘Tell me what longitude a fur’s from, and I’ll know how much latitude to give him’ as they say in the Explorer’s club. And if we got much further East from here we’d be right round the dial and turning up in the Wild West.” He paused. “Ah, here’s the chap, coming back now.” Henry tapped his pipe out, and addressed the hare. “Well, fellow, is Miss Angelica receiving visitors?”

“Ho yes! Missy Angelica she say friends from home-island welcome to her home, any hour sun-she-shine.” The guide replied, straight-faced. He did not mention Angelica had done a lot of cursing first, or wished her visitors at the bottom of the Abyssal sea – before pulling herself together and thinking of a more diplomatic reply – ‘besides, they won’t go away’, as the Swedish feline had growled.

They followed the guide into the village, to a palm-thatched longhouse Marta had already come to dislike. Miss Angelica Silfverlindh was at the door to meet them.

“Mister Holdsworthy. Marta. Hello again.” She forced a smile to her face. “What can I do for you today?”

“Hmm. It’s more a case of what we can do for you.” Henry Holdsworthy said, looking the Swedish girl up and down. “Heard you had a spot of bother flying your aircraft out of here. I can help there. What say we make a date, you take a few days to wrap things up here and write me a note to the hangar chappies, so I can get her fueled up and ready to fly? We can all squeeze in more or less, as far as Hawaii. Make further travel arrangements there.”

Angelica hesitated. Now it came to it, she realised it was going to be hard coming up with a convincing explanation why she was not going to be leaving with them, whatever they said. What can I tell them? That I’m going to marry Ada and settle down here? Because I’m not going to do that. I think. A shiver ran down her tail. She knew her father would at least want to meet Ada, even if that was in her plans.

Henry spotted her hesitation. “Well, take your time, dear gel. I’ll leave Marta with you, she can act as our go-between, what? You can have some heart-to-heart girl talk, eh? I’m off to look at routes and charts. Daresay it’ll take me a few days to get everything ready. Till then!” He winked at Marta, enjoying the sight of her ears going flat and her fur bristling in shock and indignation.

The two Swedish felines watched him go – one with relief, the other looking as if he was a lifeboat that was sailing away having failed to rescue her.

Marta turned to her employer’s daughter, forcing a smile to her face. “Miss Angelica. I hope you’re feeling better? You seemed ... a bit unwell, last time.”

“Oh?” Angelica thought back, and blushed. She had been trying out her first batch of home-made lutefisk, and something had been radically wrong with it. She had been up most of the night. “I’m fine now. I should be all right from now on.” I’m sure I’ll get that recipe right next time, she told herself.

Marta spotted the blush, and thought she understood. I’ve heard morning sickness usually fades away as things… progress, she thought gleefully, imagining how she would phrase that in her next letter. “So – is there anything to do around here?”

Half an hour later, Marta was regretting asking that as she struggled to keep up with Angelica and the strange little native kitten who tagged along with them, lugging a bucket of seawater. They had headed East, up one of the rocky bluffs that separated the bays and settlements. Eventually they had passed the next village, the implausibly named Vikingstown, and stopped at the edge of a smaller, narrow valley. Somebody had been busy building there.

“It is quite a setup,” Angelica found it strange being proud of the sight, but with Marta next to her things seemed different. Professor Kurt’s facility occupied the bottom of a steep-sided, flat-bottomed valley, invisible from most angles until you were at the edge looking into it. About a hundred metres wide, most of it was filled with a long, two-story tall black metal shed. From what Professor Kurt had told her on her first trip the month before, the south-angled roof was a solar heat collector. But that was not the main power source of the building.

“He’s done it. He said he was going to,” She murmured, hearing a familiar squealing of iron wheels on tracks that she recalled from visiting her family’s old silver mines. “He’s got the old railway working again.”

“Ho! Sister say you coming round someday, make all ready to show!” She turned and recognised an otter male as Tahotabe, Monotehe’s older brother. The solid young Spontoonie was dressed in one of the modern-looking grey boiler-suits that Professor Kurt wore on the site. “Missy Angelica come for plenty compost, feed garden-plot?”

