Previous Installment: Dreams
Star Date 35.41
The following is the eleventh installment of
the tale which began with Takeoff
and continued with Shopping Trip
Parts I. through IV
The Test Flight
and Back To Square 1
All prior installments should be read before this page, as that
may help to render the following events marginally less obscure.
This installment was also very kindly provided to us by
Professor Johann Schnarchhund of Miskatonic University.
Johann again assures us that this first person account, narrated
by Isis Resillechat, is very much as it was received by his
daughter, Taurina. For additional information please see
the Iemy Papers
Hello again, Taurina!
Since I last wrote, I've learned a whole lot about the Russian
It was a lot of work, but Mince and I -- and Dad and Nim-nim --
patched our cell phone through Erfout-Eetjney's communications and
into the phone network. And then we all sat here in orbit and
cooled our heels while Dad spent days making phone calls. I
listened for a while, but I don't know much Russian, so it really
wasn't exactly gripping. And besides, even if they'd been speaking
English, there wouldn't have been much to listen to.
Phone: Ring ... Ring ... Ring ... Hello?
Dad: Hello, I'm trying to reach Boris.
Phone: He's not here, can I take a message?
Dad: Tell him Felix Resilleserre would like to --
Phone: Felix Resilleserre!? No way! Click
For some reason most of Dad's contacts didn't seem to want to talk
to him. And the few times he got through to someone, they weren't
Dad: I'm looking for some lithium deuteride.
Phone: You're looking for what? HA HA HA HA
HA HA HA HA! <Click>
But persistence pays, and Dad finally found a source. Later
tonight, we're supposed to pick it up, somewhere in the hills of
Star Date 35.75
Mom had us stopped, hovering, about twenty miles up over the
rendezvous point. It was an open field, surrounded by trees, with
a mountain road leading to it. Mom had a close up view of the
field on the screen in front of her. The surrounding territory,
including the roads (such as they were), were on various other
screens around the bridge.
The whole "bridge crew" was present, including Snidly, who was
sleeping on a cushion under one of the control panels. Skritch was
standing on her back legs, front feet on the panel in front of
her, staring into a screen which showed a section of the road
leading to the clearing. She was under strict orders to use none
of the weapon systems, no matter what happened -- they take
energy, lots of it, and we were very
low on fuel.
I'd been told that the plan was to land Erfout Eetjney in the
field after the truck with the fuel arrived. At that point, Dad
was supposed to exit the ship with the payment, give it to the
driver, we'd load up the fuel, and that'd be it.
But it was almost time for the rendezvous, and there was still no
sign of the truck.
"It's no good," Dad said, suddenly.
"Why not? What's wrong?" Mom asked, sounding totally surprised.
"Too cheap -- 'way
It's practically bankrupting us!"
"And easy -- 'way
"Easy how? It took a week to set this up!"
"Yes, exactly. Not nearly enough time -- should have taken much
longer. And taking a bank check for payment -- that's nuts.
"So -- do you think they won't show?"
"I don't think
it -- I'm sure
But at that point I interrupted.
I was looking at the road away down the hill, a few miles from the
field. And on my screen, a huge tractor trailer had appeared. It
was hard to tell from above, but it sure looked like a Dunkin'
Donuts truck, laboring slowly up the steep hill. And an 18 wheeler
full of donuts had no business on that road, which led nowhere
near any place donuts were sold. It had to be our delivery truck.
"Felicia, take us down! Treetop height -- land as soon as they get
to the field!"
"Captain, wait!" Dad looked worried. "We don't have any idea
what's in that truck!"
The Captain glared briefly at Dad, then meowed, "Felicia, hold us
here. Nim-nim, what's in the truck? Can you scan it?"
Nim-nim, in her best Mr. Spock voice (which wasn't much like
Spock's voice at all, really), said "Activating sensors," and
pressed several buttons. A hole opened in the panel in front of
her. She immediately jammed her head into the hole. I heard her
"Well? What's in the truck?"
"I smell ... donuts ... lots of donuts..."
"What about the front thing?"
"You mean the cab?" added Dad.
Nim-nim sniffed some more. "Driver doesn't smell so good -- sweaty
-- needs shower. Smells ... scared..."
"Smells like other person there too -- more than one -- at least
four in cab. Smell something odd -- oil, metal -- smells like
those AK 47's we had..."
