• 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 3: We gotta get out of this place, but how?

Twenty-ninth of December, early morning, after a nice hot breakfast, each of the Fearsome Foursome (plus one) had a ten-minute private interview with DJ WSU, followed by a group chat before hanging up and getting down to business. Business that day is a trip to town for more supplies. Fran needed warm clothing that would fit her, and her experiment with boots and socks the day before having proven to be an abject failure, snow getting down to her toes immediately and causing her feet to get very cold. She decided to stay aboard while the others went to Fremont to scavenge. She got the boat radio tuned to the same frequency as the group’s radios, and they set off, Frick and Fred with the sleigh, Frack and Freida aloft.

During their search through town, Frick and Fred found something of use, but awkwardly so. They found several large tanks of diesel fuel at the train yard. “You know, if we can get one of these trains down to the river, we can pump a tank dry, run it through the filter, and fill up the boat’s tanks,” Frick observed. “There’s some trouble with that, though.”

“Yep. Howinhell are we going to get a train locomotive down the tracks to the river?” Fred mock-asked, knowing the answer.

“Right now, we can’t. Even if we tried pumping the fuel into a tank car, we still can’t pull it down the tracks. If there were ten of you, maybe,” Frick sighed.

“Maybe we can find a semi with fuel in the tanks, get the thing running, and drive it down to the boat?” Fred suggested.

Frick blinked three times before speaking. “Fred, if anyone but you would have said that, I would have laughed in their face. You, being who you are, actually makes something like that seem practical. The only thing we have to hope for is the engine to last long enough to get to the boat.”

“I do have ideas every now and again, Frick. Now, let’s find us a semi with big enough tanks,” Fred replied laconically.

Frick put the call out over the radio to begin hunting for a semi. Fran was the first to call back. “Captain, there should be one down on Lake Shore Drive, about a quarter-mile south-east of where we are. Couldn’t hurt to look,” she said.

“How would you know one could be there, Fran?” Frick asked.

Fran answered with a laugh. “When your mother has been board president of the HOA for the past fifteen years, you get to know everybody in the development, Captain. I figure it’s worth a look. If not, we can go back to your idea.”

“Sounds good to me, Fran. How goes the salvage work?” Frick asked the others.

“I’ve found all I’ve been looking for, Frick,” Freida called in. “Should have enough to make something warm for Fran, and some sort of booties for the rest of us.”

“Okay, then. Can you get your load to the pick-up point?”

“Waiting on you, Frick. You and Fred get your tails down here!”

“On our way, Freida,” Frick said before letting go of the mic switch. “You heard her, Fred. Just how do you manage living with her?”

“Simple enough. I let her make all the inside-the-house decisions. She’s usually right, and I don’t have to worry about it. Gets the job done, yes?” Fred said quietly as he turned the sleigh around to head to the pick-up point.

After returning to the Deliverance and offloading the sleigh, Frick and Frack headed out to find the semi supposedly there at the other end of the lake. There, the duo was faced with a good news/bad news situation. The truck was there, tanks full of fuel, ready to go on a set of slightly-soft tires. That was the good news. The bad news is that they didn’t have the keys, and they would have to hot-wire the truck.

Good news- Frack knew how to do it.
Bad news- Frick did not.
Good news- Frack could teach.
Bad news- battery was dead.
Good news- they had a spare Die-Hard, unused, at the boat.
Bad news- they had to go get it, and jumper cables.
Good news- they had a trail to follow through the deep snow.
Bad news- It was a long slog back and forth again for Frick.
Good news- their efforts paid off, and they got the truck started.
Bad news- Frick had no clue as to how to drive a truck like that.
Good news- Frack did.
Bad news- the truck was stuck.
Good news- Frick managed to clear the snow and ice from the tires.
Gooder news- Frack got the truck moving.
Badder news- he wouldn’t stop rolling the truck until he got back to the Deliverance, so Frick had to walk back.
Good news- the truck blazed an easy-to-walk trail in the snow-covered street.
Bad news- they had to park about fifty feet away from the boat dock.
Good news- the drive had warmed up the fuel enough to make it easier to pump.
Bad news- hooking up the hose to the purifier caused a bit of spillage. Just a bit. Enough to soak Frick’s mane.
Good news- it held Frick’s frizzy mane down.
Bad news- I think you get the point by now, yes?

Frack got the purifier going, sending clean, stabilized fuel into the number-one tank while Frick went inside to make use of the shower stall to get rid of the diesel fuel. To his good fortune, no one said a word as he went downstairs. It was after they heard the water flowing before the three up in the saloon/control area started to talk.

“Does the Captain normally look like that after work?” Fran asked.

“Frack must have got a good one in on him,” Freida said from the galley, where she was making supper.

