• 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 2: She followed us home, can we keep her?

Christmas morning dawned bright and clear, not to mention cold. The 4-F’s woke to have a leisurely breakfast, followed by a short prayer service of thanks and forgiveness, before getting to work. Frick and Frack went to work on Deliverance, learning where everything is on the boat. Fred and Freida went scavenging, checking out the houses close by for food, fuel and bottled water. It wasn’t long before a problem cropped up.

Frack found his older brother at the lower control station, enjoying the cabin warmth as he studied the little ship’s controls. “Big bro, we have a problem,” he said as soberly as he could, contrary to his usual upbeat nature.

“Little bro, when you say that, I worry. What’s the problem?” Frick asked, pushing his bright purple mane out away from his left eye. A vain attempt, because the hair promptly fell back.

“The diesel fuel, bro. It’s been sitting since May, and it is now December. Fuel spoils if it’s allowed to sit. The generator day tank was treated, but the main tank is not. We’ve got to clear the crap out of the fuel, both in the tank and whatever we find, or else those big Cummins diesels are gonna clog up and get ruined, leaving us dead in the water,” Frack told his brother, his own golden mane hanging a bit limp around his neck. Still a mess, though.

“Well, since you found the problem, can you find a solution?”

Frack went from gloomy to cheerful in about half a second, his mane going from flat to fluffy. “Already have, bro! It’s just we’re going to have to do some scavenging. I know what we need, AND I know where to find most of the stuff!”

“Where at? Omaha?”

“Nope! Right here in Fremont! There’s a marine supply store I know about there, and for the rest, a good hardware store and a pharmacy should give us what we need!” Frack said with a bit of a laugh.

“A pharmacy? Whatever for?” Frick asked, wondering if his little brother was on to something, or had completely flipped his nut. He wouldn’t take odds either way.

“Cotton! Lots and lots of plain cotton! Using it as a prefilter before the regular filters, the cotton gets most of the globs of gunk out before the regular filters take care of the water and the mold and the rest of the crap. One pure prefilter should allow us to fill the main tank before we have to change it!” Frack explained.

“You’re the mechanic, I’m the electronics tech. Don’t we need some additive as well, like drygas or an octane booster?” Frack asked.

“Sea Foam, bro! There should be gallons of it at the marine supply place! We just gotta remember, whenever we add fuel, to filter and treat it BEFORE we put it in the tanks. In fact, I can kitbash something from what we have aboard right now, to get the day tank refueled before it runs out.”

“We have some of the stuff aboard?” Frick asked.

“If we didn’t, I would not have said so. We don’t have much, but I think we have enough to fill the day tank once, or nearly. Want me to get started on it?” Frack asked, his hooves twitching in anticipation.

“Go for it, Mister Scott. Go do the hoo doo you do so well!” Frick ordered with a smile.

“Aye, Captain!” Frack replied, saluting with a wing before heading aft. The two have been Star Trek fans since they were little.

Frick picked up his radio in his purple telekinetic glow. “Hey, Fred, got some more things for you to look for while you’re house prowling…” he said.

That evening, over dinner, the foursome talked in the saloon. “Okay, everyone, time for the nightly situation report. Chief Engineer, you bat leadoff,” Frick said from the pilot’s chair.

“Okay, we managed to scavenge up enough filter material to get the day tank filled with clean diesel and additive, so we are assured of power for the next day or so. What I propose is that tomorrow, Freida and I fly to Fremont and do some scouting for materials, while you and Fred see about getting a car or truck running at least long enough for a trip to town and back. Think you can handle that?” Frack asked.

Frick glanced over to Fred, who gave an almost imperceptible nod of the head. “Okay, let’s do that then. Fred, have you found anything today that could be of help?”

“Yes, I did. Found an electric golf cart and a portable generator about half-full of good gas. I can start the generator early tomorrow and charge the cart until we get a full charge or the gas runs out. Should be good for at least one trip to town. If all else fails, we’ll bring my harness and I’ll pull the thing,” Fred said in his normal calm voice. “That would be slower, and wasting time isn’t good.”

“Okay. Purser, supply status, please,” Frick asked next, looking at Freida.

“Well, we struck gold two houses down, Fred and I. Apparently, the people who lived there liked to do home canning, and I brought some of it over. Could use another day or two to empty the place, that and a little red wagon. I also found the fill spout for the fresh water tank, and I got it topped off, thanks to someone ordering forty gallons of Crystal water.
“One of the things to look for tomorrow is to find more water, and be careful with what we have. Running river water through survival straws and filter pitchers is going to be slow,” Freida cautioned, looking at the stallions in turn. “That’s why we’re using big plastic plates for dinner tonight, only needing to wash the cookpots.”

“Good thing for us all to remember,” Frick said in agreement. “Fred, what about fuel?”

“Well, most of what I found is bad gasoline, not much diesel so far. I think I can scrounge up ten to fifteen gallons of good gas for the portable generator, so we can use a pump to get fuel out of tanks. We’re going to have to look for some pumps, too. We’ll need one each for gas, diesel and water, and keep them separate.” Fred advised.

“Sound advice, Fred. Now, let’s clean up and get to bed. Lots of work tomorrow,” Frick said, standing up and starting to wash the pots, since he was closest to the galley sink.