Angelica shook her head. “Not today. I’m showing Marta around the delights of the island – she’s sure to be impressed. Aren’t you, Marta?” Angelica stepped very lightly on her maid’s foot-paw.

Marta Svensson opened her mouth – she was about to say that Angelica’s home town of Gothenburg had one of the main shipbuilding yards in Scandinavia, and a dozen sheds bigger than the one below her could come and go without anybody much noticing. She winced slightly. “Yes, Miss Angelica.” She paused. “I’ve not seen any factories on Spontoon before. What does it make?” Looking around the structure, she spotted something unusual for a modern factory – or rather, the lack of what she expected. “And why aren’t there any chimneys?”

Tahotabe grinned, his hand sweeping expansively across the site. “No chimney, reason being no fire in whole place! Big taboo, ho yes. No fire, no furs smoke near place. Come, I show you.” He led them up to the top of the plateau, from where the metallic squealing sound of mine trucks was coming.

“Ah. He’s rebuilt only some of the railway.” Angelica had wandered with Kama across much of Main Island, and often crossed the line of the abandoned narrow-gauge railway. It was a sad sight, she had reflected – the sturdy stone bridges that might have given the islands centuries of good service, had been abandoned after scarcely twenty years when Spontoon left its ‘plantation years’ behind. Cast-iron plaques surviving sheltered under the bridges proclaimed Chief Eng. Mr Hornby Doublo’ had once linked Main Village to Vikingstown and the plantations far on the South-Western corner of the island, when Spontoon was home to civilized plantations with great houses alive with genteel Euro culture. The Althing had stored the track ever since, presumably torn between wanting the option to replace it someday, or getting a really good offer from the Japanese scrap-metal merchants who snapped up every discarded tin can as if it was gold.

“Ho! Yes. Althing only gave say-so to join main road, hundred fifty paces.” Tahotabe nodded. “Professor, he say ten times easier push load on tracks than road – and Spontoonies working here say yes. Tourist board say no to more railway than this.” The track was a loop from the crushed coral of the main road into Vikingstown to the top of a small cliff, some ten metres high, where the trucks tipped their loads into a big metal hopper that formed the highest part of the structure.

Marta’s delicate nose twitched at the scent of dead fish and seaweed. “It’s a rubbish dump? This is what you dragged me all this way to see, Miss?”

They followed Tahotabe down into the valley, where the big shed (eighty metres long, twenty wide and ten high at the lowest end, Angelica estimated) hummed slightly as with machinery. The otter opened a well-made wooden outer door – and they stepped into a small room just big enough to fit them all in, with another door in the far side.

“Professor Kurt he say all the heat we make, we use,” Tahotabe said proudly. “Put with what heat sun she give on good day – light plenty lights in Main Village. Takes clever control like steer boat, ho yes – or on cold day, roof she lose more heat than sun he give.””

“But what is it?” Marta asked plaintively. Low grinding noises were coming from the far side of the inner door.

In reply, Tahotabe opened the second door. Marta gasped, as she stepped into air as warm and moist as a sauna bath. The main room was mostly filled at that end with a huge pipe, five metres across, that was painted with thick black bitumen paint. It was in sections with strong metal lugs welded on the outside; as they watched, a little way along a hefty bear connected a two-metre metal lever and heaved down, rotating that section of the ring a fraction of a turn. From inside came a wet thudding that sounded to Marta like heavy blankets being tumbled inside a washing machine.

Marta sniffed the air disdainfully. It smelled far less than she had expected considering what was going in the top end; an intense earthy aroma. “Well, I still don’t know what it is.”

“Spontoon she no have coals in earth, no oil, forest enough only for fire-pits in longhouses,” Tahotabe said. “Plenty tourist, all want bright light, want cinema, all things electric. Cost Allthing plenty money fetch coals from Tilamooka, feed old power plant Casino Island, plenty she smoke too. Spontoon she have plenty fields, after harvest plenty leaves, stalks, put here with what sea she brings. Professor Kurt he come long way, Euro Germany-land, show way change earth-powers to electrics.”

“It’s the world’s biggest compost heap,” Angelica translated. “It makes a lot of total energy – but it doesn’t get very hot, compared with burning coal. Making use of that is where the engineering comes in.”

