Path: physics insights > misc > Felix Resilleserre > The Iemy Papers >

The Shopping Trip -- Part IV

The following is the fifth installment of the tale which began with Takeoff, and continued with Shopping Trip Part I. II,  and III  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: The Shopping Trip, Part III

Star Date 8.0

After all the excitement we had getting here, the trip to town seemed pretty bland.  In fact, I fell asleep almost as soon as I sat down in the back set of Auntie's truck.  No doubt the cushy overstuffed upholstery contributed, too -- it felt like how I think featherbeds must feel. Bulgy black naugahyde, the back seat looked more like a sofa than a truck seat.  In fact, the whole truck's kind of unusual.  It's a huge double cab pickup truck, with double back wheels, painted bright orange, with the Vitechat family crest -- the squabbling double headed eagle -- painted large, in black silhouette, on the hood.  It's got black flames painted on the front fenders, and running back across the doors.  It looked bigger than any Chevy or Ford pickup I'd seen, so I looked for the model name before we got in.  The little plaque on the back said "Richter 9".  I'd never heard of that brand before (but then, I'm not exactly a car buff).

When I woke up, it was to the sound of Mom and Dad tossing stuff into the back of the truck.  I had slept through most of the shopping trip!

Dense was still snoozing on my lap when I woke up.  he got off and curled up on the east to continue his cat nap as I got out of the truck, where I was greeted by Auntie.

"Isis, you're awake!  Come and see the sights!"

The "sights" mostly appeared to be a small lending library, a gas station, a funeral parlor, a fishing and camping shop, and a general store, where Mom and Dad had been doing their shopping.

While they transfered the contents of several shopping carts into the truck, Auntie took my hand and towed me down the street to see the rest fo the town.  After the handful of stores, there were a few houses, and the street ended at the shore of the Loch.  There was some very pretty scenery, but after flying low across northern Scotland upside down, I felt like I'd seen enough scenery for a while, so we headed back up the street to the truck.  Mom and Dad were nowhere to be seen -- I suppose they were in another shop.  So, Auntie and I went into the general store.

We'd barely crossed the threshold when the storekeeper called from behind the counter, "'Ey, mum, ye cahn't bring a cat in 'ere!"  I looked around; who should be following Auntie, but Snidly, sticking to her heels like misplaced bubble gum.

"Fiddlesticks and parsley!" she shouted at him.  "He's not a cat, he's one of the Nottingham aliens, and if you're not polite to him he'll burn your hair off, which is no more than you deserve, trying to keep poor innocent feline people out of your store -- not that I can see what they'd want here anyway!"

"Now, Bertha, calm down, it's just health code, not my doing.  Can't he wait for you outside?"

"Ephraim, I've told you 317 times -- 318, now -- don't call me Bertha!  And since when is it unhealthy to have a cat on the premises?  They catch mosquitoes, some of them anyway, and eat them, too, sometimes, and that keeps down the West Nile virus, as you should well know!"

I'd realized by this time that Auntie and the shopkeeper knew each other.  I stopped paying attention to their argument and looked around the shop, and then I got a surprise!

In a rack right next to the door, they had some books for sale -- and all the Captain Rant books where there, including the two I don't have -- and the new one, too!  Have you seen it, Taurina?  "Celestial Pirates -- Tyrone Rant and the Water Spout."  I've heard his wife, Raven, is in this one.  Of course I got those three.  I have yet to get past the title pages on any of them, though.

Star Date 8.05

The trip back from town was bumpy but otherwise uneventful, even though Snidly insisted on sitting on Auntie's lap.  Auntie's running commentary on the countryside was punctuated by occasional exclamations of "Look out, Snidly!" and "Snidly, watch your head!" and "Get down, Snidly, I can't see a doggone thing!" and "Get your tail out of my face!"

Dense woke up part way through the trip and climbed onto my lap to look out the window.  I scratched him under his collar, and he started purring.  If found Dense puzzling.  He was one of Snidly's gang of stripy orange cats, and he'd looked like a tough "enforcer" type when I first saw him sauntering down the hall before we left the ship, but he didn't seem at all like that now.  We were almost back to the Chateau when I asked him about it (in Iemy, of course).