Fred got up from where he was sitting, putting his Bible away. “I’ll go help Frack run the purifier. Sure as shooting he’s going to need more filter material,” he said quietly.

“You do that, Paw. Tell him he can either have hot coffee or cold VC, he’ll just have to come in and get it,” Freida told him as he quickly slipped out the back door.

“Will do, Maw.”

“How long will it take to fill the tanks, Freida?” Fran asked.

Freida thought for a few seconds before replying. “If filling the day tank was any indication, I’m going to be conservative and say the day after tomorrow.”

“Next question, how are we going to sail out of the lake? The bridge is far too low!” Fran protested.

“Like Frick said, if we can find the dynamite, we’ll blast. If not, we’ll think of something,” Freida said confidently.

“I admire your faith, Freida. Right now, I feel that we CAN, it’s the HOW that’s escaping me,” Fran replied.

“How’s the research on the data package going?”

“I’ve just skimmed through the packages so far. There’s a lot to read. Remember during the interviews how DJ kept on referring to ‘magic’?”

“Yes. What about it?” Freida asked as she took bread out of the oven and put a casserole in.

“It’s no buzzword. It’s as real as a hit by a Cornhusker defensive tackle. The Captain has the most magic of us all. He can, with study and learning, use his purple glow for more than just moving things with like a spare pair of hands. One of the books is like a primary school book for magic use,” Fran told the griffin. “Can you pass me a cup of tea?”

“Orange zinger?” Freida asked as she opened the tea container.

“Please,” Fran replied as Frack opened the back door long enough to reach inside, snag a can of Vanilla Coke from the fridge, and duck back out before the heat escaped.

“Fortunately, Frick does learn fast. He just has all the self-confidence of Henry Blake from MASH. Been like that since he was a kid. Very good in his field, but reluctant to stick his nose out into other things,” Freida explained as she passed the cup up.

“I’ve also heard Frack lost a foot as a kid. Obviously, he has all four feet, er, hooves, now. What happened to him?”

“He and Frick were out riding their bikes one day. Frick was eighteen, Frack thirteen. Somebody clipped Frack’s bike, which eventually led to his getting his left foot amputated just above the ankle,” Freida explained as she set up the rolls. “He took to the prosthetic readily. Didn’t slow him down much. He did get into auto mechanics shortly after, learning fast and getting his degree in mechanical engineering at the University. When they changed into ponies, and he got his foot back, and the wings, he took to it immediately, flying the first chance he could. He got his sparkle back, and we all could not be happier.”

“Got that right,” Frick said, coming up the steps from below. “Got anything hot and ready, Freida?”

“Instant coffee in ten seconds, tea in a minute, or hot coffee in ten minutes. Your choice, Frick.”

“Instant, two sugars and creamer, please,” Frick requested as he sat on the settee.

Freida had the steaming cup in front of Frick within the promised ten seconds. “Good thing I know you so well, Frick.”

“That you do, Freida,” Frick said before sipping.

“Captain, may I ask you a question?” Fran asked from the conn.

Frick looked up at Fran. “Sure. Go ahead.”

“Just how do you plan to get us into the river?”

“You did say you knew where some dynamite should be, yes?”

“I do, but what if it’s not enough?”

“I’ll tear down that bridge when we come to it, Fran. Have you looked at the information the WSU sent us?” Frick asked.

“Just skimming it, Captain. I have charged the tablets and laptops and put them into the wi-fi network. I put the best laptop and a tablet on your bed. Everything is in the General Access folder, with tags to indicate who should read what first. You’re number one, Captain,” Fran reported.

“Thank you, Fran. I think I’ll head down and start reading. Let me know when dinner is ready,” Frick said before finishing his coffee and passing the cup back to Freida. “I’ll snag one of Frack’s cokes for my reading,” which he did as he passed the refrigerator.

Once Frick was out of earshot, Fran said, “I see what you mean about Henry Blake.”

“Don’t sweat it. We look out for each other. Been doing so all our lives.”

Over dinner, Frick asked about the ship’s status. Frack was the first to report. “Fueling is proceeding normally. I’ll shut it down in about an hour and resume in the morning. We can fill one tank and part of another, plus the day tank. We’re going through filters a bit faster than I thought, but I’d much rather change the filters more often than tear into one of the Cummins while in the river.”

“How much is in the truck, bro?”

“A bit more than three hundred gallons, best bet. Tomorrow, before supper, I’ll fire up the main engines and check them out. Got a plan on getting us out of here?” Frack asked.

“Yes. Tomorrow early, Fran and I will go out to find the dynamite, set it in place, and fire it. I just hope we find enough to blow a big enough hole in the bridge. I don’t want to have a big chunk rip the hull.”

“Freida, will you have some footwear for me by then?” Fran asked.

“Yes, definitely waterproofed and warm. I should have something for you as well, Frick. The rest of us, I’ll work on that tomorrow,” Freida told the group.

