• 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 5- Doing a Wilbert Harrison

Tuesday, January 5th, 2016, dawned bright and clear in Saint Joseph, Missouri. Aboard the Deliverance, the crew was up before the sun, making preparations to receive visitors. That was something new to them, not counting little Lightning’s arrival the day before. Freida got started making breakfast, with pastries and coffee, Frick and Frack stowed the fuel purifier and disposed of the dirty filters in a convenient dumpster, Fran swept and tidied the saloon and control deck, and Fred stayed below with Lightning, brushing the little buffalo until his fur gleamed in the light. Freida brought down Lightning’s breakfast, rather than having it up in the saloon. He went through a whole box of cereal and a pitcher of reconstituted milk before he was sated, while Fred had his coffee and scrambled camper’s eggs. Good thing they laid in a good supply of camping foods while in Nebraska City and Fremont. Nobody was looking forward to having to forage like they did when they first Returned.

It was about two hours after sunrise when the party from Kansas City approached. Frack had been on high guard and spotted them a couple of miles out. “Company’s coming, bro!” he called into his radio.

“Well, then, put your best foot, er hoof, forward and invite them down for coffee!” Frick called back.

“Will do, bro!” Frick said before taking wing to the approaching forms, a griffon that was almost pure black, and an orange pegasus with silvery-gray wings. He rapidly closed the distance to the closing fliers.

Once in talk range, he called out to them. “Hi, friends! Come on down! Hot coffee and fish cakes await you!” he shouted to the pegasus. Looking at the griffon, he added, “Fresh venison meat pies for you!”

“Did you say hot coffee?” the pegasus shouted back. “Fresh or instant?”

“Fresh! Powdered reconstituted milk, too!”

“Show us the way! Haven’t had good coffee since I came back!” the pegasus shouted, falling in behind and beside Frack as he led them back to the boat.

“Isn’t there supposed to be a third coming?” Frack asked.

“She’s swimming up the river. Should be about fifteen minutes behind us. Good thing the river’s running a bit high,” the pegasus replied.

“Swimming?” Frick said incredulously.

“She’s a hippogriff, able to live in the water just as good as walking on land. You’ll see!” the pegasus said with a smile. “Land on the foredeck or the upper deck?”

“Pier would be best. We got supplies all through the fly bridge and on the forward deck. Follow me!” Frack said as he came to an expert landing alongside Deliverance, the other two landing as well, just not as expertly.

Frick stepped out from the control station, hat pinned into place on his mane. “Hello, friends! Come on in! Coffee’s hot!” he called out.

“Hot coffee? Out of my way!” the female pegasus called out as she made her way aboard, followed by the black griffon, then Frack.

Freida already had cups of coffee poured in the galley. “How would you like your coffee?” she asked the newcomers.

“With milk and two sugars,” said the pegasus.

“Black,” chirped the griffon.

Freida swiftly served the desired drinks. “Pastry or meat pie and eggs?” she then asked.

Both newcomers looked as if they had been slapped. “Eggs?” asked the griffon.

“Camper’s eggs, but it’s better than nothing!” Freida said with a smile as she gestured for the guests to sit down while she served up fish and eggs to the pegasus, and a venison and egg mix to the rather startled griffon.

Cloudseeker poked at the stuff on his plate with a fork before tasting it. “Venison!” he exclaimed happily as he took a big bite.

Silverwing had a bite of what she had. “Fresh fish?” she said, sounding surprised.

“Caught it myself not an hour ago, and the deer I bagged yesterday. Don’t tell me there isn’t much game where you’re at!” Frieda said, startled.

“No. Birds, dogs, squirrel, rat, not much else. Country long flight away. Can’t carry much back,” the griffon said slowly before taking another bite.

“That’s one miracle today, Cloudseeker saying more than ten words at once,” the pegasus said before having some coffee, looking delighted.

Frick came in through the side door. “Hello, new friends! I’m Captain Frick of the Deliverance, and with us here are my brother Frack, the Chief Engineer, and Freida, our Purser. So, who may you be, and where’s the other?” he asked the group.

The pegasus looked up from her breakfast. “I’m Silverwing, and the griffon over there is named Cloudseeker. Out of the ten of us in Kaycee, we’re the primary fliers. Cold Current is a hippogriff, and the other seven are split between unicorn and earth pony, with one dog. Cold Current prefers water over flying. Have any more crew, Captain?”

“Yes, they’re currently down below, not knowing how much room we would need. Once you finish breakfast, we can lower the table and have room for the rest to come up. What is a hippogriff?” Frick asked.

“A pony that can switch between sea and land forms. She’s checking conditions in the river, making sure there are no real hazards heading downstream. We don’t think there will be, because the river’s high, but we were told to make sure you arrived intact,” Silverwing said before draining her cup. “Can I get a refill, Freida?”

“Sure you can, Silverwing!” Freida said, taking the cup and refilling it the same as before. After passing it back, she held the pot up. “Refill, Cloudseeker?”

“Yes,” he said, passing his cup over, which was promptly refilled and returned.

“Are you havin’ much trouble finding enough good food down there? What about water?” Frack asked.

“It’s not easy, to be honest,” Silverwing said. “We’re downtown, by the river. Not much small game there, and our main saving grace is a grocery store we found a block away from the furniture store Smoking Horn chose as our home. Good game is far away. We don’t really want to move, because the shaman says we’re in the spot that was picked out for us.”

