• Published 26th Feb 2021
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Tidalverse: The Fearsome Foursome - Alden MacManx

Four life-long friends go fishing one fine late spring morning. The Event happens. Now what?

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Chapter 1: From fishing to freezing, without even blinking.

“As you’ve heard me say, us at the WSU, we now have a base of operations. Near Rotterdam, that’s no secret. Well… as should be obvious, life is a lot more valuable now that we don’t have billions of people to get stuff done. What I’m getting at is… for those of you listening that don’t feel cut out to either rough it out in the wilds on their own, or setting up colonies of their own… We need people. Any of you feel like making the journey to the Maasvlakte, I can guarantee you a job and a place to stay. We need sailors. We need welders. Engineers. Heck, I’ve even heard we might need web designers to create a platform we can charter transportation on. I don’t think there’s a single kind of workforce we don’t need over here, and there’s plenty of empty houses begging for inhabitants. And if you think Rotterdam’s too far, I can give you a couple colonies where they absolutely need the help as well. We here at the WSU are all in on industrial revival, and that’s not the kind of thing we’ll ever be able to achieve on our own. We need you to step up, this world isn’t lost, and there’s so much we can make out of it still. Thank you for your attention, this is DJ WSU on WSU radio.”

The jury-rigged set ceased its recording with a dull crackle as a hoof tapped on the large knob at the top to shut it down. It was an ugly creation cobbled together from parts found all over the place, but whoever made it clearly knew his way around communications equipment.

“Well? Your thoughts? Sounds good doesn’t it?” A short unicorn chirped. He had mottled fur, a mix of light and dark grey that clashed sharply with the bright purple mess of a mane.

“I don’t know Frick…” Another pony, a larger earth pony with a more subdued black mane that didn’t clash quite as much with the blue tones of his fur replied. He was lounging comfortably under the wing of a red hawk griffon hen with snow white highlighted feathers that looked like spectacles around her eyes. “She said Rotterdam… that’s halfway around the globe with an entire ocean to cross.”

“He’s not wrong you know.” The hen added to her companion’s point as she brushed her talons through his mane. “I know how much you spent to buy this boat… and it’s fine if you just go for some weekend fishing but…” she rapped her other talon against the aluminum grating that made up the deck.

It was just a pontoon boat with a pair of outboard engines and a tiny cabin. Regardless of how many modifications they had made to it…

“I know, I know…” Frick raised a hoof to placate her, the unicorn stepping away from the helm where he had the radio gear set up. “I can’t take Juliana across the ocean, please, I’m not that dumb. But she can get us a long way, you know. Right, Frack?”

“Uh wha-?” a mess of a golden mane poked his head out from the roof of the cabin. “I miss sum-thin’?” The red pegasus with grey fur looking much like socks around his hooves asked groggily.

“You didn’t listen, did you?” the hen, Frieda, deadpanned.

“We doin’ what?” the pegasus asked, gliding down to their level, somehow managing to shake off any nap-induced sleepiness in a fraction of a second as he started pacing around the deck of the little pontoon boat as it bobbed in the current, moored at a narrow pier in a flat landscape filled with abandoned fields and pastures.

“We’re going to the Netherlands, lil’ bro!” the unicorn wrapped a hoof around the pegasus’ neck and made a grand gesture with the other one.

“Frick, we’ve not agreed on anything yet.” Frieda halted him in his tracks. “We don’t know anything about these folks. It could be a trap.”

“Well, if it’s a trap… they’ve been at it for a while I can tell you.” Frick grinned.

“How long have you been listening?” Fred calmly, but cautiously, asked.

“A week, give or take. It took me only a day after I got us a satellite radio from that truck stop to find the frequency they were using.”

“So you heard more than that.”

“Of course, I have.” Frick rolled his eyes. “They put out podcasts giving survivors like us the tips and tricks. Even some nifty stories about what’s happening in the world. Did you know they had a war in Mexico? Demons against oil workers and sailo-”

“Getting off track there, bud.” Frieda interrupted.

“Right uh… sorry. What I mean is… if it’s a trap then it’s awfully elaborate. Never seen a con artist do that much of an effort in the past.”

“If it’s a trap then we’re at risk of losing more than just a rusty Silverado you know?”

“It was a calculated risk!” Frick bristled.

“Frieda?” Fred nudged his griffon mate. “You know he doesn’t like talking about the Montana incident.”