“Sounds like a plan, Freida. Everyone, tonight, look through the data that is on your laptops or tablets. Anything with a number one is for me, number two for Fred, number three for Frack, number four for Freida, and number five is Fran. The numbers do NOT mean the data is secret for just that one, but it shows the degree of relevancy to each of you. Read your own first, then the others,” Frick advised between bites.

“So, what’s labeled as number two pertains to me as an earth pony, right?” Fred asked, having learned the term from the morning’s interviews with DJ WSU.

Frick nodded. “That’s right, Fred. Everyone is free to look at the data in the general file. Personal files, that’s up to you to decide if you want to share or not. Right now, there is nothing in the personal files yet. I urge you all to set up files and passwords. I refuse to snoop in someone’s personal stuff. I’m not that sort of person,” he told the group.

“We know that, bro. It’s what we have been living with for years now,” Frack said.

“I know that, you know that, but Fran doesn’t yet. Just trying to reassure her that privacy means a lot to us, even life-long friends.”

“I can understand that, Captain, and appreciate the thoughts. It’s good to know I’ve fallen in with a good bunch of people. I’ve been scanning the records, and there are a lot of not-nice beings out there. Yes, even here in the United States. Nasty bunch in Savannah. Not any more, though,” Fran told the table.

Fred looked over at Fran, who was sitting next to Freida. “I’d like to see the historical records. Always nice to learn it, especially since we don’t get the nightly news any more. There’s a big gap we have to fill,” he said in his preaching tones.

“I can walk you through them tonight, Fred. I’ll show you where they are, and you can read at your leisure,” Fran told Fred. “It’s fascinating reading. I won’t spoil the surprise any more, okay?”

“Smart move, Fran. I’m liking you more every hour. Welcome to the crew.”

“Crew, hell! Welcome to our FAMILY, Fran!” Frack said with enthusiasm.

Fran blushed some at the compliment, her ears pinking up some. The others also lent their support. “Thank you all so very much for accepting me. My old family is near and dear to my heart, but they are not here. You are. Thank you,” she managed to say, voice cracking a bit.

“You’re welcome. Now, finish dinner before it gets cold,” Freida advised.

After breakfast, Fred and Frack went out to restart the fueling, while Frick and Fran went dynamite hunting. Frick figured out a way to use his magic to break a trail through the snow, so he wouldn’t have to slog through it. The Howland house turned out to be the last house on a side street that went into the lake, a position that was conveniently close to the bridge they needed to blow up, if they used a boat. If not, it was a bit of a hike.

Getting into the house was simple enough for Frick. He had done some reading on magic the night before, and he discovered that opening simple door locks without a key only took a few seconds of focus to decipher and open, a bit more for the heavier bolt locks. Fran led Frick to the basement, where Mister Howland kept his workshop and armory.

“There has to be at least twenty pounds of dynamite here!” he exclaimed after finding the boxes.

“More like forty, Frick. He also keeps firearms and ammo here, in that gun locker,” Fran told him, pointing to the large gun cabinet. “More than likely the detonators are there, too. You could call him a sane paranoid. He liked his weapons near, but he was very sensible about it. He taught firearms safety for years.”

“Ever take his course?” Frick asked as he used his magic to figure out the gun cabinet lock, which was a bit more secure. It had a keypad on it, and the battery was still active.

“More than once, Captain. Basics when I was ten, and several more advanced courses as I grew up. He taught me that a shotgun can be used for more than shooting. Combination is four two two one nine,” Fran said absently.

“How do you know that?” Frick asked as he keyed in the combination, hearing the bolts holding the door shut retract.

“It’s his father’s birthday. He told me that years ago, so he could not forget it. It slipped his mind that I could look that up, and did. It’s in the HOA records,” Fran told her captain as she reached over and opened the door, the handle more suited to her hand than Frick’s hoof. “Let’s see… shotguns, two pistols, ammo boxes, shotgun shells, ah! Detonators!” Fran said triumphantly as she picked up a box from a lower shelf.

“Next question, Fran. Do you know how to use those detonators and weapons?” Frick asked.

“Weapons, yes. Detonators, no. Never had to blast before.”

“Fortunately, I do.” Frick took the detonator box in his magic and opened it. “Good. I’ve used this before. I can set the explosives on the bottom of the bridge, get clear, and use this remote trigger to set them off.”

“How do you propose to set them in place, Captain?” Fran asked, more than a little confused.

Frick used his horn to point at something on the workbench. “Gorilla tape. Should hold long enough to get clear and trigger the blast. Now, to find a rowboat.”

“That’s not hard to do, Captain. Let’s get the stuff outside first. Want me to take the weapons as well?” she asked.

“Not now. We’ll come back for them after we blow the bridge.”