“Shaman? Is that like medicine man?” Frack asked.

“Close enough. Smoking Horn is our main point of contact with Raven. We’ve all spoken with the bird, but Smokey’s the main point of contact. One thing we all have in common is that we are all Sioux who lived in the Kaycee area before all this went down. When we came back, Raven appeared to each of us and told us how and where to get together. We’ve been getting by, but it’s not exactly comfortable,” Silverwing explained. “Smoking Horn, as our shaman, has a lot of bennies from the bird, but doesn’t share much of them with everyone. Says that’s for the big move.”

Cloudseeker then spoke up. “Raven say, we get enough ponies, we go better place, away from city. Not enough yet.” The griffon’s speech was a lot like a raven’s caw, and it was apparent it was not easy for him to do, or he just plain didn’t want to.

“Where are you going to be heading to?” Freida asked as she dished out some more venison mix for Cloudseeker.

“He hasn’t made that clear to us,” Silverwing said between bites of a molasses-spread roll. “Somewhere upstream on the Kansas River. Once we get enough inhabitants, it will be time to move out.”

“Could be a lot of reasons why. Who are we to say what’s on a divinity’s mind, right?” Frick asked.

“Got that right,” Cloudseeker agreed. He was about to say more, but was interrupted by some splashing outside.

“Can somepony get this ladder set right?” a woman’s voice shouted from the stern of the boat.

Frack hustled out the back door and locked the swim ladder in place, the swim deck already lowered. “Need a hand up?” he asked the griffon-horse mix.

“No, I got two good ones. Ladder locked?”

“It is. Come on up, the coffee’s hot!” Frack said with a laugh.

With a quick move, the hippogriff was up on the aft deck, shaking the water off her feathers and fur. Her bird part was of a type unfamiliar to Frack, primarily black feathers with some red, a long thin beak, black wings and her equine part was a good chestnut color, with a tail that can be best described as being neon-orange. Frack quickly used his wings to screen himself from the spray.

Inside, Silverwing said to Freida, “Coffee black, a big plate of that fish mix, and rolls for her, please.” Freida had the coffee poured and the breakfast plated before Cold Current came in the back door.

“Hey, everyone! I’m Cold Current, and I’m glad to say you won’t have any problem sailing down to Kaycee. Water’s high, and the current’s getting stronger! Who’s commanding this beauty?” she called out.

Frick waved a hoof. “I am. Name’s Frick, that’s my little brother Frack behind you, and the griffon with the goods is Freida, the Purser and group mother. First Mate and the Tech Officer are downstairs until we can get enough room up here. Until then, come on, breakfast is served!”

Cloudseeker finished the last of his venison, passed the plate to Freida, took his coffee cup and squeezed outside. “Sit down. Breakfast better than Roscoe’s.” he said on the way out. Cold Current slipping into the seat freed up.

Cold Current took a slug of the coffee. “Damn! That’s the real bean! Tell you what, you show us how to get some good things going, and I’ll make sure Horny gives you a good deal in return. Deal?” she said happily before taking a bite of the fish and egg mix. Her eyes crossed in pleasure.

“Looks like we’re going to be in Kaycee a while.” Frick said to himself, watching the hippogriff and pegasus eat and making small talk with Freida. Frack stepped out on the aft deck with Cloudseeker, seeking out flying tips.

About a half-hour later, the breakfast plates and pans stowed in the dishwasher, everyone with cups of coffee in hand/hoof/wing/magic/whatever, Frick lowered the table in the saloon. “We have one more passenger aboard, a little fellow Fred and Freida encountered yesterday. We have no problem with you talking about Raven, because he talked to my First Mate yesterday. The passenger we are to deliver to you and yours in Kansas City,” Frick said before turning and calling down the steps. “All clear, Fred! Come on up!”

“Coming up!” Fred yelled back before climbing the stairs, Wakinya following and Fran bringing up the rear.

When Wakinya came into view, a gasp went up from the visitors. A gasp of utter surprise. Fred looked around at the newcomers. “Hope you all speak Lakota. Wakinya can’t speak anything else yet.”

“We all can,” Silverwing said before getting down on her front knees, looking at Wakinya. Gently, she reached out with a wing and brushed the little buffalo’s mane. “Hello, Wakinya. I’m Silverwing. We’re going to help teach you.”

Wakinya looked up first at Silverwing, then the other two. “I know. The goofy old bird told me. Will there be places to roam?” he asked.

Stunned stares from Cold Current and Cloudseeker bored down onto Wakinya as Silverwing laughed. “Who are you calling a goofy old bird?” she asked.

“Raven. He said I could until he says I can’t any more. Can I have a roll and molasses?” Wakinya asked.

“Freida, a roll and molasses for Lightning, please,” Fred said in translation as Silverwing got back up on her hooves. Freida readied the roll and passed it over as the visitors came out of their stun.

“So that’s what Horny wasn’t saying…” Cold Current breathed. Cloudseeker just let out a low caw in agreement.

“So, shall we get this show on the road?” Frick said to the group.