Marta blinked. Engineering was not something she was qualified in, but she had seen a lot of boilers and steam-engines being built or repaired around the Gothenburg shipyards. “It’s too hot to touch – but you couldn’t boil water.”

Angelica gestured up at the insulated piping above them. “Doesn’t have to. It boils ether. That runs the turbines like steam would, and a compost heap’s hot enough to do the job.”

“Main bio-reaktor, she run all year sixty Centigrade – ether she boil thirty-five,” Tahotabe announced proudly. “Plenty hot, ho yes!”

“Ether?” Marta remembered her Uncle’s horror stories about the old-fashioned country dentist he had gone to when he was a kitten. Apparently it left a fur feeling awfully sick and weak afterwards, and nobody used it as an anaesthetic any more. “But one sniff of that stuff knocks you out!”

The otter looked uncomfortable. “Only if Mister ether he get out. That small problem. Big problem, if ether he get out as steam… one spark, big fire.”

It was Angelica’s turn to wince. She did know something about engines and explosive fuel vapour; the ‘big fire’ would be one that would have pieces of the composting facility landing across half Main Island. There was more than one reason the facility was built in an isolated valley, with no houses around for five minutes’ walk.

“All big plant stuff he grind in mill, work with old waterwheel from Plantation days Professor Kurt he make like new,” the otter continued, walking down the big reactor vessel. “Fish heads, fish insides from canning plant, seaweed from beach, old beds from chicken-house, all old stuff from longhouse kitchens mix we, make not-too-wet not-too-dry, all she go in top there. Furs turn with levers pieces of big tube, mix in air, make move down to far end, go all way down ten-twelve days.”

“And all the time they’re extracting the heat as it ferments. Like a refrigerator, running in reverse,” Angelica nodded. “It’s quite a system. Even Professor Kurt says it’s not as efficient at power generating as just burning dry stuff in a regular power plant would be - but there’s no smoke, which the Tourist board likes, and there’s tons of good compost. Which everyone with a farm or a garden plot likes. Plus, you can’t burn wet seaweed and fish guts. They’d have to find something else to do with it all. And having rubbish dumps lying around would put the tourists off.”

Marta sniffed. Her distant family had been farmers in the backwoods of Sweden; some relatives had left to go to Kansas and Minnesota in search of soils more than a few centimetres deep, and her parents had moved to Sweden’s second biggest city where the work was at least indoors and no mucking-out of barns was involved. “It’s still just a compost heap. Made complicated and expensive. So, that’s good, is it?”

Angelica rolled her eyes in exasperation. She had been about to explain what Professor Kurt von Mecklenburg und Soweiter had been telling her about modern German ideas of the Earth-spirit and the natural energy flows – something that had struck a chord with the Spontoonies. But Marta was not a good audience for tales of local spirits.

“Is that it?” Marta asked plaintively, looking around as if expecting to see a lively dance hall or an elegant shopping arcade suddenly appear. “Can we go back now?”

Angelica looked up at the pipework that extracted the heat, rather like a low-temperature version of the steam pipes running through a locomotive’s firebox. At the hottest spots there were safety plugs made of Wood’s metal – she remembered her school in England where one of her classmates would regularly buy tricks from a joke catalogue – including teaspoons made of that alloy that would melt in hot water, like an unsuspecting target’s cup of tea. If the system overheated and the pressure reached danger point, those safety plugs would melt and vent the vapour through pipes into a big tank of cold water under the building, condensing and diluting it harmlessly. “Isn’t that interesting enough? You can find ordinary power plants anywhere. But this is the only one of its kind outside Germany. Professor Kurt’s using it as field testing for warmer climates than he gets back home. He went back last month to report, apparently had a good reception. He’ll be back soon, I hear.”

“Professor Kurt… if he’s invited back visiting Germany – he’s not an exile?” Marta had heard quite a few German-accented voices arriving in Gothenburg in the past few years; the banana warehouse was just down the street from the city’s small synagogue. “He’s a Nazi?”