“Good enough for me, Captain.”

The pair took the dynamite and detonators outside before hunting up a rowboat, which they found next door. Oars took a little longer to find, but soon the two were in the lake, Fran rowing, Frick helping with a paddle. There was some ice on the shore, but it was thin and the rest of the lake was clear. It took the two less than an hour to plant the explosives in the way Frick wanted them, along the main stringers in the middle, and at expansion joints closest to the center of the bridge. “Okay, set. Water’s deep enough here and out into the Platte for the boat. Let’s just hope we have enough dynamite for the job,” Frick muttered once he was happy with the placement. “Let’s get clear.”

“Right, Captain,” Fran said as she turned the rowboat around and started rowing, Frick helping with his paddle. A few minutes of steady effort got them to an island in the lake with no houses on it.

“This should be far enough, Fran,” Frick said, picking up the detonator.

“Just a little farther, Captain. I got a feeling,” Fran puffed as she rowed a little harder.

“What sort of feeling?” Frick asked as he pushed the button on the detonator.

“We’ll need the distance,” she said as the light on the detonator blinked, but nothing happened.

“What the?” Frick exclaimed as he pushed the button again. “Where’s my kaboom? I know I set them right!” He tried again, with the same results. “Bomb number twenty, I said drop! Drop! Drop! Drop!” he shouted in frustration, a purple nimbus forming around his horn.

“Easy, Sergeant Pinback. Don’t get mad about it. Take a deep breath…” Fran counselled as Frick let out a frustrated yell.

When he did, a bright purple flash went from his horn to the bridge. The bridge went up in a purple flare with flames in it, a big cloud of smoke and debris rising up. The boom was followed by utter quiet, followed by the pitter-patter of debris falling onto the lake, houses, and them, as far away as they were from the blast.

The two sat in stunned silence until the debris stopped falling and the smoke cleared, revealing a nicely cut gap in the bridge, like it was cut by a knife. No jagged edges, no chunks showing. “Think you used enough dynamite there, Butch?” Fran said quietly.

“What in thunderation was that?” Frick managed to say, reaching back to absently rub his flank.

“One big kaboom, Captain. Now, what’s that?” Fran asked, pointing at Frick’s rump.

Frick looked, to see what appeared to be two silver wires set in a narrow V formation, connected by three jagged yellow arcs, one above the other. “A Jacob’s ladder?” he said, amazed. Just then, the radio squawked.

“Frick, what in tarnation was that?” Fred asked. “You all right?”

“I will be, Fred. Tell you later. Bridge is open. Captain out,” he said hollowly before putting the radio down. “Back to the Howland house, Fran. Let’s get the guns and head home.”

“Will do, Captain,” Fran said as she started rowing.

They wound up deferring picking up the guns until the next day, because Frick fell asleep in the boat before they arrived at the Howland house. Fran called in the Captain’s condition and rowed back to the Deliverance. There, she and Freida got Frick aboard and to his bunk, after which Fran told the whole story to the rest of the crew while Freida wrapped her hands to ease the blisters that had formed from all the rowing.

“One thing you should do, Fran, is to send to the WSU an email describing what has happened and to ask for more data on these ‘cutie marks’. Frick got his, now what about the rest of us?” Fred both advised and asked.

Fran wiggled her fingers into some rubber gloves Freida had held up. “Okay, from what I know about them, only ponies get them, and it reflects something about the pony. In Frick’s case, it’s like he has something to do with power of some sort, and I’m not just talking electricity. That explosion was a lot larger than forty pounds of dynamite, and it was a lot more focused. The biggest chunk I saw was the size of a small pebble, plus the sides of the hole on the bridge are smooth,” she explained.

“This I gotta see!” Frack exclaimed, getting up. Fred waved his hoof, causing Frack to sit back down. Quickly.

“Frack, WE are going to go take a look at it, once we shut off the fuel purifier. I’m not going to let that run unattended,” Fred said firmly.

“Okay, then, we’ll go when we next have to change the filters. It’s slow, maybe fifteen gallons an hour, but what’s coming out looks good. Truck’s almost empty. Even with taking a break to look at the bridge, we should be done by dark,” Frack said, his eagerness getting tamped down by some responsibility.

“I don’t know why they say you’re dumb, Frack. You just need to think a bit ahead before you do something,” Fred said in calm tones.

“I’ll try to remember that, Fred. Let me check on the purifier, okay?” Frack said getting up. This time, Fred did not stop him.

“Rather excitable, isn’t he?” Fran asked.

“He can be. He’s been like this since he was a toddler,” Freida told her as she brewed some tea.

Frack and Fred went down to look at the bridge. The gap in it was easily wide enough to allow the Deliverance through, and the water was visibly deep enough, all the way into the Platte.