Bright and early the next morning, the foursome got to work. Frack and Freida flew off to town, Frack wearing his improvised saddlebags. Fred led Frick to where he had found the generator and golf cart, and got started charging the thing. With that job in hoof, Fred led Frick to the cannery, and salvaged most of what was there, finding places to stow the boxes of jars aboard the boat.

Frack and Freida checked in every hour, reporting their progress. The two in town were finding what they were looking for in various stores, stacking what they thought they needed in neat little piles. They had found much more than they could use right away, but they figured since they were there, pile it up. The next person coming could use the stuff, too.

They also looked for common supplies, like the one thing Frack insisted on, three cases of Vanilla Coke, in cans. Sure, he needed to use a tool or two to open the cans, but it was better than nothing. Besides, with practice, he could learn not to spill so much when opening the cans by himself. Freida focused on more practical items, like a heavy-duty sewing kit which could handle leather. Not that they expected to find leather, but many synthetics could laugh at a regular needle.

At noon, Frick and Fred drove to town, towing a wagon behind the golf cart. The two teams met up, and they went around town, picking up the stockpiles. Frack carried medical supplies they had found, including a very large wad of cotton to use in the prefilters. They agreed to return to town tomorrow, for more goods to take back, Frack being ‘pretty sure’ the next storm would not hit until the next evening. That night, the foursome did a lot of unpacking and stowing all over the little boat, even stashing items up on the fly bridge, in tightly sealed containers, of course.

Frack stayed up late, building a filtering apparatus. The contraption took up part of the aft deck, with one hose leading to shore and another hose going to the generator day tank. Once he finished that, he headed off to bed, taking the time to clean up. “Tomorrow, we’ll see how it will work,” he said to himself before heading below decks.

The foursome woke up to blizzard conditions, visibility outside reduced to not much at all. “Frack, how much longer do we have before the generator runs out of fuel?” Frick asked.

“Mid-afternoon at best, bro. Let’s give it an hour or so, and if it hasn’t stopped blowing, I’ll head out to refill the tank,” Frack said with a little optimism.

“I’ll go out with you, Frack,” Fred said. “We have to run a line from the main fuel tank, right?”

Frack nodded. “Yes. I found a drain line we can attach the hose to, and use that to draw fuel from the main tank. It’s not going to be easy, because of the cold, but I think we can pull it off. Once we get suction into the pump, the outlet pressure should be enough to get the fuel through the filters. If not, we’re going to need a bigger pump.”

“You know where we can find one?” Fred asked.

Frack nodded, his gold mane flying about. “In town.”

“Let’s hope we can make do with what we got,” Fred said before sipping his coffee.

An hour later, the blizzard-like conditions outside had backed off some. It was still snowing and blowing, but you could see two houses down. Reluctantly, the two set out to get the fuel transferred and cleaned. It took two hours, but they managed to get the generator day tank refilled. “Good thing you knew ways around the problems, Frack,” Fred said when they came back in.

“We had to go to a smaller pump, but one that had enough pressure. Glad I snagged one yesterday,” Frack said before opening a can of VC. This time, there was not too much spray.

“Now that THAT chore is done, when do you think it will stop snowing?” Frick asked from the control console.

Frack shut his eyes and thought, feeling out the storm. “About suppertime. Looks like it’s housework all day,” he said.

“Okay, then. I think I got the radio on here figured out. I doubt we can transmit all the way to the WSU, but I should be able to pull them in. Fortunately, they transmit almost all the time, so they’re not too hard to find,” Frick said as he used a stylus in his glow to set the radio to the WSU’s frequency.

The first thing they heard was a lecture on fuel purification. “Good thing we have you, Frack,” Freida said as she pulled a pan of rolls out of the oven and put in two loaves of dough. “From what they say about cleaning fuel, we don’t have half the stuff and the other half I never heard of!”

“You missed one thing, Freida. They were talking about a larger scale operation than we are operating on. We just have to worry about the Deliverance here. They were talking about a diesel generator big enough to power a colony,” Frack said as he went to snitch a roll, to stop after a wing slap from Freida.

“You wait until I get them set up, Frack! Or else I’ll toss your grape jelly overboard!” she snapped.

“Okay,” Frack said, moving away from the galley section to sit on the sofa, watching the snow fall.

“Think we can find a satphone in town tomorrow, Frick?” Fred asked.

“We can try. There might be some in one of the phone stores. Thing is, I don’t know a hell of a lot about the Iridium system. Hope we can find a guide book or two to tell us how to link in to the system,” Frick said with a sigh. “Gonna be a challenge.”

“Think you can come up with a small, but powerful shortwave set?” Frack asked.

“Won’t be much of a problem, but my main issues with that are the power and antenna systems. I’ve never tried to QX Europe before. Best I ever managed was twenty-five years or so ago when I managed to pull in someone who went by the call sign of Juliet Yankee One. Wasn’t until years later that I found out who it was,” Frick said as he turned back to the radio console.

“Just who was it, Frick?” Freida asked.

“The King of Jordan, broadcasting from Amman.”

“Oh, my…” Frieda whispered.

The four puttered about the boat most of that day, the weather outside being too nasty for them to want to go out, rather they stayed inside and enjoyed the heat. Frick studied the ship manuals some more, sure he had missed something, Frack helped Freida remake Fred’s harness into something more comfortable to wear, and Fred either read his Bible or found something to do that needed doing. The three ponies found that using hooves was not quite as good as hands, but they didn’t bother thinking about details. All four are practical folk, if it needs doing, they do it. If they can, of course. If not, Frick and Freida would be called in for fine dexterity jobs.

