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On the Road Again ... Almost

The following is the thirteenth installment of the tale which began with Takeoff, and continued with Shopping Trip Parts I. through IV  and The Test Flight and several additional rambling pages.  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.

Previous Installment: First Pickup

Star Date 35.80

Meanwhile, in the hold

"Oops ... oof!"

Luckily, the ceiling wasn't very high in the engine room, so when the gravity turned on again, Dad didn't have far to fall before he hit the (newly nominated) floor.

"Let's get turned over, and tank up."

"Maybe turn some lights on?  And get the ventilation working?  What about balloons?"

"Later, later, later -- don't know how long one bucket, bad water, will last..."

Star Date 35.84

On the bridge, some time later

Life support was somewhat functional, and Mom, me, the Captain, Skritch, and Mince were back on the Bridge.

Snidly was still on cleanup duty, along with Aunty and Nargle.

Have I mentioned Nargle?  She's a black and tan striped tabby, and she's our new head of damage control.  When Snidly woke up from his nap under a shelf while we were cleaning up life support, he saw the situation I've already described, which is that the catnip was being picked up very efficiently (and mostly eaten) but just about nothing else of much value was being done, save by the humans...

... and by Nargle, who was actually skooshing dirt back into the trays, and attempting to get the plants back into the dirt, rather than just eating the leaves and chasing her tail.

And so Snidly named her Damage Control Officer on the spot (and then went back to sleep).  And he explained it to the Captain later, who didn't care anyway since it had something to do with Security and that was Snidly's job.

Anyway, I was finally back on the Bridge.  I was feeling totally sleepy and still had a headache -- I should have been in bed.  But the Captain wanted all hands on deck, so here I was.

We'd been upright now for at least half an hour, and Dad and Nim-nim were about done filling the "tank" with the salty water of the Aral Sea.  They were still in the hold, keeping an eye on the situation there.  We had the intercom on, so we could hear what was going on there.

"Felix, what's going on?  Are you done?"

It was Nim-nim who replied to the Captain.  "Done filling tank; door shut."

"Let's go!"

"Wait!" came Dad's voice.  "Still checking -- main computer still offline."

There was a pause.   "Won't start."

"So what?"

"Not sure ... not sure what else we're missing..."

"Find out later.  Let's go!  Felicia, take us up!"

Mom did stuff, the familiar rumble of the engines started up, and the screens showed the Aral Sea falling away below us.

"We're up.  Now what?"

"Orbit.  Then find more fuel.  Felix -- Conference room, 12 minutes."

But it didn't happen.  We hadn't been up more than five minutes when the intercom brought us a sudden squawk from Nim-nim, accompanied by a yell from Dad.  Simultaneously, all the screens blanked out, and then lit again with an image of a barfing cat.

A moment later, the lights flickered briefly, the sound of the engines died away, and my stomach lurched as the gravity cut out.  Mince, who apparently hadn't been holding on, gave a yell as she floated up from where she'd been sitting next to me.

I suppose I should have been panicking at that point -- after all, we were at least a mile in the air, and free-falling -- but there hadn't been time.  I glanced around the Bridge.  I was strapped in, and Mom had thought fast and was holding onto the control panel in front of her.  Mince and Skritch were loose, and floating through the middle of the bridge.  The Captain was still on his perch, holding on somehow.

He was yelling, "We need engines!  Felix, do something!"

The intercom was still working, but the only sounds we were hearing from Dad and Nim-nim were incoherent yells, punctuated by occasional shouts of "Here it comes!  Get it!" and "Look out!"

At one point I heard Dad yell, "I've got it!  Open the hatch!" followed by a yell from Nim-nim, "No, not open hatch!"

But a moment later we heard, "Oops -- ouch -- got away!" from Dad followed by another squawk from Nim-nim.

And then it was over.  Skritch and Mince thumped down onto the deck as the gravity came back, the screens went back to what they'd been showing before the "station break", and the rumble of the engines started up again.

"Felix, what happened?" from the Captain.

But the only reply we heard was "Ouch ouch ouch darn stings ouch..."

"Felix, what's wrong? Are you hurt?  Felix!"  Mom was yelling as she started to run for the door.  But then Nim-nim's voice cut across the Bridge, sounding as calm as ever.

"Felix fine.  Just got a little brine in eyes."  Then we heard him saying to Dad, "Told you before, works better to wipe eyes with something dry."

"Ouch ouch ouch not have anything dry ouch..."

"Lick eyes?"

"No.  Thanks.  Ouch..."

"Felix!  Nim-nim!  What happened?" the Captain asked, again.

But all we got for a reply was, "Hey!  Watch it!  Ouch!  OW!!" from Dad, and "Hold still!" from Nim-nim.  Then a brief silence, followed by,

"Hey, that helped.  Much better," from Dad.

"Felix!  What happened!?" from the Captain, yet again.