Fred tapped the side of the blast cut with a hoof. “Looks like it was cut with a laser knife or a hydro knife. This sure doesn’t look like a dynamite blast to me.”

“Nor to me,” Frack agreed. “Whatever big bro did, I’d hate to be on the receiving end!”

“I’m going to have to agree with you, Frack. This is truly God’s gift to him, to enable us to head to civilization. Going to Havana still makes me nervous, though,” Fred mused.

“What for, Fred?”

“The ocean crossing. A hundred miles, out of the sight of land. None of us are real navigators. Sure, we got the electronic stuff, but is it accurate? Does it work? None of us has ever sailed out of sight of land, just on lakes and rivers. THAT’S what worries me,” Fred said honestly.

Frack let out a sharp, loud laugh. “Is THAT all, Fred? Hell, for all we know, it’s going to be summer before we even get down there! We have the time to learn, right? So, let’s ALL of us learn how to navigate!”

Fred looked at Frack, thinking. “You know, Frack, that’s a point I didn’t think about. We DO have time, and ain’t none of us stupid. We all can work computers, some of us easier than others, right?” he said, a little more eagerness creeping into his voice.

“Got that right! I don’t know about you, but my feathers don’t work too well on a keyboard or a tablet, and using a stylus or pen is a lot slower than using fingers. C’mon, race you back!” Frack said cheerfully, playfully slapping Fred on the flank with a wing. “Tag! You’re it!”

Fred smiled at the tag. “It's gonna be that way, eh? You’re on!” he said before taking off at a gallop. Frack took wing, but didn’t try to crank on the speed.

The next morning, Frick woke up, none the worse from the blast. After breakfast, he sent an email to the WSU, telling about what had happened to him the day before. It wasn’t thirty seconds later when the phone rang. Fortunately, the ring tone and volume had been reset to something less than ear-shattering. “Deliverance. Captain Frick speaking. That you, Sandra?”

“It sure is, Frick! Just wanted to warn you, you need to read your book on unicorns and magic thoroughly! Mana surges are not unknown, but until you get better control of your magic, you run the risk of mana burnout. From what I heard, that’s uncomfortable. I want to see you in the flesh, not burnt out!”

“I’ll definitely do that, Sandra. I slept for a good fifteen hours, and I’m feeling much better now. Today’s the day we’re going to start the mains and start our voyage down the rivers and through the woods to become part of your team!” Frick said eagerly.

“Sounds good to me, Frick. It’s the last day of the year. You going to celebrate tonight?”

“Don’t plan on it. We’ll all have gone to bed by then, and it’s not the same without Dick Clark. Right now, I’m just wondering how far downstream we’re going to get today.”

“I’m no navigator, so I can’t even begin to guess. I told Alejandro to give you a call after New Years, to learn about your boat. You all be careful now! Happy New Year!” Sandra said before hanging up.

“And a Happy New Year to you and yours, too, Sandra,” Frick replied before disconnecting.

“New Years? Already?” Freida asked from the galley, where she was cleaning the breakfast dishes.

“Sure is, Maw. Maybe I should hang the clock up here in the saloon, so we can all tell what day it is. Dang it, I still have to look myself! Here I am, thinking it’s June, but with snow!” Fred said with a chuckle.

“I know the feeling, Fred. I think we all do,” Frick said to the group. “Think we’re ready to head out today?”

Freida was the first to say something. “I would like to spend one more day salvaging. Setting off on New Year’s Day sounds more fitting, too.”

Fran also jumped in. “We have to pick up the weapons from Mister Howland’s place. Grab all we can, and we need a secure place to put everything,” she observed.

Fred input “Tomorrow’s soon enough. We’re about two-thirds full of fuel now. Maybe we can find some more diesel in town and top off before we go.”

Frack spoke up next. “I do want to give the big diesels another going-over. Plus, we need to test them out, now that we got good fuel in it.” He went to say something else, but stopped and whacked himself in the head with a wing. “I KNEW I forgot something!”

“What you forget, bro?” Frick asked.

“We may have cleaned out the fuel in the tanks, but we never checked the motors to make sure THEY are fully cleaned out!” Frack exclaimed. “I want to make one more trip to the supply shop to get a bunch of spare engine filters and oil!”

Frick just nodded slowly. “Okay, then. Fred, you, Freida and Frack head to town for some more scavenging. Fran, you’re with me. We’ll get the guns from the Howland place, and if you know anyplace else, we’ll go there tomorrow. Frack, when you get back, check out the engines with a fine-tooth comb. If you say they are clean, power them up, shut down the generator and service it. When we head out tomorrow, there will be no turning back. Got it?” he said to the team.

Various versions of ‘You got it, Captain,” came back to him.

“Okay, then, let’s do this.”