“Fine…” the hen conceded. “Dropping it for now, but this ain’t settled yet. Frick? Any argument to add?”

“I might. Listen here… we don’t have to decide now, but it’s pretty clear to me we won’t get anywhere just going up and down Nebraska. There’s nobody here, and here we have a chance to find a place to settle again. Start anew. And them’s the real deal on the radio.” Frick said. “And we don’t even have to decide now.”

“Care to elaborate?”

“I’ve listened and come to the conclusion there’s two options for civilization in the country at the moment.” he said, the unicorn lighting up his horn to grab a map of the U.S. “Up North, there’s a Grizzly DJ or whatnot with his colony in Montana and we’re not going to freaking Montana, no ma’am,” he declared, staring at Frieda.

“And the other one?”

“We take the scenic route downriver, follow the Missouri River until it joins the Mississippi, head down to New Orleans, loop back around to Georgia, and reach a trade post of those WSU folks you just heard over the radio, and even some Navy remnants.”

“That… is a loooong way.” Frack slipped from under his brother’s hoof and commented, resuming his pacing around the deck.

“In our case it’s a good thing then, no?” Frick asserted. “Once we reach Omaha, we find a satellite phone and let Fred call them sailor folks in the Netherlands.”

“Why me?”

“You’re neutral grounds, bud.”

“Hear hear…” the earth pony drawled, eliciting a chuckle from the rest. “So? I have a chat with these guys, and we have from Omaha to Georgia to decide if we try and cross the Atlantic?”

“More like Saint Joseph to Georgia, I’ll need a short time to get the phone running. You guys down for it?” Frick enthusiastically asked.

The little boat they were calling home for the time being remained silent for a minute except for the clopping of Frack’s pacing around the deck, and the lapping of wavelets against the hulls.

“I’ll bite.” Fred finally said. “But I’ll need a serious chat with these guys.”

“And I won’t go without my husband. We’ve not been together forty years for me to decide Georgia’s too long a trip to bear.” Frieda agreed as well.

Which left only Frack, the other three turning to look at the energetic pegasus. He reared up on his hind legs, taking the time to stretch the left one before looking at them with a wide grin.

“Is that even a question? The 4-F’s, out on the river on a cross country trip. You think I’d ever miss that?”

Miss that, he didn’t, but setting off had its own spate of troubles. First of all, the location and weather. What was a bit on the swampy side in late spring is now a frozen, desolate area. The few expeditions they had done found the surrounding area, and their homes, to have been abandoned suddenly for a long time. There is ice on the river banks, but the river was not frozen over. Plus, it was a long slog back to their homes in the cold, not to mention the one trip they made to Monroe to scavenge what they could.

Their main worry is the boat. Juliana is great for fishing off of, but for prolonged stays it was lacking a few things, like protection from the elements, bedding areas, food prep and storage, privacy, and so on. So, the first chore is to find a new boat, one at least set for some more creature comforts than the old pontoon boat. Problem is, around Oconee, Nebraska, no one HAD anything much better than a pontoon boat for fishing either out on the Loup River or one of the lakes in the area. So, after much debate, scavenging, and more than a little prayer, the Fearsome Foursome (or the 4-F Society, depending on which one you ask), set off, heading downriver.

They set off shortly after sunrise, because all four of them liked to be up early. Fred and Frieda looked back as Oconee got lost in the distance, remembering the little house they had built shortly after their wedding a bit more than forty years before, paid for and lived their life together in. Fred thought about his former job as sexton to St. Isidore’s church in Columbus, the next town they were going to encounter going downriver. After a hushed conference with his wife, Fred spoke up.

“Frick, when we get to Columbus, what say we tie up near the Route Eighty-One bridge and see what we can find in town? I want to go to the church one last time, pick up a few things,” he asked.

Frick thought a moment before answering. “We’ll start looking for a place to tie up before we get to the bridge. If we don’t find a place, we’ll tie up there. I want to hit up the radio station myself, get my tool kits and come back. I managed to get this radio built with the barest of tools. I can do better with proper tools and parts,” he said.

“Where are you going to find proper parts, Frick?” Freida asked.

“Wherever I can find them, Freida. I would like to find a satphone or build a transmitter to reach this WSU. I know they’re not lying, but I want some direct give and take.”

“I thought you wanted me to do the talking, Frick,” Fred reminded the unicorn gently.