Angelica paused. “I’ve no idea. He certainly doesn’t go around shouting about his politics.” Her expression hardened. “Not everybody is, over there. He’s not come out here to make converts, if that’s what you mean.” She glanced up at Tahotabe.

The otter shrugged. “Professor Kurt he talk plenty World-spirit, plenty Mystic Strength of Folk, no talk him politics.”

“Well, you heard it,” Angelica snapped at Marta. “He’s a brilliant engineer, and very cultured – which is more than I can say about some people.”

“When build first bio-reaktor on Casino Island, plenty Euro trouble, Euro furs no like him,” Tahotabe said. “Move out here, no trouble from Spontoonies, easy feed reaktor from fields, seashore.”

Angelica nodded. “I’ve seen the sailing barges coming ashore here from the fish cannery up the coast.” Sailing made more sense. It would hardly save Spontoon oil imports if to feed its power station furs had to burn fuel just getting the raw materials there.

“It’s still just a compost heap.” Marta held firm.

Angelica cast a despairing look at Tahotabe, who shrugged impassively. As Spontoonies found out every tourist season, there were some Euros you just could not talk sensibly with. At least the waiters, guides and other furs in the tourist industry get paid to put up with it, Angelica thought wryly, Marta is just one big loss.

Angelica thanked Tahotabe, gathered up Kama and her bucket and the party made their way out of the valley Westwards towards home.

“So,” Angelica looked her maid up and down when they arrived back at the longhouse. “You’re planning on staying here?”

Marta took a deep breath. She looked around; the hut had a rolled-up sleeping mat, a fire-pit with some metal bowls and polished coconut drinking vessel, and… that was just about it, she realised. But she had her duty. “I’m supposed to. Your father gave me instructions.”

Angelica smiled, but it was not a friendly sight. “Good! Then you can make yourself useful. I’ll show you where the village pump is – you keep the water jar full. That second pit’s for Kama’s pet – two buckets full of clean seawater in it every day. And then there’ll be more duties.”

Marta’s tail drooped. The idea had not been to make life easy here for Miss Angelica, but to persuade her how hard it was next to a relaxing time counting bananas in Sweden. “Yes, miss.” She looked around. “There’s just one room for – everything? No… bathroom?”

Angelica’s sharp feline grin grew sharper. “I’ll get you a bed-roll. Bathroom? Washing around here means a nice swim in the sea – we’ve always found that big enough, so you shouldn’t have any trouble.”

“But Miss – I don’t have a bathing costume!” Marta wailed. “I didn’t come here on holiday.”

Angelica looked her up and down. “You’ll fit right in, then. The Native bathing costume is bare fur, so don’t worry if you haven’t brought one.”

“Bare-furred? In public?” Marta took a horrified step back.

“Oh, yes. ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans’ they say – and that applies to Spontoon, too.” Angelica realised she was enjoying making Marta squirm. For a second her conscience twinged slightly – till she reminded herself Marta was here to persuade her to return to the banana warehouse. Whatever Marta got for that, she deserved. “Believe me; you’ve got nothing they haven’t seen before.” In fact, she mused, remembering Tahni, Prudence’s spotted hyena girlfriend, you’ve got a lot less

An afternoon and evening passed without much further drama, and while Kama trotted off to the village to stay with one of the other families, Angelica waved farewell and headed down to the harbour for her night fishing.

Standing alone in the door of the hut, Marta watched her go. She saw Angelica dressed as a primitive Native, her fur oiled and barbarously combed, talking rapidly in the local language. To add insult to injury, she looked happy.

“This is too much.” Marta closed the door, and stared around the sparse hut. Night was falling, and she looked at the red embers in the fire-pit. A good blaze would cheer the place up – but then she hesitated, looking at the wood pile. That would leave no wood left for cooking breakfast, and she was not going to wander around in the dark looking for more.

“She deserves this,” Marta decided, as she looked around at the basic hut. She smiled, thinking of the elegant Mr Silfverlindh, the even more elegant town house and the scenic island house out on the fjord. “And now more than ever... I really deserve to have that. Waste not, want not – and Miss Angelica is just a waste.”