That afternoon, everypony met back at the boat. Frack and Fred were going over the engines, Freida was keeping the hot food and drink ready, and Frick and Fran returned with a nice bundle of weapons and ammo in a wheelbarrow. Shotguns, three rifles, and six pistols, all with ammo. Frick decided to subdivide the fishing gear locker to use as a weapons safe. Pistols in a watertight container, ammo in several other containers, some of which he kept in other places on the boat, and the long arms would have to take their chances. They also had grabbed some cleaning kits. One of Frick’s jobs on the voyage would be servicing the guns.

“Frick, got you a present while in town,” Freida said after everyone gathered for supper.

“Oh? What?” Frick asked.

Freida opened a cabinet and pulled out a yacht captain’s hat, which she placed on Frick’s head. “A captain should look the part!” she proclaimed, to much cheering from the others.

“Thank you. I’m going to treasure this,” Frick said with a goofy grin on his face.

“Got some more good news, bro! Engines are ready to go!”

“Good to hear. How long to check out the generator?”

“About an hour, all told. If you help me, a lot less. Some of the pieces to swap out are not easy to reach with a hoof, y’know?” Frack replied with a toss of his head, making his mane fly about again.

“Okay, bro. You lead, I’ll do. First, time to test the engines. Want to be with me up in control, or back by them?”

“I’ll be on the back patio. If something looks off, shut down fast, got it?” Frack cautioned, now very inch the mechanic who knows what the hell he is doing.

“Got it.” Frick went up to control. Looking at the controls, he used his magic to flip the cover up on the switch labeled ‘Engine #1 Start’ and pushed the button. The right-side engine turned over, coughed twice, and then started purring like a diesel-powered cat. Checking the monitors, he saw everything spooling up normally, as far as he knew.

“Okay, bro, start number two!” Frack called from the back door, shutting it quickly. Frick did so, the engine coughing three times before catching and coming up to idle smoothly. Frick watched the indicators, comparing what he saw to what he read in the operator’s manual pdf file. All looked good.

Frack came up to the starboard side control space door and came in that way, instead of going through the saloon. He looked at the panels. “Looking good, bro! Now, switch the electrics to the alternators on the diesels and shut off the generator. Ten minutes for it to cool down, and we can get to work,” he said, approving of what he saw with a nod of his head.

“You got everything ready, bro?” Frick asked as he shut off the generator.

“All laid out by the generator. I’ll go out and make a little more room. Don’t be long!” Frack said with a laugh.

“I won’t.” He wasn’t. Ten minutes later, the brothers were by the generator, doing an inspection, which took twenty minutes to do with Frick’s telekinetic assistance.

“Better than I thought,” Frack observed. “Temperatures nominal, oil level is perfect, say what you want about the builders of this little boat, but they sure built to last!”

“That’s good to hear. Should we leave the generator off and run the boat from the batteries tonight?” Frick asked.

“Wouldn’t hurt. Just don’t use the stove or oven much. Batteries should hold up that long. Just make sure the batteries are fully charged before shutting off the mains.”

“They are. Been watching that since we got the generator started. Haven’t wanted to test out the battery life yet.”

“Okay, bro. Let’s clean up and turn in. I can do with a nap.” Frack said, stretching his wings out and yawning.

“Since when do you not?” Frack countered with.

New Years morning was cloudy with a bit of wind, but no snow and a touch warmer than before, meaning the temp outside was up to freezing, not knocking around Zero’s doorstep. Frick got the generator started without problems, and after breakfast, took Fred with him to do one last chore, that is to siphon the good gas out of Juliana’s engines. He didn’t want to, but he could use the gas.

Using his magic, the gasoline was soon removed from the two outboard motors and put into gas cans. “I’m going to miss this old girl. Had her for what, twenty-three years now?” Frick said wistfully, patting the deck with a hoof.

“Twenty-four come March. It was your fortieth birthday gift from the owners of KZEN, after you kept the station transmitting during the blizzard of 1990. You stayed at the transmitter for what, two days straight?” Fred asked.

“More like two and a half. I went to the transmitter because I didn’t like the weather forecast. Turns out I was right. Kept the generators going until the main power came back on. Had about half a day’s fuel left,” Frick said, turning away from the old pontoon boat. “Let’s head back.”

“Right, Frick.”

Back at the boat, Frick put the gas cans up on the fly bridge, as far away from the fastened-down portable generator as he could. Wiring that into the boat electrical system would come later. Feeling chilled, he went back to the lower control deck. “Ready to set sail, Fred?” he asked, flipping back the covers on the starter switches.

“We’re ready to go, Frick. Frack’s ready to undo the lines. Just waiting for your word,” Fred told him.

Frick started both engines in succession, hearing them come to happy life. Fred waved, and Frack first undid the bow line, then the stern. “Lines free, Captain. You may reel in the lines, then start the screws,” Fred advised as Frack landed on the fly bridge.