A couple of hours later, Deliverance was heading downriver at a sedate pace, faster than the current, but not by much. Fran was driving, Frick and Silverwing were in the saloon, talking, while Fred was out on the after deck, teaching Wakinya how to fish. Of course, they were not expecting to catch anything, but Wakinya did ask, and it did keep the boy out from being under hoof. Everyone else was aloft, taking advantage of the day to get wing time in, and most important, how to hunt. It wasn’t that the Kaycee group didn’t know how, it was the matter of transport. Trying to carry a deer carcass more than a mile or so is tiring on a griffin (or hippogriff), so they were using Deliverance as a cargo hauler. They had already bagged two, which, after gutting, were piled on the fly bridge for later butchering. They wanted to bag one more before starting that chore.

Inside, Frick brought Silverwing up to speed about the WSU. They had managed to get in a quick call with Sandra before she left her office, and gave her a quick review of Kaycee, with a promise to call back within two days for a longer interview.

“We’ve known about the WSU since we came back, it’s just none of us in the city has the learning to make a whole lot of stuff work. We scavenge for batteries to keep the radio working, but none of us were any sort of technician before. Cloudseeker was a crop duster, Cold Current was a diver at a golf course, I worked at Amazon, Smoking Horn worked at the furniture store we’re living at, you get my drift?”

“I can understand that,” Frick said. “All of us aboard are University of Nebraska graduates. I was Chief Engineer of KZEN radio in Columbus, Nebraska, my brother a damned good auto mechanic, Fred was the sexton at St. Isidore’s church, Freida the librarian at the Columbus Library, and Fran worked at the University of Nebraska. Between us all, we have enough of the right skills to get this boat moving and keep it that way.” He then explained about catching a WSU ride to the Netherlands and joining the colony there.

“You’re not in any great tearing hurry, are you?” Silverwing asked, but smiled when she said it.

“Nope. We’ll be happy to stick around some, try to improve your standard of living. One nice thing about all the people being gone is being able to replace things. We can take you through setting things up and keeping things running, but if something breaks, you’ll be better to replace than to repair. Just saying as someone who's spent forty years as a radio station engineer, it’s very easy to mess something up with ignorance. Been there, done that,” Frick advised.

“I just hope we can find all we need relatively close by. We’re not exactly able to carry things,” Silverwing said, shrugging her wings.

“So, do what we did. Improvise! Can’t carry much? Earth ponies are strong, so gimcrack some sort of cart or wagon for them to pull. Freida can show you how to make harnesses and saddlebags. Got a river? Use a raft! You say you have a dog? Use a bicycle and some sort of cart! You got some hunters hard at work now, so find or make a raft, go upstream several miles, and bag yourselves some deer! What you need to do is use some lateral thinking, is all!” Frick told Silverwing, his enthusiasm almost overpowering his better sense.

Silverwing considered what Frick had told her. “You know, if you can convince Horny the same way you convinced me, we will have a much better life, both in Kaycee and when we pull up stakes. I’m sure the crazy old coot will go along, as will the rest. Firebrand claims to know how to smoke meats, Steady Pace says he knows a lot about downtown Kaycee, and Roscoe would be glad to be able to do more than run around or dig. Hard for him to do so in town, he wants dirt to dig through.”

“Dirt?” Frick asked.

Silverwing nodded. “Roscoe’s the diamond dog. The few times I have seen him dig, he can go through dirt at breathtaking speeds, leaving a tunnel behind. It’s as big as he is, but it still means everyone else has to go in single file. Not good.”

“We’ll do all we can, without overstaying our welcome. Are there any granaries along the river before we get to Kansas City?” Frick asked. “We can do some transporting for you, bringing barrels of grain down.”

“There are, and we would appreciate it. I know where some chickens are roosting at. Maybe we can capture some and set up a coop in town. Camper’s fare is okay, but nothing beats fresh eggs, right?”

Frick nodded eagerly in agreement. “Got that right!” he exclaimed. “You find us a mess of eggs, and I’m sure Freida will put them to good use!”

“Frick, you got a deal!” Silverwing laughed, reaching over the table to give Frick a hoof bump.

What with the hunting, butchering, cooking, stopping to check a granary, fishing, and a stop to let Wakinya run on dry land for a while, it wasn’t until almost four in the afternoon before the Deliverance and its crew pulled up to a makeshift pier in Kansas City, where the entire colony, all seven remaining members, had set up a small party. The appearance of Wakinya startled the Kaycee group into silence for the better part of a minute. During the minute, the little white buffalo went right up to Smoking Horn and bowed in front of him. The blue unicorn was startled at the action, but recovered swiftly, his horn jetting the smoke that would have come out of his pipe, which had fallen from his mouth.

Due to the lateness of the hour, the party didn’t last long, but all agreed to be back in the morning for more ‘learning and negotiation’, as Fred put it. Wakinya went with Smoking Horn, but not before going up to Fred and Freida and hugging them both. “You’re my grandparents now. Know that Raven and I will not forget your kindness. I love you both.” he told them in Lakota before trotting off with Smoking Horn and the rest of the Kaycee group, all laden with various bundles of food, meat, deerskin, and whatnot.

Fred went to translate, but Freida stopped him with a claw. “I don’t know the words, Paw, but I know the meaning,” she said.

“I know you do, Maw.”

The next day, the Kaycee group returned to the Deliverance to plan and plot what needed doing and what can be done. The first thing to be done was Smoking Horn being interviewed by DJ WSU for the record, which lasted half an hour and dragged in most of the tribe for at least a few words. Wakinya was reported as a buffalo, but not as a white buffalo, in case that news would reach the wrong ears.