The next day Marta awoke to find Angelica fast asleep on the bedroll across the room; she had somehow got into the hut, undressed and got to bed without waking Marta at all – and cats prided themselves on being light (if frequent) sleepers.

A chill ran down the two-tone girl’s spine. If Angelica could get in just like that, so could anyone. Evidently the hut was not safe for a respectable girl. For a few minutes she busied herself with the fire-pit.

“Breakfast time!” She tapped lightly on a cooking pot with a wooden spoon; there was a proper polished brass gong in the town house in Gothenburg that she loved to polish neatly, but here she would have to make do.

Angelica opened a bleary eye, and judged the time from the position of the shadows. “Marta, you idiot!” She growled sleepily. “I’m on night fishing! Wake me at noon.” With that she buried her head in a lava-lava cloth, and promptly fell asleep again.

Well, of all the ungrateful.... Marta steamed quietly, and made her own breakfast.

Noon came around, and the two Swedish felines shared a combined lunch or breakfast, depending on their point of view.

“Good morning, Kama!” Suddenly Angelica’s face broke into a warm smile as a small shape appeared in the doorway. “I hope you had a good evening.”

The black-haired kitten cast her a solemn expression. She pointed at a Swedish-English dictionary Marta had brought over.

Marta shrugged, gesturing for the kitten to have it. “Can she even read? At all?”

“You’d be surprised what Kama can do,” Angelica looked at her levelly.

Kama looked into the fires intently. A shocked expression came over her small features. She stood up, then trotted over to the book Marta had brought with her from Sweden (apparently Henry Holdsworthy had done his homework and knew there were no Spontoonie dictionaries available, except extremely dubious ones sold by a certain Songmark mouse to the hapless tourists. There were famous lines in it about autogyros full of eels, by all accounts.)

Kama tugged at Angelica’s lava-lava urgently. She had the dictionary open towards the back pages.

“Oh. You want to know what that word is?” Angelica blinked at where Kama was pointing. “It’s ‘unscheduled’. It means… it wasn’t meant to happen then. Like… like if the truck came along ten minutes early, and people weren’t ready.” The packed lorry could be seen in the distance, trundling along towards the Main Village turn laden with local furs, with their goods and chicken baskets slung on the outside. “That’s a big word for you!”

“Unscheduled.” Kama nodded, thoughtfully.

“Yes, Kama?” Angelica looked up from the pot she was stirring.

Kama pointed to another word in the dictionary, a determined expression on her small features.

“That word? It’s ‘thermal.’ Means heat. Like those nice heated baths in Main Village, that Professor Kurt’s place heats up at night.”

“Thermal,” Kama repeated. “Thermal.”

At this rate, we’ll be old and grey-furred by the time she’s learned to talk properly, Marta thought wryly.

Angelica smiled as Kama thrust the dictionary at her again, one small claw poking decisively at another word. “That’s another big word, Kama! ‘Excursion.’ That’s like going on a trip, like the guides take tourists from their boats to see our village.”

“Excursion.” Kama said. She pointed urgently towards the East, her eyes wide in fear. She tapped opened the book to the three pages she had found before, in quick succession.

“Unscheduled. Thermal. Excursion.” Angelica shook her head. “Sorry, Kama – it doesn’t mean anything to me.”

“If this was a cheap American adventure ‘talkie’, she’d be a pet dog, and we’d say ‘what’s up, girl? Do you want us to follow you?’” Marta murmured, half to herself.

Kama ran ten paces towards the cliff path, turned and looked expectantly at her adopted mother.

Angelica looked at the expression on Kama’s face. Her ears went right up. “That’s exactly what she means! Marta, you got something right – for once.”

“Thank you, missy Angelica,” Marta said dryly. With a sigh, she followed after the pair.

For a kitten her age, Kama kept up a surprisingly brisk pace, straight along the cliff path and skirting Vikingstown till it was obvious where they were heading.

If there’s one thing worse than being given a tour of a glorified dump, Marta thought sourly, it’s having to go back all this way for another one.

Angelica stood on the edge of the valley, looking and listening for half a minute. “It’s quiet. Too quiet.” Angelica could hear the wind blowing around the metal corners of the building, but that was all. “Let’s take a look.” The first few drops of what looked like a heavy shower were already splattering on the ground and the metal building. It was time to get indoors.