The truck had arrived at a steeper section of the road, and had
slowed to a crawl. It was belching clouds of blue smoke from in
back of the cab. It seemed unlikely that a truck full of donuts
would be having such a hard time climbing the hill.
"What else?" from the Captain.
"Scanning trailer again..." Sniff, sniff. "Something
else -- donut smell very strong, but smell men, too -- in back, I
think. Smell nervous. And smell more guns."
"Doesn't sound like what we ordered," observed Dad, dryly.
"Chance the fuel's in there too?" asked the Captain, his tail
switching faster than ever. "Check again!"
"Don't smell it." Nim-nim sniffed, and sniffed, for at least
another half minute. "Truck exhaust stink over everything. But ...
something else, too"
"Another truck -- some kind of truck -- smell diesel fuel, rubber
tires -- hot metal --"
"Where? There's no other truck on the road!"
"Truck inside trailer -- in back."
Nim-nim took her head out of the hole in the panel and looked up
at the Captain. "There's no fuel. It's just a trap."
Skritch hissed, and her paws flashed briefly over the controls. On
the screen, I saw a bright flash at the front of the trailer, and
the top suddenly peeled back like one of those old sardine can
lids, the kind you rolled up on a "key". So much for Skritch's
The sides of the trailer blew off, and boxes of donuts flew in all
directions. The cab, relieved of the heavy trailer, shot ahead up
the hill and off my screen. As the remains of the trailer stopped
dead in the road, some kind of army truck, hidden until then in
the back of the trailer, skidded forward through the piles of
donuts and remains of the trailer, and lurched onto the road. A
gun on top of it started firing wildly in all directions, but of
course there was nothing there to shoot at, save for lines of
boulders which served as guardrails on either side of the road.
The captain screeched "Stop!
" at Skritch, as
Sniggles appeared in the middle of the room, below his perch.
"Fuel very low, best not use weapons much," she announced.
There was a sudden yowling, and an image of an extremely skinny
cat flashed briefly on all the screens in the room. "Low power! Do
reduce power use! Fuel warning!" meowed deafeningly across the
This was a first! Every alarm we'd run across previously had
sounded only after
the event it was supposed to warn
against was all over.
"Sniggles!" called Dad, as soon as the echoes of the voice died
away. "Can we use any other fuel? Can we burn plain water?
"Yes!" was the surprising response. "But not ideal. Not even good.
"Why? What's wrong with it?"
"One can't --" and Sniggles suddenly froze and started flickering,
as the yowling voice came on once more: "Power loss! Computer not!
Power loss! Reduce pull! Power loss! Reduce push! Power loss!
Warning, please place craft in a stable location now!
Sniggles stopped flickering and vanished, as the lights went out,
the rumble of the engine suddenly went silent, and my stomach
turned a somersault -- the artificial gravity had apparently quit.
The dome, which had been transparent, had once again turned
opaque. The lower row of screens were flickering spasmodically,
and the upper row seemed to have gone back to being plain windows.
Since the sky at this altitude was awfully dark, though, it was
hard to tell. So much for the warning having been given in
"Felicia!" yowled the Captain, "Get us to water! Come down on the
sea, nearest sea!"
"If I can bring us anywhere..." Mom muttered, frantically pressing
buttons. "We need Sniggles..."
But there was no Sniggles, not with the main computer off line.
"The Adriatic?" I heard Dad say, as he fiddled with the controls.
"Black Sea," Nim-nim meowed.
A silence followed, during which I started feeling heavier again.
I guess the air was getting thicker as we fell -- and, of course,
we were falling faster now...
"Felix! Do something!" the Captain screeched "Find us some power!"
Dad said nothing; he was too busy.
Nim-nim suddenly added, "Found some power. Not totally gone yet."
Mom's screen abruptly lit up.
"Here we go..." she said, and there was a sudden roar as the
engines started -- and the air was filled with flying cats, as we
accelerated sideways without the assist of the artificial gravity.
I gave a yell as Nim-nim crash landed on may lap. "Mind the
"Sorry!" meowed Nim-nim, but she went right on digging in to keep
from sliding off.
Luckily, Mom and I were strapped in place; Dad, who hadn't
strapped in, was hanging onto the base of the Captain's perch.
"Gravity! Felix, get some!" the Captain contributed.
"Nim-nim, can you find us some gravity?" Dad called.
"Hold onto me!" added Nim-nim.