The next morning dawned clear, crisp and COLD, with a foot and a half of snow on the ground and the lake partially iced over. “Well, dammitall... “ Frick said when he came up the steps to the saloon and looked out. “What the hell are we going to do now?” he grumped.

Fred just looked at the Captain calmly, as was his wont. “Dashing through the snow, in a one-horse open sleigh…” he sang in a voice that led choirs at St. Isidore’s.

“You know where we can find one, Fred?” Frack asked.

“Yep. Four houses down, in the garage, is a sleigh. Looked in good condition. You can hitch me up to it, and I can slog through this stuff to Fremont and back. You want to hit up the phone stores, right?” Fred asked.

“Phone and computer, if we can’t find anything in the phone stores. Here’s hoping. The setup on here may have satellite capability, but I don’t know enough to find it or use it right. I’m more used to the bigger satellite dishes, but that’s for a commercial station, not for personal use like this,” Frick said before Freida passed him a cup of coffee.

“Don’t sweat it, Frick. We have faith in you. Just have a little patience,” Freida counseled before starting to cook breakfast.

Noontime found the foursome in Fremont, Fred pulling the sleigh, Frack and Freida flying about, gathering up some more useful items and bringing them to the sleigh. They did stop by Menard’s to pick up six sealable tubs, to store provisions on the fly bridge. Freida insisted on a stop for sewing supplies, grabbing two bolts of sturdy canvas and other sewing supplies to make better harnesses. Frick did hit up a cell phone store and a computer store, finding several satphones and some higher-end laptops which he had always wanted, but never could afford.

Mid-afternoon, they headed back to the boat to charge the phones and computers, and to stow their goods. Frack and Freida flew ahead to prepare a hot dinner. It wasn’t long before Frick got a call from his brother.

“Hey, bro, we got company!” Frack radioed in.

“Company? What do you mean company?” Frick asked.

“I mean there’s someone curled up on the aft deck, pressed up against the saloon doors, out like a light! Looks like a tall cat on two feet, wearing Cornhusker sweats!”

“Okay, get he or she inside, put them in the spare cabin and warm it up! Freida, you’re our Medical Officer, so see if you can bring it around. Frack, scout around a bit and find where it came from, okay?” Frick radioed back.

“Will do, bro! I’ll start the coffeepot first, then do a little hunting!”

“I don’t know why they say you’re dumb, little bro! Have at it, we should be back within half an hour!”

“Will do!”

“Fred, we got some company…” Frick started to say, but Fred interrupted.

“I heard, Frick. I’ll try to pick up the pace a bit. At least I have a broken-in trail to follow.” Fred went from a walk to a slow trot, careful where he put his hooves.

Francesca Anita Vasquez remembered going to bed on May twenty-second, glad to have a weekend coming up after a rather stressful week at her job as a cyber specialist working for the University of Nebraska. She was looking forward to sleeping in, then having a cookout with her parents and the rest of the family. What she didn’t expect is waking up to extreme cold and wearing a fur coat. She didn’t shriek in surprise, she shivered, quickly fumbling in the dark to her bedroom closet, where the blankets were kept. Breaking them out, she wrapped herself up on the bed and waited for the sun to rise and for her to warm up.

She woke up some time later to sunlight reflecting off the deep pile of snow and some noises she didn’t quite catch on to. Hurrying through the house, she saw a horse pulling a sleigh up the road. A blue horse with a black mane pulling the Culberson’s sleigh, with a grayish horse with a brilliant purple mane riding in the sleigh. She realized that those horses were her ticket out, but first she had to backtrack their path, to see where they came from. Her stomach reminded her there was something else she should take care of, so she went to take care of that.

It took her an hour to dress warmly, find a flashlight, check the fireplace, get some wood, find the matches, start a fire, find the camping gear, find the camping food and stored jerky, and fix herself a hot meal, with hot cocoa. For water, she went up to the patio and filled several camp pots with snow. Once she was warmed enough, she thought about what to wear before going outside in the frigid temperatures.

Francesca found that her new body was quite a bit taller than her previous one, and a lot smaller in many places. Her waist, bust and hips are much reduced from her previous proportions, her fur she could only classify as ‘tortoiseshell’ in patterning, and all the shoes in the house were too big for her. So, she did what she does best in times of pressure- improvise.

She found several pairs of her father’s socks, good thick ones. Putting three pairs on her feet enabled her mother’s snow boots to stay in place. Sure, she was digitigrade instead of plantigrade, but she wanted something more solid than socks on her feet. The snow looked deep and cold. Plus, traction would be of help. She then found enough sweaters to pad her upper body and three pairs of sweatpants for her lower. The socks came up high enough to meet the bottom of her sweatpant legs. Thus fortified, she set out.

The cold outside was fiercer than she had ever remembered it being, and she had grown up in this house. Walking through knee-high snow was a slow slog, snow immediately going down her boots to her feet. She found the horse tracks and started backtracking.