“Got it, Fred,” Frick said quietly as he touched the ‘rewind’ control on the port-side line winches. Once the lines were reeled in, he retracted the line winches. “Lines stowed, let’s get a move on.”

“You have the controls, Captain. Take us out.”

Frick engaged the screws, putting Deliverance into slow reverse. Carefully, he backed away from the dock before turning the boat to head out of the lake. Putting the boat into forward, he cautiously headed to the river, the thin ice crackling slightly. At the bridge, he looked closely at the cut lines of the blast. “I did that?” he said, not believing what he was seeing.

“You sure did, Frick. Can’t say how you did it, but you did it. Just keep her slow out on the river. Don’t want ice to poke a hole in the hull,” Fred advised.

“Thanks, Fred.”

A couple of hours of steady cruising had the Deliverance at the confluence of the Platte and Missouri rivers. Confidently, Frick aimed south. “Not going to Omaha, Captain?” Fran asked from her position next to Frick. She was due to take over the boat controls after lunch.

“No. No real need to, and I don’t want to buck the current heading north. Target for tonight is Nebraska City,” Frick said quietly, pulling up the navigation chart on the right monitor.

“What you hope to find there?” Fran asked, her whiskers twitching some.

“Gavilon Grain. If my supposition is right, we can find grains there, We can take enough corn and wheat from there to use as subsistence supplies, if we can’t find anything else. Freida did find a grain grinder, so we can use that to make flour,” Frick explained.

“What about us carnivores? Have a plan for that?”

“Yep. Freida is a good shot with a rifle. If the duty pilot spots something worth shooting at, let her know and she’ll head out to get it. I know you and her need meat in your diets. I also know you don’t need much. I figure hunting should cover that. Hope we can bag a deer. Venison’s good.”

“That it is, Frick!” Freida called up from the galley. “I know you ponies CAN have some meat, so long as it’s lean. Can’t get much leaner than venison!”

“We got any fish left, Freida?” Fran asked.

“I’ve used the last of what we got for lunch for us. While you’re driving, I’ll set a line up off the stern. Maybe I can catch a couple before supper,” Freida told Fran. “Now, come on down for lunch!”

“Can’t call me late for lunch!” Fran laughed as she left control for the saloon.

While conning the Deliverance, Fran took the time to look out at the river and its banks. Thanks to past floods, there are wide green spaces on either side of the river, except where cities have sprung up that use the river for barge traffic. It was cloudy, but warming up some, close to freezing or a bit above. South of the Platte, the storm didn’t drop quite as much snow as it did back towards home, she noticed. She had to admire the scenery, but… she missed people. She missed her family, her friends, her job at the University. She wanted to wake up out of this nightmare to find herself back in her real body, sure, she wasn’t thin and trim, but it was HERS, and she was quite happy with her thirty ‘extra’ pounds. Gave her curves, not lines.

A flicker of color caught Fran’s attention. On the western bank, a herd of deer nosed their way through the piled snow, foraging for food. She snapped out of her reverie and put out a call. “Frieda! Meat on the hoof!” she shouted.

The griffon looked up from the galley, where she had been swapping bread pans. “Which away, Fran?” she called back.

“Off to the right. Think you can make a quick kill?”

Freida looked at the herd. She counted at least ten, maybe twelve. “I can sure try! I’ll go for the smallest. Don’t think I’ll need the rifle,” she said as she grabbed for her radio and knife pack, flipping the lanyards around her neck. “Try to slow down a little, okay?”

“Idling engines,” Fran said as Freida went out the back door and up.

Freida flew strongly, following the river away from the herd before circling west, going beyond the herd to come from the south, putting the sun behind her as she stooped, if the sun was visible through the clouds, which it wasn’t. “Book said to just trust my feelings when hunting. The body knows what to do, even if the mind doesn’t,” she thought as she surveyed the herd. She wanted a smaller deer, but her first choice was too close to the buck for safety. She swerved to her second pick, a doe on the fringe of the herd, close by the river bank. Frieda circled a little before stooping, grabbing the deer and snapping its neck in one easy maneuver, picking up the carcass and heading across to the east side of the river. It was heavier than she had thought, but managed to get it down roughly about ten yards from the river. “Easier than I expected.”

Swiftly, she set to butchering, taking maybe twenty pounds of good meat, also including the liver. She gathered her meat together before realizing she had forgotten to grab something to carry the meat in. Fortunately, Fran was not idle, because as Freida was looking at the boat, she saw Frack taking off from the fly bridge, carrying an empty sealable tub in his hooves. He arrived quickly, dropping the tub near Freida. “I’m not getting any closer! I can smell it from here, and it’s horrid!” he shouted.