"Gladly, if you'll stop holding onto me!" I took a firm grip on
Nim-nim, who finally extracted her front claws from my leg. Her
paws flew briefly over the keys, and the screen in front of me
flickered and showed an outline of the ship. Nim-nim tapped it a
few times, and my stomach lurched again as "down" suddenly went
back to pointing down.
With several fading hiccups, the sound of the engines vanished.
"Now what?" I heard Mom ask. She fiddled with the controls a bit.
"That's odd -- it just shut down..." she hit the blue button
again. There was a belch from below decks, and my stomach suddenly
tried to climb down through the floor as the engines started up
again -- and the gravity shut down.
"Oops!" said Dad, as he fell over; he'd been walking back to the
controls when the gravity quit.
Nim-nim made a puzzled noise and pushed a few buttons. My stomach
suddenly lurched back up from the deck as the gravity field came
back -- and the sound of the engines died away.
"Oops!" said Dad, as he again lost his footing; he'd just gotten
back on his feet after the previous jolt. Then, just as Mom was
restarting the engine, he yelled "Wait!"
There was another belching noise and another lurch as the engines
started -- and the gravity quit.
"Nim-nim, wait!" Dad added. "Don't turn gravity back on! Not
enough for both!"
Nim-nim made a funny little questioning noise, like a tiny,
puzzled organ pipe, but didn't do anything further -- and this
time the engines continued to work.
Mom seemed to be having trouble, though. She was making constant
adjustments. "Felix," she asked, "Where are we? I've been working
to keep us going, but I'm not sure how far we've gone."
Before Dad could answer, there was another belching noise, and the
engines quit once more. Mom called, "Nim-nim, can you help here,
We're still kind of high up..."
Nim-nim did something, and the engines started again with a
sickening jolt. the world seemed to twist around me, as I heard
Mom say, "Gyros don't seem -- uh, oh..."
"Can you balance it down just on the rockets?" Dad asked, softly.
"Trying..." The deck started bouncing, like it was practicing to
be a trampoline, when a sudden "Meow!" cut across the bridge.
"Power loss! Power loss! Place ship on stable surface! Shutting
" followed by silence.
My stomach tried to climb my throat as we were suddenly
The lower screens were dark; the upper screens, now just windows,
showed blue sky -- then suddenly showed something dark and watery
-- then sky again -- we were tumbling.
"Uh, oh!" I heard Dad say, just as the Captain yelled, "Felix, do
Dad was hanging onto his unfastened "seat belts" with one hand.
With the other, he pressed several buttons -- and the screen in
front of him lit up, showing some sort of schematic. So the ship
dead! But it went dark again a moment later.
|Splash! Now that's what we
call a hard landing
Before he could do anything more, we hit the water, upside down.
There was a terrible noise, and I thought for one awful moment
that the belts were going to succeed in holding just part
of me on the deck -- and then I was free. The belts had pulled
loose from the floor.
And I was flying through the air in sudden darkness -- a complete
absence of light.
I had just enough time to think I was going to be smashed like a
mosquito on a windshield when I hit the ceiling ... and then I hit
the ceiling. Or, rather I hit something
-- but it felt
more like smashing into a trampoline than a windshield.
I thought for a moment that I was going to lose my lunch, as I
wobbled madly back and forth, caught in the something
had hit. It was something I couldn't see, since everything was
dark -- but I sure could feel it. Lumpy, kind of soft, but really
tight -- it was like being squeezed by a giant who was wearing
And then the banging started -- or I started to notice the
banging. It sounded like small explosions -- fireworks? Somebody
shooting? Was the giant who was squeezing me with one hand making
giant popcorn with the other hand?
The rubbery stuff which was holding me was trembling like
frightened jello in response to the banging. It started to loosen,
and the darkness started to lift; it was replaced with a rapidly
growing beige glow.
And then, just as I felt myself starting to slip down through the
rubbery stuff, I realized what it was. I was in the middle of an
enormous pile of balloons -- balloons which were all the color of
stale vanilla ice cream. It was as though I'd been trapped in the
world's largest Century 21 open house.
Even as I wondered what had happened to the ship, the pile shrank
around me. The banging noises continued, erratically -- it was the
sound of popping balloons.
As the balloons loosened their grip on me, I started slipping down
between them. After a few minutes being alternately squeezed and
dropped by the shifting pile, I landed on a slightly soft slightly
curved floor. The light here was much worse than it had been up
toward the top of the balloon pile; I could hardly see anything.