“Yeah, Fred, you do that,” Frick replied very quickly, trying to hide his flustered look by staring downstream. “I wonder what it will be like to see a bunch of ponies at once, instead of just the four of us.”

“Speaking of which, what’s taking Frack so long? There’s fields all around!” Frieda said, slightly irritated at their breakfast being delayed.

“Now, Freida, with Frack getting his foot back when he changed into a pony, he finds the freedom of movement exhilarating. He learned to fly lickety-split! Plus, it’s been cold a long time, and a lot of what was in the fields got frosted over.” Fred chided his wife gently.

“I know, I know,” Freida sighed. “The Lord gave me the wings, and I have to develop the confidence to use them. Taking off from the boat is a challenge.”

“Yeah, last time you tried you almost tipped the boat over!” Frick countered with.

“Now, now, Frick, that was uncalled for,” Fred said, reaching a hoof out to pat his wife’s feathers. “She will learn. She’s no daredevil like your brother.”

“It still happened…” Frick muttered as Frack came back, landing on the stern, his saddle sacks (two backpacks crudely stitched together to fit over his back) filled with vegetables.

“Hey, everyone! Sorry I took so long, was scouting about. Hard to find anything real decent,” Frack said as he allowed Freida to remove the sacks. “Not much to see, but there’s going to be some weather in the next couple of days.”

“Oh, what fun…” Frick muttered. “Frack, after you have breakfast, scout downriver and see if you can find us a better boat.”

“I’ll do that! Much as I like the Juliana, we can’t really live on her, especially with a storm coming. I would like to have some bulkheads between us and weather!” Frack said eagerly, prancing in place while Frieda got the sacks off him.

“Just go as far as Route Eighty-One in Columbus, Frack. Turn around there and head back. You’re going to need a nap after that much flying,” Fred told the prancing pegasus, who stopped prancing and looked up at the earth pony.

“That makes sense, Fred.” Frack told the mottled blue pony with the black mane, shaking his own golden mane, which could use a combing out. “I’ll do that.”

Once Frieda emptied the sacks, she put them back on to Frack with an admonition to be sure to find something for lunch. “Just get a line or two set, to get some fish for dinner, deal?” the pegasus asked, trying hard to keep his wings still. Trial and error had shown that only Frack and Freida could tolerate fish, and Frieda was the only one of the four who could handle any other type of meat.

“I’ll do that, Frack. Now, go find us lunch and another boat!” Frieda said, playfully slapping at Frack with a wing. Without another word Frack took off, getting out from under the awning and heading up, aimed downriver.

“I haven’t seen him look this lively since before he lost his foot as a teenager,” Frick said as Frack rapidly flew out of sight, his golden tail fading from view.

“You did a good job, looking after him since your parents got killed in that plane crash outside of Lincoln back in eighty-one,” Fred observed. “We all helped, but he flat-out idolizes you, Frick.”

“I know, Fred. You all helped, but I’ve been watching over him. He took losing them hard, and ever since I’ve worked hard to keep him on the straight and narrow, putting him through several schools, getting him a job, keeping him stable. It’s been a chore. Seeing him like this makes all we went through worth it.”

“That it does, Frick,” Freida said as she readied the fishing tackle. She is after perch today, and she knows how to get them!

That evening found the foursome in an impromptu encampment under the US81 bridge south of Columbus, two large tents, a campfire, and four sealable packing crates, each one semi-filled by each of them with goods to help on their travels, a fifth one packed with dried and stored food, water purification gear, and other sundry equipment, and a large tarp being used as a windbreak, anchored by cinder blocks. “What say you all?” Frick asked as the sun set, using his telekinesis to drag a comb through his mane. “Stay here another day and scavenge, or head on down the river and hope to find something adequate? Weather’s coming, so little bro says.”

Fred spoke up while looking at the campfire. “How about we let our scout go scouting? Give him until noon to find something and get back to us, hopefully not so far downstream that we can’t make it by the time the storm hits. If not, Frack gets back here by noon, we break camp here, tie down the Juliana as tight as we can, and take a couple of rooms at the Ramada until the storm blows itself out.”

“Sounds like a plan to me,” Frick said. “Tomorrow morning, you and Freida go prep the Ramada while I pack up camp and find some more stuff to anchor the boat down with. I’ll charge the batteries in the radios we got from the firehouse tonight and we’ll each take one. Hopefully, they will have the range to reach Omaha.