"You're one of Snidly's 'tough guys'.  But you don't seem like it."

"Not want to be 'tough guy'.  Not tough."

"Why do you do it?"

"Do what Snidly says."


"Always do what Snidly says.  Snidly mom."

"Snidly what??"

But before Dense said anything more, Auntie swerved to the left, off the road -- such as it was -- and onto a sort of halfhearted path through the woods.  The only good thing I could say about it is that it wasn't rutted -- it didn't appear to be used often enough to have developed ruts!  But it certainly had more than its share of rocks, chuckholes, and small logs.  Since she barely slowed down when she left the road, the bouncing soon stopped all conversation beyond primitive grunts, yelps, and cries of "Hey! Watch the claws!", the latter coming from me, as Dense reflexively held on as we hit some of the bigger jounces.

Thankfully, this didn't last long.  In short order, we left the woods and found ourselves back in the clearing where the ship was parked -- and at the sight of the ship, Auntie stopped so suddenly that all three cats slid onto the floor (leaving  a few gouges along the way).

We piled out of the truck for a better look.

Something was terribly wrong.  The ship was no longer upside down, as we had left it -- it was, rather, balanced on edge, the upper rim of the saucer projecting far up into the sky!  We'd entered the clearing from the southeast, and the ship was at an angle to us, about halfway between face-on and edge-on.  We were looking at the top side, and I could see the dome, but it was too far away to see who, if anyone, was inside.

Dad was the first to speak.  After we'd all been staring slack-jawed for a couple of minutes, he said, "We've got to get on board!"

I closed my mouth, which had been hanging open, as Mom asked, "How?"

"Don't know," was Dad's very direct response.  "Have to go see."

"Go see?" cried Aunt Eternuechat.  "You mean, go right up to the thing?"  she said, her voice getting higher.  "What if it tips over?  We'd be like a bunch of ants under a dropped brick!  It'll make a big hole in the woods when it goes over, too -- bust up the trees pretty well, I shouldn't think!  Be too bad for Herbert's leprechauns too, I shouldn't wonder!"  She laughed, then continued, "But really, Felix, do you really want to go over to it?"

Auntie paused for breath, and Dad said, quickly, "Yes -- we're going over to it. It won't tip over!"  He paused.  "I think."

"If we're going, let's go," said Mom, and climbed back into the truck.  Dad and I, who'd been standing on opposite sides of the truck, got back into the back seat, where Dense was once again sleeping in the middle.  Snidly was sleeping in the middle of the front seat, unperturbed by the peculiar position of the ship and oblivious to the discussion.  Staggers had vanished into the tall grass and was nowhere to be seen.

As Auntie drove us across the clearing, we found ourselves skirting a huge round depression -- sort of a big dent in the ground.  It must have been where the dome had been while the ship was lying upside down.  I wondered what could possibly have tipped it up on edge -- I couldn't imagine anything powerful enough, except the ship's engines, and they had been on the wrong side to have done that.

The closer we got, the less it looked like a ship, and the more it looked like a wall rising straight up from the ground -- a wall made of slightly stale vanilla ice cream.  The bottom of the saucer's rim had sunk deep into the soil.  I stuck my head out of the truck's window and looked up.  I could see the dome of the bridge far overhead.  This whole side of the ship was in shadow, though, and the setting sun didn't provide enough light for me to see anything in the control room.

Auntie stopped the truck, and Dad opened his door.  "Wait -- you're not getting out, are you?" she asked, quickly.

"Of course I am!" Dad stepped out of the truck.

"Wait -- what if it falls over?"

"If that thing falls on us, this truck isn't going to make much difference," Mom observed, dryly.

"It won't fall over," was Dad's firm reply.  Then he added, "I think."

Since we didn't seem to be leaving again, I got out, too.  I looked up at the dome, far above -- and noticed something kind of pink sticking out of the ship, part way up.  "Is that the tube we came out of?  How will we get back?" I asked, pointing to it.

Dad looked up at the tube, which ended high over our heads, and yelled "Sniggles!"  I was just thinking that was a strange word to use as an exclamation when who should appear, but Sniggles herself!  Her appearance was silent, as always -- she just suddenly was, sitting on the hood of the truck.