From somewhere nearby, the Captain's voice broke out in a yowl of
annoyance, and just as suddenly I knew where I was.
"Felix! Get rid of this stuff! Do something!" This was accompanied
by the sound of more bursting balloons.
" I heard, from somewhere overhead. "I can't
reach anything but a bunch of balloons."
"Felix, where's Isis?" I heard Mom's voice from somewhere farther
up in the pile. She followed that up with, "Isis, are you OK?
Where are you?"
"I'm fine, Mom!" I yelled, as I heard the Captain pop another few
"Felix, get down here!" he suddenly yowled.
"How?" Dad answered, reasonably.
"I don't care how, just do it! Snidly, get him down here!"
"Hoooow?" came a sleepy sounding reply from somewhere up in the
middle of the air.
"Break the things holding him up!"
"Don't like the noise."
"Do it anyway!" the Captain howled, and there was a barrage of
bursting balloon sounds from his direction. The pile shifted
noticeably above me.
I heard a "pop" from somewhere above me, and then another, and
then a grumbled "Not like!" from Snidly. Then nothing for a moment
-- then an annoyed growl from somewhere overhead, which sounded
like it might have been Skritch. This was followed by a cascade of
bursting balloon noises. It sounded like Skritch was firing a
machine gun up there.
Moments later, there was an "Oops!" followed by a nearby thud. I
couldn't see anything under the mass of balloons, but it sounded
like Skritch had succeeded in getting Dad down from the pile.
But I didn't have a chance to think any farther about that. I
screamed as something heavy and very sharp clobbered me on the
head. Skritch, too, had hit the deck -- or rather, would have hit
the deck had I not been on her flight path! She jumped off my head
without a word -- but not without consequences; her back claws
were every bit as sharp as her front ones. I yelled again as blood
started running into my eyes.
"Isis! Are you OK?" Mom called from somewhere overhead.
"Isis! Are you OK?" Dad called from a few feet away. I heard him
floundering through the balloons, coming my way.
"Isis! Are you OK?" I heard, from somewhere far overhead. It
sounded like Auntie's voice. I wondered how she'd gotten to the
bridge, if the whole ship was stuffed with balloons, as I
"No!" I said. Blood was dripping off the end of my nose. Getting
landed on by Skritch had not been my idea of a good time; my scalp
felt like it had been lacerated. Something was dripping off my
left ear. I was afraid to reach up and feel the top of my head,
for fear it might peel off.
"Felix! Can you do anything
about these annoying things?"
the Captain's voice came from somewhere behind me.
"Can't reach the controls" ... followed by a disgusted noise from
Skritch, and more machine gun sounds. The pile suddenly opened up
around me. Not that I cared -- the room was starting to spin and
everything seemed kind of blurry. Getting hit by Skritch had
been a more serious accident than I realized. In a confused
sort of way, I looked up from what was now the bottom of a conical
pit in a mountain of balloons, and saw Auntie "surfing" down the
side of it. She'd wandered onto the bridge, somehow, and now she
was an aunt caught in an aunt trap, I thought, blurrily, but then
it must be a trap dug by an aunt lion, and what does an aunt lion
look like? Does it look anything like Skritch? And then I must
have fainted, because I can't remember anything more.
I don't suppose I was unconscious very long. The first thing I
noticed was that there wasn't any blood in my eyes, but my head
still felt like I'd been scalped. The next thing was that I was
lying on the floor looking up at the ceiling, and everything I
could see looked pretty seriously wrong. And the third thing was
that lots of people (term used loosely) were shouting at each
The Captain, Skritch, Snidly, Nim-nim, Auntie, and my parents were
standing or sitting around me, and all of them except Auntie
seemed upset. The gist of it seemed to be that we didn't know
where we were, nobody was sure what to do about the balloons, the
controls were out of reach, and everyone was mad at Skritch for
lacerating a fellow crew member. Auntie seemed to be the only calm
one; the first thing I heard her say was, "Hello, dear, are you
with us again? You got a few cat scratches but I've patched up the
worst of it -- I don't suppose it's as bad as lots I've seen after
fights, after all, and I don't suppose you won't be as good as new
again in not too very long, after all. You only needed a few
stitches and a dab of glue and a bit of plasma, and what's more
both your ears are still in place. Much better than most who've
tangled with Skritch, I might guess."