“Not to me!” Freida shouted back as she loaded her bloody cargo into the tub before clipping the lid in place. “I’ll cook this up on the grill!”

“You better! That’ll stink up the saloon something fierce!”

“Don’t sweat it, Frack! We got plans for this!” Frieda said as she took wing, heading back to the river as the boat sailed around a bend. Frack was off to one side, staying upwind.

Freida landed on the fly bridge, Frack on the after deck. Freida quickly set to work cooking up the beef on the grill, the liver in a fry pan with some oil. She would have used butter, but they didn’t have any. It wasn’t too long before Fran climbed the steps to the bridge, dressed in her shoes, Cornhusker sweat pants and a long, warm coat Freida had quickly stitched together. It didn’t have to be pretty, it had to be warm, and it was. “Who’s driving the boat?” she asked.

“Frick. I’m hungry for some meat!” Fran said with a laugh. “Smells heavenly! Should I get some bread?”

“Yes, and some flour, salt and pepper. We can eat up here,” Freida advised. “Take the loaves out of the oven and shut it off, too.”

“Will do!” Fran said before heading down, returning a few minutes later with a loaf of bread, a small bag of flour, and the spices.

“We’ve got to find a hand-cranked meat grinder sometime soon. I would have grabbed mine, had I thought of it,” Freida said as she flipped the beef and liver as the grill and fry pan warmed up.

While the girls chatted up on the fly bridge around the meat, the boys gathered below around the control area. “According to these charts, Nebraska City should not be too far ahead. Frack, want to fly on ahead and check Gavilon Grain? The three things I’m looking for are a place to tie up, a source of fuel, and a source of good grain. Find them and radio in the status of the objectives, then you can go see if Cousin Curtis made it back. If you can’t find fuel at Gavilon, try the dealership. Okay?” Frick said to his little brother.

“On it, big bro! I’ll keep in touch!” Frack said eagerly as he went out the side door.

Fred held up a hoof, stopping Frack in mid-motion. “Be back by dark. We don’t know what’s out there.” he said plainly.

Frack tossed his head in a vertical plane. “Will do, Fred. We DON’T know what’s out there,” he said before getting out and taking wing downriver.

It wasn’t long before Frack radioed in. “Okay, bro, at Gavilon. There is a docklike place here along the shore, I can see a fuel tank, and a couple of elevators. Give me a while to check things out, okay?”
“Sure thing, little bro. We should be there in not too long Call if you have any problems. If not, we’ll talk when we get there. Deliverance out,” Frick answered.

“Ten-four. Out.”

Frick gave the boat a little more throttle, eager to get in and tie up. That way, he could relax some, shutting down the engines, start the generator, and sit still long enough to try to puzzle out the charts.

“A little tense, Frick?” Fred asked.

“Just a bit. First day of sailing, and we’re making much better time than I expected to make. The girls got some venison, and I’m looking forward to relaxing and taking on some more supplies. Think we got enough room up on the fly bridge to put two more sealed crates?”

“Not there. Forward, we can bolt down some. Just about the only place we have left is on the forward deck,” Fred advised.

Frick grimaced like he had bitten into a particularly sour lemon. “Don’t want to bolt anything to the deck, may start a leak. Maybe velcro strips and glue?” he suggested.

“If we can find some, that’s as good an idea as any.”

The blue-green unicorn looked at the dark orange pegasus. “Spirit fence is up. Sent Cloudseeker up that way to observe and report, in case they are ahead of plans,” he told her.

“Good. What does the old bird have to say?” she asked.

“He’s curious, but if he is doing anything more, he ain’t telling me. Not surprising, is it?”

“With Raven, he doesn’t let his tail feathers know what his wing feathers are doing. Trickster gods are the epitome of Doing Your Own Thing,” she snorted.

“Don’t I know it. Remember, he called ME shortly after I woke up here,” the unicorn, Smoking Horn, muttered as he reached out with his smoky-gray magic to have some tea.

“Raven did that to all ten of us so far. At least he made his wants clear to all of us at the start,” the pegasus, Silverwing, replied.

“So far, nopony here but us Sioux.”

At dinner, after the boat was tied up at Gavilon Grain, Frack glared at Fred. “Who says I’m dumb?” he shouted.

“Put a lid on it, Frack!” Freida shouted back at the pegasus, who quickly backed down.

“Sorry, Freida. Pass the biscuits, please.”

Author's Note:

I debated about putting this up tonight, maybe give myself some buffer. Seeing as I'm almost done with the next, and have plans further on, I figured 'why not'? Does better out there than on my laptop, right?

Hope you like. Yes, I admit to not having been anywhere near there (except KC), so I have to wing things off of maps. Would like to visit the area.

MRI on Monday to see how my heart is doing. We shall see.

kicks the closet door Two minutes, Desmond. Then it's safe for you to come out.