The trail led to the Culbertson house, where she could see they had hitched the sled up. A set of tracks led further down the street, where she noticed the Buescher’s new boat was not on the trailer, but in the water and some lights were on. Being cold and numb and getting colder and number by the minute, she made her way to the boat. It took a couple of minutes to get herself from the pier to the boat platform then onto the boat. She could see into the cabin, but the door was latched and her fingers were so numb, she couldn’t get the latch open. She sagged against the glass door as her strength ebbed, trying to suck up as much heat as she could.

The next thing Fran knew, she was waking up in a warm bed, undressed down to almost her fur, wrapped in a warm blanket, with a half-bird half-cat watching her. She let out a gasp of surprise as she woke.

“Hello, there. Would you like some hot soup? Beef and noodle. Dehydrated, but remade and hot!” the bird-thing said in a woman’s voice, holding out the cup.

Francesca nodded. “Please,” she said, reaching a hand out from under the blanket. The soup was hot, but not so hot to be uncomfortable. Carefully, she sipped, then some more, trying to get the beef bits out.

“Want a spoon for that?” the half-bird half-cat asked.

“Please,” Fran said, with the bird thing quickly producing a plastic spoon. She was hungry for the meat, and soon finished the cup. “Thank you, I needed that.”

“You’re quite welcome. Now, what’s your name? I’m Freida Halvorsen, from Oconee,” she said.

“I’m Francesca Vasquez. I live down the street, and I saw two colorful horses going down the street earlier today. I decided to backtrack. Guess I didn’t dress warm enough,” Francesca said, digging through the soup cup for some more.

“Let me get you another cup, Fran. You must be hungry!” Freida said with a small laugh, getting up.

“I am. Why are you on the Buescher’s boat?” Fran asked.

Freida took the cup. “I’ll tell you that after I refill this,” she said, going out of the cabin.

While Freida was gone, Fran shivered some, as heat and cold warred in her body. The cabin was rather plain, but the bed was big enough for her to stretch out some, if she laid down diagonally on it. “Boy, did I luck out…” she said to herself in Spanish.

“We all did, Fran, by finding this boat,” Freida said from the door, also in Spanish. “Here’s your refill. What would you like, coffee, tea, or Vanilla Coke?”

Fran started a little. “I didn’t hear you come down, Freida. You’re quiet! Hot coffee will be good. Do you have sugar and creamer?”

“Yes, and Coffee Mate. No milk yet. How much sugar? Two packs or three?”

“Three, please. How do you know Spanish so well?” Fran asked as she sipped from the soup cup, switching back to English.

“University of Nebraska, class of seventy-five, and being a librarian in Columbus ever since,” Freida said, stepping back out of the cabin.

“I went to the University too, class of twenty-twelve, and have been working there in the admin department since graduating, running and updating the computers,” Fran said.

“Great! Five Cornhuskers in one boat! Be right back!” Swiftly, Freida was back with a cup of coffee which smelled fresh. She put it down on the small table in the cabin. “Here you go!”

“Five Cornhuskers?” Fran asked after putting down the soup cup and having some coffee.

“My husband, Fred, and our friend Freidrick Larsen, were also class of seventy-five. Freidrick’s brother Franklin is class of nineteen eighty,” Freida explained.

“Wow,” Fran said. “What were those two horses I saw pulling the Culberson’s sleigh earlier?”

“My husband was pulling the sleigh and Frick was riding. You didn’t see Frack or I because we were flying,” Freida told the cat.

“Flying? How?” Fran asked, getting totally confused. “What happened to everyone?”

“I don’t have any idea. The four of us were out that Saturday morning, going fishing. Just after we parked on the shoreline, this bright flash happened and it was cold, windy, and we were all changed. It’s too cold for a pontoon boat, so we went downstream with Frack scouting from the air until he saw the boat on its trailer here. We then sailed from Columbus all the way down here in one afternoon. Good thing, because a storm hit. Actually, two. One last night, the other a couple days before.”

“Frick and Frack?” Fran asked, confused.

Freida let out a laugh. “Yes. They’ve been called that ever since Frack was an infant. Don’t remember who suggested it, but it stuck and stuck hard. I had to think to remember their real names!”

“All close friends, you are?”

“Oh, yes. For our entire lives. Would you believe I was sixty-three when this happened? So was Fred and Frick. Frack’s fifty-eight,”

“Really? I’m twenty-four. You sure don’t look like you're in your sixties. Neither did the other two I saw. If I may ask, just what kind of life form are you? I can’t quite recall seeing one before,” Fran asked.

“I’m a griffon. Half bird, half cat. Red tailed hawk and black panther. Don’t know how I’m able to fly, but I can and so can Frack. He’s a pegasus, Frick is a unicorn, and Fred’s a strong pony. Frick is a telekinetic,” Freida explained.

“May I ask who does what here? Will I be able to join you? I don’t want to be left alone in the cold up here,” Fran asked in a plaintive voice.

Freida took Fran’s hand in her claw and squeezed gently. “Of course, you can come! I’m the Purser and Medical officer, because I took an EMT class some years ago and maintained my certifications. Frick is the Captain, he worked at K-zen radio as the Chief Engineer there, Frack is the Chief Engineer, he being a top-rated mechanic despite losing a foot as a teenager, and Fred’s the First Mate, being the sexton at St. Isidore’s church in Columbus. Hope you don’t mind prayer meetings and Bible studies on Sundays.”

Fran shook her head. “No, I don’t mind. I confess to not being much of a churchgoer. My parents were. What can I do here?”