"Nim-nim licked eyes, got the salt out.  Feels much better."

"No, what happened before that?"

But Dad and Nim-nim had gone back to yelling at each other about the hatch and the gravity, and didn't answer for a couple of minutes.  Finally there was a brief silence from below decks, followed by Dad's voice.

"I think we're all set."

"Set with what?  What happened?"

"Found out what spraying means."

"So what's it mean?  What happened?"

"Later.  Need a lake, need to get down, a fresh water lake, now."

"Felicia, do it!"  The captain was never one to worry about the past.  If they were all set below decks, then that was that.

For the next few minutes, we were all occupied looking for lakes.  I found something that looked good, a largish spot of water with what looked like a stream leading down from it, which made me think it would be fresh.  It was in the hills a few hundred miles west of the Sea.

Mom had just started us on our way, when the power cut off again.

"Felix!  What's wrong?  You said we were all set!"

"Are all set.  No problem."

"Flying like a rock -- seems like a problem to me," I heard Mom murmur, as the Captain was yelling,

"So what about the engines?  Felix, do something!"

"Engines are fine.  Just wait a moment..."

"Coming down awfully fast," Mom murmured, looking at her screen.  The screens, along with the lights and the intercom, were still working.

And then the engines came back, as though there had never been a problem.  But I was suddenly feeling squished into the floor -- the gravity seemed to have failed.

"Gravity shut off," came Nim-nim's voiced.  "Use less power, not spray so often."

And in fact we made it to the lake with just one more scarey "blackout".  And as we flew the last leg, Nim-nim explained a little more of what was going on.  The Aral Sea water has too much salt in it, and when the ship burns it, there's sludgy brine left over.  From time to time, the leftover sludge builds up enough to plug things up, and then the system goes into reverse.  The engine shuts down, and the sludge is sprayed back out of the hose they'd used to fill the tank.

Star Date 42.30

A Somewhat Frivolous Interlude in which we Make the Acquaintance of Captain Rant

It's been a week since our last crisis, and I'm finally feeling rested.  We've cleaned up the balloons, life support is healthy again (and the ship smells reasonable again), I've sorted out the mess in my room, and I've actually had time to start Captain Rant and the Water Spout.  I can't believe it's still not for sale in Massachusetts!  If we find ourselves back in Scotland I'll pick up a copy for you, Taurina -- but then, I don't know when we'll be back in Arkham, so I don't know how I'd get it to you.

Raven Rant certainly is in this one, just like I'd heard, and she is so cool!  I told Aunt Eternuechat a little about the story, and she wanted to see for herself, so I handed her the book.

"It's just totally great, Auntie!"  I had told her.  "If I could write like that, I would call myself a writer!"

Auntie sat down on a cushion and read the first few pages, and then handed the book back to me.  "Isis, dear, to be completely honest, if I wrote like that, I'm afraid I would call myself a hack."  Sometimes she really surprises me.

Anyway, since you still can't get a copy to see for yourself, here are the first few paragraphs -- it's at least a little foretaste until the rest of the book makes it to you!

In order to spare any timorous readers among the audience the experience of what may be the worst prose ever typed on this keyboard, we have moved the content in question out into a separate file:

Prologue to The Celestial Pirates.

Don't say we didn't warn you.

Star Date 49.50

In Which we May Have Found a Gas Station

We were meeting on the bridge.  Dad finally had a new deal arranged -- or so he thought -- and the Captain wanted everybody in the bridge crew to comment on it.

At this point the "commenting" had been going on for a good half hour and we were no closer to finishing than we'd been to start with.  There were two problems.

The first was that we were still running on plain water.  That was good enough to run the engines, but the main computer was being "iffy";  Sniggles could only manifest briefly and was hardly any help with anything.  What was worse, the "fur" and the weapons weren't working at all, and wouldn't until we got some decent fuel to run the ship on.

This wouldn't have mattered so much, except for the second problem, which was that Dad suspected a double cross.  Actually, besides Dad, Mom, Mince, Nim-nim, Skritch, the Captain, and Aunt Eternuechat (who wasn't even supposed to be there, since she's not part of the bridge crew) all expected a double cross as well, or so they all said.  Snidly may have, too, but he hadn't said anything about it; I think he was asleep.

Somebody had suggested stealing the fuel -- for about the third time today -- and Dad had just finished explaining yet again that the problem was that even after a week of negotiating he wasn't totally sure there was going to be any actual fuel to steal, when Auntie broke into what was looking like a rerun of the same points for about the sixth time to ask, "Felix, have you ever met this Vlad guy?"

Or, rather, she tried to break in.  The Captain was saying something at the same time, and nobody but me seemed to hear her.  So she started again, louder,

"Felix!!  Have you ever met Vlad?"

This finally woke Snidly, who was lying on her lap.

"What?" replied Dad, looking confused.  "Vlad who?"