Freida was helped at breakfast by the diamond dog, Roscoe, who resembled a big beagle on two legs. He reported that before he became a dog, he worked on a chicken farm out past Topeka, being in Kaycee for a gaming convention. He also trained as a short-order cook, and proved to Freida he did know his way around the galley, but admitted he isn’t much good at cooking over a charcoal grill under a canopy wrapped in blankets.

Frick and Silverwing hashed out the day’s plans for each other. Frick, Fran, Silverwing, Cloudseeker and Cold Current will head north along the river about eight miles to the granary they passed, and load up with as much grain as they could take. The rest of the Deliverance crew would go with the Kaycee team to locate their stockpiles and see what they could do with everything there. Frick and Smoking Horn agreed that in the next day or two, they would seek out a good source of diesel and fill the tanks. The two teams then separated to do their assigned tasks, Frick and Freida taking their radios with them.

Late afternoon, the two groups met up again at what was called Party Pier. What room was available on the after deck and in the saloon was filled with big blue plastic barrels of grain, two each of wheat, corn, oats and barley. Working together, the two groups soon had the barrels lined up on the pier. Fred, being forewarned, had the Kaycee group bring four dollies, to wheel the barrels back to their lair. Something that was done quickly, because both pegasi agreed that weather was coming in on the high lope, and seeking shelter would be good. Said chore was done just in time before the weather broke, the Kaycee group taking a spare radio back with them.

Over dinner, Frick got brought up to date on the Kaycee situation. “I can’t call any of them dumb, Frick,” Fred explained over dinner. “It’s more like they’re complacent, waiting around for Smoking Horn and Raven to get things done for them, rather than doing it themselves. I think I got a fire lit under their asses when I showed them a few simple things to at least get some simple power back up.”

“They’ve been scrounging for batteries for their world-band radio. They did find some unused generators, but all the gas for them is bad. They thought they were out of luck. Not with me around, they’re not!” Frack said with a laugh. “I showed Firebrand and the Flower twins how to make a filtration unit, and we got it working with a foot pump moving the fuel through the filtration system. It should last long enough to switch to a powered version sometime tomorrow.”

“They are living in an old furniture store two blocks away. Could be worse, but it’s dry, comfortable, and warmish. There’s an antique shop nearby, and they brought over several old pot bellied stoves for heat, using coal and a lashed-together chimney arrangement to exhaust smoke out. The stoves are set on metal plates, and the unicorns are tasked with emptying ash,” Freida reported. “Supplies are on the lean side, mostly camping fare and bottled water. Roscoe does know his way around a skillet, but he doesn’t have much to work with other than grains, preserved stuff and fish.”

“So, recommendations on what we can do to help everyone out?” Frick asked.

“Yeah, I got some,” Frack spoke up. “We spend a few days learning about the city, where things are and such, and we go out gathering. Freida can measure for harnesses and saddlebags, and we can build some wagons and carts for them to do some hauling in.”

“There’s a place we passed on the way to the furniture store that sells fabrics and I think some leather. Making them harnesses will not be much of a problem, and I’m sure I can make them adjustable. Plus, I have the patterns for saddlebags written down. The ones we have I can cut down for the Flower sisters, but I won’t need to cut much. They’s big girls!” Freida said with a chuckle.

“There’s one thing we should find, and that’s blankets. Blankets sized and hemmed for pony’s backs, to avoid chafing,” Fran put in. “If that antique store has a pedal-operated sewing machine, I can handle that chore, if it works and we can find the blankets.”

“I’ve got the one sewing machine, but there’s not enough room on the boat for both of us to sew if I got another machine. Yes, we got a plug or two up on the fly bridge, but that’s pretty much full up of stuff we need,” Freida observed. “When the rain stops, I’ll check out that antique shop myself.”

“A good idea that leads to my next question. Frack, when WILL it stop raining?” Frick asked.

Frack looked thoughtful for a moment. “It’s going to be raining hard much of the night, but it then will go to low clouds and drizzle for tomorrow, maybe into the next. It’ll be muggy and damp. Nothing intolerable,” he reported. “Except for the chill.”

“That’s easy for you to say, Frack. Getting damp doesn’t make me happy,” Fran snorted.

“Okay, then. Here’s the plan of attack for tonight and tomorrow. Freida, think you can get the saddlebags ready for the Flower sisters by tomorrow?” Frick asked.

“At least one, maybe both. Won’t know until I start,” Freida answered.

“Okay, then. Here’s one rule that must not be broken. This boat will not be unattended. ONE of us will be on board AT ALL TIMES,” Frick said forcefully, the effect only slightly ruined by his mane frizzing out some.

“Makes sense, Frick,” Fred commented. “All of us can rotate the duty. Also, only the five of us know the codes to access the computer. Anyone can start it, but going anywhere without the computer up is going to be hard.”

“Glad I set that up,” Fran said to the group. “Have a daily change of access code? Or should each of us use one, and I set the computer to shut off after two tries, so that it will not accept any except one of ours?”

“You can do that, Fran?” Fred asked.

“Won’t take me ten minutes after dinner to set it up. Just going to need your choices of numbers. I already know the Captain’s,” Fran replied. “Good thing the computer on board is cutting edge.”