“Well, first, you and I are not only the two women aboard, we’re also the only two with hands. You said you know computers, right?” Freida asked.

“Oh, yes! I was in line to become head of the department, because I am up to date on all the latest programs.”

“Good! Frick is familiar, but not exactly current. There’s a computer system aboard this boat that can just about make biscuits on its own, and Frick has been pulling his mane out trying to understand everything. Right now, he’s upstairs trying to puzzle out the Iridium system. There are some other folk we’re trying to contact,” Freida said before outlining what they knew about the WSU, and what the Foursome’s plans for the future are.

Fran finished her soup. “All the way to Rotterdam? You think this boat will make it there?” she asked.

“Heavens, no!” Freida laughed. “We’re planning on going downstream all the way to New Orleans, canal to Lake Pontchartrain, and sail along the coast to Florida before taking to land to hook up with some other folk in Georgia. We’ll let the WSU take us to Europe.”

“Ambitious plans. How do you plan on getting the boat into the Platte River?”

“Frick has a plan. Blasting, if he can find the dynamite. He can clear out the rubble and we can sail on through.”

“I know where some dynamite is at. The Howlands have some. I just hope it’s still good,” Fran told Freida.

When Fran was asked if she wanted dinner in the cabin or upstairs, she chose to come up. Picking the driest of her sweats and socks, she put them on and headed up to the saloon, only whacking her head once. There, she met the three stallions, all three of whom barely came up to her chest. The three, along with Freida, gently quizzed her on what she knew and what she could do. She quickly figured out who was who, Frick being the one with the purple mane and the horn, Frack has the golden mane and wings, and Fred has the black mane and all the gravitas of a preacher. They were all kind and polite to her, but she knew she was at the bottom of the social ladder and quickly figured out how not to offend the others.

After dinner, Frick brought Fran to the cockpit to teach her what he had learned about the computer system so far while Frack and Fred used the fuel filter to refill the generator tank. She proved adept at learning the system, and began showing Frick some things he had missed, like the water maker, dishwasher and the washer/dryer combo unit.

“How could I have missed those?” Frick asked.

“You didn’t look past the first page of the specifications, sir,” Fran said before showing him what she did to find the specs.

“Huh,” Frick grunted. “I know my way around computers and such, but this stuff is cutting edge. My last computer class was six years ago. K-zen was not exactly modern.”

“Not to worry, sir. I got my degree three years ago and have been in the field since. You mentioned something about hooking up with Iridium?” Fran asked.

“I picked up some phones earlier, and they are charging now. I’ve glanced at the instructions for connecting to Iridium, and I can’t make heads or tails of it,” Frick snorted, his purple tail twitching in annoyment.

Fran grinned. “I do, and this little boat already has Iridium access as well as a high-end computer already installed,” she said, pulling up some instructions, before keying in a command. A monitor rose up from the port side of the control deck, along with a keyboard and trackball.

“How in perdition’s name did you find that?” Frick exclaimed.

Fran pointed to the display on the right side of the main console. “Over here, where it’s password protected. I just took a Cornhusker guess and figured the initial passcode has to be something simple, before the end user puts in their own. I remember seeing this being delivered yesterday. Er, back in May…” she said, trailing off.

“You want to know what today is?” Frick asked.

“Sure, what is it?”

“Today is the twenty-eighth of December, twenty-fifteen. Fred found a battery-powered clock at Saint Izzy’s that hadn’t stopped. We figure we arrived about the eighteenth, and found here on Christmas Eve. Moved in that night before the first storm hit, then this other one hit yesterday, dropping a good foot and a half atop the six to eight that was already there,” Frick explained.

“That’s why you took the Culbertson’s sleigh, right?”

“Yep. Too deep for the golf cart, so we improvised. It worked. Finding you on our doorstep was a surprise. Glad you’re okay.”

“Thank you, sir,” Fran said as she got the computer up and running. “What do you want to use as a pass code?”

“Three-six-eight-three. It’s what I used on my home computer. Think you can access Iridium on this?” Frick asked.

“I can find out. Can you give me a half-hour or so to explore the system?” Fran asked in return.

Frick waffled for a few seconds before sighing. “Go right ahead, Fran. I trust you. WE trust you. If you’re good enough to figure it out, I’m sure you can teach us what we need to know.”

Frick went to the saloon for some coffee, letting Fran look around the onboard cyber system. “What’s bothering you, Frick?” Freida asked.

Frick had some coffee. “Fran is a true godsend. She’s found a few things on this boat that I didn’t know was there, like a dishwasher, washer/dryer, and a water-making unit. I feel so incompetent right now,” he said, sounding and feeling sad.

“Oh, nonsense, Frick!” Freida snapped. “Just because her learning is more current does not make you incompetent! You are doing a fine job as our Captain, and I expect you to keep doing so! She is part of our crew. Call her our Technical Officer if you need to, and take the time to learn from her!”

Frick wilted a little under the vehemence of Freida’s words. “You really mean that, Freida?” he said incredulously.

“Of course I do! Who led us down here to the Deliverance? You did! Now enough of that spinelessness of yours and act like a true leader! You can do it!” Freida said, waving a talon under Frick’s nose.

Frick let out a sigh. “I’ll do what I can, Freida. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and I can’t change on a dime. Want to help me become what you claim I can be?” he asked.