I was totally puzzled. "How did ... did you... but where'd you get
the stuff to do stuff with? Are we still on the Bridge?" I asked,
a little incoherently.
Auntie laughed. "It's all in my bag, dear. I'm a vet, after all.
We're on a ship chock full of cats, and only one of them's
domestic. I've been expecting to need to sew up somebody
ever since I came aboard."
I sat up. I had to practically yell to get a word into the ongoing
argument, but that was easy, as I felt like yelling from the pain
in my scalp as soon as I moved. "Mom, Dad, I'm fine! Skritch only
scratched me a little, and I really am OK! But where are we?"
Everybody looked at me. "We don't know" was Dad's reply. "And I
can't get to the controls which makes it all more awkward."
I looked around, and everything looked just as wrong. Limp, broken
remains of balloons were everywhere. Skritch had been busy! Off to
the sides there were still some heaps of intact ones, but the
piles were too small to obscure my view of the room. I was sitting
on the ceiling of the bridge, right in the middle of the dome. Far
above me, the Captain's perch stuck out of the floor. The control
panels were ranged around the walls, entirely out of our reach in
the inverted ship.
"Oh, mrrrph" said Nim-nim. "Easy enough to get to controls. But
what can we do when we get there?"
"See if there's any power left, figure out where we are, clear
balloons away -- and then see about refueling."
I looked up at the windows. Blue light was shining in through
them. Just before the balloons appeared -- from wherever -- and
blocked my view of everything, I remembered we'd been falling into
the sea. "Are we in shallow water?" I asked. "That looks like
daylight coming in."
"Don't know." Dad's concise reply. "Sure didn't float last time we
hit the water, so don't suppose we did this time, either."
By this time Nim-nim had scaled the wall (claws are good for
something other than lacerating scalps) and was fiddling with one
of the control panels. "Floating!" she announced. Then, "I think.
Not sure. Need fuel, right away."
"Need to get out."
"Felix, are you nuts?" exclaimed Auntie. "We're under water --
what do you mean, we need to get out?"
"Get out and get water."
"But Nim-nim says we need fuel, not water!"
"Water is fuel. Can use ordinary water in an emergency -- Sniggles
"And this is certainly an emergency," added Mom.
"So you need to get topside -- or bottomside -- or anyway outside
-- which will be a lot wetter than inside, which seems wrongside,
since we're downside up, and way down below the ocean..."
"But no -- rather, floating," added Dad. "For whatever reason."
And then, "But how we get to the hatch with all these balloons in
"Where'd they come from, anyway?" Auntie asked, and looked Dad in
the eye. Apparently she saw something, because she exclaimed,
"Aha! They're your
doing, aren't they, Felix?"
"Don't know..." Dad replied, slowly and thoughtfully, while
staring fixedly over Auntie's right shoulder. "Just before the
crash, I tried to -- " but we never heard what he had tried to do,
because at that point the Captain broke in.
"Doesn't matter. How will you rid of them again? And how will you
get out to get water?"
Dad looked puzzled. Mom looked thoughtful. I looked like my head
hurt (which it did). The silence was finally broken by Snidly, who
was acting out of character by actually staying awake during a
planning meeting. "How did Auntie get to bridge?"
"Snowshoes!" she said, and pointed at a pair of what were,
unmistakably, snowshoes lying on the deck.
I laughed. "OK, that's it, now I know, I'm just dreaming all this,
or it's all just somebody's silly story. It can't be for real. It
just doesn't make sense -- nobody carries snowshoes on an
interstellar adventure, and nobody just keeps snowshoes in the car
in case there's an emergency, not in Scotland, they don't."
"But of course they do, dear. I did, and there's your proof. Or,
rather, Herbert did; it's really his doing; when he was planning
his expedition to Snaefellsjokull
got a bunch of sets of folding snowshoes, and stored a few pairs
in Aftershock. He said it's the emergencies you never think of
which can get you, and since he'd thought of this one, we no
longer had to worry about being unexpectedly snowed in, whether or
not the Koreshans were right. Not that I ever worried much about
being snowed in in Scotland to start with -- or France, for that
matter. But the climate's pretty mild in most of France, except
for a few of those mountain duchies where they raise wine and role
cheese wheels. At least you don't have to worry about avalanches
caused by the bagpipers when you're in Alsacia, I shouldn't
And so it came to pass that Dad strapped on the snowshoes, Nim-nim
climbed onto his shoulders, and the two of them climbed up the
hills of balloons still remaining in the corridors and
disappeared. And the rest of us waited.