“I like that idea. Let’s do it,” Fred affirmed. “Oh, by the way, digging around in the church, I found something in the priest’s office I didn’t know he had. A battery-operated clock/calendar, with all the holy days programmed in. Anyone care to guess what today’s date is?”

“A lot later than late spring, for sure,” Frieda said, fluffing her feathers to warm up some more.

“Today is the twenty-third of December, two thousand fifteen. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and the day after, Christmas Day.”

“No wonder why it’s so blasted cold…” Frick muttered, wrapping a thick blanket tighter around him.

“To that end, I will hold lay services when the time arrives for it. Let’s survive first. Can’t give thanks if we’re dead from carelessness,” Fred said in serious tones.

“Agreed, Fred. Make it so,” Frick muttered, using his glow to put more wood on the fire.

Bright and early the next morning, Frack headed downriver, Frick packed away the camping gear, strapping them down tightly to the decking and the canopy. It was close to eleven when the radio came to life. “Hey, bro! Got your ears on?”

Frick picked his up with his glow. “You find something, bro?”

“Sure did! A wonderful little ship, with enough cabin and storage space for all of us plus some more! Just one little problem, though…” Frack reported.

“What’s that?”

“It’s still on its shipping trailer, in the yard of someone here in Woodcliff Lakes. Less than a hundred yards from the Platte, but howinhell will we get it in the river?”

“You got the manual for the thing?” Frick asked, running a hoof through his mane.

“Sure do, bro! I’ll bring it back with me! I figure if we leave when I get back, at the least we can hole up in a house here while the storm hits.”

Frick paused briefly. “I don’t know, bro. We may have to wait until the storm passes before getting that in the water.”

“Nonsense, Frick.” Fred said over his radio. “We can get down there, look over the situation, and if the storm is early, we can borrow some shelter for a day or two. If it’s on a trailer, I can move it.”

“I didn’t think of that…” Frick said honestly, having forgotten that Fred was the one who got the trailer unhitched from his king cab pickup and got it to the water with seeming lack of effort. “Okay, Fred, you and Freida abandon the hotel and get back to the boat. We’ll get her back into the water and hurry downstream when Frack gets back.”

“We’re on our way, with a few extra goods,” Freida chirped.

Within an hour, the crew and the Juliana were heading downstream on the Loup River, aiming for the confluence with the Platte, then, using Frack as a scout, Fred made sure the boat stayed in the deep waters while Frick read the brochure Frack had brought back.

“Whoever bought this one definitely had more money than sense,” Frick commented while Frieda tended the cookstove, frying up the perch she had caught earlier. “A Swift Trawler 47, all the way from France, sleeps eight, big main cabin, side sleeper for two more, two showers, big open galley and lounge, all yours for about half a million Euros.”

“The Good Lord works in mysterious ways, Frick. If He decides to show us bounty, who are we to question His gifts?” Fred said from the conn.

“Meaning, don’t question, just accept, right?” Frick said, folding the brochure carefully.

“You do have intelligence, Frick. You always have. Just put a little spine behind it, okay?” Frieda said as she tended the stove.

“Work in progress, Freida.”

Frieda laughed a little. “You’ve been saying that for over thirty years, Frick. You’ll manage. We trust you.”

“Thanks, Freida.”

Down the Platte they went, mostly wrapped in blankets because of the cold wind blowing in from the northwest. They kept track of their location thanks to the bridges they passed, first Colfax Street, an hour later highway 79 by North Bend, two and a half hours later US 77. By then, the sun was setting, clouds were building, and the wind was picking up. “How much farther, Frack?” Fred asked.

“Just downstream from the railroad bridge you’re about to pass under! Ready the fishing lights and shine them in front of you, then get the big lantern ready! It should be deep enough, just stay by the south bank! I’ll find a place to beach the boat!” Frack radioed back.

“Sure ‘nuff, Frack. Will do.” Fred called back calmly. While it seemed like nothing shakes Fred’s calm, Freida knows some things that will, but would never tell. Not even the brothers knew, even after a lifetime together. He then raised his voice some. “You heard him, Maw! Get the lights rigged out!”

“On my way, Paw,” Frieda said as she made her way forward, swinging out first one lantern, then the other. Both lights were bright enough to illuminate the water and attract fish. Frick got the big diver’s lantern out from its case and got ready to flick it on.