“Of course! We all will. Now, why don’t you put some music on? You did grab some flash drives from the station, yes?”

“I did, Freida. I’ll see what I can do from down here. I may have to go downstairs and use that stereo,” Frick said, a little light coming to his eyes.

“Then, do it. Quiet is bothersome,” Freida said quietly, smoothing Frick’s mane, which didn’t help at all, it just sprang back to being frizzy. “Next trip into town, I’m going to get some trimmers from Walgreens. You need a haircut.”

“I agree. It won’t comb down, no matter how hard I try. Somehow, I don’t think Vitalis will work,” Frick said before heading downstairs. Five minutes later, The Statler Brothers started playing from the speakers.

Twenty minutes later, Frick came back up. “Did you find anything?” he asked Fran.

“Quite a bit. I’ve found there is a bit of an internet left. The antenna works, and I’ve plugged in. I’ve found some listings for the WSU. Is that the group you’re looking for?” she asked.

“That’s the group. What else did you find?”

“I’ve found emails and phone numbers for someone in Africa, one in Australia, Brazil, Mexico, Georgia, Havana and Ireland. Want me to send emails out announcing our presence?”

“You do that, Technical Officer. Now, how about the satphone system?”

“I’ve called the WSU, but no answer. I’m not surprised. It’s probably two in the morning there. I think with this offset in time, it’s not going to be easy to call this WSU unless we call first thing in the morning, or stay up real late to catch someone in the office,” Fran reported.

“I didn’t think of that. You’re right, they are about six or seven hours ahead of us. Are they still on the air?”

“Yes, but I think it’s all podcasts right now. I’m going to have to listen for a while to figure out their schedule,” Fran said, looking her captain in the eye. Or in her case, looking down into his eyes.

“Show me how to operate the Iridium and transmitter links, please. I’ll set my alarm for three and try to give them a call. I think it’s important to contact them,” Frick said, trying to be a little more optimistic.

“Of course, Captain,” Fran said before walking Frick through the procedure. Frick is NOT stupid, just uneducated. He rapidly picked up on how to handle the radio and computer on the boat, and sent the WSU an email saying when he planned to call, checking to see what the time difference is between Nebraska and Rotterdam. (seven hours, for those who are interested)

Frick never set his alarm, because he didn’t go to bed. Everyone else went to bed by nine, but he stayed up, looking through the computer, what Internet remained, and loading some of his music drives, waiting for a response to his email.

At twenty minutes until one, the computer pinged to announce an incoming email. It was from the WSU, saying that they had received the email, and asked for a contact number, while giving theirs. Despite his fatigue, he answered promptly, saying he was awake and sitting by his phone, ready and willing to chat. Not a minute after he sent the email, the phone rang. Problem was, it rings with a squealing noise loud enough to be heard five houses down. Frick literally bounced off the overhead and fumbled around a bit before answering the call, during which the phone rang twice more. “Yes? Hello? Who this?” he groaned, his head starting to pound.

“Mister Larsen? This is Sandra, the radio operator for WSU. I got your message, and would like to hear your story. Are you all right?” he heard over the loudspeaker, a heavily accented voice that he quickly recognized as that of ‘DJ WSU’ from all the podcasts.

“Yes, this is Freidrick Larsen. Call me Frick. Been using that for years. I would be all right, seeing as it’s quarter till one, but I just found out the phone ring tone is set for ‘earthquake’, and I bounced off the ceiling here. Just gimme a minute, please,” he managed to say before turning around. Fred and Freida were there, Freida looking concerned, Fred his usual stoic self.

“Let me do the talking, Frick. You look like if I asked you which way is up, you would give the wrong answer. Let Freida check you over,” Fred suggested.

Frick took the hint. “Sandra, I’m going to turn you over to my First Mate, Fred Halvorsen. I’ll let him do the talking. He’s better at it than I am.”

“Okay, Mister Larsen. I’ll listen to anyone. New groups don’t come up often, and we like to get your stories,” Sandra told the group.

Frick and Fred swapped places at the helm, Frick showing Fred where the phone controls are before stumbling to the saloon, where Freida sat him on the settee and started checking him over.

Fred patiently told the story of the Fearsome Foursome, now the Fearsome Fivesome, from their first arrival, the several days of rough coping before they got organized, deciding to go downstream after hearing one of their broadcasts about needing people in Rotterdam.

“Just where are you now, Mister Halvorsen?” Sandra asked.

“Outside of Fremont, Nebraska, on a luxury trawler bought by someone with more money than sense. We’re going to have to find about five hundred gallons of diesel to fill the tanks, after we clean it up. Good thing Frack is a senior mechanic. He stumbled onto the problem and came up with an adequate fix for now. Oh, please, call me Fred. Frick’s the captain, I’m the First Mate, Frack is the Chief Engineer, my lovely wife Freida is Purser and Medical Officer, and our new arrival Fran is the Tech Officer. Formality has its uses. Not here, not now.”

“I’ll take your word for it, Fred. Now, let me ask who is what. What kind of pony is everyone? You’re American, I figure you’re mostly ponies then?

“Frick is a unicorn, Frack is a pegasus, I’m a plain pony, Freida’s a griffin and Fran is a tall, thin cat. Frick can do things with the glow from his horn, Frack and Freida can fly, I know I’m a bit stronger than I was, and we don’t know much about Fran yet, other than she’s a lot taller than before in some ways, and a lot smaller in other ways. What else do you want to know, Sandra?”