"I wondered if you could manifest outside," Dad observed.

"Can -- near ship," replied Sniggles.  I wondered something, too -- if Sniggles was a projection, I wondered where the projectors were.

But then, "What happened?" Dad asked.

"Gyros healed."

"Yes ... and what else?"  Dad was looking up at the ship, which was manifestly not right-side-up.

"Gimbals broken."

Dad looked thoughtful.  "Gone six hours, ship rotated ninety degrees... Wonder when the gimbals will free up..."

"And what will happen then?" exclaimed Auntie, who had been listening closely.  "Down comes the brick, and squash go the ants!  Felix, you must be crazy if you're going to just stand here speculating about when this behemoth is going to fall over on all of us!  This makes Herbert and his leprechauns look like ... " She paused, apparently groping for a good analogy.  "... Like somebody who makes sense!" she finished.

And with that, she jumped back into the truck, started it up and spun it in a tight circle, dust and pebbles spraying from the spinning wheels.  Then she stopped and hollered out the open window, "I'm heading back to the chateau.  Any of you other ants want to come along, or are you just going to stand there waiting for the brick?"

"We're going on board," Dad replied.

"Doesn't look like it to me!" said Auntie, and roared off up the hill in a cloud of dust and small plants kicked up by the truck.

I was just thinking that Auntie was right -- I sure didn't see any way of getting onto the ship -- when Dad called, in Iemy, "Sniggles!  We need to board!  The tunnel's out of reach!" and pointed up to where I could just make out the pink of the boarding tube.

At this, Sniggles vanished.

Moments later, before I could start worrying again, the faint pink glow of the boarding tunnel suddenly stretched out and started waving around, like a sort of elephant's trunk.  It grew, and twisted, and waved, until the end of it arrived at the ground, a few feet from where I stood.

Sniggles reappeared at the bottom of the tube.  "Follow me!" she said, and jumped, lightly, up the tube.  I was closest, and I bounded over to the tube and jumped after her -- I didn't like the look of the ship looming over us one bit!  The sooner we were on board, the better!

Mom followed, and Dad brought up the rear.  I also saw a number of cats coming up the tube behind them -- more than three, it seemed; I supposed some of them must have been hanging around the ship, waiting for a way to get back aboard.  Why hadn't they already asked Sniggles to have the tube brought down?  I couldn't guess.

"Sniggles!" I called.  She was about 10 feet above me in the tube.  "Why are you going up the tube? Can't you just appear in the ship?"

"More fun this way!"

But then she vanished.  Had the fun run out?  I had no idea.

I looked around, outside the tube.  I was rising slowly above the countryside, which seemed tinted pink from the light of the tube.  On one side was the ship, darkly shadowed, and on the other side, the forest was opening out around us.  We were already well above the trees.  The clearing was below, walled in by the pine forest on all sides, and down the hill to the south I could see the loch, still sparkly with the last of the sunlight on its east end.  Far off across the loch, I glimpsed some of the buildings of Duntard among the trees on the opposite shore.  Beyond, above the town, the hills cut across the southern sky.  In the other direction, almost hidden by the wall of the ship, I could see the chateau, high on the hill, still lit by the sun.

Then, breaking in on my weightless musings, I felt a sort of shudder go through me, and through everything else as well -- the landscape seemed to ripple for a moment.  Directly above me, Sniggles reappeared, and announced, "Gimbals healed.  Not stuck."

From twenty feet below me, I heard Dad's yell, "What?  Oops!"

Before I could start to wonder what the "Oops!" meant, I saw for myself:  The landscape was moving -- it was tilting.  Tilting upward.  The distant horizon was flowing up into the sky, and the edge of the clearing was rising toward us.  There inside the tube, I felt nothing -- we seemed to be motionless -- but I knew what was happening:  The ship was tipping over, falling back into its earlier "turtle" posture.  I watched the floor of the clearing rushing up at us, and groaned -- this was like our plunge into the North Atlantic, but worse:  This time we weren't even in the ship -- we were hanging unprotected in the air, about to be caught between the ship and the ground!

"Oh, help!" I yelled.

"Felix, do something!" yelled Mom.

"Sniggles, do something!" yelled Dad.