“They’re probably on their lunch break,” Marta said, possibly trying to be helpful.

Angelica stared at her. “Marta. You don’t shut down a power station for lunch! That’s what I’m not hearing. I can’t hear the generators. Or the big reactor tube turning.”

“Something stinks, different to yesterday,” Marta offered. “Sort of... chemical. Varnish, maybe.”

Angelica sniffed, and her tail bottled out in alarm. “That’s ether!”

“Oh. I’m not surprised. You don’t expect Natives to be able to run something complicated without it springing a leak.” Marta said matter-of-factly.

Angelica’s tail bristled out. There were alarm cords throughout the factory that any worker could get to within five seconds – and pulling those would sound loud emergency alarms. Any part of the system could be isolated and the coolant dumped to the water tanks in the cellar. Sniffing cautiously, she went round the corner – and almost fell over four bears of Samoan ancestry, that she recognized as the afternoon shift. She looked around but there was nobody else to be seen; evidently it was not Tahotabe’s shift.

“Drunk on the stuff, I expect,” Marta commented. She had heard some furs actually drank ether like brandy; leaving them in charge of a power station running on the stuff was typical Native incompetence.

Angelica knelt hastily and examined them – all were still breathing, but deeply unconscious. “They didn’t drink it - their clothes are stinking with ether! Anyway – there’s no cups or bottles.” She looked around; the nearest coolant pipe was inside the building, and it had to be twenty paces to the nearest door. A nasty thought struck her. She could see no way the bears could have been felled like that in the open air, from anything escaping the pipework indoors. But someone throwing a bucket of the solvent over them by surprise…. that would do it.

“There’s a phone there in the office. Use it. Yell for help – someone’ll speak English,” Angelica snapped. She remembered her first-aid training, and struggled to roll the bears into the right position. The smallest of them weighed three times her own slim body; if not for her months of hard work on the fishing vessels she could never have got the job done.

In a minute Marta came back. “The phones are as bad as the rest of this place. Nothing works. Am I surprised?”

Angelica’s sharp eyes traced the cable where it ran from the office towards the telephone poles heading for the road. Her ears went down. Between two of the poles there was no line. It had not just broken – someone had cut it at both ends and taken the missing piece away. That line was not getting fixed in a hurry.

Angelica looked up at the cut telephone line; there was no help from that direction. “Kama! You run back to Vikingstown, fast as you can. Fetch help.” She had noticed a big gauge with a needle creeping towards an ominous red line.

“How? She can’t even talk!” Marta blinked, as the kitten trotted away through the rain.

“Believe me – she can let you know what she means. And it’s got her out of here.” Angelica took a deep breath. “Someone’s attacked this place. The ether’s getting hotter, and the safety valves aren’t working. We’ve got to work out how to shut the whole thing down. Or – boom.”

Marta’s eyes went wide. “Miss? That’s crazy! We can’t do that! You mean, we’re going to run for it?”

“No. No, I don’t.” Angelica fixed her with a steely gaze. “Marta Svensson, we are going to stop this thing. Somebody’s sabotaged Professor Kurt’s power station. Someone wants it to go up and look like an accident. Those Spontoonies didn’t have ether splashed over them accidentally,” She gestured to the four bears lying unconscious. “Anyway – you’re going to run away and leave them? Next to an exploding power plant?”

Marta hesitated. Her ears drooped. “No. We can’t.”

“Then maybe we’re going to pick them up and carry them half a mile out of danger? Look at the size of those ursines, Marta. You think you can even move one? How far?” Angelica’s gaze bored in, relentless.

“We can’t do that either. But – we could maybe shift them onto a truck!” Marta looked around wildly.

“What truck? The ones up on top of the cliff?” Angelica pointed up the ten metre rock wall. “How’re you going to get them up there – or get the trucks down here in one piece?”

Marta grimaced. She had to admit Angelica had a point. She looked around the big, complicated industrial plant. “This doesn’t look like the kind of thing there’s a nice big ‘OFF’ switch for.”