Abyssinian, the word you’re looking for to describe your friend Fran is Abyssinian. If you’ve heard Lekan on my podcasts, she’s one as well. I can hook her up if she needs tips. Anyway...What did you do before the Event?” The DJ inquired, accompanied by a sound that definitely was a notepad being pulled out.

“Abyssinian, right. Long way from Abyssinia. Okay, Frick was the Chief Engineer for KZEN radio in Columbus, Nebraska; Frack was a senior mechanic at Can-Do Auto Service, despite having a foot cut off when he was fourteen; my wife Freida was Chief Librarian at the Columbus Library, I was the sexton at St. Isidore’s Church, while Fran, all I can say she worked at the University. She just arrived this past afternoon, and I don’t know much about her yet. If it wasn’t for her, we wouldn’t have found out about the fancy computer system aboard Deliverance here. She’s one smart cat, for sure!” Fred explained.

Given the timing, I figure your calling us is related to our broadcast about Rotterdam, right? We certainly could use the help over here, but it’s a trip. What are your plans currently? Already have an idea how to get it done?

“Our plans, once we get out of this lake, is to set sail going downriver, taking the Platte River to the Missouri, that to the Mississippi, past New Orleans to follow the Gulf coast to Florida to head to the colony in Georgia. We’re going to have to abandon Deliverance in Florida, because it’s faster to cut across Florida than to sail around it.”

Mind if I offer a suggestion, Fred?”

“By all means, Miss Sandra. We’re open to new ideas.”

Danke, ahem, let me check my charts. I’m no sailor, can’t recall landmarks off the top of my head. Take it for what it’s worth, but Georgia isn’t your only option. If you head south of Key West from Florida, we have another colony in Havana. Just consider the option, because truth be told, Georgia is more of a trade post, whereas Cuba… it’s got a lot more folks, it’s got a sea fort so it’s safer, and given it’s profiling to be a regional hub, it’s more likely you’ll encounter a ship on a cross-Atlantic passage sooner. Just my piece of advice, there * is * a language barrier to account for after all.Sandra suggested cheerfully.

“Language shouldn’t be much of an issue. We each know one language fluently. I read Latin, Freida Spanish, Frick French and Frack German. Frick’s been fillin’ our heads about you WSU folks for several days now. Ever since your broadcast last week explaining about how you need skilled folk in Rotterdam. I admit to having been skeptical, but now that I spoke to you, I have more faith in what Frick said.”

Fred stopped for a sip of coffee before continuing. “I will be sure to do my best to convince Frick about heading to Havana. Thing is, none of us have done any deep-water sailing. We plan on hugging the coast, but that last step is rather daunting. Think we can arrange for a pilot for that last step?” he asked.

“I can’t promise for sure, Fred, but I can bring it up with Command. Officers and Pilots are hard to come by, and getting one over to you... Sandra paused for emphasis. “I can’t guarantee that. But we have time, and one thing I can guarantee is we have plenty enough resources and intel to prepare you a voyage plan waypoint to waypoint all the way to your destination. Is that something you could use?”

“That we do, Miss Sandra. It’s not even January yet, and we got us a long way to go before we get out of the rivers to the ocean, and then a long ways after that.

“Tell you what, it’s past one in the morning here, and we done had us a real busy day. What time are you live in studio? Maybe we can talk better when everyone’s awake, get to know the five of us, and learn more about each other then?” Fred requested.

“I’m usually live on air here in studio, standard eight-to-five day, which for you is… one in the morning to ten in the morning. We can always arrange alternate times, if I know you will be there,” Sandra told Fred.

“Well, we’re up with the sun, most often, and tend to go to bed about nine or so at night. How about we send you an email once we’re all awake and ready to talk, and you can get each one of us down on tape for later rebroadcast?” Fred suggested.

I can testify my listeners * love * to hear any new tale about returnees all over the world, Fred. A recording is never something I would refuse.Sandra replied cheerfully before coughing into her mic, signalling a change of tone. “There is a but. Understand, we’ve had incidents with bandits and whatnot. In America too. I’ll leave the choice up to your team, because it’s you that would be at risk, but be careful as to how much you tell us. One the one hoof, you broadcast your location and coordinates, you might encounter helpful souls, and the majority of souls are * begging * to meet new people in the flesh with so few of us around. On the other hoof…” She paused. “Bandits. Demons. Monsters. It’s a dangerous world, understand?”

Fred let out a deep yawn before replying. “I’m sure that will be a good thing, Miss Sandra. Right now, it’s time for us to get back to bed. We have to reset that ring tone from boat-shaking to a mere annoyance. It’s been a pleasure, and let’s do this again when the sun comes up. Okay?”

Alright, I’ll take note of that. In the meantime, before I call back and we get done with this recording, I’ll pass the word around. Stay connected to Iridium and expect a mailbox avalanche this afternoon, I have to pass you… hold on...Sandra paused, looking around her desk as shuffling was heard over the microphone. “Racial guide on the species you’ve become, a few contacts among ponies, griffons and Abyssinians to give you the pointers on how to take care of yourselves, a couple pdf’s on magic, a bestiary, basic potions manual if you can find the ingredients and… ah yes, I’ll pass you on to Alejandro at the Admiralty. He’ll have a few questions on your ship, but he should be able to draft a passage plan in short order. That… ought to do it for now. Hear you in six-to-seven hours, and stay safe out there. DJ WSU… out.”