And waited some more.
And gradually, we noticed that the air was smelling a bit stale.
And still we waited...
Meanwhile, down in the hold
Dad told me what they'd done after he got back; here are some
of the high points...
Getting the bucket was pretty tedious, and the most interesting
thing that could be said about the trip to the bottom of the ship
is that it took a long time. The real excitement only started when
they got to the hatch at the bottom of the ship. They still didn't
know for sure whether the ship was really floating, or if it was
sitting on the bottom of ... whatever
it was we were sunk
The snowshoes allowed Felix to walk, slowly, over the piles of
balloons, only occasionally slipping down between them and dumping
the two of them in a heap. To start with, Felix had had to crawl
over the piles in some of the lower corridors, where they were too
close to the ceiling for him to stand up, and that was even slower
than walking on them. They'd tried to use only the largest
corridors, where the going was easier.
But the balloons had been deflating, slowly but surely, and by the
time they made it to the bottom hold of the ship (now located at
the top), Felix was standing up with space left over above his
head. And at last the hold appeared before them, stretching out
below their feet like a strange dimly seen desert, covered with
dunes of balloons instead of sand. And it was, indeed, below their
feet, as the corridor on which they entered was at floor level ...
or in the current state of things, at ceiling level. The wall
stretched straight down from their feet into the shadows. Aside
from Felix's flashlight, the only light came from a row of what
appeared to be windows along the far wall of the hold.
The hatch they were heading for was in the floor ... which is to
say, it was in the ceiling in the current configuration of things.
And that, in turn, meant that it was going to be about twenty feet
over their heads. How they'd open the hatch was not at all clear.
None the less, they slid down the wall, and soldiered on across
the dunes until they were directly below the hatch they'd hoped to
use. They looked up at it ... far
up. Nim-nim could have
climbed up a wall and gotten to the hatch, had it been next to a
wall ... but it wasn't. Cats aren't flies; walking across the
ceiling was beyond Nim-nim's abilities.
But they had another option: They could climb
ceiling (er, floor), if only they had something to climb on. And
they did ... they could climb on the balloons. So, they set about
moving the dunes, piling up the balloons ever higher in an attempt
to reach the hatch. And after each new effort to raise the pile,
Felix would clamber up the heap, and the balloons on top would
kind of squish down into the pile, and it wouldn't be as high as
it had seemed from the floor ... and they'd go back to piling up
Eventually, Nim-nim observed that the air didn't smell so good.
"Hmmmm .. it's been how long without ventilation, and life
support's probably a mess..." Felix replied. "If we could find
Aftershock we could push -- plough -- the balloons into a big
enough pile, maybe."
"Run Aftershock, with the air already not so good?"
"Maybe just on batteries -- don't need to go very far."
But it was a moot point. While the balloon dunes may have been too
deflated to get them to the hatch, they were more than heapish
enough to conceal the truck.
Back on the Bridge
Snidly was sleeping on a pile of broken balloons not far from me,
and his breathing didn't sound good.
I was awake, and my breathing sure didn't feel good. Something was
going seriously wrong with the air.
The captain was clinging to the wall, staring out one of the
windows, and switching his tail. Switch ... switch ... switch...
like a metronome, one switch per second.
"Snidly!" the Captain suddenly called. "Find out what's keeping
Felix! And why is the air so smelly?"
"Mrrrmmmmrgg" replied Snidly.
Mom added, "The ventilation's off, and the lights are off in life
support, and the whole thing's turned upside down -- I imagine
that has a lot to do with what's wrong with the air."
"Snidly! Go check on life support!"
Snidly finally woke up. "Crew can handle it."
"Crew isn't handling it -- obviously! Take Skritch and go fix it.
And take Isis, you may need some hands. And take Mince -- there's
nobody to communicate with so she's useless here."
And so we climbed up the pile of balloons and struggled along a
corridor. As soon as we left the bridge, it was totally dark, save
for the beam of my flashlight. I hoped the batteries would hold
out; even cats can't see with no light at all. The worst part,
though, was the noise. Our progress was deafening, as
Skritch slashed the balloons, clearing the corridor in front of
us. I could catch silvery flashes now and then in the beam of the
flashlight. I think Skritch must have been wearing those
switchblade things on her claws. That would certainly explain what
she had done to my scalp when she landed on me.