A few cautious minutes later, Frack called over the radio. “You’re coming up on me! Bear starboard! I’m flaring my wings!”

Frick scrambled forward while Fred turned gently to the right. Turning on the lantern, they quickly found Frack waving, fetlock-deep in the river, waving and pointing toward a place where they could beach the Juliana and have the river’s current help hold it in place.

Quickly and expertly, Fred beached the boat on the little shelf of mud and grass, Frack getting out of the way. Frick tossed out two small anchors astern, then got out some rope to tie the boat in place. “Maw, go check out the nearest house while we get everything battened down.” Fred said to his wife.

“On it, Paw,” she replied, splashing ashore and sprinting across the street to one of the houses still visible in the increasing gloom.

As she leaped over the low fence surrounding the yard of her target house, Freida was startled to find she was not alone. A rather large, yet thin dog came at her, baying some and not in a friendly manner. Without thinking, Freida sprang into the air, wings flapping, watching her canine opponent near, then, with a very swift maneuver, she lashed out with her hind legs at the dog. She felt the impact, heard a yelp followed by a whine, then the sound of the dog retreating. However, more barking can be heard from around the neighborhood, heading her way.

Freida reached for her radio, but discovered she had left it onboard the boat. She thought for about a second before deciding what to do. She pulled for altitude, then turned about to head back to the boat, the fishing lamps shining through the darkness and the snow flurries. “Gotta warn them about the dogs…” she thought as she flew back to the boat.

The others were busy, Fred tying down the anchor lines to whatever trees he could find, Frick unbolting the carry containers, and Frack carrying the sealed tubs to shore and a bit more. “Fellows! There’s dogs about, heading this way! I’ll head back to the house and see about getting in!” she called down.

The three stallions looked up to the hen as she hovered. “Dogs coming, Maw? Thanks for the warning. Be careful!” Fred called up.

Freida landed by the boat. “Forgot my radio,” she said before grabbing it, slinging the loop around her neck, and heading clear before taking off.

Fred said calmly, “Frick, you finish tying the boat down. I’ll deal with the dogs.”

“You do that, Fred!” Frick said as he loosened another tub, putting the nuts and bolts away before moving to tie down the boat as the wind got a bit stronger.

Fred went to the road and across it. As he vaulted the fence, assorted barks were heard, barks, growls, and some whines of at least ten dogs approaching. Calmly, Fred looked at the pack, which closed in. He stood his ground, and the pack stopped outside of hoof’s reach, looking at him. “Now, you fellas and gals, if’n you don’t plan on hurtin’ me, I’m not goin’ to hurt you. If you DO try, there’s only goin’ to be one of us walkin’ out, and it ain’t gonna be any of you. You got it?” he said, looking at each of the dogs as he spoke.

The biggest dog, what seemed to Fred to be a German Shepherd that had seen better days, let out a couple of barks. The pack turned about and headed out of the yard.

“All clear, boys. Dogs gone now.”

“And the front door is open!” Freida called from the doorway.

Fred trotted over to neck-hug his wife. “How you manage to get in?” he asked.

“Balcony overlooking the lake. They didn’t lock the glass doors,” Freida whispered in Fred’s ear as she hugged him warmly.

“Knew you were smart. Let’s help the boys unload the boat now. Weather’s getting nasty,” Fred observed after giving Freida a quick kiss on the beak.

What with the four of them moving the goods, it wasn’t but half an hour before that chore was done, all inside, doors closed against the increasing storm, and a fire built in the fireplace, around which the four huddled, Frieda cooking something hot for them while the stallions just got warm.

“Just where is this boat you found, little bro?” Frick asked as the smell of fresh hot coffee filled the room.

“Six houses down. That was the best place to moor the Juliana in the next quarter-mile or so. What was that line from that old movie, ‘any old storm in a port’?” Frack asked.

“Flower Drum Song, nineteen sixty-four,” Fred said, accepting a cup of coffee from Freida and sipping. “Thank you, Maw. That’s just what we need right now.”

Freida poured two more cups, mixing in the appropriate amounts of sugar she knew the boys liked. “Come on, boys! Your turn!” she said cheerfully, holding the cups out. Frick and Frack eagerly took and sipped from the steaming cups.

“Now would be a good time for a prayer service, to thank the Lord for getting us this far,” Fred said solemnly. “Let me get the big Bible, but services will be AFTER dinner, not before.”