Sniggles vanished.

The ground rushed toward us.  I could feel a breeze as we fell; the air was passing through the tenuous walls of the tube.  I supposed the trees and rocks would pass through the tube just as easily -- not a nice thought!

And then, just as a pile of rocks in the clearing was about to meet the hull of the ship, with me sandwiched in between, two things happened at once.  Sniggles reappeared, and the faint pink glow of the tube walls turned to an intense, glossy magenta.  I could still see the onrushing rocks through the walls of the tube but I could see my reflection, as well, distorted and stretched by the curve of the wall -- and an instant later I could see the rocks shattering as they struck the wall of the tube.  Then darkness -- we were underground! -- then the light of the sky -- the ship had bounced!  I could see a trench gouged in the ground where the now very solid tube had been forced into the earth.  All in an eerie silence; I could hear nothing through the walls of the tube.  And there was still no sensation of motion.

The ship was still bouncing, and I was still reeling, in a figurative sense, when Sniggles, followed by me, then Mom, and Dad, and Staggers and Dense, and a few more cats I didn't know, emerged into the corridor we'd left earlier that day.

Emerged, I should add, in a heap.  Sniggles vanished just before I landed on her.  I'm not quite so talented, so a moment later I found myself at the bottom of a pile, with Mom, Dad, and some number of cats piled on top.  I heard Dad yelling as some cat started to slip off the top of the heap, and dug in...  Lucky for me, the gravity's weak where the tube touches down, and like most of the ship, the floor is kind of soft there, or I'd've been squashed for sure.

As I got to my feet -- after Mom, Dad, and several cats had gotten off me -- I heard the Captain's annoyed meow.  He was standing a few feet up the corridor, looking at us all.  "Where's Snidly?" he asked.

I looked around -- we all looked around.  No Snidly.  And no something else, too, I realized.  My Captain Rant books were still back in the truck -- and -- what's worse ...  "Dad, Mom, what about the groceries?"

There was one of those stunned silences you read about in novels, and then, after a a good fraction of a minute had gone by, Dad said, softly, "Oops."

"Back to the clearing, then," added Mom.

"Where's Snidly?" the Captain demanded again, sounding more annoyed.

"With our groceries, I suppose," was Dad's response.

Star Date 8.10

So there we were, back in the clearing, under the again-inverted ship.  The same place we'd been eight hours earlier -- only we were a lot tireder, and it was a lot darker, as the sun had disappeared behind the hills to the west.

We started off through the gathering gloom at a trot.  Dad immediately tripped on something -- maybe a root -- and went sprawling into a bush of some sort.  "Ouch!" he yelled.

"Felix -- are you hurt?" Mom cried, digging her flashlight out of a pocket in her overalls as she dashed over to him.

"Just lost a little skin" was his reply.

In the beams of our lights, it appeared he'd lost more than that.  His brown slacks and brown plaid shirt were both snagged on thorns, and were certainly going to need some stitching up.  I hoped Dad wasn't going to need stitching up as well!

As we untangled him from the thorny branches, I asked, "Is this a gorse bush?"

As Dad freed his right arm and stood up, he muttered, "Dunno."  As he pulled his left sleeve loose (which action was accompanied by a ripping sound) he added "I've never been sure what a gorse bush was -- if this is one, I see why Pooh didn't much like them."

After Mom finished taping up Dad with band-aids and bacitracin from another pocket in her overalls, we once again started off, this time at a walking pace.

We were just emerging from the shadow of the saucer into the slightly brighter gloom of the dusk when we heard the roar of an engine.  Shortly after, a pair of headlights appeared, bouncing as some vehicle ran over logs and rocks in the forest.  As it entered the clearing, even in the dusk I could see that it was orange -- large and orange.  It was Auntie, coming back!  What a relief -- the prospective walk to the chateau had been seeming longer and longer to me.

As the truck approached, we heard Auntie shouting out the window of the truck, "Felix, you were wrong!  We heard the crash clear up at the hilltop when your saucer fell over -- heard it twice, in fact, 'cause it echoed off the hills over across the Loch!  More that twice, in fact, 'cause it re-echoed and re-echoed before it died away, and every echo was shouting, 'Felix got this one wrong, wrong, wrong, and he's been squashed like a bug!'  I can't tell you how glad I am to see you all still totally unsquashed and walking around!  I am so relieved I could just laugh!"  And she laughed, a delighted, long, laugh, and I heard her laughter echoing from the distant hills before it died away.