"Vladimir, the guy with the connections.  Vlad the terrorist, Vlad whom you've been talking to on the cell phone for the last two weeks, Vlad the guy who's going to disappear twenty tons of international contraband from under the noses of the KGB.   You know, that Vlad.  Have you met him?


"Well I shouldn't think you couldn't sensibly expect to guess how much truth he's not telling if he's nothing more than a disembodied voice coming out of a cell phone, could you?"

"What?" asked the Captain, whose English wasn't up to following Auntie.

"Auntie says should meet Vlad in person," explained Snidly, from Auntie's lap.  He was finally awake.  "She's right.  Ituafe," he added.

"Then do it!" replied the Captain.  "How soon can he meet you?"

"Uh --" Dad began.

"Call him!"

And so the meeting adjourned temporarily, while Dad negotiated a meeting with Vlad.  Unless you happened to understand Russian, which I mostly don't, the negotiations were pretty uninteresting.  What's more, for the first twenty minutes or so all "negotiating" was apparently being done with various operators, secretaries, and menu systems.  The fourth time Dad found himself on hold, and the stultifying sound of Russian elevator music once again filled the bridge, Auntie slid Snidly off her lap onto a cushion and left.  I would gladly have followed her (I hope I'm never stuck in an elevator in Russia!) but I was handling the phone connections for Dad.  Mince, who was supposed to be doing the job, had followed Snidly's example and gone to sleep.

An hour later, it was finally done.  Dad would be meeting Vlad the following evening, alone, at an outdoor cafe in the town of Dovna.

Dad didn't look any too happy about it.  He was pacing as he talked.  "I suppose we'll land in a field, somewhere outside town, and I'll drive to the meeting in Aftershock..."

"Good.  And you'll take Snidly."


"Not just a mouse hunt!" the Captain pointed out.  "Snidly! Wake up!  Who else will go?"

Snidly lifted his head off the cushion and glared at the Captain.  Then he said, slowly, "Skritch ... and Staggers ... and Three-ears..."

"Four cats!" exclaimed Dad.  "All I'm doing is talking to him!  Don't need help with that!"

"Five," said Snidly.  "And you do need need help with that.  Not just talking.  Also coming back after.  May need a lot of help with that."

Dad looked puzzled.  "Five? What five?"

It was the Captain who answered.  "Five, counting Snizz."

"Ituafe," added Snidly.

"Snizz?" said Dad.  "Ituafe??"  He looked as bewildered as I felt.  Snizz is small, unprepossessing, and very timid -- she'd have been the last cat I'd pick for this mission.  Yet the Captain and Snidly seemed to think she was such an obvious choice that they hadn't even needed to mention her name.

"Ituafe.  You need to make Vlad tell the truth."  The Captain stopped; that seemed to be all he had to say about Snizz's part in the mission.

Dad had started pacing again.  He was walking around and the Captain's perch, muttering.  The Captain was sitting on his perch, watching Dad.  Every couple seconds, as Dad walked around the perch, the Captain got up, turned to face him, and sat down again.  He finally yelled, "Felix, stop!"

Dad stopped and looked at the Captain.  "I still don't see how to be sure the deal's for real."

"Not a problem -- you'll have Snizz with you."

"How will Snizz help?"

"Snizz will know if Vlad tells the truth."

"How?" Dad started pacing again.

"Snidly, get Snizz."

"I'm here," said a soft, high voice from the doorway to my left.

"Snizz," said the Captain, in a much softer voice than I'd ever heard him use before.  "Explain to Felix.  Show Felix."

Snizz looked at Dad -- timidly, I thought.  Her tail was half puffed up; she looked scared.  She watched Dad pace around the Captain's perch twice more.  And then, for no reason I could see, Dad's mouth flopped open.  He turned to stare straight at Snizz, tripped over his own feet, and fell headlong on the deck, yelling "That's impossible!" as he went down.  He landed directly on the cushion where Snidly had been napping.  Snidly scrambled out of the way as Dad fell, and sat down to watch from a safe spot under a control panel.

Mom and I jumped up and ran to Dad.  I was yelling, "Dad, what happened?  Are you OK?"  Mom was saying something too, probably pretty similar.

And then, as I bent over him, I heard a voice -- or not really a voice -- someone was speaking but I couldn't make out any words.  Somehow, though, I could understand the meaning, even without the words, and even without really hearing the voice, which didn't seem to be coming through my ears.

"I'm sorry," the wordless voice in my head was saying.  "I didn't mean to scare him.  I hope he isn't hurt."

"I'm OK," said Dad as he got back to his feet.  "Just a little ... surprised."  He looked a lot surprised to me.

Without words or sound, it had unmistakably been Snizz.

Continued in Episode 14: A Walk in the Dark  (in which we try yet again to get re-launched)


Page created on 26 April 2017 from illegible scribblings discovered in a mouldering notebook