“I think it is a good idea. We should give thanks that we are together, united on our mission through this strange new life,” Frieda said with all the gravity of a queen making a pronouncement.

All eyes then turned to Frick, who shrugged as he sipped the hot brew. “Let’s make it so. Fred, you’re in charge of it. I just attended church, you worked there,” he said in low tones. “If I can’t trust the sexton, who can I trust?”

“You can trust all of us, big bro!” Frack exclaimed happily. “Let’s dig into whatever Frieda’s cooking up and get a decent night’s sleep. Gonna be busy tomorrow. Cold, too.”

Frieda stirred one of the pots on the grate over the fire before sampling it. “About ten minutes. Who’s going to help me get the plates out?” she asked.

“I will, Freida!” Frack said, springing to his hooves. “Show me!”

As the griffin and pegasus went to the kitchen, Frick said quietly to Fred, “Where does he get the energy? I would say he’s keyed up about something, but it doesn’t quite feel like that to me.”

Fred just sipped his coffee. “Frick, some questions, it is better not to hunt down the answers, but to simply accept what is and go with the flow. This is one of them.”

Frick, after some thought, just nodded, his brilliant purple mane moving some. “Good enough for me.”

The next morning, after a satisfying breakfast of fresh hotcakes and coffee, the four went to check the new boat. Six houses down, it sat on its trailer, ready to be set into the water. It needed cleaning, what with it sitting outside since May and all. “Okay, problem one, how to get it in the water. Problem two, checking over the engines and batteries. Problem three, provisioning enough to get to Omaha. Problem four, fuel. Problem five, fresh water. Problem six…” Frick said before getting interrupted by his brother.

“Problem six is, how are you going to get aboard to do the checks before putting it in the water?” Frack said with a trace of smugness.

“I’m just trying to outline all the problems we’re facing before we start working on them, little brother…” Frick said harshly before getting interrupted again, this time by Fred.

“Frick, let’s get her in the water, then take it from there. Gonna need a harness.”

“Got it, Paw,” Freida said as she brought up the crude harness they had fashioned from ratchet straps and seat belts from Frick’s king cab. She got it on him, and he put the lines under tension.

“Remove the wheel chocks!” Fred grunted as he held the boat in place. Frick used his glow to get the chocks clear, then Fred slowly backed the boat into the water. Or, rather, he tried to. “Chocks back! Can’t hold it!”

Frick quickly put the chocks back in before the boat rolled more than a couple of inches. “You okay, Fred?” he asked.

“Yeah. We gotta rethink this,” Fred said as Freida came up to unbuckle Fred’s harness. It took an hour or so of skull sweat, two belaying lines, one around a tree, the other around a lamppost, and both Fred and Freida in harness to get the big boat into the water. Once the boat was afloat, Frack flew up and opened the engine cover to check the systems filling with cooling water properly. As Frick is an excellent electronic and systems technician, having been the chief engineer for KZEN radio, Frack is an excellent mechanical engineer, his prosthetic foot having proved to be little handicap in that profession. Frick then released the straps holding the boat to the trailer.

The boat floated easily in the water, a bit canted to port. “Gonna have to adjust the trim,” Frick observed while Fred and Freida got the trailer out of the water.

“Save the straps, too. We can use ‘em later.” Fred said after he got the trailer out. Frieda re-chocked the tires before getting Fred out of the harness.

“Don’t you tell me this harness don’t hurt you, Paw,” Frieda clucked as she got the harness off.

“Okay, Maw. I won’t say that. Just something to be endured, is all.”

Meanwhile, Frick was using his telekinesis to move the boat, bit by bit, alongside the pier. Frack came out of the engine compartment and replaced the cover. “I’m going to see if the engines turn over, bro!” he called out as he went to the upper control area.

“Probably deader than a doornail, little bro!”

“Could be, but let’s find out!” Frack studied the control panel for a couple of moments before deciding something. “Hey, bro! All the controls up here are in French!”

“Check the lower one! Find the lines first and toss me the bow line!”

“Right!” Frack found the lines first, neatly stowed on their reels. Casually, he tossed the forward port line to his brother, who caught it. “I think these are self-tensioning winches!”

“If so, good! Once we get power back up!” Frick said as he got the line tied down. “Let’s get the port stern line, I’ll get aboard, and we’ll inspect things.”