As Auntie rolled to a stop, she added, "Do you know you also left all your groceries with me in the truck?  Or is that what you were coming to get, I suppose?  Well climb in, all of you, and I'll drive the lot of you, and the provender, and your cat, back to your tipped over spaceship.  That is, if you still want to go back!"

As Mom, Dad, and I sank into the soft back seat, I realized Snidly was sitting in the front passenger seat.  I guess that's who Auntie meant when she said "your cat."

Star Date 8.12

Getting the supplies on board through the tube had taken a good while, but was kind of fun.  Mom and I stood in the corridor on the ship, and stuff came drifting "down" the tube to us, tossed from the truck by Dad and Auntie.  We caught everything as it arrived and sticked it there in the corridor -- actually stowing it all someplace was a chore I was trying not to think about.

Once the last cases of paper towels, peanut butter, corn flakes, and other assorted necessities had been neatly stacked, Dad came drifting down the tube, followed, to my great surprise, by Auntie.

Before I could ask why Auntie was here, the Captain appeared in the corridor, and asked us all, "Did you find Snidly?"

"What?" was Auntie's immediate response -- of course, she didn't understand Iemy!

While Mom was telling Auntie what the Captain had asked, Dad was saying we had, indeed, found Snidly, but we seemed to have lost him again during the unloading of the truck.

But at that moment, Snidly himself appeared from behind a pile of cases labeled "Madam Boston's Own Home Made Style Baked Beans", and said, "And I've found us a vet!"

"A what?" asked the Captain, sounding annoyed.  Snidly had used the English word, 'vet'.

"A veterinarian."  This didn't help, as the Captain apparently didn't know the word.

"Auntie, did you now Snidly says you're coming along with us?" I asked, in some consternation, as Dad explained to the Captain that a "vet" is a doctor who treats members of some other species.

"I'm what?" asked Auntie, looking surprised.

"She's what?" asked Mom, sounding appalled.

"We already have a 'vet'!" said the Captain.  "Benga treats humans so she's a vet."  Once again, I found myself hoping I wasn't going to get sick on this trip.

"And she smells nice," added Snidly, in Iemy.  (Nobody translated this for Auntie.)

"So what?" was the Captain's reply.

"And she's bringing a useful truck."

"Auntie, Snidly says you're bringing your truck, too."

"I am?"  Auntie looked even more surprised.

So did Dad.  "She is?  You are?" he said.  "I don't know how useful it will be if we can't get gasoline for it."

Auntie looked offended.  "Aftershock's got sidesaddle tanks and they're full, so she'll go another thousand miles before you need to worry about that" she said, a little defensively, I thought.  And then she added, "And besides, she doesn't need gasoline, anyway."

"Oh?" from Dad.  "It's a diesel?  So it can't use regular gasoline?"

Auntie laughed.  "Hah, gotcha, Felix!  She's not a diesel and she sure can burn gasoline!"  She laughed again.  "Aftershock was a special gift from Herbert - which, I should add, he paid for with my money.  She's a triple hybrid -- and she'll run on just about anything."

"Gas or diesel?" Dad asked.

Auntie laughed again. "Anything!  Gas, or diesel fuel, or alcohol, or hydrogen, or kerosene, or soybean oil, or even just electricity.  She's supposed to run on coal, too, but we've never tried it.  Right now she's tanked up on a load of surplus jet fuel we got from Duntrops Airport when they put in new tanks."

Star Date 8.90

Getting the supplies out of the corridor and stowed someplace sort of reasonable, finding some kind of cabin for Aunt Eternuechat, cleaning up the mess that still remained in our rooms since the crash in the ocean – I helped with some of that, but finally just rolled up in some blankets and conked out in a corner of my room. It seemed like forever since I'd slept. (That nap in the truck didn't count!)

And now, here I was, back on the bridge, wondering if we were finally going to take off. The ship was right side up again (yay!) and Auntie's truck was supposedly on board somewhere – I'd slept through all that. But the only one on the Bridge besides me was the Captain, who was sitting on his perch and switching his tail. He was making me nervous.