“And you have a good day, little lady. May God bless us all. Deliverance, signing off,” Fred said before shutting off the phone. Turning around, he saw Freida in the galley, holding out a cup of something steaming. “That better be chamomile, Maw.”

“Chamomile and lavender, Paw. I made sure to grab some while in town. Just a box, but you don’t need it often. Have some, then let’s go back to sleep,” Freida suggested as Fred got out of the pilothouse and into the saloon.

“You know me so well, Maw,” Fred said to his wife as he took the cup and sipped. “How’s Frick?”

“He’s got a lump on his head half the size of a hen’s egg. I gave him a Goody’s in some water and put him to bed. Frack slept through the whole thing. Fran woke and helped me get Frick downstairs. She said she’ll wait there until we head back to bed, and if she’s still awake, she’ll come up and fiddle with the computer some more. Tomorrow, I’ll see about making, and finding, some clothes for her that will fit. I’ll fly to town and get some better fabric than canvas,” Frieda said as she sat down next to Fred, one arm around him. A lifetime together, and they love each other just as intensely as the first day they met.

“...and that’s the story, listeners! A new group Returned in Nebraska, and they will be heading downriver to New Orleans and out. I will tell more about them as details come in, because I talked to them in the middle of the night there. I talked to them again a couple of hours ago, but I have yet to edit down what they said into a good podcast. I’m about ready to sign off for the evening here, so expect our regular nighttime broadcasts, an hour of podcasts, an hour of music. Until the morning, this is DJ WSU on WSU Radio, signing off. Whatever your timezone be, have a nice day, everybody!”

Caleb turned the radio down. “We have to warn them,” he said to his friend and companion, Landry.

“That we do. We’re going to have to head upriver quite a ways, while avoiding her minions,” Landry the breezie squeaked. “Find a boat?”

“That will work until we get to the Old River. After that, we find a car. Natchez should be far enough north,” Caleb said as he thought out loud.

“Yes. She doesn’t bother us much, because we were born and raised here, and if we leave each other alone, we should be fine. She HATES trespassers, and that’s what they are, to her,” Landry observed.

“I’ll start packing,” Caleb said, getting up from the makeshift bed in the tumbledown shack that was on the property they once called home.

Lexington turned off the radio when a lecture came on, one he had heard before. Breaking out a map, he checked where the rivers are relative to his location. “Good. They won’t come anywhere near close enough to possibly notice us,” he said quietly to the little brown and grey mouse sitting on the radio. “Although we CAN use some help scavenging fuel, but the river’s too far off. Best we stay hidden and do the best we can with what we got, right? If they’re headed for Georgia, they might get in contact with the HPI, and we can’t have knowledge of us spread around, can we?”

The little mouse nodded gravely at Lexington’s words before hopping off the radio and scampering to Lexington’s unwounded hand for a little petting, which he got.

“Coming down the river, eh? Let’s hope they’re friendly,” the dark orange pegasus said as she turned off the radio.

“They won’t be down here for some time yet,” the blue-green unicorn replied. “I can set a spirit fence upstream a few miles, and let Raven decide if they should pass or not.”

“We could do with some fresh faces, even if only for a few days. Maybe one would like to stay,” the pegasus countered.

“There’s only ten of us here in the city, and we’re all working our hooves, horns, paws, wings and whatnot down to the nubs just trying for some sort of comfort here. Five more will be a bit of a strain.”

“How about we offer them a fill-up for their boat, spend a couple of days visiting, then send them on their way? They do want to go to Europe, not here,” the pegasus said, trying to get some sort of concession from the stubborn unicorn, who was also their shaman. “Ask Raven before they get here. We’ll see what the old trickster has to say.”

“I can do that.”

At breakfast the next morning, Frack came to a dead stop, half a waffle still on his fork. He looked hard at his brother. “Who says I’m dumb?” he demanded.

“Frack, stop that nonsense and finish your breakfast! We have work to do today!” Freida snapped at the pegasus, who immediately simmered down some and finished the waffle.

“Yes, Freida,” Frack sighed.

Author's Note:

Okay, a few notes here.
1) Thanks to Harts Fire for technical advice. I don't know diddly-squat about bad fuels.
2) My target for this story is one 7k or so chapter every two weeks. That depends on inspiration, dedication, perspiration, 2% butterscotch ripple, and most important, my heart. Covid did a number to it months back, and I'm just now getting back to writing. Fatigue, exhaustion, shortness of breath and chest pain is a bitch to have to live with.
3) you all got lucky this week, I getting to post a chapter a week early. Enjoy the present, pones.
4) Thanks also to Merchant Mariner, who is my editor on this story, a bit of role reversal. He knows more about the WSC than I do. Er, make that WSU. I always get that mixed up...
5) Back in a week or two. One constant is posting on Thursdays. Why then? No reason at all. It was just the day the first chapter was ready, is all.
6) There IS no Rule Number Six!
7) No, Doomsday Desmond will not make an appearance down here in the notes. I made sure of that. as some muffled grunts and thumps come from a nearby broom closet...
8) Enjoy!
9) gets hooked by Morris, the producer, before he could finish...