“Sounds good, bro. You learned French, I learned German,” Frack said as he made his way aft.

“While I learned Latin,” Fred added as he wandered up to the pier.

“That you did, Fred,” Frick commented as he tied off the stern line, enabling boarding of the boat from the stern transom. Freida just smiled to herself, hearing the stallions chat. She spoke and read all three languages, plus Spanish and a touch of Norwegian. Being the Librarian for the Columbus Library since she graduated from the University of Nebraska with her bachelor’s in Library Science, class of nineteen seventy-five.

Carefully, Frick made his way aboard. He can see where leaves and other debris had piled up, but fortunately the door to the saloon area had remained closed and intact, so the trash stayed out. Rather than open the door, he made his way up to the fly bridge. Yes, it was nicely laid out and yes, the labels up here were in French. Frick made himself comfortable and started looking at the controls, forehooves folded against his barrel, just looking at the panel, shivering a little in the cold. Frack knew not to bother his big brother when he got in that state, so he made his way to the saloon, opening the rear door. Freida stuck her beak in. “This looks done right. Three burner stove, oven, storage, but where’s the refrigerator?” she asked.

Frack pointed with a forehoof. “Over there, in the corner. Lots of space in here for the four of us, maybe a couple more. That is, if we can get it running.”

“You vented the water systems in the engines, right?” Fred asked.

“I’m sure I did, but we should check again. Next thing is to find a battery or two.” Frack commented as he led the way to the engine bay. Removing the cover, he started double-checking.

Meanwhile, on the flying bridge, Frick completed his inspection of the main panel. For the first time in a while, he began to feel optimistic. Looking back, he saw Frack with his nose in the motor. “Get clear, bro! Gonna try to start the generator!”

“Right, bro!” Frack backed out of the engine bay, and Frick hit the generator start. A low growl was heard, followed by a couple of skipping noises, and the generator caught. Frick smiled thinly at the sight of the generator starting before bringing the ship to life. Electronically, that is. One system after another, he powered up. Galley systems, lighting, entertainment, wet bar, wall plugs, nav systems and the ship’s central cyber nexus. “I can run this ship off a tablet?” Frick exclaimed while going through the computer programs.

“Think we can all do that, Frick?” Fred asked from the stairway up to the fly bridge.

“Few things we need to do first, Fred. Like finding enough tablets for everyone, spare tablets and chargers, but the first thing I’ll need to do is to learn the programs well enough to teach everyone else! Riverine ship handling, I’m convinced we can all do it with our tails plunked in the chair behind the wheel, but off a tablet? Let’s back-burner that idea until we get to Omaha or Saint Joe’s. Plus, we got to worry about fuel and fresh water…” Frick’s tirade petered out as more systems came up, returning his attention to the display screens.

“Find something interesting, Frick?” Fred asked, getting onto the fly bridge, but standing towards the back.

“I should say so, Fred. This little puppy has got more tricks than a sideshow magician! Radar, thermal, video, web access, fish finder sonar, and I don’t know what-all yet. You and the rest go explore the boat, I’m going to be here a bit, studying the controls,” Frick said, his brilliant purple glow manipulating some of the switches on the console, figuring out which did what and how. Being a radio station engineer, he’s no slouch, but the tech in this little boat was beyond anything he had worked with.

“Okay, Frick. I’ll let the others know to leave you be for a while,” Fred said before going down the stairs backwards. He thought it would be safer that way. “Don’t be too long up here, you’ll catch your death from the cold.” Frick wasn’t paying attention, watching the instrument displays, using his glow to scrape off ice and frost.

On the main deck, Fred found Freida looking about the galley, finding out the cabinet space available. “Look at this, Fred! Electric oven, three-burner top with that new-fangled ceramic induction system, and a batch of cookware for it! This ship is incredible!” she positively gushed, thrilled at what she had found.

Fred nuzzled his wife’s neck. “I’m happy for you, love. Have you looked downstairs yet?” he asked.

“Not yet. This kitchen has had me in its thrall. Now, to find stuff to cook up. I’ve missed fresh bread,” Freida admitted.

“So have we all, love. I’ll go on walkabout, you be happy up here. Frick’s in nerd heaven upstairs, looking over the controls. Seems like the Good Lord is looking out for us, yes?”