“May God keep blessing our endeavors,” Fred intoned.

“Yeah, but which one?” Frack quipped.

In the morning, which was cold, damp, drizzly, and icky, Fran decided to do the day aboard, tackling some sewing jobs in the saloon, a tablet tuned to the ship’s control program by her side, all doors locked. She also planned on drying some venison in the oven, with a promise to ventilate the saloon the whole time. The others made their way to the furniture store, Fred pulling a small wagon which had the leather saddlebags from the Pony Express museum, using a harness Freida had made which was MUCH more comfortable than their original designs.

Frick went with Smoking Horn, to check out shops in the area, looking for items to salvage. Frack, along with Firebrand (a red unicorn female) and Steady Pace (a yellow and green earth pony male) got to work on the electric power system. Sure, it’s a couple of portable generators and a daisy chain of power bars that would give any good electrical engineer a stroke to look at, but siting the generators and fuel where the exhaust would not blow back into the store took someone who knew what to do. Frack did, with help from the others. He also checked the fuel quality that had come out from the purifier. Not perfect, but with a supply of octane booster, doable. Fred got together with Silverwing and Cloudseeker, who were instructing Wakinya in basic Sioux lore. Everypony knew he was doing that to spend time with the little buffalo, but nopony objected. Frieda took Roscoe and the Flower sisters (two big earth pony females, twins, with opposing color schemes, Sunflower having a yellow body with blue mane and tail, Cornflower a blue body with yellow mane and tail), along with the cart from Deliverance, and went antiquing, looking mainly for a pedal sewing machine. The third store, they hit the jackpot. A manual sewing machine that was not excessively heavy, and seemed to work properly. Roscoe and Sunflower took the machine back to the furniture store, while Freida and Cornflower went fabric, thread and needle hunting.

At lunch, the teams gathered at the Painted Sofa, the furniture store the Kaycee group lived at. For the first time, the shop was lit up with electric lights, all candles and kerosene lamps out. Frack discussed how he and his team got a shed from the hardware store, brought it back and set it up as a generator house, with three generators inside, but only two running at the moment. “Why have all three at once? Load isn’t that high, and I have the three feeding into a common power bus. Later on, I’ll shut one off and start the third,” he told the others.

“What about gas?” Smoking Horn asked.

“The purification unit is doing the job, Smokey. I managed to hook an electric pump to it, so you don’t have to foot-pump the thing,” Frack said. “I have three of your crew trained on what to look for, how to change the filters, all that stuff. Maybe tomorrow, we’ll get another shed, set it up in the alley and use that to hold the fuel processor.”

“Sounds good to me. All this is transportable, right? We do plan on leaving when we have enough ponies,” Smoking Horn asked of the pegasus.

“Oh, yes. You’re going to have to put together some wagons to pull, and I have just the plan for you. Pickup truck beds. Before we leave, I’ll show you and your unicorns how to take a pickup apart. It’s not as hard as you think.”

“Sounds good to me,” the blue unicorn said. “Frick and I found several radios and cell phones we can charge and use, as well as a couple of laptops. It will be good to have others to talk to. Before, we could only hear. Now, we can talk. Even after you leave, we can talk. You will let your technician come by tomorrow to get them set up?” he asked Frick.

“Of course, Smokey. We’ll pick someone to do the day aboard, and let her come here to get you set up,” Frick said. “We’ll pick later.”

Fred spoke up. “I’ll take the day aboard, Frick. I’ll keep Wakinya with me, so he doesn’t get underhoof.”

“I like that idea, Grandpapa. You tell good stories!” Wakinya said from his place at the low table.

“What did he say there?” Frack asked.

“He said he likes my stories, Frack,” Fred replied. “You know most of them anyway.”

“Freida, how did your scavenging work out?” Frick asked.

“Well, we found a machine and got it back here. After lunch, I was going to ask Frack to help me check it over, give it some grease, check for rust and all that. Tomorrow, I can get started on putting together harnesses for the crew here, and showing Roscoe how to do it.”

“If these saddlebags are a sample of your work, Freida, we won’t have to worry. We will pay attention!” Sunflower, the yellow and blue earth pony, told her.

“That we will!” Cornflower, the blue and yellow earth pony, and Sunflower’s twin, agreed. The two were at the same convention Roscoe was at, and they were in their car going for some early-morning munchies when the Event happened.

“I’m just glad they fit you as well as they do,” Freida replied, a smile in her voice. “Had to go by eye how much to cut down.”

“You do good work, Freida! Thanks!” the two mares said simultaneously. Many of the Kaycee contingent rolled their eyes. Synch speech was all too common with those two.

As lunch was breaking up, Smoking Horn let out a grunt, then went glassy-eyed. “Smokey? You all right?” Frick asked.

Silverwing spoke up. “Raven’s talking to him. Happens every time. He’ll be out of it in a minute or two. Odds are someone new has showed up.”

“Number twelve. Bricklayer’s Code,” Cloudseeker cawed quietly.

“Bricklayer’s Code?” Frack asked.

“The mortar, the merrier,” just about everypony in the Kaycee group chorused.

Frack countered the chorus with “I’m going to have to remember that.”

“You would, Frack…” Fred muttered.

Before Frack could counter, Smoking Horn came out of his trance. “Trouble. New companions arrive, but need help. Captain, we request your aid,” he said firmly, looking at Frick.