In the hold
"And do what?"
"Find another hatch."
And so they did -- after finding a corridor opening part way up
the wall, one which they could actually get to, they headed off to
one of the other hatches in the bottom of the ship.
This time, the corridor wasn't too high, the balloons were still
reasonably inflated, and the ceiling was within reach.
"What do you think's outside?"
"Air, I suppose."
"Well, we need water."
"But not too much..."
"Whatever -- we need both, we need them now," and with that, Felix
hit the buttons that opened the hatch.
He was rewarded with a waterfall on his head.
In a corridor somewhere
I was totally lost. I hoped either Snidly or Skritch knew where we
were. We were working our way along a low corridor, just high
enough for me to crawl through. It was totally plugged with
balloons; we were moving exactly as fast as Skritch could break
them to clear the way for us.
The one good thing was that the air here was much fresher than it
had been in the bridge. Apparently, the balloons were inflated
with clean air, and most of the air in the corridor now came from
the broken balloons. I hoped they were OK back on the bridge -- it
had been getting pretty foul when we left.
At the hatch
Luckily, the waterfall on Felix's head didn't contain the whole
ocean, and it stopped almost immediately, leaving him drenched,
and the bucket about half full.
"Ooops!" he yelled, and "Pfauuugh!" and "Ooouuuuch!" as he rubbed
frantically at his eyes with a soaked tissue.
"If you're trying to clear your eyes, something dry might work
better," observed Nim-nim, less than helpfully.
"What is this stuff? Not sea water, that's for sure!"
"Yes it is" from Nim-nim, who was licking a few spots off her fur.
"Just stronger than usual."
! A lot
stronger! Since when can sea water
be any stronger than sea water??" Felix was on his knees, half
sunk in the balloons, as he rubbed at his burning eyes.
"When it's from someplace else."
"Someplace else -- like the Great Salt Lake? That's silly, halfway
around the world..."
"So maybe the Dead Sea? ... No, impossible, too far away."
"Boy were we off course!"
There was a pause while Felix continued dabbing at his eyes.
"Need help? Lick eyes for you, make them clean?"
"No, that's OK, thanks very much..."
"Would save time."
"That's OK, almost done here, I think..."
Tears eventually did the job that the wet tissue couldn't. Felix's
eyes, though streaming, no longer stung too much for him to keep
"If you're through with that, we should move on."
Felix got back onto his feet, on the snowshoes, on top of the
balloons, and, with a bit of bouncing, reached the cat ladder in
the hatch. Soon both of them were outside, standing on the bottom
of the ship.
The sun had set during the trek to the hatch, leaving a smear of
orange, like a highlighter mark from God to remind everybody which
way was west. The rest of the sky was fading from gray toward
black. No stars were visible anywhere -- apparently it was
overcast on the Aral Sea, if that's where we were this evening.
The deck was wet, but not submerged -- lucky for all of us! The
waves of the sea were dimly visible in the gloom, waving
sluggishly a few dozen yards away, over the edge of the hull.
Apparently the hull was riding high enough so that the waves
weren't breaking over it.
As they set out for the edge of the hull, however, it became clear
that the Erfout Eetjney wasn't riding as high as all that, after
all: A taller-than-usual wave loomed dimly in the gloom near the
ship, broke over the edge of the deck, and rolled onward, straight
"Here comes water -- how convenient!" exclaimed Felix, as he bent
over to scoop up a bucket full.
"Yaawwrk!" replied Nim-nim, as she launched herself from her spot
next to him on the deck. She most decidedly wasn't one of those
cats who enjoy a little swim now and then -- particularly when the
water is so salty it's almost more like mud than water.
"Ouch -- watch the claws!" Nim-nim was back on Felix's shoulders,
and the perch was none too stable as he was inundated almost to
his waist by the wave rolling by. After swaying a bit, Felix
suddenly sat down, which act was accompanied by yells from Nim-nim
(who got wet) and Felix himself (who got held onto, very tightly,
In a corridor, somewhere
We'd been working our way slowly along interminable identical
corridors for what seemed like days. They were all too short for
me to stand up, and as I crawled along, all I could see of them in
the beam of my flashlight was a patch of blank off-white wall and
a floor covered with broken balloons.