“God helps those who help themselves. His guidance got us here, now it’s up to us to use this ship properly. Rotterdam’s a long ways off,” Freida said as she opened various cabinets.

“You’ve always been sensible, love. I’ll be downstairs,” Fred said as he headed down the short flight of steps to the cabins. What with the walls on either side, he could go down the stairs forward, leaning against a bulkhead and taking slow steps.

That evening, the four were gathered in the lounge area of the yet-to-be-named boat, now properly trimmed and somewhat provisioned, but more needs to be done before setting sail. Frick sat in the pilot’s chair, turned to face into the cabin, holding a steaming cup of coffee, the remains of a pleasant hot meal on the table. Freida sat by the stove and oven, while Fred and Frack shared the sofa. “Now that our Christmas Eve services have been done, and a most wonderful dinner served and consumed, let us talk about what to do next,” Frick said to the group. “Frack, I name you Chief Engineer. What’s your take on ship’s systems? I know what the indicators say, but what do YOU say?”

Frack put his drink down, not a coffee, but a cold Vanilla Coke they found in one of the nearby houses and set in the refrigerator aboard the boat. He prefers coffee mainly in the mornings. “Well, our first priority is filling the diesel tank. Yes, it holds four hundred gallons, but we’ve barely got a tenth of a tank, maybe less. The generator day tank was full, but that’s only ten gallons or so. We’re good for another day or so running the generator, then we’re going to have to activate the fuel transfer pump and fill it up from the main tank. Drifting downstream, engines idling, we should make it to the Missouri River. I don’t think we can buck the current up to Omaha, though.” Frack said soberly. Appealing to his professionalism always works.

“Okay, then. I’ll think about what to do next. Freida, as Purser, how are our supplies?” Frick asked.

“I’m glad we have a full tank of fresh water, and whatever filtration system is aboard works fine. I have yet to find the fill port, nor have we found a good source of clean water. Filling it with filtered water is going to be a challenge. It is over a hundred gallons, and right now, the best idea is to find the fill port, set up a pot near it and melt ice before pouring it into the tank. At least we can be sure fresh snow and ice is clean,” the griffoness reported.

“How about food, linen and cabin space?” Frick asked.

“Fred and I will take the main cabin, you and Frack in the one side cabin with the twin beds. Linens we have one set for everything, but no laundry. Lots of towels, but no dryer.

“As for food, we have enough for a day or so, then we’ll have to scavenge some more. At least we got enough storage space for a decent supply of food.”

“Okay, then. Tomorrow, check the houses we have already opened and see what you can get from them before the last of the stuff goes bad. We’re gonna have to do that often.

“Fred, you’re First Mate. Any ideas on our fuel and water state?” Frick asked the big earth pony.

“Well, first thing I can do is to check some of the local boats to see if they have diesel we can siphon out, and we can look for some stowed away bottled water. We can do that tomorrow. Tonight, I want to suggest we enjoy the warmth of our new home for the next however long. Tomorrow, I would have to say we ask for our Lord’s forgiveness, and work through this most sacred of days. Survival comes before worship,” Fred said in solemn tones.

The others all nodded in agreement. “Okay, then, let us get the ship tidy and have some good sleep. I think we can all agree that since we found things neat, let’s keep it that way,” Frick declared, then paused, blinking. “Does anyone have an idea on what to name our new home?”

Fred spoke up, in a firm voice. “Deliverance. For this ship will deliver us from the barren lands to our compatriots, for only together will we be able to not just survive, but thrive.”

Frick raised his coffee mug in salute. “Deliverance, she shall be named,” he declared, Frack and Freida raising their drinks in salute as well.

“Just one more question, Frick,” Freida asked. “How will we get from the lake to the river? The bridge to the river is far too low for us to pass!” There is a connection from the lake to the Platte River, but it was not set up for anything more than a rowboat or canoe to get under the bridge, much less a boat the size of theirs.

“Simple, Freida, if I can find the tools. We blast,” Frick replied calmly.

“What if you can’t find any dynamite?” Frack asked.

“We’ll think of something. That’s not for a while yet, though. Let’s clean up, then unpack and turn in. Busy today, busier tomorrow,” Frick said, getting up to start doing dishes. The others all pitched in to clean up, then went ashore to get their belongings to put away in their new home.

Author's Note:

Okay, here we go. Something new, something different. Think the 4-F gang can make it down rivers without any problems? Don't hold your breath...