Frick looked back, going serious. “What sort of help, Smoking Horn?

“Three people, mother and two children, one teen, one small. Ameristar Hotel and Casino, a few miles downriver. RV in garage. Manticores there too. Their coming back disturbed manticores. Raven asks that we go to help. Will you help us?” Smoking Horn asked, eyes slowly focusing as he raised his ever-present pipe to his mouth and sucked on it. It had gone out, but he hadn’t noticed.

“The question is not WILL we, but HOW will we? I have an answer. We’re going to ride crowded, but we can manage,” Frick said, looking over the assembled group. “All those who can fly, do that. Freida, take what you need from the arms locker, arm everyone who thinks they can shoot, and do a little practice on the way. Horn, I want you, Firebrand, the Flowers and Roscoe to come aboard and we’ll sail there. We’ll do more thinking on the way.”

“I see where you are going, Captain Frick. Everypony not named, stay here in the store. Trail Tracker, you in charge until we return. Keep an ear to the radio. We’ll be in touch,” Smoking Horn directed as he re-lit his pipe.

“Let’s do this,” Frick said, getting up. “All fliers go on ahead, bring Fran up to speed and get your weapons. Leave two pistols, otherwise choose your loadout. No racing, though. Save your strength for when we need it.” The winged contingent headed for the door in a group, single-filing through and grabbing air. The rest followed at a walking pace.

“Just where is this Ameristar?” Frick asked the shaman.

“Few miles downriver. You not listen?” Smoking Horn said in rebuke.

“Oh, I listen. Thinking of other things. WE will get this done, not you, not me, WE. You help me keep track of details, okay?” Frick answered.

“Fair enough.”

Heading downstream, the Deliverance was proceeding at about full power, Frick piloting while Fran did some research on what a manticore could do. She put up her search results on the saloon monitor, which is also used to watch movies. “Okay, from what I’ve found so far, the main things to watch out for are the teeth, the claws and the tail,” Fran reported.

“Why the tail?” Firebrand asked.

“It’s like a scorpion’s sting, with poison. There is an antidote, it says here. They do have wings, but are not the best of fliers. The smartest thing to do is to hold them at bay somehow while we evacuate the family. That’s for the unicorns to do. Three unicorns, three ponies inside, one apiece,” Fran advised.

“What about us?” Sunflower asked. “What can we do?”

Fred spoke up. “When we were getting the boat, a pack of dogs tried to say no. Somehow, I found that I could confront them and whup their asses if I felt like it. They listened. I don’t know if it’s just me, or if you two can do it as well.

“When I rescued Wakinya, it was no more mister nice pony, for sure. Charge in, scoop him up, and shag ass, with Maw covering my backside. Now, I know I can bind at least one. Up to you two, and the others, to provide cover while the rescue is pulled off.”

“What’s my job in this?” Roscoe asked.

“Roscoe, you’re taking a pistol to help cover the unicorns. Don’t know how effective the guns will be, but if we don’t try, we won’t know,” Fran said. “You know how to shoot?”

“Can’t qualify for the Olympics, but I hit more often than not,” Roscoe admitted to.

“Raven will understand if we do have to kill the manticores, but he would like it if we did not. Bamboozle, dazzle, confuse, all good. Shoot to kill or wound, try to avoid. Saving the family is paramount,” Smoking Horn advised.

“Target coming into sight, ponies!” Frick called from the controls. “Get ready to handle lines!”

“Recon Viper One to Galactica, have target building in sight. No activity visible from here, going in for a closer look,” Frack radioed in.

Frick could feel almost everypony’s eyes on him as he took the microphone in his glow. “Galactica to Recon Viper One. Do not enter the base star until reinforcements arrive. Cylons can be nasty, Starbuck!”

“Understand that, Galactica. Will keep the squadron outside until reinforcements arrive. Just pour on the Tylium!” Frack called back.

“Approaching orbit now. Three to five minutes, Starbuck! Just hold your horses!” Frick called.

“Recon Viper One.”

“Are they always like that?” Smoking Horn asked Fred.

“When they can do so, they will. Frick may be five years older, but they have been as close as two boys could possibly be for as long as we can remember. I just wonder what series they will pick next,” Fred muttered.

“Sci-fi nuts?” Smoking Horn asked.

“Leave off the ‘sci-fi’ and you’ll be closer to the truth…” Fred muttered again, not wanting Frick to hear.

Once the boat was tied down, Frick idled the engines. “Landing party ashore! Fran, you have the ship!” he called out before getting outside.

“On it, Captain!” Fran said as they passed each other.

The ponies gathered on the pier and started walking to the garage, where they could see the five fliers flying in circles, occasionally swooping down to look inside the second floor of four.
“Apollo to Starbuck, what’s the situation?” Frick said into the radio.

“Apollo, I can see an RV on its right side, with more than one dent in it. Looks like they had the bad luck to appear inside the manticore’s nest. The manticores weren’t happy about it. There’s a big one sniffing and slapping at the RV, and another one with two littles off to the side. She’s licking one of them. Getting in there quietly isn’t going to be easy…”

Frick grunted at Frack’s report. “Yeah, ponies can’t tiptoe. We’ll call when we get to the garage. Where’s the ramp in relation to where the RV is?” he asked.