“Where's Felix?” he asked, abruptly.

“Asleep,” I answered.

“Where's Felicia?”

“Asleep.” Mom and Dad had been on the go continuously for so long, they must have been beyond exhaustion. When I peeked into their room it looked like they'd finally just fallen asleep in their clothes. I could see Dad still had his shoes on. Either Mom or Dad had been snoring.

The Captain switched his tail a few more times.

“Where's Mince?”

“Asleep.” Mince and Dense had been totally snoozed out on the cushions in my room before I came up to the bridge.

The Captain made a sort of growling noise.

“Where's Nim-nim?”

“Asleep.” I'd seen Nim-nim in my parents' room when I looked in – sound asleep.

“Where's Snidly?”

“I don't know.” I had a strong suspicion as to what Snidly was doing, but I hadn't actually seen him, sleeping or otherwise, on my way to the Bridge.

Captain Boots hissed, and said, “Get him!”

Snidly could have been sleeping just about anywhere on the ship.  Rather than run around looking in random rooms, I flicked on the intercom.  "Snidly, to the bridge.  Snidly, to the bridge!"

The Captain apparently didn't think much of my announcement.  "Put me on!" he said.  I switched the intercom to his perch.

"Snidly, wake up, and get to the bridge -- now!"  he yowled.  The echoes of his last word rolled around the corridors.

That got quick results!  No more than a minute later, I heard the pattering gallop of a cat in a hurry, and who should come charging through the doorway ... but Skritch!

"What's wrong?  What's the emergency?" she rasped.

"Where's Snidly?"

"Don't know."  Skritch sat down in front of the doorway and started washing her face.  Apparently, Snidly being AWOL didn't qualify as an "emergency" in Skritch's book.

There were more pattering noises, and Mince appeared beside Skritch, as Nim-nim galloped in through another doorway.  "What's happened?" asked Mince.

"Where's Snidly?  Is he still sleeping?"

I seriously doubted that.  After the Captain's broadcast I'm sure every cat on the ship was wide awake.  In any case, neither Mince nor Nim-nim bothered to answer.  Snidly's whereabouts seemed to hold even less interest for them than for Skritch.

Mince had wandered off across the bridge and was settling down for a nap under one of the control panels when the pounding of heavy feet sounded from the corridor behind Skritch.

"What's wrong?" yelled Dad, as he barreled in through the doorway.  A glimpse showed he was still in yesterday's clothes, plaid shirt half untucked, pants looking like he'd slept in them, hair as uncombed as ever, whiskers unshaved, and his pint coffee mug in his hand ... and a glimpse was all I got as he barreled directly into Skritch, who was washing one of her back feet.

"Rowtch!" squawked Skritch.

"Oops!" yelled Dad.

"Nooooooo!" cried the Captain, as Dad went sprawling full length on the floor and his coffee mug took off on its own, merrily spraying coffee in all directions.  About half of it landed on the Captain, and most of the rest splashed down on the controls near where I was sitting.

The all too familiar sound of arcing circuitry came from the controls, and the last thing I saw was a cloud of smoke rising from the panel.  The lights went out, the dome went totally opaque, and the sounds of the ventilator system died away.  In the silent darkness which followed, I could hear the faint sound of the Captain licking himself.

"Phaaauugh!" he suddenly exclaimed.  "This stuff tastes awful!"

"Left over -- couple days.  Not so good today," I heard Dad muttering from the floor.  Then he added, "Good thing floor's padded.  No harm done."

The Captain made an outraged noise at Dad's last comment.  "Felix!" he suddenly yelled.  "No more coffee on the bridge!  Never!  I mean it!"

And then we waited -- waited for the lights come back, the controls to recover, or somebody to show up with a flashlight.  I certainly wasn't about to try pushing buttons randomly in total darkness.

We didn't have long to wait.  A faint light appeared in the corridor Dad had come up, and soon resolved into a tiny keychain flashlight.

"Lights out all over ship" came Snidly's voice, from somewhere near the flashlight.  "Awkward."