Angelica had not spent so long taking her beloved Silver Angel apart and reassembling her not to have learned something about radiators and pipework. “Think. The coolant’s getting hotter, because it’s not getting through to the turbines and the condenser. We’ve got to get that started or…” She looked up at the cut telephone cable; whoever had done that would probably have taken a hammer to the delicate parts of the plant “or… find a way of letting the heat out.”

“I’ll go and open all the doors!” With that, Marta raced away.

Good start – but it won’t be enough. If there was a Swedish January snowstorm sweeping through here, it might do it. Not today, it won’t, not in time. Angelica thought hard about the safety features Professor Kurt and Tahotabe had mentioned. An ordinary power station had a compact firebox that might be starved of air, or drenched in water – but there was no way of stopping a hundred tonnes of fermenting matter in a hurry – the building was well insulated with a foot of dry pumice and the mass was just too big. Above her, the rain started to hammer loudly on the metal roof.

“Marta! I’m going down to check the safety tank. We might need it.” Angelica called out, and ran downstairs to the big galvanized safety tank under the main chamber. She accidentally kicked it – and it rang hollow.

“It’s empty?” She blinked, her eyes going wide in panic. There was an inspection hatch a little way along. She flung it open. And looked at the little light inside, that should not have been there. A fat church-type candle was burning at the bottom of the empty safety tank that should have held tons of cold water ready to cool and dissolve the blast of ether vapor that might be about to surge down from the straining pipework any second. Only a few puddles lay in the corners now.

For a heartbeat Angelica froze. If the ether flushed into the tank in the next minute, the place was going to go up in a fireball - even at her best speed she could hardly get out of range of the blast in time – and there was Marta, and the unconscious workers to think about. Then she moved decisively – diving into the wet tank, pinching out the candle flame, scenting the chamber with the hot stink of burned wax.

The vibration of her hitting the floor jarred the access hatch shut. It clanged to, and Angelica Silfverlindh was left in the total dark.

She lay there for a few seconds, feeling her heart pounding. Her ears strained to hear tell-tale signs of creaking pipework on the level above getting ready to blow – but for the moment there was nothing. She took a deep breath of damp but ether-free air.

“Situational awareness.” The words came back to her from her flying instructor, years ago in England. “Know where you are, know what’s happening around you. Don’t lose track.” She remembered exactly how the candle had looked from the hatch, and how she had slid across the floor to reach it. She kept that image firmly in mind, like navigating on a dead-reckoning chart over empty ocean.

Three steps back, two to starboard – reach up, about shoulder height…. She felt along the wall to where the hatch should be. For a few seconds she felt panic starting to well up as she pressed against unyielding metal – and then the hatch pressed open, and she was wriggling out into the fresh air.

Angelica looked at the stairs leading to the open air, but then a thought struck her. “That water tank was emptied – so there has to be a drain. And a way to fill it.” Had there be a gaping hole ripped in one end, she would have seen it from inside.

A quick search at the downhill end located a five-centimetre pipe leading to a drain, with a big brass tap on it. She trusted to probabilities (not luck, she thought firmly) and trusting it had been left wide open, turned the brass wheel the other way till it stopped. A search for a matching pipe at the other end of the water tank and the same moves rewarded her with the echoing sound of water splashing inside the dump tank.

“Right.” She nodded, thinking hard. It would take a long time for enough water to fill the emergency tank till it could do its job – time they might not have. “Plan B.” She ran up the stairs, spotting Marta looking panicked.

“Miss Angelica! The pressure gauge – it’s still going up!” The maid’s tail was bottled out in shock. “We have to get out of here!”

“Not before we’ve shut it down. Come on!” Angelica stared at the straining pipes for a second. The heat that was building up should be going to the turbine and the condenser. That gave her an idea. Angelica remembered Tahotabe’s words, about the roof panels some days losing more heat than they added to the system. “We can’t get the condenser working – but we can make our own. Use the roof panels! It’s raining outside!” Fortunately there was a diagram of the system on the wall; evidently Professor Kurt believed in leaving nothing to chance. The pipes and valve wheels were hot, seventy degrees Centigrade according to the needle quivering inside the red zone on the thermometers – but Angelica grabbed the main wheel and began to turn.