“I’ll give you three guesses and the first two don’t count, bro. You’re not going to like it.”

“Don’t tell me it’s on the far side…” Frick groaned.

“Take the stairs. You’ll come up behind the manticores,” Frack advised.

After hearing that, Smoking Horn spoke up. “I have an idea.”

“First time for everything..” Cornflower muttered. Or was it Sunflower?

“Let’s hear it, Smokey,” Frick said. “I’m no tactician.”

“Neither am I, but, let’s have Fred and the Flowers head up the stairs while the rest of us go up the ramp. One team can distract them for the other. One team is bound to get to the RV in time to pull off a rescue. Not saying it the best, but can you come up with something else?” Smoking Horn said to Frick in particular and to the group in general.

“I can run with that,” Frick said with a shrug as he picked up his radio and relayed the idea to Frack.

“Just give the word and the Vipers will hang in the windows and shout. That should help as well,” Frack suggested.

“Sounds good to me. Let’s get into position, lives are counting on us being right!” Frick said before setting out. The unicorns and Roscoe went with him, while the earth ponies went for the stairs.

It was only a few minutes before everyone was in position, the unicorns looking over the edge of the ramp at the tipped RV, Fred and the Flowers by the stairwell door, while the pegasi and griffons hovered at the third floor level. At Frick’s cue, the outdoor group dropped into view and started raising a ruckus of shouts, cries and caws. The two larger manticores started making tracks for the noisemakers, roaring their displeasure, their wings spread, but not taking flight. Frick next told Fred to come in his way while the unicorns charged for the RV.

The adult manticores perched at the edge of the lot, roaring and swiping at the pegasi and griffons, but did not take flight. “Must not want to leave their cubs,” Freida observed after letting out a roar.

“Would you?” Silverwing said, catching her breath.

Fred and the Flowers raced in from the stairwell. They were closest to the RV, but the two little manticores were in the way. In the not-very-bright light of the cloudy day, Fred could see one of the cubs was bloody, with visible cuts in the leonine portions. He came to a stop, feeling the pain of the little one. “Keep the other one occupied. This one needs healing,” he said to the sisters as he went for the injured one.

The sisters found that little manticores are fast, with the uninjured one letting fly its sting at Fred, hitting the pony just ahead of his cutie mark. He ignored it, focused on healing the other one, whose growls of pain were soon replaced by purrs as its pain went away. “There you go, little one. No more pain. You’ll get better soon,” he said to the wounded one before turning his attention to the uninjured one, both sisters needed to hold it down, one for the body, one for the tail. “Easy, kid. I helped your sibling. I help you, too.” Soon, the other one grew less fussy as Fred paid attention to it.

Meanwhile, the unicorns and diamond dog made it to the roof of the rolled RV. Roscoe got the hatch open (actually, he ripped the damn thing off), and climbed inside. Working fast, he handed out the three ponies inside, from smallest to largest. The three were dark-furred, with bat wings, not feathered. Each unicorn took a batpony in his or her glow and quickly walked to the ramp and down. Roscoe grabbed a few backpacks and a purse he found before exiting as well.

After the manticore cubs were asleep, Fred looked at the sisters, then at the two manticores, roaring and swiping at the ones outside. “Let’s get out of here,” he said to the two of them before heading for the stairwell door just as fast as he could quietly go, the sisters right behind.

At the stairwell, Sunflower asked him, “You’re bleeding a little from where you were stung, Fred. You all right?”

“I’ll last till the boat, for sure. Faster we’re out of here, the better off we’ll be. Hope Frick got the family out,” Fred answered. The sting site was beginning to tingle, but a little attention drove the tingling off.

“Okay, everyone, we got the family out. Viper team, keep their attention until both teams have left the building, then head back to base. Fran, as soon as we’re aboard and the lines are free, full power out!” Frick said into his radio as he carried the smallest of the batponies out.

“Viper flight copies orders, big bro!” Frack said.

“Stairway team on the way out. One of the babies was hurt. It’s not now,” Fred reported.

“Deliverance copies orders, Captain!” Fran acknowledged.

“I hope their craziness isn’t contagious,” Smoking Horn said quietly to Firebrand.

“I would say they got it from you, but they haven’t been here long enough,” replied Firebrand.

“Have some respect for my position!” Smoking Horn said in reply.

“Your position, yes. YOU, that’s something else…” the red female unicorn said smugly.

Back aboard Deliverance, the three batponies, still unconscious, were put down on the big bed in the forward cabin, the one Fred and Freida shared, with Firebrand watching over them. Upstairs, Frick noticed something about Fred as they were having coffee. “What’s that stuff on your side, Fred? Is that blood?” he asked.

Fred turned his head to look. “Yep. One of the little manticores stung me there as I was treating the other. Don’t feel anything from it. I’m not worried.”

“You ought to be,” Frick managed to say. “Manticore poison can be lethal if not treated, and we don’t have what they use to treat it with. I’ll be in my cabin. I’m going to call every number we have in the WSU until I get connected with somepony that knows something about this!” his voice going to a squeak at the end.

“Easy, Frick. I’m not feeling off at all. Go do your research. Earth ponies are tough,” Fred said in his usual quiet voice.

“Well, I’m going to find out if you’re tough enough!” Frick said, getting up and heading downstairs, bringing his coffee cup with him.