"Awkward -- I'll say it's awkward!" came Auntie's voice.  She was the flashlight bearer, it appeared.  "What kind of flying saucer is this, anyway?" she went on.  "It flies upside down, it lands on its edge, the lights don't work, and -- pew! -- it stinks of burnt coffee.

Then, "Coffee!  Aha!  This is all Felix's fault, isn't it?  Felix are you in here?  Oof!"

That last exclamation came as Auntie stumbled over Dad, who was still on the floor where he'd fallen.  "Oops!" he said, once more, as Auntie went down, heavily, onto the floor next to him.  Her flashlight bounced away across the bridge.

Luckily, it didn't go out, and it landed close to me.  I picked it up, and by its light I typed the sequence to turn the lights back on.  To my vast relief, that worked, and the bridge, in all its disarray, reappeared.  Dad was sitting on the floor, Auntie was lying on the floor next to him, Skritch was sitting off to one side of the doorway under the relative safety of the overhang of a control panel, Mince was snoozing under another panel, and Nim-nim was fiddling with the controls on yet another panel, no doubt trying to get the ventilators back on line.

"Where's Snidly?" asked the Captain.

Snidly, the cause of all this, had vanished again.

After paging him twice more, he finally sauntered in through a doorway off to my right.  He looked around, commented that the lights were working again, and started to settle down on a cushion for a nap.  By this time, Auntie had left again in search of Mom, and Dad had left in search of fresh coffee and a change of clothes.

"Snidly!  Stay awake!"  Snidly made a complaining noise, but sat up and looked at the Captain.

"Is everyone back on board?"

"How should I know?"

"It's your job!  You're the security officer!  So, is everyone secure and on board?"

"No."  Snidly lay down again.

"What do you mean, no?  How many are we missing?"

"Negative six," Snidly replied, sleepily.

The Captain made a sort of growling noise.  "Explain!"

Snidly snorted.  "Six more came back than went out.  So, have six more than we started with.  So, negative six missing."

The Captain glared at Snidly, who was being about as annoying as I've ever seen him.  I suppose he was sleepy -- whatever, something sure was making him grumpy!

"Has everyone who went out come back?" the Captain finally demanded, after a long pause.


"Who's missing?"

Snidly had closed his eyes and wrapped his tail around himself.  "Just...." he trailed off, in a very sleepy tone, and then, as he snuggled his face into the end of his tail, he made a sort of noise that sounded to me like "sssnizzzzz...." and fell asleep.

Auntie had come in during this exchange, along with Mom.  Auntie sat down on a cushion and watched, while Mom started going over the controls.  I guess she was preparing for takeoff.  But that was interrupted, along with Mince's nap and whatever Nim-nim was doing, when the Captain screamed, "Snidly wake up!  We can't leave Sniz behind!  Go find her!"

Snidly sat up and glared at the Captain.  "Sniz won't stay behind.  Ituafe!"

At that moment there was a faint squeak from the doorway on my left.  "I'm here," said a soft voice.  I saw a small gray cat with black feet stepping slowly onto the bridge.  One of her ears seemed to be pointing a little sideways, and her coat had a very faint blotched tabby pattern in darker gray.

As she walked toward the Captain's perch, she looked around the bridge.  She looked at me -- stared at me, in fact -- and I noticed her tail was partly puffed up.  Had it been like that a moment before, when she came in?  I'm not sure.

She stared at Mom for a moment, just as she'd stared at me.

And then she looked at Aunt Eternuechat, for about a half a second.  Her fur went up all over, she made a faint squeaking noise, and she was gone, a gray streak disappearing down the corridor.

"What'd I do?" asked Auntie, looking chagrined.

"Auntie OK," Snidly said, in English.  "Sniz just scared by vets."  He sauntered off the bridge in the direction Sniz had taken.

Auntie stared after Snidly, looking mystified.  Then she looked down at herself -- she was dressed in green slacks with an orange silky-looking blouse with black flowers on it, orange hair loose around her shoulders, and some kind of slipper things on her feet with brass double-headed eagles on the buckles.  "How'd she know I'm a vet?" she asked nobody in particular.  Snidly had left, and nobody else seemed to have an answer.

Continued in The Test Flight


Page created on 2 Jan 2011