“Heat rises – we open the valves to the solar heat panels on the roof! The hottest coolant will go up and dump the heat!” Angelica panted. “Marta – those three big brass wheels, there – turn them clockwise.”

“Solar heat panels? You’re adding more heat? You’ll blow this place clear into the Baltic!” Marta looked on, aghast. “I’m getting out of here!” With that she turned and sprinted for the door like a scalded cat.

“Marta! Get back here!” Angelica yelled. But Marta was already heading for the road at top speed. Cursing, Angelica grabbed a rag, wrapped it round her paws and strained to open the scorching-hot valve wheels. Two of them turned easily enough – but the third and biggest was stuck. Two sets of paws might have forced it open. The pipework around her creaked and groaned ominously.

Marta’s a maid, she’s not an Adventuress. She’s paid for cleaning, not daring stunts, Angelica told herself, wildly looking around for something to help turn the wheel. Her eyes locked upon a broom in the corner of the room – diving over to it, she grabbed it and jammed it in the wheel, giving extra leverage. With all her strength she heaved – and the big wheel began to turn.

“Ahhh.” She panted, catching her breath as around her the pipework began to quiver with fast-flowing liquids starting to move. Even without a pump, convection was driving it now. Ether vapour was rushing up into the rain-cooled solar panels, giving up its heat and condensing, wisps of steam rising from the hot metal roof. “That’s the best we can do. I just hope it’s enough.”

She looked at the controls; every pipe that could be set to dump the heat into the roof panels already was. It was time to go. Every second the emergency tank below her was filling with cold water; if the pipes broke now, there might be enough there to quench the hot vapor before it reached any flame. She just hoped that fat, long-burning candle had been the only ignition source the saboteur had left. The needle on the big pressure gauge was no longer edging deeper into the red with every minute.

As she raced out of the building, she heard a distant shout. She spotted Tahotabe and half a dozen Spontoonies running down the road. A large mare was behind them, carrying Kama on her shoulders – but stopped and put her down at the edge of the valley.

“Kama say big trouble,” Tahotabe panted. “What happen here?”

Two hours later, the little valley swarmed with Spontoonies, engineers and Police. The engineers had first checked the systems, announced the plant was in no immediate danger, and congratulated Angelica warmly. The police had followed straight on their tails, and were photographing everything and interviewing everybody. There was even a dorm from Songmark, led by an intense-looking squirrel girl Angelica had not met before, who seemed to be keeping a wary eye out for clues and constables both. The unconscious workers had recovered, apart from sick headaches, and apparently had been ambushed much as Angelica had guessed, without seeing who did it.

“They did a thorough job, whoever it was,” She heard an engineer tell one of the policemen, a distinguished-looking older stag “Replaced the Woods’ Metal safety plugs with ordinary solder, looks just like it. But the whole pipework would have ruptured before the safety valves went!”

“Hmm. And they probably thought the candle would be destroyed in the fire,” the stag had nodded thoughtfully. “A reader of too many detective stories, perhaps.”

Marta had turned up from the safety of the next valley after an hour, looking shame-faced – evidently having decided that by this time, anything that was going to explode would have done so.

“Much use you are,” Angelica hissed privately. “What am I going to do with you? I’d take you out night-fishing… but you’d scare the fish, falling overboard. Like you certainly would.”

Marta’s expression was one of wounded dignity. “This is none of our business, Miss. I’m here to clean and tidy, and you’re here to sell bananas. We don’t belong here. It’s time you went home.”

The two stared at each other. The mood was broken by Kama tugging on the hem of Angelica’s lava-lava. “Home?” The kitten asked.

“Yes, we’re all going home. To our longhouse.” Angelica paused. “I wonder if I’ll ever know how you knew about this.” For a second Angelica caught a strange look in her daughter’s eyes, as if she was peering far into the future. Then she shook her head, smiling. “Kittens say the strangest things. Unscheduled. Thermal. Excursion.’” She thought hard, then shook her head again. “A power station going on an excursion? Makes no sense to me.”

this story continues at the Naorhy Archive website -

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