Skritch was leading the way, ears laid back flat on her head,
bursting balloons as she went. Snidly was at her shoulder. I was
following the two of them, and Mince was somewhere behind me. My
whole head seemed to be ringing with the deafening sound of
hundreds of breaking balloons, echoing in the narrow corridor. I
was not feeling too good -- my head was hurting as well as
ringing, I could feel something wet behind my left ear (stitches
opened up?), and I was starting to feel dizzy as well (good thing
I was crawling, I couldn't very well fall over!). I was feeling
kind of glazed -- like there was a sort of a glass panel between
me and everything. It was all starting to seem unreal (even more
unreal than things had been on this trip).
And then Scritch and Snidly vanished around a sharp corner, and
the sound of balloons bursting stopped. In the blessed silence I
hurried forward to joint them. And then several things happened at
I heard Mince say, "Oh, hello!" to someone, and I heard Snidly
say, "Careful -- bit of a drop," and I put my hands down on ... nothing
And then I was falling into darkness. High ceilings are
really annoying when they arrogate to themselves the role of the
In the hold, in the auxiliary bridge
And so there they were, with a bucket, an inverted ship, and a
pressing need to pour the water up
into the fuel
tank. Water ignores needs, however, and it stubbornly
insisted on falling down, not up.
But now, after a second
trip to the ocean to replace the
bucket of water which was now distributed in random puddles around
the room, and after locating a hose and a little more patience,
things were looking up. (Or down, seeing as how up was
The last of the water disappeared into the hose.
"Now let's see what we've got!" said Felix, and hit the blue
button next to the fuel tank hatch. Nothing happened.
Felix turned off the flashlight, and waited, in the dark. "How
long did it take, the first time?"
"Not sure -- 12 minutes, maybe."
And they sat in the dark, and they waited. After what seemed too
long, Felix looked at his watch.
"Bad news -- it's been 15 minutes. Nothing."
But as he was speaking, there was Something: A screen set in the
wall lit up.
But the image on the screen was not what they'd expected. It
wasn't a POST pattern, and it wasn't the first paragraphs of the
Book of Iem. It was an image of a cat -- and the cat was barfing.
A voice sounded on the intercom: "Fuel quality wretched. To avoid
spraying, insert proper fuel."
"Proper fuel," repeated Felix. "Haven't got any. What now?"
"Didn't say proper fuel needed, just said would spray. Whatever
that means." Nim-nim climbed partway up the wall and tapped
several buttons. "Gyros started OK -- maybe all OK."
"Let's get upright -- first let's get some gravity -- flipping
with no gravity not so good --" Felix started pressing buttons.
"Wait -- " said Nim-nim. "Slow -- not all at once --" but Felix
was already hitting the blue activate button. There was a brief
gagging noise, during which the barfing cat reappeared on the
screen ... and then the gravity cut in.
In Life Support
It was a total mess. Plants everywhere, bare roots in the air;
very few seemed to have stayed in their trays. The work of getting
everything back together was slow and painstaking, and my head was
sluggish and painful.
Snidly's crew of orange cats were working about as hard as I've
seen cats work, for whatever that was worth, which wasn't much.
Snidly was nowhere to be seen, and I suspected he was sleeping
somewhere. Half a dozen of his cats had quartered the area,
picking up all the broken catnip plants they could find. They'd
gathered them together in a heap and now they seemed to be engaged
in testing the plants to see if they tasted OK.
Another little group seemed to be playing "tag" on the inverted
racks, chasing each other up and down the stacks and leaping from
one rack to another far over my head.
A number of cats were climbing around the edge of the room,
slinking over the racks as though searching for intruders. (There
were certainly none that I could see!)
On the floor not far from me, a few cats were earnestly scratching
the spilled dirt into heaps, which was about the closest any of
them were coming to doing anything useful.
Auntie had come with us after we ran into her in the
corridor. Or after we fell on her, to be more precise.
I sincerely wished a few more humans had joined us, though.
The only light was from my flashlight, which didn't help.
And then, with no warning at all, the "floor" I was crawling on
picking up dirt was once again a ceiling, and I was falling head
first into the darkness. I barely had time to think "Gravity's
back!" before my head hit the newly nominated floor, and that was
the end of the chapter for me.
Continued in Episode 13: On
the Road Again (in which we try yet
again to get re-launched)
Page created on 16 April 2017, from text written several years