Six no answers later, Frick dialed a number which was picked up by an Officer DeVries. After Frick said what was going on, he got passed on to someone who knew how to make the potion. Hydroponics. Cadet Buhle on the line. What’s needed?” an accented woman’s voice came over the phone.

“Miss Buhle, this is Captain Frick of the Deliverance, in Kansas City, Missouri. My First Mate has been stung by a baby manticore. What do we need to make an antidote?” Frick managed to say, the phone wobbling a little in his magic’s grip.

Ah, yes, I’ve heard of you on the radio. Please, call me Asha, and don’t worry. Manticore venom I have dealt with personally in the past. So please, stay calm. I’ll need your email address to send you the right potion recipe, along with a list of equipment and materials you’ll need. Make sure your antenna stays connected while we do it, okay? Fair warning however, you need manticore venom to make manticore antidote. How much, you’ll find in my instructions. Asha said as she reached for a pen and notepad.

Frick took several deep breaths before slowly reciting his email address to the lady at the other end of the phone. “How long will it take to make the antidote? Also, what sort of tools are needed to make it?”

“All the details will be in the information packet which I will email to you within an hour. It should take about a day to brew, once you have the ingredients. Who got stung?”

“Fred, my First Mate. He’s an earth pony, if that means anything,” Frick answered.

“That’s good, they’re tough, your friend will last longer, it gives us more time to get the antitoxin made. Let me put together the information packet and send it to you. Keep calm and follow instructions, all should be all right. I’ll be here in Hydroponics all night, so call this number if you have any questions. Don’t worry if he starts showing symptoms of the paralysis. That’s normal. Manticores are poor pursuers, they need to paralyze their prey to close-in. What you * do * need to pay attention to, is if he starts shaking. That’s when the venom starts attacking nerve tissue. Okay?” Asha asked in calming, soothing tones before giving her phone number, which Frick quickly scribbled down.

“Okay, Asha, I will do that. Thank you for your help. Don’t hesitate to call me or the boat’s number as well. What’s morning for you is oh-dark-hundred for us. I’ll go wait by the computer. Thanks again,” Frick said before hanging up as a case of the jitters raced through his body. He knew when that happened, to relax and let it pass, so he sprawled on his bunk and let the shivers pass over and through him. “I will not fear. Fear is the mind-killer…” he thought as the shakes slowed.

A couple of hours later, the Deliverance crew were sitting at dinner, having been joined by Silverwing and Wakinya, who insisted on staying with his ‘grandfather’ until he recovered. The little buffalo can be stubborn.

“All three of the nightflyers are awake now, and very confused. The last thing they remember is pulling into the garage and parking. The father got out to register, the kids were asleep, and the mother dozed off waiting. Next thing they know is waking up at the Sofa. Horny’s talking with them now,” Silverwing told the crew.

“Are they all Sioux?” Fred wanted to know. There was a bandage on his flank where the sting went in.

“Yes, they are, going from Fort Peck to Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The mother had a job waiting for her at the University of Alabama, as an associate professor of psychology. Looks like their move got interrupted,” Silverwing reported.

“It sure did,” Frick commented after swallowing. “What about your opinion on antidote making?”

“Let me take a copy back with me and talk it over with the others. Maybe someone knows about botany. I don’t.

“Tell you what, Frick. You concentrate on how to get the manticore venom, I’ll focus on finding the herbs, and we’ll also try to find the equipment we’ll need. More room at the Sofa to set up than here,” Silverwing observed.

“I’ll go print another copy up,” Fran said, getting up from the table. “We’re going to have to get some more paper and ink for the printer, as well as more spices. Squirrel meat does the job, but it tastes foul!”

“I have to agree, Fran,” Freida said. “Something we didn’t think of earlier. I’ll look into that next grocery trip we make.”

“Good idea. We’re also going to have to spice up what pemmican we make with the meat, deer or squirrel. Should make it keep a bit longer, too,” Fran agreed from the wheelhouse, where she started printing up a copy of the manticore antidote recipe and tool list.

“You’ll be alright, keeping Wakinya with you?” Silverwing asked Fred.

“We won’t have any trouble, Silverwing. He wants to stay by his grandpapa, so I say let him,” Fred replied, putting a hoof over Wakinya’s back.

“Grandpapa may need big medicine soon, and I got some! Great Bird says I can try!” Wakinda piped up with, drawing laughter from Fred and Silverwing, the only two who could understand.

“What did he say?” Frack asked.

“He says that he’ll stay with me until I get better. He has permission from the Great Bird to try,” Fred answered.

“I thought Roddenberry died years ago!” Frack said, followed by a mass facehoofing.

“Great Bird means Raven, little bro, not the Great Bird of the Galaxy!” Frick said while trying to hold in a laugh.

“Oh. THAT bird…” Frack said lamely, staring into his can of Vanilla Coke.

Author's Note:

If anyone caught on to the chapter title zinger, let me know. You're either as old as I am, or a big music nut. Or both. Or you cheated and looked it up. No matter.

Looks like the crew has a bit of a problem. How to get manticore poison, how to get the rest of the stuff, how to put it all together, and do it all before Fred keels over. Lose Fred, lose Freida. Griffon pair-bonding at its best. Also, can they find the proper herbal mix stateside? For the answers to these and other questions, tune in next week, same THWACK!

Almost got away with it, Desmond...